Last month my father, Craig, and I hung up the freshwater gear for the season, grabbed the big sticks and headed to Belize to unwind after a busy season on the Big Hole. Our destination was a Frontiers destination called Turneffe Flats Lodge, owned and operated by fellow Montanan, Craig Hayes. The beautiful lodge is nestled in coconut palms on the northernmost point of the Turneffe Atoll, about fifteen miles off the coast of Belize. The luxurious cabins sit on a white-sand beach within casting distance of the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean. Turneffe has its own flat right outside your door and as school after school of bones moves nose down across the flat you have the choice of smoking a cigar and watching or grabbing a rod and stalking them on foot.
We had planned to arrive the last week in October but so did Hurricane Richard. We had the bags packed and in the car the day before our departure when Denise from Frontiers called and advised us to postpone our trip a week. Richard’s eye passed right over Turneffe and though the lodge did not sustain any noticeable damage, the damage to homes and fishing camps in the area was substantial. We arrived seven days after the storm to see demolished homes, snapped palms, and uprooted trees.
After an overnight in Atlanta we made the quick flight down to Belize City. While awaiting our shuttle, we had the good fortune of meeting Lonnie Allen, owner of Three Rivers Ranch, and her manager, Shelly. They had been to Turneffe before and brought a group of six back with them this time and we were glad to follow their lead through Belize City; Lonnie knew the most direct rout to the best daiquiris in Central America.
From there it was onto the forty foot shuttle boat out to Turneffe Flats Lodge; through several off-shore cayes, the Barrier Reef, across open ocean, and then through the Turneffe Islands to Turneffe Flats. The captain suggested we stock up on $1.50 Belkins, the Belizian home brew, before we boarded and then we were off on a beautiful 90 minute adventure into the sunset.
The previous weeks weather had not fully cleared and it poured rain most of the first night. I awoke at 5:30 a.m. to the sound of my dad stripping line from his 8 wt reel and zipping up his rain coat. In a few moments he was geared up and out in the drizzling dawn rain in search for bones on the home flat. I went back to sleep but got up two hours later and set out with my 8 wt rod. The sun was just over the horizon and through squinted eyes I spotted four glinting triangles, like miniature translucent sails, just above the water surface about fifty yards in front of me. I dropped to my knees in the calf deep water and started peeling line off the reel while visually checking my pink shrimp pattern hooked in the first eye of the rod. When I had about 60 feet of line coiled on the water I grabbed the fly, threw it and started false casting. The fish were nose down and working toward me quickly. I waited until they were within reach and dropped the fly about five feet in front of them and let it sink. Slowly, I raised up to a hunched position trying to see when the fish were above my fly. On the first twitch of the line the rod tip bent and all hell broke loose. I stood up and raised the rod high above my head as the hooked bonefish ran full speed toward the reef. He took me into the backing in a split second and in a panic I tried to turn him. My decision was rewarded with a limp line and a lost fly. Humbled, I headed to breakfast with a smile.
After a thorough orientation and a hearty meal we headed to the dock to meet our guide. We were assigned ‘Capt.’, nicknamed for his reputation as being the best ship captain in Belize. He has been a harbor Captain, a charter Captain and a live-aboard dive boat. Capt. has been a guide for 25 years and though his is a very nice man, he has adopted a style of guiding which requires speaking only when absolutely necessary. Dad and I found fish by watching his hand signals and learned of our errors when he hung his head or shook it in disgust. When we asked for direction we would get, “you strip too fast” or “more side-arm”, but we developed a relationship by the end of the week and learned a lot about salt water fishing and the area fish and their habits.
Each morning Dad and I rose at 5:30 and fished the flats for two hours before breakfast, met Capt at 8:00 and took off on his 16 foot skiff in search of permit. We slowly motored up and down the mangrove lined lagoons squinting and scanning the glassy surface for the sickle shaped tails of the elusive permit. Unfortunately the permit were still in the deep water due to the hurricane and after a few hours of searching to no avail, Capt would take us to sand flats where we would spend the afternoon wading for bonefish. We had a blast treading around in the beauty of Belize and it was extremely refreshing to try our hand at such a different style of fishing than the freshwater fly casting that we are accustomed to. I highly recommend bone fishing to any angler who has never tried it, just be sure to practice practice practice casting before you go!
A quick note on gear: We took two of the new Orvis Hydros saltwater rods down for a demo and though the 9 wt. was a bit too burly for bones on the flats, it was just what I needed to cut the Caribbean wind from the deck of the boat. This new Hydros 4 piece, 9 foot, 9 weight graphite rod is a big-game saltwater rod that is priced for everyone. It casts very much like the more expensive Helios line with fluid and powerful casts. I easily reached rolling tarpon in the channels and could have reached permit if we had shots at them with this rod! Good rod and the price is hard to beat. The Winston GVX 8 weight was my go-to for wading the flats for bones. It’s a tough caster in the wind but has enough feel to raise the hairs on your neck when the leader finally turns over.
Now, enjoy the photos below. You can click on the thumbnails to view them in full size.
Congratulations to Lonnie and her client, Monte, for hooking and landing permit, especially under such tough circumstances. Thanks to the great staff at Turneffe Flats, the food was good, the accommodations were fabulous, the scenery was breathtaking, and the fishing was a blast!