Connection, a word with many interpretations, that vary on a person to person basis. When I initially signed up for this trip, I had somewhat of an idea in regards to the underlying meaning of Fish for Change. However, after completing the first day, I slowly began to grasp the significance of this program’s purpose.
Days passed quickly, and as time was spent both on and off the water, the image that slowly developed in my head was truly one of a kind. I started to notice how fly fishing, a passion many possess, served as a beacon of hope and truth among the people of Guanaja. Throughout the week, I had the privilege of participating in the Fish for Change program with young men and women who possessed a unique combination of authenticity and a clearly identified passion. Through fly fishing, a connection has been established between the locals of Guanaja and the participants of this program.
Although I haven’t gained a complete understanding of every moving gear within the larger machine known as Fish for Change, I believe time will serve as a valuable component to the process of understanding my overall experience in Guanaja. Conversely, I had a moment of clarity while fishing in the western flats of the island a few days prior to writing this blog. As the gray sky created a silver tint to the rippling waters of the rocky, white sand flats, I spotted a sizeable permit tailing. The scene and experience was surreal to say the least, but the compilation of emotions and images that crossed my mind before making a cast at that permit seemed to freeze me in time on those mysterious flats.
Having been surrounded by guides for a matter of hours each day, I realized in that moment that these men showed a sense of hospitality and understanding of life that is unparalleled to anything I’ve ever been witness to. As Mark would say, “Many men connect more on a boat in a series of hours than they would having been neighbors for ten years.” The attitudes each guide displayed throughout the week were otherworldly and refreshing in nature.
Despite the rarity of these experiences, they seem to be recognizable when encountered but difficult to fully understand when reflected upon. Connections, which can be quite rare in life, are a part of a strong web of relations within this community and are very much so alive and well.
- John David Grisebaum 6/21/19
A torrent of rain may find its way to the little island of Guanaja just after first light or under the blanket of stars; and it may last ten minutes or ten days but a mark has been left. Springs over-looking the sea on harsh mountains are replenished with a new wave of water and a cycle begins. Water flows from the spring through one stream at first but before soon the stream is split up into two, then three, and before long, a network of streams replenish the whole island with new water. While one stream may wash up new food for anxious mullet in a pool, another may cascade over a waterfall providing a place for a nice swim. But the cycle doesn’t stop at the streams, it continues further on. From stream to pipe this new water may be funneled down a hill side in order to supply people with water as is done in Mangrove Bite. The flow is not perfect, however, as the cycle may be temporarily disrupted as a lanky teenager busts the well worn pipe and the whole town gathers to resume the flow, all as the suspect flees. The water from here may exit to the vast ocean in a variety of ways. Some water joins the ocean as a sun beaten fisherman cleans off his dock in the marina after a long day. Ocean currents circulate and sweep the water away to all ranges of life, water travels through a mudding permits gills or through a skiffs running prop. On the flats lots of water lies, running through the mangroves arching roots where some of it may even get absorbed. Through the mangrove the water runs getting filtered back from saltwater to fresh. As the mangrove synthesizes the water some of it is released back into the sky; in the form of water vapor it travels thousands of feet back into the sky, restarting the cycle. As this cycle continues another cycle continues its revolutions around the island. Fish for Change students filter in and out of Mangrove Bight to stay for week of experiences unlike any others in their life. Students are not only able to experience world class flats fishing but also a more important experience, that being the customs, culture, and over all environment of the islanders of Guanaja.
- Tristan McKenna 6/20/19
When I first heard about Fish for Change through a Flylords article I was reading in the middle of my Environmental Communication class this past semester, I knew I needed to go on this trip. I remember filling out all the information online, then telling my parents. They thought I was insane that I wanted to go to Guanaja, in the middle of June, alone with a group of kids I had never met before. I didn’t care I was still going. I knew this would be a trip of a lifetime.
I must admit, my first thought about Fish for Change was that this would be an incredible opportunity for me to become a better fly fisherman and have an opportunity to fish for the big three - bonefish, tarpon and the legendary permit. But as my departure date got closer, I realized this week long trip has very little to do about the fishing.
Days before my trip I made a promise to myself that I would take in every second that I have on this Island. Fish for Change for me is about connecting with people who I never would have the opportunity to connect with. It’s about “what can I do for you?” not “what can you do for me?”. Do I want to take unreal shots at trophy tarpon, bonefish and permit? Of course I do, but I am at the age where I realize that it isn’t about that. It’s about taking every moment in and harnessing it as much as you can because nobody knows what my future holds. I have no idea when I will ever be back, or if I even will have the opportunity to come back. When I come back home and try to explain to my family what this trip was like, I will honestly be at a loss for words, my photos won’t give this island justice and my description of the people here won’t even scratch the surface of the relationships that I have built through my love of fly fishing. My one piece of advice for anybody lucky enough to take this trip is take in every second of every day, especially when you aren’t fishing. Yes, fishing is what brings you on this trip, but it opens a door to a way of life and relationships that you will not find anywhere else.
- Tyler Niven 6/20/19
Last year when I first came to Fly Fish Guanaja on Jones Key, I didn't know what to expect. I have heard people talk about Guanaja and how the fish here are all a challenge to catch. The first day in the flats with Rankin was more than I expected. The wind was blowing aggressively and some shots at the fish were 70-80 feet. Rankin taught me so much more than I previously knew about saltwater fly fishing. I gained so much knowledge that day on the flats and that week. The amount of skills there is to learn and know about fishing for bonefish and permit is insane to me. He taught me and made me understand what it takes to punch they fly 60 feet into the wind and how slow or fast to strip the line in. All of these small tips are eventually going to add up and help me catch a permit. I always thought it was amazing and super interesting to learn about how the fish react in the water and how they want to see the fly move in the water. I travelled back to Guanaja this year to improve my skills and interact with the community as a whole.
One day, after we got back from fishing in the flats, my friends and I walked into Mangrove Bight to try to hookup and catch some tarpon and snook. Within twenty minutes of being there, three young kids that were seven years old came up and were interested in what we were doing. One of the boys asked to try casting the fly rod once. This turned into 30 minutes of me teaching this young boy to fly fish. I taught him how to shoot more line out and how to cast farther. These kids were so interested in fly fishing and had so many questions to ask us about it. It was awesome to be able to answer these questions and better knowledge these kids about the art of fly fishing. He stayed with us for the whole two hours we were there fishing. We were talking and laughing the entire time. He told us a little about his life and his favorite things to do on the island. It reminded me of my first day in Guanaja and Rankin teaching me things that would improve my fly fishing skills. This moment in Mangrove Bight brightened my view on this amazing island and the people in it. I loved how i got to pass on my learning to these young boys and hopefully now they can continue fly fishing and become as passionate about it as I am. This experience was an eye opener for me in a sense that it made me realize how amazing it feels to teach someone skills and things that I was once taught.
This all ties back to one of the pillars for Fish For Change - education. To me, the “educate” pillar has a lot more meaning to it then just the word itself. It means that we should take every opportunity we have and share our knowledge them of the things we have been taught. Fish For Change has really had a positive impact for this island and people that live on it and also the people that get to come visit it. It has had an amazing impact on me and has given me so many opportunities that have enlighten my life and better informed me about the outside world and how good it feels to give.
- Henry Lewis 6/19/19
One of Fish For Changes’ pillars is connection, a word that to many of us is up for interpretation. To some it can mean connecting to things, people, places etc. For me personally, connection has been something I’ve struggled with my entire life. I’ve spent the majority of my youth so far searching for something to take place of the very attiment feeling of loneliness I often find myself feeling. The fly fishing industry is very small and at times can be brutal, leaving you feel as though you’re in it all alone. Finding genuine people that have your best interests at heart and truly want to be there for you has often left me with a lot of disappointment and heartache. Going into my trip to Guanaja I honestly didn’t know what to expect and I think my mindset, to a degree was relatively pessimistic due to my previous personal experiences within the fly fishing community. Thankfully my mindset was quickly changed when I arrived to this breathtaking island. Being blessed enough to spent these oh so fleeting seven days with this indescribable group of young women has enstilled an unmeasurable amount of soul enrichment to my life that I know I’ll never forget. Spending this time surrounded by people who want nothing more than to lift you up, encourage and support you has filled voids of love in me I didn’t know I had. I want to finish this off by simply saying:
Words fall short in expressing my gratitude to my time spent with Fish For Change and I genuinely believe that there is not another program that can offer this type of connection, the amazing place that is Guanaja, and the sport that brought all of us together.
I will forever be grateful to Fish For Change for changing my life.
Packing for this trip I knew I had to take only the things that would serve me and nothing else–long pants to protect me from the bugs, good glasses to spot fish past the sun’s strong afternoon glare, and of course my Crocs to sport me through the week’s adventures. What the packing list didn’t include were the little things that could make or break a trip of a lifetime.
First is the ability to roll with the punches. Within the first two days, we cumulatively lost one wallet, two bags, a lot of time due to flight cancelations, and gut-fulls of food on a more-than-choppy boat ride from Roatan. I’m not sure if it was the heat, but entering the arches of Fly Fish Guanaja our troubles seemed to melt away. Within a few hours of us ladies coming together, we became more receptive to why we were here in the first place and what we, personally, wanted to gather from this experience. In reflecting on this, I stumbled across my second item on my figurative packing list–a clear head and an open heart. I came to the understanding that I was here to give and not take.
I feel lucky enough to know what it feels like to be supported and have time to shine, and the one thing I wanted to give to my fellow lady anglers this week was that same feeling. This week I traded expectations for an open heart, and in return I’ve been rewarded in ways beyond belief. Yesterday I landed a permit, and apparently, that’s a big deal–quite honestly I don’t really understand the permit hype yet, but witnessing how finicky they’ve been in the past few days has started to clue me in.
Shyanne said earlier this week that good luck is better than being good in itself, and I have no shame in owning that. If anything, my fish karma points are being put to good use. If I could carry one thing for the rest of my life (besides Crocs) it would be an attitude of gratitude. As cheesy as it sounds, it allows me to see the value in wind knots, bug bites, and the coat of sweat I’m always inhabiting here in Guanaja. Life’s gritty, unfair, and most of the time we go through it alone, but these endlessly loving ladies at my side have reminded me that I can conquer anything if I buy into the narrative in which I succeed.