Mar 11

Grand Slam Reflections… The Getting There

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

Nov 10

Belize Report, Day 5 – The Grand Slam

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.

Permit. Not a world record, but a frigging permit!

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.

I'm ready for my close-up!

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.

Point, cast, catch... Shane at work.

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.

Belizean Bone rocking the Skinny Water Culture mask.

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.

Just on the other side of this tunnel, I botched TWO tarpon eats.

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.

There it is. Amazing.

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.

Thanks for being there Tarpon.

One of the best beers I've ever had. A Grand Slam Beer.

Aug 10

Three days, 12 grand slams.

Dude… that’s amazing.  Now, he wasn’t fly fishing, which does add some difficulty to things, but still, an amazing few days of fishing.

…while Durney has had a few grand slam days throughout the years, he did something this time that was nothing shy of amazing.

In three days, Durney recorded 12 grand slams. He was one bonefish shy of 13.

via Virginia Beach man gets 12 grand slams in 3 days | HamptonRoads.com | PilotOnline.com.


That's some permit alright.

I assumed the fish had been killed, but that turns out not to be the case.  Here is what the journalist (Lee Tolliver) had to say:

he actually caught them at just about the same time.  they had three rods out with baits and they all got taken at the same time

he fought one while the other two sat in the rod holders and when the first was brought in, he jumped on the second and third….the captain held the others in the water until he had all three for the picture

quick snap of the camera and back in the drink they went

Well… nice. I do wonder how well a fish is going to swim away if it is knackered enough to sit on your lap for a photo op… but maybe that’s just my inexperience talking.