Fishing the “Super Slam” on Catalina Island

Fly-Fishing-on-Catalina-Island

Catalina Island is all about fishing structure: Barracuda patrol the perimeter of it, yellowtail and bonito are over it, and calico bass are down deep in it. John G. Sherman Photo

The fly line cut the water’s surface like a blade in a surgeon’s hand—quick, clean, and precise. While the yellowtail moved with power and speed it created a mark of linear perfection, and easily burned 90 feet away from the boat without any signs of fatigue. Just a few yards away loomed a kelp forest—safe haven for the California yellowtail but a tangle of trouble for me. Keeping a smooth load on the fly rod, I arched the tip low and to my left to make the butt of my rod work against the fish, and pressure it toward open water.

The yellowtail turned back toward me and under the boat—I followed by driving my rod into the water. The game morphed. No more surface runs. Only deep-water grinds. It’s the kind of connection that tests your gear and your resolve. It’s about using your legs.
Protecting your back. Using short lifts and reeling back down.

These are lessons every trout fisherman has to learn on a jaunt to Catalina Island, and that’s just landing the fish. First you have to find them. Capt. Vaughn Podmore and I were fishing the east side of the island when I hooked that yellowtail. It’s a classic collection of coves, rocky cover, flats, deep shelves, and tremendous kelp forests.

Catalina’s shoreline environments present a world-class testing ground for all your skills. It’s a year-round fishery with four important gamefish:  California yellowtail, Pacific bonito, barracuda, and calico bass. Though each species has a premier window of opportunity, there’s plenty of overlap, including the chance at a “super slam” in the summer months.

Target a single species or play the blind grab-bag, it’s all there with enough exploration opportunities to last you a lifetime.

Fly-Fishing-for-Yellowtail-on-Catalina-Island

Of the four “super slam” species, California yellowtail are perhaps the most glamorous due to their large potential size and powerful fighting style. John G. Sherman photo

California Yellowtail
(Seriola lalandi dorsalis)

Without question this is one of my favorite gamefish. I’ve been blessed to experience yellowtail from New Zealand to Mexico, and the Catalina population plays second fiddle to nobody. These California yellowtail are robust, consistently accessible, and comprised of high-quality specimens. They’re sleek packages of electrifying muscle. In general the population is loaded with firecracker models from 2 to 7 pounds but there are more than enough 8- to 15-pound beauties around to keep it interesting. Yellowtail grow well beyond 70 pounds, so the potential maximum size becomes mind-boggling to fly rodders.

Yellowtail are kin to amberjacks and almaco jacks and they exhibit  the characteristic forked caudal fin, which looks like a large sickle. In contrast, their pectoral fins are quite short. The dorsal and anal fins are long and low in profile for dynamic streamlined efficiency.

They are a coastal inshore species and spend much of their time in relatively shallow water. Their migratory movement concentrates them around offshore island habitat. Catalina is a major waypoint in their migratory route that moves up Baja through Southern California. It’s a perfect combination of macro and micro habitat not just for yellowtail but also for prey species like sardines, anchovies, mackerel, squid, red pelagic crabs, and more.

The yellowtail migration usually begins to show itself in March and continues a slow build throughout spring, peaking in the summer when major schools inhabit the region through September.

Bonito-Fishing-on-Catalina-Island

Bonito are quick-hitting little tunas with huge appetites. They grow quickly through the summer, and peak in size in the fall before moving south. John G. Sherman photo

Pacific Bonito
(Sarda chiliensis)

Locally known as boneheads or bonita, they belong to the family of tuna and mackerel. While Pacific bonito inhabit a huge range from South America to the Pacific Northwest, the largest concentration is in the stretch from Baja through Southern California.

The Catalina Island population swells in the spring when migratory fish mix with resident populations. The population peaks in the summer but if you want to target the largest specimens, you’ll want to concentrate your efforts during the fall after the fish have a full summer of growing under their belts, and the population of smaller fish has thinned.

During the summer, you’ll be impressed with the blistering strength of mostly 2- through 6-pound bonito, which are the perfect introduction into the tuna world. They sport a similar body shape and have similar finlets. The blue/green metallic color scheme is accented with a series of prominent dark oblique stripes giving way to a white belly.
Bonito often frequent the same environs as yellowtail and feed on the same forage so every cast has the potential to surprise you.

California Barracuda
(Sphyraena argentea)

Imagine a fish shaped like a three-foot-long pipe. It’s long, round, and hard-hitting. You’ll hear local anglers refer to barracuda as stove pipes but let’s add a few critical elements. At the front end you need to envision a long tapering snout equipped with a set of large needlelike teeth. At the opposite end, a compact caudal fin. Though it doesn’t reach the overall size of the great barracuda, our California version still brings an impressive punch.

California barracuda habitually patrol the outer edges of kelp forests, and cruise atop shallow flats and reef structure. They feed mostly on smaller fish that stray from this shelter.
As a migratory group, the SoCal barracuda population travels between Southern Baja and Point Conception. The movement northward is during June, July, and August, and then reverses itself in the fall. Catalina is
positioned perfectly to experience peak action in June and July.

Most of the ’cudas are 3- to 6-pound fish. Anything over three feet is a trophy fish entering the realm of double-digit weight.

Catching-Calico-Bass-on-Catalina-Island

Calico bass are in the same family as groupers and sea bass, and they hunt and feed deep inside kelp beds and other structures in similar ways. John G. Sherman photo

Kelp Bass
(Paralabrax clathratus)

Scientific journals list them as kelp bass, but most anglers use the term calico bass or just “calicos.” It’s an excellent descriptor to the camouflage pattern on the back and sides of this gamefish, which is a cousin of sea bass and groupers.

All of the fish in this family are built like bulldozers. The chest is thick with a short caudal stalk that powers a substantial broomlike tail. These bass can turn on a dime and they love to live in, and power through heavy cover.

Being from the San Francisco Bay Area I was brought up fishing shallow reefs and kelp beds, and I’ve traveled from Southeast Alaska to Mexico to savor this game. Calico bass aren’t a bycatch, they are worth going after.

Unlike barracuda, yellowtail, and bonito, calicos are homebodies that are closely tied to reef habitat. Pinnacles, crevices, caves, and kelp forests are key to their survival. Getting your flies deep into these spots is essential to seeing more and larger calicos, but it’s also a zone that causes line and fly abrasion and entanglement. This is the realm for a mega tug of war. You fight tight to cover. You leverage and pry away from structure. You can’t fear the habitat, but sometimes it will break you.

The mouth structure of calicos allows them to capture most any edible item they want. Crustaceans big and small, a wide variety of fish, even baby octopi and squid are fair game for these bass. That’s a forage base built for year-round sustainability.

Catalina calicos range from 1 to 10 pounds or more. Pre-spawn activity gets rolling from March through May, and spawn takes place during the summer months. Both fall and winter provide fly fishers with access to some of the biggest specimens of the year.

Big-Rods-Required-for-Fishing-Catalina-Island

The small resort town of Avalon on Catalina Island has hotels, restaurants, guides, and boat rentals. John G. Sherman photo

Gearing Up
Both 8- and 10-weight rods have places for the variety of species around Catalina. The lighter rod is a match for bonito, calicos, barracuda, and firecracker yellowtail. The heavier outfit lets you handle larger fish and given the variety of sizes you’ll find there, I believe a 10-weight is the best all-around outfit.

Your line selection doesn’t have to be complicated. In the summer, use any tropical sinking-tip saltwater line or full intermediate line. Floating lines can produce occasionally, but sinking-tip and intermediate lines are better to defeat the coastal hydraulics, and get your flies down to the fish.

Straight leaders of 20-pound-test fluorocarbon monofilament 6 to 7 feet long are common. Tie a Bimini knot at the butt end to connect to your fly line. At the front of the leader, use a no-slip loop knot to connect to the fly. It’s not IGFA legal, but it’s simple and helps you land fish quickly. If you get into a bunch of small bonito, then 12- to 14-pound-test monofilament is fine.

For barracuda, use a RIO Products tippet ring at the end of the leader and then add another foot of 30-pound-test fluorocarbon as a bite tippet. Podmore believes California barracuda can be “wire shy” and prefers to merely replace the 30-pound tippet after each fish.

I know we all dig flies. We all carry way more than we need. It comes as a side effect of our fly-fishing addiction, but that’s another story.

You really only need three types of flies for Catalina Island: a Clouser-
style fly, a Deceiver-style fly, and a heavy streamer with pronounced jigging action. All these baitfish imitations are approximately 2 to 5 inches long on #1/0 and #2/0 hooks. Podmore’s versions of these are his own VP Anchovy, the Yak Hair Sardine (olive over white Deceiver), and the Lemon Head TJ Hooker. Drop in a few squid and pelagic red crab imitations and your collection is complete.

Another piece of essential gear is a large landing net. Using one maximizes your ability to control and manage each catch with minimal impact. This isn’t the place for “Shoulda, coulda, woulda.” If you’re a do-it-yourself fly fisher, bring your own net. It’s a game-changer.

Slicing-Up-Fishing-on-Catalina-Island

John G. Sherman photography

Travel Logistics
Catalina is close to Long Beach, Sunset Beach, and Newport Beach, and if you’ve got your own boat these are logical launch sites. The island is approximately 20 miles off the coast.

I recommend working with a local fly-fishing guide, but if that’s not your style, there are numerous DIY options.

The Catalina Express operates a public ferry service out of Long Beach. In the town of Avalon, you’ll be able to find lodging, food, entertainment, and boat rentals. Joe’s Rent A Boat offers small powered skiffs and kayaks.

Conservation and 
Adaptation
Back in 1999 California enacted the Marine Life Protection Act. The act created specially designated zones known as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) with different rules and regulations. In the Catalina Island region, there are now eight State Marine Conservation Areas plus one  State Marine Reserve that have undoubtedly helped preserve and in some cases restore the fish stocks in the area.

DIY anglers should be familiar with these restricted areas around Catalina. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has detailed information and maps available at wildlife.ca.gov.

It’s no secret that California has been in the grip of a major drought these past few years. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s caused fly fishers to undertake much soul searching on whether they should take another trip to their favorite (but suffering)  trout stream, or consider presenting flies to a wider variety of species in new territories. Looking west to the Pacific is a smart option during these drought cycle years.

The topography of the California coastline creates a region known as the Southern California Bight. It’s the dramatic curving coastal region from Point Conception down to San Diego and includes Catalina Island. The bight has its own major currents, topography, and wind.

Here’s how Alexa Johnson and the Catalina Island Conservancy describe the impact of the currents moving within the Bight. “Just south of San Diego, some of the water from the California Current swings back toward the coast and travels north up the shoreline, creating a small counterclockwise whirlpool around the Channel Islands. This countercurrent, called an eddy, creates a complex and diverse system of environmental conditions. The influence of both the cold California Current and warm Southern California Countercurrent around the Channel Islands allows for some of the richest marine diversity on the planet.”

This countercurrent marine ecosystem has an immense biomass of phytoplankton. Historically, it’s always  been productive, but the past two years have been phenomenal.

It’s hard to say if drought conditions on the mainland have contributed
to outstanding ocean conditions, or if the Marine Protection Act is starting to pay major dividends, but it all adds up to an outstanding fishery not many fly fishers know about or take advantage of. Whatever the reasons, the Catalina Island fishery  is now bursting with opportunity. It couldn’t come at a better time.

Ken Hanley is a native Californian, a fly tier, and a licensed guide.

Local Contacts 

Fly Guides

Saltyfly Guide Service
Captain Vaughn Podmore
714-235-7715
[email protected]

FlyTime Guide Service
Captain Bill Matthews
310-924-1359
[email protected]

Boat Rentals

Joe’s Rent A Boat
Avalon Pleasure Pier, Catalina Island
310-510-0455

Ferry Service

Catalina Express
800-481-3470

The post Fishing the “Super Slam” on Catalina Island appeared first on Fly Fisherman.

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Low-Impact Permit Fishing

Permit Fishing

©Earl Harper

In May 2007 Lincoln Westby used weathered, sun-bleached lumber to post signs at both ends of a 2-mile-long flat near Channel Caye, Belize, with the words “no wading” scrawled on them. The signs were at a place called Permit Alley—a collection of submerged turtle grass and coral shallows where Westby himself had walked and poled for more than 20 years.

For those who don’t know Westby, it would seem that such an audacious directive could only come from a naïve foreign investor, or some dictatorial property owner who didn’t want interlopers fishing in “his” spot.

In reality, the signs were an open invitation to learn what Westby learned the hard way—that resident flats fish can be trained by aversion. Through decades of firsthand observation, Westby realized that fishermen can modify the behavior of flats fish like permit merely by standing or walking in shallow water. If a permit goes to a specific flat to feed two days in a row, and runs into a strange pair of legs and tentacle arms thrashing the water, it won’t likely try to feed there on the third day. That fish will find other, quieter, safer places to feed, and over time, other permit will learn the same lessons. Within the span of a few years, a productive flat can become a “no fly zone” for large resident permit.

Westby believes that fly fishing for permit is akin to hunting. A hunter who wants to scout for whitetails before the season opens doesn’t drive his truck along the edges of the cornfield at sunrise, looking for deer. He might well see the trophy he’s been looking for, but his presence can (or will) change how that animal behaves.

A skilled hunter, even while scouting, walks quietly and watches the patterns unfold without interacting, and slips away without being noticed. A hunter doesn’t change the behavior of his quarry until that pinnacle moment when he takes his shot.

More important (perhaps) than the psychological effect fishermen have on the fish is each damaging, crunchy step across fragile coral and grass flats. Sand flats are mostly inert, but every inch of a coral flat is alive until with urchins, crabs, worms, shrimp. And the coral itself compresses and dies with each step.

The oceans are vast, but coral flats like the one Westby posted with “no wading” signs are rare microcosms that draw permit from deep water to feed. Westby has seen these kinds of flats literally stomped to death by the feet of people who love them. His signs were never meant to insinuate ownership, or control, they were his way of saying “maybe we should talk about this.”

Permit Fishing

©Earl Harper

 

A Life on the Sea
Lincoln Westby was born in January  1941 in Belize City. His father, Aldin Westby, was a lighthouse keeper at Lighthouse Reef and later Turneffe Island, so Lincoln began his long life on the ocean when he was just days old.

“In school, I had my handline in one pocket, and my bait in the other,” said Westby with a smile and an accent deeply flavored by his native Belizean Kriol language. Although he started Belize’s first fly-fishing-only lodge, and has guided fly fishers nearly exclusively for more than 25 years, handlining is still his favorite hobby. After weeks of guiding, there’s nothing he likes more than handlining for grouper and other species in water up to 1,200 feet deep.

In 1961, Hurricane Hattie swept through the Caribbean killing hundreds of people, destroying 80 percent of the buildings in Belize City, and laying the commercial fishing fleet to waste. Economic prospects were bleak, so 20-year-old Westby seized a rare opportunity to join the British Army. [British Honduras became a crown colony in 1862, and in 1964 became a self-governing colony. The colony was renamed Belize in June 1973, and gained full independence in September 1981. The Editor.]

After growing up on the sea, Lincoln spent 13 weeks at basic training in England, became an army cook, and was first stationed in Gibraltar.

“Joining the army is the best thing I ever did,” says Westby who has visited 32 different countries in his lifetime. “It helped me see the world, and become a different person.”

When Westby was stationed in the Libyan desert near Benghazi, locals rummaged through the camp trash looking to scavenge food left in cans by the cooks. But there was competition at the trash site, so one of the locals went directly to the source.

“I came in to start cooking in the morning, and there was a guy sleeping in the cook tent,” said Westby. “He said he wanted my cans after I was done cooking—he wanted the scraps and the leftovers. So I started giving him the cans, and having him stack firewood and clean dishes, and even gave him full cans of stuff we were going to throw out anyway.

He respected me for helping him, and by the time we were ready to move camp, he took me to his home to meet his family who were surviving on the leftovers from our camp. I learned to respect him because he was willing to do anything to feed his children. That taught me that respect works everywhere, it’s the rule of the ocean. Wherever you go, the better you treat people the better they are going to treat you.”

In 1967 Westby left the army and became a chef for Vic & Betty Barothy, who built Turneffe Island Lodge, Belize River Lodge, and Spanish Creek Lodge. That opened the door into the world of sport fishing for Westby, who started as a chef, but soon became a part-time guide, full-time guide, and eventually the head guide at some of Belize’s best tarpon, permit, and bonefish destinations.

Permit Fishing

©Earl Harper

He met his wife Perline at a fishing lodge in 1989, and in 1997 the pair camped on a spit of sand on Northeast Caye barely large enough to hold their tent. They decided to start their own fishing lodge, and that night, without a title, deed, or scrap of lumber, Perline named it Blue Horizon.

With the help of friends and family, they filled and hauled countless bags of sand to create walkways; and drove pilings into the sand to create a dock in a sheltered lagoon, a main lodge building, accommodations, and outbuildings.

“I built it where it was because I wanted to be in the center of the best permit fishing in the world,” said Westby. “And that was it right there . . . it was heaven.”

How good can it be? While fishing with the late, great Will Bauer in the 1990s, Westby and his guest together hooked 30 permit and landed 14 in six days of fishing.

“That was the best week of permit fishing I’ve ever had,” Westby reminisced. “I poled for him until he caught a permit, and then he poled me around until I caught one. We did that together for the whole week.”

Blue Horizon was a fly-fishing-
only lodge because in Westby’s mind, it wasn’t fair to have some guests catching permit on live crabs while fly-fishing guests had to deal with the wind and infamous skepticism of the hardest flats fish in the world. More important, from his two previous decades of guiding in Belize, he came to believe that catching these fish repeatedly on bait would change their behavior, and make the game even more difficult for fly fishers.

With the help of American friends and guests like Bauer, Pat Pendergast, and Russell Thornberry, Westby grew his clientele into a “who’s who” of permit fishing, and expanded his rustic lodge—building much of it by hand, and moving some prebuilt cabins into place by barge—until Blue Horizon became globally known not just for high catch rates, but for some of the most highly ethical and specialized permit fishing in the world.

Some people create rules for themselves as sort of a self-imposed governance to slow their own catch rate and lessen their biological impact. It’s the reason many people take up fly fishing in the first place, or the reason a hunter changes from a rifle to a compound bow, and then a traditional longbow. It’s the point in every true sportsman’s evolution when the “how” becomes much more important than “how many?”

But permit are so frustratingly hard to actually catch on a fly that limiting the tackle further doesn’t make practical sense, and Westby has learned through decades of observation that the most significant impact fly fishers make on local permit populations is not by actually hooking a single fish here and there, but through their careless presence on the flats.

In Westby’s mind, a poor fisherman with an inexperienced guide can have a massive impact—without hooking even a single permit—by chasing after moving schools of permit, poling over flats into the wind, using a motor inappropriately, or wading the same spots day after day and agitating the same fish over and over. That’s why Westby posted those signs. He considered it an open invitation to a younger generation of guides to talk to him and shortcut what he has learned since his first picked up a pole in 1967.

Permit Fishing

©Earl Harper

Since then, he has mentored dozens of up-and-coming young guides at Blue Horizon and elsewhere who are uniformly inspired by Westby’s long experience on these flats, and his uncanny ability to understand how the fish behave and what affects them. Westby knows where the fish will move before they do it. One of his pupils went so far as to call Lincoln Westby “The Father of the Fish” because he knows them so well.

Fishing with Westby is an experience in subtleties. He is a man who cares deeply about the experience, but not just your experience that day. He has long vision, not just in terms of seeing fish where you don’t, but metaphysically in a way where he’s forecasting the type of opportunities his guests will get next week, next month, and a decade from now.

He reads the wind and the tides perfectly, cuts the engine a safe distance from the flat, and quietly drifts onto the flats from the edges. He is a master of using the wind and tide to move the boat, and while in the past I’ve wrongly admired the strength and stamina of younger guides who pole furiously against the wind to have the sun at their back, that kind of behavior in Westby’s mind is just reckless because you’ll needlessly harass the fish without getting a good shot.

Westby uses a heavy wood push pole because he can. He barely uses it. A quiet nudge here and there is all he needs to move across the flats and position the boat for a cast.

What excites Westby after 48 years of guiding is tailing, feeding fish, and despite the constantly changing tidal conditions, he can tell in just minutes whether the depth and the current are just right for tailing permit. If conditions aren’t prime, he’ll quietly leave the flat instead of poling over it in sub-par conditions. If everything looks and feels “right” to Westby, the fish will be there, and you’ll have unparalleled opportunity to catch them.

Because Westby is deeply committed to finding tailing permit, you don’t need high, bright sun to see the fish. Early mornings when calm water reflects the glare of the sunrise are the easiest times for you to see the black forked tail of a permit, but Westby can find tailing fish in nearly any lighting condition, meaning you can catch permit when other guides are poling around aimlessly and bemoaning a lack of sunshine to see into the water. Even on dark, windy days Westby can find sheltered flats and if the tide is right, there will be tailing fish.

On my first morning with Westby the skies were overcast, with intermittent
drizzle and a gusting north wind. Westby eyeballed a few flats from a distance but decided they weren’t yet deep enough on the incoming tide to hold fish, so he took a wide berth around them and headed south from Thatch Caye toward the maze of shallows and mangroves situated in the inside of Belize’s Great Barrier Reef.

permit fishing

©Earl Harper

 

The first five flats that looked good to Westby produced five good shots—a couple of singles and three small groups. After I screwed up my first shot, Westby gave a deep belly laugh, and explained how I had focused only on my target fish, and that my fly line in the air had spooked a third unseen fish, sparking a domino effect that ran through the small group.

As he poled away from the flat, I wondered aloud why we were leaving a massive flat that likely held many more permit. Westby explained that although I hadn’t hooked a fish, we’d already had an impact, and that it was our duty not only to make small impacts, but to spread them across as many points of contact as possible. It all goes back to the philosophy behind the “no wading” signs, which are meant to protect the shallow flats where permit are transient, sensitive to their environs, and have long memories.

Westby told me on our first day together that permit fishing is a chess match. I’ve heard that metaphor before but always thought it was a chess match in the sense that it’s a challenging game against a difficult opponent.

Days later, I realized that’s not what Westby meant at all. It’s a chess match because your next move always has complex consequences that ripple
forward toward your ultimate goal. And you can’t just focus on checkmating the king. You must have the vision to see how all the pieces on the board can (and will) interact.

“The most important skill is understanding what the fish are doing,” said The Father of the Fish. “Seeing a single fish is easy, but seeing all the fish and understanding how they will move and how they will feed is the difficult part. The guide can only tell you so much, how far to cast, what direction, but you have to be able to gauge everything else, and predict what all the fish out there are going to do.”

permit fishing

©Earl Harper

Westby says his most satisfying permit came when he saw two fish moving across the flats, and he made a long cast that placed the fly quietly in front of the lead fish. “I saw the fish take the fly, but I had too much slack in the line. I knew I could never set the hook on that fish, and if I tried I would spook the second fish. So I let that fish spit the fly out, quietly made another cast, and caught the second fish.”

Next Generation
In 2015 Westby sold Blue Horizon—the sun-bleached buildings, the island he had essentially homesteaded, and the goodwill of one of the best-known fly-fishing operations in the Caribbean—to Texan Bill Poston, who also bought nearby Thatch Caye Resort that same year. Poston’s plan is to host fly-fishing guests at nearby Thatch Caye (a luxury resort popular with honeymooners) while he builds a new Blue Horizon fishing lodge at the site of Westby’s famous (and ­incredibly rustic) fishing camp.

The new eco-friendly lodge to be completed in 2018 will eliminate the problems created by the old camp’s sanitation system, diesel generator, and freshwater system using state-of-the-art, low-impact technology.

For Westby, the sale wasn’t a cash-out. He’s 76 years old, but has no plans to actually retire. Except for that short stint in the army, he’s been on the ocean his whole life, and he won’t change who he is. “You don’t give up on the sea,” he said when I asked why he was still guiding. “The sea decides when it will give up on you.”

In the meantime, the sale of Blue Horizon means his longtime guests can visit more comfortably and make a lower environmental footprint due to the improvements planned by the new owner. And instead of drumming up business, Westby is now more than ever focused on teaching a new generation of Belizean guides how they can have a low impact, and a high rate of success at the same time. In Westby’s mind, the two are tied together.

“One day, I’m going to die,” said Westby “so I don’t have any fishing secrets. I can’t use them after I’m dead. If there’s something I can teach you of course I’m going to help you.
 That’s why I posted the signs.”

Permit Fishing

©Earl Harper

 

He doesn’t consider himself the father of the fish, but he would like to be the father of a new generation of guides. What Westby wants to pass on to a future generation is the principle of respect—respect for the ocean, respect for the fragile shallow-water ecosystems, respect for your quarry, and respect for fellow guides and fly fishers. If you treat a flat with respect, you pay it forward for the next skiff that slips quietly over it.

He also hopes that the sale of Blue Horizon can in the long run boost the economy of local small towns like Hopkins Bay, Dangriga, and Placencia where the guides and the support staff raise their families. These are the people who graciously make the fishing possible for outsiders. They act as stewards of the flats, and Westby’s “respect” for his fellow Belizeans means he wants them to prosper. That’s why he was careful to sell Blue Horizon to an owner who believes in careful, win-win development for everyone involved, and why Westby is still intimately involved with planning for the future and training the next generation of fly-fishing guides.

“There are foreigners out here who hire locals to build their vacation homes, care for their children, clean their laundry, and serve their drinks,” said Westby. “After 10 or 15 years, they don’t even think about spending millions of dollars on a new sport-fishing boat, but the little people who helped them all those years are still living in the same place they always were, still suffering, and they don’t get the benefit of all that work. It has to change for everyone.”

Westby realizes that if the flats fishing from his youth is going to be preserved, it has to start with local resort owners and residents working together to eliminate unwise use of the resource, illegal fishing, and abusive development. Once there is a grassroots coalition of locals and outside investors, Westby believes he can convince the Belize government to better enforce current laws and regulations, and to regulate and adequately train and certify the guides who are on these flats on a daily basis. Until then, Westby is teaching and preaching the gospel of low-impact permit fishing one fisherman at a time.

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