Marty and I just got back from a Bonefishing trip to Belize.
We fished at a place called Turneffe Flats; part of the Turneffe Island atoll; the largest of the 4 coral atolls in the Western hemisphere (two of the other 3 also happen to be off the coast of Belize). It's a huge atoll; over 10 miles long and 5 miles wide; with a barrier reef all the way around and a lagoon that's as large as a good sized bay, with water depths of 1-20 ft. It's 35 miles off the coast of Belize and it takes about an hour and a half to get there by boat out of the port of Belize City.
Turneffe Flats is owned by a very nice couple who started their business in 1981; the same year that Belize declared its independence from the British Empire and changed its name from British Honduras to Belize. Since that time, they've come from a one bedroom fishing shack with no running water to a site that can accommodate 18 anglers; two per boat, for a week's time; with hot and cold fresh water. Two hurricanes have completely demolished their buildings, but they've built them back and, each time, with improvements. It's a nice spot to spend some time.
And the fishing...............probably the best I've seen for Bonefish. When we arrived, I asked one of the guides how the fishing had been over the past week. He smiled and said it had been pretty good. Then he pointed just offshore and said: "there a nice school of about 150 tailing Bonefish just off the beach right now, if you want to try your luck at them." That did it - I smiled at Marty, gabbed my rod and knew that I was set for a great week!
Bonefish are plentiful at Turneffe atoll. Whereas I'm used to hearing people in the Bahamas say: "there's a Bonefish", and people in the Yucatan say: "there a nice school of a dozen Bonefish". when you're at Turneffe, all they say is" "Bonefish!". What that means is a school of anywhere from twenty to over a hundred fish; usually feeding and creating a mud that you could lob a tarpon fly into without scattering the school. So, the fishing is good!
We hooked a lot of Bonefish, some Grunts, Snappers and a small Barracuda.
What eluded both of us for a week were the Permit. In 4 days of hunting, we only saw 3 small schools of fish. We cast to them many times, some of the casts weren't great, but some were spot on. And each one was unceremoniously refused by the fish; they'd just swim over our crab patterns and move on around the boat. Frustrating. But, some of the other anglers scored nicely; one guy got 2 Permit, both in the 20+ lb. range. So, they were out there, but not for us. Maybe next time. We still have yet to land a Permit and we're getting the feeling that it's more than time to get one.
Here are some pics of the trip.
Entering the atoll from the West. This is one of the local fishing shacks on a point overlooking the lagoon:
Climb off the boat and this is Turneffe Flats:
And in the morning, here's the fleet of 14 ft. flats boats that are ready to get you to your destination:
Armed and ready!:
Pocono out on the flats; you can see the barrier reef in the background. The gear that they fish for Bonefish is primarily 8 wts., overlined with 9 wt. line. For Permit, it's 9 wts., overlined with 10 wt. line. I know, a lot of you don't think much about overlining a rod. But, the fact is that the rod weights suit the size of the fish, while the line weights deal with the wind. Yup, it blows a steady 20 knots out at Turneffe, all day and all night. Overlining worked well for us. Unfortunately, I only brought one 8 wt. rod; a Redington CPS, which is a great saltwater rod. What I did bring was a Sage TCX in a 7 wt. and that turned out to be the perfect rod for me for the situation. Yes, I did overline it by two weights; probably not the ideal situation, but the TCX is such a stiff rod that it handled it very well, while allowing for long casts into a lot of wind. I don't think that Sage knows what a good saltwater rod they have there in the TCX:
They were hungry fish! A lot of them swallowed the flies; which made us glad that we were both fishing with pinched down barbs. In a week's fishing we only lost one fish; all of the others swam away after the release:
The Bonefish in Belize are plentiful, but they're not large. Average sized fish are in the 15-17" range, large ones can go 25+", but they're not the big fish that you'll find in the Bahamas. However, a school of over 100 tailing Bonefish is a good thing; a very good thing!
Here's Marty with one of the little ones:
And, a little Barracuda; caught, by the way on one of the Gotcha patterns that I tied up for the trip. By far, the most successful flies that I took with me were the Root Beer Gotchas and Crazy Charlies; perfect for the speckled flats bottom that you find at Turneffe. In fact, the same Root Beer Crazy Charlie caught, Bonefish, Snapper, Sargent Majors and Barracuda; all in the same day; all on the same fly! So, next time I go to Turneffe, I'll tie up more of just one or two patterns; all Root Beer Crystal Flash-based.
And what's fishing without fish stories at the end of the day? We had lots of them. One of the real pluses about Belize is that they brew their own local beer, called "Belican". Good stuff in moderation of course (chuckle)
This is a shot taken right outside our door; 5:30 AM and a lot of people were getting in some practice on the flats. One of them was Chris Santella. If you've ever seen the book entitled: "Fifty Places to Fly Fish Before You Die", then you're looking at Chris' first book. He gets paid to travel around the globe, fly fish and then write about the places he likes. I asked him how I could get his job and he just smiled. Really nice guy. He's working on a second book of the same kind now; should be out in about 6 months. The guy that he fished with, Geoff, scored a grant slam on the very last day (Bonefish, Permit and Tarpon all in the same day). So, he was a very happy camper!
Here's the boat that gets you to and from Turneffe, the Ms. Ellie:
We had a great time! We're already talking about going back and it's only been 24 hours since we left!