Happy Campers at Cayo Frances Farm and Fly
You know a fishing trip was really good when you count the days since you got back and are already planning your return trip.
There was something that just spoke to me when I first saw Cayo Frances Farm and Fly on a video teaser from the folks at Bote paddle boards. It said,"dude, you need to go there. This place is made for people like you!"
I had been fishing the Florida Keys by paddle board for a couple of years and Belize was high on my list of fishing destinations. I had been to Belize once before but didn't really get out of it what I was looking for. Not for lack of great guides and lots of fish. It was me, I had changed. Those long days of padding the Keys, studying the maps, and dissecting the flats and mangroves from the back of a paddle board had made me a different kind of flats fisherman. I wanted to explore and learn almost as much as I wanted to catch fish. I knew I needed to go back and this time I would visit Cayo Frances.
My first visit to the camp was in April of 2017. I was traveling by myself and only booked three days at Cayo Frances before I jumped over to the East side of Ambergris to meet a friend who wanted to do some diving. Let me tell you, that trip really taught me something about what I personally look for from a travel fishing trip. In a nutshell, I got so much more out of my three days at the fish camp than my entire week on the East side. It was almost shocking to transition from my sleepy bungalow under the coconut palm to the bustling town of San Pedro. Being from Southern California, I know something about busting towns! So, having done my time around the resorts, I just wanted to get back to the camp and really focus on enjoying what makes Cayo Frances so special.
I went back to Cayo Frances in May of 2018. This time I planned to spend five days at the camp and just skip San Pedro. The plan was to savor the unique opportunities the camp provides and.... just be me. By that I mean all I wanted to do was eat great food, drink some beer, fish my ass off, paddle like a duck, and pass out knowing I'm going to get up in the morning and do it all again. Look, when I'm on a fishing trip, I don't really need much else.
Cayo Frances has a great balance of rustic simplicity that is (almost humorously) in contrast to the amazing food, stellar service, and appreciation for quality in all things that go into the camp. I have to think this is, camp owner, Jeff's personal traits coming through in a project he has devoted a lot of personal attention to.
Let's start with the food. You're at a little outpost camp surrounded by nature. This lends itself to the feeling of remoteness. Yet, Jeff plans and executes three square meals a day that are not only delicious, but above the quality of many resort restaurants! I personally like the balance of nutrition in the meals that always include superb vegetables and fruits. Jeff doesn't just sling food out to his guests. You can really tell he puts a lot of pride in his cooking.
Next, the service. Jeff is always personally involved in the wellbeing of his guests. He also is well connected with a network of quality fiends who assist at the camp. If you are looking to just do some fishing and have some peace and quiet, he'll cater to that. Or, if you are on a mission to check that slam off your list, he can do that too. I wanted to explore and fish by paddle board and they helped me set up each day they way I wanted it.
Now, I want to bring up the quality that goes into the camp. By quality, I'm referring to the logistics of being a remote camp in the mangroves while maintaining the creature comforts we are used to. The bungalows are simple but comfortable. You have electrical outlets, wi-fi, and oscillating fans. This is possible by a solar battery bank supplemented by a generator. Everything is clean and well kept. It never felt "roachy" if I can coin the term. They also have porches that are perfect for pausing and pinching yourself to acknowledge you are staying in a paradise.
There are clean bathrooms and showers and fresh water to rinse your tackle thanks to a rain water collection system and RO pump for backup. Ice cold beverages are always on hand in coolers at the front of the kitchen.
Also in this category of quality is the fleet of paddle boards from Bote. The name Bote is synonymous with the best fishing paddle boards on the market, period.
Take your choice of Bote board, slap on a Kula with lunch and cold drinks, outfit your tackle rack with your gear (Cast Tackle Systems is a good choice) and head off into the wild blue yonder.
What more do you need?
OK, If you've read this far, you want to know "how is the fishing?"
Just like anywhere else, the fishing at Cayo Frances can vary with tides, moon, season, and to a larger extent than we like to admit, our abilities.
Going with a guide is a safe bet and is worth doing at least one day to get the most out of a day on the water in a short amount of time. But, if you are like me, then the Bote boards are awesome for getting way back up in the shallows and mangrove lagoons. Paddle boards can be stealth and tactical for sneaking up on flats.
Catching fish from a paddle board is a learned skill that (like fly fishing) can be frustrating to the point of wanting to quit. However, if you stick with it, the learning curve is pretty short for most people and you will have opportunities to cast from the paddle board. No other paddle board is better to fish from than a Bote. You also have the option to stake off the paddle board and wade where the bottom is firm. Some places are down right quicksand but you will start to identify what the bottom looks like where it is wadeable. I will say there are a lot more wadeable flats in Belize than the Florida Keys backcountry.
Bonefish, snappers, and barracuda are plentiful. You can have shots at these right off the dock and pretty much anywhere not far from the camp. At times the bonefish can be really spooky and other times I've caught them blind casting a clouser in deeper water. If you put a little effort into it, you'll catch something.
Permit are there. Trust me, I've seen them and have the video to prove it. They move round a lot. It's a tough scenario presenting to permit from a paddle board. They tend to be a lot more picky than the bonefish and you are going to have fewer shots. It's a pretty amazing experience to even cast at a permit when self guiding on a paddle board so keep things in perspective. It can be done, but it takes some work and a little luck.
Tarpon are present as well. There is a migratory tarpon season at Cayo Frances and again, fishing with a guide is going to be a better opportunity. There are also juvenile tarpon that live in mangrove lagoons and backwaters. Sometimes they move around in the open but most times they are home bodies sticking close to deep cover.
So, the bottom line is that the fishing can be tough (like anywhere else) but that makes it rewarding. I personally had a shot at a DIY slam from a paddle board three days in a row! Think about that. Where else can you go and fish this way? In my experience, there aren't a lot of places I would attempt it. Cayo Frances is a very special place to fish.
All in all, Cayo Frances appeals to me in a variety of ways. It starts with genuine, caring, and interesting people, simple and clean accommodations that are remarkably nice for how remote the camp is, excellent food and service that is appreciated no matter where you go, and fishing opportunities that are unique. Paddle board fishing allows me to fish my way which appeals to my sense of adventure. I will be going back again as soon as I can and I hope to bring a few friends with me. I don't think my words will ever do it justice. You just gotta try it for yourself.
Stay fishy my friends,