In Belize… dredging sand from a living reef. This shouldn’t happen. As if the fishing gods agreed, the barge ended up stuck on the reef it was smothering.
You can do better, Belize.
In Belize… dredging sand from a living reef. This shouldn’t happen. As if the fishing gods agreed, the barge ended up stuck on the reef it was smothering.
You can do better, Belize.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Grand Slam – If you are looking for all three, you are going to head to Belize. I’m proof you can make that shite happen.
Beer – The beer of Belize, Belikin, isn’t even 12 ounces. Kalik and Sands take this one.
Guides – Toss up. I’ve had some amazing guides in Belize. I’ve had some amazing guides in the Bahamas. Generally, the Bahamas is known for bonefishing guides and Belize is known for permit guides.
DIY – There is just more area in the Bahamas. You can DIY in Belize, sure, but you just can’t beat the square miles in the Bahamas.
Snook – Belize… not many snook in the Bahamas. Sure, there are some, like this one from East End Lodge, but you are much, much more likely to get into a nice snook in Belize.
I love Belize. I love the Bahamas. This year is a very, very good year, as I’m going to visit both. The very best situation is when it isn’t either/or, but both.
I’m at the point where I’m excited, but I also know high expectations are a killer.
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 guess they are bigger out in NJ and the one in Atlanta? Maybe others too? We have one out here in Pleasanton, not too far away from where I call home. I have been to that show more often than not over the past decade. I have worked that show a few times… once for BTT, twice for Friends of the River, maybe once for Clearwater, back when it was Clearwater House.
I love the show. I see old friends and seem to have interesting conversations every year. I don’t really go to buy anything and I didn’t eve cast a rod this year (fewer and fewer ron makers seem to be showing up). But there are still lots of people I like at the show, people I generally only see there.
This year I brought my 11 year old daughter and she didn’t want to leave. I heard her on the phone with a friend later say “I spent the day at a fly fishing show… it was actually pretty fun.”
I’m going to put that in the parenting win column.
I got to introduce my daughter to Camille Egdorf, of Yellow Dog Fly Fishing Adventures and from the movie Providence. It was funny because my daughter kind of fan-girled her, although I’m not sure she knew who she was. I made her watch Providence when we got home. Now she knows.
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.
I’m looking for more of these kinds of moments this year when we go back.
I can’t wait.
This year I’ll write more about it.
What an odd year it’s been.
I got out, I went some new places, I had some different experiences, I caught some new species, I met some new people.
It was another year where my days fishing for trout diminished. I think I fished for trout exactly three days… all with my daughter and a bit with my son (who landed his first trout), and for fewer combined hours than I’d normally fish in a single day. It just gets harder and harder to get away and make the drive North or East to find trout water. Kids. Work. Wife. It just isn’t fitting into an increasingly full life. I can’t really even complain about that, it’s just an observation.
I continued to find some time around the edges to get to the Bay and fish for stripers. I didn’t do this as much as I would have liked to, but I caught some, even the odd halibut. I saw plenty of seals and pelicans and very few other anglers.
My first trip of the year was to Ft. Lauderdale/Miami. It is a trip I’ll look back on with sadness, given the later actions of my fishing partner, but the fishing itself was pretty interesting. I caught my first Peacock Bass, which was pretty fun, as well as my first Mayan. I went night tarpon fishing in Biscayne Bay (remember, my son’s middle name is Biscayne) on a night of high winds and low expectations. We didn’t catch anything more than a single jack, but we did have tarpon rolling on the shadow line of the bridge and it is something I really want to do again. I got to fish with David as well, who showed me one of his spots.
My second trip of the year was to Belize for Spring Break with my girl. We went to Caye Caulker and stayed at Sea Dreams. It was a pretty awesome trip, full of bonefish caught from the dock and very little time wearing shoes of any kind. The day of fly fishing resulted in one nice snook and a really good soaking from the rain. Lots of great memories from that trip.
My third trip of the year was to Oahu for a family vacation. I had a day to fish and I managed to break my O’io curse, landing three, hooking seven and seeing my first adult Giant Trevally and my first ever milkfish. It was a pretty good day on the water… opened my eyes a bit to the Hawaii bonefish game.
My fourth trip was to Mexico, Mahahual, with my dad in July. I think it was maybe a bit too late in the year as it was HOT. This was, in retrospect, not the best trip for my dad. The heat and unsteady footing were not his friends. Still, he caught his first tarpon (baby) and had his first grabs from adult tarpon. I caught some babies, had more than one eat from the big guys and caught my first trigger fish. It was a good trip that would have been made better by maybe 8 degrees less heat.
My fifth trip was down to the marshes of Louisiana, DIY kayaking for redfish with a group largely from Alabama. This was a great experience. I had never fished out of a kayak like that and was a bit shaky, but managed to catch three reds and my first speckled trout. I met James, another blog reader, and enjoyed our day on the water.
That rounded out my fishing for the year. It is now approaching mid-December and I might, might get another day or two of throwing for stripers in the Bay, but beyond that, my fishing is pretty much wrapped up for 2017.
New species: Peacock Bass, Trigger Fish, Speckled Trout
New guides fished with:
New fishing friends made:
Oh thanks Facebook Memories. I saw a pic today from seven years ago of me holding a tarpon from Belize.
That fish capped of a really wild day of fishing out of El Pescador with my friend Shane from The Fly Shop in Redding.
That tarpon was the final piece of my grand slam, made even more special because it was with my first (and only) permit and my first tarpon.
What a wild day that was. I know, looking back, and I knew at the time, that the biggest factor in all of that coming together was my tremendous
skill luck. Really, I had no business tying into a grand slam. My friend Shane certainly did have a claim to one as he’s one of the best anglers I know. He actually hooked both a permit and a tarpon that day (as well a mess of bonefish… it is Belize after all). He already had a grand slam to his name and he is good enough to catch a grand slam on skill.
Me? I needed luck.
Now I’m a much better angler than I was back then. I’ve put the time in. My casting is better. My understanding is deeper. I’ve now been spurned by a few permit and understand on a better level than, basically, permit are jerks. I’d be more likely to catch a grand slam on skill now, but back then, it was luck.
I’m OK with that.
I JUST left there and Tropical Storm Franklin comes barging on through. By the time this gets posted we’ll know how things are looking, but a named storm is right on top of Mahahual and Punta Allen as I write this. It looks like the brunt of the storm is likely passing north of San Pedro, but the eye is going to go right over Espiritu Santo Bay.
The area has needed rain, so this storm might be a good thing for them, assuming it doesn’t do too much damage. It isn’t expected to be a full hurricane until it passes through Yucatan and emerges into the Gulf to strengthen.
Wishing everyone well down there.
I open the door and look up and my heart sinks, just a bit. There are clouds… thick clouds, and a bit of wind and it is only 6:30 in the morning. I’m heading out to the dock to look for bonefish on this day, when we’ll be going out with a guide to fish the waters near Caye Caulker.
As I get out to the street and look in the direction of the reef I see a dark wall of weather coming this way.
The dock is in the lee and the bonefish are there, because they seem to always be there when people or boats don’t drive them off… and even sometimes when it seems like they really should be scarce.
One comes to hand. Not a big one, but a bonefish. I’m on the board so the rest of the day is gravy.
Anna wakes up, or I wake her up, and we get breakfast up on the rooftop bar and she gets all kitted out in flats fishing gear. She’s wearing the uniform.
The guide pulls up at the hotel’s dock, a panga, no poling platform, but the pole is there, so I’m pretty sure we are in good hands. Purnell, I think he says his name is, isn’t optimistic about the weather but he tells me we’ll do what we can do and I tell him I understand he doesn’t control the weather.
The game plan, in my head, my aspirational game plan before we got here was tarpon. That plan is out the window with the weather. Instead, we run North. Crab Caye. This is a series of mangrove islands and lagoons somewhere in-between San Pedro and Caye Caulker. This seems to be the place the guides run to when something wicked is coming up from the South, and something wicked is certainly on the way. As we run north the storm is moving faster than we are. The panga’s twin 40’s are having a hard time with the sargassum, which was everywhere and in great amounts. Every 100 or 200 yards we have to stop, reverse and commence our forward progress again. It makes for slow going, but we wouldn’t beat this storm no matter what we had on the back of the panga. It is a fast mover.
As we get to the spot the guide wants us I get up on deck. While I want my girl to get into some fish, this isn’t really a spot that will work for her. She needs a mud to get a bone and I don’t think that is in the cards today. So, I am up on deck and as we turn the corner we see another boat with another guide who is trying just like we are to find a little bit of fishable water before the storm steals the day.
Another corner turned and another boat… two actually.
The guide has one more spot to check. We head into a mangrove lined channel. I love places like this.
As we emerge from the mangrove channel I see before us a picture perfect lagoon and, just as we cut the engines on the other side of the lagoon we see… another boat. They aren’t going to leave us to it. They are going to fish the lagoon as well. We go one way, they go the other. We’ll share.
We tuck over to the left where there is a little corner to the lagoon, a little tongue heading back in and on the fringes of that opening we see something move. First thought from me is bonefish, because that’s what I have seen in places like this before, but the guide tells me it is a snook.
A snook, eh? I’ve caught few of them. I’ve fished for few of them. They aren’t a game fish I know well, but, hell, I’m game.
We set up, waiting to see if the fish comes back and… it does.
Along the inside of the corner I see a fish moving towards us.
“Put it right in front of the fish. Close.” says Purnell.
I make the cast and the gurgler lands somewhere around a foot from the snout of the snook. One pop and the snook has keyed on it.
“Slow strips, not to fast” says the guide.
This is advice I need because I don’t magically know how to present a gurgler to a snook. I haven’t done it before.
I strip slowly and the snook comes casually up to the fly and then eats it like a trout taking a dry fly. It is an awesome take. Is this how snook eat? I have no idea but I do know I can’t let this fish have any line or I’ll lose him in the mangroves. Luckily, this in my tarpon rod, a 10 weight with 40# fluorocarbon and I hold the fish out of the mangroves, manhandling it to the boat in short order.
It is a nice snook. I’m sure there are nicer snook out there, but this is probably my nicest snook to date. A fine fish. The leader is worn, substantially, from the rough mouth of the snook. It looks and feels like a tarpon was caught on this fly. I don’t remember that from the few snook I’ve caught before, but maybe the smaller ones don’t wear so much on the leader? What I do know is that this was a great moment.
My daughter gets to touch the fish, gets to look at it.
“Cool” she says.
“Thank you,” I tell the guide. I always thank the guide, for every fish.
And that is pretty much it. I get one cast in at a pair of snook just a couple of minutes later and it is a good cast/presentation, but the fish don’t show any interest. I spot three bonefish nearby, but they are turning away, presenting their tails as targets, never promising.
The weather is coming on fast now. We’ll be in a deluge if we don’t make a move quickly. The fly rod gets put away. I tell the guide that the next fish we get should be my daughters, no matter how we have to do it.
With that, my fly fishing is pretty much done for the day. The weather comes. It rains hard, but we find shelter in a one-room shack built out over the water, probably for this very purpose.
Just the one snook, but it was a good fish. It was a good take. Memorable. I’ll savor that experience.