I recently embarked on a fly fishing adventure…. and not quite the normal adventure I have on fly fishing trips. This had a whole new set of challenges, many of which I have never encountered. No, it was not getting into some far flung area of the globe, or some whole area of technique I was not familiar with. I have been trying to ascertain what it is I really love about our sport of fly fishing and I think I have it. It’s sharing knowledge. Like any passion you have, learning new and exciting techniques, travelling to new places to fish, it’s the sharing of that knowledge with others that I get such a big kick out of. Last year it dawned on me that the ones I needed to share that knowledge with most are the next generation and those closest to me…. my own children. The number of times they have watched me pack my gear as I set off on another fly fishing expedition is countless, always accompanied by
“No, I am sorry, you can’t come yet as you are too young.” Well, at seven and ten years old I realised the answer should now be yes. I have obviously taken them fishing many times here in the UK, on the rivers and lakes and both of them have always been keen. I have always been very careful not to push it on them, or make them stay longer than they really wanted in case it had a negative effect rather than positive. I had never however taken them on a full on international fishing trip and with the youngest at seven, I figured the time was nigh. Thomas, my oldest, has always been fascinated with tales of bonefish and saltwater species and as they both thrive in that tropical environment that seemed to be the best option. My wife Elisabeth has always loved bonefishing anyway, so this seemed to be the best choice for a family fishing adventure. The next question was where? As this is something I do on a daily basis for a living you would have thought that would have been an easy, but it did take some thought. It then hit me that the obvious choice was Turneffe Atoll in Belize. Why? That is where I caught my first bonefish with my family, a trip that I have NEVER forgotten. It would complete the circle and I began making the arrangements.
One evening last Autumn after dinner, I switched off their usual YouTube viewing, flipped it over to the Aardvark McLeod YouTube channel and put on a video of Turneffe Flats Lodge in Belize. The two of them watched the whole thing through, captivated by the location, beaches, bonefishing and running around in flats skiffs. When the questions subsided I hit them with the news we were going there in August the following year and small riot of excitement ensued. This was the reaction I was hoping for as I laid out a programme of preparation, casting practice and kit acquisition.
Over the next six months a continuous stream of fishing kit began to stack up in the sitting room. I acquired them both a Hardy Demon Saltwater 7# set up and matching Hardy SDSL 8000 reels and we would spend a few hours on a Sunday practicing casting in the park. Slowly but surely they developed some reasonable casting skills, with Thomas beginning to double haul after studying “Lefty Kreh’s Longer Distance Fly Casting”. I embellished this by grabbing the end of the line and mimicking bonefish runs so they would feel comfortable with pressure and retrieve, along with some tips on obstacle avoidance. Finally, August was upon us, bags were packed and the ten month period of preparation was over. I felt a deep excitement.
Our journey began with a flight to Miami, the discovery of pancakes and bacon, the Miami Sequarium, South Beach and the sun setting over Biscayne Bay. We then flew down to Belize City where I had a small surprise for the family. Rather than the 90 minute boat journey out to the Atoll I had substituted a helicopter transfer. As none of them had ever travelled by helicopter this was a whole new experience and level of excitement. As we flew over Belize City and over the outer cays, Turneffe Atoll hove into view giving them an incredible perspective of where we were going and the remoteness of where we were.
Having settled into the new Pelican Villa, one of their family apartments, we looked out across home flat in front of us and I immediately began looking for fish… what can I say, I just can’t help it! Both Elisabeth and I had agreed that we would take them out fishing every morning until such time as they had had enough and then return to snorkel, swim, relax and enjoy the island. We would alternate between them and fish close together so we could share the experience as a family.
The first morning we ran north in the flats boats to one of the last cays on the atoll, Mauger Cay, where our guides, Dubs and Alton, knew a large school of bonefish lurked in what is known as a mud. This is deeper water where huge number of bones congregate and feed. It was the perfect spot for both children to get off the mark and hook some fish, figure out what it was all about and practice some of the skills that they had learnt. It did not take long and in short order both of them were cradling their very first bonefish after huge excitement. For me this was quite special and took me back to my first bonefish 20 years previously. Thomas and Grace proceeded to land over 20 fish in a couple of hours. I was not sure which they enjoyed more; the fishing or the speed of the flats skiffs!
The following day I graduated them from the muds and onto the actual flats around the coral reef. The big open flats areas stemmed from channels near the mangroves, up over the turtle grass to the rough broken coral areas of the reef itself. Barracuda could be found patrolling the deeper edges and hanging in white holes looking for an easy meal. Way up in the skinniest water, often amongst the broken coral were large schools of bonefish, often tailing or showing their backs. This is not the easiest environment to hook and land bonefish and certainly presented a challenge, one my son certainly relished. Thomas had already flipped into predator mode, and with the help of his guide Dubs, was more than capable of sneaking up around the back of these fish and presenting a tiny bonefish bitters on a long leader.
I watched him stalk down to some tailing fish and was very proud to see him throw a lovely loop that stopped above the fish and then gently drop to one side. The rod tip went down, twitch, twitch and strip set! He was into a lovely 3 lbs plus fish that streaked off across the flat like a silver bullet as the rest of the school exploded in panic. Dubs was clapping his hands and clasping his shoulder like a proud uncle. Thomas weaved the fish in and out of the sharp coral before it was brought safely to hand and a beaming grin. Seeing this vista unfold was not the highlight for me, it was watching the expressions on his face. I saw the mixed emotions of concentration, surprise, nervousness and utter elation appear on his features. I could see a passion ignite that might one day equal my own. He was hooked, no doubt about it.
Grace too was enjoying the experience, although at only seven she was struggling with casting in the wind. She was more than content to stick close, participate in the stalk and then take over once the fish was hooked. The first fish that I hooked on the edge for her was not massive, between two and three pounds. As I checked the drag and handed over the rod it took off and very quickly she watched the backing start heading out across the flat. The vague look of terror was replaced with grim determination, and slowly but surely, she started to make ground. After what seemed like an age and a couple more blistering runs, the leader was in sight and I could see the fish. Sliding across the flat about five feet behind it was a massive barracuda which obviously was reckoning on an easy meal. I charged towards it, flailing and splashing as I ran and sandwiched myself between it and the bonefish. I knew murder would ensue if Grace lost that fish after all the hard work she had put in. Luck was on our side, the barracuda backed away and soon we had it to hand.
The week progressed and both Thomas and Grace found their feet. Alton had been a marine researcher at one of the stations on Turneffe for fifteen years, so as soon as Grace had had enough he would take her by the hand across the coral and show her the flora and fauna inhabiting the flats and coral rock pools. Dragon snails, urchins, gobys and crabs kept her captivated. The snorkelling and diving at Turneffe Atoll is phenomenal, so we kept snorkelling kit in the focsuls of the skiffs. When the children had had their fill of wading the flats and chasing tails, the guides would take us to a suitable spot and then we would all snorkel together as a family under their watchful eye. Alton came into his own here as he could point out particular items of interest that the untrained eye would not see, such as a sleeping nurse shark tucked under and overhang (harmless!), lobster, grumpy octopus or particular species of crab. This allowed Thomas and Grace to experience a world they don’t normally see and learn more about white lies beneath the water they had spent so much time gazing into. Afternoons were spent lazing by the pool, sea kayaking around home flat, husking coconuts or just chilling under a palapa. Time slipped away into island life and early beds after tiring days.
On the last day the guides took us south to a stunning area called Calabash Cay, a huge shallow flat with mangrove islands and the ocean sipping over the edge of the reef. On arrival we could already see the glint of silvery tails in the waves and I felt my pulse quicken. After a short while the children announced they were tired (it had been a long week!) so we built them a den on one of the skiffs from the mooring rope and some towels and left them to it. They would be in sight wherever we were, so Elisabeth and I had the chance to spend some time fishing ourselves with the guides. I found some fish tailing against the pilings of a long since disappeared dock and managed to land one. Elisabeth hooked up but sadly was coral cut. There is something truly magical about hunting bonefish in really skinny water; the tails give away their position but also their mood. Stealth, long leaders, small flies and accurate casting are required, but the rewards are huge. On the return ride to the lodge the guides allowed them to hold the tiller of the motor which I suspect blew their minds.
Sadly the journey had come to an end and it was time to leave this island paradise. For Thomas and Grace, this journey to the other side of the world gave them countless new experiences which will broaden their horizons as they grow. It has brought them closer together as siblings and us as a family through shared experience. I am sure, like myself and my wife, this trip will remain carved in their memory for the rest of their lives.
Fact Box – Family Fishing Trips
There are a few things I have learnt about putting together trips for families over the years, especially those involving children. If you want children to engage with fishing they must catch fish pretty quickly, especially the first time out or they lose interest fast. Bonefishing trips work well as its visual and the beach environment is always a hit, even without fishing. With that in mind destination such as Belize, Mexico, the Bahamas or the Seychelles are excellent. Plenty of fish, experienced, patient guides and comfortable well established accommodation take the stress out of it and will ensure they will get the most out of it. Turneffe Flats had the added benefit of phenomenal snorkelling in a safe environment.
If you are interested in travelling to this or any other destination within our portfolio why not contact Peter McLeod or call our office on +44(0)1980 847389.