Return to Belize
Belize holds a special place in my heart. It was where I saw my first permit, caught my second tarpon, and the first place I had legitimate a legitimate shot at a grand slam in one day. All of these memories have swirled around equally powerful images of long sand flats, mangroves, and turtle grass lazily swaying in shallow ocean currents. All of this I first witnessed in 2009.
It is nine years later, and I have finally returned. The intervening years were not idly spent. There were excursions to Argentina, Bahamas, Canada, Mongolia and throughout the U.S. But Belize was always on my mind. It felt good getting in back.
Ambergris Caye is located in the northern part of the Belize. It is approximately a 15 minute flight from the mainland. The island is perhaps most famous due to Madonna singing about it in the song “La Isla Bonita”. It is certainly as beautiful as the song portrays. But all of the islands are.
Lodging for this trip was at El Pescador Lodge. It was the Orvis Endorsed Lodge of the Year a few years back. I was here in 2009, rolling in with two friends. This time around I was with a large group of 14, many of whom I had fished with before in different parts of the world. Outside of the top-notch accommodations and excellent cuisine, its two highlights are manager Ken Perkenson – former manager of Abaco Lodge in the Bahamas – and Esa Rodriguez – an Orvis certified casting instructor who is the fishing director and guide manager. Esa was on the dock everyday providing instruction to all the guests. He has an international reputation and is one of the best in the biz.
The five days of fish could best be described as hardcore. Guides and guests headed out at 6am generally. While some boats would get back around 2:30pm, most wouldn’t return until 4pm or after. Much of this was due to the run time to the water you were fishing – there was fishing only 20 minutes away, but many guides preferred to run for an hour to get to choice flats and mangrove lakes. That meant an hours ride back in most cases.
Conditions were not perfect during our stay. There were variable winds that would gust up to 15mph. Nonetheless, I have fished in much worse wind and the sun was out most of the day every single day. The result was a good to very good fishing experience. Almost every boat saw permit and tarpon each day and bonefish were everywhere. Bonefish were caught every day. Over half of the group hooked or landed tarpon, and four permit were hooked with two landed. In fact, two in the group had a shot at a single day grand slam.
It is tough for me to decide what the highlight was for me. One might be seeing a number of saltwater rookies in our group getting into fish consistently. Another might be my partner and I hooking into multiple tarpon on mangrove edges as school after school passed by. But undoubtedly the highlight was a fishless day four. We chased permit from start to finish. For a solid two hours, we stood armpit deep on a flat and made casts to schools of permit that were only 30 feet away. On a four occasions, two or three fish would follow my crab imitation to within five feet of my rod tip before slowly turning away. No permit were hooked by either of us. But the sight of those so many of them and to be casting when they were so close was something to remember.
I will take the fishless Day Four over a week filled with bonefish any day.
But I still love bonefish.