Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after. –Thoreau
In 2001 Hurricane Iris, a Category 4 monster, roared through the southern Yucatan Peninsula and slammed into the tiny coastal country of Belize. For a sustained period of several hours there were recorded winds of 140 miles per hour. The coastline was devastated, entire villages wiped out. In the tiny coastal town of Placencia, in southern Belize, while the town was torn apart, none of the villagers died. There were however, 23 deaths, all scuba diving tourists on a boat who decided to anchor in the tiny harbor and have a “hurricane party”. A massive wave tore through the narrow harbor entrance and flipped the boat upside down. Everyone aboard drowned. Another example of human folly in the face of the power of Mother Nature.
Between the mainland and the Belize barrier reef 20 miles offshore lie hundreds of small mangrove islands, called cayes, These are actually small sand islands anchored into the reef by the roots of Mangrove trees. Besides holding the island together, the tangle of roots provide shelter for the fry of numerous fish species until they grow and can venture out into more open waters. Mangrove islands and coastal mangrove swamps have been aptly called the “ocean’s nurseries”. And the islands off the coast of Belize are part of the second longest barrier reef system in the world.
On one of these offshore mangrove islands, about 10 acres in total, is a sport fishing haven called Tarpon Caye Lodge, owned and run by Charlie Leslie, a Belize native, since 1996. With his wife and several children Charlie has a strong and positive reputation among serious fly fishermen looking for large Tarpon, Permit and Bonefish. To catch all three in one day is termed a Grand Slam. And if anyone can guide fishermen to the achievement of this holy grail it is Charlie. For many years Tarpon Caye Lodge had a thriving business, especially among North American fly fishers.
Iris ended all that for Charlie. The hurricane blew away all of his guest cabins, the cook house and uprooted all the palm trees he had planted. Miraculously the generator shed was still standing and when Charlie returned to the tiny island from the safety of the mainland he picked his way through the rubble, turned the switch and the generator purred back to life. The only bright spot of hope in an otherwise total loss.
What would you do if your entire business was wiped out? Without insurance? Without government assistance? Would you rebuild? And if so, how?
In a testament to the values held by the unofficial “brotherhood of fly fishers” and to the goodwill built by Charlie and Tarpon Caye Lodge over the years, his past clients came to his rescue. Not because Charlie asked, he didn’t. But because they believed in Charlie and his ethos of fishing, his love for the environment and most of all, his genuine love for the sport. Emails poured in from past clients asking what they could do to help. Several groups came down to work alongside Charlie to rebuild (he traded fishing days for work days). Donations poured in to the tune of thousands of US dollars. The lodge and the business was rebuilt and thrived during the halcyon economic years of 2002-2007.
Then in 2008 the global economy melted and the tourist and leisure travel industry was hit hard. But Tarpon Caye Lodge is still in business and at 61 years of age, Charlie Leslie is still guiding appreciative fly fishers around the reefs and flats of southern Belize in search of elusive Permit, monster Tarpon and hard fitting Bonefish. His loyal clients still venture to the clear blue-green waters of southern Belize to soothe their passion for saltwater flyfishing. And to drink a little Rum as well!
Tarpon Caye Lodge is still in business, thanks to some very wonderful people, real friends. There is something in the DNA of those who chase fish with flies that put them head and shoulders above the “Average Joe”. Perhaps it is their connection to the environment through that thin filament of life we call a flyline. Perhaps it is their oversized humanity and desire to protect and enjoy our natural environment. The world needs more big-hearted fly anglers, and more Charlies.
Tight Lines . . .
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