ROATAN THE REAL TREASURE ISLAND
Mango Creek Lodge Port Royal March 2006
We all dream that some day, we might find paradise. Somewhere for a short time you can disappear without trace and just be. Mango Creek Lodge hides in a quiet corner on the island of Roatan, part of the Bay Islands, off the coast of Honduras, and was just that kind of paradise we were looking for.
Christopher Columbus discovered the Bay Islands in the western Caribbean on his fourth voyage to the new world in 1502. However, he never landed on Roatan, but mentioned in his log, a larger island to the west of Guanaja, where he sent his brother Bartholomew ashore on the 30th July 1502. Archaeological evidence suggests, large populations of Paya Indians had lived here on Roatan and in peace for hundreds of years before Columbus sailed by. From 1516 to 1536 the local Indian population were enslaved by Spain and most were shipped to Jamaica and Cuba to labour in mines and on the plantations. The 1600s saw the Port Royal area in the south eastern corner of Roatan become a fortified stronghold for Privateers, Buccaneers and Pirates. At one time there were at least five thousand inhabitants, around Port Royal. There is undoubtedly still buried treasure on Roatan waiting to be found. As early as 1564 British Buccaneers and pirates began to use Roatan as a base to sail from, to plunder the Spanish Galleons returning to Spain from the Spanish Main loaded to the gunwales with gold, silver bullion and gem stones, riches beyond our wildest dreams. Once the haunt of Henry Morgan, leader of ‘The Brethren of the Coast’, the area around Port Royal is littered with pirate relics and ruins from this colourful period in Roatan’s history! Notorious pirate John Coxen used the harbour as his base, near the town that now bears his name “Coxen Hole”. The capital town of the Island. And local legend has it that the loot (400,000 pieces of eight) from Buccaneer Henry Morgan’s sacking of Panama in 1670 is still waiting to be discovered and is buried somewhere on this coast line.
Mango Creek Lodge today is a real tropical fishing paradise that nestles in a fold in the hills right on the waters edge. Fresh water from the creek and the same safe sheltered anchorage that drew the pirates to make permanent bases along these shores in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries, are now home to fast eighteen foot skiffs that will whisk you away to bonefish heaven. These grey ghosts of the flats.
They will baffle, bind and invade your very soul with their wiley ways and this is even before you consider all the other salt water game fish you can shake a stick at. Sometimes that is all you can do, just stand there on the foredeck of the skiff and shake your rod at them. In one of the very few places in the tropics you stand the very real chance of catching the saltwater ‘Grand Slam’. Bonefish, Permit and Tarpon all on the same day, and all on the fly. It is the ultimate challenge that confronts the saltwater fly fisherman. Mango Creek Lodge and its surrounding shallow flats abound with bonefish, I caught a few too! Big permit of 20 to 30 pounds are there too. We saw them every day, and cast crab patterns to them. The challenge is. Can you hook one? I hooked a small one, my first, (about 10lbs Perry thought) that ran 70 yards right into the coral. It might take years to hook and land that first big permit. You will be mesmerised and you surely will come back to Mango Creek Lodge year after year to get that first permit hook up and bring it to your hand. The mangrove lined channels and creeks hold the tarpon, baby tarpon at that, but these babies do not suck dummies, they are street wise and play dirty. A 20 to 30 lb tarpon is a real handful on a 9 or 10 weight fly rod. I hooked a real baby one and got jumped; it was gone in a flash of sparkling silver four feet in the air.
At Mango Creek Lodge, Perry the head guide will put you on to the fish, but then it is up to you. Can you rise to the challenge? Accurate, and sometimes a 20 to 25 yard cast, and perhaps in a 20 to 25 knot wind on very skinny coral sand and grass flats and all the while a pod of bonefish is working upwind getting closer all the time, feeding as they go, they look as nervous as I felt. Perry, bless him, whispers in my ear - cast now - cast now. Strip it! Strip it! Twenty yards away a twenty inch bonefish, tail waving in the air, goes about its daily routine, nervously tracking back and forth on the feed, sometimes stopping to snuffle, no; to root in the sand for a crab or shrimp. Three feet away, my fly, a size six, brown bonefish bitters lands as quietly as I can make it. The fish turns with a bow wave and follows, but will it take it. The underwater view the fish has of the fly should be in the mind of the fisherman always. Imagine it, you might even see it, the water is so shallow. I start a twitch retrieve. Come on. Take it. Take it. Very very gently the bonefish hoovers up the fly, the line just goes heavy. Who is the more confused the fish or is it me? Don’t lift the rod, stripe strike with the line, keeping the rod low. Luckily it is the fish that is more confused. A few seconds later the fish having gathered its wits is over 50 yards away and the reel is still singing. The water is so shallow the bonefish have nowhere to go, it can’t go deep, so they keep on running. All I do is hold the rod as high as I can; when a bonefish is running like this, they are unstoppable. It is just so intoxicating!
We are very tired but exhilarated at days end and when Perry guns the outboard for the final time each day and we skim home across the waves into a magical tropical sunset heading back to the ‘Lodge’, it is almost a release. It’s dark by the time we get back to the dock but the twinkling lights that abound around the Lodge are very inviting and suck us back to reality. It is then that we realise we really do want to do it all again very early tomorrow morning.
Do you have the strength for that celebratory drink in the bar, to toast that first trophy bonefish, permit or tarpon (perhaps all three) before going to your Cabana for a quick shower and change before supper? Who knows what culinary delights await our palate. It might be lobster, grouper, shrimp or snapper, chicken, beef or pork. Extremely good home cooking just like Mother made when we were but lads and lasses home from school. After two or three relaxing hours spent over dinner shared with like minded people who are very quickly becoming firm friends. We have been here for two days already. This is Mango Creek Lodge and there is still plenty of time to explore the gardens, seek out those quiet corners. Go for a sail, snorkel or just watch the wildlife and listen to the bird song. Spend an hour watching the humming birds up close on the terrace; you can get very close to them as they feed. Go watch the craftsmen in their workshops as they carve wondrous creations out of the islands hardwoods. All the timber furniture, all the carving, everything that is made out of wood in your Cabana is made in the workshops. As these conversations roll around the restaurant tiredness is slowly overcoming you, or perhaps it is the heady mixture of good food and fine wine, strong rum and aromatic Honduran coffee. No matter, it has been a wondrous day in paradise, and still endless days stretch away before us. We must make the most of them. You bid your new found friends goodnight, good fortune and tightlines for the day yet to come.
It’s back to your Cabana to dream the sultry night away. You dream of pirates and plundered gold on the Spanish Main and logs of rolling silver as tarpon savage balls of bait fish. And permit too, their black tails and dorsals cutting the air as they quarter the flat, searching for food. Then there are bonefish, the grey ghosts, they seem to be there just to dream about, but, at Mango Creek Lodge those dreams just might come true.
Simon J. Ward © Catch The Image 2006.