Belize 2019, Trip Report 3

cabezon

Sculpin Enterprises
WFF Supporter
It was time to wrap up a month spent in Belize, my first visit to the country. Several months previously, I had asked for some recommendations from the WFF board of what to see and do in Belize and your advice and experience were very valuable. While fly fishing was an element of this trip, at its heart this was a work trip of sorts. I spent two weeks exploring the activities of ReefCI, a conservation group based on Tom Owen’s Caye in the southern Sapodilla Marine Reserve; they involve citizen volunteer divers to remove invasive lionfish from the local reefs and monitor local conch and lobster populations. My wife and I then spent a week with guides exploring the birds, other wildlife, and Mayan ruins of Belize and Tikal, Guatemala. Based on Caye Caulker for the last several days of the trip, we snorkeled the Hol Chan and Caye Caulker Marine Reserves, dove the Blue Hole and other sites around Lighthouse Reef, and ended with day of guided flyfishing. While there was flyfishing sprinked throughout the trip, this report will focus on the last day; as I work my way through the other 7500+ pictures and video, I’ll add two other reports.

Based on your recommendations and internet reviews, I went with Chasin’ Tail Guide Service. Kyle was my guide for the day.

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We headed out in his flats boat at 8AM and headed south from Caye Caulker. Our potential targets for the day included the potential Belizean grand slam: bonefish, permit, and tarpon. I set up my nine-weight Sage RP with a crab pattern for permit. Kyle also had brought a seven-weight rigged with a crazy Charlie for bonefish, and a ten-weight set up rigged for tarpon, among other rods.

The morning started slow. The situation was not helped by the wind waves from the tail end of a storm that came through the previous day or the overcast skies. We checked out several spots but saw no sign of tarpon or permit, but we did see a croc and manatees. At another spot, the bonefish that Kyle did spot ignored whatever fly I was throwing in their direction. Perhaps the previous guide boats had already harassed these fish as they were not interested in playing.

So, revising the game plan, Kyle then did a high-speed trip along the shore of a caye, through several narrow mangrove channels, and into an internal bay in an unnamed caye. The weather began to turn in our favor with more consistent sun and dropping winds. I headed up on the bow while Kyle poled us just off a sand spine dividing the bay into two sections. The bay was a few feet deep and covered with patches of sand/mud and turtle grass.

Up on the bow, I was ready to cast on command. Near the south end of the sand spine, Kyle spotted a school of bonefish moving over the sand between the shoreline and an offshore turtle grass patch. Following his direction, I did see the school and managed to drop my crazy Charlie just in front of the first fish. I made a few strips. A fish detached itself from the group, swam in the direction of my fly, and confidently ate the fly. The line went tight and the fish bolted along the shore.

The rest of the school bolted too. After the initial run, I was able to retrieve some line before the fish jetted off again. When it was running toward me, I had to reel like a crazed organ grinder to keep tension on the line. After a few minutes, the fish tired and Kyle was able to grab the leader and bring in the fish. It was about a 12” bonefish. We took some pictures, Kyle removed the hook, I revived the fish a bit, and we sent it on its way.

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We continued further down the shore. Kyle spotted another bonefish school and a single fish nearby. While he directed me to cast to the school, I figured that I could cast to the closer single fish and then have an option of casting to the school, a bit farther off. Just as I cast, the fish turned away from where the fly landed. I tightened up the line and gave a few strips but stopped as the fish was looking the other way. But, it then turned toward where the fly lay. I gave it another few strips and the fish charged the fly. I set the hook and it was game on again.

This fish rocketed off even faster than the first fish. Soon, I was into the backing. Kyle originally thought that this was a smaller fish but it didn’t fight like one and when it came closer, we could see that it was a nice-sized fish. We tussled back and forth until Kyle slipped the net under the fish. We slapped a tape on it, 16.25” in fork length. After a few pictures, we sent the fish on its way.

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We continued to work over the flats. Kyle pointed out a pod of tailing bonefish in the middle of a turtle grass flat. I cast to the group, but they all bolted off in the shallow water. Kyle did see several cruising bonefish in the area, but they weren’t interested in feeding and were quite skittish. As we headed off, we saw four spotted eagle rays holding in a deeper channel just off the flats. It was great to see them cruising around.

After some lunch, we headed off to a new spot. I was surprised as we appeared to be heading to a featureless nowhere in the middle of an area of sand patches and seagrasses. The water depth was between 10 and 15 feet. With me ready to cast on the bow, Kyle would motor slowly around until the small schools of permit in the area appeared. I readied myself on the bow with my 9 wt. and pulled off enough line to reach the limit of what I could do with that rod, line, and fly.

Per usual, Kyle spotted the school well before I did. The boat was moving toward the school. When they were within range, I dropped a cast just short of the group and began to strip back. Several fish separated from the group and one of them snatched the fly. As the fish sprinted off, I guided the slack line through the guides until the fish was on the reel. The reel began to sing as the fish bolted off. But the fight has just begun when the line when slack. The hook had pulled free. Permit 1: Steve 0.

We resumed our search for the school. It popped up again within casting distance. I cast just in front of their direction of movement, stripped a few times, and felt the line go tight. Fish on!!! Again, the fish took off on a blistering run, following the dispersal of its school buddies. In spite of the tight drag, the fish took line and had me into the backing. When it ran back to the boat, I had to reel like crazy. Kyle had dropped the anchor to hold our position against wind and current. Of course, the fish wanted to play over the stern of the boat where dangers like the motor and the anchor line lurked. I managed to coax the fish around to the port side and bow of the boat for most of the battle. Permit sure know how to use the flattened body to resist movement toward the boat. Kyle reminded me to not have the rod too high. I had to remember to not grab too high up on the rod too. Both errors could lead to catastrophe, a broken rod. As Kyle predicted, the fish had one last burst. But I was able to bring the fish up toward the surface and Kyle soon grabbed the leader and then the tail of the fish. Cool, first permit. It was about 18”. Permit 1: Steve 1.

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Okay, let’s find another!!! With me back on the bow, Kyle slowly motored from open sand patch to open sand patch. He was looking 10 – 20 feet farther away than I was and was the first to spot the school. But I soon picked them out too. As we got closer, the school sounded. But I cast to where they were and let the fly sink a bit before I started to strip. I didn’t see the take, but the line soon went taunt and it was game on again. More confident of what I need to do, I was able to handle this fish more easily and soon Kyle tailed permit #2, a carbon copy of the first fish. After a series of pictures, we send this fish back to play with its friends. Permit 1: Steve 2.

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There were some other fishing prowling the open sand patches – barracuda. I had one fish track my fly when I stripped it back. And then another barracuda grabbed my crab fly and immediately broke me off. Kyle decided to try some cuda fishing. He broke out his 10 wt. rod, tie on a wire tippet, and cast out a tarpon pattern. He had one fish on briefly before it spit the hook. Several other fish followed subsequent casts, but no others bit the fly.

I really wanted one more permit, but it was also nearing the end of my day of fishing. For whatever reason, the permit schools were more dispersed or harder to see. We covered quite a bit of surface without seeing much happening. Even when we did see a school, I had a shot or two but generally the schools were too far away or moving in the wrong direction for a decent cast. Finally, we motored into the neighborhood of a school and they swam to us. I made a good cast, let the fly sink for a second or two, and began to strip in. Again, the line went tight and it was game on. This seemed to be a bigger fish. On its initial run, the knob on the reel banged on my knuckles as I tried to palm the reel to slow the fish down. Kyle advised me to let the reel do the work. This fish went deep into the backing before I was able to turn it. We battled back and forth and I was happy that the reel seat had a fighting butt and that the rod had enough backbone. After a longer fight, Kyle grabbed the leader and tailed the fish. This was a bit bigger than the other two, closer to 20”. More pics and on its way. Permit 1: Steve 3. And the final whistle blows!!!

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A nice way to cap the day. A great day to end the month in Belize.

Steve
 

Greg Armstrong

Active Member
WFF Supporter
Damn, you done well - Congratulations!

You make it sound so easy! Every Permit I've cast to has completely refused my fly!
 

Dipnet

The wanted posters say Tim Hartman
WFF Supporter
After all the snowy weather here the last few weeks, your story and pics were just what I needed! Sounds as if it was a great trip!
 

Chucker

Chucking a dead parrot on a piece of string!
3 permit in one day! You really should give up now. It will never be that good again!
 

cabezon

Sculpin Enterprises
WFF Supporter
how does one " remove invasive lionfish"?
Hi GR,
You spear them with a pole spear (quite easy as they are unafraid), carefully transfer them to an acrylic tube for transportation, fillet them back on the caye, and eat em.... I saw few at the northern sites that I snorkeled at Hol Chan (zero) and Caye Caulker (zero) Marine Reserves and two dive sites (two individuals) at Lighthouse Atoll. A team of five or six divers could spear 30ish lionfish in a single dive in the southern reefs, Sapidilla Cayes. There are just far more people in the north to keep the lionfish under control.
Steve
 
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