You Better Belize It! - (LOOOOONG)
Fun, Fun, Fun!
In a nutshell, those are the best words I can find to sum up my first-ever bone fishing experience on Ambergris Caye in Belize.
I arrived in San Pedro on 11/1 just as Tropical Depression 15 became Hurricane Michelle. Upon inquiry we learned that the storm was 130 miles east of us and slowly moving north. Over the next few days, the storm gradually moved towards Cuba and allowed the weather to clear and settle in our area. (What a relief...we were really concerned that we would have to evacuate if Michelle moved much closer to us.)
Ali at El Pescador was great in offering advice on the fishing situation. I wasn't staying there but she none-the-less kept me informed. She didn't recommend fishing until the water cleared a little bit more from the passing of the storm.
By 11/5, things were looking promising...in fact, Ali said that often times the fishing was excellent in the first few days after a hurricane. So, with her assistance, I was lined up with a guide by the name of Carlos Marin for 11/6 and 11/7. Ali said Carlos would be good for a novice like me due to his experience with his many grand children and 25+ years as a guide in the area.
At 7:00 on Tuesday AM, as agreed, Carlos picked me up at a pier nearby my condo. We headed south to Crab Caye to fish in the flats for bonefish. After explaining my level of experience, Carlos thought bones in a less windy location would be best for me.
Carlos wasn't too happy about the tide though. Compared to the tides I'm used to off the NH coast, in Belize, a tide that drops more than 12" is a bad tide. This became obvious as we polled into our first flat and immediately brushed the bottom of the boat into the muck.
By 8AM, I was casting my first fly to a bonefish. Although I had to take Carlos' word for it as to WHERE to cast, I none-the-less dropped my fly in the general vicinity of where he was pointing. “STREEEP, STREEEP, STREEEP!” whispered Carlos as the fish began to follow my fly. This routine would repeat itself over and over again for most of the fish that I cast to. Usually, I never saw the fish until I either lined them or dropped the fly right on their head, scattering them in every direction. Although I thought it was a bit odd, Carlos was polling the boat from the bow standing right next to me, rather than from the stern (they don’t use fiberglass poles and polling platforms in Belize). I soon realized that this was the best way for him to coach me and to point out fish so I knew where to cast. By late morning, Carlos was spending more and more time polling from the stern as I eventually started to SEE the fish for myself. Occasionally, I would even see a school before he would!
The first fish came after spooking about 100. Although this one didn't come anywhere near to taking me into my 8wt's backing, it was however MY FIRST BONE! I now understood what it was that made everyone so gaga over these fish. My little 2# bone put up an unbelievable fight. I was ready for more! By day's end, I had managed to hook and land a total of seven fish. Most averaged in the 3 to 4 pound range, although I had a long-distance-release of one particularly hard-fighting bone that ran out far more line than any prior fish. Wished I could have seen him on the deck!
Just to the south of Crab Caye were prime tarpon waters, but due to the wind, Carlos suggested we stay "inside."
As Carlos was quick to point out, as soon as the day progresses past 2:00 or 2:30 in the afternoon, the light goes all to hell and even he could not see fish until they were 10' away from us. As far as I was concerned calling it quits for the day was OK with me. Temperatures were in the upper 80's with what seemed to be 150% humidity. Even with my long-sleeve shirt and pants, the sun was really brutal. When you combine that with the lack of any breeze (except when I needed a perfect cast), I had no problem convincing myself that it was time to head back to the condo for some Belikin Beer and rum punch.
DAY TWO: When I commented to Carlos that I had read that there was no wade fishing in the area, he replied that indeed there was and would take me there if I wanted. Eagerly I agreed to go.
The spot he talked about was Rocky Point, an area several miles north of San Pedro and just south of the Mexico border. Contrary to the flats we found at Crab Caye where the fish did not tail, these fish would be tailing. I was excited to see what I had only read about in magazines and watched on TV.
Sure enough, the first flats we stopped at were filled with a half-dozen areas of tailing fish. Each area revealed 10 or 12 fish feeding and nosing their way around. Now this, I said to myself, is my kind of fishing! I can see the fish and I know which way they're going. I should have no problem with these guys. WRONG!! What I didn't account for was the spookiness of these bones. My first pod scattered before I could even make a cast. The second pod, despite my perfect cast and a follow-up by one of the big guys, scattered with no explanation. Carlos blamed it on the low tide. I chalked it up to inexperience. Eventually, I landed two of these guys within 20 minutes of fishing the area. As I later found out, Carlos was killing time here to wait for the tide to rise further north. After 4 or 5 fish along this picturesque stretch of palm-lined white sand beach, it was time to head further north.
We went as far as the reef would allow with the boat, passing armed military police patrolling the area with boats for cocaine that had washed up on beach (apparently this is a common occurrence on the Caribbean shores). Communication is one element of fishing in Belize that is almost as challenging as the fishing. If Carlos had explained to me that the wade fishing was over five miles north on foot, I may have thought twice about the plan. Nonetheless, off we went, Carlos in nothing but his boxer shorts and flip-flops and me with my Tevas, fly rod and lots of water. As an example of the language challenge, this is what Carlos said to me (in his very thick Spanish accent) when it was time to wade fish: "Now eat eez time to walk on the water fishing." Although I knew exactly what he meant, this was not always the case.
As we hiked, Carlos was constantly scanning the water for activity. The only thing we saw were Ocean Triggerfish feeding - not one single bone tailing or cruising. Once we got to Rocky Point, we started wading south back to where we came from. Carlos was very disappointed. He told me that this was the first time he'd been there without seeing ANY fish. He said he always sees schools of 40-60 fish in these flats. He chalked it up to the tides once again.
After walking and scanning for three hours, we were finally back at the boat. From here we worked our way back south fishing as we went. Many schools of bones came and went without my seeing them. Carlos shaking his head saying, "I cannot believe you did not see them!!" I did, but only after they were too close to cast to. Lady Luck was watching out for me though...I was blessed with a school of ladyfish that came in and seemed to cruise around us in a clockwise fashion non-stop. I soon learned how exciting these fish were to catch. Similar to the brood stock salmon I find in my native waters of the Merrimack, these fish had a zest for jumping and tail walking. After catching and releasing 5 or 6 of these beautiful fish, we motored back to where we started in the morning. There we picked off another 2 or 3 bones to bring the day, and my first trip, to a conclusion. All that was left was the 30-minute boat ride back to my pier.
All in all, I feel very fortunate to have caught as many fish as I did. As with any new experience at an unfamiliar fishing spot, I always consider the first trip a scouting mission. This trip proved to be no different. I learned a lot. I wish I could have learned more. But because of the language barrier between Carlos and myself, there wasn't too much critiquing of my efforts and therefore I never knew when I was screwing up until I heard Carlos mutter, “SHEEET!!”
I have nothing to compare this trip to except for my limited striper fishing knowledge and my many years of trout fishing. About the only comparison I can make is the similarity with trout pond fishing where everything is about accuracy and delicacy. I can’t wait for another opportunity to do this again…
Will I go back? You better Belize it!