After six weeks in Florida where it was unseasonably cool but pleasant, Carol and I returned home and had to acclimate to winter again. Now we are heading back south to Belize where we have gone on winter breaks nearly every year since 1990. We look forward to temperatures in the 80s, sun, trade wind rattling the coconut trees and seeing our Belizean friends again. Of course I'm writing this with great anticipation after another below zero morning outside walking the dog and getting in firewood.
We will be part of the annual Cheesehead invasion of Placencia, a village at the end of a peninsula in southern Belize. Bill and Sue Smith and Jeff Cudd of River Falls have been there since January. Jesse Smith will be visiting, along with Carol's brother Ken Schreiber of Osseo, Wis.
Some people get addicted to catching trout on a dry fly, others get pumped casting for muskellunge. I have become addicted to wading coral flats fly fishing for permit and bonefish.
Over the years, we have done a lot of fishing in Belize. We have caught big barracudas, king mackerel, wahoo, tuna and groupers trolling outside the barrier reef. We enjoy catching snappers, jacks, Spanish mackerel on spinning tackle around the many islands and patch reefs between the main reef and the mainland. Bill Smith enjoys casting top-water baits for reef snappers and sight-fishing for barracudas. Sue Smith is the "Fishing Goddess," catching huge fish when trolling outside the reef. We have had many delicious dinners of our catch cooked by our friend Magda Morales at her Shak restaurant on the beach.
We go fishing with Belizean guides who have become good friends. They know the sea in their area like we know our own neighborhoods and can really handle a boat. Our friend Eloy Cuevas from Monkey River navigates by watching the bottom and the cayes. He "notices" fish, fish shadows and "nervous water." He can tell what kind of fish they are from a distance. Eloy is a kind and fun guy who is a great coach for those of us who are learning how to cast big fly rods for saltwater fish.
Ken Schreiber and I like to wade on the shallow flats with Eloy fly fishing for bonefish and permit. Bonefish look like grey suckers with a pointy nose. Permit are incredibly wary bluegill-shaped silver powerhouses with big eyes and a sickle-shaped tail. Both bonefish and permit are turbo-charged dragsters that can peel 100 yards of line off your reel in seconds.
Bonefish are relatively easy to catch. They travel in schools and some of them seem to be always hungry. Feeding bonefish often give themselves away by stirring up clouds of sand and marl. A small shrimp fly stripped through the cloudy water can produce a hook-up.
Permit are a different story. They usually forage by themselves or in small groups in shallow water on top of flats when the tide is right. They are really hard to see even though they can grow up to 60 pounds. Their black dagger-shaped dorsal and tail fins often look like scissors sticking out of the water giving them away. They feed mainly on small crabs. Getting ahead and upwind of foraging permit gives you a chance to land a crab fly in front of them. You often only get one shot at them before they cruise off and disappear.
Fishing for permit takes time and patience. There are people who have gone fly fishing for permit for years before catching their first one. I've been lucky to have Eloy Cuevas as a friend and guide. He has coached me on two "Grand Slam" days of fly fishing when I caught permit, bonefish and tarpon. Now I'm hooked!