In 2009, brothers and avid fly fishers Seth and Parker Berling set out to bicycle from Alaska to Argentina to raise awareness about threats to the fishery of Alaska’s Bristol Bay from a proposed open pit copper and gold mine. Two years and more than eighteen thousand miles later, the “Pebble Pedalers” share the Belizean lesson they learnt at the end of the fishing line.
After biking and fishing through seventeen countries, two continents, thousands of rivers, hundreds of lakes, and multiple seas, bays and oceans, there is one question we get asked more than any other, “Where was your favorite place?” While that question may seem impossible to answer, it gets significantly easier by adding one word, “fish.” “Where was your favorite place to fish?” However, one must keep in mind that there are more than a couple good spots to fish between Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina. When simplified one step further, “Where is your favorite place to saltwater flats fish?”, the question becomes a no-brainer. The answer: Belize. While we had previously fished flats with giant permit, big tarpon and impressive schools of bonefish, our goal was to find a place where we could catch all three in the same day.
Our Belizean adventure began in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala where we ditched our bikes and caught a ride on a “panga” to Punta Gorda, Belize. From there, we hopped on a bus to the most popular and beautiful peninsula in Belize called Placencia. Here we met the Leslie family, born and raised Belizeans and owners of Tarpon Caye Lodge, located on a 10 acre mangrove island just 15 miles off the coast.
While relaxing in a hammock in one of the fully equipped cabins, it is not uncommon to see permit tailing off the front porch while hearing the splash of feeding tarpon coming from behind the building. Tarpon Caye has a deep lagoon on the West side, which is protected by tall red mangrove trees. This lagoon is one of the hottest tarpon fishing spots in Belize, while the surrounding area is covered with hundreds of square miles of flats. It did not take long to determine why this area is characterized by many anglers to be the “Permit Capital” of the world.
After hooking two and landing one resident tarpon, we left the comfort of the peaceful lagoon to spend the rest of the day searching the open sea for the single most beautiful site on earth: the emerging black tail of a feeding permit. On my first cast to a feeding permit I saw the fish drop his head over my fly so I set the hook and watched my reel explode into action. I jumped aboard as Charles (our local captain) steered the boat for deeper waters; all the while I did my best to guide the fish away from the sharp coral reef. Just as I thought I was out of danger I felt the line go slack and I knew I had just lost “the” fish of my saltwater flats fishing career.
But there is no time to sulk over lost fish in Belize. Within a few hours,
Seth, like any good older brother, landed the first permit of the trip. With both a tarpon and permit under his belt in the first half of the day, Seth had the chance to join the elite group of anglers that can boast a Grand Slam. Charlie knew just the place to get us into a few bonefish before the tides changed and the sun set. And on the shores of a tiny palm tree speckled island, Seth landed the fish that earned him fishing glory.
Over the next two days, my brother and I took turns casting to tailing permit and feeding tarpon. Just as we thought the excitement was over, I hooked the biggest fish of the week on the last cast of the trip. After an hour of battling, I landed the tarpon.
And as I felt the slippery silver beauty leave my hands and swim into the Tarpon Caye lagoon, I knew that in Belize my brother and I had discovered another fishing paradise worthy of protection.