STORY BY JESS MCGLOTHLIN
Whether you’re a frequent flyer or once-a-decade bucket-list traveler, you’ve likely found yourself daydreaming of leaving home over the past year. While most of us have recently spent more time at home than we’d perhaps planned, we’ve made the most of the time by daydreaming of where we’d like to go once we can resume travel.
For anglers, the inability to travel has been particularly jarring. We’re always on the lookout for opportunities to catch new species. Maybe it’s leaving trout behind and learning to catch permit and tarpon in Belize or forgoing our normal bass habit to stalk bonefish on the flats of Mexico. As much as we love our home waters, traveling to fish allows us to expand our angling skillset, and fishing itself is a compelling reason to visit destinations that might otherwise not be on our travel radar. Fly fishing saw explosive growth in 2020 as outdoorsmen and women looked for new activities to tackle close to home, and as travel normalizes, many of those anglers will be looking for new fishing experiences beyond their local rivers and lakes.
For many freshwater anglers, saltwater is the next step. It’s a significant transition from trout and bass to saltwater species but a worthwhile investment of both time and energy. First-time saltwater fly anglers should look for a lodge with a well-trained, seasoned guide staff who are happy to take on beginners. While some destinations are more suited to seasoned saltwater anglers due to challenging fishing or harsh conditions, there are a plethora of saltwater fly-fishing operations around the world who cater to anglers of all skill levels.
Here are a few notes to remember when booking a fly-fishing destination:
– Be honest about your angling skill level. A good fishing director will listen to your past experience as well as your goals for the trip and pair you with a guide accordingly.
– Are you bringing non-fishing family along? Inquire about other activities in the area. Snorkeling, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, and spa services can entice most vacation-goers while the family anglers are on the water.
– How important is high-end cuisine? Some anglers are perfectly happy with basic accommodations and food, while others are looking for a gourmet taste of regional flavors. Ask the lodge team how meals work and ensure the plan works for your group.
As parts of the globe slowly begin to welcome travelers in the post-COVID paradigm, it’s time to continue daydreaming and even look at possibly booking a few flights. We’ve gathered our top five saltwater fly-fishing destinations around the globe—from once-in-a-lifetime trips to long weekend escapes.
1- Bay Flats Lodge: Seadrift, Texas
Nestled on the shore of San Antonio Bay, roughly two-and-a-half hours south of Houston, Bay Flats Lodge offers fly fishing as well as traditional tackle, bay, wade, and airboat fishing. State-of-the-art poling skiffs enable skinny-water access for an authentic tailing redfish experience. The lodge’s guides know the surrounding waters well and are ready to work with anglers of any experience level.
The lodge itself offers a comfortable home base for daily adventures, decorated in simple but elegant south-Texas style. The real highlight, however, is the food. From fresh seafood to prime ribeye beef, the kitchen staff of Bay Flats ensures no one is left hungry at the end of the day.
Pro tip: Order the house-made buttermilk biscuits with breakfast to fuel a busy day on the flats.
2- El Pescador Lodge and Villas: Ambergris Caye, Belize
One of the most famous saltwater fly-fishing lodges in the world, El Pescador is a legend unto itself. Located on the island of Ambergris Caye in Belize, El Pescador presents anglers with ready shots at bonefish, tarpon, permit, and even snook and barracuda. The guides are some of the best in the world and will happily teach beginners as well as engage seasoned fishermen. This is one lodge where it’s very possible to achieve the saltwater Grand Slam: catching a tarpon, permit, and bonefish in a single day.
Non-anglers will find plenty to occupy their time, and often angers will even take a rest day off the flats to enjoy Belize’s world-class snorkeling, diving, and eco-adventures. Or just kick back and enjoy the lodge’s three pools and ready wade fishing right in front of the property. The lodge staff is always friendly and accommodating, and the family-style meals offer a taste of local Belizean cuisine.
Pro tip: Order ceviche and limeade with your boat lunch—it’s the perfect cool snack during long days on the panga, which are the narrow-beam, flat-bottomed fishing boats the guides prefer. After a long day, bartender Mariano is more than willing to serve up a refreshing Belizean Painkiller when you arrive back at the lodge.
3- Kimberley Coastal Camp, Kununurra, Australia
Australia is not often high on “top fish” lists for North American anglers. Yes, it’s a long flight. Yes, it’s the other side of the world. And yes, it’s not a destination you see in every fly-fishing magazine. Expect all that to change soon. From the high plateau rivers of Tasmania to the rugged coastline of the “Top End,” Australia is home to a vast number of angling opportunities.
Perhaps one of the most unique of these opportunities is Kimberley Coastal Camp (KCC), a true once-in-a-lifetime fishing trip for adventurous anglers. Run by husband-wife pair Tub and Jules, KCC is located an hour-and-a-half ride in a Grumman Mallard (an adventure unto itself) from the Top End city of Darwin. While KCC is not catered specifically to fly anglers, seasoned saltwater anglers can have shots at barramundi, Spanish mackerel, mangrove jack, giant trevally, threadfin salmon, tuna, and many other unique species. (This is the time to tick off a few unusual species on your list.) It’s some of the best, most productive remote location tropical sportfishing available, and a variety of water from mangrove-lined creeks to bluewater means no day will ever be the same.
Camp is extremely comfortable considering how remote it is. Private beachfront bungalows are well-outfitted and spacious, and luxury outdoor showers mean that—at least once—it’s worth waiting for the stars to come out to take a shower. A communal gathering space houses the kitchen, dining area, and a roomy lounge room, and the firepit is the place to be (drink in hand) as the sun sets. Jules, a professionally trained chef, whips up miraculous food in the open-air kitchen, including Australian classics and a good dose of fresh, local ingredients.
Pro tip: Ask Tub if he’ll take you crabbing and if he’ll share a few stories. You’ll come away with memories that will last a lifetime (and Jules just might cook up the crabs for supper!).
4- Grand Slam Lodge: Ascension Bay, Mexico
Located just an hour south of Tulum, Grand Slam is a resort run by fishermen, for fishermen. The Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve is a pristine fishery, offering opportunities at bonefish, tarpon, snook, permit, and more. Looking to bring home a Grand Slam (or a Super Slam, which is permit, tarpon, bonefish, and snook)? This is a good place to do it.
The thatch-roofed lodge boasts 12 beachfront villas offering all the comforts of home. A pool offers a refreshing cool-off after a hot day on the flats, and cuisine includes local favorites including fresh-caught lobster and fish. (The famous bar features swings for seats and is a memorable part of a visit to Grand Slam.) Take a day off, and enjoy king-sized Bali day beds on the beach, and enjoy snorkeling the sandy beach and nearby coral sites.
Pro tip: Book an extra day for offshore fishing; if you’re normally an inshore angler, it’s a different, sometimes more relaxed look at saltwater fishing.
5- Bahama House and the Eleven Angling Experience, Harbor Island, The Bahamas
Anglers new to saltwater fishing will find a luxurious introduction to the sport at Bahama House. Located on quiet, quaint Harbor Island, the 11-room Bahama House is surrounded by colorful bougainvillea and turquoise waters. A freshwater swimming pool and friendly tiki bar make the picture-perfect lodge feel homey, while restaurants and musical bars are a short walk away in Dunmore Town.
Anglers can choose half-day or full-day fishing experiences to stalk bonefish and other species around Harbor Island and nearby Spanish Wells. The fishery covers productive flats and mangrove-lined creeks and provides an excellent habitat for healthy bonefish seeking crabs and shrimp on the white sand flats.
Non-anglers (or anglers on a day off) can enjoy snorkeling, diving, deep sea fishing, and more, as well as exploring neighboring islands on the lodge’s 35-foot Scorpion RIB boat.
Pro tip: End the day with a Goombay Smash and kick back by the lodge’s pool to enjoy sunset colors on the pastel houses of Dunmore Town.