We've been here a week - marooned in a rum fueled, salt water, white-sand-beach day dream. Our snowed-in psyches have nursed the pain of Central American sunburns and sucked back Belikins as if each bottle was filled with a different woman's love. Our guide - an American expat who goes by Ray Ray - reminds me a little of David Lee Roth circa 1985, and he hasn't been bashful about drinking panty rippers and mojitos on our dime. In truth, we've done nothing to either discourage his indulgence or encourage his abstinence.
Ray's a big man: 6' 3" tall and all of 325 pounds on one of his better
days. To look at him, you would think that his next drink was sure to be
his last, but then he sucks back the rum - tongue licking the inside
rim of the glass like a hungry python tasting the air - and nods to the
bartender for another. The barkeep is almost certainly a native Belizian. That is to say he
looks much more the part of Central American fishing guide than does Ray. With a flourish and a knowing smile, he acknowledges Big Ray’s request and looks to us
“Another for your friend?”
I find myself simultaneously thanking God they speak English here and
wishing I had paid more attention during high school Spanish.
"Set him up."
For all his inner demons and assorted personal failings, our guide has put us on fish
every day. If feeding his tendency toward alcoholism helps to keep the trend
going then so be it. We'll happily be the big man's bankroll and benefactor. The drinks are on
us Ray; we’ll keep them coming so long as you do the same with the tarpon, permit, and bonefish.
You can climb back on the wagon once we've safely returned to the land of snow blowers and rock salt.
And after six days in paradise, I find I'm missing purgatory. I'm an enthusiastic winter fisherman - a steelhead guy of the first order.
I've drawers filled to overflowing with Under Armor
long-johns and Smartwool's thickest socks. I own
two balaclavas and three pair of fingerless gloves. Who in the lower 48 - but a steelheader - really needs two balaclavas and three pair of
fingerless gloves? Add to all of that three hundred pounds of God's natural
insulation, and I can't help but wonder what I'm doing here - so close to the equator.
As difficult as it might be to believe, I need snow drifts and shelf ice, intruders and sucker spawn, slow drifts along the seam and the unexpected grab of a migratory torpedo. I need steelhead.
I need steelhead.