This looks like a good time.
Here’s a pretty cool opportunity. Yellow Dog is putting on a photography school… IN BELIZE. How awesome would that be?!?!
Instructors include Jim Klug, Bryan Gregson and Jess McGlothlin.
I’ve had the privilege to be on a boat with Jim and to see his approach to photography (which is the kind of focus the Cookie Monster has toward cookies, and by that, I mean intense and singular).
I know a lot of you want to take better pictures of your time out there and these instructors, and that place (El Pescador, one of my favorite places on earth)… I mean… how could you NOT count that as one of your all-time highlight experiences???
Sounds like an awesome opportunity.
October 22-28, 2016, El Pescador.
Now, the big thing that’s happening is the whole “getting married” bit. I’m pretty excited about that. How’s the whole daughter-fiance thing going, you ask? Well…
Last night my 5 year old told me to go down stairs and tie flies so that she could do bath alone with my fiance.
Yeah. It is going well.
So, I went down and tied a #8 with a weed guard. For me, that means one thing… Belize. More specifically, El Pescador, where we’ll be spending our honeymoon.
It was like a return home as the location for the premier episode was El Pescador Lodge on Ambergris Cay in Belize. It is a joy to see this show back on the air after ESPN dumped all their fishing and outdoor shows this year.
On the show we get to see Zach Gilford catching bonefish with Lori-Ann Murphy out in the lagoon behind the lodge where my buddy Shane and I fished. There are tarpon and snook caught as well by other members of the Buccaneers.
This show is aimed to support the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, an organization I support and I urge you all to support too. Really… if you aren’t a member and you like to fish for bonefish, tarpon or permit… well… you should be. You can be a better person in 2011 by signing up now.
I really liked the show. The only criticism I’d have was some outbound clicks put onto the soundtrack in a place where Michael Keaton had about 20 feet of line on the deck while landing a tarpon. Still… beautiful scenery, some interesting anglers, some magnificent fish and all with a conservation message.
I’m a fan.
The follow up to Pirates of the Flats, Buccaneers and Bones moves channels and locations and looks to be every bit as interesting. One of the sites this year is… you guessed it, El Pescador Lodge.
The new show starts DECEMBER 26! Set your DVR!
When out with guide Katchu from El Pescador we had an abrupt stop on our way tarpon hunting where permit rods were demanded. We were not rigged for permit. I quickly got the Orvis Helios 8 wt. ready and was up on deck, casting to my first permit.
I was pumping the cast out and was carrying the line well in the air and then… then the cast fell apart. The shot was gone. As one or two other anglers may be tempted to do, I thought, well… maybe I need to over-line this rod. Over-lining had proved just the ticket for the Sage Xi3 7 wt., so I put on a 9 wt. line. I missed the next shot, but have no recollection of how that cast went.
Later, in a moment of reflection, I began to wonder if, just maybe, I had jumped to conclusions about the Helios. I mentioned out-loud to my fishing buddy Shane (who happens to be a casting instructor and a beautiful caster) that I was beginning to think that maybe I had just put out a bad cast and blamed the rod.
Shane said in watching the cast that my false cast before the final presentation had been perfect. When he saw me go for the last cast, he knew it wasn’t going to go well. I think I knew it down deep too. I had botched the cast… this was operator error.
Our last morning in Belize I decided to trust Steve at Orvis and I put the 8 weight line back on the Helios and I took that rod out for the last fleeting hours of fishing.
Newsflash… the Helios casts really, really well and an 8 wt. casts an 8 wt. line very well. It is light… that’s the first thing you notice. It feels almost like casting a 5 wt., which may give you the impression it isn’t going to have the power to get you through the wind or the distance you might need (and I think that is why I flubbed the first cast and went through the up-line fiasco). Of course, the ROD has the power to do it and the weight of the rod in ounces does not = the power of the rod.
At $800, the Helios is in the upper, upper price range of fly fishing gear. It really makes me want to get a Hydros out fishing… a rod that is the twin brother of the Helios… but that twin that was born 20 minutes later and who might not be totally the same. At $500, it is much more in the price-range I’d probably be more interested in. Basically, you get the same technology with a couple of bells and whistles removed.
If you drive a Mercedes that costs $40K, you are probably a Hydros guy. If your Benz costs $143,000… just jump right to the Helios (even though you are probably too busy to actually fish).
We woke up the last morning at El Pescador knowing the clock was running down. We had to be back and packed by 11:45 before we took the boat to San Padro, flight to Belize City and then to Dallas before we’d go separate ways. Since it was 5:00 AM, we still had some quality fishing time to get after and that’s what we did.
We got the canoe out in the lagoon and hit our favorite spot from the first DIY day. When we got there the water was glassy smooth and, as you might expect, there were a few tails working, easily spotted from a couple hundred feet. It was a nice scenario for our last day.
I got to the tails first and managed the first fish of the morning, which was nice. Unlike the last time we had fished this spot we didn’t find large schools of fish, but smaller groups. Shane stuck a couple more and then we moved.
In the transition the weather started to change… up came some wind, in came cloud cover and the threat of rain. We came upon a clearing between mangrove chutes that looked pretty good. Shallow. Good bottom. Spooking fish as we paddles. We tied up the canoe and went to work.
Here, Shane managed one of the better Belizean bonefish we saw. It was a single, cruising the edge of the mangroves. Shane pulled some ninja stalking techniques out and the fish ate.
Shane really came into his own here… seeing fish I couldn’t see and then casting to them and catching them. I walked through the muck to get to another spot and managed to have a decent bonefish come unbuttoned. I also managed to have THREE mojarra beat bonefish to flies… damn mojarra. I managed a couple more bonefish, included one small enough to make me think I was fishing a creek back home.
Shane ended up catching something like 15 bonefish just that morning before we paddled back. I caught three. This bit of ass-kickery kind of illustrated exactly how much the Grand Slam from the day before was up to fate and luck as opposed to skill. I knew I wasn’t as good an angler as Shane and this re-enforced that belief. The guy can flat out fish.
Soon we were paddling back across the little lagoon, wind in our face. We made it back with plenty of time for showers and lunch. While Shane was eating lunch I took 15 feet of tippet and a small velcro crab out to the dock. I had a hunch I wanted to test out about those dock bonefish. I managed to convince a little snapper to eat the crab and then I saw a little school of 5 or so bonefish. With the wind to my back I tossed in the crab. One bonefish came right up to the little fly and ate it. I tried to set the hook, lifting the head of the bonefish up, but the hook simply came right out. Damn, I thought… that would have been a good end to the trip!
The trip had been a good one… a great one even. I had caught my first ever permit and my first ever tarpon in a magical day that had landed me a Grand Slam. I had caught my largest fish to date… a 25 pound Jack. I had caught many smaller bonefish to add to my overall bonefish knowledge for future bonefish trips. We had fished through crappy weather and good weather and some tense times with Katchu and fun times with Katchu. I had shared the trip with a good friend in a kind of magical place.
I hadn’t caught as many bonefish as I had really thought I would, but then I hadn’t figured on chasing permit and a day on the tarpon flats, which were both great experiences.
Thank you El Pescador for having us. You have a special place and a special fishery.
Spending a few days as the guest of Ali down at her lodge, El Pescador Lodge (you can follow them on Facebook too), on Ambergris Caye in Belize, you have to admire the beauty of the surroundings. You also get the sense that it all is very precarious. El Pescador, years ago, was not book-ended by other condos/resorts, but now it is. Now, the string of docks and buildings continues about 5 miles beyond EP. Until the US economy took a header, the area around Ambergris was seeing more and more plans to develop fringe “land” that would need to be bulldozed, dredged and filled… ya know… the kinds of places bonefish feed… the kinds of places bait lives. Now, there is a pause in that development and there is a chance to get things back to more sanity… more sustainability. One of the strongest voices for this re-visioning of future of Ambergris is none other than Ali from El Pescador. I wanted to give Ali a chance to get some of her thoughts out there about the future of Ambergris.
You’ve been on Ambergris for a while now, what are some of the changes you’ve seen for better and worse?
Sustainable development is a delicate balancing act. As a foreigner investor in Belize, I believe that our relationship must be mutually beneficial. My business must benefit the community through a variety of means – jobs, taxes, support and activism in exchange for giving me the opportunity to operate my business in this paradise. Over the years I have seen many benefits from development including higher quality of life for San Pedranos, access to better education, access to better medical care as well as more (but not yet sufficient) infrastructure such as electricity, water, sewage, cell phones, cable, internet, trash collection and fire trucks. As foreigners we come to Belize for a better and simpler quality of life. But for Belizeans, they have the same American dream our parents and grandparents had – a better life for their children with access to what we consider “basic services.” But, those “basic services” are very hard to attain in a 3rd world country.
I have also seen more of a community environmental consciousness with the advent of development. For a long time, we assumed investors would “do the right thing.” Now, we are learning that laws need to be put in place to protect the very thing that attracts the investors – but for some reason they are intent upon destroying. It seems painfully obvious to me that the only reason a hotel, condominium or real estate project would be successful in Belize is because of our natural beauty (the reef, the fishery, the jungle, etc). Yet – large scale developments that are only interested in short term profits are willing to ruin the environment through dredging the sea grass beds and cutting of mangroves which will in turn kill the reef. They are willing to destroy the very thing that is making them money – because they are only interested in the short term profit.
We need a way to make all developers have a long term stake in their project and we need politicians with a long term plan and goal for the country. One way to make a developer have a vested interest in the future of the country is to only allow them to sell 49% of the development. If they have to maintain 51% ownership then it will be in their best interest to conserve the environment, build with quality materials, provide on-going maintenance and put a marketing plan in effect, among other things.
In the booming days of the US economy it seems development was running at a break-neck pace in Ambergris. What has the US recession meant for Ambergris and what do you see happening in the next couple of years?
The silver lining to the world wide economic break down has been that development has all but stopped for 2 years on Ambergris. Some projects have gone out of business. Others will continue once access to money starts to flow again. This has given us additional time to work on developing a master plan for both the island as well as a tourism master plan. Both of these will guide the future of development on the island and in the country. Then we will not have to fight individual properties like South Beach; instead we should have a master plan that says it is illegal to build it because it is on 100% mangroves and not on real “land” which is a no build zone (for example).
As more and more of the actual “land” gets bought up, more and more fringe land is getting sold and developed. Talk about that?
It is a significant problem that mimics every beach community in the USA. Once all the beach front is gone then they fill in the bay side as the next “water front” property. I am hopeful that the master plan will address this and it will not be allowed to be developed for commercial purposes. One little private beach shack with some solar panels for electricity is not a problem – but someone who fills in the property by dredging our fishery and then builds 100 condos is a problem.
While there is a no-kill law on the books in Belize for bonefish, permit and tarpon, I noticed a large number of fish traps on the west side of Ambergris that seem like just about the perfect bonefish/permit killers around. Is anything being done to address the by-catch in those traps?
The stick fish traps you are talking about are illegal – the ones you saw are grandfathered in. When the owner dies, the trap will be removed. Every year there are less and less.
Can you talk a little about the work that Green Reef is doing there?
Not nearly as well as Mito Paz, who is the head of Green Reef.
One thing they are currently working on is a sport fish conservation plan for Belize. They, along with key stakeholders (such as lodges, guides, commercial fishermen, NGOs) are developing recommendations that will be presented to policy makers for the further development of appropriate conservation and management measures for the protection of critical sport fish habitat.
Thanks Ali. Keep up the good work.
We set our alarm for 5:00 AM so that we would be totally ready by the time Katchu, our guide, got to El Pescador with the boat. All showered and fed and ready to go, we were looking forward to a day of more productive fishing than the previous day’s tarpon hunting.
We were going to be headed up along the Mexican/Belizean boarder where we hoped to stay north of the clouds. The day looked promising as we headed out. There were no other boats headed our direction as we made the 45 minute ride up the interior of the bay. A good sign.
We got up to the park and paid our $5 USD entrance fee and in 5 more minutes we were set up, drifting along near the shore, looking for permit. Katchu told us that the fishing for bonefish would be better in a couple hours and that at this time in the morning (about 7:50 or so) we should try to find some permit. I was on deck again first and had the Sage Xi3 10 wt. rigged for permit, which in this case meant 15 pound tippet and a lightly weighted Christmas Island Special.
Along the shore were cruising a couple nice bonefish and Katchu positioned me to cast to them. I was maybe too keenly aware that I had a 10 weight in my hand and I tried to have a delicate presentation and ended up totally under-powering a couple of casts. It was such shocking casting that even Shane had to say “Those are probably the two worst casts I’ve ever seen you make.” It was objectively true, so I couldn’t argue. It was a case of dramatic over-thinking.
Luckily, things changed quickly when nervous water was spotted coming towards us… a school of permit. I made the cast, right in the middle of the school, and just like their cousins, the Jacks, the permit parted and quickly regrouped. I stripped fast and one fish became hell bent on eating. He chased the fly with reckless abandon. Just like with Shane’s Jack the day before, I could see the fish, water sheeting over it’s head as it chased down the fly to eat. It did. I set the hook. It was off to the races.
Now, fishing for permit presents some interesting gear choices. The fish I ended up landing was not really a fish you’d throw a 10 weight for… maybe it went 2-3 pounds, but out there on that same flat were permit going 20+. The Orvis Helios 8 wt. probably would have been better, but, ya know… probably better to be over-gunned than under.
The permit was my first. A milestone in its own right.
Shane was up and after being out of position for most of the other permit we saw, we headed to a little Caye riiiiiiiiight up against the Mexican boarder to look for bonefish. It must be said that while we struggled with light and clouds, we could see the Mexican side bright and sunny all day. It will give me extra reasons to root for the US when next we play soccer.
The fishing along this little caye was just fantastic. There were about a million bonefish there, but also jacks, barracuda, snappers and permit. We fished one little school of bonefish and if I missed the fish the drill was to cast out to line the school so they would retreat. This they would do, totally according to the script, and then they’d come back in a couple minutes. We could have sat on that school of bonefish all day. We traded fish for a good amount of time and fun was had.
When Shane was on deck we saw, right mixed in with the bones, permit. There were actually two schools of permit and there were some tense exchanges between Shane and Katchu about what cast was the best to make but in the end Shane made the cast that needed to be made and he was soon watching his line rip through the water, attached to a permit at the other end. Then… the fish just came unbuttoned. No reason… it just came off.
We fished down to the point of the Caye and got to do some wading. Shane is at his most content when he gets to find his own fish, so this was a good stop for Shane. It was a good stop for me too as I stuck a fair number of bonefish there myself.
We fished here until it was about time to head back and Katchu said “If we want to get you the Slam, we better go now.” So, we went. It took all of about 5 minutes to get to the canal and another 5 minutes to get to the little mangrove enclosed lagoon where we’d be looking for “baby” tarpon.
I had never caught a tarpon. But, ya know, before that morning I had never caught a permit either. I had hooked a tarpon (the day before) and made quick work of botching the job, so… I was glad to hear “baby tarpon.” They sounded maybe a bit easier.
Newsflash… the babies are not really babies… they are more like young-adults full of testosterone and anger. The first fish I cast to (which was totally not small, by the way) attacked the fly like my wife going after a pair of comfortable black high-heels… like me after bacon… it was savage. I felt totally unprepared. Actually, I WAS unprepared and quickly botched it. I then botched the follow-up.
We retreated further into the mangroves and I found myself in a mangrove-lined dead-end mini-lagoon with a tarpon at the other end and my grand slam on the line. An off-shoulder backcast was called for and delivered. The fish showed some real psychological issues as it threw itself at the fly and I nearly had to seek immediate psychological help after I botched THAT attempt. The fish, however, was still looking for the fly after I had just pulled it from its mouth and two more strips and the fish ate. I didn’t botch this one. I didn’t give an inch. I bowed to the fish when it jumped NINE FRIGGING FEET in the air.
The fish was in. The grand slam was in the bag. I was amazed. A Grand Slam that featured my first ever permit and my first ever tarpon. This sort of thing just doesn’t happen. But it did. What an amazing day.
The weather was set to continue being crappy and that didn’t seem like a good day to go out with a guide, so we decided this would be our DIY day. El Pescador is on the beach, but in the back, it has a small dock that leads to a lagoon… in the lagoon are bonefish. Instead of walking the beach, we set out by paddle. El Pescador has a rough map with some spots marked and we used that as a starting point to get to the fish.
The first shore we patrolled was devoid of anything resembling a bonefish, so we moved on. Shane moved further down the beach and I stayed closer. Twenty minutes on I saw a bonefish cruising out of some flooded mangroves. I threw a brown gotcha in a #8 and the fish saw it and charged it. I set, the fish was hooked and it started its run. I tried to clear the line, but… well… the line still jumped up and wrapped around my hand. I was now 0/1. Rumor has it that I dropped a couple of f-bombs at this point in the trip, but those reports are unconfirmed. About 5 minutes later and Shane was hooked up… first fish of the trip was in the books.
One more move and my rod was finally bent all the way to conclusion.
Turns out what you’ve heard about Belize bonefish is largely true… which is they aren’t very large. This little guy was about the size we caught. We did see a few bigger fish and even caught some (mostly Shane), but there are a lot of smaller fish here. They are still very, very fun and it does present an opportunity to down-size on your rod selection. You could easily get away with a six and, ya know… maybe even a 5. That means if you want to get into bonefishing and don’t want to go out and buy a new rod for one trip, you could grab your trout gear and head to Belize. Just say’n.
Out in the lagoon for the rest of the trip we had a simple rule… before you dip into the cooler for a beer, you have to land a fish. So, this was a nice beer.
Belikin is the beer of Belize and we drank a fair bit of it… 58 of them according to the bar tab. Here’s the thing about Belikin… they are a LIE. The bottle is heavy… very heavy… the weight of each bottle is roughly 95% glass and 5% beer. They are about 2 ounces each… or 9.6 ounces as it turns out. You can grab and empty bottle and the weight makes you think it is full… but it isn’t. That is a tragedy. When you have a Belikin you are largely holding glass. Someone said when you buy a Belikin you also buy a weapon… and I can see that. In my totally imagined feud between Kalik and Belikin, I’m going to raise the Kalik on sheer volume. Hope that doesn’t offend anyone, but really… a beer should be AT LEAST 12 ounces… AT LEAST.
I only managed a couple of fish that day, Shane had about 7, which was a sign that things were as they should be. Shane’s a much better angler than I am since he’s a guide on the water about 200 days a year and he has about 350 days of bonefishing under his belt.
The rain came and went… and then came again. Our paddle back to El Pescador was a wet and windy one. Just as we got to the mangrove chute we’d take to get to the dock Shane was mentioning that this particular environment looked ideal for baby tarpon. Then I saw one roll. So, we fished for some very small baby tarpon for a few minutes. I cast from the canoe while Shane stood in the back of the canoe trying to locate the fish. I had one eat, but didn’t hook it.
When we got back the light was failing and we were both wetter than seemed possible. It had been a challenging day, but we had made it work. The best time to go fishing, after all, isn’t when the weather is perfect. The best time to go fishing is when you can.
We made the right call and had a fun day under the Belizean clouds.
The third day of the trip and the second day in Belize were done. Dinner was fantastic… Lobster and Chicken Parmesan. They treat you right at El Pescador.
The next day was going to be with a guide and a trip to the tarpon flats.