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In subscriber Mike Kovich’s report on a trip he took recently to Tarpon Caye Lodge in Belize, he goes into detail about trying a different lodge from his usual standby. We love it when subscribers take time to file lengthy reports on their trips, as such reports capture the feel and texture of places, not just the nuts and bolts. Thanks, Mike, for taking the time to file the report.
“Last year, I planned to go to El Pescador Lodge in Belize for the sixth time, but when I got around to booking my trip, they didn’t have any space available. Not being able to reschedule my trip, I turned to the Internet to find another lodge. That’s not the best way to find a lodge, I know, but I decided to go with Tarpon Caye Lodge (www .tarponcaye.com) for the simple reason that I could not find any bad reports about them. Of course, I also couldn’t find any reports on the quality of their fishing in August, which was the only time I was free.
“Traveling to Belize is quite simple from my home state of Michigan. My son and I simply grabbed a flight out of Detroit to Atlanta and from there connected to Belize City. We arrived around noon and had lunch at the airport’s upper level restaurant while waiting for our Mayan Air shuttle flight to Placencia. The plane was a Cessna Caravan – sort of a flying bus. On arrival, we were met by the driver of a minivan taxi. He had to twist, pound, and thump the door just right to get it open, I recall. Anyway, we soon arrived at the Tarpon Caye office to check in and get ready for our trip out to the island by boat. The roughly 15-mile trip took about 45 minutes, so we were settled in our cabins and ready for a meal by 6 p.m.
“That meal and others that followed were always good and plentiful, albeit not the kind of food one could call gourmet. The guest cabins there are spartanly decorated: two beds, a small table and chair, and a bathroom with indoor plumbing. They are all built on stilts over the water facing the prevailing wind, which is your basic cooling system there. It was adequate even when we were there in August. The electricity in the cabins is 110 volts when the generator is running and 12 volts after it is shut off. Wi-Fi is available upon request. All in all, Tarpon Caye is a well-appointed fishing camp. And it is being upgraded, I understand, with a solar power system and a new two-bedroom cabin slated to be available in 2014.
“I take most of my fishing trips during the off-season because I hate the crowds. Besides, I find the fishing to be much better during the off-season, especially in Belize. I have been to El Pescador Lodge five times and at least once to various other lodges in Belize, in addition to Tarpon Caye. El Pescador has reoriented itself recently toward the luxury end of the fishing market, and I have no problem with that. The place is outrageously nice, plus the off-season fishing is always great. Still, I come to Belize to fish and relax with a few Belicans. I’m glad we decided to try Tarpon Caye, as it is set up just for fishing.
“Based on what I experienced, I would have to say that Tarpon Caye may be one of the top ten spots in the world to hook a permit on the fly. Also, there’s not a lodge out there with a better fishing schedule or better permit guides. I found it extremely helpful that our guides spent our first day on the water getting acquainted with us and assessing our skills. The first flat we went to was no more than 15 minutes from the lodge. When we got out of the boat, our guides took us in opposite directions. My guide asked me to strip out 60 feet of line and give him some practice casts. He instantly realized that I am left-handed and the wind was going to be over my right shoulder the way we were wading. He promptly took me to the other end of the flat so I would be casting to the right with the wind over my left shoulder, which gave me a casting radius of more than 110 degrees and allowed me to make effortless 60- to 80-foot casts in the roughly 15 mile-per-hour winds that are typical of Belize. Guides rarely notice my lefty ways without me mentioning it over and over.
“We spent the rest of that first day finding tailing fish and learning how to stalk within casting distance of them. Not surprisingly, we blew most of the fish off the flats, but each time we did, our guides were able to tell us what we were doing wrong and what we needed to do to improve. The entire day was enjoyable and instructive.
“The second day started out at 5 a.m. with coffee. We were in the boat and casting for tarpon by 5:35. By 6:30, we had three tarpon in the boat, and we were on the hunt for a Triple Grand Slam. Bonefish are a sort of by-catch at this lodge, most of them in the 12- to 14-inch range. We had no trouble catching the bonefish we needed. Unfortunately, permit were not cooperating that day. We did not take any Grand Slams.
“Our schedule for the rest of the week was similar to the one we adopted that first day – that is, we spent the first hour on tarpon and then about two hours looking for permit before returning to the lodge for breakfast. We then fished for permit again from around 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., took a break again for lunch, and then went back out for permit from 3 to 6 before returning for the evening meal. We rarely had to go more than a few miles from the lodge to find fish. During our six days of fishing, we averaged ten good shots at permit per fisherman each day, at least three of which were world-class perfect set-up shots. This exceeds anything I have ever experienced in the way of permit fishing.
“As I stated before, Tarpon Caye is a fishing lodge. It has no swimming pool, no air conditioning, no big fans. Fresh water and electricity are limited, too, which means refrigeration is limited. Your beer and other drinks are somewhat warm at times. Accommodations are adequate but in no way luxurious. They met my expectations of a true fishing lodge. Just be sure you bring bug dope with you to this lodge, as the local sand flies are extremely aggressive. On the bright side, the personnel are extremely kind and almost too accommodating. That includes the cook who does wonders with an inventory of food items that is necessarily limited to what can be kept cold and is plentiful. Expect lots of fresh-caught seafood here, including fish and lobster. My son and I picked up conch a few days, and the cook turned them into the best conch fritters I have ever had. My son and I loved the place, but it is not the right place for a non-fisherman. You are on an island here, and it isn’t easy to get away. Doing that would almost surely involve hopping on one of the supply boats that goes back and forth every few days. I’m sure that would turn into an adventure.
“Charles Leslie, one of the owners, told me he has about 45 years of experience with all things fishy. Our guide, Kurt, told us he had 35 years of experience, and our other guide, Marlin, indicated he had about 20-plus years of experience. Kurt and his first mate, Carlito, could spot tailing fish at least 200 yards away, and I swear he spotted some that were out 500 hundred yards. The complete cost of this trip from arrival in Belize City was $400 round-trip per person for airfare from Belize City to Placencia and $2,600 per person for the lodge experience itself, double occupancy in the room and in the boat. Tips and my bar tab were extra. Just keep in mind this was an August trip, which was priced for the off-season.”