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Sportfishing

Un-Belizeable

Sunrise at Turneffe Flats atoll.

It’s 6 a.m. and I’m in paradise.

A warm Belizean morning starts off with rain doing a two-step on the roof above my bed. I peel the pillow from my face and pry myself from the comfort of this marshmallow-soft queen bed. Shuffling my feet into a pair of sandals I step out from my villa, one of eight at the exclusive at El Pescador lodge, a diving and fishing resort in San Pedro that can accommodate 24 or so guests. Today is the first day of my four-day fishing adventure in this country, and I have to say the rain just doesn’t matter.

The scent of fresh-brewed coffee emanates from below my room and puts me in a trance. I follow it downstairs and pass through a pair of spring-hinge screen doors. At the table, I sip my must-have morning beverage, take in the downpour, and contemplate my options. I have only a half-day here before I head for Turneffe Flats, my second stop on a trip that also includes two days at the Blue Marlin Lodge in South Water Caye. I could not fish today, but it’s all I really thought about during the brief two-hour flight from Miami. My guide, Capt. Kachu, whose name translates from the local creole into “Go catch it”, is in the room and says, “I’m already wet.” My kind of fisherman.

Sipping the last drop of java, I follow Kachu to his flats skiff. He powers up the Yamaha two-stroke and points the bow down the beach. (Many guides here prefer two-stroke power for its ease of maintenance.) He says we’ll fish the areas behind the lodge, and I happily follow his lead. Kachu is a third-generation guide with more than 30 years of experience, ten of those on a private sportfisherman traveling the world in search of billfish. Kachu knows fish and he really knows these flats. Always scanning the water, he stealthily guides the boat to a channel. “When it’s raining, the bones [bonefish] move off the flats and into the channel,” he whispers. The rain has made the teal water murky, preventing a fly-fishing attempt, but Kachu hands me a spinner rigged with a jig head that’s tipped with bait. A cast with slow retrieve is the game here. By cast number three, I have my first Belizean bone. Soon I’m catching them almost at will: 15 in all up to a top weight of three pounds. (Okay, a few get away, too, but this is my first day.)

Kachu suggests a slow troll for some big grunts next, and I’m game. I cast the lipped, treble-hook lure about 30 feet behind the boat. As my eyes take in the colors, tints, and shades of the environs and my mind drifts into a pleasant oblivion, I’m yanked back into reality by the screaming drag. It’s a grunt, a feisty one. Kachu poles the boat towards the shallows as I battle with this silver bullet. Ten minutes into the fight and my worthy adversary is boatside. Kachu grabs the grunt, looks at me, and says one word: “Dinner.” I smile as the rain returns with a vengeance. Kachu motors us back to El Pescador so I can fly off to the atoll known as Turneffe Flats.

I walk to the Cessna, which is run by island-hopping airline Tropic Air. My window seat affords me a great view of the country’s barrier reef, which runs from just below Mexico to the northern border of Guatemala. In terms of size, this reef is second only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Everywhere I look I see aquamarine flats, fish-filled mangroves, and in the distance, brilliant cobalt water.

After we land I jump into a center console and am off to Turneffe Flats resort, a fly-fishing mecca. Here it’s quite possible to get an inshore slam of tarpon, permit, and bonefish. And you can literally fish right outside your room.

The sky is gray and the rain is still pounding, which I’m told is out of the ordinary for late January. But a flavorful seafood lasagna dinner makes everything good with the world. With my appetite appeased, the white noise created by the falling rain easily lulls me to sleep. I wake with the crisply outlined, bright-orange sun over the reef and drenching the beach. I make my way to meet my guide named simply “Captain.”

He guides his Dolphin skiff, one of a fleet here, across the shallows. Like Kachu, he scans the surface like a frigate. As I gaze across the flats, I see spotted eagle rays, rolling tarpon, and feeding barracuda. This is awesome.

Captain says we’ll wade after the bones. I grab my fly rod and follow in his footsteps, plodding through the shin-deep water with all the grace of an stampeding elephant. I’m sure I’ve scared off any self-respecting finned creature, but Captain is on point and stops in his tracks. I see the motherload of bonefish, their tails sticking out of the gin-clear water. This is my big chance. But I cast with such novice imprecision that the there-for-the-taking school jets off to points anywhere but here.

“Maybe we’ll try fishing from the skiff,” Captain says graciously, and soon we’re in the skiff, heading to his honey hole. As Captain poles the vessel into the bone zone, I notice little flashes below the surface. “Bones,” he whispers. It takes me a few casts, but I finally hook up a Turneffe Flats bonefish. Soon, like at El Pescador, I’m hooking fish on almost every cast (except for the ones I lose due to my lackluster fly-fishing skills). But the rains return again, the bite slows, and it’s time to make for the barn.

With the last of the front passing, I’m off to my next stop, the Blue Marlin Lodge on South Water Caye. As my six-seater rolls down the runway, I look out the window and see a crocodile sitting next to the plane. “Now that’s different,” I think.

When I arrive in Dangriga I meet Rozella, who has been running the Blue Marlin Lodge for more than 20 years. She offers a big hello and an ear-to-ear grin, and quickly escorts me to the center-console that will ferry me to South Water Caye, which sits right on the southern edge of the barrier reef.

The sun is high, the sky is blue, and the heat is on as we motor between islands and reefs and soon reach the sand- and palm-tree covered boating oasis that is this lodge. (During my stay, bareboaters stopped in every day for lunch and/or dinner.)

This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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