|We've all heard about that trip that we'd love to go on that's always filled with returning guests... and a waiting list to boot. Such had been the case with Al Smatsky's annual trip to Belize so when an opening popped up we jumped on it. You can never really tell what's up Al's sleeve, but we eventually found out that his plan for this "Excellent Adventure" was for the nine of us to play Gilligan on some desert isle. OK… you can stop that silly tune going on in you head any time now.|
The red eye from SFO to Belize City went smoothly and was high-lighted with a way-too-early bleary-eyed breakfast at our midway stop in Houston. The flight from Belize City to Dangriga was completely booked. I believe there was a total of fourteen on board... and that included the pilot! After landing, I asked one of the porters where baggage claim was. He answered by grinning quietly and continuing to walk by. Then it was a quick ride with a cabbie navigating by way of a 4G wireless device to the dock where our panga awaited. So much for a "third world country" being behind the times. Having worn long pants, I selfishly stayed on board while the others in shorts sloshed the boat over the shallow at the river mouth. After reboarding, Al lifted his foot to show me his bleeding toe while claiming a crab had pinched him. I'm sure he was thinking… "PAIN!", but I was thinking… "PERMIT!!". The boat ride out to the island was a bit rough with one of the three Canadian gals on board taking the brunt of the spray. I don't recall their names, but they were all much too young and financially unestablished to fit a Mrs. Howell.
On the first morning my parter John, who had yet to land a Tarpon, took the gunners stand and almost immediately hooked up. He battled it until the fish ran long, the line suddenly stopped, and "bink"… the hook popped out. We later found that his line had been misthreaded through the guides and got caught up on one of the knots. So much for threading your rods in less than perfect lighting. We then took a half hour boat ride back to the mainland to look for Permit on a mud flat. The winds were perfectly calm, but you can't cast to something that isn't there. So we ran to an open ocean flat where John made one cast and proceeded to land his first Permit. Answer me this… How's he's EVER going to top that? After lunch we fished through a mid-island pool where John landed a nice Bonefish of about two lbs… That's a "slam ON" for John. We later ran back to the Tarpon grounds for John to complete his slam but could not find a willing eater. After ham-handing one, I ended the day with a Bonefish that you could nearly fit in the palm of your hand. They're amazingly strong and beautiful creatures... at any size.
The next morning I hooked up on a Tarpon that made two jumps, got to the reel, and parted the 80 lb bite to 30 lb leader knot before I could get a set on it. That'll teach me to test out my knots and leader material before hand. We spent the rest of the day casting to unwilling Permit until our guide suggested returning to the isle for a short nap and then back out for an evening Tarpon bite. We got back out and after John had gotten semi-bored of casting to seemingly empty water, I asked to try out his rod. It's the all familiar story, but one cast... and during the retrieve I heard myself saying "Hey… I'm getting a bite". It couldn't have been better scripted. After a couple of hard sharp strip sets the line cleared and the fish was in the air followed by the obligatory bow to the Silver King. It was a good half hour to forty-five minute battle with the fish once nearly wrapping the line around a coral head. After the hand shakes and high fives, I said to John "Now THAT's how you land a Tarpon". The guide took it as me being boastful, but I knew from having previously seen my guide hook, land, and release a Tarpon while I was tied to one of similar size, that seeing someone land a Tarpon first hand goes a long way towards landing one yourself.
John proved a very quick study proven the very next day by hooking and landing an even more impressive fish. Afterwords, we both agreed that we wouldn't want to do two of those back to back. Bringing a Tarpon boat side is a lot of hard work and John's wearing rod handle bruises on his hips to prove it.
Our accommodations on the island were good and the food local, satisfying, and filling. The sea side bar served reasonably priced cold Belikins and iced Pineapple/Rum drinks. It was a nice nightly hang out where we paid our debts from the days fishing while semi-familiar somewhat oddly-dated pop music played in the background. The Canadian Ginger/Mary Ann's kept the evenings entertaining with their toying with the young island studs on the not-so-desert isle. The dock out front of the bar was a constant invite to try for the just-out-of-reach nightly slurping Tarpon. I never got a hook in one but managed to put three in the air one evening. A ganjaed-up American from Colorado (it's legal there now isn't it?) was slovenly singing praises of my fishing prowess to others on the dock when I made a cast, the line flew up, and my glasses got flipped into the drink. It wasn't a great example of living up to the Colorado billing but it was a frightening reminder to don glass straps from then on. Luckily it only took a quick snorkel with a single dive near dock side to recover my vision. The event was followed by a freshwater shower to desalt… my second for the day. Which reminds me… The cool collected-rain-water showers in the rooms took some getting use to but eventually became a well anticipated relief before bedding down under the warm sea breeze in the evenings.
After bidding a sad fare well to the Ginger/Mary Ann's, the party fished our way to Placencia. Soon after landing, being the most experienced of the group, Willy and James quickly sped off to town but shortly returned long faced and dejected after finding out that their revered Gelato creamery was closed until Friday.
The following days of fishing for John and I were pretty much filled with casting to unwilling Permit. That's the bad news. The good news is that John made a good dent into the thousand casts till his next one and it sure feels like I'm way past due. It wasn't until late in the game that we figured out that Al, who had been claiming all along that he and his partner for the day hadn't done very well, was actually sandbagging us. It took getting Pheo liquored up on Belikins before he finally spilled the beans that they had been in the back country nailing the baby Tarpon and Snook. Note to self: "Take Al's partner out drinking early in the trip."
Meals in Placencia were excellent with the final dinner being with the guides and their wives on Friday. It was the traditional Belizian SUNDAY meal of stewed meat with rice and bean. Seeing that it was Friday, nearly all of us made more than one stop at the Gelato shop.
While John and I spent our time on the flats shooting at Permit, others in the group saw many other parts of the fishery. Everyone caught fish. I'm sure each of us has a stand out memory from the trip and I wish I could relate them all. The ones that I can recall would be John with his one-cast first Permit and his first landed Tarpon. There's Ron who, like John, also had a slam on… and this was on his very first day of salt water fishing! He landed his Tarpon and Bonefish but tried to put the brakes on his Permit… Oops! Then there's Bob... who at 75 fought an estimated 50 lb Tarpon for nearly an hour to bring it boat side. In my books, a guides' hand on the leader is a landed fish. There's Willy who, at 86, landed a 40 lb Tarpon on a 9 wt! Simply amazing. There's Craig who told me that his occupation of close in hand work makes him really appreciate being able to look out far. He must have been looking WAY far out when he stumbled and did a face plant in the mud. He cleaned up well before dinner where he told us of how he had a HUGE Tarpon take a swipe at his fly. Ahh… "The one that go away.". And then there's Al... I don't know how anyone can organize a trip of that magnitude... with that much detail... without any signs of stress. In fact, the glimmer in his eyes, the smile on his face, and spring in his step the entire time said to me that he had lost fifteen years somewhere. Maybe it's because he's been doing these trips for about that long. Oh, and then there's me. All I can say is that there's a Permit out there with my name on it and I've got a score to settle. Maybe next year.
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