Beaten by the Slam, again

Editor's note: Contributor Gary Giudice, who penned Wannabe Trout Bums for ESPNOutdoors.com, is traveling to Belize in an attempt at the fly fishing Grand Slam, a permit, bonefish and tarpon on fly all on the same day. He'll offer reports following his quest.
The Slam Haunts Me archive

AMBERGRIS CAYE, Belize — OK. Uncle.

I've been in paradise for days trying to catch fly-fishing's Grand Slam, a permit, tarpon and bonefish all in one day. I can get close but so far, no deal.


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It sounds a whole lot easier than it is. The average guide in Belize gets roughly five a year. That's when conditions are perfect.

Conditions are not perfect right now. They should be, that's why I'm here but wind and clouds are killing me. You can't see the fish and when you can, casting to them is near impossible. At least for me.

Take today as an example. The wind was howling this morning out on Savannah Flats and the water is starting to murk up. Emir, the guide, and I are talking about making a move when he shouts "TARPON!"


"12 o'clock, coming straight in fast!"

I turn around and there he is, a nice 50-pounder alone. I cast and it lies perfect. I strip once and the big fish bolts, never to be seen again. Murky water finally forces a move.

Long Caye is a long haul but we go for it. Pounding, pounding, the small skiff and its occupants take a beating. I blind cast into a deep hole. I was using a local favorite fly, "The Black Death." Tarpon love it. Strip, strip, strip. A pair of huge permit follows all the way to the boat then peels off back to the depths.

The winds grow to 25 knots. Clouds put a permanent grey tint to everything and the water gets even more murky. Hours later we know it's not going to happen today. So we head to a bunch of small islands just south of Ambergris Caye and pound on the bonefish for an hour or so.

Bonefish are as fun to catch as anything that swims and at least here you can catch all you want, wind and clouds be damned.

Back at the lodge we gather around, fisherman and guides. We find the weather on the Wunderground weather site. Long range looks bad and getting worse.

A storm they've named "Invest 92" is a long ways off, near Barbados, but growing. It will not hit anywhere near Belize but the guides tell us it is messing with the weather patterns here and will continue to give us more clouds and stronger winds. Oh, that's just what we need.

On top of that, I get a note from home. Deke, my trusty lab, has eaten another of my wife's shoes and the guy who was supposed to mow the grass got deported. Things are falling apart for me at every turn. I'm heading home. I give up on the Grand Slam of fly-fishing once again.

But I've learned a lot about going after the Slam and I've come up with a list of four things that could make the difference in success and failure. Please allow me to share my thoughts.

That's always a great excuse and most of us over use it but it's still a good one. Before heading to the Tropics make sure you're going at a good time of year. It's always going to be windy so get ready for it. but winds over about 15 knots can really screw things up.

Guides will tell you that you cannot cast well enough. They are right most of the time.

Here's an example. You've got a 20-knot crosswind. Permit are coming in fast at 9 o'clock. You have to cast across the wind, accurately and far. The fly needs to land about two or three feet right in front of the lead fish. Good luck!

It might be the best shot you'll have for two or three days, and if you can't make it you're screwed.

Practice before you come and learn the back cast technique. It could make the difference between the Grand Slam and a guy with a bunch of excuses like me.

See the fish, be the fish
If you cannot see the fish you cannot cast to them. Get good sunglasses. Green lenses won't cut it.

There're several amber shades that will but research and spend the money. They will make a world of difference. The first day in the Tropics seeing fish is tough but you will learn quickly if you have the proper eyewear.

Learn the fish

That sounds easy and it is but you must take the time. In most places bonefish are fairly easy to find and catch. They move around in schools and you can see them.

Strip slowly and set the hook with a strip and lifting the rod. Then get ready for long runs that will get into the backing. If you try to turn the fish before it's ready it will get off. Play it or lose it. I know that for a fact.

Permit are generally always moving fast. You will not have much time so be ready and strip faster then for the bones. On the bite pause, strip into the fish then lift into pressure.

They'll run line out extremely fast so be prepared. A bunch of fly line wrapped around your big toe will present a problem. I know that for a fact.

Tarpon generally eat slowly then turn. Long strips should make them bite if the fly lands right. Strip set the hook hard three times.

Most likely you'll lose it on the jump because you're not sure about this whole bow to the tarpon deal. You must do it! They start running real fast before each jump so get ready. When he jumps just lean into it and point the rod. Then follow the jump with your rod tip.

Easy to say but when a fish as big as a roll of carpet is dancing in the air 40 feet away it is not easy to do. I know that for a fact.

Belize is paradise. The fishing is fabulous. El Pescador is the best saltwater fly-fishing destination in Tropics. The fish won this round like they have several before but I am not down and out. I'll be back to the best lodge in paradise and this time the Slam will be mine. That's a fact.