Anglers fish “Billfish Capital of the World” in Old Town Predator PDL kayaks
Angler David Hadden’s eyes light up when asked about kayak fishing Guatemala’s Pacific Coast, what many consider “The Billfish Capital of the World.”
If big game fishing in world-renowned billfish waters wasn’t enough, Old Town’s David Hadden and Sport Fishing editor Doug Olander took it one step further, hauling Old Town Predator PDL kayaks some 40 miles offshore, “mothership fishing” from one of Casa Vieja’s charter boats under the expert direction of Captain Chris Sheeder.
“It was a life-changing experience,” says Hadden. “For anglers, it’s the zenith of the sport. You get out there in the blue with big fish and it’s heaven. The first day Captain Chris took us right to a ledge, we dropped the kayaks in the water, and within 30 minutes we were doubled up.”
Although Hadden’s no stranger to big fish like tarpon and tuna, his first Pacific Sailfish pushed the limits of what he’d accomplished from an Old Town Predator PDL kayak.
“I fought that first sail like I’d fight any big fish from a kayak, and it took me all of twenty minutes. The first couple runs a sailfish makes are part sleigh ride, part acrobatics display, but after five to eight minutes, the combination of warm water temperature and lactic acid buildup run down the fish. Captain Chris pushed me to lock down the reel and get it done. With a single swipe of the tail they can go 10 feet in any direction, but you don’t want to completely exhaust the fish.”
Drag tightened and a quick fight routine dialed in, sailfish releases from the Old Town Predator PDL jibed well with Casa de Vieja’s catch and release conservation program.
“Casa Vieja takes the ‘The Billfish Capital of the World’ designation seriously, protecting all billfish to fight another day. That was the beauty of Predator PDL kayaks; we could hold the bill with one hand and pedal and revive the fish after the fight. That might have been the most satisfying part,” says Hadden.
And many successful releases there were. Hadden, Olander, and two other kayak anglers fished for three days, doubling up on countless occasions, with double-digit fish totals some days. “I was able to fight, land, and release every fish that bit. At the end of the three days, I went seven for seven. But I had to work for them. We pedaled up to 10 miles a day in 90-degree temperatures with high humidity while deploying baits, re-rigging, fighting fish… It was very physical and very rewarding. We always kept the mothership within range and Captain Chris and crew kept a close eye on us.”
Along the way, Hadden and crew planted their flag in some new angling territories, including being the first anglers to fish sailfish from pedal-driven kayaks 40 miles off Guatemala’s Pacific coast. And on the last day, they pioneered a unique play that merged charter boat outrigger teaser bait tactics with precise kayak angler boat control and bait placement.
Sailfish anglers will often use long outrigger poles when trolling to place baits high in the water column off both sides of the boat. When a sailfish is teased up on an outrigger bait—essentially used as a decoy—they’ll quickly pull in the outrigger and line and use a rod to flip a bait to the fish.
“On Day 3, Captain Chris yells from the charter boat to me, ‘Get right next to me!’ So I pedaled to stay right with the moving boat, and sure enough, he yells ‘Behind you! Behind you!’ and a sailfish had emerged right behind the boat to the outrigger bait. At the last minute Captain Chris swings the outrigger off and tells me to swing the kayak in with my bait. As I came off the wake and into the spread, the fish surfaced right behind my bait! It was so close, but the fish didn’t eat. Still, it was the coolest thing I’ve ever done.”
Hadden eventually caught the lingering sailfish, but catching the fish on the fly in a seamless choreography is his future goal. “That moment when you’re pedaling and then slip the kayak over the wake and into the spread right next to a high-rising sailfish is pretty magical. Those fish are fired up and ready to attack. I know Captain Chris and I could get the same scenario to work on the fly.”
Familiar with the latest in kayak fishing tactics, techniques, and trends, Hadden believes he and Captain Chris were the first to attempt precise pedal-driven kayak boat and bait placement in tandem with a trolling charter boat on an outrigger-teased sailfish.
While Johnson Outdoors Watercraft manufactures numerous kayak models suitable for saltwater big game fishing, the Old Town Predator PDL has quickly become a favorite with anglers.
“It all comes down to the hands-free fishing experience the rugged and efficient Old Town PDL Drive provides. Especially with fighting any kind of big billfish species, having forward and reverse right at your feet is a huge asset for controlling the fish. Trolling and deploying baits is also made that much easier than having to work a paddle. Of course, the PDL Drive itself is built for saltwater use and the 10.3:1 gear ratio allows speeds up to 5.5 mph for reaching and returning from distant spots quickly and efficiently,” says Hadden.
In terms of tackle, Hadden and company fished live blue runners on circle hooks with 80-pound Seaguar braid main line and an 80-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader.
“Live bait was definitely the way to go for multiple fish days. I paired Accurate reels with St. Croix Mojo Salt rods, which had plenty of backbone to put the wood to fish after I locked up the drag. I held the rod and line in my hands so I could feel the take and drop back. A couple guys were just free-trolling. My thing was having a rod that was sensitive to feel when the bait got nervous—the calm before the storm.”
TRAVEL & LODGING
Logistically speaking, Hadden says the trip to Guatemala’s Casa Vieja Lodge couldn’t have been easier. “I flew from Portland, Maine to Atlanta, right into Guatemala City. The whole trip took about six hours. I was greeted at the airport by Casa Vieja staff and we were bused right to the gated lodge. Seamless, safe, and super professional.”
Once to the lodge, Hadden and crew were met with first-class accommodations. “The lodge was as nice as anything in the Bahamas. Fine cuisine and a great beer, scotch, and rum selection. Five-star all around, but what really impressed me was their staff.
From the servers to the guides, I can’t imagine a better operation. Every morning they came to your room with coffee, a really nice touch. And Casa Vieja guides are as good as they get. Captain Chris Sheeder is the best blue-water guide I’ve ever fished with. It was an honor to learn from one of a handful of anglers who’ve released 20,000 billfish.”
To learn more about Guatemala’s legendary billfish angling, visit casaviejalodge.com.