Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Blue Bonefish in Belize

Last spring several of us decided we would go on a bonefish trip to San Pedro Island, Belize.  Bill, from Plateau Fly Shop, and Sarah had just returned and they decided to get a group to go the end of February 2015.  We ended up with a group of eleven: Bill and Sarah, Louisa (Lou), Max, Paul (Snack Daddy), and five people I didn't know previously: Richard, Curt and Julie and Doug and Beckie. Our hosts were Jim and Phyliss  Johnson who operate Naknek River Camp in King Salmon, Alaska.

Preparation involved finding what gear was necessary. I ended up with an eight weight for bone fish.  Others were looking for a slam of bonefish, permit and tarpon, so they took larger rods and some larger flies.  I believe the rods ranged in size of seven weight to 10 weights for the others.  Most of the flies I tied were sizes 8, 6 and 4.  Some were tied with weed guards and some were not.

These are the flies that I tied, I did borrow a few, but tied most.  Tans and pinks are very common.

The people that I mentioned as having known all travels together on the way down.  That's when the real fun began. As the time for boarding the plane arrived, it was announced that the crew was delayed by the bad road conditions.  Apparently the shuttle driver wasn't aware we had snow and freezing rain all night. They weren't too late, we boarded and then had to wait for the plane to be de-iced and then antifreeze applied.  There went most of the time we had to go from one terminal to another to catch our international flight.

We arrived late at the gate by about 10 or 15 minutes, but the others were just beginning to board.  Well, actually, they were just re-boarding, or we would have missed our flight.  Seems the TSA had not cleared the plane before the original boarding, so the passengers had to leave the plane so it could be cleared.  We finally got on and the pilot announced a mechanical problem that would not ground the plane.  I had to ask myself if it wouldn't ground the plane, why were we still on the ground waiting for the mechanics?  He also mentioned a problem with the air controllers in Belize, but I missed what it was. Not too much longer and it was announced the mechanics were working on the problem...something with the air conditioning.

Here's the pilot again: the mechanics that were working on the plane had their shift end, so they went home and we were waiting on two new mechanics.  Finally, the airplane is deemed fine for leaving and we were off and running, well, flying.

We arrive at Belize International Airport. There were a lot, for the size of the place, airplanes there, maybe 4. Seems the air controllers had been "on strike" and all of the scheduled flights seemed to arrive about the same time when the strike ended.  Naturally, we were last. After about 2 hours of standing in line we made it through customs and caught our flight to San Pedro.  This last flight only 15 minutes, the planes held 12 people with good room for about 9 or 10. That included one passenger in the co-pilot's seat. Here is our co-pilot Sarah.

We are three seat across behind them.  By having someone hold my carry-on I was able to squeeze into my seat and then take my carry-on to hold on my lap for the flight. Hope I can't get in trouble for this, but I wasn't able to find my seat belt to buckle either on the way over or the return.

We finally met our hosts at the airport on San Pedro and were carted to their home about four and a half miles from town.  Most people used gas powered golf carts,  A short distance out of town the "cobblestone" road became a dirt road...very bumpy. We arrived at the house and were shown our rooms and explored the immediate vicinity while waiting for supper. Not bad when your first meal is lobster.  All of our meals were served family style and all were tasty. I'll write about one in particular later. After supper, we were given advise on fishing, casting, reacting with the guides and fly selection. Our fishing partners for the next day and which guide we would be with was decided and then preparing for our first day of fishing.

Each fishing day we ate breakfast about 6:30 and met our guides about 7. Paul and I were fishing the first day and our guide was Marco. My fishing started slow, Paul missed two while fishing from the boat and I hadn't had a take.  Marco found a nice place to wade fish here I caught my first bonefish! I hadn't realized how much these little guys like to run.  I always tie my flies barbless and Marco insisted we use barbed hooks.  According to Marco "only professionals use barbless hooks.  Even I'm not good enough to do that".  I borrowed a fly from Paul to use that day. Below is a photo of Paul's and my first bonefish.

We were back in the boat before Paul caught his.  We were still wading when I got my largest.

We ended up with about 7 or 8 bonefish between us. Paul was "up" on the bow when we saw our only permit.  He did get in a cast or two, but they were not interested.  One time Marco wanted to check the fly when I cast.  I was bringing it in and he grabbed the line when the fly got close.  Just as he grabbed the line, a small barracuda took the fly.  Marco quickly retrieved the line, cursed the fish, released it, saw everything was okay and told me to continue fishing.

The next day Lou and I were teamed up and our guide was Roger.  I fished with Roger the last three days, but had a different fishing partner each of those days. As usual, Lou out fished me.  We landed 7  or 8 bonefish and one sardine.  Yes, Lou caught a sardine. Below are pictures of Lou and Roger and some of her fish from the day.

The next day six of us from Blue Bonefish toured the Lamanai Mayan Ruins.  I'll talk about that later.

My third day of fishing, some people had decided not to fish so I was partnered with Jeremy.  He is one of the Alaska guides who was spending some time in Belize.  He also guides for waterfowl. We ran into a pretty good size school of permit while Jeremy was up.  He got several good casts, but the fish again were not too interested in the flies.  Once or twice he spooked the fish.  I got a few "bones", all small. It was a good fun day.  Roger helped me with my casting and I thought I was doing much better than on my first day.

Several of us took the next day to go reef fishing in the morning, relaxing in the afternoon.  The day after that was our last day of fishing. I was fishing with Bill and we decided we wanted to chase permit.  That is what we did.  We looked and searched and saw very few.  Most of the day was spent looking for permit and tarpon.  Bill had a few follows from the tarpon, but they all turned away and refused the fly.

Just about every afternoon before supper Lou, I don't think she ever tires of fishing, would either walk or take a cart to one of the canals close to the house to fish.  Lou loves to fish for bluegill and she was told of a fish called the Mayan Oscar that looked similar to the sunfish back home.  She went after these guys with her fly rod.  Paul went with her once and so did Bill.  Me, I was always too tired at the end of the day. The last night Lou took some shrimp and a hook to seek out tarpon in the same canals.

Several people also managed to land small barracuda.

One morning we went reef fishing.  We started with the mate throwing a net to catch our bait.  The friendly pelican was watching for bait and for fish that were caught. He did manage to catch a hooked fish or two. I believe they were all rescued to be consumed by us later. On the boat that I was on we caught several kinds of fish, including varieties of snapper, trigger fish, grouper (very small),  and a grunt (definitely a well earned name). We came home, the fish were cleaned and we had them for lunch. The afternoon was free time and the day was concluded with a pig roast.  Really just the shoulder, but delicious. The pork was covered with foil, then wrapped in banana leaves and then palm leaves.  It was buried about 6 am and uncovered about 6 pm.

A few photos from the boat or beach:

Sunset from Blue Bonefish

A small portion of a very pretty island, supposedly one owned by Leonardo

After the first two days of fishing, six of us took the Lamanai Mayan Ruins tour.  It was about an hour boat ride to the mainland and a short distance up  river.  There we had breakfast served, we got into a van for a ride of an hour along the old Pan American Highway, boarded another boat to travel up the river to a lake where the Mayan ruins are located.  Along the way we saw a spider monkey, iguanas, crocodiles, colorful birds. A walking tour of the ruins followed lunch. Most of the group climbed to the top of Tower Temple.

Iguana on a high tree limb

Spider Monkey

I believe this was a Broad bill heron

What big teeth I have

I don't recall the real name, but called the Jesus Bird (walks on water)

A Mayan Calendar

Jaguar Temple

Our group on top to Tower Temple

Mask Temple

A really big crocodile
 The time spent at the Blue Bonefish was vey enjoyable.  Good hosts, enjoyed being with old friends and made some new ones. No record fish, no slams, but we all caught fish.

As bad as our flight down was, the flight back was worse. All I'll say is our flight home from Dallas was cancelled, long wait in line to reschedule, and even though Paul and I boarded our plane an hour and a half after the others, we were looking for our luggage when the others arrived.  In spite of the travel problems I had a good time and I'm already thinking about another warm weather trip next February.  Maybe fishing, maybe just looking for a break.