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.
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.
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 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.
First, congrats to Yellow Dog’s Jim Klug who recently landed the 2017 Izaak Walton Award given by the The American Museum of Fly Fishing. I’ve had the pleasure of fishing with Jim. He’s solid. Last year’s award winner was super-talented artist and author James Prosek.
Jim + Cuba + Cameras
Second, hope you like that water taxi ride to Caye Caulker, cuz, you aren’t going to be flying there for a while. They are reconstructing the runway on Caye Caulker, ruling that out as a “by air” option for a while. My daughter and I took the ferry/taxi from Belize City last year. It was pretty easy. One of my bags went missing for a couple hours but they assured me they don’t lose bags and they didn’t. Got everything back with only a minor delay. We’ll be heading back in April and we’ll do it by boat again.
Third, and last, more stirrings from the Bahamas as Bahamian guides and lodge owners are complaining about a substantial drop in business, blaming outfitters/booking agents. Talking to some American lodge owners out there over the past year they tell me business is good, but they are working hard for that business. Lots of dollars put into marketing. I’ve seen the uptick in social media presence that would back that up. There is something like a “it takes money (and time) to make money” thing here. There are also some economic headwinds with Bahamian tourists spending 28% less now than they did in 2000. Add to that a season full of hurricanes that likely scared off some tourists and, ya know… people aren’t just going to come on their own. Licenses are still needed and still not available on-line. A lot of angler resentment still exists due to the push by the BFFIA. Add all that up and, yeah, business would be down.
I had been preparing my daughter for a couple months for the trip to Caye Caulker. We’d have to get up early… like, 4.30 AM early, to start the journey. I knew it was going to be trying, on everyone. This isn’t a girl who deals well with a lack of sleep, or mornings.
We start off just fine. We getup. I get coffee, even, and we make our flight, no complications. Oakland to Denver to Belize City.
A couple hours into the second flight the questions start…
“When are we going to get there?”
“How much longer until we land?”
“How many more hours are we going to be in the air?”
Despite the questions, we land, eventually. She only goes to the bathroom 3 times during the 4.5 hour flight. Landing, we emerged into a heat and humidity very foreign to those of us from California. I dig it though, because it means I’m somewhere awesome. I know there are plenty of hot and humid places that aren’t awesome, but I don’t go to those places, so I associate heat and humidity with awesomeness.
This is the first time I’ve left the airport. Previously I’ve taken the puddle jumper, but not this time. This time we are going to take the Water Taxi from Belize City to Caye Caulker. It will be a new experience. I’ll see a little more of Belize and, let’s be honest, it is way cheaper.
The taxi is clean and has AC and is relatively fast. Waiting for the boat it is hot and there is no AC and it seems to take forever. People keep trying to sell me beer. I think getting tanked before we even get to the island and in front of my 10 year old isn’t a good idea. I decline.
At the entrance to the terminal area they take our bags and I am not totally sure I’ll see them again. It is all rather abrupt. They tell us they are with the company and they take our bags and give us claim tickets and away our bags go. I need those bags to show up on the other end of this little boat ride.
There is a long line to get on the boat, but there is room for everyone and the crossing is fairly peaceful. We sit at the back of the boat. It is easier to ride in the back… easier on the stomach and the back. I read that before we left and it seems to be paying dividends. Maybe I should have put on sun screen before we left though?
We pull up to the dock in Caye Caulker and it is pretty much paradise. Palm trees and beaches and golf carts, no cars. The streets are all sand. This is how I want to roll. Aspirational.
We go to pick up our bags and there is my daughter’s, but… where is mine? It isn’t there and now all my worst suspicious seem validated. Someone has walked off with my bag! They tell me that doesn’t happen and I should just relax, which is weird, because I’m rather relaxed, generally, but I’m maybe not so relaxed cataloging all the really important stuff in that bag. Medicine. Underwear. Sun Screen. Wading boots. Ugh.
There is a bar nearby, because, of course there is. I have a Belekin, because, of course I do. The girl has a Sprite, which she doesn’t finish, because ordering drinks she isn’t going to drink is one of her hobbies.
I go back to check on the bag. It isn’t there. Maybe they found it. Maybe. It will be here, they say. And I wait.
It isn’t on the next boat. Or the one after that. But they tell me it is on the next one… the last one of the day.
A taxi driver has been waiting for two hours for our bag. I try to give him some money for his time. He doesn’t take it. I’ll tip him well.
I’m stewing. I’m worried, but my girl… my girl doesn’t care. She’s in Belize with her dad. She’s playing in the water. She’s finding fish and chasing them. She’s calf deep in the Caribbean and loving it and even if this goes badly with the bag I have to think this is the right trip, the right place to be with her, this victim of divorce who doesn’t get to see her dad as much as she’d like.
The last boat pulls in. It is getting dark and this one came all the way from Chetumal, but it gets in before all sunlight has drained from the sky and and on that boat is my bag. Relax, man… it will show up. And it does and everything is perfect.
The Sea Dreams dock was kind of money for me. Every evening and every morning there were bonefish there. Not only that, but they were, well, cooperative. They went out and came back and went out and came back and just kept on giving me shots.
Maybe they would have been there later in the day, but the boat traffic and people traffic likely would be enough to even discourage these compliant fish.
These were the only bonefish I caught in Belize. I did get one shot when on the guided day, but that was at fish going away, and you know how bonefish love the going away shot. No, the dock fish were the fish that really made it happen for me.
One of those fish was maybe the second smallest bonefish I’ve ever caught. One of those bonefish was 3-4 pounds (a pretty good Belize bonefish). Pretty darn cool.
My daughter would be pursuing puffer fish in the shallows as I cast to the bones. I did give her the rod once with a good bonefish on, but I neglected to warn her about the knuckle smashing speed at which the reel handle can spin around. What followed was a pretty good whack and three solid swear words I let her get away with. She was done with the bonefish from there, but the puffer fish were never safe. She also found one of the biggest hermit crabs I’ve ever seen.
I get butterflies. Even just heading to one of my old rivers, I get excited the closer we get. I find myself clapping as if I were in the stands of a sporting event. I kind of get jazzed on this stuff. Maybe that’s why I’ve been writing the blog for as many years as I have.
I’m assembling gear (two go pros, a waterproof point and shoot and another action cam, so, the trip will be well documented) and ordering too many last minute items off Amazon and also packing my daughter, who I won’t even see until Thursday.
The flight to Belize starts off at 6:00 AM. That means I’m going to have to get my daughter up at about 4:00 AM. I’ve been trying to prepare her for that for weeks… months even. We’ll see if it works.
I’m bringing two 8 weights, a 10 weight and 1-2 spinning rods and I’m trying to remember this isn’t a fishing trip, it is a daddy-daughter adventure. This fact may be either significantly helped or hindered by news that there are some dock bonefish that come by at night. I love dock bonefish having caught 2 at El Pescador and having hooked and busted off two at Abaco Lodge. Maybe I’ll sate some of my bonefishing desires by just trying to smack one of those guys.