The summer heat isn’t the only cause for anglers perspiring at the thought of our National Parks right now. The recent National Park closures have sparked some heat among us fisherman who really enjoy this great resource we have in South FL. Times like these leave me reflecting on the great memories raising Hell in the Everglades and Biscayne National Parks this past summer. Law Enforcement is now patrolling the boundary line entering the ENP from the Keys but I can’t help but feel tempted to cross over and pole some of my favorite flats until the blue lights chase us.
Fall is approaching now as we are adorned by NE winds following the last few storms of the year. As the season takes a shift, so does our fishery. The park closures have kept man out of the glades and there is no telling what we will find when the gates open up once more. I, for one am anxious to get back to my slices of heaven… Everglades and Biscayne National Park.
Journey to El Pescador Lodge and Villas
By Jan S. Maizler
Photography By Jan S. Maizler
El Pescador Lodge is located in a very special part of Belize, which is Ambergris Caye. The “caye” lies on the northern offshore fringes of mainland Belize. While Ambergris Caye looks like an island, it is not entirely so, but really an extension of a land mass which begins in Mexico and ends in a peninsula in the same fashion as does Miami Beach. The size of the bay between the caye and the mainland is absolutely immense and has some of the finest flats and shallow water fishing in the world.
The east side of Ambergris Caye fronts the Caribbean Sea. The good news is that there is a bountiful barrier reef which starts north of the Caye and runs -with some breaks- along the entire coast of Belize. This provides superb reef and drop-off blue water fishing for anglers so inclined. And on Ambergris Caye, the reef is quite close and accessible to all the resorts which typically are on the east side of the peninsula as well.
The main town is San Pedro which lies at the southern tip of the caye. San Pedro is an incredibly laid back, hip, and yet trendy town which is a blend of Isla Holbox, Key West, and Green Turtle Cay. Which is to say, that while you’ll find every amenity, restaurants, and great lodgings, the place is set off by a plethora of bare feet, mostly golf carts, a few cars and vans, and travel-by-boat. It’s a hard place not to love, and most interestingly has a small plane runway which literally ends in the middle of downtown San Pedro. El Pescador Lodge lies conveniently only two miles north of San Pedro, which means a very short boat ride from downtown.
A seamless four-step process got me from Miami to alongside the pier that juts out from El Pescador. Firstly, I took American Airlines to Belize City, which is the hub for that country. (Of course on your first leg of the journey, you can choose any major carrier from the “hub city” near you.) The next step was a scenic seventeen minute transfer flight to San Pedro by Tropic Air. While I could have arranged for the transfer flight myself, I opted to have El Pescador do it for me. I had been blessed with clear weather on that flight and happily took in the eye-popping sights of the green and blue water world below the plane.
Once I arrived in San Pedro, I gathered my bags and had a cab driver (who the Lodge had waiting for me) take me to the boat transfer dock. The cab ride to the water was literally two minutes but certainly could be done on foot by folks with very little luggage. The Lodge boat was waiting for me and my belongings were stowed on board. Since El Pescador is so close to San Pedro, I had just the right amount of time to enjoy and finish an ice-cold Belikin beer.
I was greeted at the dock by a staff member, quickly checked in, and escorted to my second floor balcony room. Besides the spectacular view of the beach, the room was decorated with Mayan and Caribbean touches and I was welcomed by crisp air conditioning started up well in anticipation of my arrival.
After settling in, I had lunch on the patio amongst the palms and nearby the pool. The shrimp quesadillas were superb and introduced me to the food and beverages of El Pescador- which was second to none. My breakfasts were to be huevos rancheros and fresh fruits, lunches on the panga during fishing days would be rolled sandwiches, snacks and cold beverages. The dinners would prove to be memorable and included stone crabs and fresh-caught grouper. My favorite drinks at El Pescador would be a good wine and during the days, lots of fresh limeade. After I tried a margarita after a days’ fishing, this item went on the libation list-immediately!
El Pescador Programs and Offerings-
After the lunch, I went down to the office to get more information about my specific schedule as well as to learn additional general resort offerings. I spoke with one of the directors of the Fishing Program, Ed Blank. He confirmed that I would have three days of flats fishing: two days on poled pangas with captains Emir and Cesar and one day working the backcountry behind the lodge by canoe with Ed himself. Ed told me that El Pescador has full services and guides for all manner of tackle preferences and skill levels. Though I’d brought four, six, and twelve pound spinners with lures for each local species, I learned that the Lodge-as well as their guides-had all kinds of tackle as well. Ed also told me that the Lodge can utilize the services of over fifteen guides each day!
El Pescador has a family-run operation that insists on offerings for everyone, which includes non-angling visitors, friends and family. The Lodge has a comprehensive snorkel and diving program in these clear bountiful waters. Inn addition, they offer tours to nearby cayes as well as mainland ruins. There are even well-tailored itineraries such as Family Adventures and Couple Getaways. And of course, this does not include chilling out on the beach and do it yourself explorations of hip San Pedro town.
My first fishing day begun with captain Emir, whose obvious passion for fishing and expertise would somehow mitigate the brisk northwest frontal winds and cloudy skies we were facing.
On our way south, Emir said that today would be terrible for fly or lure casting to sighted fish. His strategy would be to “work” known hotspots and blind cast with live bait or lures. When we made our first stop, he baited my eight-pound rod with a live crab. He told me to cast upcurrent, let the bait drift until the line got straight off the bow, and then retrieve it slowly. It is without exaggeration that I report that I had a huge “take” on the third cast and struck hard. Because my line was smoking off the reel, Emir was sure it was a permit. One half-hour later after much reeling and pursuing, I had a twenty-pound permit alongside the panga, a large specimen for this region. After photos, we released him.
Emir’s next move was to idle south under these cloudy skies, looking for big schools of predator jacks breaking the surface. In twenty minutes, we spotted a huge school waking towards us. I picked up my six-pound spinner rigged with a forty-pound leader and Money Minnow swimbait and made a perfect cast. I was instantly hooked up to a jack of at least fifteen pounds but during the battle it was cut in half by a shark. But, soon enough, we found another school and with a perfect cast leading the fish, I was hooked up again. I must say the jack fought harder than the permit and appeared to be less than twenty pounds- but not much. After we took photos, we released it to resume its’ hunting life.
My mind was on tarpon, so I asked Emir to spend the rest of the day looking for sabalos. Though it was too rough to cross the bay to the prime tarpon grounds, Emir probed the island creeks and we did cast to a few with only one strike.
On the second day, I joined Ed for a guided canoe trip into the maze of lagoons behind the lodge. The weather had cleared and featured sunny skies. We eventually found plenty of bonefish in the smallest calmest lagunas, but they were quite hesitant to take my jig. After four hours, we paddled back to the lodge.
My last day was to be with captain Cesar and an apprentice. I told them I wanted to fish for bonefish. After a half hour Cesar slowed down and cut his engine. He poled the panga onto the edge of a flat and pointed to the edge of some mangroves where a dozen bonefish were tailing. After we got into position and the fish were in the clear, I presented my jig lightly and was rewarded with a good “take.” After five minutes, I had beaten a bonefish of five pounds; again quite large for this part of Belize.
Wherever we would go, we’d find bonefish. I caught another six fish as well as a colorful boxfish. But as the tide started to fall, the bonefish got “very nervous and picky” as Cesar put it. Another hour of fishing continued to reveal their reluctance. But I was happy with the results and needed to get back to the lodge to do some more photos.
As we headed back, Cesar said, “it was a great day.” And I said, “yes, it was!”
El Pescador Lodge and Villas
P.O. Box 17
Toll Free: 800-242-2017
Web Site: www.elpescador.com
Jan Maizler is a veteran writer, author, editor and blogger with over 35 years in the outdoor writing field. He has written eight books and more than 600 articles for all the leading saltwater angling magazines, as well as many prominent websites. He has traveled all over the world and is past International Game Fish Association world record holder for permit on 4-pound line and bonefish on 2-pound line.
It has become tradition for good friend Capt. Tim Mahaffey (www.flatshead.com) and I to take a day to pursue and attempt a 5 fish slam on fly that to my knowledge has not been documented in the past. These 5 species are the most sought after gamefish in Islamorada; Tarpon, Snook, Redfish, Bonefish, and Permit. To achieve a feat like such would be the ultimate accomplishment, but to document this with professional cameras and a pro photographer will certainly raise the bar. Timing had to be perfect, the skiff had to be set up right, and the fly anglers on the skiff had to have their act together and be able to work well as a team poling and/or fishing.
Our tools: My Mercury 115ProXs powered Maverick 18 Mirage flats boat, a range of old school and new school G Loomis fly rods, lots of different flies, and lady luck.
With my good buddy Rick De Paiva tagging along to capture todays events, we headed off into the darkness of morning in search of silver. The day started off as planned with a 50lb Everglades tarpon to the boat for a quick photo, fly extraction, and safe release. The next species we would spend time on would be the elusive snook. Luckily, our first snooky looking hole held some small tarpon and a snook that was willing to eat a minnow fly. I fought the snook more carefully then I had fought any other snook I have ever hooked. With some luck, I kept the sub-slot snook out of the snags in the water and it finally came to hand. With two out of the way, we moved on to the venerable redfish. We poled the 18ft Maverick flats boat up onto a very shallow flat where the tide was bottoming out. The tide had not been right yet and the mood displayed by the fish were evident of this. It didn’t take long for the tide to turn over and the water to start moving again. Once this happened, our flat lit up with happy spotted flats waving about in a very civilized manner. We caught half a dozen redfish on the tail covered flat before moving off to find our 2 other species in Islamorada. It was difficult leaving so many fish but to catch our next two species, we had to race time and tide. Luckily, at 50mph+ we arrived where we needed to be right on time. While bonefishing, we had a quick shot at a pair of permit that didn’t seem interested in our offerings. Our bonefishing led us to find an area with better current flow. Once we found that, it yielded 4 bonefish shots, 3 fish hooked, and 2 bonefish landed. The toughest of the 5 species was the last challenge to complete our already epic day of fishing. We poled our way onto a flat that should hold permit only to have the red zone on the flat run over by a weekend angler in an Actioncraft with rods flying out the back of his poling platform rod holders and cuda tubes doing pinwheels. Disappointed at what had just occurred, we poled the rest of that flat and didn’t get that permit shot we needed. Coming this close to achieving the ultimate slam only means we should attempt this again another time. Perhaps our next attempt will be more rewarding, as if the day of fishing we just had wasn’t rewarding enough.
It has been a very short and violent spring this year. The harsh weather we experienced didn’t allow for many epic tarpon fishing days that were anything close to what we’ve experienced in the past 2 years. It wasn’t all that bad as we got the warm weather early and experienced some of the great summer time redfishing and bonefishing available to us. So I spent fewer days tarpon fishing this year and more days chasing the alternative from testing new DOA (http://www.doalures.com) colors on redfish to throwing old reliable at big gator trout, to chucking flies bonefish, and pitching crabs at permit.
Pictured below, DOA Lures has released a new color known as blood worm in the shrimp, CAL Jerkshad, and CAL shad tail. This has been a very effective color used in clear or darkly tanned water. The blood worm shad tails should prove to be a regular in my tackle bag.
Upon returning from my week over at ICAST 2012 in Orlando, there is a lot to catch up on and some new gear to put through the rigors.
FINALLY… we had a taste of some slightly cooler air and light NE breezes last weekend. The slow transition from summer to fall has been evident in nature. The way the fish behave, the feel of the air, the lack of hot women prancing around at the boat ramp in Miami, my being able to stay out longer during a day of fishing, and my willingness to spend the extra 15 minutes outside cleaning the boat meticulously after a day on the water. I’ve spent a few days in the past couple of months pre-fishing for the Herman Lucerne Tournament but it seems that the last couple of days spent pre-fishing would be the ones that matter most with the changing conditions. Practice days for tournaments such as these can be harsh so I had to take some “me” time to do what I really wanted to do this time of year… chase after bonefish, permit, and tarpon.
We had good success on our practice days fo the Hreman Lucerne Backcountry Memorial fishing tournament. The challenge is to catch 7 species within the Everglades National Park in 2 days… redfish, bonefish, tarpon, black drum, seatrout, snapper, and snook. Though it is a difficult format, if our last 2 practice days will give us any merit, then I will feel confident. Jeremy and I will have to mix in blind casting, sight fishing, trolling motors, poling, fly fishing, plug fishing, jig fishing, and just about every style of fishing you can do in the glade’s to meet what nature throws at us these next couple of days. The good news is, my Maverick 18 HPX-V skiff is set up to do it all. I’m taking a day off to rest tomorrow before the weekend of hardcore fishing begins. Wish me luck and I wish you all good fishing this next weekend…
Gone are the days of wearing jackets, jeans, and hoodies…hopefully. Gone are the days of sitting in a creek in the Everglades to catch 50 undersized redfish…hopefully. And gone are the arctic blasts that keep our warm weather fish from being happy…hopefully.
It is really starting to feel like the warmer weather starting to set in. My 2 favorite species to target on a fly rod are starting to find this favorable and fishing has certainly been pretty good when the stars lined up. As the warmth really starts to settle in, the sight of dark water will soon be replaced by bright torquise hues, green backed figures, and spiked up fins. The early season stuff is fun, but I can’t wait to get to the meat and potatoes.
Speaking of warm weather… I got a couple of technical fishing shirts from Howler Bro.’s the other day and have been wearing them during these warm days on the water. I can honestly say that I have found the most comfortable fishing shirt on the market that I’ve worn so far. The unmistakable monkey brand is definitely cool and made unique from everything else on the market. These are definitely premium clothes, that are comfortable to wear, and make a statement about the fly fishing and surfing lifestyle. Check it out… www.howlerbros.com