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2/25-3/3: El Pescador Fishing Lodge in Belize
It was something new and different for us this spring - a fishing trip to ocean waters. Neither Sue nor I had any experiences like this, though we hoped our moderate skills at trout fishing would be helpful.............and maybe they did just a bit.
We chose this named lodge from a variety of reviews and descriptions of its amenities. Our flight to get there took us from Tucson to DFW and then to Belize City where we transferred to a small prop driven Cessna for the short hop to Ambergris Caye (Key) and the town of San Pedro. At the airport we were met by a lodge rep., made the short drive to the wharf and then motored two and a half miles North to the lodge itself.
Worth noting that the time zone is CST so there's really no having to change one's sleep patterns. Also helpful that the primary language is English.
OK. Let's break the rest of this write up into the several sections that were significant to us as follows: lodge, food, weather, guide, fishing, lagoon, and miscellany.
The Lodge. A very attractively designed facility. Main lodge goes back many years, but rooms have been recently tastefully upgraded (the skin is better than the bones, but more of that below). On either side of the main building are multiple new two story "villas" each with another pool. The dining room, bar, main office, and shop are in the big building. (See the video for a tour of a lodge room). For what it's worth (and that's a lot), the staff at the lodge is outstanding, friendly, and helpful. On a scale of one to five, they're a ten.
"Skin" versus "bones" comment. Very nicely remodeled rooms with good beds, etc., but they are also noisy due to thin walls and a ceiling that creaks when anyone above moves about. Ask for a second floor room to avoid this problem. You'll also have a better view of the ocean.
The tap water. Boy is it ugly. Nothing can be done about it, but it literally really stinks. Warned not to use it for anything but showering, and that's the truth. You get plenty of bottled water for every other purpose.
Ceiling lighting in the rooms is not great to start with, and we had problems with both the table lamps as well.
The Food. Really important part of the experience, and overall it was quite well done. There was an ala carte menu for breakfast and lunch with decent options and good preparation. Strangely several of the breakfast orders were mixed up, but quality was always good. Dinners were served at one seating at 6:45 (actually a bit late for us) and the meals were either done outside on the patio or inside if the weather wasn't good (which it commonly wasn't) It was family style buffet food with a different theme each night, interesting and "homey".
Booze at dinner. If a guest is on the lodge's package program, local beer and rum drinks are available gratis. Wine and other imported alcoholic beverages are not, and they are expensive. You can buy wine and other stuff in most of the small markets in San Pedro, but the best option is to pick those up at the Duty Free Shop at the airport in Belize. Much better options, quality, and lower prices.
The bar is a fun place to gather. and the bar happy hour food is great - and gratis - as are the beers and rum drinks for those on a package plan.
The Weather. This was the big negative of the trip. Frankly it made a mess out of the overall experience as it was ugly from the get go when we started trying to fish the first day. Lots of strong wind, spitting rain, and colder temperatures. There's nothing could be done about it, but it drove us off the water two of the three days we tried to fish and impacted the way the guide handled the situation too. We finally did have good conditions for a couple of later days.
While I watched the weather reports ahead of time, I just couldn't imagine it would be as difficult as it was. For someone considering a trip here, if you see a chance for rain forecast and are planning on fishing, bring the best coverage you can (with a hood), and still expect to get soaked.
The Guide. A somewhat complicated subject. We really liked the young guy who took us around and about. He clearly is a terrific fisherman, can spot fish in the water, and he worked hard to find them for us to cast over. There were some shortcomings too, and some things we should have asked for earlier in the game. As the lodge management said, while the good guides that work for them all are fluent in English, they don't particularly read their clients very well - and that's a fact. Probably just as well to leave this without further comment.
The Fishing. Mostly made difficult by the bad weather at the outset. We'd planned to use a guide three days with a day off in between each session. It got off to a rocky start trying to cast from the front deck of a fishing boat in choppy seas and lots of wind and rain. I could barely manage it, and Sue could not at all, even with me laying on the deck trying to keep her upright while she struggled to cast. Yes, we did catch a few fish several places, and the last day, in all honesty it got so easy to hook a bone, that I quickly grew tired of that too. It was feast or famine.
Couple of other things worth mentioning. As a tyer, I enjoyed working up a couple hundred different flies for the trip, but I also debarbed the hooks - as several fishing sites suggested be done for down here. Neither the lodge manager, the director of fishing, nor the guide appreciated it. Their view is that fish will be repeatedly hooked and lost with debarbed hooks. It didn't happen.........not even once. As long as pressure was kept on the fish, the hooks held fine, so choose your own poison that way if you opt to do as I did tying.
Species other than bones. Yes, there are others here. I released a handful of jacks, many small barracuda, and one other cousin of a permit, but the major focus beyond bonefish is on permits and tarpon. Again, as the lodge poop sheets note, one's odds of landing either of these two species is pretty close to zero. I had a grand total of two individual casts for a permit and two more for a tarpon, and I bitched them all up. Completely bad casting issues although I don't know if we'd have had a strike in any case.
So keep the expectations in check. There are billions of smallish bonefish here, and your odds of releasing several are very good.
The Lagoon. To our mind a really hidden gem for this lodge operation. Across the road behind the lodge is a dock with a narrow channel cut through the mangroves to an enormous lagoon area that you can fish on your own, checking out either a canoe or a kayak from the lodge, and this is feely included for the guests. Since apparently no one else bothered doing this while we were there, we rarely even saw another boat while we were fishing back there. It's really fun and good exercise too.
Would recommend taking out the canoe (for shallow draft and stability) but using a kayak paddle. Reason being is that the fish are spooky about noise and trying to do a J stroke with a canoe paddle rubbing alongside the boat is too distractive. The kayak paddle's much quieter. Basically all we did was troll standard bonefish flies (mostly shrimp types) along the mangroves. Had we seen any tailing fish, we'd have stopped and cast from the flats, but we did not. Didn't catch tons of fish, but had a great time out there.
Be very careful about watching for and lining up landmarks to return back to the dock. Small openings in the mangroves lead to other large flats and lagoon areas, but it's very, very easy to get lost out there. One last note. The place is full of small cuda. They have extremely sharp teeth. Take along some short wire leaders - the types we use for pike at reservoirs in Colorado, and you won't go through as many flies as we did.
Here's a somewhat scruffy video of portions of the trip:
Miscellany and Other Notes.
Be prepared for wet clothing that doesn't dry easily in this humid environment. We hung items over the air conditioner with some success. The lodge's charges for laundry seemed excessive to us.
8 and 10 weight rods with heavy flies are tough to cast if one is not used to them. Practice at home if you have a chance. Fairly long casts are often necessary here.
The lodge will provide really good loaner rods & reels, etc. However, they do charge for leaders, tippet, and flies. If we came here again, we'd bring along some 5 or 6 weight pack rods to use in the lagoon. We looked at the tying bench and materials at the lodge, and they pretty much were not usable.
Wi-Fi is functional, but generally you have to leave the lodge room to get a connection.
There's a decent pool table in the bar and minimal reading material for general use. Bring along a couple of books.
The U.S. dollar to the Belize one is 1 for 2, so it's easy to calculate prices in stores.
Guides are interested in trout flies and actually use them for different fishing down here. Bring some along and hand them out - along with your tips.
On that subject (tips) read the welcome material you get from the lodge, and follow the suggestions.
Getting plenty of exercise isn't easy here. You can walk the 2 1/2 miles into town easily on the beach or the road behind the lodge. Choose the shore walk - it's far safer and more interesting. Apparently there's a small exercise room at the lodge. We never saw it.
Since we took most of our meals at the lodge, we had only one lunch in San Pedro at a restaurant called Caprice. It was outstanding, and we'd highly recommend it.
One last suggestion about fishing. We'd assumed all our casting in Belize would be in shallow "flats" type water. That's not the case. If I had to do this whole fishing experience over again, here's what I'd do. There are plenty of deeper runs beside and between islands that are scoured out where there is a current flow when the tides change. They are full of fish - though you can't see them from a boat. Have your guide take you to one of those places, anchor the boat, and begin practice casting with these heavier rods, asking for help with loading, etc. if you have a problem. Then be sure to have the guide check your retrieving motion with the tip of the rod in the water. It's completely different from what we do for trout and takes a bit of time to master if you haven't done it before. If you can solve the casting and retrieving issues right out of the box, you'll have more fun and success.
P.S. While it's unlikely we'll ever return to Belize (we like to visit new places all the time), yes we would recommend El Pescador to anyone inquiring.
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