On Caye Caulker at the Sea Dreams dock, the dock light makes things just work. Once the sun is down the bonefish mill around and they can be caught. The last night there I caught six before deciding to call it a trip.
However… in the daylight those fish are a different story. It is the same school of fish, or the same few small schools of fish (maybe 30-40 fish total), and when the lights are on they just won’t be fooled.
I tried some of the Hawaii tactics from last year. I tried going small, but the current would just carry the fly away before the fish could even see it. I tried taking out the flash and going neutral colors, but it seemed any fly, of any color or shape, would send the fish scurrying for cover. I tried leading the fish by 9 feet, but as soon as the fly line landed on the water the fish would just turn around and swim slowly away from the offending line.
So, size didn’t matter, color didn’t matter and you couldn’t cast within 9 feet. They really were pulling out their inner permit.
I, after a few hours of trying over multiple days, finally gave up.
Those same fish would eat a heavily weighted tan shrimp at the fringes of the dock light’s glow with savagery usually reserved for barracuda eats.
I kind of love Caye Caulker, Belize. This year was Year #2 for Spring Break and if I can avoid any legal trouble stemming from this trip, next year will be #3.
We booked this trip through Yellow Dog Fly Fishing Adventures and stayed, for the second year in a row, at Sea Dreams, near the northern tip of Caye Caulker just shy of “The Split.” We even stayed in the same room, #5, a modest courtyard room with two single beds. The travelers were just myself and my 11 year old daughter.
Caye Caulker sits off the mainland, about a 40 minutes water taxi ride from Belize City. This year the taxi driver at the airport took it as his personal mission to get us on the boat set to depart in just a few minutes. He did. It was Indy 500 stuff. I tipped him well, but won’t seek him out in the future. We got to the port and walked on the boat and it took off. The kind of timing you see in the movies when no one is ever sitting around waiting for anything.
When you get to the island it is just another world. Shoes optional. 2-3 cars on the whole island. Kids, families and tourists walking, biking or golf-carting around. It is intimate. It is tight. It feels safe in the way the mythical 50’s sound safe.
We got to Sea Dreams, got our room, went to get dinner and then I went back to catch a bonefish off the dock… which I did almost immediately. That’s my kind of place.
The next day was a chillax day. We arranged for a snorkel trip later in the week and I strung up all the rods (a total of four). We fed the tarpon… man I love that… we went through three bags of bait. We had a day of guided fishing set up the next day with Haywood, owner of Sea Dreams.
Haywood is, to be totally clear on things, a damn fine person. His whole family is pretty awesome, as we’d find out later in the week. Haywood is pretty much the perfect age (read the same age I am) and he has an 11 year old daughter, in addition to another younger daughter. His wife co-founded the local high-school and he gushes about her very much in the same way I gush about my own wife, who I think is amazing. I like Haywood. I’d even be friends with him in real life.
Our fishing day on Tuesday started off with me on the deck, but nursing a bit of a headache that didn’t come from booze. In the back of my mind I was starting to say “Man… something is off here.” One bonefish down and my daughter got a chance to be up on deck. I relished the opportunity to sit down a bit, which is very, very out of character. I was feeling achey. My head was pounding and I needed a rest. Haywood got my daughter a snook on some live bait, which was nice, and I had to admit to the boat that I was not feeling very good and maybe she could take more time on the bow.
Me… giving up bow time. Whaaa???
A couple Tylenol, lunch and a bit of a break and I did get up and try things again for a bit, missing one or two snook grabs, breaking off a cuda and landing a couple other small cudas. But, by the time we got back to the dock all I wanted was bed. I laid down and didn’t get back up. My daughter actually got us dinner. I ate some rice, but that was all I could manage.
Haywood with my daughter’s snook
I woke up at 4:00 AM wondering if I was going to be ill. At 6:00 AM I found out that, yes, I was in fact going to be ill. Vomiting ensued and kept up until about 10:30, the tanks empty… scoured out in fact. I was not going anywhere. I was not capable of going anywhere. We were not going snorkeling. We were not doing Mayan Ruins. We were going to be lucky, super lucky, if my daughter didn’t catch whatever it was I had. The trip kicked into survival mode.
My daughter took care of me, our roles flipped. She went out and got me gatorade. She went out and bought me bananas after watching a YouTube video about what to do when you have a GI bug. She entertained herself around Sea Dreams, at the little dock, walking about the streets near the hotel. She stepped up. I was super proud of her.
A view of my bedside table shows I was on the Fluids train.
Fluids… it is all about the fluids.
Later in the afternoon she told me she was going to take a bike out. It was a comment over her shoulder as she walked out. I wasn’t in shape to chase after her to talk more about it. She’s not a hugely experienced bike rider, but the streets are sand, everyone’s out, there aren’t cars… seemed OK. A while later Haywood came in to tell me she’d fallen off a bike and she was OK, but did I want to take her to get checked out by a Dr? I put some clothes on and went with Haywood and my daughter to the private Dr. She checked out pretty quickly and we went back to Sea Dreams and I went back to bed. Haywood stepped up there. He was huge.
My allowing the girl to fall off a bike in Central America is likely going to result in legal paperwork getting served here at BotB World Headquarters in the coming week or two. Not looking forward to that. So goes joint custody.
Later that night Anna even ate dinner with him and his family. I wasn’t going anywhere. They took her in for the evening. It was pretty much pure awesome, just a family helping my family out when we needed some help.
The next day my stomach was still off, but I was feeling, oh, let’s call it 50%. I could at least go out and get breakfast and lunch with my girl. Her bike fall had injured her shoulder a bit and so there were some activities that were just not going to be workable. Our vacation options were pretty much down to walking around, eating and watching island life go by.
There was some fishing in the evening… thank the fates for dock lights, and that was pretty much it.
The last night we were out on the dock and I set Anna up with a fly rod and a heavy shrimp fly. The fish were eating the fly without it being moved, but she wasn’t connecting. I hooked her some fish and she got to land them and we got to enjoy a little bit of what the trip could have been. It was a really nice few moments.
The island is just a wonderful place. There are activities a plenty to sign up for, even if we didn’t get to participate in much of it this year. It is just a great place to be, even if you are puking your guts out.
Watching Buccaneers and Bones just now and they are having a Bahamas vs. Belize comparison.
I’ll be heading to Belize for the 4th time on Sunday. That’s going to be great.
Later this summer I’ll be heading to the Bahamas for trip #8.
They are just different places. It isn’t really fair to compare the two, but, let’s do that anyway.
Bonefish – The Bahamas wins this one. There may very well be 5 pound bones in Belize, but there are many, many more 1 pound bones. There are Bahamian islands with small average sized bones, but the Bahamas also features monsters, ten-plusers. The Bahamas is just such a pure bonefish fishery, it isn’t really a comparison. So many flats, so many islands and the bones are just THE species to chase.
fat backed bonefish
Tarpon – There ARE tarpon in the Bahamas, but you don’t head to the Bahamas to go tarpon fishing. Belize is going to win on that front. That’s where I caught my first tarpon and where I lost my first larger tarpon. Tarpon are what make Savannah Caye a well known spot and there are other known tarpon spots in Belize as well.
The final piece, the tarpon.
Permit – Ya know… I don’t know. I’ve heard some great stories of permit fishing in the Bahamas, but if you want to catch your first permit, you are more likely to go and have success in Belize, so, I’m going to say Belize. Belize is where I caught my first (only) permit, although I certainly have seen some in the Bahamas as well (big ones too).
I’m at the point where I’m excited, but I also know high expectations are a killer.
Not great weather
As fantastic as last year’s Caye Caulker trip were, the day of fly fishing was mostly washed out. I got one nice snook to hand before the storm enveloped us in it’s dark and watery embrace. We spent at least an hour in a hut trying to stay out of the rain. It was not, in pure fishing terms, a super day, although it was still a wonderful day in terms of being on the water with my daughter.
This year should be easier with Yellow Dog Fly Fishing Adventures making sure I’m in the right place at the right time and taking care of many of the getting-there logistics. With the airport on Caye Caulker out of service for repairs, they are making sure I’m getting met at the airport and taken to the water taxi and getting picked up at the dock. Nice service.
I have one day of fly fishing coming up in Belize. Other days will be ruin tours and snorkeling and hanging out. I have just the one day with a guide and we’ll have to keep my daughter happy at the same time.
It could rain hard again.
There could be thick cloud cover and the fish could be hard to see.
Wrong tides… that happens when you don’t have a week of fishing.
My daughter might not be feeling well.
I could get stung by something in the turtle grass and have agonizing nerve pain that keeps my from sleeping at all the night before (as happened during my honeymoon to Belize 5.5 years ago).
There are a million (ok, a few dozen) things that could go wrong.
So… I won’t get too excited.
Need to mentally slow play this.
But still. I’m excited. Jittery (and only on my first cup of coffee).
Can’t wait to get down there and I don’t have to wait long.
I caught my first bonefish in Grand Bahama. I had my last family trip with my mom on Grand Bahama Island. I caught my first DIY bonefish in Grand Bahama. I had my first cracked conch in Grand Bahama. I’ll be adding to those memories when I head back to Grand Bahama in July.
It is a bonefish paradise.
It is also an island under some significant threat.
There are the existing insults to the ecology of the island like the mining operation on the north side of the island.
There are also the cruise ships and the garbage and spills that come with that. Cruising is not so green. Here’s a report card for cruise ships and it seems like many of those earning F’s also happen to make stops at Grand Bahama.
There are other threats on the horizon.
Those include a second oil storage facility to the east of the current tanks. This project is supposed to dwarf the existing storage. I’m pretty sure I’ve fished (and caught fish) very close to where those tanks would go.
The existing tanks on GBI.
Additionally, on top of the storage is a proposed oil refinery. An oil refinery… on the coast of an island not infrequently raked over by hurricanes. I mean… what could go wrong, right? 250,000 barrels a day in processing capacity.
Luckily, the figures behind the deal are totally, like 100%, totally, very much beyond reproach (sarcasm).
There was also a cruise ship port slated for the East End (or, eastern side, it is unclear to me) of Grand Bahama, although that project got inked and then hardly mentioned since. So… who knows. If it happens it 1. wouldn’t make a lot of sense for me given the location (although it would make sense for the government who would like to not have everything controlled by the Port Authority, a private company that owns a hell of a lot of what is in and around Freeport), and 2. would certainly be less than awesome for the fishery.
This all comes at a hard time for the island with the current close status of the Grand Lucayan, which removed about 59% of the island’s available rooms and about 1,000 jobs. The economic impact is probably greater as many of the businesses that depended on the economic hub that was the Grand Lucayan have taken significant blows to their incomes. There is an LOI in place for a new buyer, but, as many things are in the Bahamas, the details are somewhat murky, lacking a clear process or outcome. You know how much economies love uncertainty.
Jobs may be on offer with the various projects, but it does hit at the sustainable resources that are the heritage of the Bahamian people.
There is a lot of wonderfulness in Grand Bahama. There are miles and miles of pristine coastline and miles and miles of pristine flats. Even if all these projects happen the fishery in Grand Bahama will still be amazing, but it will also probably be slightly less than it is now.
One saving grace may be that these plans are grand in scale, scope and cost and while men are capable of coming up with grand plans, they are often only capable of implementing half-grand plans.
I was told you fish for these fish at high tide. No point in heading out at low tide and low tide here can be very, very low. The channel, at low tide, is constricted down to something you could skip a rock across. Hard to know just how deep the channel is when it is low like this. I’ve never seen a boat use the channel at this tide, but I suppose that is its purpose.
I wanted to fish at least once a month and this was, by all accounting, the last day of the month. I ducked out of work just a little bit early and raced home. There, I got some meat out to thaw and grabbed by gear and then off to the water.
The tide was as far out as it gets. The water was a long way down. But… the 28th… last chance.
I figured I’d fast about for 30 minutes or so and then I’d head back in time to make dinner.
Funny what you see out there at such low tide. In the water were sponge like plants, bright red. I’ve never seen those before.
low low low tide
I set about the job of blind casting for California stripers. Cast, retrieve, cast, retrieve.
Then, a most unexpected thing happened. There was a grab. I missed it. I cast again and there was another grab and I was tight to a fish. Was it a halibut waiting for more water to get back up on the mud flat? Was it one of the jack smelt I sometimes catch?
It was a striper.
low tide striper
I wasn’t supposed to be able to catch stripers at low tide. I probably wasn’t supposed to catch stripers in February, or on the cusp of a cold front. But… I did.
The thing I knew just before that fish was that low tide was not the right tide (and that February was not the right month). Funny… now I know something else, which is probably also wrong in one or more of a hundred ways.
That’s what I love about fishing. Being wrong and finding out that I was wrong by catching a fish.
I’m going back. I’m going back to the Bahamas in 2018… July.
I’m going to spend a few days at the East End Lodge, very close to the waters where I caught my first bonefish. This is the place I’ve spent the most time of any one place in the Caribbean. This is a place I kind of love a bit and want to know better.
I’m excited to be going back. I’m excited to stand in those waters again and look for something moving toward me there in the shimmering shadows of currents and water.
I was recently looking through the blog for something about my trip to Belize last year and I was surprised that I had written so little about my time on Caye Caulker. It was a great trip, although maybe it could have been better from a fly-fishing perspective… I only had one day to really fish and that was the worst weather of the week, but the trip… the trip was fantastic.
It was so good, so perfect, even with all the imperfections, that we are doing it again this year. Indeed, that trip stands every chance of being my first saltwater trip of the year (not counting wading for stripers here in the SF Bay).
There certainly was good fishing. I caught bonefish almost at will in the early morning and every night from the dock at Sea Dreams. On my one day of fly fishing I caught my best snook and my first on a popper. That was fun.
What really made the trip special was my companion on the trip… my then 10 year old daughter. This was a daddy-daughter trip. She stays with her mom and hour away about, oh, 63% of the time, so we have to make the most of our time together and this trip was a big part of that last year.
We snorkled, we threw bait for snappers, we hung out around Caye Caulker. Basically, we had a great time. My daughter lost her flip flops on the first day and we didn’t find out until we were leaving because she didn’t need to put shoes on pretty much the entire time. That pretty much summed up the trip.
I’ve had better fishing in Belize. I’ve had much better fishing in lots of places, but fishing wasn’t really the point of that trip. I didn’t fish enough to really have an opinion about the quality of the fishing anyway. I’m positive the fishing is great when you aren’t in a thunderstorm.
I usually hear someone say “Oh, it is just about getting out, I don’t mind if I catch anything” and I think someone is lying through their teeth, but, ya know… it kind of was just about getting out there, with my girl, and not caring about much else.
It was, in so many ways, perfect.
Prime example… the snorkeling. Now… I heard someone say the snorkeling is no good if you are going to the places everyone else goes and we certainly went to the places everyone else goes. I can, 100% tell you that is bullshit. The snorkeling was amazing. We saw a manatee (I had no idea they were in Belize), we saw permit, a moray eel, huge schools of fish, cudas, sharks, rays, bright corals, sea turtles, jacks… I loved it… she loved it too and the day was one I’ll cherish for a long, long time.
I thought she had been snorkeling with her mom, but no, she hadn’t. That meant her first snorkeling trip was with me, in Belize, on a sailboat for a full day. The sail back they let her steer the boat. As the sun was getting low in the horizon she stood there, tiller in her hand, the lighting perfect and I took the picture below, pretty much sure at that moment I was the best parent on the planet… even if just for that moment.
One of the highlights from Spring Break 2017.
I’m looking for more of these kinds of moments this year when we go back.