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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Belize Honeymoon : Rise of the 'Cuda

 We went to Belize for 18 days in February -

With stays in Caye Caulker, Cayo Frances, San Pedro, San Ignacio and Hopkins.  We stayed in no resorts, used no guides or boats - and fished all artificial lures.  This shot taken near Cayo Frances. 
We explored the dirt back roads roads on foot.... and met lots of big proud sunning iguanas.

.....and by rented bikes.

On my first morning there - I wandered out early - to find snook and tarpon near a dilapidated old dock and a broken sea wall.  The onshore wind blows hard on the regular at Caulker - so the water was murky. I jumped and lost about 7 tarpon and managed to land 5 snook at this spot during our 4 day stay on Caye Caulker. You do need to get up early and have already consulted a map so that you are on your spot by first light ... by 8 am the bite is off. And then by all means - fish again at dusk - if you are not already into the rum by then.

These guys were stationed at a large construction site near the south end of the island - a really big new house being built on the canal. They cheered me on while I lost 3 barracuda in the canal. I rode back to their shack the following day and  gave them a snook I had just caught.  I gave away 2 snook and 2 big barracuda to people I met on the trip.

Barracuda dominate the shallow water during the day - as the area seemed to be not very sharky.  In fact - we only saw one nurse shark the whole time. And there were times when the barracuda were even hitting poppers on a couple of sessions at dawn and dusk as well. I ended up giving this fish away as well - to a construction worker on the south side of Hopkins.  Photo credit: Bri 
I found a school of these really large (24"+) ladyfish while wading off San Pedro. A local at the Dive Shop - Dennis - gave me a tip about a long sandbar that I could wade. A close relative of the tarpon they pull even harder than their larger relative - pound for pound.  I landed and released about 10 and then had the last one of them get eaten off the end of my line in a huge violent boil and splash.  Terns swooped in for any pieces - but I think a huge barracuda ate the lady fish in one bite - as I saw no big dorsal fin from a shark or dolphin. 

Bri casting to a large Barracuda. We did lose some tackle to Barracuda. By the time you put on steel leader to deal with them - to try and catch a truly big one you have spotted -  they were often gone. 

We caught 3 kinds of jacks and 3 types of snapper. This is an unusual coloration on a Yellow Jack.

                                                                           
Dusk often made for pretty good fishing as well. This was a first for me and very unexpected on artificial lure - A Lookdown. I've seen them before in Florida around big bridge pilings - but had never caught one. It is in the jack family so it pulled hard.  They are impossibly thin - in fact they are one of those creatures like say a Manta Ray that you cannot reconcile - you cannot believe they exist. 

A typical Belize Air BnB.  I realize that staying on back streets is not for everyone.  There are plenty of resorts here in Belize. But the local pot dealer at this end of the island pointed me toward a great fishing spot - even though I did not by any weed from him. 
There are no tackle stores in Belize - save one in downtown San Pedro - Captain Sharks marine store.  So bring everything you need. We travel with 4 piece "pack" rods, extra reel spools, extra line etc.  I met a few very sad fishing dudes who showed up in Belize without proper gear. Though the Tres Pescados Fly shop near the San Pedro ferry dock has great flies. 
Our second leg of the trip was 3 nights at Cayo Frances Farm & Fly.  This is a very special remote tiny wilderness "lodge"  run by Jeff Spiegel that can only accommodate 4 anglers.  He has kayaks and paddleboards for you to use. He is a chef and prepares all of your meals - so the food is the best you will ever eat. The other two guests were Blake and Allison of the Gig Harbor fly shop in Washington.
Small world !
Jeff's place is a really remarkable place in the Belize wilderness. I encourage anyone who fishes to stay here - though it is very fly and bone-centric.  In fact you are kind of a moron if you don't book a few days here.  Photo credit: Bri 
Our stay in Hopkins. More to the south in Belize - and not known for fishing - but the fishing was really good here as well. 
I gave this guy a fish as well. He was a local policeman who knew a lot about the medicinal plants of the area. He seemed pretty surprised I caught this snook right from the sea wall near his house. 
There was some day drinking. If the local 10oz Belikin beers actually count as drinking.
This is at the "Sip n Dip" bar directly ON the water on Caye Caulker.  Also a must do.  Also a must on Caye Caulker is the french breakfast place one store north of the Lazy Lizard. 
Bri could actually fish for quite a while - and when the fishing slowed - there were books. This was a spot we found north of Hopkins. Very fishy and looked "Crocodiley" as well.  2 people a year still get eaten here by crocs. And at least one sunken log gave me the heebie jeebies when wading. I never wade near the mangroves in deeper than knee deep or in murky water at all. 
If you got up early - you need not even have the perfect lure - the small jacks were ferocious.  The perfect set up for these guys is a small popping plug with the hooks removed and you attach a bonefish fly on the back eyelet of the plug w 24" of leader. 
The buses of San Ignacio.



...... yes there are some tame tarpon at a feeding dock.....  which I am against.  But we stumbled upon it wandering the edges of Caye Caulker - and could not resist buying a few sardines to throw at them. 
All this hic needs is some Nascar and beverage sponsors on his shirt....
Casting under the mangroves north of San Pedro. At times it was necessary to actually cast under the overhanging mangroves. 
Too many awesome hand painted signs to include them all.  
NO CAMERAS ALLOWED inside these sacred Mayan caves - as a tourist cracked a skull with a dropped camera.  BUT you have to go into these caves if you go to Belize.  You swim in to look at Mayan skeletons and artifacts still in place.  Probably the most amazing thing I've ever done was go into these caves.  Our guide Luis that we booked out of the Rain Forrest Haven Inn really gets you inside the head of the ancient Mayan rituals.  You HAVE to go into these caves if you visit Belize.  There is a show by Dr. Brady Barr on the coldwater crocs of the river here - Morletti's Crocodile. 
Bri at the tarpon feeding dock. 
Most fish were released without removing them from the water. "Keep 'Em Wet". 
Looks like they have Lionfish in Belize as well.... 
Hopefully a happy Bri.  
They let you swim with the tarpon as well. 
Our Air BnB in San Ignacio. 
Latched onto a Cuda off Caulker.  
The Mayan ruins and the inland jungle areas around San Ignacio are a great break from the water. Easy to imagine thousands of ancient Mayans using these structures. It felt strange to be there if you imagined the ruins filled with people. 
A person could totally blind cast with a fly rod into this wind all day.... I chose to use a spinning rod for most of my windy side fishing in Belize. 
Of all the locales in Belize - Hopkins was truly the most relaxing. Not nearly the day drunk hussle and bussle of Caye Caulker or San Pedro. Eat at Ella's Cool spot if you visit Hopkins. 

The very swift and venomous - Zapateros - known as Leatherjack in Florida.  We encountered these a few times - often mixed in with schools of horse eye jacks. Beginners should not handle this fish - I've been stung years ago in Miami.  It hurts and can cause some peoples whole arm to swell up.





West side - calm side - of Caye Caulker.  The east shoreline has a steady hard wind.




The wedding cake like whimsy of the architecture in San Ignacio. We took a cooking class in San Ignacio and learned the local Stewed Chicken with rice and beans and bread pudding for desert.






Belize is a great place. We caught Snook, a Tarpon, tons of Barracuda, Bonefish, 3 kinds of Jacks, Zapateros, 3 kinds of Snappers, Ladyfish, Needlefish and a Lookdown.  The people were great. The food was awesome.  In Caye Caulker, San Pedro and San Ignacio you can get around easily by bike. We had some new bird sightings - including a Lessens Mut Mut and a really strange mammal called and Agouti. ATM Caves is one of the craziest things I've ever seen. 











Monday, October 17, 2016

Orcas Island - Denizens of the Kelp

These are the newly wed on the Ferry over to Orcas with smooth seas. This is not what I looked like on the return trip in big storm waves. 

Just after our wedding Bri and I chose Orcas Island for a short and modest honeymoon - somewhat close to home. We rented a small cabin via Air BnB -  on the water on Orcas - the least populated of the San Juan Islands.

Just our style - lots of driftwood incorporated into the construction of this cabin. The solitude during the off-season was really cool. 

The view off the front deck - This is Obstruction Pass.  Lots of otters out in the bay here. Puget Sound is a really nice piece of water.  Always tons of wildlife - and the potential to see Killer Whales in some areas. 

On a cliff trail overlooking the surprisingly clear and calm water - before the storm. Bri leaning on a Madrona tree. You could look down off these cliffs and see Dungeness Crabs in the water far below.
This is a Quillback Rockfish - a new species for me. I found a fishing spot near our cabin.  A decent drop off close to shore with lots of big rocks, waving kelp and a ripping incoming tidal current.  Great visibility as well. All species of Rockfish are protected in the San Juans - so this guy was released. 
I also caught a few of these guys - Kelp Greenling. They slam artificials and fight well - often fighting their way back into the tall kelp strands.  The key is that they like small lures - I recommend single hook jigs - 3/8 ounce worked well. Seals would show up from time to time and shut the bite down.
But the seals were very cute and curious and I was high for days after getting into fish like that.

I had read that the Greenling were good to eat.  I also enjoyed cleaning them on the beach and feeding the scraps to the gulls.
Bri cooked them up in our miniature kitchen.  The Greenling proved to be really good. 
The tiny cabin has a tiny version of everything you would need. Including an adorable 6 Gallon water heater. 

Proof that there are reptiles on Orcas Island - the road killed garter snake above.  How did snakes get here ?? Some of the best weather and terrain for jogging anywhere.


Buck Bay shellfish farm at low tide - A great place with lots of quiet. 
Relatively disgusting newly married people. Wading cautiously into this thing called marriage.
The skies began to threaten. We had two clear, sunny and calm days on Orcas and then a really serious storm rolled in - and made us conscious of what trees could crush the cabin. We ended up leaving a day early as per the advice of the weather people. I thought the return trip on the ferry was really scary.  The 1968 Ferry which was charming in smooth seas tossed from side to side and shook and vibrated in the storm.
"The Tiny House" in Olga, WA. A great place to stay on Orcas. We have the contact for Jacqueline the owner -  if you want. Not very many places like this in the world. 
Because we got chased off Orcas early due to the storm - we ended up staying Seattle for two nights. It was my first time in Seattle - and my first time in a Big City since I left / fled New York.  This is the Wooden Boat Center in Seattle.
How I wish to remember Orcas.  I would like to return - especially in the off-season again.