Belize, Day 1: Oh, the Things You Learn on the Flats!

Guide Emir (left) and Dr. Aaron Adams scan for permit south of Ambergris Caye.
All photos by Phil Monahan

If you hang out with a renowned marine biologist for a whole day on the water, you can learn a lot of stuff. Today, I learned that permit are jerks. They will hang out in schools, just out of comfortable casting range, and then refuse everything you throw at them—even when you’ve done everything right. I watched Dr. Aaron Adams make some beautiful casts to pods of very happy permit, which proceeded to flip him the fin and move on. They didn’t even seem to care that he is the head scientist for Bonefish & Tarpon Trust!

Aaron is at the ready, prepared to cast once the fish are spotted.

We are down in Belize at El Pescador Resort, on Ambergris Caye, to help owner Ali Gentry, her family, and her crew celebrate the lodge’s 40th anniversary. It’s a pretty remarkable achievement to last so long, through changing angling tastes, economic downturns, and a terrorist attack that virtually shut down international travel for a time. I caught my first bonefish here some fifteen years ago, and in the intervening years, El Pescador has become an even more impressive operation.

Gordy begins the hunt for that one fly that the permit will actually eat.

Aaron and I met our guide, Emir, on the dock at 7 a.m., and he introduced us to his son, Gordy, who is his apprentice. At the tender age of nineteen, the young man already has a lot of the skills necessary to become the third generation in his family to be a fly-fishing guide. (Emir’s dad has guided for decades.)

“Here. Try this one.”

We motored south to a permit flat, and spent the first hour scanning the water for the telltale black, scythe-like tails. All we saw was a bit of nervous water. So we headed to another spot a few miles away. There, Gordy immediately spotted a pod of big permit finning on the surface. Aaron hopped up on the platform and, battling the wind, make a great cast. One of the permit turned on the fly, started to follow, and then offered a profound Nope.

After several old-faithful patterns had failed, it was time to dig for the weird stuff.

Thus began a two-hour period of fly changing and mad poling, as we chased fish all over the immense flat. I would guess that Aaron had about good ten shots, and I had two. Every time, the fish simply refused to eat what we were offering. I’m talking good casts, fine presentations, guide-directing stripping. . .all producing nothing. If I had any hair, I might have been tearing it out. One begins to understand how anglers come to be obsessed with these fickle fish.

There’s plenty of time to consider the problem, as you search for more fins.

To get the skunk off, we headed to a bonefish flat after lunch, where Aaron caught two and I landed one. We did a little science, as Aaron measured each fish and took a tiny fin clipping, to gain a better understanding of the genetic diversity in the region. The clipped fin will grow back, and scientists will know a bit more about a species that’s still somewhat mysterious.

Gordy is well on his way to a career on the poling platform.

As a finale, we drifted across a flat where we had seen some tarpon earlier, but the light was working against us. Aaron made a couple of sweet casts to big barracuda, but they, too, wouldn’t commit—even after chasing the fly for several yards.

We got the skunk off with some bonefish on a light-sand flat.

Although the fishing was pretty frustrating, it was a glorious day in northern Belize. Emir and Gordy worked hard and were good company, and we took turns casting a new 8-weight Recon rod, to which Emir offered his seal of approval.

Tomorrow is another day.

Follow our adventures on Instagram at #orvis.

Aaron first took measurements, which he recorded to go with the fin clip.

The scientist carefully clips a small piece of fin.

Belizean bonefish are beautiful. . .and more willing than the permit.

2 thoughts on “Belize, Day 1: Oh, the Things You Learn on the Flats!”

  1. Pingback: Celebrating El Pescador's 40th Birthday | Orvis News
  2. Pingback: Video Tuesday Tip: How to Take a Fin Clip Sample from a Bonefish | Orvis News

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