Fishing Article

Belize Reopening: The Places We Find Home


This article was published at Republished here with permission.

“I grew up in a strictly DIY fishing household. We built our own boats (wooden drift boats for the big rivers of the American West), childhood craft sessions involved Merkin crabs that looked little like the original pattern, and many of my early childhood memories happened on the water. The idea of paying money to stay at a fishing lodge was something that I, a rural kid growing up in Montana, could hardly fathom.”

Fast forward three decades and a plethora of miles later, and I’m sitting at the Grand Slam Bar at Belize’s El Pescador Lodge, sipping a Belikin while editing images from the day’s fishing. I’m hot and tired, but the beer is cold and the images populating Lightroom make me smile. A freshly-arrived angler strikes up conversation and we chat. It’s the typical fishing lodge conversation: How was your trip in? How’s the fishing been? Yeah, we just missed that hurricane, didn’t we? 2020’s been a beast, yeah?

And then he says something about El Pescador—I don’t even remember what it is—and I, focused on a particularly compelling image of one of the day’s tarpon on my screen, answer back distractedly:
“Yeah, it’s nice to come home now and then, isn’t it?”

“Home has become
places like El Pescador,
where Mariano serves
cold beers and ceviche”

The words stop me short, and after a moment I grin at the other angler. It’s true. Some places, even though they’re far, far removed from our postal address, are home. I keep a little apartment in Montana, but it’s not home. Not anymore. Home has become places like El Pescador, where Mariano serves cold beers and ceviche with a smile and Dunia brings out coffee and a breakfast burrito to the rod rack every morning with a smile, knowing I’ll not put the camera down to eat breakfast. Home is sitting in the bar after a long day on the flats, or the sandy boards of the dock under my bare feet as I run out to shoot images of the guides arriving for the morning.

Home is airport terminals and window seats on small island-hopper planes. It’s the tropic humidity in the air and a travel-worn camera in my hand.

Home is seeing a stranger with a rod tube at the airport and thinking, “Hey, I know what you’re about.”

2020 has been a hell of a year. For those of us who rely on travel to make a living (like many of you reading this, I imagine) it’s been something that wasn’t in our business plans. (If it was, call me. I’ll buy you a drink.) The world sealed up, and while we’re slowly seeing parts of it open again, it’s going to be a slow road.

We’re finding ways to adapt. It’s what we, as anglers, do.

After being stuck stateside for longer than I ever have been in my adult life, stepping off the plane in Belize the second day the country reopened for international travel in October felt good. Despite the logistics hoops, the COVID tests, the long health screenings, and the ever-present masks, stepping off a plane onto foreign soil felt oddly like coming home. It was a feeling that was only multiplied when I arrived at El Pescador, immediately kicked off my shoes and, camera in hand, headed out to the dock.

Home is what you make of it. The last year, we’ve all been sharply reminded of that fact. And I’ll relish every opportunity I have to travel home—to waters around the world that have become home—more than ever before. Working out of fishing lodges around the world has introduced me to a cadre of the most exceptional people I could hope to meet; friendships melded by a shared interest: the fish we seek.

“After nearly seven
months of being closed”

Here are a few scenes from the first week of Belize’s reopening, after nearly seven months of being closed due to COVID-19. We had a small, savvy crew of anglers at the lodge, who quickly became fast friends as we navigated this strange new world together: daily temperature checks and health screenings, masks in public places, and a new process at the airport. In true 2020 fashion, we weathered one tropical depression and narrowly missed a Category 4 hurricane. Wind, rain, and challenging conditions met us most days on the flats.

But we didn’t care. For many of us, we were home!