El Pescador Trip Report | Spring 2018
My family and I are making our way back from Belize – where we spent Spring Break 2018 – this morning. Spring Break in Belize typically is never a bad thing and this past week was no exception. The kids are growing up with Alex now 19 and Matty nearing 11 very soon. The days of babysitters and daycare while on vacation are gone for good. We have been going someplace special with my parents for spring break the last 10 years and what a great time for us all to hang out and relax. This year, we returned to El Pescador on Ambergris Caye in northern Belize.
El Pescador has been around for over 40 years and is one of the most well regarded saltwater fly-fishing lodges in the world. The diversity of fly-fishing opportunities, fantastic accommodations, friendly service, and a family-friendly environment makes El Pescador a rare treat in today’s fly-fishing world. Our family chose EL Pescador for the many activities in addition to angling that are readily accessible form the lodge including SCUBA, snorkeling, and visits Mayan ruins on the mainland.
Of course, my interest is on the fishing, so my ability to report on the rest of the adventure is limited to what the rest of the family says which is that it was great and they loved it!
The fly-fishing at and around El Pescador is classic flats fishing from an 18-20’ Pangas. The guides are local, speak flawless English and well versed in helping anglers of all skill levels improve their skill and find success on the flats. The days typically start around 6 am this time of year and wind down between 2 and 3 pm. The novice flats angler typically start the trip with getting familiar with the casting, spotting, and strip-set techniques by focusing on Bonefish in deeper water, just next to a shallow flat. The skilled angler can focus on looking for Permit, Tarpon, and Bonefish in a variety of settings that range from lagoons, reef-flats, to white-sand flats. El Pescador is a great a choice for groups of anglers with mixed fly-fishing skills, beginner anglers, and the most-skilled fly-fisher as well.
Flats fishing is largely dependent on the weather; that’s just how it is. Cloud days make sight fishing near impossible in open water. Winds create challenges fro boat maneuvering and add silt to the water. Changes in weather causes fish to change their patterns and changes in wind direction affect the surface and tidal currents. Experienced saltwater guides know this all too well and will do their best to look for opportunities despite the weather. The guides at El Pescador deal with the change sin weather as well as any saltwater guides that I have been around and are always willing to give it a shot, despite the conditions.
Our trip started out last Monday with weather that was as near to ideal as once could hope for at El Pescador. Sunny skies with an East wind of 10-15 mph that settled to less than 5 around noon. Weather like that is not the norm and is ideal for spotting fish in the expansive flats systems to the west of Ambergris known as Savannah Flats. These white sand, shallow flats are ideal for spotting Permit, Tarpon, and Bonefish on sunny days.
I was fishing with my 10 year old that day and he opted to go sight fishing for Tarpon on the flats. Who was I to argue? We ended up getting onto a deeper flat where some nice fish were cruising and laid up on next to small coral outcroppings. The fish were happy that day and we ended up landing a couple in the 50-60 pound range. Watching those fish turn, charge, eat, and jump a billion times was quite the experience for the both of us.
The one that my son landed was hooked by me at about 30 feet out or so. I mention this as it was pretty funny later in the day when I hooked the second fish of the day. Matty had been standing with the rod and casting to fish, but they were spooking inside 50’ and the shots came and went quickly. So, we decided that I would make the casts to the further fish and he would go for the shorter one.
He had just told me to make a shot at a fish about 80 feet out. I shanked it and the fish spooked off. However, another one showed about 30 feet out at the same time -which Matty spotted-but he wasn’t quite ready so he told me to throw to the fish instead, the fish ate, I stuck it well, and handed it off to Matty right away. Honestly, he was a bit blown away by the ferocious take and utter chaos of a 60-pound Tarpon exploding across the water just feet from the boat. The fish was deep in the backing within seconds as Matty settled in for the fight. He did well, keeping the rod tip low and moving opposite to the fish throughout the fight.
After about 20 minutes, we had the fish next to the boat with the leader in hand. The hook slipped as the guide was wrestling with getting a grip on the fish’s mouth, so we didn’t end up getting a photo of Matty and the fish.
Matty was worn out, dripping with sweat, and excited to say the least. Yes, I told him that I did see it jump a zillion times! Yes. I told him that he did a great job of wearing the fish out quickly so we could land it before it was too tired. Yes, I let him know that the fish counted as the guide not only touched the fish, but also had the fish in hand just seconds before the fly slipped.
We went through the same routine a few minutes later, however, Matty decided that he “was” good on Tarpon for the day. I offered to let him fight the fish many times but he reminded me that he had already been there, done that today. Fortunately for me, the hook held next to the boat and I jumped in for a swim and photo with a nice Tarpon to wind down day one of our trip to El Pescador.
The next 3 days were windy and cloudy following the arrival of a cold front that arrived from the north. North winds are not good for fishing in Mexico or Belize as protection is hard to find and bay openings are typically from the south. Heavy north winds push water out and reduce the incoming tidal flows. The clouds and wind made for tough spotting conditions all three days. The heavy north winds also made it difficult to fish the normally productive Tarpon and Permit flats as there are openly exposed to high waves during these conditions. Still =, we manage to find a few Bonefish and gave it our best despite the conditions.
Early Friday morning, the wind started to swing back to the East and the clouds began to dissipate, bringing a renewed excitement for our final day on the water at El Pescador. The morning sunrise was quick and colorless as the last remaining clouds had moved on to the west while we ate breakfast, overlooking the Caribbean.
Normally, I fish with my son and the others pair up amongst themselves when we are sorting out the who and where before each day of fishing. However, my wife and I decided to out the little guy with Grandpa for the day and that we would share a boat together for the first time of the week. Our boat opted for a Tarpon day while my son and dad decided that they would go look for Permit instead.
Our boat headed north for a long run of over an hour towards the Mexico border. Tarpon are widely dispersed on the west side of Ambergris on sand flats that vary in depth and structure. Clear skies and mild winds make it much easier to search a wide range of flats of varying depth. Our guide, Alex, had a hunch that he might be able to find some bigger fish laid up on some flats in the 8-12 foot depth range in these conditions.
Alex was certainly correct as we took turns casting to fish in the 75+ pound range most of the day with little success. After several fly changes and leader adaptations, we finally found a couple big fish that were willing to eat late in the day. Predictably, I blew the hook set on both of these chances with an effort that can only de described as “pathetic”! These takes were sudden, violent, and shocking to watch so close to the boat (10-20 feet) and I simply reverted to my normal trout-set with the rod tip high in the air. A major no-no when it comes to saltwater fishing and striking! Still the excitement was there, the weather was beautiful, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending the day with my wife with no worries on our minds for a change.
During the long ride back to the lodge, I replayed the events over and over in my head ad decided that I would chalk it up to a learning experience and savor the experience rather than anguish in disappointment. I looked forward to seeing my son and hearing his stories as we headed south that afternoon.
Upon arriving at El Pescador, my son came down the dock wrapped in a swimming towel and drinking a virgin daiquiri. He looked as if he had not a care in the world and was enjoying the afternoon, despite an obviously early finish. I knew we were in for something when he asked me how my day was rather than an immediate launch into everything he saw ad did on the water that day. Instead, he asked me how many Permit have I caught in my life to which I responded “Two”. Then, in a kind and passive aggressive tone he said that though that is impressive, he has caught four and he is only 10 years old! Yes, he had one of those days that all anglers dream about and few actually realize. I just shook my head and told him that I was happy for him, what else could I do? My dad caught two Permit that day as well. They were on Cloud 9 and rightfully so.
Our 2018 Spring Break trip was one that the entire family enjoyed and was grateful to have been able to spend at El Pescador. As we began to discuss our 2019 destination that last night over dinner, I can tell you that there are 3 of us that have El Pescador at the top of our list. The lodge does an amazing job at catering to groups and families of all interest levels while making everyone feel like they are part of the program whether they fish or just hang out at the resort all day. If a family trip to the salt is on your radar – or you are looking for a comfortable lodge with great guides and a diverse flats-fishing program – El Pescador should be at the top of your list.
As always, we booked our trip with our good friends at Yellow Dog Fly Fishing here in Bozeman. Cameron Davenport is the Belize Program manager and knows the various fisheries, lodges, and programs across Belize like nobody else in the fishing travel business. Email Cameron or call him at 406-585-8667 to learn more about El Pescador or to make a reservation. Contact me, Toby Swank, at Fins & Feather’s Bozeman fly shop for help with general fishing questions and selecting the right gear and flies for a trip to El Pescador.