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Editor Note: Subscriber, Bill Wichers has been supplying this newsletter with quality reports for quite some time. We don’t often hear much from Honduras, but Bill and his wife just returned from a trip where they fished Guanaja—a tiny island just 70 kilometres off the north coast of Honduras—for bonefish and permit. Here is a detailed account of his experience there:
“My wife, Donna, and I fished around the island of Guanaja in the Honduran Bay Islands April 22–27, 2018. We booked directly with Fly Fish Guanaja, the only fly-fishing operation in the waters around this island. They offer seven-night, six-day fishing packages, Saturday to Saturday, and the lodge can accommodate up to eight anglers.
“We flew United Airlines from Missoula, Montana, to Denver, then Houston, where we spent the night. The next morning we took United to the Honduran island of Roatán, where a facilitator met us at the airport with our tickets and checked our bags for the 20-minute flight on a 12-seater plane to Guanaja. The lodge manager, Kendall, met us at the Guanaja airport for the 20-minute boat ride to the tiny island of Jones Key, where the lodge is located. The roundtrip flight from Roatán to Guanaja is included in the total price for this package, $4,200/person, with a shared room and guide. Also included was the boat ride to the Guanaja airport, assistance with tickets, and help with baggage.
“The lodge is small and comfortable and relatively new. There is no air conditioning in the lodge or the rooms, but the brisk breeze made A/C unnecessary every night except one. That night, things were a little warm for sleeping, as the daily high temperatures were in the mid-80s and at night hardly cooled down at all. Two very comfortable queen beds with quality mattresses were in each room. We were not bothered by mosquitoes or other bugs at the lodge. We did see a horsefly or two most days while we were fishing, but insect pests were rare on this trip. The lodge is supplied fresh water from a two-mile-long PVC pipeline along the ocean bottom from a spring on the main island, so there was plenty of hot water for showers. Likewise, an electric line also runs underwater to the lodge from Guanaja to provide electricity. A backup generator is in place for those times when power is temporarily interrupted (which happened once during the week we were there).
“The lodge also provided some thoughtful amenities, such as a hot/cold bottled water dispenser outside the door to our room. We brought our own water bottles to take along fishing each day, which we refilled from the dispenser. The guides washed our rods and reels after each fishing day at the dock and stored the rods there each night. (They have a night watchman who stays in the building at the dock.) Free laundry service is also available. They also have two friendly dogs and a couple of rescued parrots that live around the lodge.
“The food at the lodge was very good—local seafood (shrimp, lobster, conch) and chicken dominated the dinner menu (served at six o’clock) with excellent appetizers available before dinner. The fried shrimp were particularly outstanding. Beer and wine, as well as a basic hard liquor selection, were available and included in the fishing package. Breakfast was served at seven and included eggs, meat, toast, fresh fruit, cereal, and other items—lots of choices. Large and good sandwiches were the featured lunch item most days.
“On two days, we had lunch at the Crazy Fish Restaurant in the village of Mangrove Bight (which was paid for by the lodge), part of lodge owner Steve Brown’s commitment to involving the local residents and community as much as possible in his operation. He directly employs about 20 locals as guides and kitchen and lodge staff, providing some of the better-paying jobs available on Guanaja. The guides and kitchen staff speak very good English. The Bay Islands were originally settled by English speakers, and it is still the primary language spoken on these islands, even though Spanish is the official language of Honduras.
“The south and east sides of Guanaja have a small barrier reef with inside flats interconnected with 8–10 small islands (including Jones Key), while the north side of Guanaja has some white sand beaches dropping into deeper water, as well as some deeper flats near the northeast point of the island. We did a lot of wading for bonefish on the flats associated with the reef, while the rest of the fishing was from the boat poled by the guide. All of the flats had thick turtle grass, making weed guards on flies essential. The trip information from Fly Fish Guanaja strongly recommended weed guards on all bonefish and permit flies. Naturally, I didn’t follow that recommendation, so most of our flies did not have weed guards, but that was quickly remedied by one of the staff adding them to about 20 of my flies. The weed guards made a big difference—heed their advice.
“We generally left the dock around 7:30 each morning and returned 3–4 p.m. Each day was sunny and windy (except our last day, which was cloudy and calm). We fished with three different guides (Cassidy, Darren, and Edwin) during the week. All were very experienced, capable, and good company. Two of the boats we fished out of were pangas (but with decent-sized casting decks and good rod holders), the other was a flats boat. Fishing was slower than I expected, for several reasons, but was still good. One reason was the nearly full moon we had that week; another was that we had primarily low or dropping tides during most of our fishing days. It was also very windy almost every day along the reef, making long and accurate casts difficult. For the most part, the north side of Guanaja was the lee side, and casting was much easier there.
“Also, the Guanaja bonefish have a reputation of being more difficult to catch than those at many other locations, maybe because they are larger on average than most caught in this part of the world. The smallest bonefish we caught was about two and a half pounds, the largest almost eight. Of the eight bonefish landed, most were between three and five pounds. We didn’t see any large schools of small bonefish like you typically see in many places in Mexico and Belize.
“Almost all of our time was spent fishing for bonefish and permit, although we did cast to tarpon several times, and Donna landed one that went about 25 pounds. She also caught a four- to five-pound permit. I landed one permit on a small worm fly that literally was about five inches long—a really cute miniature permit that was the smallest I’ve ever seen. I also had two larger permit eat crab flies, the first I missed with a trout set, the second I hooked with a strip set, but it broke off the fly. The two days we spent a lot of time looking for permit provided us with 8–10 decent shots each day. Unfortunately (but typical of permit), most of those fish looked at but didn’t eat the flies. Some were on the north side of the island on grass flats and sand beaches, the rest were on grass flats associated with the reef or along the south shore of the main island. We saw some large permit in the 20- to 30-pound category, but most were smaller, under 12 pounds. Fly Fish Guanaja began primarily as a bonefish destination, but in recent years it has shifted a lot of emphasis toward permit.
“Wading the flats associated with the reef was the most productive bonefishing for us. We also caught bonefish on the north side of Guanaja, fishing off the boat. Donna caught the biggest bonefish of the trip in the mouth of a creek on the north side as it moved out on a dropping tide. I also caught a large boxfish (my first) and we both caught small snappers, needlefish, and barracudas.
For permit, we used mostly tan or olive crab flies (Bauer crab, Kung Fu crab, etc.) and spawning shrimp patterns. Tan-colored shrimp flies without a lot of flash were used most of the time for bonefish, generally in small sizes (8 or even 10). I experimented with a two-fly rig with some success the last three days. A small tan shrimp followed by a wine-colored worm worked well for bonefish until I lost the worm (the only one I had). I actually hooked a bonefish and permit at the same time on a spawning shrimp and small, tan floating crab. The permit broke off, but I landed the four-pound bonefish on the shrimp.
“We also brought our snorkeling equipment and spent an hour swimming around Michael’s Rock on the north shore of Guanaja one day. The snorkeling was excellent, with lots of diversity in fish and coral species, as good as most places we’ve snorkeled on the barrier reef in Belize.
“Another thing to mention is Fly Fish Guanaja’s trip to the Faraway Keys, a group of uninhabited islands and sand flats 160 miles (1.5-hour helicopter flight) east of Guanaja. This program provides four days of fishing on these flats for up to five anglers, combined with two days of fishing around Guanaja—the day before the helicopter ride from the lodge and then the day after it returns. The four anglers who did the Faraway trip the week we were at the lodge reported lots of nice bonefish and many shots at permit. They landed three permit and some bonefish at Faraway. The accommodations (yurts with cots) and food were good. The total cost of this trip is $9,500, for a shared room and guide.
“Steve is committed to this area, annually hosting groups of up to ten students from Colorado (Steve’s home state) each week in June for a combination education and work trip under the Fish for Change program. The students typically work in the mornings (to date they’ve planted more than 500,000 mangrove shoots in areas denuded by Hurricane Mitch in 1998) and learn to flats fish, try some snorkeling, interact with locals, and so on in the afternoons. He has also been active in raising money for a local hospital, with one of his clients donating $200,000 to this project. Another guest provides scholarships to the children of guides to attend private school on the island.
“In summary, this was a very nice trip and a reasonable value for the price. There were good opportunities for nice-sized bonefish and ample chances to cast to permit. The entire operation was very well run and we would return given the chance.”
Postscript: For more info about this operation, go to http://www.flyfishguanaja.com/.