PARADISE LODGE - September 2012
To begin with, this was a negative experience for me and the reasons will be covered. That aside, I had thirty bonefish, two permit, a fair sized 'cuda and jumped four or five tarpon in five days on the water. Two guys of the seven had grand slams, and the day I lost four tarpon I would have been the second slam on the boat that day. Fishing was not really the problem.
I got notified there was a paid up slot for this week three days before the fishing was to start. A friend in Louisiana had to evacuate for hurricane Isaac and could not get back to his house to get his passport or he would have gone. He asked if I could take the trip as it was paid for. I had actually turned the trip over to him last fall, when it was offered, as I thought it would be too hot down and I had some knee problems that also concerned me. I hated to have him lose the whole fee, as well as the airline cost, so agreed to take it 48 hours before departure. He tried once more to get home and I hustled and paid an agent to find me a ticket.
Getting to Cancun was pretty smooth and meeting with the others and setting out for the lodge was good. The drive took over five hours but the vehicle was better than the one last trip and kept us cool. Arrival at the camp at about dinner time was when we met the new manager and owner, Alex. The man and wife team from the last trip were super and used to work for this man. He was covered in sweat and not feeling well but gracious. Our rooms were warm to say the least but the dining room was cool enough. Dinner was fine and our hopes were high. It had been a long day so the party did not last long. Alex gave us a briefing on the fishing saying the lakes were pretty fouled by the big rains recently and bay fishing, either north or south, would be our best bet.
There was four of us in the group; three old military pilots, me, Unk and Ron and Steve a retired educator. There were two more retired educators, Ward and Joel, and a power company man, George, from North Carolina, and they were not retired. He was going to fish by himself all week. It was a good dinner and a nice introduction once the educator got used to the banter we threw at each other. Alex regaled us with many stories and much lore of his life and times. Alex is an Argentine and ex race car driver among many other things.
I shared a room Steve, an old acquaintance I had met in the states and at couple of fishing events. It was hard to sleep, partly because the AC did not cool things down much until midnight and we were hyped up about fishing.
Steve ended up my first partner and we were headed north to Espiritu Santos Bay, an almost hour and forty-five minute drive in a slightly worn truck without air conditioning and that had six men and all the gear for each and the boats packed in. Leaving at 0640 meant the drive up was not too hot for the first 40 minutes on asphalt and then over an hour on a bumpy jungle/beach road at slow speed. The latter part is pretty sticky. Arrival at about 0830, and the sweating was overcome by the beauty of the day: low wind and partly cloudy warm sunshine. Rods travel in tubes so each rigged two or three rods and the boats were readied for launch about 0915.
Steve and I were in fish within an hour of looking and at the third stop to search. We basically stayed within about 100 yards of the last stop and chased herds of bonefish and permit for about two hours. All the fish were small but as Steve put it, "a permit is a permit and a bonefish is a bonefish." We each had seven bones and a permit before lunch. Many of the problems of getting the hang of it caused hilarity and we had plenty of fish to generate laughter. Off we went looking for a slam with two legs completed. A "grand slam" is getting one each of three of four fish; tarpon, bonefish, permit and snook. We had looked for tarpon the first two stops of the day but couldn't find them but had to go back after them for the chance complete a slam. Snook were tough as they seem to be gone this period of the year, according to Alex. Tarpon were the target.
It was really getting hot, near ninety, and very humid. Drinking excessive water often was necessary and still very few pisses were taken by most. Tarpon hunting was in the mangroves where the wind was mostly blocked. It is a beautiful place but we were striking out until we found a bunch of babies back in an overhung cut through a mangrove island. Up to this time Steve had told me he did not care about slams or tarpon. He had landed a big one once and didn't care for the fight. I was up front when we got into them. A couple, then another couple more came at the boat from about thirty feet away and came right at us. My first toss was taken and the fish started jumping. Setting hard was tough as they were all less than five pound fish and pretty feisty and quick. I had the little bugger on long enough to feel he was mine until he came off when he jumped in the other direction and out popped the hook. I hooked him again only to have it come right back out. I tossed back at him and he ate it again and this time the guide yelled to set the hook harder and twice. I had set it once and had to lower the rod again to point it at him and that allowed him to swim under a log at the same time I was trying to set only to break him off. The break was in 50 pound test line at the perfection loop knot at the top. I quickly tied another leader as the fish were still around us. New leader in place in a couple of minutes and a new fly and I thought to ask Steve if he wanted to try. Somehow he forgot about his tarpon ban and jumped at the chance and hooked up first cast and broke the fish off in the same place in the leader at the set. A light when on and I figured the leader material was bad, I had only had it since the Civil War. I tied on a fresh leader and Steve hooked up on a fish he had to lead into an opening in the trees to 'swing' the fly at. He held onto the fish and while the boat was backed out of the hole the fish took another route and came out beside us after running under the roots. Somehow, without breaking my rod, Steve managed to keep hold of the fish until it decided to swim back where it came from and did it along the same route. Steve got him out the correct hole in the trees and alongside the boat so I could touch the leader and confirm a catch. He "easy" released himself when I was trying to grab him. It was a catch and a Grand Slam for Steve, his first.
That done, we tried several ways to get the fish back where we could throw at them to complete my slam, so we went out and around the island and reentered where we started and I got another shot. I hooked a fish but the guide insisted I let the rod back down and really do two more sets. I did and straightened out an Owner Mosquito hook. No more fish to be had and time done, we were through for the day and back at the ramp at 3:20 waiting for the other boat. The other guys had three nice bones apiece and had a shot at permit. The emphasis on "nice" means the bones were 3-5 pound fish verses the little foot long beauties we had bagged.
The ride home in the heat of the day was not all that much fun and we got back after six to shower and either leave the room closed to see if the AC would start cooling it or open the windows and let the flies in to bite us later. We closed ours up and went to the bar. The guys who went south had less fish but a nice day it seemed. No other permit but ours was caught. Dinner started with a shrimp cocktail and then fishes in some secret sauce and both good. The power went off once during dinner. Little did we know it had kicked the AC off and it needed to get turned back on, so we when up after dinner to a still hot room.
My partner was Ron, an old buddy from the Air Force that I have fished with on several trips. We went south to the other big bay at Chetumal, just on the border with Belize. The ride was just over an hour and a half, on good roads except the last mile, and the truck had AC! That was the first time I was cool so far in the trip. Wind was low and sky pretty clear and the bones were out to play.
I fished the first half hour while my knee was fresh and the deck calm. Of course, the fish were still sleeping. Ron popped up and had many shots right off the bat. After he got one we were pretty much in schools of small bones all morning and each had a half dozen or more. Once while tossing at very small bones the guide said, "grab the permit rod." We had rods rigged for all types of fish. After breaking records reeling up one and stripping out the new rod, we asked, "where." He calmly stated, "two hundred yards out front." Great eyes! I finally could see them at perhaps a hundred yards as they were big, in calm water and black against white sand. We crept up and around them to make the shot from up wind as the boat would slap in the little waves if we were pointed into the wind. The fish just "floated" there with fins and tail tips out of the water. I took my shot from about 80 feet to not spook them and landed too close to the one on the left, actually where I was aiming, and they all "jumped" as the fly hit. They moved off and we could just about catch up for a second shot when a cloud covered the sun and we lost them. The lights came on again and they had left the building. I did catch a lizard in the middle of one pond and released him into the mangroves. He was about a foot long and swimming along when the boat ran past him. The guide turned around and came up alongside. I grabbed him and I think he might have be an appetizer for dinner if the guide had picked him up.
We were in and out of the sun and fish the rest of the day getting several more for a pretty good day overall. None of our fish were of any size but they were bones. Ron got to throw at some permit and actually got hooked up. I jumped up and was helping him clear the line he had wrapped around him and the boat. I was sure the fish was going to take off and break him off but when he got my attention finally he stated, "this one is not going anywhere." It was about eight inches long and, when Unk looked at the picture I got of the thing, discovered it was another fish, a little brother to a permit. It was a Palmetto, smaller and with some vertical stripes on an otherwise nearly Permit look - a - like. We had tried to interest one big barracuda early on but he just ignored us and went his own way. The ride home was special with the truck's coolness after a very warm day. Dinner started with a super fresh salad with avocado and great dressing followed by fajitas, pretty good stuff. Lunch had been some fish salad sandwich which I did not like much so hunger was slaked with the dinner. It was another warm room but when the power failed I went up and reset the AC. It was actually cool at 4 AM, enough to put a sheet on. My gut was a little upset so sleep was rare. Unk went down south with us and fishing with Steve had a super day and one very large permit that took him way into the backing and the boat had to be started to chase him down. It was between 25 to 30 pound when he landed it, and had gotten up to 50 pounds by bedtime.
This morning started my problems on this trip. I ate breakfast thinking I was hungry and that was my stomach problem. Upon leaving at 0630 we had one of the fisherman, George, stay at the lodge because he was sick to his stomach. I was to fish with Unk but when an extra boat became available he took it and went back south to fish alone. I had the pleasure of being paired with Steve again with Ron going alone up north. I would have done it alone but my knee would not stand doing it all by myself without rests.
Anyway, the hot ride to the north really caused my stomach to churn. I was sick when we got there but without an option for even shade if I stayed on the shore, we pressed on. Steve and I both had the same kind of morning we had the first day and in the same spot for some of it. We even had a permit each like the first day. I was fishing my share, part time mostly but pretty sick fulltime. I had a fever and that made it really hot. Both of us had a permit and many bones by lunch at which I could not even take a bite and tried to sleep on the deck in the sun. After the other two ate we tried another spot and got a couple more bones. It became time to find the last fish in the slam again and off we went for tarpon.
I did not care much for a slam or even living near the end and Steve was the fisherman for much of rest of the day. We spent the rest of the afternoon back in the mangroves at full temp and no wind. He did find one fish and lost the thing after getting it to eat twice. I stood up for the last minutes but my heart was not in it. Ron, in the other boat was not feeling full up either and had few fish to show for the day. The ride home was truly miserable and I asked for the seat by the door that opened so I could get out if I got sick. When we arrived at the camp I went directly to bed at 6:30. One of the Colorado guys, Joel, who went south, spent the whole day barfing his guts out, which I wish I had done to get rid of my load. At dinner both my roommate and Ron did little eating. Only Unk and Ward ate from a big Mexican buffet Alex laid out. George, who wisely stayed home was recovering.
The rap on the door at 0605 found me barely alive. I was up most of the night and had alternating chills and fever and slept in a pool of sweat. Steve was sitting on his bed asking for a bucket to barf in.
Ron next door was down for feeling not all that good and the second guy from Colorado was sick as a dog. None of the four of us were going fishing this day. Three guys went in single boats, Unk south and the other two north. Alex said he had to leave to do errands for the day and would have some chicken and rice made for lunch for us if we cared to eat. The generators went off as scheduled daily and it started getting warm for us confined to beds. A sea breeze helped but our room started filling with flies. First the pesky black ones came. They only took little chunks out of you but could not be killed with a hand or hat. Then came the small mangrove "deer" flies. These land softly and eat a bigger hunk. I am allergic to the bigger somewhat so I swelled up when bitten. Sleep was pretty much out of the question unless covered totally by a sheet then the sweat lake started filling around you. Steve fought a good fight as the flies liked his hairless body better than my hairy one. He killed many, many deer flies thus saving our lives. Lunch, was pretty good but only make me sick again. Alex checked in on us later but did not turn on the AC before the normal 5 PM, making for a pretty bad afternoon. By this time I had turned into a brown water dispenser and could not get far from the toilet. Dinner was a non-starter. I took one bite and went to console with my bathroom. It was not a good night, but better once the room cooled off after midnight and the flies had eaten all they could hold.
Fishing wise, Unk had a good day and still felt good. He did come home in a taxi as they had a flat tire and one lug nut was to buggered up they could not get it off. So far six of the seven of us were sick. The first Colorado guy still felt weak but managed to catch a slam while spending most of his day sitting and waiting for the guide to tell him when fish were coming so he could get up and throw at them. That worked well for him and raised his spirits if not his appetite.
I felt a bunch better but still having to close relationship with the toilet. A little breakfast did not make me sick so I worked it out to go with Unk to the south to have a truck with air and with only one boat going we could come home if I could not hack it. At truck mount up time, Alex changed it up so two boats would go to the lakes and two would go north. The tire failed truck was no back yet. So, the long hot drive north for my third time was on with a brown water problem and no option to come home early.
Unk and I fished for tarpon most of the day and saw a few and jumped a couple. George, in the other boat, fished for permit and tossed at a few with no luck either. The "catch of day" was me dealing with the local fishermen for ten kilos of crabs. I was after blue crabs but they only had fresh monster stone crabs to sell. I tried to act like they would "just do" but they saw me salivating and drove a hard bargain. I started out at 30 pesos a kilo and ended up paying just about that with "Gringo" special pricing. The special thing was the weight measurement system. The fisherman put two crabs (whole but cleaned) in a bag and bounced them up and down. He then handed them to the guide, helping me make the deal. They agreed it was two kilos and then handed it to the fisherman's wife who frowned but agreed. From there they gave it to the grandfather who declared it three which became the true number. They then tossed four more in and declared the weight at nine. I protested that the new ones were not as big. Granddad decided it was really seven after all three others had called it nine. With six in there I needed two more for the fishermen and Alex so they added two more. It was called ten kilos after much fanfare and the price was going to be 280 total. Then like a pitchman, granddad tossed the last two in and said I could have them all for 300. I was getting tired of holding the bag and paid up. After the two hours home I handed them to Alex for a special treat for the lodge. He would not serve them until the following day and wanted to put them in the freezer and cook tomorrow. I had reservations and asked him to cook them first now. He agreed. I did not really trust refrigerators that were off ten hours a day.
Dinner was chicken and I managed half of it after not eating lunch. The sandwich sent with us had lettuce and tomato in it and I was not going to take a chance on such again on this trip. The guys that went to the lake had five or six tarpon with blind casting all day. The other boat with the Colorado professors did the same trick of casting in a second lake without seeing a fish. The lakes were very red wine colored from recent rains and held no allure for me. I am not a patient blind caster.
I stuck to a little cereal and held it down although still slightly "loose" in the elimination system. Unk and I teamed up on this windy day and got Alex's van and went south as a single boat like we tried to do yesterday. The Colorado guys went north with George to the bay up that way and the other two dodged the wind and went back to lake that produced the tarpon for them the day before. Finally, everybody was mostly over the sickness.
Unk and I had a pretty nice day of it as we both have little trouble with wind and it helped keep the heat at bay. Up to noon, starting about nine, we had a series of shots at bones catching a few each. Nothing was big and we were really fishing for permit and taking bones when they showed up in the slightly deeper water. The first time I was up a fair sized barracuda paralleled us about thirty feet out. Unk handed me my big rod with a big steamer and leader for such a monster (wire). One cast out past his distance and off to his left side and then a strip back to see if he wanted something like that and he started at the fly. I slowed just a little and then stripped like a bandit. That turned him into a silver and green streak and it would not have mattered what speed I could get it moving, he had it. I set; he departed the scene with my reel screaming. I finally had something take me into the backing. At about 250 feet in front of us he did one big monster jump getting a couple meters up. That was it; he let me reel him back to us. Natcho, our guide, started talking about the meal his family would have off this one and Unk, seeing Natcho was not coming down from the platform, was realizing he was going to have to land this toothy guy. When I had the fish ten feet off my rod tip coming back to the boat the guy changed heading and my hook slipped free. Natcho gasped, Unk sighed and I was happy for the fish. He had done all I asked of him. I sat down. We figure him at about 20 pounds but the height of the jump and size reached epic proportions by the end of the evening.
Just before lunch I was up again and along came a herd of small permit. They swirled around us at about thirty feet and my fly languished among them several times with no interest at all. They were being perfectly "permit."
Lunch had green stuff in it and went over the side again before eating. Chips and cookies worked.
The PM we spent out in pretty deep water with one pass near an island. The wind was up and the guide really worked hard. Unk volunteered to fish in the rough water as my knee did not do well with the rocking. He picked a nice sized bone off a flat near the island. We each caught small fish out of mud clouds thinking big ones had been seen in them. Our last run out in the deep water and full wind had Unk up when the big permits showed up. He got several good shots without making them bolt and the fish played permit almost perfectly again. A couple did follow the fly but no hook ups. Home we went leaving happy fish still on the flats.
The crabs were a big hit, and were followed by a bit of ham I gladly did not need after the appetizer.
Alex announced the departure time for the following morning. His plan would have us arrive at the airport between an hour and an hour and a half before the first two guy's flights. We protested as that was pushing us and there was no room for any minor glitch. Alex was adamant that was the time we needed. We continued to protest. In a huff he called and changed the departure van schedule adding an hour for us pussies.
In retrospect, his schedule might have worked. It was off season and the lines were short early. We had time to have some food for lunch, shop for our wives and keep our heart rate normal. I did not understand why it was such a hard fight over that.
With all my bitching, it was what it was supposed to be; lots of fish and no pressure from other boats. It is the best place I know to have permit shots and takes. Our crowd had seven of them and two of us had two. It was also hot and I don't think the lodge can make it really comfortable for some, especially sick folks. The trucks going north really need to have some AC! The fish are small but with the locals using nets everywhere, the fish get to the size of the gill openings and are stopped from getting bigger. An observation I made on our last trip will always stand, you spend almost as much time in a car seat as you do in a boat. My totals, counting the trips to and from the airport were 31 hours in a boat, in five fishing days and 27 hours in a truck or van. If the lakes were open that would have been a little different. The guides are excellent without exception. Lodge rooms were clean but marginal with the ability to keep cool enough to get to sleep tough. [Opening the windows (with screens) and the door (without) let the room fill with flies, two kinds that both bite] Our bathroom was clean but the overwhelming sewer smell enhanced my frequent visits greatly. There are no reading lights just weak overhead lights on the fans. The food was hard for me to judge. It was fine the first two days but it made us sick and then the rest of the days were a wash out for me. I surely will not return during hot weather and, come to think of it, probably not at all. I have never had a lodge make me sick, in the couple dozen trips I've taken over fifteen years, and never has a lodge made me be a bad companion to my friends.
|The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect the opinion of FAOL.|