It started with a 27-hour boat ride from Guanaja, Honduras, to a blip about 160 miles to the east and roughly 50 miles off the Mosquito Coast — an 80-yard-long piece of sand with a few palms, a couple of outbuildings, stacked wooden lobster traps and some Caribbean pines.
I rode out to Faraway Cayes aboard Captain Dennis, a 40-foot snapper boat that was loaded with food, fuel for the fishing skiffs, mattresses, an oven, a freezer, a generator and lots of miscellaneous supplies for the first official season of helicopter fishing in this remote, sometimes perilous area. I accompanied a small team of guides, a cook, a few assistants and the owner of the operation, Steve Brown, a Colorado guide who runs the Fly Fish Guanaja lodge on Jones Cay in the Bay Islands of Honduras. It was the first season of operation for this remote, outpost base camp of Brown’s Fly Fish Guanaja. I spent about 18 days there, most of them before the first four paying anglers arrived by helicopter for the inaugural season. The lodge will start its third season this winter.
The Southern Cross twinkled to starboard and the Big Dipper to port. At 2 o’clock in the morning, Capt. Jimmy sat at the helm — heavyset, short, affable — and recounted stories of catching dozens of dorado in this location a week earlier. He spoke pidgin, which I found much more difficult to understand than his Spanish. He showed me the other boats and ships on the radar. Jimmy had no intention of being struck at night by another vessel, as his father had when he died in a collision at sea.
We were in an area known for drug cartel activity. Drones flew overhead day and night. These waters are the traditional fishing grounds of Miskito Indians, whom we were likely to encounter. They are known for begging, and we were told that they would expect us to share whatever we could.
This outpost fishery is filthy with permit and bonefish. At Faraway Cayes, we were surrounded by four or five schools of bonefish that numbered close to 200 each. The flats stretched for miles. On an incoming tide, permit filed onto the flat only a few hundred feet from where we lived. I saw tons of permit during my stay. “This has been a place of treasures found and lost, often with death involved,” Brown said late one afternoon as we sat in the shade of a palm that held half of the hammock I slept in each night. “It used to be gold. Then it turned into cocaine, cash and fuel. Now it’s turning into permit.”
A storm cell moved slowly across the horizon just west of us. A small group of Miskito Indians motored their panga onto the beach. The Miskitos said they needed fuel. They also asked, “¿Fuma?” which is their way of asking for weed. One wore a blue blazer and was shoeless. Two were shirtless and young, prying open conch shells in the panga with a metal rod.
The Miskitos used to net bonefish by the thousands. A couple of years ago, Brown and a few Honduran guides spoke with them about the importance of bonefish and permit, and the Indians supposedly stopped netting near Faraway. We gave them a small amount of fuel. They seemed neither happy nor displeased. We gave them sliced pineapple and water. The Miskitos, who didn’t speak English, became really talkative and joked with us after we gave them weed, to minimize their asking for food and gas. They wanted weed more than anything we could give them.
“When you’ve got more than someone else out here, you’ve gotta be aware. All it could take is one thing to go wrong, and it’s over,” Brown said.
“Eat today and don’t worry about tomorrow. Dat’s how it is for the Miskitos,” said Honduran guide Derron Jackson in his pidgin.
Archie Morris (another Honduran guide), Brown and I boarded one of the pangas built for fly-fishing one morning. Archie’s father had spent years fishing commercially from this key, and Archie knows the area better than anyone. To the southeast, a flat ran from Faraway beyond the horizon. There’s far more water here than we could ever fish. We slowly motored off, and Archie pointed to his left. “I snorkel here,” he said. “I see mudding, and I think turtles … but it was hundreds of bones, everywhere.”
After a 30-minute run, Archie killed the outboard, grabbed his push pole and stood on the small platform over the engine. We were in about 6 feet of water looking for permit. From the number of permit I saw during my stay, you could have dozens of shots at them each day. “So you know,” Archie said without exaggeration, “there are lots of fish here, mon.”
Brown stood on the bow, shoeless, with 70 feet of line reverse-stacked in front of his toes. The speed and direction of the panga changed. Brown didn’t look back at Archie. We were moving faster.
Archie spoke just above a whisper. “Right der, boss. Eleven o’clock. Fifty feet.”
Brown made one smooth false cast, then let it go on the second forward stroke. It was a perfect cast and couldn’t have been better placed. Still, the permit raced off, spooked by the fly or our panga or something. The permit had been on a ray, and the ray had been following a nurse shark. “It had a whole ecosystem with him,” Brown said.
We saw trap boats, too. This was the end of the eight-month lobster season. I learned that the boats offer a sanctuary of sorts for young men trying to escape gang life in Honduras, where it’s virtually impossible to survive in towns where there is trouble. Some join a trap boat and stay at sea most of the year, invisible to the rest of Honduras.
One warm and calm evening, a trap boat moored just off the cay. A group of kids, 15 and 16 years old, came ashore in two dinghies. They rigged a makeshift pulley system from the trap boat to the cay, allowing them to load dozens of wooden lobster traps on each dinghy, then pull the loaded dinghies to shore, where they are stored until the season reopens. They loaded and unloaded and stacked traps through most of one night, then resumed before sunrise the following morning. They sat with us when they finished. One of them had an infected finger from an injury caused by a lobster spine, which we helped clean.
The first four paying guests of the season showed up by helicopter at the end of my second week at Faraway. They slept in two nicely appointed yurts placed on top of stacked lobster traps. They were greeted with lunch — fish caught earlier that morning — then headed out with the guides on the two pangas. The wind was calm, and they soon disappeared into the expanse.
Four days later, I boarded the helicopter with Brown and the four guests and flew back to Guanaja. It was a two-hour ride over the Caribbean, and we saw no boats until we got near Guanaja. The four guests were ecstatic, as they had caught permit and lots of bones, and seen an incredible fishery with no one else around, other than a few Miskitos, trap boat fishermen and us.
I’ve fished around the world, from Cuba to Mexico to New Zealand, and I’d jump at the opportunity to return to Faraway Cayes. It’s not for everyone, to be sure. Helicopter fishing is not cheap, but I’m drawn to the adventure of remote places where the fisheries are still untappped. It was a wild trip and like none I’ve ever been on.