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Belize offers the opportunity to not only chase permit and bonefish but has some excellent ocean going tarpon fishing. Martin Koper provides a great report into his week at El Pescador Lodge…..
As you know I was after destination that ticked various boxes for our group: somewhere that Andy could experience his first saltwater fly-fishing trip working his way from bonefish on up, that I could catch my first permit and that Natasha could catch a preferably large tarpon. Having been to Cuba on 3 occasions I wanted to travel to somewhere new so after looking into your suggestions and reading about the various options we decided to give El Pescador a try. Although largely an unknown quantity amongst UK fly-fishing circles, El Pescador has an excellent reputation having been awarded Orvis International Destination of the Year in 2013
The journey to Belize involved a 2 night stopover in Miami for Natasha & I which was a fantastic addition to the holiday and a good way to get us in the spirit of things. In fact, it was almost with a heavy heart that we left South Beach.
The flight from Miami to Belize takes 2 hours and as soon as you arrive the holiday really starts to begin: rather than arduous road transfers over badly tarmacked roads in a bus with no AC we hopped on board a Cessna for a 15 minute flight to San Pedro. If this doesn’t get you in the mood to go fishing I don’t know what will as you fly at low level over some of the most beautiful flats you would care to witness. On arrival at San Pedro you are met at the airport and escorted to a jetty where you complete your journey to the lodge by boat. We arrived just in time for lunch and cocktails and to see the first of the anglers returning. Stories of bonefish, tarpon and permit abound including one grandslam. By the time we were several rum punches down, the complimentary casting lesson and more than enough shots at tailing bonefish just feet from the jetty, South Beach was but a distant memory. The bedrooms were vast in size, beautifully decorated and, most importantly of all, with remote controlled AC!
Our induction with fishing manager, Isa, gave us a detailed overview of what we could expect from our fishing: at El Pescador the emphasis is very much on the guests having fun and so you can dictate to your guide what species you would like to pursue and how you would like to go about doing it. The options are pretty much endless as there is a vast amount of water that can be covered: far more than a weeks fishing could ever do justice to.
The first morning, all 5 rods were brought down and Isa nobly undertook the time consuming job of rigging them all up ready for the day ahead allowing us to enjoy a leisurely breakfast as the sun came up for a 6am start on the water.
The skiffs were the finest appointed I have ever encountered – our guide Cesar had just last month taken hold of a customised model that was more than spacious enough for the 3 of us plus Cesar’s young assistant Alan (currently in training and looks certain to make an excellent guide in his own right.) The Bluetooth sound system was a feature we absolutely loved on the rides to and from the fishing grounds.
On to the fishing:
Quite simply the fishing at El Pescador was superb. The days fishing lasts for 8 hours (although additional hours can be negotiated with the guide for $50 p/h if you need that final fish for the grandslam) typically 6am to 2pm. With the tarpon fishing being most productive at first light I was pleasantly surprised that Natasha opted to start at 4am on more than one occasion! The early start does have the benefit of meaning you are back in time for lunch at 1pm and have the whole afternoon to do as you please.
Bonefish are present in huge numbers in the waters around El Pescador but to fish exclusively for these for more than a day would be not taking advantage of what is on offer. Huge shoals of 1-3lb fish were easily found by our guide and they would readily take an array of flies. Anything in the 3-5lb bracket is considered a trophy bonefish here. As a result we only fished very sparingly for the bones.
We arrived towards the tail end of the summer migratory tarpon run but it was clear there were significant numbers of exceedingly large fish about. The fishing for the migratory tarpon was primarily done by anchoring in channels and using intermediate lines on an #11 rod. There is nothing like seeing a school of big tarpon rolling in casting distance to get the heart racing! Natasha set the pace by landing a 60lber on day 1 and an absolute immaculate specimen estimated at 90-100lb that was subdued after a 45 minute battle after jumping at least half a dozen times. My own notable highlight was a 60lb fish that formed part of a grandslam – the fish taking with a big silver swirl that will live long in the memory.
As always when tarpon fishing, the fish landed only tell part of the story with numerous fish jumped and lost. I’d say on average we jumped probably about 5 fish per day with at least one of those being estimated in the 100+ category. Make no mistake, there are large fish about. Part of the joy of tarpon fishing is waiting for the big fish to give their position away by rolling – given good conditions they can be seen hundreds of yards away. Slowly the boat is positioned to give you a shot in casting range which you will invariably cock-up as the adrenaline levels get unbearably high.
In addition to the summer run, we fished the stunningly beautiful Savannah flats for the resident tarpon that were in the 30-60lb range. A few days of strong winds had made large portions of Savannah too muddy to effectively sight fish but we did manage to find areas that were suitable. There is nothing quite like seeing a school of a dozen 40-60lb fish swimming slowly towards you from about 200 yards away. The excitement continuously building and just as the fish are approaching casting distance they gently peel away or begin daisy-chaining just out of reach. This maddeningly frustrating trait all adds to the appeal and when you finally get one to start chasing your fly it has been well earned. The fish here are not all easy and it takes patience and persistence to get one to eat. Landing them here is just a bonus.
Sight fishing for these mid-sized tarpon using a #10 and a floating or ghost-tip line is a truly magical experience and one which I wish we had spent more time doing. The only difficulty being there is such an array of water and different fishing experiences that a months fishing would only begin to get to grips with it all, never mind a week.
I went to El Pescador with the express aim of catching a permit and I was lucky enough to do this on the second day. Whilst motoring back from fishing at the Baclar Chico somehow our guide spotted a school of permit from hundreds of feet away. We motored round and I was able to get several decent shots. After rushing the first few I regained my composure as was able to present the Avalon fly close enough to get a few follows. The final time I dropped it I was expertly talked through the retrieve by Cesar and following his exact instructions I was able to get a hookup. The fish was the smallest in the school at about 2lbs put it was a permit nonetheless and secured the grandslam! Just minutes later Natasha was able to get a few shots and got follows to the point where the fish opened it’s mouth but didn’t quite eat the fly. Watching a school of permit is truly beguiling, the fish themselves are almost impossible to spot and due to their narrow profile they don’t cast the same shadow a bonefish does – the easiest way to spot them is to see them pushing water or if they are on light-coloured bottom to see their dark fins.
We had several more encounters with much larger permit but they steadfastly refused to eat anything presented to them. If we had dedicated more time to fishing for them we could have connected with one of the 20-30lb fish we saw but it takes an incredible amount of discipline to forego all the other opportunities on hand and concentrate solely on permit.
In fact, on more than one occasion I did not know which rod to pick up with tarpon rolling one side, permit cruising another and jacks marauding all within casting distance. Another time when fishing the unbelievably beautiful flats at St. George’s after permit, a school of tarpon came into range but moved out just as quickly before rods could be swapped over.
The permit is the toughest part of the grand slam and on the day we arrived there was one, our first day out fishing there were a further two grandslams. I had one the next day, as well as our friend Andy and on our final day we were trumped by an American angler who caught a super grand slam – adding a snook to the tarpon, permit and bonefish. It was Arie’s first permit after chasing them for more than 4 years so nobody could begrudge him after such efforts.
In addition to these, Natasha caught an absolutely beautiful jack crevalle of around 25lbs which beat her up for 30 minutes before being subdued. Ladyfish, known as the poor man’s tarpon for their jumping prowess, which made excellent sport on light tackle.
We spent our final day fishing beyond the reef – our hopes of trolling for tuna, dorado and wahoo were curtailed by the large amounts of Sargassum that have been present all over the Caribbean this year. Instead we decided to fish over the reef which produced numerous grouper, snapper and triggerfish but also connected us to some truly colossal fish. On more than one occasion we were busted off by things that we can only guess what they were – twice Natasha lost fish that Cesar reckoned were either huge cubera snapper in the 100lb plus category or similar size goliath grouper. Unless you have hooked one of these fish then you cannot begin to appreciate the power that they have. While the fish were not landed they provide memories that will last forever and I think she is developing enough “ones that got away stories” to rival the best of them! The way back from the fishing we stopped to see huge schools of tuna boiling at the surface but they were resistant to everything we threw at them. Fishing was finally brought to a halt by a large turtle being eaten by an even larger shark – the sea can be a cruel place at times but spectacular all the same. The off-shore fishing was done at no additional charge, unlike most resorts which charge you a hefty fee for the privilege and is an excellent way to put some more notches in the species count.
The thing that struck me most was the abundance of life within the ecosystem we fished. Dolphin were such regular site that by the end of the week they were not considered noteworthy enough to warrant getting the camera out. Manatees, turtles and truly vast numbers of pelican, frigate birds and cormorants were also in evidence. Once in a while it is always good to get a reminder that you are not necessarily the top of the food chain and this came in the form of two colossal bull shark whilst hunting for permit on a deeper flat. In addition to this huge stingray were a common sight, as were the beautiful leopard ray’s – watching them jumping out of the water was always an interesting sight.
All in all, El Pescador was a beautiful place to stay – attention to detail was forefront of everything. The family-like service you are given to the pins awarded on the final night of your stay to commemorate your various angling achievements during dinner.
The lodge has a well-appointed tackle & gift shop and Orvis Helios 2 rods and Hatch reels are available to hire at no extra cost. The additional activities on offer were comprehensive enough to keep non-fishing guests more than entertained.
We fished hard for the week but still only feel like we scratched the surface of what was on offer here. It seemed like an excellent place to begin saltwater flyfishing – catching the first bonefish then moving on from there or a tremendous place for the more experienced angler to target tarpon and permit and go for the grandslam.
Either way, it is a truly magnificent place and one that we will certainly be revisiting at the earliest possible opportunity.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON FLY FISHING IN BELIZE PLEASE CONTACT US ON +44 (0)1621743711 OR EMAIL: ENQUIRIES@FLYODYSSEY.CO.UK