Anglers of the Caribbean, Part I: the $75 charter experience

Fishing writer Jordan Rodriguez shows off the bonefish he caught in Belize.
Fishing writer Jordan Rodriguez shows off the bonefish he caught in Belize.

My wife Anna and I recently enjoyed a weeklong adventure in beautiful Belize. We stayed at an island resort, snorkeled on the world’s second-largest barrier reef, visited ancient Mayan ruins and, in general, had the time of our lives.

But this is a fishing column, so I’ll get right to the good stuff.

On previous vacations I’ve paid for fishing charters, with varying degrees of success. Anna caught a nice mahi-mahi in Hawaii and we tangled with some feisty sharks off the coast of Mexico. But charters are expensive, and we’ve yet to have one of those “fish of a lifetime” days that would justify the cost.

So this time, I decided to go it alone.

I bought a telescoping rod and a cheap reel. I didn’t want the saltwater to ruin my nice ones. Local tackle shops don’t exactly have saltwater sections, so buying lures was mostly guesswork. I threw a handful of jigs, spoons, swimbaits and bait hooks into a small tackle box, and I was ready to roll — all at less than 10 percent of the cost of booking a charter.

On our first full day in Belize, I set my alarm for 5 a.m. The sun was already up, and the aquamarine Caribbean looked eager to reveal its secrets. I tied on a white, soft plastic squid stuffed with a  3/8-ounce jig head and casted off the pier.

One jig. Two jigs. Three jigs. BOOM! A savage hit doubled my rod over. And then it was gone. I reeled in to find my 15-pound line completely sawed through. A barracuda — or something with serious teeth — must have been the culprit. The good news was the squid worked. The bad news? I hadn’t brought any wire leaders.

Ocean 1, Me 0.

I tied back on and kept fishing. A cast or two later, I set the hook on my first Belizean catch — a noisy, blue-and-yellow striped French grunt. Back in he went, and he must have rang the dinner bell, because just about every cast for the next hour yielded a fish. Red snapper. Yellowtail. Crevalle jack. Striped grunt. Mutton snapper. Even a toothy needlefish. None were particularly big, but they fought hard and, most importantly, they loved that squid!

In the afternoon, I returned to the pier and caught some bigger snappers, which I cleaned and asked the kitchen to cook for our dinner. “No problem,” came the response — a popular phrase on the islands.

Anna and I snorkeled and then took a hike around the island, spotting iguanas, anoles and crabs. But when she turned in for a catnap, I grabbed my gear and hit the beach right in front of our cabana.

I waded in waist-deep and threw my trusty squid. One jig. Two jigs. Three jigs. BOOM! And this fish felt different.

My drag sizzled as the fish powered through the surf. Finally, after six or seven runs, the tuckered-out fish revealed its identity. To my delight, it was a bonefish! These streamlined beauties are one of the world’s most sought-after sportfish, and now I know why. A two-pound bonefish — decent sized, but by no means a monster — gave me better fight than any freshwater fish I’ve ever tangled with.

Day One was a big success, but my do-it-yourself Belizean fishing trip was only beginning. What would tomorrow hold? I couldn’t wait to find out.

Tight lines!

Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing Idaho waters since he was a teen. Share your fish stories, adventures, tips and tricks at outdoors

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