Summer 2013

Fisherman Supreme

Alumnus is key environmentalist in Belize

By Bruce Morgan

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Photo: Jim Klug

What does a former family medicine doc from Deadwood, S.D., have in common with someone who runs an upscale fishing lodge and leads the fight for environmental protection in Belize? They are the same guy. Craig Hayes, ’75, has been named 2013 Angler of the Year by Fly Rod & Reel magazine for his endeavors in and out of the water.

It all happened by accident. In the late 1970s, a high school friend called him up and said, “Let’s go to Belize.” Hayes responded, “Yeah, let’s go. By the way, where’s Belize?” They traveled south and sniffed that tropical air. Hayes, then working as a physician in his home state of South Dakota, began trekking down to Belize as often as he could, building a rough fishing camp on a pristine atoll 30 miles off the coast that grew into the much fancier Turneffe Flats Lodge (, considered one of the top saltwater fly-fishing lodges in the world.

Now retired from medicine, Hayes and his wife, Karen, live full time in Belize, where the dazzling natural world has enchanted him. With a group of fellow activists, he formed the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Council, and, over the course of several years, created a 300-page management plan for developing the atoll smartly. “I’ve always been passionate about environmental issues, going back to my time fighting gold mines in the Black Hills,” he says. “I’ve carried that over to our own backyard here at Turneffe.” Hayes wants to do more than protect some bonefish. He wants to save the ocean they live in.

Belize designated the atoll a marine reserve late last year, setting aside 325,000 acres that the Oceanic Society has deemed “the largest and most biologically diverse coral atoll in the Western Hemisphere.” Reached at home on a day when boat trouble was keeping him occupied, Hayes deflects any praise for his role in gaining the designation. “It’s quite a special place,” he says.

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