This trip kind of snuck up on me for some reason and I didn’t really have my shiznit together for the fishing side of things… so, here are some thoughts.
Bring a spare rod. I almost did, but didn’t. When I broke the tip off my 8 weight it meant I fished with a slightly modified rod that didn’t cast as well.
Bring the 60#. I packed like I was only going to see baby tarpon. I only had #40, to the slight annoyance of my guides (they hid it well).
Refresh my tarpon box. I haven’t really looked at my tarpon flies in a while and I should. Need to tie some more flies up, in a variety of weights.
Bring some hooks. One thing I hear consistently from guides is that it can be hard to get hooks. I could have brought some. That would have been an easy and nice thing to do.
Look where you cast. Literally… if I want to lead the fish by 5 feet, LOOK at that spot. When I look at the fish and try to lead them, I end up putting the fly on top of them.
I have no idea the next time I’ll be casting to bonefish or tarpon. I imagine it will be a while. We’ll see, I suppose. I was reminded how much I love being out there, in a panga or a skiff or on foot, with the prospect of an amazing fish in front of me. I love the mangroves and the frigatebirds and the snapper and the manatees and dolphins and crabs and just the all of it. I love being there, in places that have those things. It was a good reminder.
Also, my wife picked up COVID on the trip, so that could have been better. Her first time.
I’m sitting here on the north island of Caye Caulker, stinking a bit, thinking about packing up as we catch a boat back the Belize City here in a couple hours. It has been a good family trip. We snorkeled the reef. We visited an awesome Maya ruin almost all the way to Guatemala. I got fishing with my boy. I had plenty of morning patrols with a fly rod in hand.
Morning patrol was the most effective. I managed a decent snook and a baby tarpon right out front, which was pretty rad. Beyond that, well… the wind has been blowing about 20 mph pretty much non-stop since we got here. The sargasso is all over the place and between that and the wind the water on the ocean-side is something like café-au-lait in color. That has made it a challenge.
I honestly don’t remember being anywhere for a week that had wind like this so consistently… but maybe I’ve never been in the tropics in June before? I don’t know, but it has been less than ideal for fishing.
But… to the fishing.
Earlier this week I went out with Dennis for a full day with my 9 year old. A full day with a 9 year old is an iffy thing. Kids get bored, so I didn’t know if we’d last the whole day.
Right off the bat we ran into a pod of dolphins that showed off for us a bit. That was pretty cool and a memorable thing. We ended up seeing 2 different dolphin pods and about 5 manatees.
My son used the spinning rod and bait and he crushed it. He well out-fished me, which was fun for him and a thing he was not shy in sharing with random strangers.
For me… I had one good tarpon shot and I blew it. Wind at my back, I saw the fish first, moving over white sand at 12:00. My shot was good, but I dumped too much line with the strong wind and I struggled to get tight to the fly. So, when the 5+ foot tarpon ate the fly, I couldn’t get a hook set on it. That was it. That was my tarpon shot. I didn’t get another.
We looked for bonefish for a bit, but the water in the lagoons was really warm and all the feed marks were rays, not bonefish.
I went fishless, save for two accidental small cudas.
That’s the way to goes sometimes. I got to share something I love with my son, which was really special. The kid hung in there too. He said the fishing was his favorite part of the trip.
I got another half-day with Guide Kyle and that trip was fun and I had plenty of bonefish shots and even a couple good permit follows (seriously, no idea how I didn’t end up with a permit… so… close!). Kyle got us out of the wind, back in some deep lagoons and he found fish for me.
I’m rusty. I put the fly on the heads of bonefish more often than not. I guess you can get out of practice with this stuff! I was also casting with my 8 weight that I managed to break the tip off of. Yup, second broken 8 weight in about 2 months.
We also had a guide pull up behind us and then pole directly on top of us. I mean… that’s just total dick-head-maneuver guiding. Kyle did well not to spear the guy with his push pole. If you are the client in this situation, tell your guide you’d like to not do this.
And there we are… that’s the end of the trip. We leave here shortly. I’m not packed up yet… maybe hoping if I just never pack, I’ll get to prolong my stay in Belize? It’s time. Work beckons. There is soccer club work to be done. There’s a whole life up there in the Bay that I need to get back to… but I do love it here, even with the relentless heat and this aggravating wind, I do love it. Caye Caulker in Belize and East End Lodge in the Bahamas are probably my two favorite places. Glad to get to be here with my wife and my son and I look forward to getting back, whenever that might be.
I’ve been thinking about Belize lately. I was talking to my 6 year old about Belize, thinking about how much he would dig on experiencing the place, getting him to tell his mom that’s a place he wants to go (smart). I was talking to a friend who wants to catch a bonefish about why Belize is a good option for a first timer.
Then, I see this come through my inbox. Yellow Dog Community and Conservation Foundation has been keeping on keeping on in the fight to preserve the fishing and fly fishing economy of Belize. Good stuff. Below is their press release.
Permanent Ban on Gillnets in Belize
One Step Closer
August 21st, 2020
On August 20th, 2020, an agreement between the Government of Belize and the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries was signed by Dr. Hon. Omar Figueora, Minister of Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment, and Sustainable Development. This long-awaited agreement is a major step in the process of completely phasing out the use of gillnets in Belize, protecting important game species such as permit, tarpon, and bonefish along with other critical marine species such as sharks, turtles, and manatees. The Yellow Dog Community and Conservation Foundation (YDCCF) is proud to have been a part of this initiative from the beginning, as well as serving as a coalition partner. In addition, we would like to express gratitude and thank all of our donors who helped to make this possible.
With this agreement in place, we will begin the second phase addressing ‘alternative livelihoods’ for the gillnet fishermen in Belize. This next phase of the project will be overseen by a committee appointed by the Minister of Fisheries with support and guidance by the Government of Belize, the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries and support from Oceana, in order to have a long-lasting and sustainable option that keep gillnets from being used in the future.
The work to permanently ban gillnets in Belize is a great example of the angling community coming together to help local communities in the places we fish while also building support for and maintaining sustainable sport fishing resources.
YDCCF strives to identify local community needs and provide support to solve their concerns and to this end, we are pleased to be a part of the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries. The Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries includes the Belize Tourism Industry Association, the Belize Game Fish Association, the National Sports Fishing Association, the Belize Federation of Fishers, Turneffe Atoll Trust, MAR Alliance, Yellow Dog Community, and Conservation Foundation.
If you would like more information about the project and how you can support the gillnet ban and alternative livelihoods project in Belize, or to order a Belize Gillnet Ban Sticker, please contact email@example.com
Saw this in an email from Yellow Dog, promoting the conservation efforts going on in Belize. Kudos to the folks at Yellow Dog for including that in their email marketing… a step they don’t have to take, but are.
The folks behind this could use a bit of a financial bump. Consider donating.
I love Belize and I’ll be clicking a few dollars their way for sure.
You may have seen the story… a fly fishing trip that ends in a double murder. If you had told me that happened in the Keys, I would have thought it was a matter of time. Tell me that happened in Belize and I’d call you a liar.
A 53-year old cardiologist on vacation with his wife and three kids gets caught up in some crazy gangster/drug BS and ends up dead, along with the intended target, his guide.
Another year is in the books. Let’s see how it went.
I got three distinct chances to chase bonefish in 2018.
Spring Break in Caye Caulker, Belize.
Family trip to Oahu.
Week at East End Lodge.
Spring Break turned out VERY different than planned. I caught bonefish off the dock and managed one with Heywood before I got sick. Sick I stayed for 2.5 days. It wasn’t how I wanted my daughter to spend her Spring Break, but… ya know… things happen. My girl got her first snook… so, there was that. I love Caye Caulker and I’ll be back.
Heywood with my daughter’s snook
Oahu and I managed to get another day with Captain Kenny. He’s a great guide and I enjoyed my day. Managed another Hawaiian bonefish, which is a feat that haunted me until Capt. Kenny banished those demons in 2017.
A nice o’io on a cloudy day in Oahu.
The trip to East End Lodge was, in a word, fantastic. The weather in July, the last week they were open, was hot, but the winds were low. The fishing was first class and the guide was brilliant. Food was on point. Rooms were comfortable. Ya know… I kind of liked it there. I have a real fondness for that part of the Bahamas. It is where I caught my first bone a decade ago. It is where I caught my first DIY bone. I love it there and I love it more now.
That’s a pretty good year. I have to say. With family and job and lots of adulting going on, getting in the salt three times is damn fine work.
I didn’t get camping this year. Smoke and fires kept that from happening, and so my son and daughter didn’t catch a trout this year. I’ll fix that in 2019.
I didn’t fish the McCloud this year. I only fished the Upper Sacramento for about an hour. I didn’t fish the Truckee or the Carson or the Walker. I didn’t fish Montana. I didn’t fish Oregon.
I didn’t fish Florida. I didn’t fish Mexico.
The list is nearly endless of places I didn’t fish… but I’m happy with where I managed to wet a line in 2018.
I almost never remember my dreams. Maybe once every couple of months I’l wake up with a vague notion of what passed through my brain in the middle of the night or a random comment during the day will unlock some stored and normally inaccessible memory. There is, however, one way I get a little glimpse into what’s flowing through my head in the slumbering hours.
I have an almost 5 year old.
He’ll walk into our bedroom at very odd hours and interrupt his parents’ sleep because…
His music has turned off.
His sheets are messed up.
A book has fallen off his bed.
He has to pee.
He’s had a bad dream.
Usually, it is 1-4, rarely 5. You can get an idea from the list that these are not exactly 3:00 AM emergencies, but, he’s a good boy, so… we allow it.
Last night he came in and not only did he interrupt our sleep, but he caught me in the middle of a bit of a nightmare of my own.
I was either in Belize or on my way to Belize. I had WAY under-packed. I found myself with a simple backpack and a rod tube. One rod. I had brought an 8 wt (probably my favorite, my Helios 2). But… where was my 10 wt? Where was the tarpon stick? Where was the cuda rod?
You can see what a nightmare that would be, right?
Now… because I tend to believe dreams actually do relate to the real world, I have traced back that particular dream to two places.
First… I saw this pick on good ole’ Facebook:
The final piece, the tarpon.
That’s a tarpon caught out of El Pescador in Ambergris. It happens to be the lodge where I spent my honeymoon and where I got my Grand Slam.
Second source, I believe, for this dream/nightmare is that I’m going to Christmas Island in about 2 months and I am WAYYYYYYY behind on my tying (I’m about a dozen flies into what should be about 5 or 6 dozen flies tied).
That which is left undone is one of those underlying reasons for many a nightmare or sense of anxiety (or so I believe). When you feel like something isn’t totally right, it usually has roots in some task or job you haven’t taken to 100%.
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.
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).