It was late on our last day of fishing, and we sat watching a group of sailfish mill around the spread as the mates deftly teased them toward the back of the boat and into casting range. Four hot sailfish closing fast is sight enough to cause anyone to become giddy and a bit nervous, but other expectations excited us even more. We had to wait until renowned biologist and underwater photographer Bill Boyce was positioned just right before Cam Sigler could make the short 30-foot presentation.
That's when Boyce popped his head out of the water and said, "There's at least eight more down below us." He was in the water with at least a dozen sailfish.
While this was nothing new for Boyce, he was actually trying to shoot them as they attacked our flies. No one had ever successfully done this before, and we had the perfect opportunity to make it happen. To this point, the trip had been spectacular, and all of us had a chance to get into the water and swim with hooked sailfish. But the prospect of Boyce getting those images fueled our anticipation.
A Wild Idea
A few years back I got a wild idea that I wanted to get underwater photos of fish - not just hooked or free-swimming fish, but those in the process of pursuing and eating a fly. It needed to be a species that takes flies in a spectacular manner, and I could think of nothing more exciting than a sailfish. I immediately called Boyce, who, along with Guy Harvey, pioneered the filming of billfish underwater during the past decade. Although he'd never fly-fished for sails before, he was optimistic and willing to give it a try.
Once I decided on the "what," the "where" became obvious. I knew getting the underwater photos was going to be a numbers game - the more shots the better our chances. Many people think of Costa Rica when you talk about sailfish, but for sheer numbers no place compares with Guatemala, where 50- and 60-fish days are commonplace. There's only one major fishing area in Guatemala - the small port town of Iztapa on the Pacific coast. Situated just south of there, Art Marina's legendary Fins 'N Feathers Lodge has a storied history and for many years was the only operation in the area. Its captains and crews are among the most experienced billfishermen in the world on any tackle, and the local waters absolutely teem with sailfish.
Once I arranged the trip, Tim Choate, owner of Fins 'N Feathers, asked if Cam Sigler and his son Cam Jr. could come along. I couldn't have been more pleased and immediately jumped at the chance. Their collective experience with sailfish on fly spans decades, and while I've known the Siglers for years, I had never had a chance to fish with them. Sigler's Blue Water Poppers are regarded worldwide as the premier fly for sails.
One more angler was coming along - Daryl Seaton, owner of the Nature Coast Fly Shop on Crystal River in Florida. He had never fly-fished offshore, but he was as fired up as I was about our trip. Now, five people on one boat might sound crowded, but if things worked out, Boyce would be in the water and someone would always have to watch him. Someone else would take photos from the bridge, leaving two anglers in the cockpit to fish.