The legendary bonefish. One of the primary reasons we chose to go to Belize this year is to fish the beautiful Belize Barrier Reef. Only second in size to the Great Barrier Reef, the reef along the Belize and Ambergris Caye is home to schools of bonefish, permit, and tarpon. These species are three of the most sought after ocean species for a fly fisherman (or fisherwoman). Brad caught a permit of a lifetime in Key West a few years ago, so our wishful target were the bones and tarpon. Our next adventure in life was going to be fly fishing Belize.
The fly shop is owned by Wil Flack, a guide from the Pacific Northwest. It is right by the main center plaza, where the water taxi docks. You can see how excited Brad is the first day we arrive.
We were picked up right at the end of our dock at 7 AM, protein bars in hand. Our hotel faced the Caribbean, on the outside of the island that faces the reef. He was not docked because the weather was terrible and hot and windy. When he pulled up and we hopped it we mentioned the weather. His response: “Well I was going to cancel your trip…” as he trailed off. My heart sunk at the thought of $500 cost and 8 blazing hot hours we were about to endure. One cannot wish a fish to existence.
We told him we were mediocre casters and I think he assumed we were terrible. After driving to the back side of the island and looking for fish nearly 2.5 hours, he pulled up to a calmer spot along the coast and handed us a spin rod with a dead shrimp carcass attached to the end. Brad and I looked at eachother again, both hearts sunken, sure that no fish were in our near future. I think our guide, Julian, was anxious to help us find fish in this unusual weather as he was particularly quiet. Perhaps the island natives are not into small talk. After all, small talk is simply a “polite” American facade for when you don’t truly want to talk but sense obligation.
After a few casts I was frustrated and put the rod down. I asked if I could use the fly rod and Julian perked up. A group of Permit showed up down the coast and the guide had me throw a couple casts at them. I was beyond frustrated at this point as it was 11 AM and we had just seen our first sign of any fish and I have zero skill in throwing anything but a fly rod. I asked if I could throw the flyrod and the guide perked up like, “Oh- you want to flyfish?” DUH!
I am used to roll casting in tree-lined blue ridge streams with 8’6″ 5 weight, so it took a couple throws to acclimate to the 7 weight rod. We were definitely speaking Julian’s language at this point because he started talking to us and getting much more excited, which, in turn, got our adrenaline pumping. After all, we were chasing a SCHOOL OF PERMIT.
This trip was for Brad but my heart and adrenaline were racing! As we took turns casting at the school while he pushed from the poling platforms, Julian barked, “40 feet, 10 o’clock…… STRIP- STRIP- STRIP- STRIP! …. 30 feet, 9 o’clock….. STRIP- STRIP- STRIP- STRIP!” Always a clock direction and guesstimated distance from his 20+ years of guide experience. Sometimes he would say, “Land it, land it!” when we took a third back-cast.
We could sense he underestimated our casting skills once we started actually casting. I felt proud that I was able to fight the 7-weight rod in the windy conditions. Brad always has an excellent cast.
We alternated throwing our fly right to the front of the front of the pack at LEAST two hundred times each. Julian changed the fly selection 10-12 times- about 30-40 casts apart. The permit were not interested.
At this point we had skipped lunch and chased them consistently for 3 full hours. Julian was not sure why they were not eating. He informed us that either the weather patterns have screwed their appetite or that, more likely, they had been spooked by a Barracuda before we got there. Barracuda are predators and he said a school wouldn’t eat for days if they are attacked or spooked by one.
We moved on. After traveling down the island and eating the provided lunch (Turkey sandwiches, banana bread, and an apple) with our melted protein bars, we came onto shore and Julian started yelling for us to grab the fly rod.
We found a school of bonefish! Known to be one of the hardest fighters pound for pound, we wanted it. I let Brad go and after a couple casts, I realize he is pulling the rod up- he has one on!
It took about 5 minutes for him to completely pull the fish to the boat.
Brad pulling the bonefish in for a picture!
Nothing brings me more joy than the smile on Brad’s face holding a fish. It really is the little things in life!
Just look at the clarity of the water. We are big on “catch and release” and always return any fish we catch back to his natural habitat. Mr. Bones included and he is actively swimming with his school on the Belizean Barrier Reef.
Unfortunately our time with Julian had ended so after Brad’s catch we rode back to the dock to end our day. Exhausted from the sun and casting, we slept right through dinner and did not wake until 10 PM.
We talked to two other sets of fly fishermen and only 1 of 7 people we talked to had actually caught anything on the fly from Thursday to Monday. In addition, one group we talked to had fished 4 half days. As a result, we considered ourselves very lucky to have snagged even one! Brad claimed his second of the three ultimate Carribean species. We hope to make it to Florida later in the year. Tarpon beware- we are coming for you!