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May 03, 23

WILL BAUER | A FLYFISHING LEGEND PASSES Bauer Crab | Over 100 Permit On The Fly

It is with great sadness that we received a note from Winston Moore on Thursday notifying us that saltwater great and legendary permit angler Will Bauer had passed away on Wednesday night. The inventor of the famous Bauer Crab permit fly, will was also one of the early angling pioneers in Belize. I had the great pleasure of getting to know Will over the past few years, and he provided a huge amount of help when I was compiling material for the Fly Fishing Belize book project.

Originally from Missouri, Will spent the 1960s and early ‘70s working for airline giant TWA, a job that allowed him to travel the world, experience exotic new fisheries and further develop his love for adventure. In the mid-70s, Will left TWA and returned to Northern California, where he opened a company that manufactured, repaired and distributed shipping pallets. His company expanded quickly, giving him the freedom and resources to take on several side projects related to the thing he loved most: fly fishing. In the early 1980s, Will migrated north to Alaska, where along with a partner, he opened a fly shop in Anchorage by the name of McBauer’s. A few years later, Will sold his ownership in the shop and set off in search of his next project. In 1982, Will made his first trip to Belize on a live-aboard trip to fish the waters and the flats from Belize City south to Placencia.

It was on that trip that Will first discovered permit, hooking and losing a single fish on the last day of the trip. According to Will, that fish changed his life, and from that moment on, he was addicted to permit fishing. Will returned to Southern Belize and the Placencia area as often as possible over the next few years, and in 1985, built and opened the first dedicated fishing lodge in the southern part of Belize – Ranguana Caye Lodge. The small, five-cabin, beachfront operation was located in the heart of what was then the sleepy village of Placencia: a partnership between Will and Placencia local Eddie Leslie. They built the lodge from the ground up — a collection of mahogany and Santa Maria wood cabanas located next to the old Sea Spray Hotel and across the narrow sidewalk (Placencia’s main street) from Jeannie’s Cafe, which in the early years provided all of the meals for the lodge’s guests.

Ranguana’s fishing program started off strong, with an early guide staff that included David Westby, Joel Westby, Kurt Godfrey, and George and Julian Cabral. Collectively, this team of guides comprised one of the most talented fishing lineups in the region, further adding to the area’s growing reputation as the permit capital of the world. For the next few years, things ran well, and the lodge and the Ranguana guide team exposed hundreds of anglers to the amazing waters of Southern Belize. Will would leave Placencia and the lodge project a few years later, after an already strained relationship with the Leslie family took a turn for the worse. Ranguana Caye Lodge closed shortly thereafter, and it would be years before any other fishing-focused lodges would reopen and take hold in the area.

From Placencia, Will looked slightly north to the waters off the coast of Dangriga and Hopkins, spending the next several years hosting groups and fishing out of Blue Marlin Lodge on South Water Caye. It was there that he met Lincoln Westby, the brother of Will’s original Placencia guides David and Joel Westby. Will and Lincoln began fishing together on a regular basis, and soon conversation turned to the idea of building a new fishing lodge in the cayes directly off-shore from Hopkins Village.

Lincoln knew of a prime location on Northeast Caye, a small island in the Pelican Caye Range that was located 18 miles Southeast of Dangriga. Westby and his wife, Pearline, were able to lease the mangrove island from the government with a future option to buy, and Lincoln and his crew soon went to work clearing an area for the new operation. While the location was strategically located in the middle of the best permit flats in the entire area, the low-lying island was inundated with water during high tides, which meant that it took several months and countless boatloads of sand and fill materials to create enough dry land to erect the first building. Finally, in 1997, Bauer brought the first group of anglers to the new Blue Horizon Lodge, and Lincoln Westby’s dream became a reality.

Will was a great angler, a saltwater pioneer, and one of the all-time great permit fishermen. He will be missed.

- Jim Klug, April 30, 2015