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Calgary Herald,
January 10, 2002
By Bob Scammell

Judging by the steady inquiries from readers, neither Sept. 11 nor another soft winter and an even softer dollar can stem the tide of Alberta anglers flowing to the salt for some real warmth, perhaps for some good fishing coupled with a family vacation.

Growing number of anglers are considering their first serious salt-water fly-fishing foray and are looking for suggestions on the best place to go.

Three years ago, I was in just that position, making many inquiries of people who had been here and there and done that, doing a lot of research, and eventually concluding El Pescador, Belize was the best place to go for a beginning salt-water angler, particularly one wanting to enter salt-water fly-fishing, the fastest growing corner of a multi-niche sport.

Having enjoyed and returned safely from Herself's and my trip to Belize from March 20-27, 2000, I still believe it is the best first place to go.

I was primarily after my first bonefish on a fly and knew there are even more of them at Christmas Island than there are in Belize, and that the bones of the Florida Keys are much larger than those available either at Christmas Island or Belize.

But, I was warned there is little on Christmas Island for a non-fishing spouse to do. Herself and I love the Keys, but they have become a very expensive zoo, so over fished that those big bones are becoming impossible to catch. Take the matter of crowding: In six days of fishing Belize at the time we were there, on only two occasions did I count as many as three other boats from horizon to horizon.

But the primary reason Belize may be the best destination for a beginning salt-water fisherman is simply that there may be no other place in the world that offers the variety of species and type of angling all at the same time.

For example, El Pescador is unique in that you can fish for tarpon year round. There is a resident population that is in mid-April through June [joined] by the larger migratory fish.

(Actually, the larger migratory tarpon start to appear in mid-April and stay as late as October. June-Sept boasts the largest population of these migratory giants. El Pescador)

The permit is the most difficult quarry for the fly fisherman, super wary and very strong. Belize in February and March may be the finest place in the world to catch a permit. At this time, for some reason, you can happen upon a school of them and, if you do every thing right, you can pick them off, one after another, as a Calgarian staying at El Pescador, our lodge on Ambergris Cay[e], did, catching eight permit on the day we arrived.

Several guests at El Pescador, "jumped" tarpon, meaning they flew one like a kite on the one jump it took the huge fish to dump the human.

In the deep blue water far outside the reef, you can deep sea fish for the really big game, the sailfish. On the reef itself, you can spin fish with live bait or artificial lures for a wide variety of fish, including barracuda.

Up the mainland rivers, when the salinity drops sufficiently, you can fish anyway you want for the handsome, heavy and sporting snook.

One third of Belize is park, nature and marine reserves, etc., and most of the people make their living from eco-tourism. The country has had the good sense to make it illegal to kill any of the "big three" saltwater gamefish: bonefish, permit or tarpon.

El Pescador offers a myriad of activities for the non-fishers in a family, perhaps too much as some gents who had brought their whole family were moaning about fishing time lost to "quality" time: Tubing on jungle rivers, touring Maya ruins, going to marine, bird, jaguar preserves and butterfly farms, or into San Pedro to observe life in a real lively little town, participating in the superb snorkeling and diving provided by the second-longest barrier reef in the world.

Communications between guide and angler is essential and, and if fly fishing the guide must know about the special demands of this form of angling.

At El Pescador, there are a dozen and a half guides who are superb fly fishing guides. They speak Spanish among themselves, but English is the first language in Belize and most of them speak it better than you'll hear on most Alberta main streets.

Downsides? The bottom is too soft for wading on Belizean flats, so most fishing must be done with a guide from the carpeted casting deck glued into the bow of his "panga," the native Mexican flats boats.

Belize has become hostage to the U.S. dollar and American prices have followed, although we received top value and superb treatment from El Pescador and could not possibly imagine better service than we got from Frontiers, the fishing outfitter from Wexford, PA that put together our trip.

My superb guide for the entire trip was Capt. Nestor Romel Gomez, known only as "Nesto" throughout the salt-water fly fishing world.

Bob Scammell


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