By Mark B. Hatter
“We know more about the moon than we know about the habits of billfish.”
Brad Philipps, captain, owner and operator of the charter boat Decisive and Guatemala Billfishing Adventures, introspectively remarked as we sipped whisky and smoked Cuban cigars on the rooftop of his Casa Philipps in Antigua, in January of 2020. It had been a VERY slow week, yet under the uncharacteristic circumstances, we raised and released more sailfish using fly tackle than any other boat in the fleet.
So, I am not so sure about Philipp’s moon and billfish remark.
In November, I rode along with Philipps on the Decisive during the three-day charity No Sancocho tournament sponsored by Casa Vieja Lodge in Puerto San Jose. It was a remarkable tournament played out under a variety of conditions, from glassy calm to stacked waves from the “Papagayo,” which blew hard on the third day. Yet, under the changing conditions, one thing was abundantly clear: Brad Philipps knows more about billfish than science knows about the moon.
By the end of the tournament, the competitors were, well, in a word, crushed! Philipps and his team racked-up an amazing 55 sailfish releases (including three triples) and an unprecedented eight blue marlin releases, including four on the last day. All on light tackle!
I have been to Guatemala many times in the last 15 years and have fished with several captains. Yet, until last November, I was only familiar with Philipps though his peers, where his reputation preceded him. Invariably, his name invoked admiration with, perhaps, a tinge of envy.
And why not? In his 20 years fishing Guatemala he has amassed a plethora of trophies and accolades from every blue-water organization on the planet. On November 30, 2015, Philipps released his 30,000th billfish. He is getting close to exceeding 40K by now, his wife and business partner, Cindy, has been nagging him to give her the current update so she can post it on their website.
Considering that the Guatemala fishing season runs October through May, when you do the math, it deduces to an amazing average of 16 sailfish releases per day. No wonder why his crew rigs at least one hundred ballyhoo for a day’s charter and why he carries and, more importantly, may deploy dozens of different plastic teasers out of his arsenal of more than 100 in a day’s outing.
When I came back to fish with Philipps in early January, guess what I carried with me? More new, custom teaser heads and sheets of plastic skirts he’d ordered from the states!
Philipps is humble and will downplay his successes, explaining that his formula is simple: consummate preparation will reward you when opportunity presents itself. This was self-evident in November during the No Sancocho tournament and again in January where Philipps found agreeable sailfish for the fly rod when the bite was virtually nonexistent.
“I wish I could at least see a F*#king sailfish!” one captain quipped over the radio as we had yet raised another aggressive fish in our spread on our last day.
The next time I hope to sip whisky with Captain Brad Philipps, I will remind him of our January starlight cocktail conversation. Then I’ll offer him the following corollary: “We know more about the moon than perhaps most know about the habits of billfish.”
And I know just who that exception is.