I am a statue that glides on a bleached floor, rigid by salt, wind and sun. In the water in front of me, a silver knife cuts the surface and in a moment I am throwing from the boat, the fly scratching through the sharp sky of Belize, the blisters in my forgotten hands. Sixty feet of line and months of preparation hang in the air. I frame my shoulders and flex my knees. And I hope
Good fishing stories ideally end with a fish. But the stories have changed in recent years, the fishing romance evolving from brutal clashes in the open ocean (imagine the conquered marlin, mounted in the middle of a jump in the wall, a reminder of the strength of the contest) to something else fast, more accurate, but more considered together.
When you talk to a fisherman, a true fisherman, you are talking to a water administrator. He is a fish lover. He is angry at the vast plastic islands that poison the sea, and the ruinous overfishing and poor fishing management. Above all, a true fisherman wants fishing to survive until the next generation and beyond. That is partly why capture and release practices have gained popularity in recent years: fly fishing in salt water, a fast and athletic catch and release sport that seems more hunting than fishing, is what fuels interest today. As with other sports, he has his young and cheeky talent, such as Captain Will Benson, and his technical wonders, such as Maxine McCormick, who help define what sport fishing means for a new generation of fishing enthusiasts.
The hobby has become a fast, kinetic and ecological direction, with amateur fishermen who launch around the world in search of thorns, shadles, permits and more, but with plans to return home without more than they packed, raising the Question: What exactly are sport fishermen collecting if each fish is the one that escaped?
Mike Heusner was born in Belize in 1939. He grew up fishing the mangroves and keys around Belize City with his father, using cotton handles and a small harpoon. The local fisherman taught him techniques for trolling.
After high school, Mike traveled to California for college, where he studied environmental management. He returned to Belize in 1970, and ten years later he was hired to manage the Belize River Lodge, then called Keller Caribbean Sports. A year later, he held another managerial position in a neighboring shelter, which led him to start his own ecotourism and sport hunting and fishing business. When Keller Caribbean Sports went on sale in 1986, Mike received a call from the then owner.
"He told me he would sell it for a good price," Mike says as we climb the Belize River in one of the lodge's 23-foot fishing skiffs. "He said he would give me thirty days to get the money, but then I would have to sell it to someone else."
Mike didn't have the money. The bank agreed to subscribe the purchase if it could obtain a third of the funds itself. Mike started calling sports fishermen he knew, offering discounted trips. “I offered them trips of one thousand dollars for seven hundred and fifty. Thirty days later I had enough money to buy the hostel.
Mike had sold fishermen in a cabin he did not yet own, but he knew that the rich waters would support the business. In the late 80s, Belize River Lodge was a primary destination for adventure fishermen. But the initial success of the Lodge was mitigated by Mike's growing concern about improper handling of the fishery, a possible catastrophe that could destroy the fish population and overturn Mike's business before it really took off.
On the water, Mike drove the guides and the guests; otherwise, he turned his attention to formalizing conservation efforts in the region. He joined the Belize Chamber of Commerce, the Tourism Industry Association and the Fisheries Advisory Board. He pressed relentlessly to ensure that the three main sport fishes (shad, permit and spiny fish) were legally protected from harvest by designating them as catch and release species, and brought environmentalists and representatives of fishing gear companies to help educate their guides on best practices for hooking, handling and releasing fish.
Through his defense, Mike Heusner joined a long line of fishermen conservatives that includes Lee Wulff, who advocated capture and release practices as early as the 1930s, and Lefty Kreh, the fisherman, journalist and author who educated fishermen and athletes about the habitat. conservation and preservation of fish stocks until their death last year at the age of 93.
It is a fishing idea that would have seemed strange to my grandfather, peacefully looking for catfish on the banks of Moonda Creek, as he does for the suburban looking for strong emotions and playing his Hemingway fantasy fighting swordfish in a rented boat. It is a fishing idea that favors skill, care and craftsmanship about the bravado that hits the chest, and here in the water under the hot, flat sun, I will need all three.
Tarpon has been swimming in the earth's oceans for 100 million years. They are thick and muscular fish that developed something interesting during their long evolution: lungs, of some kind. Sabalos are fish that breathe air. In the warm, low-oxygen waters of estuaries, bays and mangroves, they break the surface to swallow fresh air, using their unique air bladders to discharge oxygen over their gills.
This surface behavior is called "rolling," and is one of the ways that fishermen identify where the shad are. My guide, John Moore, has taken us to a small shad place called Sugar Boat, named for the sugarcane-filled barges that pass through the canal. We spend a few minutes blindly casting with sinking lines and a pattern of my own creation: a white Mangum tail with a white, orange and black EP fiber body and a red eye. John sees a shad rolling.
The fish is about 70 feet away, my maximum range with my current line in the 15 knot cross wind. I throw well and land in the feeding window. The shad turns on the fly and chases after him; I bare the fly, pulling hard on the line with my fingers, imitating the movement of the bait. The fish chases, making its way through the waves. If it hits, it will require several hard pulls to seat the hook. In these shallow coastal waters with no place to dive, the shad can jump: up to 100 pounds of angry muscle that is thrown out of the water, shaking the head to lose the fly.
Instead: nothing. Gone.
A moment later, the fish emerges again, near the same place. I landed a long cast, about 85 feet. The shad sees the fly, but my line has been wrapped around the end of the rod, and I know that if the fish hits, the line will probably break. I work quickly to unwrap the filament, but at that moment the shad is gone. John, a thirty-year-old athletic and confident guide who pilots the boat as if it were an extension of his body, estimates he weighed about 85 pounds, a good fish.
The launch requires athletic coordination and efficient movement that prioritizes time over speed and delicacy over power. It took me two years before I could launch a fly with consistency, and two more before I could launch with skill. Delivering the fly to the fish is another skill: hit the target with grace, without too much splatter, 20 yards away and in the wind. To make it look natural.
The physical domain necessary to make a long and elegant presentation of the fly means nothing if you do not understand the ecosystem in which the fish lives: the water you prefer, where it reproduces, how far it extends, how it feeds, what hunting – and then: the movements that its prey makes through the water and how to imitate it. The time and effort required to obtain this knowledge require a deep respect for the ocean and all that it contains.
Not surprisingly, capture and release is more frequent than ever. The conservation of fish stocks has become a cause not only for environmentalists and product guides and suppliers whose livelihoods depend on washing waters, but also for countless organizations and private companies. For many young fishermen today, capture and release is the only practice they have known.
Leaving aside the long-term health of fish stocks, it would have been nice to see at least one permit. They are fast and scary, the most elusive of flatfish. Fishermen spend years, sometimes decades trying to catch one. The permit inhabits the floors, and I had the vision of seeing one that came from the deep waters, its large black dorsal fin and its sickle-shaped tail were heading towards the tide to feed on crustaceans. Make an exact mold with a crab pattern expertly falling down the short, flat snout of the permit before hooking one to the envy of all veterans in my fishing club. But the permission, as always, remained out of reach, and on my last day, with the hidden shad, I only had one more chance to catch something.
Bone fishing is sight fishing. The fish feed at the bottom of broad shallow plains, rummaging in the soft mud of crustaceans. When they feed on fish bone, they drop their heads, presenting an opportunity. These fish need to be stalked; They are nervous and quick to run away. The flash of a rod in the sun or a line flying above will frighten you. But with the head down, rummaging through the turtle grass, a fisherman has the opportunity to place a cast without being seen. Usually, there is only one chance.
A strong east wind has been blowing for two days, raising whitetip waves and hitting the boat while we sail. John guides the boat through the half-sunken posts of an old pier. The wind has decreased in the tide, so the water is cloudy and deeper than usual, which makes the bone fish more difficult to detect and a fly more difficult to notice.
The wind whistles at 15 knots when John throws us down the leeward side of the floor. He thinks the fish may have sought these calmer waters. A large brown stripe emerges from the sand and slips away. We follow him, hoping he might lead us to a flash of scales.
Once I was fishing with a guide in northern Canada who made an offering of tobacco at the beginning of each day, breaking a cigarette and dusting the dried leaves over the water. I have no cigarettes to offer, and I worry that I have offended the cunning and capricious gods of fishing. I am burned by the sun and my arms ache and my palms are swollen. I stay very still in the boat, letting only my eyes move over the water.
John, on his hanger, leans on, then raises his arm and points. A hundred feet outside, at eight o'clock, a lonely silver torpedo was sailing towards us. My nine-foot rod rises by itself, muscle memory ticks through its mysterious automatic maths while I consider distance and wind, fish speed, drift from the boat.
The cast lands softly, five feet in front of the approaching bone fish. The imitation shrimp at the end of the line slide to the floor. The fish is one foot away. I move the fly with small bursts of the line to imitate a shrimp dripping through the water. The fish sees it, reacts, turns and accelerates. I recover the fly as fast as I can. The fish closes faster, attacks the fly: I pulled the line and placed the hook in the corner of its mouth. For a moment we are linked, each one feels that the other records the umbilical connection. The fish go to the open sea and carry a hundred meters of line. We push each other, competing for the advantage, exchanging massive stretches of line, entering and leaving again, and entering and leaving. I am no longer tired or burned by the sun. My blisters are gone. It's just me and the water and the sun and a fish and the line that connects us.
I have spent countless hours reading fishing books, countless hours hunched over a fly-tying press contemplating the exact colors that a bone fish might find more attractive. For months before this adventure I exhausted myself in the rowing machine, doing deadlift, working my forearms and my core, legs and back. Kettlebells for my grip. I practiced casting. I visualized the strike. And now I have a fish on the line, and the fish wants to escape but I can't leave it.
Good fishing stories end with a fish. This is thin and silver like a broad, flat blade with an elegant curved dorsal fin. The fish is exhausted, stunned. I remove the hook from the lip, low the animal to the ocean and cradled it, letting the water flow through its gills. The bone bone strength returns; move the tail slowly, then harder.
Now, more and more and for the love of sport, good fishing stories do not end with a fish. I see this swim away, back to the dark. I feel grateful and wish fish the best.
Tips for adventure fishing trips
This story originally developed around a completely different ecosystem: the marlin, sailfish and swordfish on the coast of Kenya. When a terrorism alert derailed our plans at the eleventh hour, we turned to Evan Peterson of Angler Adventures in Old Lyme, Connecticut to help us plan an epic trip at the last minute. Peterson, who organizes guides and accommodation in the best fishing destinations in the world, analyzed the tips and tricks that anyone can use to maximize their chances of narrow lines, or at least a good fishing story.
Airlines lose things. Always carry your fishing gear (rods, reels, lines and flies), as well as two pairs of polarized sunglasses with different lens colors (to cover a variety of light conditions) and a day of fishing clothes. At least.
Check your line before the trip. An old dirty line can affect its release. Better yet, buy a new one. A new flight line will be worth the investment when it is in the water.
Consider getting a known traveler number. TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry are two options. It is a small investment in advance, but it can save a lot of time when traveling, especially with a lot of equipment.
Do not waste good fishing time. Introduce yourself: study your species, practice your launch and recheck your equipment. And put on your boots beforehand.
To book your own fishing trip, contact Angler Adventures.
Source:https://gearpatrol.com/2019/08/10/catch-and-release-fishing-belize/Additional Tags for this post:
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