I’m going to do this in parts… a look back at my Grand Slam down in Belize at El Pescador.
My Highly Improbably, Practically Impossible and Totally Ridiculous Grand Slam
First off, I need to say that I didn’t deserve it. It was way more than I expected, a feat for an angler who has put in some serious time in the salt. My casting isn’t good enough, my knots are sometimes suspect, my tarpon flies are “not there” yet and I was fishing with a buddy who can outfish me blindfolded. I may not have deserved my Inshore Grand Slam, my fish may not have been too large and I may have nearly squandered it all, but I’ll tell you what… I’ll take it.
An Inshore Grand Slam is a big deal because it is difficult. Permit are damn hard to find and nearly impossible to catch. Tarpon, with their boney mouths are notorious hook spitters. Bonefish are, by some distance, the easiest of the three. When bonefish, the gray ghost, is the easiest accomplishment… well… like I was saying… a Grand Slam is difficult.
As the plane crossed from Mexican airspace to Belizean airspace rain started to streak my window. As the plane touched down I could see giant puddles… the kind of puddles that don’t come from a passing thunderstorm. This was rain. Hard rain. Cats and dogs rain.
I hung my head and wished I had thrown back a couple of cocktails in the air. “It is what it is,” I told myself. “You just have to make the best of it” I repeated in my head. “The worst day fishing is better than the best day at work.” I thought, but I knew what I really meant was “Shit. Shit. Shit.”
This wasn’t a long trip, three full days, book-ended by a couple of half-days. If the storm lingered I could end up spending a lot of time in the bar and little time on the flats. I spent enough of my 20’s in bars and there are no bonefish flats in the SF Bay. I wanted to fish. I’d just have to see how things went.
The tiny plane that took me from Belize City to San Pedro on Ambergris Cay never got more than about 300 feet off the ground. It gave a great vantage of the endless flats in the lagoon between Ambergris and the mainland. I didn’t see fish from that high, but I did see muds… lots and lots of muds. There were fish down there on those flats… light green mottled flats with clumps of turtle grass and long prop scars. The flats… beautiful and abused and still alive.
I met up with my fishing companion, Shane, at the San Pedro airport and when I saw him, all we could do was just shrug and say “What can ya do?” Shane is about 5x the angler I am (and that’s probably being kind to myself in this particular bit of math). He’s a fly fishing guide working 200+ days a year and has 350+ days of bonefishing under his belt. He’s seen a hell of a lot more than I have, his casting is an order of magnitude better and he had a Grand Slam under his belt from Ascension Bay back in 1999. He’s been there and done that. I’ve just thought a lot about it, which is in no way the same thing.
We met Lori-Ann Murphy, Director of Fishing at El Pescador Lodge, at the dock in San Pedro. She has one of those jobs you dream about while desk-bound or snow-bound. She was standing on the dock in the rain and quickly offered a beer, which was quickly accepted and quickly drained. The boat ride up to El Pescador took about 10 minutes and was my first real look at Ambergris. The thin strip of solid land that separates the Caribbean from Chetumal Bay is covered with developments… resorts, condos, private homes… one after another squeezed along side each other. Most are beautiful places, some are not, but they all face the Caribbean, sheltered by the normal waves of the sea by the barrier reef just a couple hundred feet off-shore. Between the reef and the land is a solid blanket of turtle grass swaying in the tides.
Belize is a popular place these days. Retirees are moving down in droves from the States and in the booming days of the US Real Estate bubble the bulldozers and dredgers were doing heavy work down in Belize clearing mangroves and digging channels for all that US Cheese that was coming down. Developments moved from solid land to infilling the tidal flats and mangrove swamps. Belize remains a breathtakingly beautiful place, but when the US economy recovers (it is going to recover, isn’t it?) the bulldozers will be close behind. It is a fight that is going on right now… in Ambergris, in Turneffe, in Placencia. It’ll be a damn shame if we lose all that… a damn shame indeed.
Next up… The Permit