Some time ago, the plans starting falling in place for what I considered to be my first real shot at some salt species. I have been to the eastern seaboard on several occasions, but those trips were all looking for fish on the surf which can be challenging at times. As many know, Belize is known as a world-class fly fishery as well as being home to the second largest barrier reef system in the world. With sunny skies, 70-80 degree temps, and fish, I didn't really care where the plane would take me, I was just happy to be going. Being honest, the snow pack and drab skies of home were wearing on me a bit. This would be a great time for my wife and I to get away and enjoy a warmer part of the world...and enjoy we did!
The waters of Belize from the air as we arrived.
As we arrived, we could not wait to kick back and enjoy a much warmer place. Trust me when I say that the scenery did not disappoint us. We learned quickly why so many have traveled to Ambergris Caye and keep coming back time after time.
A sight we saw many times while on Ambergris Caye.
Whenever I go somewhere, it doesn't take me long to get in touch with my adventurer side. I love to see things I haven't seen...to experience things I haven't experienced. So, when I was invited to go do some snorkeling, I was all about it! Sure, I've snorkeled in other places like the Bahamas and Jamaica, but never for lobsters. When I heard the word lobster, I was jumping on the boat! I don't know about you, but I will swim all day long in pursuit of something as tasty as lobster. Three hours later we came back with a very nice catch and mouths that were watering.
A nice days harvest of Caribbean Spiny Lobsters
Another look at a days catch and one unbelievable meal!
After kicking around with the snorkels, it was time to get down to business. The fish and flats all around me were screaming my name. James Johnson got down a few days prior to me and was able to get the read on a very nice coastline that sported some very nice flats fishing.
James Johnson holds an average Bonefish
early in the trip to Ambergris.
After several days of being on the Caye, I had the opportunity to go do some exploring on my own. I covered many miles of sand and marl on that day. There was one flat that I found way out of the wade fisherman's way that left an indelible mark on me because of the number of quality Bonefish I was able to bring to hand that day. And trust me when I say the photo below doesn't do it any justice.
A beautiful hard sand flat that I discovered
on a days exploration of fishing solo in the sun.
Everything I heard about Belize prior to going was that the fish were smaller than in other places like the Bahamas and the Keys. Well, for the most part, I found that this is probably the case, but one other thing can't be argued based on what I heard...and that is that the other places don't have the unbelievable numbers of fish that Belize has. On more than one occasion, I found myself fishing a flat solo where at any given time I would have in the neighborhood of 10-20 tails out of the water. Just the kind of place for a beginner to practice the flats game. Here is a photo of a slightly larger than average Bonefish for Belize that I landed early in the trip. Fish were landed throughout the week in the 5 pound range that took me into the backing...so they're not all small in Belize!
My nicest Bonefish caught on film. Other much nicer
fish were landed while fishing alone, but no photos to prove it.
Prior to heading down, I hit the vise and tied up a bunch of flies. As is typical, I tied way to many flies. But one pattern I was excited about trying was the new fly I designed called the Shagnasty Shrimp. Look for the tutorial on our fly tying blog soon! As I said before, I am not an accomplished saltwater angler, but have been looking forward to this opportunity for some time. So, in preparation for the trip, I studied more fly designs than you could possibly imagine! With some new materials on the tying desk, I set out to design something new. The long story shortened up a bit is that this fly hit fish after fish! The pattern also caught the eye of some of the "pros" in the area as well. It's always good to see your designs put fish in hand!
A close-up of a Bonefish that hammered the new
Robinson's Shagnasty Shrimp. It proved deadly while
in country, landing both Bones and baby Tarpon. Next
time, we will add the elusive Permit to that list.
Every day we got out and hit the water in some way shape or form. If the winds were to much on the sound side of the Caye, you could always look out in front of the house to see if tails were cruising the flats. Below is a quick shot I snapped of Miles as he headed down the coast in pursuit of Bones and any other fish that would take a fly.
Miles fishes the sunset in front of the house.
After a week on the south side of the the Caye, it was time to head up and check out the world renowned operations at El Pescador. El Pescador is a part of the Orvis family and I wanted to make sure to connect with them while there. So, after a week of exploration on my own and with friends, it was time to see what the pros knew.
Our arrival at El Pescador was a great one! What a quality
operation. If you are interested in fishing Belize, we will be going
back and looking for those who want to join us.
My first day out with a guide unfortunately met us with bad weather. We had been hit by one of those notorious cold fronts that brought rain, clouds, and unhappy anglers. Much to our chagrin, the day was tough. It's good for a guide to experience that from time to time though. So, due to our unrelenting pursuit of Permit and Tarpon, we didn't get much that first day other than a few small bones that got in our way from time to time. No complaining here though....I know what I would have been catching back home about the same time, so small Bonefish were fine with me.
SAO guide Patrick Robinson snaps a quick shot of
a schoolie Bonefish. These little guys kept things interesting
while looking for the coveted Permit.
After spending the entire day in pursuit of permit and tarpon and not finding anything due to the cold front, we decided to make some fun. I was on the bow when off in the distance a nose surfaced....with lots of teeth...in about 1-2 feet of water. Within seconds, James and I were off in pursuit of a crocodile! We were bound and determined to get a photo with a croc and we were OH SO CLOSE. In fact, we both had him on the line at one point and the last time, he bit the line just seconds before I could grab the camera. Our guide was laughing at the gringos determination to get a croc and it gave James and I a good story.
James gives the "oh well" after the crocodile snapped
our line for the second time. We wanted our photo with one
in a bad way. Yes, we are crazy!
Regardless of the conditions, we fished hard up in the Bacalar Chico for the day and saw some amazingly beautiful sights. No doubt there are fish crawling all over that place when the conditions are right and you have some sun to see them. Here James throws a haul at the direction of the guide. We were looking for Tarpon at this point in time, but it was short lived. Then we went in pursuit of Permit.
James throws a nice line at the guides direction.
On my second day out, I invited Miles Kluesing to come out with me. On this day I had been assigned Emir as my guide. Emir has the nickname of "Permit Ninja" and that seems fitting based on what I experienced in a day with him.
The conditions had started to turn in our favor, but weren't exactly what you would call good. We had some scattered clouds which also meant we had some decent sun to light the waters and flats. However, the chop was still there due to fairly stout trade winds. Nevertheless, I only had this day to get it done for tomorrow the bags would be packed and I would be heading for home. So, it was time to get it done.
Emir and his family have been studying and fishing the permit for over 30 years and know the area well! He told us up front that the fish most likely would not be on the flats, but instead on the highway. Of course they would be :)
I looked at Emir and said, you take us wherever we need to be in order to have shots...and that he did. Within fifteen minutes, with the boat tied off and the pole in the marl, he said this is the permit highway. This is where the fish will cruise back and forth when they aren't on the flats. I listened intently as we sat in 8 feet of choppy water looking for these world renowned fish.
I don't have enough time to tell you all the Permit stories from our day on the water, but I can tell you that there were plenty. Below, Emir shouts out "Dhere's a fish...cast, cast, cast, cast now, cast now, closer, closer man, @&#$!!*&*@#*&!"
Emir the "Permit Ninja" points out an inbound fish.
I'd like to say it ended well, but that wasn't the case.
Oh yes, that was what we heard many times that day. Some of the problems were angler error, but Emir was very frustrated with the hand we were being dealt. Due to the lighting and the wind, most fish we saw were inbound at 50 feet or less. That meant one false cast and the layout. If you hit the target, you had twenty feet worth of strip time before the fish would see the boat and blow up like a mine! Unfortunately, this happened time and again. Not to mention flubbed shots from the wind or line tangles....you name it, we had it covered!
Legs...Belize guide vs. Alaska guide.
I'll let you figure out who is who...ha, ha!
All in all, that day with Emir was world-class! We probably saw 150-200 permit most of which were in the 12-15lb class and up. They were huge fish! Some were bigger which didn't help me any. So, did I get a Permit? Well, yes and no! No, I didn't get a living, breathing fish, although the memories of the shots I had will haunt me for many nights.
The night prior to this day though, I met a guy who has lived down there for a number of years and frequents the El Pescador Lodge because of friendships. He is a Canadian Steelhead guide (BC), but because of his love for Permit, lives the rest of the year on Ambergris. We have a lot in common....steelhead guides, film/editing gurus, and now permit. In fact, Wil put his new panga flats boat on the water the morning I left. He stopped by to let me see it...he calls it Barebones! It's a very nice boat!
So, back to the story...no I didn't get a Permit, but the night I met Wil, he had on a necklace that I instantly fell in love with. I asked him where he got it and he told me his neighbor is a carver and he had carved it for him out of bone and black coral. The long story short is that Wil surprised me by selling me his because he knew his neighbor could make him another. It put the icing on the trip for me! So, I didn't get a living, breathing Permit, but I did get one that will forever remind me of a task left undone. Mark my words, I will enter the ranks of Permit anglers...soon...I now have a vendetta for the Palometa!
The only permit I landed. Every time I wear it, I will be
reminded of a task left undone. I will be back with a vengeance!
In closing I can tell you that Belize is unlike any other place I have ever been. I have been to Europe, Africa, Alaska...I have traveled a bit...and I have never been to a place that I liked as much as San Pedro on Ambergris Caye! I will be heading back and am looking for those interested in doing it with me. In the days to come, you can look for a return trip to El Pescador and I hope you will join me for some fun in the sun!
A nice shot down the coastline at El Pescador
A beautiful sunrise, a palapa, and a flats boat. There's no
better way to warm the heart and soul than to feast on this.
Until next time, get those rods out, clean your lines and check your fly boxes. The waters are up, the Steelhead are in and in a matter of days, we will be back on the water. If you are looking for a quality day on the water with guides who know the sport, give us a shout at 419-466-9382 or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We'll see you on the water!
Patrick "Flybum" Robinson
Steelhead Alley Outfitters