Breaking Barriers | Pacific Fins Resort | Guatemala | Unfathomed
Spending six days on the Pacific Coast of Guatemala was a special destination fishing trip for many reasons. If you are a slow pitch jigging enthusiast, several of those reasons are extremely interesting and very important to discuss.
In April/May of 2021 a dear friend and frequenter of the Johnny Jigs Tackle shop, Captain Alex De Melo, had been urging us to consider joining him on his 2nd trip to the Pacific Fins Resort in Iztapa, Guatemala. A trip that is hosted by Capt. George Gozdz of the Unfathomed fishing show.
This fishery is world renowned for its bill fishing. It is also known as the sailfish capital of the world. On an average good day, a boat will get 15-20 sailfish bites, as many Mahi which average 20lbs in size, and raise a Marlin. Discovering schools of yellowfin tuna as you are trolling around is also a regular occurrence. But, you know our FIRST question before signing up for this trip: CAN WE JIG!??
Don’t get me wrong – The Pacific Ocean, a beautiful Central American country, an insane fishery at a dedicated fishing resort, with friends, and some legendary anglers is more than enough to go for this experience. However, once we had the discussion with Pacific Fins about who we are and what we do – and we were given the go-ahead to bring our jigging tackle – we were all in!
Flying into Guatemala City on the morning of November 6th, 2021 was a relatively easy experience. The slow pitch jigging rods were all packed safely into a travel rod tube, the reels (all spooled) were all packed into check-on luggage, and the slow pitch jigs which left unrigged, were able to be carried onto the plane (we found this saves paying for over-weight check on luggage).
Transportation to the resort was arranged by the Pacific fins and we settled into our seats and began getting to know other anglers that were on the same itinerary. It was a 2 hour drive that was coupled with both awe-inspiring majestic landscapes as well as a sobering observation of surrounding poverty of this third-world country.
We felt spoiled when we entered the gates of Pacific Fins resort and were greeted by smiles and cold refreshments. The accommodations are incredible and the layout of the property left us feeling humbled that we would be catered to for the next 3-days leaving us with only 2 jobs: Fish and Relax.
Day 1 of fishing. So, we jumped on a 35’ Viking sport fish with an open fly bridge which would be our ride for the next 3-days. We immediately, assessed it for “jigability” and understood that we would most likely perform any jigging we got to do off the stern. We did our best at being patient and respectful as this was not necessarily our show. We did however greet our captain and 2 mates and immediately ask if we could start by targeting cubera snapper and Roosterfish. They gave us a bit of a puzzled look and responded with their best English “Sailfish” “Dorado.” Everyone comes here to experience world class Sailfish, Marlin, and Mahi fishing. So, it appeared they didn’t expect the change of plans. The Captain informed us that the tide for Roosterfish was better in the afternoon. We didn’t want to rock the boat so, we deferred to set a spread and go trolling.
Watching this crew manage a spread was impressive. They got it set fast and they got it in fast. They rigged nose weighted naked ballyhoo and set them short to long on each side, and added a port and starboard teaser to raise the marlin. A small skip jack tuna was rigged and ready to drop it back for the Marlin bite. We crossed into open blue water and the bite, “she was a on.” There was a good presence of flotsam, which were mostly nice sized tree trunks that had Mahi at every pass. Day 1 we safely released 7 sailfish and harvested about 12 Mahi (all 20lbs and larger).
Once we had all got some great tug and was served some fresh Mahi ceviche on the boat that was mouth-watering. We took some time to educate the boat’s crew on what we would like to execute when it came to dropping jigs. It was best attempted by showing them. The language barrier was a challenge! We backed up to a floating log and deployed jigs straight down. We proceeded to catch a handful of small sized skip jack tuna however, used this as a show and tell time – what we really want to do is target the bottom and see what the grouper and snapper looked like here!
On the ride back the Pacific Fins we discovered some concerning details (for us) about our boat, the Sirena. She did not have a transducer! She was only equipped with a Simrad Go-Series 12” chart plotter. Upon hitting the dock at the resort and after being greeted with irresistible appetizers, refreshments, and cannonballing into the pool we had to get down to business. We had a chat with Ozzy Delgado the resort manager to discuss with him again – as we did leading up to the trip – about executing a plan to set us loose slow pitch jigging the bottom.
It became somewhat clear that grouper was largely not fished for. I mean we were in one of the best bill fisheries in the world, that also had insane Mahi Mahi, and if you really wanted to pull an audible - it was Roosterfish! It was also communicated that there wasn’t a lot of known blue water bottom structure to inhabit our beloved bottom dwelling species. We got the go ahead that we would start Day 2 with purely dropping jigs. We had to get to work.
Thank goodness for technology. That night we paid and downloaded the central American maps for Navionics. Johnny, Will, and myself scoured the chart looking for contour lines that stacked closely together identifying a more rapid change in water depth (drop offs) and anything else that looked out of the ordinary. We took into account the inlet we were heading out of and made a track of waypoints to go check out the next morning.
On Day 2, first thing in the morning as Johnny was getting some spectacular drone footage I hopped on the Sirena and began entering the waypoint Lats/Longs onto the Simrad. I felt like a soldier logging the secret coordinates to go to battle. Once we pushed off the dock although not communicated, I couldn’t help but feel that that the crew thought we were taking them on a casual joy ride around their race course. Also, there seemed to be a lot of chatter on the radio that was outside of our language comprehension.
The first several waypoints we had marked were before the blue water line. We were in roughly 150’ of water. We started again doing our best to explain slow pitch jigging; the action that we were getting the jigs to do, the desire to be vertical, adapting to any drift, and most importantly wishing we could analyze the bottom. Will was the first to hook-up and he landed a decent size Jack Crevalle. There were more of the little skip jacks to follow. The chatter on the radio continued and I couldn’t help having the first disheartening feelings.
In hindsight, I am really glad it all happened exactly the way it did. When you bring slow pitch jigging to places or people that have never seen it before you are not always going to “put on a show” although that does tend to happen sometimes! You do it because you love it. Face the obstacles of language barriers, figuring out how to get the boat to assist with the slow jigging, being unfamiliar with the fishery, and sometimes just blatantly being made fun of. Adapting to your environment makes you a better angler and pushes you further into a sport that still has a lot of learning and figuring out to do. Make the obstacles become opportunities.
We crossed into the blue water and settled onto our first waypoint at about 220’. All of our jigs went down and began tapping the bottom. Bam! Well, no, not quite. I was stuck on the bottom. But, “Hey guys! I’m stuck on the bottom! We’ve got good bottom!!”
Definitely, a big boost in confidence knowing you’re over bottom that grouper ideally should be on after feeling your jig do a lot of pounding sand at the previous spots. Then, in true Will fashion, he hooks up first. Up came a grouper and out came a verbal onslaught of jubilation from us as well as the crew. What a relief to catch the fish you came to target and put in a decent amount of work to make it happen. Well, that captain hopped on the radio once again but, this time the tone was much different and there was quite a lot of radio chatter. Especially when BAM! For real this time - I hooked up and steadily worked in a larger grouper. And last but, certainly not least, Johnny himself slaps the largest grouper on the deck of the Sirena.
What a tremendous victory to catch these three grouper. That Captain came down from the fly bridge and demanded to be in a small photoshoot with the grouper. Then the crew became chatty about how much the love to eat grouper and what a treat it is. We were like “We know!” Our plan was to give these groupers to the kitchen for everyone to eat that night along with whatever other delicacies were going to be on the menu.
Before I close the trip out – One last discussion point and a big one! What the heck kind of grouper are these? We were told after asking the same question over and over in every different way that they are simply known as “Cherna.” Which was the word for grouper. We attempted to explain the vast number of grouper species we have in our waters however, the answer was the same. No matter the grouper – it was called Cherna. They were unique groupers. They have similar characteristics of red grouper and mature snowy grouper (lacking spots) however, they had these reddish/pink fins which looked like no other grouper than we had ever seen. Just before this trip, BlacktipH posted a video fishing at the Casa Vieja Lodge 9km to the Northwest of Pacific Fins and caught one of these groupers and quickly exclaimed “What the heck is it!?” It really left us wondering what other species of grouper inhabit these waters and curious about the mystery this fishery held with its bottom species population.
Day 3 of Fishing we set out to fill a live well and do some drifts targeting roosterfish. Capt. George Gozdz boat set out to do the same. After several hours of flat lining live baits and bump trolling only producing a cuda like cut off we cruised back offshore to try and finish up with Marlin. There had been a couple blue marlin and a striped marlin released amongst the group. We did get our chance and raised one – which was incredible to watch – but, she didn’t bite. Getting back to the dock one crew landed a 70lb yellowfin which ended up as one of that evenings menu items.
This trip included a bonus day. We packed up at the Pacific Fins on the morning of November 10th and took a 2-hour bus ride to Antigua. Along the way we stopped at the foot of an active volcano called Fuego which was surreal. Fuego had erupted only 3-years prior and its destruction was still on display. One final night in the beautiful Casa Santa Domingo in Antigua, Guatemala. We spent the evening internalizing our experience here. A desire was absolutely ignited to commit to travel more in search of destination fishing spots where we bring our slow pitch jigging gear with us. At Johnny Jigs, we are so lucky to converse with and meet so many anglers from around the world who are slow pitch jigging in places where it has never really been done before. It really opens up a new interest to explore fisheries around the globe. A special thanks goes out to Capt. Alex De Melo of Pesca Mares fishing, Capt. George Gozdz, and the Pacific Fins Resort for making this experience possible for us.
We published 2 amazing YouTube videos detailing this experience on our channel JohnnyJigsTV Check out the links below and…
By Chris Doyle
Slow Pitch Jigging in Guatemala Video