El Pescador, Belize, 2010

Bonefish, tarpon, and permit. The big three. The flats grand slam. The pinnacle of many anglers’ fishing career. That is one reason anglers travel to Belize to chase these great gamefish on the flats. Another reason is that there are a lot of all three species. And as many of you already know, last year Belize passed legislation that designated bonefish, tarpon, and permit as ‘Catch and Release only’, taking a good step toward ensuring this important fishery remains healthy into the future.

The problem is that for the uninitiated, or those who have experienced the flats only through TV, books, or magazines, once anglers experience these habitats and great gamefish for the first time, an addiction is likely to take hold.  In 2009, Orvis Travel organized the first Belize Bonefish Rendezvous to create or enhance the addiction of anglers to the flats, to benefit BTT, to educate anglers about conservation, and to help out with bonefish research in Belize. This first Rendezvous took place in April 2010, and involved two back-to-back groups – the 12 Rendezvous anglers and, arriving the day the Rendezvous crew departed, 14 members of the Bonefish Bonnies fishing club.  It can be stated with 100% certainty that all anglers caught fish, learned a lot, and had a fantastic time.

One of the nice things about these Traveling Angler trips is that all who attend benefit, as does the hosting lodge. The anglers learn all the latest on bonefish, tarpon, and permit research in evening presentations that are given during the week. It’s great to see angler’s eyes light up as they learn all that we’ve learned about these species, and to see their concern when they realize how far we are from knowing enough to ensure conservation of these fisheries. The anglers help to inject new energy into the research and conservation process by enthusiastically taking part in research (and re-energizing the guides at the same time). And the lodges appreciate the new energy and take pleasure in seeing ‘the look’ in the eyes of newly addicted flats anglers. They’ll be back. 

It’s also great to interact with the guides – they get to see the same presentations given to the anglers, though typically at a different time. This is so we can get into a bit more technical discussion than interests most anglers. The guides are genuinely appreciative of learning the latest on BTT’s research, see the need for the research we are funding, and provide some great feedback. In fact, some of the guide feedback during these discussions has greatly assisted research projects.

One of the greatest benefits coming from the presentations to guides and anglers was a better recognition of the proper practices handling fish for catch and release.  This is a big bonus.

El Pescador is helping out by working to tag 2,000 bonefish over the next few years. In the Rendezvous week, anglers tagged more than 60 bonefish and completed the dozen fin clip kits we’d taken on the trip.  At that rate, 2,000 bonefish would be tagged within a year! We know that rate of tagging won’t continue, but it’s a great start.

During the week, an angler taking his first saltwater trip (though he is an experienced angler in some ‘big’ freshwater) landed his first tarpon, bonefish, and permit, and missed a grand slam by the slimmest of margins. What a start to a saltwater fishing career (by the end of the trip it was obvious he was addicted). Another angler was bitten by the permit bug in a very bad way. She took on the challenge of catching her first permit on the fly, and beat that drum every day. Finally, on the last day of her trip, she landed her first permit on fly. And like a true permit angler, she didn’t consider that an end of a quest, but the beginning of a new pursuit. With the information she gained during the week, we know she’ll be a conservation-minded angler.

Thanks to El Pescador and Orvis for organizing a great trip and supporting BTT.