News from Steppingstones

The day to day life of the English owners of a great little fishing resort in southern Belize.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Just when you despair, two posts in a day!

Chris went out this morning, it was one of those muggy, still, overcast days which to the English angler at least scream "fish!"

Sure enough, there were plenty of fish around, including a nice little jack, and a snapper which we had for lunch.  I cleaned it on the dock, and cooked it whole in the oven, wrapped in foil, with herbs from the pots on the deck, a whole mild pepper, some slices of lime, chinese peppercorns, a little anise and olive oil, served up with a salad with our own tomatoes - two kinds - rocket, herbs, spinach and lettuce. 

Sometimes it is pretty civilised here.

BLOG-To have and to have not….

Hi everybody this is Chris with the latest tales from Steppingstones.

We have been busy decorating and renewing wood work, and generally sprucing things up. So I cannot say we have been out heaving in the kings and barracuda from out beyond the reef. In fact even on the odd occasion we have been down there, the normally cooperative tarpon in the Secret Lagoon have been very quiet. We are now in our dry season, so the water is rapidly clearing, and the tarpon get more wary.

However here is a pic taken last time Sue and I were down there. The boa was around 7ft long.

On the fishing front, it’s been the end of the dock for me. Not entirely without incident however. I managed a really good sized snapper the other night after a long afternoon punctuated by catfish, plus one miserable little snapper which I released. My supper, safely unhooked, I was about to dispatch when it wriggled, and one of its gill plates sliced neatly into my finger and amid spouts of blood, the fish bounced once on the deck and straight into the water where it swam off with a smirk on its face (Oh yes it did) I was not pleased. Spaghetti Bolognese for supper.

Next night I thought lets try again. This time it was bite after bite after bite. I was using two rods but had to give up on one as I could not keep them both in the water. Fast and furious. Mainly small snappers and catfish. But eventually my rod bent double in it holder and after a short but heavy fight I beached a baby sting ray of around 10lbs. This was returned safely.

A little while later I needed to go back to the house for a moment (refresh beers), so mindful of passing boats I reeled in and left my baited hook in mid water under the dock. Walking back along the dock I noticed a stingray on patrol but thought no more of it. Two minutes later back on the dock I turned round in time to see my rod which had been leaning against the handrail, trying to climb over the rail and into the water. I grabbed it just in time. There was a surge and then nothing. The line was bitten through just above the hook. Maybe it was that ray, who knows?

Anyway tackled up again I sat back and again had an almighty take on my chunk of barracuda.. This time it was no baby. Whatever it was, it ran about hundred yards out, then swam slowly south, turning briefly to give me some hope (and line). By this time Sue was out beside me, discussing strategy. We decided to pay out line to get me back onto the beach and away from the piles of the dock. This I did and started playing the fish from the beach. Still the fish would not concede any line, but continued to make short but powerful runs southwards. By this time I was down to maybe two or three feet of line (20lb) on my spool, so I had little option but to dig my toes into the sand and clamp down the reel. The line parted .

We can only think that this was one of the barn door sized rays we sometimes see along our coast, or possibly a very big nurse shark. I suppose you could argue that it gives us something to aim at, but I confess I would have liked to have at least seen what it was.

The problem is that if you use appropriate sized tackle for such fish, you may have a very very long wait. If you just want a snapper for supper, you use light tackle, and of course that’s when you hook into a monster. Sod’s law it’s called.

So now I wait for the next calm evening to try again.

The long spell of calm weather we have had has had some compensations. The baitfish have been shoaling up and have been herded by blue runners one day, and by small jacks on another day. Once this mayhem comes within casting distance, sport is fast and furious. A small plastic shad cast twenty yards is all that’s needed. The fish are generally not big, but even a pound sized blue runner is a real fight on light tackle. Last evening I had what was probably my biggest blue runner about 2 ½ lb. it ran up and down the beach for a good five minutes. Excellent sport! And with multiple strikes and misses on each cast, some really absorbing and fun fishing. Eventually the fish do move off however, and that’s probably just as well. Its hard work. Still I suppose someone has to do it!

Sunday, November 08, 2009


It was with a heavy heart that I heard the news this morning that Barrie Rickards, a true colossus amongst UK pike anglers, and more importantly, a good friend, had died.

Our American and Canadian friends will I hope forgive me if I mark the passing of a good friend and a man who has been an inspiration to many, many people in the UK. His writing in newspapers and magazines, and especially his books which became the standard works on lure fishing brought lure fishing to many. Our lure fishing business we ran in the UK from 1991-2004 owed much to his advice and insight.

Dr Barrie Rickards was a professor of paleobiology at Cambridge University and at the same time a man of the people. A man who never hesitated to give his advice or opinion. Honest, frank, and with a depth of knowledge of lure fishing for pike very few could hope to rival.

I first met him forty seven years ago on the banks of the Great Ouse Relief Channel at Denver Sluice in Norfolk, pike fishing (what else?). I stopped fishing and just sat behind him bombarding him with questions, as he reeled in pike after pike.

Later I was to see him pioneer the use of spinnerbaits in the UK amid widespread hilarity, wide-mesh pike-friendly landing nets, and many other innovations.

The word legendary is much used these days to describe the departed, and sometimes those who are still with us. Just occasionally, that description fits. This is one of those occasions.

I don’t cry much these days, but I did this morning.


OK you want to hear what happened last night? To recap, I was fishing off our dock for a snapper for supper. Readers will know that our dock has been surrounded by baitfish for some days now, and it seems that the snappers are getting well fed as a result. Still, no harm in trying. Sitting on the end of the dock, beer in hand as the sun goes down is not a bad way to end the day.

So basically, no dice this evening. Until, that is, I threw my remaining half conch that I had been using for bait into the water. A large head appeared from under the dock, and inhaled the fist- sized lump of conch. It just sat there in perhaps four feet of gin clear water. It was a Giant Grouper (aka Jewfish) which Sue and I estimated at around forty pounds.

What follows next was not smart. It was not good fishing either.

After cursing that I had just thrown my remaining bait away, I remembered that my baited rod was still nodding away quietly in its rodrest. So I reeled in, and without a further thought, dropped the bait about two feet in front of our grouper’s nose. It edged slowly forward, and the hookbait just disappeared. I had of course tightened my clutch up and struck into this fish. There was an almighty surge as the fish did a lightning fast U turn and ran straight through the dock. My line parted.

So apart from the obvious what have we learnt? Well we have long suspected that large fish come round the dock at night. My last blog illustrates the point. But there have been many stories of night lines being wrecked, and of course, other tales of the one that got away. I had suspected large rays, or possibly sharks. It could be we now know the truth.

The previous day we had cleaned some ducks, and the bits and pieces all went in off the dock. That almost certainly drew in our grouper, four feet of water or not.

So today is a day of reflection, of what might have been, and in the case of Barrie Rickards, of what was.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


This is Chris, with the latest events at Steppingstones.
Imagine the scene. Sue and I as night falls, sitting by the windows of our office, which look out over our beach, intent on our laptop screens. It’s a dead still night with a bright full moon, the water is flat calm and very quiet. I hear a soft hiss, and I say to Sue “What was that?” She thinks it’s starting to rain. That hiss again. “That’s not rain” I say, and lean forward in my seat to look down. I see the most amazing sight. A white wave of thousands of tiny fish in mid air flying out of the water onto the beach. Behind them the water is boiling. “It’s the blue runners” I shout, leap up, run downstairs, grabbing my light rod as I go.
What a scene awaits me as I race out onto the beach. A carpet of fry, all identical lying all the way up the beach, with sheer mayhem in the foot deep shoreline. Hundreds of blue runners are tearing through the mass of fry provoking even more to jump out of the water in terror to escape the murderous jacks. So a quick cast with my tiny Swim Shad (colour does not matter in this game, these runners will hit anything that moves), and bang, straight away I’m in!
Now I’m not going to pretend this was an epic fight lasting half an hour. No, it was a stubborn struggle for a couple of minutes, line taken off my reel, careful to keep the fish away from the dock, and then in he comes. Maybe ¾ lb. OK not a monster, but real fun on light gear. So straight out again, three turns of the reel handle and bang! In again. Another mini fight of two or three minutes and another tough little blue runner comes in. Same size.
All the time this is happening I am being showered with fry, blue runners are flying in all directions and the calm sea is whipped to foam. But I know the deal. Don’t stop, keep casting. So I do and bang! Well, you get the idea. This goes on for about ten minutes with fish hitting my little shad as fast as I can get it into the water.
However, all good things come to an end, and just as quickly the shoal is gone and peace returns. I can see the same process being repeated further up the beach but to reach them would require a short wade through the high tide. This is not a good idea because the mass of dead and dying fry will have attracted sting rays in to clear up the mess, and sure enough a couple of rays appear, lurking. Wading in poor light with them around is not smart. I know from personal experience. But that’s another story. This one is not finished yet.
We are left with a carpet of tiny fish 2 inches long, dead on the beach. Sue says that looks exactly like the fish we used to eat in France in a dish called “friture” I say “What are we waiting for?” So we collect a bowl of these little fish, Sue rinses them to get rid of any sand, egg and flour, hot oil et voila- Friture!
A mound of these, served with slices of lemon, they were delicious. Heavenly. We were delighted. Free food, straight out of the sea. A genuine taste of the Mediterranean from five thousand miles away.
This type of attack happens from time to time. There is no way of predicting it, you just have to watch out for calm water and large amounts of fry in the area. Usually when the blue runners come in they attract other, bigger predators in also looking for a free meal. It’s a ten minute festival of fun. If it happens during the day, the shoal can be followed up and down the beach. It seems a pity that so many fish have to die, but I suppose its nature’s way of sharing its resources around. The blue runners get fed (ok so do we) but so also do the rays, the crabs, the birds, etc, so I guess everyone ends up satisfied.
A happy end to another day in Paradise.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

The One that Got Away (Part 298)
Losing a big unexpected fish always hurts.
It wasn’t the first time, oh no, and hopefully not the last, but we’ll come back to that later.
This is Chris, reporting on the past few weeks down at Steppingstones, in Southern Belize.
First up Peter and Flick, with Peter's dad, Trevor, guests from England doing a multicentre tour of Belize as they have done several times before. Indeed this was a return visit to our beachside corner of paradise.
As many will know Sue is manager of the local primary school which has recently taken 25 children from a neighbouring farming community. Just to complicate things, she decided to start up a feeding program, providing all the children with a proper meal at lunchtime.
Thanks to many kind gifts from sponsors both in and outside Belize, the project, employing two cooks, has got underway. The plates, cutlery, cooking equipment have all been bought. But the question arises, feed with what?
When you live right beside a sea bulging with prime fish, surrounded by fishermen, the odd idea might spring to mind right? So we thought ok –we use our resources. What we need is a supply of prime eating fish.
And so back to Peter Flick and Trevor On their first day out, we mentioned that apart from having a brilliant days fishing (which is pretty well taken for granted), it would be nice if they could bring back some barracuda or other major species.
So we awaited their return with baited (as it were) breath.
We were not disappointed, neither were they. Peter had caught an early morning permit shortly followed by a bonefish. One away from a grand slam, but the tarpon were nowhere to be found despite a foray into the secret lagoon.
So they had decided to come good on their promise of food fish, and besides a couple of tuna and a nice snapper or two, had brought us back no less than nineteen barracuda! This equates to meals for sixty children for three days. Good nutritious food too, which the children love. As Peter remarked, its not often you can have an excellent days fishing and be able at the same time to make such a worth while contribution to the health of young children. Amen to that.
The dampener was the failure of the tarpon to appear to give Peter his grand slam. But as Peter said, there’s always next time.
Bright and early next morning Peter and Flick were off tarpon hunting (surpise, surprise) not wanting to get defeated. (Trevor decided on a lazy day back at Steppingstones) Sure enough later in the day, in the secret lagoon they found their tarpon and landed two. Honour was satisfied. They did first find time to stop off and have some fun with the ever obliging bone fish.
It’s probably worth mentioning that food fishing apart, we practice catch and release wherever possible, especially with juvenile fish. Not that we catch that many small ones! Barracuda are a resource, and like all resources must be respected. Fortunately, our number one food fish is prolific around here and is not under any pressure. There is virtually no commercial exploitation of barracuda in the region.
So we bade farewell to Peter, Flick and Trevor, but it was only at the last minute we discovered that at their previous stop in Punta Gorda they had entered a fishing competition which Flick had won with the largest fish (a barracuda of 18lbs). I know how Peter must have felt at the weigh in-I too have a more than competent angler as my wife!
Next up, yet another visit from our “lodger” Bryan Denton. As readers will know by now, Bryan can’t keep away from this place. He just loves the kayak fishing around Great Monkey Caye.
With good reason. On his first day out he caught a double figure Horse Eye jack which towed him around for quite a while. Besides that the usual bunch of snappers, grunts, a big needlefish, and a surprise baby bonefish on one of the mini flats.
Next day Bryan came back in the kayak towing a double figure Cubera Snapper which after photographing we put back. This immensely strong fish swam strongly off despite having given a really stubborn fight. Bryan caught it on one of the mini flats on a chunk of ballyhoo (which he had caught earlier on a fly).
Bryan’s third day out in the kayak, resulted in two more jacks and a couple more big needlefish plus an even bigger Cubera Snapper which towed him half way to Rocky Point. All fish were released.
And so to the two promised days boat fishing. Wayne was Bryan’s guide and took him out for a day of trolling off the reef. Bryan came back with more fish for the school including several really good barracuda.
The second day Bryan invited Sue and I to accompany him. So off we went out to the Sapodillas which are a group of cayes right at the southerly end of the reef which stretches the entire length of the Belize coastline (and beyond up to Yucatan in the north)
We started off livebaiting with sardines (actually pilchards) caught easily with a cast net. This produced a slow and steady stream of barracuda plus a surprise small Amberjack (my first). We later ate this fish and pronounced it as good as British mackerel.
Later in the morning we decided to troll one of the deep channels between the cayes, but despite using the very best in deep diving Rapala X-Raps and Yo Zuri Magnums, we were unable to raise anything from the deep. So we cut our losses, and headed for the nearby cayes for a bite to eat.
The cayes have nice sandy flats surrounding them, but, as on our last visit, no sign of bonefish. Wayne’s incredible eyesight however soon located the bones in deeper water. So while Bryan tried his luck with a fly, I opted for a chunk of deadbait. This resulted in two screaming runs both of which turned out to be needlefish which seem to delight in getting you all excited then spitting the bait out. Looking across to Bryan I could see he was deep in battle with yet another bone, so reluctantly I agreed to tie a fly on.
After a couple of false starts, I hooked a couple of small bones thus proving the point that when bones are up for it, they are not a big challenge. I suppose that’s true of most species though.
Eventually however the school of bonefish got fed up and moved off. Wayne advised we should move too. He took us to a gin clear rocky bottomed flat, with a tree fringed shoreline not far away, probably 250 yards across where he (!) had seen bonefish moving.
Sue opted to stay on the shoreline and try to get some good shots with her new camera.
The flat turned out to be ankle deep, with small coral outcrops studding the surface. But well populated with bonefish. Wayne found us a conch and cut it up for bait. A lump of free-lined conch was just what the bones wanted. Lobbed into the middle of the shoal , or in my case, roughly in that area, the shoal first scatters in spectacular fashion with spray flying in all directions. A short wait while the bonefish calm down and then WHACK! And off we go.
Or not. I quickly discovered that unless you kept your rod high, the bones just wrapped you round the first coral head they came to. Bryan was having the same experience although he duly landed the first fish, probably a couple of pounds. He went on to catch several more some closer to three pounds.
My attempts were proving less successful but eventually after going through goodness knows how many hooks I got a decent bone to stay hooked and despite it running through water barely deep enough to cover its back, and touring every coral head within a hundred yards, Wayne got a hand on it and out it came. By no means my biggest bone, but I got huge satisfaction out of catching it in a really hostile environment.
We then both got turns at stalking an Ocean Triggerfish which came up onto the flat, and despite having to cast a free-lined bait twenty yards straight into a stiff breeze, neither of us could induce the fish to take the bait. As Bryan said, if Wayne had not been there neither of us would have known the triggerfish was there anyway!
At that point I decided enough was enough. Wading that flat in blazing sunshine, Wayne insisting on the most difficult and accurate casting, and then being repeatedly smashed up by bones had all taken its toll. I was exhausted. Bryan is made of stronger stuff, but he too finally admitted that the triggerfish was just too smart, and we agreed to call it a day.
Seldom have I enjoyed a day out so much. Good company, all sorts of fish caught and nearly caught, challenges to overcome, and a top top guide to put us on the fish. We returned a happy boat.
And so to last night, when I sat on the dock as I do often as the sun drops behind Steppingstones, hoping (expecting?) a snapper or two for supper. Sue had fried chicken on standby, but a fresh whole snapper was much more attractive. It all started well with two hand sized pinfish both on conch. Things went a little quiet as night fell.
Then I hooked dinner. A decent sized snapper was on its way in when from nowhere, a large black shadow appeared, dinner vanished and my little spinning rod bent double. On a very short line, the fish surged straight towards me and under the dock straight round one of the piles and that was that. Irresistible unstoppable power, and all over in 5 seconds. As I said earlier not the first and not the last.
We speculated it was likely to have been a shark, following the snapper in. Who knows? I baited up and tried again, but now an invasion of catfish had occurred, and after pulling out a succession of fish cast after cast , I got bored, and the thought occurred to me that maybe fried chicken wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Now you see them, now you don’t………….
I had a tip off that the tarpon were showing in the secret lagoon. Ok, not exactly a red hot tip off because the rainy season had started the previous day and a good flush had drained off the swamp into the lagoon. This always wakes the tarpon up. But had the tarpon actually left the lagoon, or were they there all the time? My thinking is that they were there all the time. We have seen them lurking deep in the fallen timber, seemingly not feeding or moving much.
Yesterday however it was all different. Now we are back to the normal behavior (or so I thought). The tarpon, mainly small fish up to say 10lbs, in pods of four or five were porpoising right out in open water pretty well the whole length of the lagoon. Unfortunately I was late on the water, and a light breeze had sprung up, and this immediately switched off this behavior. Not before I had hooked one fish and played it for several minutes before my knot failed.
We were chatting about knots failing the other day, and all of us agreed that it was something no one likes admitting. Sue says it’s a man thing. It’s a bit like your pride in being a good driver (no one EVER admits to being a bad driver do they?) We ALL tie good knots ALL the time don’t we? Well actually no we don’t! And we NEVER have a knot fail do we? Well yes we do, actually! If we are honest. A lot of the time it is not the knot’s fault, it’s just been tied badly. Generally speaking, the more complex twists and turns the knot involves, the more opportunities there are for a careless moment which might (as in this case) cost a fish- and a lure as well!
Anyway, the fish was lost, and as the breeze strengthened, the fish faded away. And one thing I have learned here is that when the tarpon say no, they mean it. No amount of persuasion will tempt them
So back next morning at the crack of dawn. Flat calm, exactly like yesterday. Well with one difference, where were the tarpon? Not a sign. So Sue and I eased gently down the lagoon in our boat Patience, scanning the water all around us. Tarpon are prone to rolling in the wake of your boat although I can’t think why. Nothing doing. Eventually I spotted a couple of fish porpoising, so we glided gently over to them. Sue hooked one immediately but after one surge the hook hold gave and that was that. So we decided to move back down towards the sea inlet which takes us past a couple of trolling hotspots. We trolled right down to the entrance without seeing a fish, turned and came back up debating whether to call it a day. Just as we approached the second hotspot, Sue spotted a pod of tarpon rolling just ahead of us, so we thought we might as well troll over them just in case. Well I got a big hit as we passed by and 100yds of line melted off the reel in no time. The fish jumped twice in quick succession and then turned and started to run straight back towards us. For the next 20 minutes or so the fish ran back and forwards, but the jumps became fewer and smaller. Fortunately I had hooked the fish out in open water so there was no real danger of snags. However as the fight developed, the boat was drifting perilously close to the edge of the lagoon where there is plenty of timber and refuge for a hooked fish. I knew that I would not be able to stop a determined effort to get into the timber, as my light spinning rod and 12 lb line were already at full stretch. The fish by this time however was tiring and after a couple of slow runs beside the boat, Sue was able to lift the fish on board for unhooking and a quick photo. She has been moaning about a sore finger, raked by the gill rakers ever since – but I think she is secretly proud of the battle scar.
So here is a pic of the morning’s efforts. Not a monster by any standards, but a brilliant fight on light tackle. My little soft plastic fish had survived the battle and so lives to fight another day. That seemed to be a good moment to run back up to our mooring and then home for breakfast.
Whichever way you look at it, it’s a good way to start your day.

Monday, May 11, 2009

FLY ONLY - the ultimate test!
Our next guests were Len and Juliet from Tanzania (East Africa) and Archie and Barbara from Kansas USA. This foursome were fly only and so offer the toughest test of the fishing down here. We had teamed them up with our top guide, Ian Cuevas, so we were confident that they were in knowledgeable and skilled hands, in the face of difficult conditions.
Fortunately, they proved to be very good anglers and although the permit were elusive, they caught bonefish and tarpon on fly. Monkey River grudgingly conceded some late tarpon as dusk was descending, to add a little extra to the day. Curiously the early morning sessions in the river did not produce. We concluded that this was a tide issue. A rising tide at dusk appeared to be the best time.
Just like our previous guests, Len and Archie found the bonefish uncharacteristically uncooperative and catches were by our standards, low. This is the end of the tourist season and it may be that the fish are getting wary when rods start waving around out on the flats. Both Len and Archie had several shots at permit, but as is the nature of this most elusive of fish, chances were brief and few.
The ‘gummy” fly which Dell had first shown to us seems to be a particularly good bet especially for tarpon. Archie also had these, in a thin tiny baitfish shape, and a fuller more rounded version which Ian thought (correctly as it turned out) would be a better match for river fishing. Len promptly jumped three tarpon on one, and landed the fourth, all in the space of an hour or so.
So what was our conclusion? Well nowhere in this world has fishing that can be turned on (or off) like a tap. However good the fishing, however huge the shoals, however beautiful the surroundings, there will always be times when things just don’t go right. The last three weeks have been like that. Unstable weather has without a doubt played a big part. Len kindly invited me to join him one afternoon and I could see just how difficult it was to present a fly in the crosswinds we had, particularly casting right into partially submerged wild cane along the river’s edge. Only a really good caster could manage that-Len did!
I suppose you could say that this just adds to the desire to come back and try again, a feeling we anglers all get from time to time. No sooner are you off the water than you are thinking about the next time.Still as Sue remarked as we said goodbye to our last visitors, a month which included three new records, two Grand slams, plus a number of fly caught firsts for guests cannot be called poor in anyone’s language. Maybe we expect too much from the fish lurking in their watery world below the silvery surface.

Return of the flyfishers!
This week we have Dave Lewis, demon fly fisher from Wales, making a return visit to us, together with Terry Smith, and newcomers Ray Jennings and Dell Elliot making up our second consecutive party of four from England (sorry, Britain).
When the weather forecaster on our national radio station, Love FM, knew Dave was coming back to Steppingstones, he immediately changed the forecast to howling gales and rain. As usual however he got it wrong, although we did have a fairly brisk wind.
With choppy seas on Day One, the guys decided to hit Monkey River at first light as we have been getting reports of tarpon and snook showing. This proved to be a good decision. Dave landed tarpon and snook on fly, Dell had his first ever tarpon on fly and the others also jumped tarpon and snook, as well as a few surprise tubas. These perch-like ciclids fight like blazes, and it is a pity they don’t grow all that big! The machacas which can normally be expected to come up to surface lures were however not coming out to play.
Day Two was a blast straight out to the reef with bonefish the main target. The sea has heavy so the guys got bumped and soaked going out, and bumped and soaked coming back. Despite this they were rewarded with some decent sized bonefish on the flats around Nicholas caye. Ray managed his very first bonefish on a fly which is always a great landmark. A strong breeze however made sight fishing a challenge even with our eagled eyed guides George and Wayne at the helm.
By the time the guys got back it was 7pm, so in two days they had averaged 12 hours a day on the water. No wonder they looked tired. Dave made a brief appearance before dinner before crashing out in his cabana. He ate his dinner for breakfast the following morning! Sue’s Mexican tacos WERE good, but for breakfast??
Thursday dawned much calmer, so amidst muttering about permit fishing, the boats set off for the southern end of Port Honduras Marine Reserve. The day turned out to be not a day for permit. A strong wind and colored water made fish spotting very difficult. Ray had some nice jacks on poppers plus more tarpon to everybody. Both boats went up Deep River which IMHO is one of the most enchanted places on earth. But nothing inclined to feed. The rivers need a good flush through which we reckon could happen any day now.
Their day ended in Monkey River hoping for a last minute tarpon, but it was not to be. They did however witness a pitched battle between two rival troops of howler monkeys - probably a territorial “misunderstanding’ as the Belizeans call it!
So to Friday. The plan was to go out to Ranguana and engage the bonefish again. However the wind sprung up overnight, so both boats elected for a starting effort back in Monkey River.
The river was quiet, so a move down to Deep River seemed like the best bet. However this too was pretty slow. After a day of stopping and starting, despite all efforts the day was unproductive. So while Dave and Terry decided to call it a day, Ray and Dell decided to have one last cast. Their persistence was rewarded and a tarpon and snook compensated for a disappointing day.
So the following day, bright and early the team decided today was to be the big day, and duly set out after permit. That evening the guys were back late. When we saw the boats approaching the dock in pitch darkness we knew something was up from the broad smiles. Dave had hit his grand slam of a permit, a tarpon and a bonefish, and Terry managed a permit and a bonefish, and lost no less than four tarpon late on in Monkey River in a desperate attempt to achieve his grand slam! So it was drinks on the house for everyone that evening, which is a Steppingstones tradition. Grand slams are not common, even here in Permit City. It is not just a matter of catching all three species in one day, it is as much a challenge of finding all three species feeding! The purists will insist on Grand Slams being all fly caught, but we excuse a little involvement of hermit crab in catching permit! As the guys will tell you, hooking a permit is hard enough on ANYTHING!
The following day, it was hardly surprising that, sore heads from the night’s celebration or not, the team was headed back out to do battle with the permit again. Terry in particular felt hard done by having missed out on his Grand Slam so narrowly the previous day. Determination often gets rewarded, so it was no surprise that Terry turned out to be the star of the show, with a Grand Slam of his very own to celebrate that night!. This Steppingstones tradition is getting to be a bit expensive on free drinks! Still it does not happen every day.
Next day saw the weather on an improving trend so it was back out to the reef in search of the bonefish shoals. The fish were quickly located but were in a silly mood, swimming around like harbor mullet, as Dave described it, and refusing even the most tempting of offers. Despite this a couple were landed and a very big bonefish showed itself although it remained uninterested in feeding.
Overall this was a story of what might have been. Stories of lost fish, missed fish, and shoals disappearing in a flash. However, the boys, led by demon flycaster Dave all caught tarpon, bonefish and snook . Terry and Dave both had Grand Slams as memories to treasure. Dell and Ray had some decent jacks, plus barracuda, etc. on lures as well as their successes on fly, so honour was in the end satisfied.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Highs and lows-some you win some you don’t.
Well for our latest guests, Billie and Steve Barlow from England, things did not get off to a good start. Four of their bags including both rod cases managed to go off on a holiday of their own to who knows where. One advantage of staying at Steppingstones however is that as former tackle dealers, we have no shortage of fishing tackle. So spare rods etc were quickly provided, and the guys rushed off down our dock to do battle with the local fish. Things started slowly, as a cold front moved over, with murky water populated by a seemingly endless stream of small catfish. Somewhat unusual for this time of year, but at least it was a diversion. However as the water cleared, the snappers and snook started feeding providing a change from the catfish. One afternoon the bigger fish moved in and a couple of sting rays provided the action, followed by something that picked up Billie’s fish fillet and moved steadily off, eventually breaking his 40lb line without stopping pausing or changing direction. Most likely this was a nurse shark, but who knows?
Next day we had a display from the local dolphins, who at one point were right close to the end of the dock, presumably feeding on baitfish.
We had arranged a couple of days for Steve and Billie to fish with George. Their first day turned out to be quite an active day with a variety of fish being taken. Steve managed to catch his first ever bonefish on a fly, and followed this up with Spanish Mackerel, barracuda (of course) and a king fish. Both Steve and Billie lost unstoppable fish trolling - probably big kingfish. The very high temperatures during the day made things tough, but a mixed bag made up for the inevitable sunburn!
In spite of this they managed to find yet more barracuda, and as Steve said, “We had our string well and truly pulled”. A succession of small grouper marked the morning session, followed by bonita, a couple of lizard fish and a snapper or two.
Next day our old friends from Virginia, Keith and Sheila arrived next, this time with their daughter Heather on a short visit to renew acquaintance with the fabulous fishing and wild life down here. Very soon there was the makings of an international competition on the end of the dock, with the usual discussions and debates on pretty well anything and everything, in between pulling in a succession of small snappers.
We had arranged a block booking with our top guide Ian for the second week to take out our guests in rotation.
First up were Steve and Billie for their third trip out, but the first with Ian. The day was dominated by very rough seas outside the reef. Fortunately Steve and Billie fish one of the roughest pieces of sea in Europe, the Irish Sea, back home, so big seas don’t worry them. They got soaked through in a rising sea, but still managed a bunch of barracuda, mostly on livebait.
Next up was Keith, raring to go, having heard all the stories from Steve and Billie and as the girls wanted a day ashore, I “volunteered” to accompany him. This seemed like a good opportunity to try out my newly arrived Rapala X Raps which Steve had kindly brought out from the UK . Ian took us down south, deep into the Port Honduras Marine Reserve. We stopped on the way where he had seen a big shoal of jacks crashing yesterday. However as usual they had moved on. My Zara Spook was ignored. We moved into the mouth of Deep River to look for tarpon, and although we did find a group daisy-chaining, they were not interested in our baits, and my Zara Spook was ignored again. We pushed on around the river delta but apart from a solitary baby jack to Keith’s crystal minnow, nothing moved, and although I switched to my new shallow X Rap, it too remained untouched.
Then we had a flurry of action with both of us getting a small kingfish in quick succession. We decided to move around the small cayes in the river mouth, but again, nothing. Ian took us around two tiny reefs just north of Punta Negra, and there we found a few barracuda, one small one to me and two close to 10lbs each to Keith. All were safely returned back to fight another day. We discussed the pros and cons of release of barracuda, and with care, we concluded, small and medium sized ones could be released safely providing they were lightly hooked. This signaled the end of our day and we made the short run home to Steppingstones. A good day? Well judged by results, no. But a great pleasure to be out at sea with a knowledgeable angler like Keith who is such good company even when fate deals a bad hand, and Ian with his local knowledge and almost sixth sense.
And my verdict on the X Rap, much praised on one of the on line forums? Well, inconclusive from a results point of view. I can say that the action, a whole body roll, does look good (the fish did not agree on the day!), and at last Rapala have produced a shallow runner in heavy duty plastic to provide genuine alternative to the Yo Zuri Crystal Minnow. Worth observing though that the X Rap is a suspending bait, running at around four feet, whereas the Crystal Minnow is a floater, running at about two feet. So there STILL is no quality marine alternative to the Crystal Minnow for ultra shallow situations. Rapala please note!
So day three for Ian, and it was Steve and Billie’s turn to hit the reef. Ian had decided to try the reef again, as the weather had noticeably improved.
The highlight of the day was a mutton snapper of 13lb 9oz, which is a new Steppingstones record. Stunning! Steve managed two cobia, some barracuda as well as another (much smaller) snapper. Billie had what we all have sometimes - a mare. His best fish of the day would have been a double figure barracuda had not two other barracuda bitten it clean in half, and not satisfied with that, another attacked the head end and ripped that up as well.
It was time for Keith’s “family day out”. Ian took them out to a nearby patch reef for a session of bait fishing. The girls caught a cooler box full of snappers etc which were sent down to a very grateful village. After lunch Ian took Keith up Monkey River looking for tarpon. Keith managed to turn a few over but no hook ups.
Later, Keith and I had a try in the back lagoon for tarpon. They were there, but deep in the timber and almost impossible to lure out into open water. I lost a snapper back there, and we both turned over tarpon.
Next up, the dynamic duo were out bright and early on their way out to the reef for another livebaiting session. True to form Steve hooked the biggest fish which ran backwards and forwards, up and down, ahead of the boat and behind it, while Ian and Billie debated what it could be. They were all wrong. It turned out to be a 15lb 9oz Blackfin Tuna, which is an exceptional size for here. This was followed by a filefish. This is the first of these weird looking fish landed at Steppingstones. Not really a sport fish, but technically a record!
Later in the day Steve hooked two fish in 200ft of water which ran irresistibly into rocks under heavy pressure. Hard to know what these were, but big grouper looks the best guess.
We all had tuna steaks for dinner. There is nothing in this world to match fresh tuna on the BBQ with a salad (homegrown) and a glass of chardonnay.
Last day of Ian’s booking fell to Keith. By all accounts he had a ball, with a double figure kingfish heading a full fish box of barracuda , snappers , etc. The biggest pair of barracudas were released back safely. Keith’s complaints of sore shoulders and strained muscles were not met with much sympathy. But the twinkle in his eyes told a different story!
During this period, Steve and Billie also found time to get out in our kayaks and had some decent fish on the patch reef in front of Steppingstones, and also around Greater Monkey caye. Steves best fish was a 20lb stingray which he managed to unhook at the side of the kayak.
All in all this has been a pretty eventful fortnight, with three new records, the blackfin tuna and the mutton snapper and (grudgingly) the filefish all caught by Steve. Both Steve and Billie lost big fish to livebait in deep water, which raises yet again the question of whether we should have a serious effort to catch one of these monsters.
Please note that all the fish brought to the dock, except those kept for our own consumption, were taken down for distribution in Monkey River village.

Pics will follow - the internet is on go slow right now.