Cotton Tree Lodge
A Cultural and Fishing Experience at Cotton Tree Lodge in the Belizean Jungle!
by Ed H. Edwards, SCI Lansing Chapter Member, avid hunter, and fisherman
The strike was not very violent, more like the sensation of snagging a stick for the first few seconds, but feeling the twitch-twitch I rear back and the swimbaits hook finds purchase. The fish reacts by making a hard run peeling line off my Penn International in multiple surges!
Belize – Previously British Honduras was one of those little Crown Lands mislaid by the surging and ebb tides of the British Empire. Many years lurking quietly between Mexico and Guatemala it was never known until its natural beauty, historic sites, and unusual vacation possibilities became organized and available.
The SCI Lansing Chapter Fall 2022 had a donation from Cotton Tree Lodge for a jungle trip that would be a great winter get-a-way that my wife Carol hinted she would like to take. We purchased it and booked February 26 – March 5th. Three days before departure I sat on a bucket ice fishing in 25 F / 20 MPH winds and made it through the morning daydreaming how it would be in the tropics fishing in short sleeves the following week!
Most of my trips are focused on either hunting or fishing and this was going to be an exception. Many cultural tours were included as part of the donation and in addition to fishing we participated/attended:
- Maya Ruins and Rio Blanco Waterfall Tour
- Cacao Farm Tour and chocolate-making workshop
- Traditional Tortilla Making Lesson
- Jungle /Survival. (Hands-on instructions in the Jungle on how to obtain food, water, and make shelter) A super cool experience!
- Sunset River Cruise
Where is Cotton Tree Lodge?
Cotton Tree Lodge is located on the Moho River a few miles upstream of the Caribbean. Individual cabanas are built on poles about 16 feet above ground level of natural materials. The structure is constructed of mahogany with palm-thatched roofs. The entire operation is off the grid and has dedicated solar power.
A central dining room serves meals prepared from local gardens, and orchards, with chicken and pork sourced locally. If any guests participate in the fishing opportunities the fish go directly to the kitchen! During our stay fillets from jack, snook, mackerel, and barracuda were prepared in several different ways and all were delicious.
To me, fishing with lures is just another form of hunting and can be far more challenging. Fish must be either “stalked” and cast to or by trolling lures in areas they may be in and the lure presentation is more demanding than any type of hunting. An animal can be spotted and perhaps shot but a fish must be outwitted in thinking your lure is something good to eat or a possible threat either way instigating a strike.
The Moho is a very slow-moving and wide river. We fished it by trolling the last two miles before it flowed into the Caribbean. The water is both fresh and brackish depending on tides with barracuda, jacks, and snook being the fish species available. During our stay, the water was as dark as chocolate milk, and unless a hooked fish jumps you have no idea of the species until it is ready to land.
When we pulled away from the dock I wondered if fish really did exist where we were going to fish. Like an Irish person might say of the elusive Leprechaun, “there is no such thing, but we know they’re there.”
Having hooked and landed a nice jack earlier I was feeling confident when the strike mentioned earlier occurred. My twenty-pound-test monofilament whined off the spool but no way was I going to lose this fish which definitely had some size regardless of species by rushing and doing something foolish like over-tightening the drag. I only hoped there was not any submerged timber it would end up snagging in.
The fight see-sawed back and forth for ten minutes losing then gaining backline. The runs kept getting shorter and shorter and finally what turned out to be a big barracuda tired out enough to be glided boat side and “Pop” the boat captain slipped the big net under him! With a grunt, he lifted twenty-one pounds of Cuda over the gunwale. Looking at what was left of the plastic swimbait – no plastic only a weighted hook deep inside its toothy snout I knew the fight would have been over before it started without the stout wire leader!
The morning I went river fishing Carol attended the tortillas making lesson. Here is her story: At first thought making your own tortilla does not sound all that much of a draw. Yet if that opportunity is overlooked the stay at the lodge is not complete in my opinion. After traveling to a remote village a warm welcome awaited. Mrs. Bow greeted us with exceptional hospitality and led us into her simple dwelling. Her thatched home kitchen is lined with shelves of cookery, a wood stove, and a table and chairs. We were soon chatting and shucking ears of corn. This is how she starts each day with the task of making at least 75 tortillas to feed her extended family of 10! We then removed the kernels and went to work processing the tortillas using the wood stove and hand-operated kitchen tools. She enjoyed answering our questions and we all left educated about a simple and loving culture. When at Cotton Tree sign up for this activity!
Traveling to Cotton Tree Lodge
USA Agent: Safari Unlimited LLC / www.safariunlimitedworldwide.com
Getting There: Delta, America, and United have flights to Belize City. Tropic Air provides the short hop to Punta Gorda. Cotton Tree Will make your Tropic Air reservation once they know your arrival time in Belize City.
Communication: English is the primary language and we had no communication difficulties.
Staff: Most are of Maya descent and are friendly, confident, punctual, and zealously cordial in making sure every activity went smoothly.
Clothing: Casual & Comfortable! This is in a rain forest so even during the dry season a rain shower is daily is not uncommon and humidity is ever-present. I dressed in light fishing shirts & shorts most of the time. A light rain parka is good to have when fishing. Best to avoid cotton clothing, it will get damp and not dry out.
Fishing Equipment: The lodge has loaners but I like to use stuff I’m used to and familiar with. We took a 7’ spinning and 8’ castings rigs that both fit in a 26” tube when dismantled making transport easy. Trolling is the primary method and either diving Rapala plugs or swimbaits are preferred. Heavy wire leaders with cross lock snaps are a must. One of the other guests had a safety pin snap design straightened out resulting in a lost lure and fish.
Meals: Well prepared, fresh, and healthy.
Breakfast: Served buffet style with a different variety each day of eggs, fruit, pancakes or rolls, and fresh orange juice.
Lunch: Often taken during an activity away from the lodge and normally a tortilla wrap and fruit.
Dinner: Four-course. Soup, Salad, Entree, and desert.
The kitchen will work out any special diet needs.
A Great Trip!
In summary a great vacation destination for anyone that enjoys the outdoors and wants to do something different. During our stay, we were joined by four other couples, two of who were also from Michigan, one from Alaska, and one from Tennessee. Four of the five groups purchased their trip from an SCI Chapter fundraiser donation. Cotton Tree Lodge is a great supporter of SCI!
Join SCI TODAY!
Safari Club International is the leading voice in the fight to protect the freedom to hunt, both in the United States and internationally. The SCI Departments of Legal Advocacy Resources and International Affairs and Government Relations is headquartered in Washington, D.C., advocating on behalf of SCI members and non-members alike. From staff dedicated to legislation and policy to a team of litigators, SCI hunter advocacy is at the forefront of protecting the hunting heritage. SCI and the SCI Foundation provide the voice of the hunter in treaties that affect hunting and wildlife conservation worldwide. This is where SCI and SCI Foundation go beyond what other hunter organizations do and why their work in this arena is critical to preserving the right to hunt. Plus, we have lots of fun and events like this one!
To find out more information about SCI and joining our chapter, click below: