2023 Casa Vieja Trip Report
I do a lot of saltwater fly fishing, but it has always been on the flats, the shallow water, sight casting to tailing permit or cruising tarpon… Casa Vieja Lodge in Guatemala was going to be my first excursion into the deep Bluewater. Casa Vieja’s reputation precedes them, the top destination in the world to target sailfish on the fly. I was super excited to enter this new world of fly fishing and go toe to toe with these jumping missiles of the deep.
We flew from SFO directly to Guatemala City where we were met by a representative of the lodge and then drove the 2 hours to the lodge on the Pacific Coast, in the town of Puerto San Jose. As we pulled up, the first impression of the lodge was strange… you are driving through a little barrio and then the driver just turns into a big driveway with a large iron wall gate with a sailfish on top of it… I was just thinking to myself, “The lodge is right here?!” Then the gates open and close behind you and you are transported to a different world. A gorgeous lodge, with a giant palapa and pool, front and center. Casa Vieja Lodge is a 2 story complex with tons of rooms that can accommodate 30+ anglers. It isn’t on the water and has no view outside the walls, but you don’t even notice. It is like a sweet little hidden compound, and you are fully transported into the world of billfishing once inside the gate.
We were greeted by the staff as we climbed out of the transfer van and were offered a refreshing cocktail to welcome us. Then we were escorted to our rooms for the week. The rooms were enormous with 2 queen sized beds with tons of space around them. You walk through a little entryway past the main sleeping room and there are 2 sinks and a mirror to the left, and a bathroom to the right with a toilet and shower. The A/C cranked up to arctic levels. The rooms are bigger than any lodge that I have ever been to. It was very comfortable.
My group and I quickly moved into our rooms, hastily unpacked, laid things out on the bed, then once organized we made our way to the bar in our board shorts. The 3 staff members behind the bar were awesome, a constant presence. Cesar was like the manager. If we needed anything, he sorted it out. Then there was Hector and Mauro. Fantastic guys, super attentive, never let a drink go dry… We grabbed a cocktail and then they asked us what color YETI water bottle we wanted. We didn’t quite understand, so they explained that they are super into the “Kick Plastic” thing, and that they gave every client a reusable water bottle instead of disposable single serving water bottles. Issuing every client that comes through the lodge their own brand new YETI bottle, for free, is pretty over the top. Then they offered to laser engrave it with your name for $10… who isn’t going to do that?! To keep your new YETI water bottle full, the lodge has these “Kick Plastic Stations” all over the place, mounted to the walls. Cold, filtered water, to fill your water bottles up at any time. All of them had a digital ticker that showed how many disposable water bottles had been saved by each station… they were in the hundreds of thousands! It is a very awesome thing to make anglers aware of. That is so much waste that they saved, it is ridiculous. Good for them! Every lodge should be doing this!
We’d move from the bar to the pool and back for a few hours each night, it was super nice! At around 6:00 pm they’d bring out personal appetizers for everyone. The first night was fresh sushi rolls with fresh tuna! We had chips and guacamole another night, an amazing shrimp cocktail another. The post fishing / pre dinner program was outstanding!
Dinner was at 7:30 pm and every dish was delicious. They started with a soup each night and they were fantastic, I asked for seconds on soup every night! Then an amazing entree followed, steak one night, tacos, fried shrimp… The food was absolutely amazing.
We’d crash around 10:00 pm each night and pop up for breakfast at 5:40 am, in the dark. Breakfast was made to order, with tons of options on the menu. French toast, bacon and eggs, sausage huevos rancheros, oatmeal, cold cereal, fresh fruit… I ate cereal with a side of avocado every morning. Nice and light… I was a little worried about puking my guts out on the big Bluewater!
I did get 2 of those Scopolamine patches to stick behind my ear. One patch stays on for 2 days, then it will fall off and you need to replace it, if you get seasick. I never felt queasy at all and no side effects either. They seemed to work great, and we had rough seas a couple days, with the wind.
The Marina is only about a 10 minute shuttle, if that, from the lodge. We got assigned to “The Hooker”, a 41-foot G&S, one of the most legendary billfish boats of all time. It has fished all over the planet and has over 87 IGFA world records to its name. There are books written about its exploits all over the globe. It was originally built in tandem with a mothership called “The Madam”, a 110 footer that had a cradle! The Hooker could pull up into the floating cradle and then get winched out of the water to sit inside the mothership, then The Madam could cross oceans with The Hooker cradled inside, on to the next billfish location. Epic history.
Cpt David Salazar, the owner of Casa Vieja, was our captain… Needless to say, we got dealt a pretty sick hand! I learned a ton about Bluewater fishing from David. It was super special to get to learn from him on that boat!
David explained that the water temperatures were down, due to the crazy winter we’d been having up here in Cali and all along the West Coast. They usually only have to run between 10 minutes and 50 minutes from the marina, but we were having to run 50 miles out, a full 2 hour run out and another 2 hours home, everyday. That’s a lot of running time, and lost fishing time, but that’s the cards we were dealt. I’d sleep for the 2 hour run in the morning, inside the air conditioned cabin, on a super comfortable couch… It wasn’t too bad! The first day I rode up top with the Captain though, asking a million questions about this new world of fishing. It was time well spent!
As soon as we came off step the 2 deckhands got to work setting out the rods and getting the teasers in the water. I bet we were fully set in under 6 minutes. They were excellent and very efficient. For fly fishing they set the teasers kind of stacked on one side so you can cast and not hang up in the outriggers. Looking out behind the boat, they set one teaser on a long rod outrigger on the right, about 200 feet back. Then there was another long rod left teaser about the same distance, then 3 more teasers short left, from like 40ft to 60ft.
As soon as the gear was set, David came down and gave us an orientation on the attack plan, the first day. A 14wt rod was laying on the gunnel, the butt in a mono loop on the inside of the boat, the line striped out, just the 30ft head, line striped in on the deck, the fly loose on the gunnel. When a fish raises, they call it out, “Sailfish!”, then they yell “Fly in the water!” You’d jump up, when it was your shot, throw the fly overboard, then let the water pull the line out until it was straight and tight to the reel, behind the boat. Then you’d take the 3 steps back to the transom rail and brace yourself in the back right corner (Port Side). The deck hands would be reeling the teasers in, drawing the sailfish into range. They’d usually show up on the long teasers, then as they were ripped in, the fish would get into the short teasers. They’d reel those up, then the captain would yell, “cast now!” You’d take one back cast and slap the fly wherever the fish was, either straight back on the right, or across the prop wash to the left. If the fish was on the left, you’d move over to the middle of the padded transom rail. You had to keep the fly out of the wash, the fish couldn’t see the fly if it was in the white bubbles. If the captain says move the fly left, you needed to walk to the left corner and drag the fly there. DO NOT CAST AGAIN, unless told. If you got this far, hold on, it was about to go down! Guys would make the mistake of recasting when the Captain was yelling down to move the fly to the left… Without fail, the fish would swipe at the fly just as the angler was lifting to recast. When the fly landed back on the water, the fish was already gone. DO NOT CAST AGAIN, leave it on the water, in front of the fish, at all times! Walk over and drag the fly to where the Captain tells you it needs to be.
If you had not blown it by this point, the fish would turn on the fly and it was instantly tight to the reel. If we were using IGFA tarpon leaders with 20lbs class tippet, the crew wanted you to rod set the opposite way of the bite, low rod tip, sideways sweep. Hit him hard, 5 times like that, sweeping sideways sets, then let him charge. No strip set, your left hand isn’t even on the line. The drag was set tight and the rod set would bend the rod hard, but the drag could still go out, protecting the leader. Captain said strip setting with that 20lbs just broke off too many fish. Too static, no give. We had some fish drop the fly doing this method though, the first couple days, so we asked Cap if we could just run 80lbs suicide rigs. We didn’t care 1 bit about IGFA rules… once we changed leaders, then we could do “pull back” static line sets and our hook up rate dramatically improved. Still no strip set, you didn’t want the slack, or line clear.
Once hooked, the fish would go absolutely mental, tearing off line and jumping sometimes like 20 times in a row, fully out of the water, just going ape. Your adrenaline is maxing past the redline at this point. When they stopped jumping they’d sound and you’d have to pump up and reel down on them. Keep the rod tip low, don’t get it too high. The Captain would be backing the boat down on him, keeping the line tight, but not letting him ghost out over the horizon. Their skills at the helm can’t be overstated. Once the fish got alongside the boat, the deckhand would grab the leader, pull him up to the edge, grab the bill, and everyone would celebrate! They’d grab a GoPro camera fixed to the end of a selfie stick, get a few quick pics and send him on his way. The whole thing was mind blowing! I literally felt nauseous from the adrenaline dump after I landed mine. It took a couple beers to get my hands and legs to stop shaking. No kidding…
We were raising 4-10 fish a day, tough by comparison to typical reports from down there, but we were consistently seeing fish and everyone landed at least one, in 4 days of fishing. Plus, we were losing 3-4 hours of fishing a day because of the long runs out and the learning curve of getting the sequence I described above also cost us a few fish the first couple days. Once you figure it out, and if we had a little better conditions and shorter runs, I can see how the boats at Casa Vieja consistently put up the monster numbers that they do. Look at the past reports… They consistently post days with 20+ fish hooked and 10+ landed. It is crazy good fishing. All billfishing at Casa Vieja is catch and release.
We also caught a few mahi-mahi / dorado everyday. They were absolutely gorgeous, pulled like crazy, jumped all over the place, and were absolutely delicious! There was apparently no catch and release for the dorado, which were delicious, and in abundance. One of the deckhands was also the cook and would make hot lunches in the boat everyday. Fresh fried mahi sandwiches with avocado and tomato are hard to beat.
There were also a handful of marlin hooked and landed throughout the week. The first billfish our boat hooked on the first morning was a 250 pound blue marlin that stayed on for about 10 minutes before it came unbuttoned… The Captain explained to my buddy what he had done wrong before telling him he was actually surprised it stayed on that long! HAHA!
The actual billfish rigging is super unique. Here is the breakdown:
14 weight rods were the tool of choice. These monsters are just too much even for a 12wt. The lodge provides all tackle and flies. You do not need to build this rig or bring any tackle at all, unless you plan on diving deep into the bluewater game.
The leader, as mentioned, was a standard IGFA tarpon leader. 12” of 80 lb. fluoro to protect against the raspy bill of the fish, then the 18” of 20lbs for the class tippet, then like 7’ of 80 lb. again. Our suicide rig was just 8’ of 80lbs, no class tippet at all, we didn’t care and didn’t come for records.
The crew loved spliced line connections vs using knots in the system. 30lbs Dacron sleeves were used over all line to line connections. Bulky knots are just asking to hang up in the guides and break off a monster on a surge close to the boat. Even the leader was spliced into the shooting head. No loop to loop connections. They had 1.5 feet of orange braided hollow Dacron spliced over the end of the leader, then it extended another 3ft, spliced over the shooting head. The head itself is a 30ft, 500g to 700g leviathan black sinking head. On the back of the head, another Dacron splice covers 3’ of head and 3’ of running line. They use 60’ of mono running line, then another splice right into the backing… Lots of backing! It was a pretty trick system, I had never seen a rig like that.
We tipped the guides directly, on the boat, after our last day of fishing. If you are scheduled for different boats with different crews from day to day, they want you to tip at the end of each day. After our last day of fishing, back at the lodge, there were envelopes for tips for the staff and an invoice for top shelf booze, gift shop stuff, and a bed tax that was like $60 per person. We settled up, and got packed up for a humdinger of an alpine start the next day… 3:30 am wake up, breakfast before 4:00 am, on the road by 4:15. Another 2 hour drive back to Guatemala City, arriving around 6:15 am, perfect to catch our 8:00 am flight from GUA to Cancun for a 2nd week chasing permit in the Yucatan at ESB Lodge! Great combo…
Our first mission into the Bluewater was epic. I learned a ton, expanding my knowledge of a whole new world in the fly fishing game. Casa Vieja is absolutely top notch. Its reputation precedes it, and for good reason. They executed flawlessly. If you are interested in exploring billfishing on the fly, this place needs to be at the absolute top of your list of destinations to fish. And it is a fantastic add-on destination combo with another Caribbean destination, if you want to extend your adventure with another fishery.
Call or email if you want to hear or learn more about Casa Vieja.