Wild Side Column: Feeding my fishing addiction
I really enjoy hunting, fishing and being in wild places. The winter has been kind to us at our place in Cedar Key on the northern Gulf Coast of Florida. We've been able to take long hikes in the Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, explore the Nature Coast and fish from our boat.
Although the Gulf and tidal creeks near Cedar Key are incredibly productive, it is winter here and fishing can be tough. We've been able to catch keeper red drum in tidal creeks and sea trout out in the shallow sea grass flats. Offshore, the mackerel have migrated south, the season is closed for most grouper species and the water has been murky from high Suwannee River discharge.
Given the need to feed my fishing addiction and relatively inexpensive plane fare, I flew from Tampa, Florida to Belize City in Central America. I became part of the annual Cheesehead invasion of Placencia, a village at the end of a peninsula in southern Belize. Bill and Sue Smith and Jeff Cudd of River Falls have been there since January. Jesse and Angie Smith were visiting and I just missed them when I arrived on Jan. 26. Jesse caught a whopper 64-pound wahoo when he was there.
Over the years we have done a lot of fishing in Belize. We have caught big barracudas, king mackerel, wahoo, tuna and groupers trolling outside the barrier reef. We enjoy catching snappers, jacks, Spanish mackerel on spinning tackle around the many islands and patch reefs between the main reef and the mainland. Bill Smith likes to cast top-water baits for reef snappers and sight-fish for barracudas. Sue Smith is the "Fishing Goddess," catching huge fish when trolling outside the reef. We have had many delicious dinners of our catch cooked by our friend Magda Morales at her Shak restaurant on the beach.
Some people get addicted to catching trout on a dry fly, others get pumped casting large lures for muskellunge. I have become addicted to wading coral flats fly fishing for permit and bonefish.
We go fishing with Belizean guides who have become good friends. They know the sea in their area like we know our own neighborhoods and can really handle a boat.
Our friend Eloy Cuevas from Monkey River navigates by watching the bottom and the cayes (islands). He "notices" fish, fish shadows and "nervous water." He can tell what kind of fish they are from a distance. Eloy is a kind and fun guy who is a great coach for those of us who are learning how to cast big fly rods for saltwater fish.
Last week I went wading the shallow flats in the Lark and Pelican Ranges of Cayes with Eloy fly fishing for permit. Permit are incredibly wary silver powerhouses with big eyes and a sickle-shaped tail. They are turbo-charged dragsters that can peel 100 yards of line off your reel in seconds.
Permit usually forage by themselves or in small groups in shallow water on top of flats when the tide is right. They are really hard to see even though they can grow up to 60 pounds. Their black dagger-shaped dorsal and tail fins often look like scissors sticking out of the water giving them away. They feed mainly on small crabs. Getting ahead and upwind of foraging permit gives you a chance to cast a crab fly in front of them. You often only get one shot at them before they cruise off and disappear like ghosts.
Fishing for permit takes time and patience. There are people who have gone fly fishing for permit for years before catching their first one. I've been lucky to have Eloy Cuevas as a friend and guide. He has coached me on two "Grand Slam" days of fly fishing when I caught permit, bonefish and tarpon in the same day. I'm hooked on that kind of fishing. This year, we saw a number of permit but strong wind made casting difficult. I got a number of shots at permit, a few follows, but no takers. Despite not catching one this year, I had a good time in Placencia again and feeding my fishing addiction.
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