Despite the glare of the sun's iridescent rays, guide Nesto Gomez relied on his 20-plus years of poling the flats, as well as his keen vision, to spot tailing bonefish some 15 yards ahead of the skiff. The gusty winds had abated, and ESPN2 fishing show host Flip Pallot sent a small fly soaring towards the anticipated path of the unwary fish and allowed it to delicately descend
towards the sandy bottom. Three strips later, Pallot enticed the feeding bonefish to inhale his fly, and the gray ghost of the Belizean flats caused the Mims, Fla., angler's drag to scream in protest as the fish attempted to rid itself of his barbless fly.
About the size of Vermont, Belize has the world's second-longest barrier reef and is renowned for its superb saltwater fishing.
The 3-pound bonefish made several drag-screeching runs, but was no match for angler that day. The fish was finally subdued and brought to boatside, quickly unhooked and gently revived by Pallot without it ever leaving the water. None the worse from this encounter, the fish slowly meandered off and soon disappeared within the turtle grass.
Pallot and I, as well as 20 other guests, were hosted by El Pescador Lodge. My international angling travel company, X-TREME ANGLING, conducted a three-day fly-fishing getaway, in which Pallot, considered to be one of the very best fly anglers in the world, personally supervised evening seminars, fly-casting demonstrations and fly-tying sessions during the evening hours, while anglers were paired two to a boat with an experienced Belizean guide during the day to probe the vast flats and mangrove systems of Ambergris Caye.
Belize, a flats fishing paradise, is a small country on the Caribbean Sea, located between Mexico (just south of the Yucatan Peninsula) to the north and Guatemala to the south. It possesses less than 9,000 square miles, about the size of Vermont, and has a population of slightly more than 200,000. The world's second-longest barrier reef, about 185 miles in length, extends along its coast; the reef is renowned for its superb diving and excellent sport fishing opportunities.
Flip Pallot releases a Belizean bonefish.
For more than 27 years, El Pescador lodge has hosted visiting anglers from throughout the globe. This quaint fishing retreat, located on Ambergris Caye, a small island 15 minutes by charter aircraft from the Belizean mainland, has gained a reputation for offering classic sight fishing for three popular species -- tarpon, permit and bonefish --collectively referred to by anglers as the "grand slam" of the flats. Although mainly a tarpon venue, it offers good fishing for bones and to a lesser degree, permit. Built in colonial style, the lodge is situated on the beachfront and caters to 24 guests in clean and comfortable rooms with en suite bathrooms. Some rooms even offer air-conditioning, although this is usually unnecessary during the evening hours because of the pleasant breezes coming off the Caribbean. The meals are a blend of island-style seafood, fresh fruit and American dishes, served in a communal dining room/ lounge next to the bar area where you can enjoy an after-dinner drink and brag about the one that didn't get away, or reminisce about the one that did.
The attraction of El Pescador Lodge and Ambergris Caye is the diverse fishing opportunities. Anglers basically have four fishing options available to them while visiting El Pescador Lodge, and it is quite easy to partake in all four during a three-day fishing trip. During my particular trip, the bonefish were plentiful, marauding the flats in vast schools and were not as wary as those I have encountered in the Keys. Bonefish schools were quite numerous along the numerous tidal flats and mangrove marshes. The bonefish are not as large as those found in the Keys, but anglers can enjoy multiple-fish days and fantastic line-stripping action on 8-weight fly outfits or light spinning gear.
Other anglers concentrated their efforts on the reef, located just a short cast from the lodge. A variety of fish were taken on the reef, including yellow tail, barracuda, grouper and snapper. These reef fish required more brutish spinning or casting gear and heavier line. Anglers cast plugs and dropped jigs for a plethora of aggressive reef species that had a knack for nabbing a bait and then quickly finding the protective confines of rocky ledges and crevices.
It was not difficult to spot cruising tarpon on the flats, about a 20-minute drive from El Pescador.
Another option is to fish for permit, jack crevalle, possibly snook, ladyfish, barracuda, mangrove snapper and other species in the tidal channels between the mangrove islands; or sight-fishing for tarpon on the flats.
The majority of El Pescador's guides live in the village of San Pedro and have either commercially fished or poled sport anglers for an average of 20 years. They are equally adept at guiding fly, plug or spin anglers. They have an intimate knowledge of the waters, and most of the anglers in our group were into fish within 20 minutes of leaving the lodge each morning. The guides will tirelessly pole the flats in search of the many species that reside there, or drift the reef in search of larger quarry.
A definite bonus is the swimming pool, ideal for cooling down after a long and hard day on the flats, or for lounging next to and drinking exotic cocktails on those occasions when you're not fishing.
The guides own their skiffs and take meticulous care of them and their well-maintained motors. The boats are typically in the 20-foot range and are called pangas. They are dry, spacious and a breeze for two anglers to fish from. The majority of the flats fishing is done from the boats, as the bottom is too soft for wading in many places. These uncrowded fishing grounds stretch for over 200 square miles, so there are plenty of wadeable flats. All it takes is for you to request that wading is your preference for the obliging guides to motor you to these flats.
The majority of the tarpon fishing was done on the Savannah, Congerejo and Blackadore flats, located between the mainland of Belize and Ambergris Caye, just a 20-minute ride from the lodge. These flats offered clear, shallow water and it was not difficult to spot cruising tarpon. The key to tarpon fishing was to anticipate the movement of a fish, or school, then cast your fly or plug to an area that would intercept the path of the fish on the retrieve.
Although the winds tended to pick up after lunch each day, there was always a calm location for the guides to take you to. They have a knack for understanding their clients' fishing abilities and style and select the locations that best suit the various skill levels of their guest anglers.
El Pescador is a clean and comfortable colonial-style two-story lodge whose rooms all face out on to the spotless beach dotted with palm trees, palms, flowering tropical plants and Barrier Reef. The food at El Pescador was superb, the rooms are comfortable and clean, the staff was friendly and helpful, and transportation was convenient.
The lodge is capably run by the brother and sister team of Ali and Logan Gentry and Ali's husband, Alonzo. Although El Pescador is first and foremost a fishing lodge, they go out of their way to cater to the non-angling guest, offering such diversions as tours to the Mayan ruins, zoological gardens and snorkeling excursions.
For more information on El Pescador Lodge, or next year's Fly Fishing Get-Away with Flip Pallot, contact X-TREME ANGLING at www.x-tremeangling.com or call them at (1-888) 744-8867.
Gary Laden is managing director of X-TREME ANGLING. He has been an angling writer for 15 years and was the former fishing editor of the Atlanta Journal newspaper. He has fished the world in search of a variety of gamefish. Gary is also an international representative to the International Game Fish Association.