• Published:December 12, 2014
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Each year Capt. Brad Philipps and his crew catch-and-release 2,000 or so billfish. The South African-born captain is closing in on 30,000 billfish releases for his career. The numbers are impressive for sure, but they don't happen by accident. It takes experience, a good crew, well-maintained tackle and an eye for detail. You also have to fish the world's best bites, and Philipps has been to them all (just about).

FishTrack sat down with Philipps to get a glimpse into his career and how he stays on top of the sportfishing game.

FishTrack: How did you get started fishing professionally?

Brad Philipps: I started heading offshore with my uncle at the age of 14, and it was South African-style surf launching. I got my first skipper's ticket at the age of 18 and after finishing my compulsory military service and earning an honors degree, I left South Africa and started working professionally... That was 20 years ago!

FT: How did you and your wife Cindy end up opening a lodge of your own?

BP: I was the fleet captain at the famed Fins n’ Feathers in Guatemala for several years, but I'd always wanted to have a setup of my own. When Fins n’ Feathers closed, the timing was just perfect for Cindy and I to do our own thing. It was a little daunting at the time but things couldn't have worked out better and we have never looked back.

FT: You often bring the whole family out on the water. Why do you think it's important to expose your kids to fishing?

BP: To share what we love with kids is just the best. They are so eager to learn and share with their parents or mentors, and fishing is so much more than just catching a fish. It's life lessons learnt, and the earlier we are able to expose and cultivate the passion for it the better.

FT: You always seem to show a lot of appreciation for your long-time mates. What makes a great mate?

BP: This is a team sport, so a great mate needs to do his particular job well in each and every situation, from rigging and prep, to the work in the cockpit, angler interaction and then the put-away at the end of each day and preparing for the next day. Being a great mate is more than just knowing how to fish -- it's the whole deal.

FT: You've put up some epic numbers in Guatemala, including the landmark release of your 25,000th billfish in 2013. Do you have any special techniques for racking up these kinds of stats?

BP: We all fish pretty much the same way here in Guatemala and racking up numbers still means you release them one at a time. The difference is that top guys have staying power and are consistently at the top of their game. There are no real special little tricks or secrets, it's just about being a little bit better at each and every little thing.

FT: This November, your crew took home the top prize in the Presidential Challenge of Central America, and helped set a tournament release record of 849 billfish. How did you do it?

BP: Pre-fishing a tournament is important. Crews were reporting fish both inshore on the west side of the pocket/canyon we usually fish, as well as out on the edge of the continental edge. I fished around a boat or two inshore the morning before the tournament and then ran offshore. Although the fishing was not as good as the day before I had a good feeling that the big bite would happen offshore. It's really anybody's call, as it can go off just about anywhere in Guatemala's fish-rich waters, but years of experience sometimes give one that extra sense.

I played my itch and was the only boat to make the long run on the first morning of the tournament. It's risky to go off on your own as finding the fish is more difficult. The bite was on though, and we found fish out wide on the drop-off but boats inshore were also racking them up. At times I questioned my decision as the inshore radio call-ins came flooding in but I'd made my move and had to stick with it.

We were steady most of the first day, but during the last hour we got on them pretty good and ended the day with 44 releases to finish in first by six fish for the day. On the second day of the tournament other boats followed us out wide. We ended that day with 31 sailfish releases and again took the daily prize. On the last day I just stayed with the fleet out wide, releasing 23 sails and two red-hot blue marlin. We finished second that day, but the lead we'd built up was just too big and we were in the groove, capitalizing on the awesome fishing and all the fish we were raising.

"Racking up numbers still means you release them one at a time. The difference is that top guys have staying power and are consistently at the top of their game."
-- Capt. Brad Philipps
FT: What kind of water conditions were you looking for?

BP: We look for all the same things everyone else does -- water clarity and signs of bait. Our water temperature stays pretty consistent here but sometimes it can get a little cool, which affects the fishing.

FT: Where else in the world do you fish?

BP: I fished Nova Scotia for the giant bluefin three years in a row which was great, and have been lucky enough to fish many other hot spots. I'm heading back to Cape Verde to run the famed G&S, Hooker there next June and plan on making that my yearly June pilgrimage. For me Cape Verde [add SST link] is a truly special fishery. Not only are there unbelievable numbers of blue marlin there, but you truly have a good shot a real monster. I can't wait to get back.

To book a trip with Capt. Brad Philipps and his team on the Decisive, visit guatbilladv.com.