June 28, 2013

U betta Belize it! 2013 (Day 4)

I would take the first water taxi out of Tobacco Caye at 9am. Before leaving, I tried one last time for some of the smaller reef species. With only an hour in the early morning, I certainly did try hard. I had one of the Blackbar Soldierfish bit and spat again. They just didn't want to hold onto the squid! I saw a couple of small Puddingwife Wrasse but even the tanago hook was too big for these juveniles. The only thing that committed was strangely a Mantis Shrimp.

Originally, my outbound flight from Dangriga was booked for 14:15. But there were only a 9am outbound water taxi, so I had to leave early and try to arrange earlier flights. Back at the dock in Dangriga, I saw some cichlids by the shore. These were definitely a new species (if not a couple of new species). However, it was a very busy day in Dangriga and the local crowds hanging by the dock did not look too friendly. I didn't feel safe enough to open up my luggage on the street to dig out a rod and fish for these cichlids. Next time...these fish isn't going to go anywhere.

I got to the airport and just missed the 10:04 flight by a couple of minutes! Darn! The next flight was at 12:30 and there were seats. So my itinerary was adjusted and I flew to Belize City Municipal Airport (TZA) by 12:45, then another flight from TZA to Caye Caulker at 13:15.

On Caye Caulker, golf carts were the most common vehicles. Taxis were golf carts with green license plates. A ride is usually US$5, so instead of walking 10 minutes with my luggage down a gravel street full of potholes, I decided on the taxi ride.

This was my home for the next few days. It was a very fun hostel that was well managed and safe. Susanne was the owner and she was there most of the time. She lives on the very top floor. There was a night guard every night and there was set quiet hours as well as a "Guest Only" rule. I had 2 nights in the dorm room and then 2 nights in private room. I wanted the private room since I would not want to disturb any potential roommates with my early morning or late night fishing schedule.

As soon as I got there, I heard "KEN!"

Well, there he was...my species hunting bro Eli! It was good to see him again. We've been chatting for the last 6-7 years online about species hunting and fishing in general. Last summer was the first time we fished together and we only fished for one day together. I credit this Belize trip to Eli since he initiated the idea. Eli was visiting Belize for a dental internship to provide dental care to some residents on a volunteering basis. Since he was around Caye Caulker, I decided to follow him to Belize.

After settling down, Eli and I walked around to check things out. There were lots of docks on the eastern side of Caye Caulker. These docks were situated on a huge seagrass flats. Often, the seagrass had patches of sand beside the docks or natural pockets. Eli said he had seen bonefish hanging around these sand patches. While we checked from dock to dock, a 3lb bonefish came cruising by and my eyes almost popped out! But...it would be a few more days later that I finally locate some bonefish with consistency.

Seeing that bonefish was enough for me. Eli wanted to check out some docks and areas on the western side of the island where there were many more mangroves. So we grabbed a couple of rods and set off hunting.

We walked all the way to the Split and started at the first dock we come across. This dock was behind a very nice hotel and it looked private...but we decided to check it out anyways.

Wouldn't you know it...I spotted something that looked way to symmetrical and it looked like some kind of skate. A closer looked revealed it was a Shortnose Batfish! This was one fish that is high on my target list and I was very excited.

And as fate would have it, one of the hotel staff came by to tell us it was a private dock. We begged him to just give us a few minutes to just catch that one special fish and we'd be on our way, never to fish there again. He agreed and I quickly tied on a #8 mosquito hook, pinched on a splitshot, and put on a chunk of shrimp.

Just like on Tobabbo Caye, the bait thieves were ravenous. But here on Tobacco Caye, they were Mojarra species, small Schoolmaster Snapper, Grunt species and A LOT OF Sergeant Major and other damselfish. It was difficult dropping the bait in front of the batfish...but finally the batfish took notices, made some kind of body gesture to claim his territory and vacuumed up the piece of shrimp with lightning speed!

I waited a second before setting the hook. On the hookset, I lifted the fish off bottom...and the the dreadful pop! I don't know how the hook didn't set...but it came out like the fish just opened its mouth and let go of the bait.

The situation cannot get more frustrating since a boat was now docking right on top of the batfish and we were now asked to leave. The boat came in and muddied up the water anyways. That batfish will haunt me for a very, very long time.

We kept checking some docks and thought we saw some Yellowtail Damselfish. We decided to try for the the next day.

Stopping at this little dock, we found a spot where people cleaned lobsters. You wouldn't Belize the number of bonefish holding right by the pile of lobster carapaces!!! There were easily 20 bonefish all around 2-5lbs. Some of them even picked up an entire carapace and swim away with it while sucking out the flesh!

I've yet to catch a bonefish in the Atlantic. It certainly would be a new species of bonefish for me. I rigged up with a 1/16oz jig head, 8lb fluorocarbon leader and put on a chunk of shrimp. They bonefish were very picky for the lobster and they seemed to ignore my shrimp. It also didn't help that snappers, grunts and mojarras were picking up my shrimp if they sit in one spot for too long.

After sorting through a few unwanted fish, a bonefish finally picked up my shrimp, swam with the jig for a short distance, and spat it before I could set the hook. Hm! I had a couple more suck-and-spit. Eli said maybe they could feel the weight of the jig so he suggested I should just free line a piece of shrimp. I tried that and the bonefish were still spitting out the shrimp. These fish ONLY wanted lobster!

I joked about buying a lobster tail just to catch these darn fish. Funny as it may, a local kid came to the dock with a fly rod. His name was Harrison and he lived just around the corner. His family cleaned the lobster and he offered a small lobster tail for us to use as bait. I was very, very tempted...but it just didn't feel right taking a lobster tail from his family only to use it as bait. These tails were worth a lot to them.

We were losing light fast so Eli and I decided to move on and maybe try again the next day.

We walked back to the main street and the Lobster Fest was on full swing. Today was the first day and there were already a lot of people. We picked a street side stand selling grilled lobster (US$12) and chicken (US$6) and got dinner. Eli treated me last time to lunch in San Diego...so there was no way he was treating me again this meal!

While taking to Harrison, he said you could catch Mutton Snapper (locally known as Red Snapper) from a dock close to the hostel. So after dinner, we decided to check it out.

The night bite was surprisingly very slow. Maybe we were fishing on the wrong dock. There were some small Lane Snapper, Mangrove Snapper, ample amount of Yellowfin Mojarra and some grunts. Even though Yellowfin Mojarra were not our targets, they do pull hard and it is usually pretty fun.

Eli caught a good number of Ballyhoo and had them frozen for bait. We chucked out chunks of ballyhoo but nothing picked them up. We didn't fish too late this night, since we were planning to wake up at 3am to hit the Split. There were tarpon waiting.

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