The tradition continues at Sweetgrass Rods;
crafting fine bamboo fly fishing rods

   
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Frank D.


Coco's

Chetumal Bay, Mexico with Sweetgrass RodsOn a distant beach road at the very point where paradise begins far from the last vestige of modern civilization sits Costa de Coco's. Located on the Caribbean near the Mayan village of Xcalak at the very southern reach of the Yucatan Peninsula it is a pilapa style bar and restaurant complete with thatch roof accompanied by several nearby thatched cabins for lodging. After catering to scores of fly fisherman for over a couple decades the establishment is a bit tattered around the edges, but that is the essential charm of basking in its ambiance. Owner Dave Randall "found his beach" in the late eighties and has led a lifestyle ever since that many only dream of when watching a Corona beer commercial or longing for the day when they themselves can slip into the oblivion of a simple existence on the edge of nowhere - or rather a creative somewhere so far from anywhere that one can truly meld into the vastness of the open sea as it hastens a mystical renewal to burdened spirits and wayward souls.

A good night at Coco's is gazing at the ocean, sipping a margarita, and watching a bonefish swim by on the flat out front. A bad night at Coco's is gazing at the ocean, sipping a margarita, and seeing no bonefish at all. And while Sirius FM plays an array of musical nostalgia sung by artists like Jackson Browne, Gordon Lightfoot, or the Beatles through the softly lit background, one may drift into the reverie of catching an ephemeral glimpse of Papa Hemingway or even my hero Joe Brookes sitting at the bar reminiscing about the pioneer days of saltwater sportfishing while nursing a nightcap in anticipation of yet another day at sea. Instead in reality there is often a handful of knowledgeable anglers eager to share their stories, secrets, and even flies as they look forward to another day on the water in search of bonefish, permit, barracuda, and tarpon. This is a laidback atmosphere befitting of the tropical experience many serious fly anglers seek - myself included. And while the music sets the mood that stimulates many reflections from the past, a mind can effortlessly slide from thoughts of fishing to matters of uncertainty.

It has been a year since I left Montana and I often wonder what the hell I was thinking. I love the Big Sky State and its people. I love the rivers and the trout. I love building bamboo rods and all the friends I have met as a result. But still there was something missing, and a path that had yet to be followed defined this something. I always wanted to do more saltwater fishing, but this was a difficult task when living in Montana. Sure, booking a guide, being chauffeured to find fish, and subsequently being told where to place a fly has its merits, but learning the nitty gritty aspects about saltwater fly fishing without a guide and without leaving after spending a week in the sun was actually what I have longed for the most. But, I have to now ask myself, was giving up everything and risking it all to find my own beach at end-of-the-road Mexico worth it? At this point I really don't know. But when I heard Jimmy Buffet's classic tune "Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude" playing on the radio at Coco's the other night, I was struck by a bolt of perspective. Life is too short, as I learned with my wife's passing, so when a path beckons - one should follow it.

Thus here I am, living on the Caribbean staring at the Mexican equivalent of Montana's Big Sky splendor. But so far what I have learned about saltwater fly-fishing could be written on a matchbook cover. Some info has come from other anglers. Some insight has been garnered from the guides at Coco's. Whatever else has been gleaned from sweating it out on any piece of water that looks good. The one thing I do know for certain is that catching bonefish on a bamboo rod is sublime. But other than that, being in the right spot at the right time on the right tide for the right fish with the right fly and the right rod is ultimately difficult. And more times than I would like, I have found that it doesn't hurt to be extremely lucky. Unquestionably it is exciting though to hack away here and there just like days of old when I learned to catch Montana's trout back in the 70s one fish at a time, one river at a time. At this point in life it is fun just to be challenged once again.

Perhaps the most intriguing tidbit I have discovered in my first few months of being here is that heavily pursued bonefish can be as testy as the most seasoned spring creek brown trout. For example, there is a nice bone that shows up on the much fished flat out front of my home every time the tide gets to a certain depth before ten in the morning or again after six in the evening. However, the timing of these tides is irregular at best, and also very difficult to predict. This particular fish feeds in the turtle grass about three feet from shore and it has become my nemesis. Numerous times I have tried to stalk it with no success. I saw it again this morning while drinking my morning coffee.

It should be noted that when it comes to saltwater the number of variables that can go wrong for me, and often do, are too many to list. Despite this fact every now and then I have been able to get my act together enough to deliver a few casts to this fish before the fly tangles in the wind or hangs up on the thick carpet of underwater grass signaling an alert that causes it to swim casually back to deeper water. But this morning I was ready for the opportunity presented once again. The rod was on the porch and the attached fly was the perfect size and weight. I put the coffee down, snuck out the door, and by the time I readied for a cast, the crafty bonefish was gone even before the fly hit the water. No way! This fish has taunted me for months. I swear it heard the cup clunk on the table and my footsteps tip-toeing in the sand. I am convinced it can sense what I am thinking. Even with my stealthy Sweetgrass Rod in hand this fish is not impressed. At this point I am considering calling a truce and maybe giving it a name....Joe, Carl, or even Bob to honor an old friend Bonefish Bob. Sometimes you have to be lucky, but sometimes you have to know when to quit. For sure, the next time I see "Bob" I'll sit back, relax, gaze at the ocean, and just enjoy another gulp of Mexican shade grown. Or better yet, sip on a margarita.

Like I have learned at Coco's. Down here, it's all good.

Fishing Buddies
Heading Around the Next Bend
 

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