December 7-14, 2018
Written by: Daphne Zencey, Green Mountain PHWFF Program
(Full photo gallery available below)
While much of the United States was enveloped in snow and cold in mid December, five Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing participants and myself (Daphne Zencey) were on our way to the warmer climes of the Caribbean for the fishing trip of a lifetime. As our little puddle jumper took us from the main land to Ambergris Caye—our home for the next five days—the jewel-toned waters off the coast of Belize were warm and enticing, supplying us all with fantasies of landing the illusive “grand slam”: a bonefish, a tarpon and the “ghost of the sea”: permit.
Our plane touched down and our wonderful hosts from the Blue Bonefish Lodge, Jim and Phyllis Johnson were at the ready to whisk us away to the lodge with the preferred method of land transportation on the Caye: golf carts. We piled luggage and ourselves into the carts and were taken on the scenic 4 mile drive through downtown San Pedro towards the lodge. The buzz of the city and its hundreds of golf carts dwindled as we transitioned from pavement to dirt roads, store fronts replaced by ocean front villas surrounded by blooming hibiscus trees and palm trees bearing coconuts. We turned into the drive at the Blue Bonefish Lodge, our home for the next five days. We were immediately greeted by a private beach with amazing ocean view, a small fresh water plunge pool, and a long pier with palapa stretched into the water—awaiting its intended use as our fishing guide’s pick-up and drop-off every day. We settled into our rooms, took in the lodge and it’s surroundings and then ventured (via golf cart of course) back to San Pedro for dinner. After a long day of travel and full bellies, we returned to the lodge and went to bed, some of us too antsy to sleep, daydreaming of hitting the water early the next morning, ready for a full week of fishing.
Every morning Phyllis prepared a monstrous breakfast, with fresh fruit, eggs, bacon, french toast, and coffee, ensuring we were all adequately fueled and caffeinated each day. Our guides arrived by flats boats like clockwork at 7 every morning, ready to whisk us away—two fishers and one guide per boat—to chase down bonefish, tarpon and permit, or whatever else we might hook into. The guides were incredible and were able to spot fish seemingly miles away. We all became very accustomed to looking for “nervous water,” indicating a large school of fish (permit? please be permit!) moving below the surface. Our guides would call out distance and direction, as we made casts into water we were told had fish, despite our inexperienced eyes not registering them. Despite our lack of fish finding eyes, our guides were spot on and one by one we experienced “the tug,” trying to land the fish (“bro, you trout set!” was a common guide phrase) as our lines whizzed and reels whirled with the pull of fish on our fly lines.
Lunches were packed ahead of time by Phyllis and sometimes her son, and eaten on the boats. Food was certainly plenty, as was the soda and cold water. For the first time I experienced drinking bagged water, common in Belize as the bags are biodegradable, making less waste for this country’s ocean-focused economy. After lunch, it was back to more fish spotting and seemingly blind casting, often resulting in landed fish for us all. The fishing varied day to day, with some unseasonably strong winds and cloud cover a couple days making it hard for the guides to spot fish. Some of us used these days to hunt tarpon in the mangroves. Despite a handful of follows, only one participant landed a tarpon, another hooked one, and it danced for awhile, but broke free as it neared the boat. All in all the participants caught dozens of Bonefish, a Tarpon, Snook, Snappers and the biggest catch of the trip was an Amber Jack. One boat claims to have landed an illusive permit, but barring photographic evidence, the rest of us remained (jealously) skeptical (I kid, I kid!). Fishing was often done by 3:30 or 4 and the rest of the day was often spent recapping all the fish landed and evaded during our day out on the water.
Although bonefish, tarpon, and permit are protected, some of the fish we kept, including a handful of spiny lobsters and conch, which Phyllis graciously made into fresh ceviche for us every night for dinner, along with her planned menus of lobster tails, pork chops or steaks. Have I mentioned how much food there was…?
The week was filled with smiles as we lived out this dream of an experience. A favorite memory of mine was casting to a school of bonefish feeding in an emerald pool by a mangrove as my guide for the day, Jorge, sang reggae from his platform above, artfully maneuvering the boat as the school of fish changed direction, allowing me to cast and land my biggest bonefish of the trip.
All of us who were able to go on this trip are so grateful for the opportunity. Our hosts at Blue Bonefish Lodge were more than accommodating and so generous with their time and desire to make this a special experience. The guides were all professional and fun to spend time with, and Ambergris Caye is such a special place that I will never forget. Despite it likely being a once-in-a-lifetime trip, I think we all came away with the itch to return to Belize in order to catch that one permit that exists out there for each of us….in the meantime, tight lines to all!