The Guanaja team is full of all-stars, from the staff to the anglers. My clients/friends who blindly trusted me four years ago and visited Guanaja for the fist time are signed up now for their 4th season in a row. So far we’ve been practically the only anglers in a wild and pristine fishery, learning how to catch some of the most challenging fish in the world. We’ve come a long way. Permit are not only getting hooked, but landed, we’re seeing double digit bonefish days, and catching tarpon of all sizes, every week. And holy triggerfish! Our triggers get BIG and are a blast to cast to. From what our clients tell us, we have some of the best trigger fishing in the world. We catch snook whenever we choose because the river mouths are full of them. We also catch jacks and bonita, casting clousers and gummy minnows into boiling explosions of fish on the surface. The variety grows each season.
The fish brought me to Guanaja, but the people are making me stay. 4 years is enough time to watch our guides grow into young adults with new skills and watch our cooks grow from family cooks to gourmet chefs. We basically have one family working for us and the trust goes deep, every thing in the lodge is cared for, especially us.
Although all of our clients are all-starts, we had the pleasure of hosting President Jimmy Carter, his wife Roselyn, and 3 of their friends for a week of fly-fishing last April. I guided the President in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River the previous June for stonefly hatch. Our conversations circled around fishing, writing, teaching, and inevitably the fly-fishing lodge I started in Honduras. To my surprise, a few weeks after our float, the President booked a week with Fly-Fish Guanaja.
I was first overwhelmed with plans of 18 secret service agents, Honduran navy boats, charter planes, and all that could possibly go wrong when hosting President Carter and the First Lady on a primitive island in a foreign country.
All that could possibly go right fueled my ambition to step up to the challenge. Destiny brought the Carters and Guanaja together, and for some reason, I was in the middle.
Here is one of my journal entries from their visit:
The way he looks at her, the way he speaks to her, and how he puts her first every-time is a true lesson in love and chivalry. President Carter’s first concern every morning was getting a fresh cup of coffee to her. When I asked how long they’ve been married, he smiled with twinkle in his eye and said, “Not long . . . 64 years.” Their love shined with youthful antiquity, timeless, seamless, and infectious. Being in the presence of these two is an honor I will cherish forever. I believe that 64 years felt like a short time.
Day 3 during Carter’s visit I was running around the lodge putting out usual fires when the secret service stopped me, “Mr. Brown, Mrs. Carter would like to practice fly-casting, would you please help us facilitate this?”
“No problem.” I dropped everything and hustled to the dock where we hang our fly rods to find one for Roselyn. Because all the boats were out fishing with the President and his friends, and because we already had a few rods break early in the week, the only rod left was a fast action Scott 10 weight–not ideal for a petite woman. It was our only option.
“Mrs. Carter,” I said, “unfortunately the only rod we have at the lodge now is a 10 weight, have you ever casted one? It’s pretty heavy.”
“I think so, lets give it a try.” I walked her out on the concrete pier jetting out from the lodge where she could cast over the flats with nothing to hang up on, and with a slight breeze at her back. I pulled off a bunch of line and handed her the rod. The sea was peacefully still and she began to cast. I’d spent the last 12 years of my life guiding fly-fishing. I think of guiding more like teaching and am always ready to instruct.
I watched in awe as Roselyn handled the 10 weight like it was a breeze, casting rhythmically, with a perfect loop. Her cast was like a heartbeat, a breath of fresh air, a metronome, in other words, perfect. For the first time in my guiding career I had no advice, nothing to say but, “Wow, that’s incredible, don’t change a thing. You have obviously put some time into this.”
She proceeded to make perfect cast after perfect cast until I broke the meditation. “Mrs. Carter, there actually some bonefish tailing right now on the other side of the key. How about casting to a couple of fish?”
“That would be fine,” she said.
Followed by secret service, I led her off the pier, onto the deck, and onto the concrete wall that wraps around the southeast side of the key. From the wall we could see 15 large bonefish tailing aggressively 20 feet into the flat. The only problem was the wind picked up and was right in our face, making it impossible to cast, even for her.
We stepped down the small ladder into the flats and circled the bonefish step by step, getting the wind at our backs for a shot. My heart raced and mind reeled, trying not to think of the potential triumph we would achieve by catching a bonefish in back of the lodge. I was reminded of fishing with her husband in that I’d never wanted a fish so bad; in fact, I’d never wanted anything so bad.
I reminded myself of a quote I’d made up several years ago about fly-fishing, “the more you want, the less you get; the harder you try, the harder it is.” I pushed down my excitement and tried my best to remain cool in the presence of greatness and potential history made. After all, it was just a fish we were going to release and we were just having fun, rule #1 of the lodge!
“Do you see the tails?” I whispered to Roselyn.
“Yes,” she nodded, “I see them.”
The fish moved toward the concrete sea wall, where a secret service agent hovered. I waived him back; afraid he would spook the fish. He sheepishly cowered back into the shade of a grape tree.
“Go ahead and cast a few feet to the right, 1 o’clock about 30 feet.”
She peeled off line, started her rhythm, and let the fly land exactly where I said. The bonefish faded the other direction, never saw the fly, and nervously moved away from our sight, into the vast reaches of the flat–our chance was over. It hurt, but she seemed unaffected by our chance lost.
“That was close,” she said with a smile.
So went my chance to get the first lady into a bonefish, and so went a life experience watching a perfect fly cast from an amazing woman.
I retired to my hammock and reflected on what an epic day it had already been. It started with hunting permit at sunrise on the same flat with President Carter . . .
Early that morning I was on the vice quickly tying much needed bonefish flies for the day. The bonefish were off the pinks, whites, and even olives. They were eating an off white and olive combo with a root beer body. I turned Willie Nelson on the I-pod player and the President sat outside on the deck, scanning the flats with binoculars.
“Steve, check this out,” I heard the President say from the dock.
I walked over as he handed me the binoculars. “I think I see permit out there,” he told me.
I looked through the binoculars and sure enough, big silver-black tails surfaced the flats about 300 feet away from the deck. I pulled the binoculars away and could still see the tails.
“Those are permit Mr. President, we’d better move fast.”
We climbed off the deck, onto the concrete sea wall, and down the ladder into the backyard flat as secret service agents hovered on the wall. Standing next to one of the most genuine and helpful people in the world, while hunting the most elusive and rewarding fish on a fly in the world is a moment that put me in the moment. We walked slowly and I told the President that seeing tailing permit in the Caribbean flats is perhaps my favorite thing to see in the wild. He said he understood as we watched 4 tailing permit vigorously work the flat, headed straight towards us.
Large fork tails punctured the Caribbean surface, glistening in the sunrise. We got into position and the President made a perfect cast, displaying incredible execution under pressure. Many people forget how to cast altogether when confronted with the holy grail of fly-fishing, including myself. The President was cool, calm, and collected. I was shaking, but doing my best to hide the excitement. The crab pattern landed softly a few feet from the large permit. They competed towards the crab.
“Leave it,” I whispered.
Time stood still.