“Look: big school,” my guide, Emir, said. He was pointing to a spot 50 yards in the distance. The surface of the water was churning, black tails poking up like so many miniature sails. “Hop out,” he said.
We slid over the side of our skiff and stood in the knee-deep water. It was the first half-hour of the first day of a three-day fly-fishing excursion to Ambergris Caye, a small spit of land just off the east coast of Belize, and already Emir had led us to a sweet spot. A swath of emerald-green Caribbean lay in front of us. There wasn’t another boat in sight. The early-morning light was like something Hemingway would wax literary about.
Emir nodded toward the group of fish. “It’s actually two schools,” he said, and began walking toward one of them. Saltwater fly-fishing is more like hunting than fishing, really. It’s not about dropping a line in the water and crossing your fingers. The object is to navigate a promising expanse of water until you spot a specific fish or group of fish, the way you would traverse the woods in search of deer or elk. Then, once you have a target, you “sight cast” to that particular fish.
Located on the island’s east side, El Pescador offers access to some 400 square miles of shallow hard-bottom, white-sand flats, stretching from the Mexican border in the north to Belize City in the south. Set against a small, pretty stretch of sand, the resort’s Caribbean-chic rooms are simple but comfortable, and the local- and seasonal-minded dining is far better than it has to be.
But it’s the fishery that draws anglers from around the world. Big schools of bonefish, a thriving population of permit and both resident and migratory tarpon all ply these waters, each offering its own challenge. Bonefish, ranging from two to 10 pounds, are notoriously difficult to spot (hence their nickname: “the gray ghost”) and take off like piscine torpedoes when hooked. Permit are sleek, iridescent beauties that typically weigh from five to 20 pounds and pull like small locomotives. And tarpon are prehistoric-looking bruisers that can grow as large as 200 pounds and take an hour of arm-burning combat to land.
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