Nov 10

Rod Review – Sage Xi3

I was fortunate enough to get a couple of loaner roads from Sage for my trip to Belize.  It felt a little like Christmas when the package with two new Xi3’s showed up.  I had a 7 wt. and a 10 wt. which armed me for everything I really needed in Belize.

The 7 wt. was used most and was an especially good rod for hunting Belizean bonefish, which tend to run a bit smaller in size than Bahamian bones.  With the 7 wt., I up-lined to an 8 weight line, which cast very, very well at the short distances that you tend to be fishing when wading for bonefish.  I am fast becoming a fan of up-lining when you know the distances are going to be short.  These fast, modern rods have difficulty loading on shorter casts, say 40′ or under.

Xi3 - a great stick.

I cast the 10 for permit and for tarpon and was happy with how the Xi3 did when delivering some long casts with some bigger flies.  The 10 weight I actually cast with a 10 weight line (a Wonderline provided by Orvis, which did great service as well).   The 10 weight didn’t feel heavy and it had plenty of power.  When I hooked into that big Jack that rod bent to the cork, which was fun to watch.

The Xi3 has a rather major price-tag, which is really the only drawback of the rod.  You can feel the quality in the stick and I’d love to bring one out on the flats again at some point.  When I finally move up to a top tier rod, the Xi3 will certainly be in the running.

Nov 10

Belize Day Four – Tarpon Hunting

The fourth day of the trip and the third day in Belize saw us heading out with a guide for the first time.  El Pescador had a stable of highly respected guides and this day we would head out with Katchu.  We met him on the dock at 7 and got on the panga, heading south to head through the passage in San Padro.  From there, we’d head north to the tarpon hunting grounds of Savannah Cay.  That is what we thought was happening anyway.

As we made it through the mangrove and shack lined cut to the bay side of Ambergris we surprisingly went south and in a few minutes the guide stopped the boat and, frantically, said “Where’s the permit rod?!”  We weren’t rigged for permit, we thought we were headed to fish tarpon.  Katchu was a big agitated, but we finally got rigged up, I was up first and I made my first cast to a school of marauding permit.  They didn’t eat.  We probably spent an hour chasing nervous water, but the fish were just not in range most of the time.  We called time on Permit and headed North for tarpon.

The Savannah Cay flat is 16 miles long, all water 3-6 feet deep.  The bottom is a mixture of white mud and turtle grass/aquatic plants.  When we got there we saw 4 other boats.  On a busy day, Katchu told us, there can be FORTY boats there.  I really can’t imagine that place with 40 boats… it wouldn’t be good/fun I have a feeling.

Shane... waiting.

We had cloud cover when we got there, but the skies to the west were mostly clear.  It was going to be a good weather day.  I was up on the bow first and I surprise myself by spotting the first two tarpon.  They were a bit too close to the boat.  Casts were made.  Fish were not eating.

Katchu spotted nervous water heading toward the boat.  A school of tarpon was headed for us.  I made the cast.  I stripped.  The fish ate.  I set the hook hard. I raised the rod to clear the line.  Ummm… turns out you don’t clear the line like you are fishing bonefish.  The fly popped out.  I was 0/1 and had botched the job on my first tarpon.

Shane was up next and the first fish to the boat would be coming soon.  It wasn’t a tarpon, however.  Nervous water, moving fast, relieved a school of jacks.  Shane cast in the middle of the school and all hell broke loose.  As he stripped his fly fast one fish left the school to chase the fly.  Water was sheeting it over it’s head as it chased down that fly.  It ate and it started its run.  A Jack is a bull dog.  It doesn’t jump, it doesn’t head shake.  It just picks a direction and goes there.  A few minutes later and Shane landed a Jack that ran about 15 pounds or so.

A nice jack, first fish of the day

I was up.  Tarpon fishing is long stretches of inactivity, punctuated by frantic moments.  I stood there for a while, maybe an hour, without a fish to cast to.  Then… nervous water, a school of tarpon coming towards us.  I made the cast, but my strip was too fast and the fish turned away.  Shane was up again.

Soon, we saw a single tarpon.  Shane made the cast and even I saw the fish turn, see the fly and just go up to it and open its massive mouth and eat the fly.  Shane did everything right and after a few good jumps the fish was in.

Fish On!

That's what we were after

A cool animal

I was back on deck.  We went to the north side of Savannah Cay, but the wind had churned up the water and it was too hard to see the fish.  We moved back to where we had started.  Most of the other boats had left at this point and there was just one other boat, also from El Pescador, left on the 16 mile long flat.

As I was on the deck, Katchu again spotted nervous water.  We weren’t sure if they were jacks or tarpon, but I was going to cast at them regardless. “As long as you can, get as much line as you can out and cast as far as you can!” Katchu barked.  I stripped line of and started pounding false casts out to get all that line out.  Just as I was about to lay down the cast I saw the fish.  They were Jacks and they weren’t 80 feet away, they were 20 feet away.  I tried to drop the cast short and it all didn’t go well.  I had way too much slack out and couldn’t get tight to the fly.  The fish moved on.  There were some tense words between Shane and Katchu about the difference between “As much line as you can” and 20 feet.  I think Katchu even said at one point “I can’t believe you fucked up that cast.”  Katchu just wanted it all to happend and he wanted it so bad that if you screw something up, he’s prone to tell you about it.

While we were still having our conversations about exactly how it all went wrong the school of jacks reappeared. I made the cast and the school went insane.  The school of fish balled up in a feeding frenzy.  I couldn’t see into the school, as the chaos had churned up the bottom.  I just kept stripping, felt weight and set the hook.  The jack just took off.  I stood up there on the deck watching the line just rip out. The run lasted maybe 60 solid seconds, taking about 200 yards of line out.  If ever there was a workout for a reel, this has to be it.  The Nautilus NV 10-11 did the job very, very well.  The Sage Xi3 10 weight we bent at the cork on this fish. Jacks are just amazingly strong and more fun than is reasonable.

And it is off to the races.

Nautilus... good job.

Damn nice fish.

The Jack probably went 25 pounds, making it my largest fish ever.

There were no more tarpon.  There were no more jacks.  We were done for the day.  Even though I didn’t get a tarpon, it still felt like a good day.  He had lots of fish to cast to.  I had hooked my first tarpon.  I had caught my largest fish ever.  It had been fun.  I had learned a lot.

The next day was going to be about production on our last full day in Belize.

Nov 10

This trip brought to you by…

The whole blogging thing is interesting, for sure.  I don’t have ads and don’t cash a Bonefish on the Brain paycheck.  This started as a hobby and largely remains that (just one I am kind of ridiculously dedicated to).  However, the distance the blog has come in the last year is pretty obvious to me when I think about all the folks who have helped put some shape to this upcoming trip to Belize.

Thanks to El Pescador for hosting me for this trip.  We are still paying for guides and I’m still paying for a couple of flights, but the lodging… that was huge.

Thanks to Sage for the loaner Xi3 Seven and Ten weights.  Good sticks for Belize, me thinks.  Lori-Ann’s go to is the 7 wt. Xi3, so I’ll be in good company.

Double my pleasure... a 7 and 10 Sage Xi3

Thanks to Orvis for the loaner 8 wt. Helios and the line for the 10 weight. Steve offered and I couldn’t turn down a chance to see exactly how good these new Orvis rods are.

Orvis... nice stick.

Thanks to Nautilus for the loaner NV Ten-Eleven.  This is actually something anyone can do…  you can test drive a Nautilus, just check out the website.

Mr. and Mrs. Tarpon... I'm ready to see you now.

Thanks to Skinny Water Culture for two replacement sun masks (I somehow lost three in the last 6 months), a microfiber shirt and a new hat.

Skin cancer is bad... SWC is good.

Thanks to Patagonia for a sling pack for alllllll those flies I’ll be sporting, plus a sun mask and hat.

Flies go here.

Thanks to Off the Hook Fly Shop, where I bought most of the materials used in the flies I’ll be throwing.

That’s a lot of help… and if you look at my FFSI, you’ll see that I think the help you get has a lot to do with reducing suckiness… so, I have that going for me.

As someone recently wrote to me, “This is the most exciting bonefishing trip I’m not going on.”  I hope to have some good stories to share and hope to be posting from Belize and El Pescador, assuming I have the strength left after milking each day for every ounce of fishing possible.

Aug 10

Interview with Lori-Ann Murphy

Lori-Ann Murphy has a job that I would consider killing for.  Not really… well… maybe… depends who is asking I guess.  She is the Director of Fishing at El Pescador Lodge in Belize.  She didn’t luck into it though (which is the only way I’d get that kind of job).  She was the first female Orvis endorsed guide.  She’s been a guide for 21 years.  She splits time in Montana and Belize… basically places with fish.  She founded Reel Women, which I’ll try to tell my wife about in the vain hope she’ll desire to cast a fly some day.

Not huge, but they count.

Lori-Ann with Wil Flack and a couple little permit (although one may be a pamoleta). Double Date.

Lori-Ann called all the way from Belize for this interview, which my three year old daughter crashed at least twice.  Thanks Lori-Ann.

Your title is “Director of Fishing.” What does that entail there at El Pescador Lodge?

I’m a liaison between the guests and the guides. Today I’m going to do a fishing orientation… I bring a big map and show everyone where we are and I tell everyone about the lagoon in the back and all the fishing they can do around here on their own and what the guided experience is all about and get them ready for that.  I look over their flies.  We have a full quiver of fly rods here, 8-12 wt, so if they need to be outfitted with one of our fly rods I’ll take care of that.  In the morning I introduce everyone to their guides and explain the day. I work with the guides. I have a great team of 11 that I love to pieces.  The day before yesterday I had a guide meeting.  I’m also a nurse, so when I first came here in November they were asking why we were having all these meetings, and I said “I’m a nurse, we have meetings.” We have monthly meetings with the guides to discuss all the things that come up, guest relations to environment to whatever the current thing we might be doing is.

For the people that come out to El Pescador, where to you think their expectations are compared to the reality of the experience?

I’m amazed that beginner saltwater angles come here and say “I want to get a Permit” and they do. El Pescador is a great place for beginners because we have a bagillion bonefish and while they might not be as big as the Bahamas, but they are all hot fish, 2-6 pounds… a 6-8 fish is huge.  I was just reading an evaluation from a beginner and he was fully expecting, as a beginner, to land a grand slam.  I think people probably have been reading too many magazines and watching too many TV shows and some people are quickly humbled in the salt.  I usually do daily casting lessons at 4:30 on how to have an efficient cast and how to pick it up and shoot it and how to change the speed of your haul and all that stuff.  Expectations are all over the map. Generally, people come here with really high expectations and it works, somehow.

It seems Ambergris has become very popular.  I’ve seen the Currents of Belize and my overall impression is that there is a lot of development and that over-development is either happening or about to happen.  What’s your impression being down there?

Wil Flack and all the guys who did Currents of Belize, those guys are all my friends.  Twenty years ago it was a small fishing village.  Ten years ago it really changed.  The government was able to sell land and when you sell land people were also able to dredge up the flats.  So that’s been going on a lot. A lot of my time in Belize was in the 90’s and that wasn’t happening.  Allie, the owner here dedicates 20% of her time trying to preserve the land around here so we can keep the mangroves intact, keep the flats intact so we have a sustainable fishery for future generations.  That’s a really big discussion down here.  There’s Green Reef and other organizations that are trying to do good things. Allie had investors buying land.  Leonardo DiCaprio bought a Cay, Black Door Cay, and Allie bought four small keys to preserve and put it in a land trust.  We hope to see more of that. The San Pedranos here have seen SO much change in the last 20 years.  At first it was wonderful since people went from a small fishing village to actually having some money.  The guides here make a lot of money, between $60K and $100K.  We’ve all seen a lot of change.  There is a huge push to keep Ambergris from just getting sold right off.

BTT’s Aaron Adams scouting out El Pescador

I was a big fan of Pirates of the Flats and have been watching the news coming out about Buccaneers and Bones.  What was it like to be part of that project?

I was really flattered.  It was a lot of fun.  I had that week off my  regular responsibilities because I was involved in the fishing and filming end of it.  It was great to get to know the whole crew. Of course, Tom Brokaw, Michael Keaton, Tom McGuane, they all have a place up on the Bolder River in Montana and I live close to there (I live here for 9 months and in Montana the other 3).  That Montana connection was wonderful and being able to see the passion and commitment from Yvon Chouinard.  Tom Brokaw would say something, we were talking about the oil spill and he said “We have to stop calling it an oil spill because it is a catastrophe and it will affect our lives for our future.”  All off a sudden you realize that is Tom Brokaw speaking there and he’s had his foot on every place on the planet. Michael Keaton was really passionate and really fun… pumped up and excited to be part of things.  We had that tropical depression Alex come in and that was interesting.  Everyone bolted out of here a day early.

Pirates, er, Buccaneers

Lori-Ann with Wil Flack and, on the right, Zach Gilford

Going to Florida, Stu Apte has been a friend of mine but I’ve never been able to fish with him before, so that was quite an honor to be tarpon fishing and hanging out with Stu Apte. I hadn’t met Jerry Alt.  Being able to hear those guys talk and be right there at the ground level talking about tarpon migration and data and being a part of tagging fish, both bonefish and tarpon. It was fantastic.

I had a nervous breakdown in Florida over a tarpon, so I can’t wait for that episode.

El Pescador, Ally and the crew really work as a team around here and it was such a big production.  We had guests here too… it was a big deal.

What’s your go-to rod and reel right now?

Jerry Siem is one of my very dear friends and I’m very fortunate to fish Sage Rods and Reels.  I also fish Hatch Reels, I have a few Tibors and I like those as well.

My favorite rod right now is the Xi3  7 wt.

You throw a 7 because the bones are a little smaller there?

I just love this rod. I just love the action of it.  The bonefish are smaller here so you don’t need to throw a whole lot of line.  Today I went down to 16 pound because I saw some Permit, didn’t get them, but it sure was fun.

I have Xi3’s in 7, 8, 9 and 11.

When you are out on the water a lot you see things that others just don’t see.  Do you have any stories of things you’ve seen by virtue of being out there on the water as much as you are?

Sure, I have two stories right off the bat.  One, I was fishing with my friend Wil Flack and we were bonefishing out in the lagoon out back, which is stellar. We canoed out and then got out to wade this little bay. It’s a muddy bay and we were both up to our knees in mud.  We were on opposite sides of the bay. We were probably 200 yards apart.  I saw a 7 foot long dark thing come right in between us from the mangroves.  I’m thinking “Tarpon!”  I can’t wait to see the big tarpon back.  I’ve seen lots of baby tarpon, but I’m thinking I’m seeing big tarpon.  I cast to this thing (I had a bonefish fly on, but my nature instinct is just to cast) I give this thing a cranial and it stops.  I’m yelling to Wil and he’s just so focused because he has a ton of bonefish in front of him.  He looks up and the thing gets sideways and the tail goes “wahwahwah.” He yells “That’s a Croc!”  We didn’t move.  At the end of the day we were talking about it and said “I’ve never waded with a Croc before.”  At the time we were just in such bonefish fever we didn’t want to give it up.  We had waves of bonefish coming at us.  This Croc just swam right between us and just left.  We continued fishing all day and didn’t really think about it until the end of the day.

Another time we were out there fishing with Wil and Paulie, these guys are steelhead guides up on the Sustut, and Paulie is out there catching his first bonefish.  We turn around and this Frigatebird (Frigatebirds can’t land in the water, they can’t take off and die if they land in the water) nearly turns itself inside out and nails about a 3 pound bonefish and flies off with it. I’ve been fishing since ’92 and I’ve never seen that.

Thanks Lori-Ann!