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June 25, 2010

Guatemala Bait-and-Switch

Captains along the Pacific coast have bait-and-switch fishing down to a science...

A Different Approach

Sheeder's spread resembles Hamlin's in many ways but has subtle differences. "When the bite is on and I'm trolling slower, I drag mostly Mold Craft lures, and maybe a Pakula or Ilander," Sheeder said. "When searching and trolling faster, I'll drag my Hawaiian stuff - Joe Yee, Marlin Magic - for a little more movement behind the boat. Specific color is not too important, but I will have a variety of colors out at any given time, and if by chance a particular color is getting bit, I'll double up on it."

Sheeder runs bridge teasers very close to the transom, on the second wave, where they can be snapped out of the water quickly and easily. "I also pull two flat-line teasers on the third wave when fishing is hot and heavy and we've slowed down a touch, or on the fourth wave when searching at higher speed," he added. "Two rigged outrigger ballyhoo hook baits on the fifth or sixth wave clean everything up.

"When a fish comes to a teaser - doesn't matter which side - anglers pitch a bait on both sides of the boat," Sheeder continued. "Obviously, the angler on the side with the fish will be dropping back to the fish while the angler on the other side will be dropping back to the area behind the bridge teaser and in front of the flat, being in position for a second fish or in case the initial fish switches sides. We use bait tubes with iced salt water to keep the baits ready. This is more important than it sounds. If you just have your baits lying around, they dry out; hang them outside the cockpit, and they start to smell like diesel fumes; keep them in the cooler, and they'll get caught up on all the other leaders. Keep it clean, organized and simple. If a fish comes up on an outrigger or falls back out of teaser range, you have those outrigger baits for cleanup."

Efficient and Effective
Bait-and-switch is a model of efficiency and effectiveness when done right, and Hamlin and Sheeder are two of the best at it. Where they fish, out of Puerto Quetzal, on Guatemala's Pacific coast, the fishing can be fantastic: On a single day in March of 2006, for instance, both Hamlin and Sheeder set records that will likely stand for some time. Hamlin and his crew caught and released an incredible 124 sailfish on conventional tackle, using the bait-and-switch technique, and on the very same day, Sheeder and Casa Vieja owner Jim Turner caught and released 57 sails on fly rods, also using bait-and-switch. Those are staggering numbers in anyone's book.

So given those numbers, can you count on getting 50 shots or more every day in Guatemala? Of course not. Fishermen there have good and bad days, just like everyone else. That's fishing, as the saying goes. You can take this to the bank, however: You have a better chance at multiple Pacific sailfish shots (and remarkable numbers of blue marlin, in recent years) in Guatemala than in any place else on Earth, and if you're lucky enough to wind up on a boat with either Hamlin or Sheeder, your chances improve dramatically.