Friday, November 27, 2009

Bonefishing on Mars

Twig Tolle casting at the lodge at sunrise. plenty of bonefish right in front of the lodge.

Turneffe Atoll is located approximately 30 miles off the coast of Belize but it may as well have been on the face of Mars. The series of keys is surrounded by a shallow reef, outside the reef I was told the water was 3000 meters deep! I could not even comprehend water that deep but I do know what lives on the shallow rocky terrain just inside the reef, thousands of bonefish that don't want to become bait. Last week I was lucky enough to host a group of my clients to Turneffe Flats Lodge, located right on the atoll. The accommodations were first class, the food was incredible, and the people were excellent, that is all bonus because the amount of bonefish I saw in a week was mind blowing.

here is a snapshot of the group I hosted.

There was not a single flat that we stopped at that did not have schools of bonefish and I mean schools. Now some of you are probably already thinking well that makes for easy bonefishing and your wrong. The fish that live on the shallow flats near the reef are always on high alert and very aware of their surroundings. It requires the right presentation, the right fly (very small #8 and #10 bonefish flies) and the right fish, then once you hook the bastards a lot of skill fighting them on very light drag through the rocks, coral, and small mangrove trees, not easy! If you want easy they have easy as well. After the first day our guide Elvis was tired of us complaining about how the fish don't eat well so he said I am going to take you somewhere tomorrow that you can catch as many bonefish as you want until you get bored with it. I looked at my client Rob Alpers who was my fishing partner on this trip and I could read his mind, "Why the hell didn't you go there today?". Rob just likes to catch fish, he doesn't care what kind of fish or what kind of tackle he catches it on, that is one of the reasons that Rob is one of my favorite clients. The next morning we spent the first couple hours looking for permit with no luck, that is when Elvis said okay Rob are you ready to go and catch some bonefish? We went to a flat that was about 4 feet deep and staked out the boat and Elvis pointed out a dark area of water. Elvis instructed Rob, "Cast your fly in there and let it sink then strip it out slow." I chimed in, "what fly should he use?" Elvis, "Doesn't matter." It didn't Rob hooked up right away and landed his bonefish on fly, then another and another. I could see them flashing like a school of sardines on the beach off Stuart. There had to be thousands in a very small area. After Rob had some fun with the smaller then average bonefish I decided I would catch a few before we left and went back to Mars. My goal was to see how many in a row I could catch and on my eighth cast I came back empty handed so I said well 7 is enough for me. Needless to say we both had our fill of the "kiddie pool", as I coined it.

This is why I call it Mars, good luck landing a bonefish in this terrain!

open this image to full size and see if you can see the tails?

We even let Elvis get into the action.
A "kiddie pool" bonefish.

I don't want any of you to get the wrong idea, the reason I keep referring to this place as Mars is just because of the terrain that we mostly fished. Turneffe is an incredibly beautiful place with crystal clear water and miles of flats and even an inside lagoon with miles of mangrove shorelines. Elvis just preferred to walk the reef edge looking for the schools of bonefish and again we found plenty. After the first few days I was getting better at presenting to the fish. I quit trying to make super long cast and focused on positioning myself where I could make one or two false casts and put the fly gently near the school and I began to hook up more frequently. Landing about a 50/50 ratio with lots of cut offs and pulled hooks. I think my favorite part was just wondering off on my own, while Elvis stayed with Rob, and soaking in all the life on the flats. Millions of small hermit crabs and conch that live in the coral are the bonefishes main diet, that is why small flies like the bonefish bitter work so well. I also saw huge schools of big rainbow parrot fish, boxfish, triggerfish, snappers, all very cool sights for a guy that spends most of his time in water that you can hardly see the bottom.

There are a lot of places in the Caribbean that you can target bonefish but what makes Turneffe such and interesting place is that the atoll has a large permit population as well. After 5 days of fishing no one in the group had a caught a permit, some were seen but none were hooked. I think the weather played a factor in it, mostly cloudy skies and northwest winds. Elvis keep saying if we get an east wind the fishing will be better but we only had one day left?
The last day, like the day before it was overcast and raining and my thoughts were, oh well, I still had a great time. Then while standing on our first flat of the morning soaking wet from all the rain the skies parted and the sun was shining! Even better the wind started to lightly blow from the east. As I wondered off on my own chasing around a school of bonefish I can hear yelling in the distance. I turned and I could see Elvis with his hands in the air and Rob holding his rod as high as he could, Elvis was yelling to me, "Get your camera, permit, permit, permit!!!" As I nearly killed myself running back to the boat to get my gear, Rob and Elvis ran through the coral trying to keep the permit hooked. I began heading towards them with my camera bag when I say Elvis reach in the water and hold a permit high above his head. What an incredible sight, I only wish I was there closer to watch it all transpire. I get so much enjoyment out of watching someone catch a fish of a lifetime, I guess that's why I guiding so much. After tons of pictures we released the permit and watched him swim along the shallows that followed the reef, you know "Mars". Needless to say everyone was happy and spirits were high, then in typical Rob fashion he said, "Hey Elvis, how can I catch one of these boxfish?" Elvis replied, "everything out here loves conch", and while I wondered off to chase more bonefish Rob and Elvis spent the next hour harassing boxfish with conch on a light spinning rod. I told you Rob doesn't care he just loves to fish and maybe some of us should take a lesson and just have more fun when we fish. I also swear his attitude pays off for him ten fold, some of you may remember Rob as the guy that caught 7 permit on fly with me one half day a few years ago.

What an incredible trip, everyone caught bonefish and soaked in the beauty of Belize. Rob went home with the only permit caught that week at the lodge and in the airport on the way home I specifically remember Rob saying to me, "you know those boxfish are a blast to catch!"

If any of you are interested in going to Belize just let me know and I can get you in touch with the lodge or just wait until next year because I am going back again for sure.

Here are just a variety of pics from the trip. I know most of you just look at the pictures anyway!
Elvis our guide for the week.
one of the cabanas at the lodge.

love these Hatch reels!
I was really happy with my Crowder fly rods

a face only a mother could love, & a bunch of fly fishing junkies!

Below are a series a pictures I took with my Pentax Optio W60

my guide service website
my photography website