Nick asked me to write a “blog”, not sure what that is, but here goes nothing! If you don’t know me and I’m sure you don’t, I’ll give you the CliffsNotes version. My name is Matt Pourbaix, 4th generation Miamian, grew up fishing the Keys, Bahamas, bla, bla, bla. I have been fishing since the old man strapped my car seat to the fly bridge of our family’s 31’ Bertram the “Gulfstream Bandit”. A few months ago, I left a schmoozy position at Bonefish and Tarpon Trust to pursue my NEED of getting out of an office and onto a skiff to guide folks to big, sneaky Bonefish in Biscayne Bay (perfect timing, I know).
But enough about all that… lets talk about me some more. In particular, my latest trip to Belize. Which, thanks to a minor global pandemic was a doozy! I’ve been traveling all over the world to work and fish for most of the last decade and have been lucky enough to be a part of Cayo Frances Farm and Fly in Belize for the last 4 years. Typically heading down 2-4 times a year for a few weeks at a time to help out as fishing director.
This trip started out different from the rest, having spent the previous week in Puerto Rico I was a bit oblivious to just how much the world had changed. After landing at BZE - having a thermometer pointed at my head, and clearing customs - I jumped on the ferry and made my way to San Pedro. Golf cart rented from Mahmoud, beers at Wayo’s, check-in with friends, Coconut Cup ball hockey pick-up game, more beers at Wayo’s, a Lobster burrito from Antonita. I’d say it was a pretty standard first day on island. All the while however, the never-ending conversation about this virus continued to hum through the sandy streets and over-water palapa bars. Nevertheless, I woke up early the next morning and went about my normal routine: loaded the golf cart and headed twenty miles up a shitty dirt road and beach trail looking for Permit. Well, bragging for a moment, I did more than look. I landed 3 that first day and lost another (basically the best day anyone could ask for chasing these over-hyped Jacks). The trip was already shaping up to be a strange one, not only was I catching fish but I seemed to be the only half-gringo left on island.
A couple days in town fishing from a cart and perhaps one wicked hangover later, I was on my way up to the camp with Jeff, the mastermind behind this mini Central American Mecca. The camp is the reason I spend as much time as I do in Belize. We call it the “camp” because calling it a lodge would group us in with all the other places we aren’t, plus there’s no A/C and mosquitos outnumber people a million to one. The camp is 100% off the grid - solar powered, rain cisterns, water makers, and its sitting on an ancient Mayan black soil mound which provides fertile land for farming on the property. We specialize in DIY fishing on Bote paddleboards and East Cape Skanu’s for the big three and much more. It’s 15 miles North of town, the only way in and out is via skiff. Immediately upon arrival you are disconnected from the real world. My idea of paradise.
With all my clients canceling trips through April, both in Biscayne Bay and Belize, due to COVID I made the choice to stay at the camp alone for the foreseeable future and see how the end times played out. So for the next week I would load a cooler, take out a 14’ Bote Rackham paddle board and explore the surrounding bush. I’ve fished close to 100 days at the camp, but never before have I felt time slip away and expectations go to zero. I was truly going out each day and just seeing what came to me, exploring creeks and ponds I’ve never entered and fishing for species I’ve always overlooked with tackle I never thought to use. Aside from the permit and thousands of bonefish up there, I was catching mutton snapper and hunting big barracudas, anchoring in the shade to take naps and paddling extreme distances to places I didn’t know existed yet. Generally, just going where the wind blew me but most of all really appreciating the quiet time and the sport that we all love without this new-found expectation we have put on it. I wasn’t wasting my time chasing permit all day. I didn’t turn my nose up at spinning gear. I TOOK MY SHIRT OFF, played with fiddler crabs and harvested a few different aquatic species for the table (I highly recommend the Barracuda Empanadas). I was all alone and for a few days pretty pleased with this little reset button the world was pushing, I was convinced and content on being there forever. Could it be that this worldwide circus was helping me slow things down, live in the moment and not take for granted what comes next?
I got the call on Saturday from Jeff, first making sure I hadn’t been eaten by Tick-Tock the local bonefish eating Croc but more importantly informing me that Belize was essentially shutting down and locking it’s borders. I now had the option of either leaving on the last plane out of country (which left in 36 hours) or staying there indefinitely - with a shutdown airport and no guarantee of boat rescue, food delivery or anything for that matter. The shit had just gotten real. No matter what you think of this virus it was changing and limiting the way we choose to live our day-to-day. I flip flopped between staying- and going- for a full day. Would I roll the dice on this off-the-grid paradise? Living off the fish I could catch and hoping the looting, machete-toting-mobs didn’t beat down the door? Or would I retreat to the safety of empty store shelves, no charter business and Netflix marathons Stateside?
In the end, the decision was made for me. On Monday, Belize confirmed it’s first case of the Corona Virus and simultaneously went bat-shit crazy. Forcing all non-nationals out of the country on what limited rides were left. I now had a morning to GTFO or risk being quarantined in what my mind had convinced me was some sort of Belizean prison-zoo. So the mad-dash began. First, a ferry off the island… the last ferry off the island. Of course it was running late, cutting the window to make my flight (also the last flight) down to about 30 minutes. Halfway through the hour and a half ferry ride we lost a motor. Everyone on that ferry with any mechanical knowledge or stake in getting somewhere on-time stood up immediately. Some how or by shear luck, most likely the latter of the two, the engine re-fired and we made it to port only a few minutes late. I got myself into a taxi and was on my way, with only 30 minutes ‘til my flight was scheduled to board we hit a military roadblock. They were questioning all vehicles and looking for travelers from San Pedro. As the man in fatigues with an AR-15 stepped up to the window he put his hand on the stock and began questioning. “Where ya comin from?”, the cab driver interrupted me and said “Caye Caulker, right!?”, “Right!” I agreed. We were let through as the taxi in front of us was ushered into a gated military parking lot. I tipped that driver a lot of paper money and ran my ass into the airport, which luckily was empty as the last stragglers left in-country had already checked-in or flown out. To my delight I had a few minutes to chug 2 brews and have a nervous hotdog at Jet’s Bar before my flight brought me safely back home. Fun fact: While at Jet’s I learned that the case of COVID was a local Belizean woman traveling from L.A. back to San Pedro - the island is now on 30 day lock down from the mainland as they track the contact she made with others. There is no boat traffic or fishing allowed, island wide.
I returned to Miami and to a world, although completely changed forever, that seemed pretty normal (except for everyone being out of work and the government closing the damn boat ramps). My first few days back have been strange, but through all of this, that feeling I had on the paddleboard in the middle of nowhere Belize continues to resonate with me. We have nothing to do and all the time in the world to do it, perhaps we should take advantage, we may never get this opportunity again. Maybe we should take this time to do what’s important to us and perhaps, do it a bit differently. Change your mindset, there’s no need to post “fish #6” on your live feed. Slow down and enjoy fish #1… and for fucks sake appreciate the ability to do it at all and all the little reasons why you love it! Wax your boat, tie experimental flies, read the Longest Silence, and call your friends on the phone. Today I spent hours searching for sketchy dirt ramps and bootleg ways to launch my boat, because I need to be out there just as much as you do. You’ll find what you’re looking for in all this, just as I did. We’ll rebound and come out better. In the mean time, I hope you’re able to get out, adventure and hit your own reset button. Hell, come on down and I’ll take you fishing, sure my truck may get stuck doing so, but what’s the damn hurry? Lets all just enjoy what we have now and check all that non-essential stuff at the dirt ramp.