By Claude Neidlinger, Trip Lead, Bay Pines – Tampa, Florida
Project Healing Waters Florida went international recently, heading to the Western Caribbean, specifically the islands off Honduras. While they were in search of bonefish and permit, they found plenty of camaraderie and healing on the water.
Florida Veteran participants from Project Healing Waters were the guests of the Harbaugh Foundation at their Upachaya Lodge. The excursion was a great opportunity to represent a number of Florida PHW Programs: Bob Korose & Gary Phreabus (Pensacola Program), Jim Kelly & Kevin Thompson (Elgin Program), and Luis Rivera & Claude Neidlinger (Bay Pines – Tampa Program). After arriving at the lodge, Jeff, the lodge manager, gave us a tour of the facilities and got us settled. That night after dinner, some of the group went down to the dock to loosen up their casting stroke in anticipation for the coming day.
The first day was DIY fishing: half the group took out kayaks while the others took a boat ride to the east to a flat. We discovered the grass flats are great camouflage for bonefish: spotting them was a challenge. At dinner that night we met Tex, the head guide. He stopped by and gave us a rundown on the next two days, from what to expect to the line, leader, tippet length, and flies, with the primary emphasis on permit.
Days two and three were spent with the guides scouring the flats for bonefish and permit. However, although we all had shots, there were no fish brought to boat. Back at the lodge there was a lot of reflection on our time on the water, what we did right and wrong, how difficult the grass flats were, and we all agreed it was a great learning experience and we would do it again. Jim and Luis took advantage of a diving lesson with Jeff in the afternoon at the pool and both enjoyed the experience.
The final day started with DIY on the flats, an after-lunch trip to the Westend for a bit of sightseeing, all followed by dinner at a local restaurant.
Upachaya is a great lodge with a wonderful staff that were beyond accommodating, from the rooms to the food and adjusting to an early morning breakfast for our second day with the guides; I can’t say enough about their hospitality.
Although we didn’t catch any fish, it was a great bonding experience for everyone and one we will remember.