Fly fishing in Belize is one of the most exciting vacations a saltwater fly angler can take with miles of shallow water flats and hundreds of cayes to fish, huge schools of bonefish, a healthy (and growing) population of permit, and resident tarpon for year round fishing in addition to the peak migratory tarpon season. Fly fishing in Belize is incredibly frustrating and can be disheartening for novice and seasoned anglers alike with unpredictable weather on the Caribbean, strong winds, bonefish that can’t be fooled by even the best fly presentation and permit that seem to spook on your first back cast. Both of these can be, and are, true assessments of what it’s like to fly fish in Belize.
Over the years I’ve personally experienced both sides of this – the good, the bad, the ugly. I’ve left Belize frustrated with myself for not making the casts that were needed to land more fish. I’ve cursed the skies above for having one of the Belizean cold fronts, a ‘northern‘ as they call it, coincide with my fishing days. Admittedly I’ve even held grudges against individual fish that SHOULD HAVE eaten my fly but didn’t – as if I was owed a bite after so many casts…silly fool.
On the flip side I’ve had days in Belize that were so perfect I wish I could have bottled them up and taken them home so I could see and smell it whenever I needed a Caribbean fix. Sunshine, little to no wind, calm turquoise seas, miles of flats with no other anglers in sight, tailing permit and bonefish, and hungry tarpon that were willing to eat my fly time and time again. I’ve spent plenty of days fishing the flats and tried to capture the beauty of the various shades of electric blue with all kinds of high-end cameras, but no picture can compare to seeing that type of color with your own eyes. In addition to actually catching bonefish, permit, and tarpon in Belize, one of the things I love most is the sheer diversity of marine life you see poling and wading through this crystal clear shallow water. On the flats we’ve seen juvenile sharks, huge barracudas, five species of rays, sea turtles, large grouper and snapper looking for a meal, and even manatee seem to make regular appearances.
While I can not guarantee you perfect weather on the Caribbean, and I wouldn’t even begin to try and guarantee that you’ll find a cooperative permit or tarpon, we can guarantee we’ll put you in the right spot, at the right time, with a quality local guide that we know personally who has at least 20 years of experience guiding these waters. The following five tips are designed to help you get your body, AND mind, prepared for your next fly fishing trip to Belize.
1 – Patience – If you are anything like us, every time you take to the flats you dream of completing Grand Slam – bonefish, permit, tarpon – all in the same day. The reality is it’s incredibly hard to do as it requires a lot of skill AND a lot of luck. There are days where you’ll find hundreds of bonefish but never see a permit. Maybe you see large schools of permit but can’t get the bonefish to bite because they are nervous about the barracuda that’s been chasing them all day. Or like my last trip, maybe you catch tarpon at 8:00 AM but the only permit you see all day swims right up to the boat when you are changing flies and aren’t ready to cast. Fly fishing the flats is the closest thing to hunting that I’ve experienced in my time fishing in Central America. It’s about the holistic experience of selecting the right fly, spotting the fish, getting into position, making the perfect cast, stripping at the right speed, setting the hook, winning the fight, and releasing that fish to fight another day. Some days you get the chance to do this, some days you don’t. Saltwater fly fishing is not a numbers game, enjoy the experience.
2 – Persistence – If you’ve ever been to a fly fishing lodge sitting around sharing stories and talking with other fly anglers you probably picked up on the fact many of them are sarcastic and enjoy a self-deprecating sense of humor. The reason why is because being seasoned fly anglers they are used to failure and things not going their way. There are days when nothing goes right – the weather is bad, the seas are choppy, you couldn’t find the fish, or you found the fish but made a bad cast – or worse – got your lang tangled up at your own feet and didn’t even get a cast off. There are days where you make a perfect cast, the fish follows your fly, then decides not to eat it. Maybe you feel that magical tug and the line goes tight, then a tarpon spits the hook or a permit breaks your leader on coral as it speeds off the flats. It happens to all of us. Saltwater fly fishing is not a numbers game, enjoy the experience.
3 – The Right Gear – Only a fool would knowingly enter into battle unprepared and/or out gunned. It goes without saying that with the right gear you stand a better chance of getting that trophy fish to the boat and in your hands for a priceless photo and wet release. You’ll want 8 wt rods for bonefish, 9 wts for permit, and 10 or 11 wts for the tarpon. Leaders and tippet vary based on your rod and the species you are after. Of course you’ll want a nice selection of flies to have options for whatever the conditions dictate. Last but not least – a good pair of polarized sunglasses as you’ll be staring at and into the water all day in search of fish. Click here to see our complete Belize Fly Fishing Guide.
4 – A Good Double Haul – One of the most common complaints we here about fly fishing in Belize is the wind. Many fly anglers simply aren’t used to fishing in 10-20 mph winds. If it’s like that back home you stay inside that day or grab the spinning rod instead, meanwhile many trout anglers find themselves fishing in streams protected by trees or in a valley so you don’t ever have to deal with it. In Belize it’s commonplace, so if you are trying to cast an 8, 9 or 10 wt rod into a strong wind you better know how to double haul. This two-handed technique is needed to properly load your rod, shoot your fly line a greater distance, and get your leader to turn over for proper presentations.
5 – Accurate Casts – It doesn’t matter if it’s bonefish, permit, or tarpon you are after – chances are you’ll be surprised by how close you can get to these fish most days. Rarely do you need to make a cast over 60 ft, so if you’ve been practicing shooting line for 100 ft casts you can stop wasting your time – accuracy is more important when fly fishing in Belize. If you are poling a flat your guide will shout ‘Permit! 10 O’Clock. 40 ft.‘ Sounds easy, right? It’s not so easy if the fish are moving, the skiff is moving, and the wind is blowing – all three in different directions – so making accurate casts will land you more fish than hail mary casts will. If you are wading chances are you can walk up to within 25-40 feet of a tailing fish if they are busy eating, the key is to make an accurate cast to put the fly in front of their face without spooking them. Cast too far away and they won’t see it. Cast your fly line over top of them and they are guaranteed to spook. If you are going to practice before you get to Belize we recommend practicing hitting a specific spot anywhere from 30-50 ft away, with different arm angles, as that is what will be required of you once you are on the flats.