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Cheeseheads in paradise again

Karen Voss of Eau Claire and guide Bruce Lesilie with a permit caught on a fly. Marty Voss photo1 / 2
Sue Smith of River Falls and guide Eloy Cueavas with a big king mackerel.Bill Smith photo2 / 2

Janice Leslie's Tradewinds Resort in Placencia, Belize, is a set of cabanas under coconut palms on the beach at the end of a long peninsula.

The village of Placencia strings out along a central sidewalk three feet wide and a half-mile long. In late February and early March this year, 10 of us cheeseheads were staying at Tradewinds again.

Carol and I, Bill and Sue Smith from River Falls, Ken and Linda Schreiber of Osseo, Karen and Mary Voss of Eau Claire and Jean and Jerry See of Shawano enjoyed thawing out in Belize after a long cold winter.

While drinking the obligatory Belikan beers on arrival, the talk soon turned to fishing. Bill and Sue Smith were tanned from being in Mexico and Belize for a couple of weeks already. They told of bumpy wet boat rides in windy weather out on the ocean with our friend and fishing guide Eloy Cueavas. Despite the windy weather, they had caught some big fish.

The day after we arrived was abnormally cold. Some clouds and a push of northern air brought temperatures down into the 70s. Belizeans were walking around all bundled up. We hiked the beach and started getting used to the sun when it came out. It's easy to get toasted down there with the intense sun and light reflecting off the water.

Early the next morning, Carol's brother Buck, Jerry See and I set off from the beach at dawn with Elton Eieley, "Cagey," our friend and fishing guide. Cagey grew up in Placencia and knows the bottom of the ocean over a huge area as well as we know the streets of River Falls.

We headed out past rain squalls over 20 miles to the main Belize barrier reef. Cagey piloted the boat through the shallow channel through the reef known as "Rock Head," surfing the boat on the big waves. Trolling outside, we caught a bunch of king mackerel, snappers and black groupers. We came back through rough water and lots of salt spray. We enjoyed a great fish dinner of the fish that we had caught at a nearby restaurant.

Bill and Sue took off with Eloy for the deep blue the next day. The wind and waves were too strong outside the barrier reef so they fished inside along some shallow banks near deep channels. Sue caught a 50-pound king mackerel, a real freight-train of a fish that can swim more than 30 mile per hour. Needless to day, Sue was tired out by the time she got that fish to the boat. Steaks from that fish fed us and many others in the village.

Later that week, Carol and I were trolling outside the main reef with Cagey again. Carol and I caught some big barracudas, black groupers and king mackerel. Then I tied into a heavy fish that took a long time to get into the boat -- a 40-pound cubera snapper. One half of that fish fed all 10 of us at Magda's restaurant with some leftovers.

We took a day off the water and went inland, first by boat to the mainland and then by van then into the jungle of the Mayan Mountains near Red Bank. We hiked up a steep hill to a clearing overlooking the Swayzey River valley. Technicolor bright pairs of scarlet macaws flew past us, calling loudly in their big parrot voices.

Toward the end of their tip to Belize, Karen, Marty Voss and our brother-in-law Buck went fishing with Bruce Leslie of Placencia. After fishing with big tackle and catching some fish outside the main reef, they headed in to Buttonwood Key. Marty and Buck caught bonefish on fly rods when wading the flats. A brown pelican dove on Marty's bonefish as he was holding it up for a photo and knocked it out of his hands, releasing the fish.

Karen Voss caught a permit on a fly (a very difficult thing to do because permits are so wary and strong). Bruce had to dive into the water a couple times to release Karen's line from coral before landing the permit. Buck took his shirt off in the heat and got bitten all over his back by sand flies.

Our friends in the village invited a cricket team from northern Belize to a Rotary Club fundraiser event. The cricket match took much of the afternoon. We hung out in the shade and received instruction in the many subtle ways of cricket. Our friend Bobo, the school-boat driver, excelled as bowler. The spectator crowd was well-behaved despite the abundance of barbecued food, Belikan beer and rum.

A vacation in Belize is a great way to relax and shorten a long winter. Travel within the country by road (now that they have paved the main roads) or by small plane is easy. There are many comfortable and affordable places to stay where you can get to know the locals. Just watch out for scorpions in your luggage.

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