Vol 6 No. 52 - September 20, 2006

Permit fishing in Belize

SUN PHOTO/RUSTY CHINNIS

By Rusty Chinnis
sun staff writer


Editor’s note: Sun Outdoors Editor Rusty Chinnis recently went to Belize to pursue his passion of fly fishing for permit. This is Part One of his adventure to that Central American country.

As fly fishermen, we’re always seeking ways to improve our enjoyment of the sport. And while that ultimately boils down to learning ways to be more successful at catching fish, it’s not really numbers that drive our passion. It’s more personal than that. If it were a numbers game, we would still be fishing with live bait and waiting for the fish to find us. Our path to success is paved with mentors and milestones that redefine our personal passage through a life of fly-fishing. It’s experiencing and seeking to understand the natural world and the fish that swim its waters that makes the fly fishing journey so special.

I first picked up a fly rod more than 40 years ago, and over four decades I’ve had many memorable days on the water. When I look back, some of my fondest memories are not about the fish that I’ve caught (which still are fresh, alive and sustaining) but the people I’ve met along the way, the personalities I’ve encountered and the friendships fostered. Fly fishers seem to possess a quality that attracts, entertains and enlightens us. No matter where you are in your evolution as a fly angler, I’m sure you’ve had the same experiences. Recently I had the honor of meeting one of the most charismatic individuals I’ve encountered in my four decades of fly-fishing.

I met Lincoln Westby on a blustery morning in March outside my motel in Hopkins, Belize. Due to a strong cold front that had blown through the day before, my transfer to his Blue Horizon Lodge had been delayed. When he asked if I was going to the lodge, I wasn’t sure if he was a guide, the owner or merely a taxi driver. Little did I know that this unassuming man would, in less than a week, teach me more about permit fishing than I had assimilated in more than 10 years of stalking this "holy grail" of fly fishing.

Westby’s spry demeanor and sparkling eyes belie his six plus decades. A Belizean by birth, he has fished the coastal waters of Belize since he was a child. He began his fishing career as a commercial diver and fisherman before following his brothers Joel and David as guides to American spin anglers in the late 60s. Except for a stint in the British Army from 1961 to 1967 and two years working on a research ship in Bermuda, he has dedicated his life to learning the ways of the permit, tarpon and bonefish. After working as a guide and manager at nearly every lodge on the Belize coast, Westby had the passion to have his own lodge. With the help and counsel of Will Bauer, longtime permit angler and former Belize lodge owner, the vision of the Blue Horizon Lodge was born.

Westby and his common-law wife, Pearline, leased a small mangrove island from the government with an option to buy. The island was inundated with water on high tides and it took over six months and more than 10,000 boatloads of sawdust and sand to create enough upland to build the first building. Finally, in 1997, Bauer brought the first group of anglers to the lodge and Westby’s dream became a reality.

On my trip, I had the good fortune to pick a week when Bauer was at the Lodge, and I was able to fish with Westby on six consecutive days. Each day, I was immersed in an endless world of multi-dimensional coral patch reefs that hosted school after school of permit. And while there were few spells of more than 45 minutes between fish, it was Westby’s intimate knowledge of the terrain and the permit that held me spellbound. I fished four and one half days, (and spent a day observing and photographing Bauer and Westby) and landed five permit. The number of opportunities was phenomenal, and while these permit were less pressured than in other locations I’ve fished, that didn’t change their basic nature.

Next week: Lincoln Westby and the Blue Horizon Lodge

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