Variety in Southern Belize

(It’s not just about the Palometa….)

Earlier, I wrote about my experience at Tarpon Caye Lodge, which is a permit-focused operation in the cays of southern Belize.  There was a lot more going on there than just permit. I spent a week there in August and fished permit hard every morning and evening.  However, in the afternoon, there were other treasures to be discovered…

Tarpon.  A couple times,  my guide Max spotted tarpon rolling in the deep water beside a cay.  This triggered a lot of casts with a 10 weight and a sinking line but never resulted in a touch. (Apparently, there are times during the year when the lagoons of certain cays fill with small minnows and the tarpon are right behind, often willing to eat a fly.

Jacks.  These were fun!  While poling alongside a permit flat surrounded by open water, we would often see gangs of small jacks blitzing bait.  They usually wreaked their havoc just off the edge of the flat. It was incredibly entertaining to chase them; a cast into the melee often resulted in a hook-up.  On a 6 or 8 weight, these 1 or 2 pound critters pulled hard.

Snappers.  Paddling one of the lodge kayaks on a DIY mission invariably took me into the lagoon of Tarpon Caye itself.   A 6 weight rod and some small Clousers led to quite a few tussles with small, colorful snappers that lived near the mangrove roots.  There was also a school of blitzing jacks that showed up just outside the lagoon. It was an incredible challenge, trying to intercept them in a kayak in the chop and wind beyond the lagoon’s protection.  After about fifteen reps of paddling upwind and struggling to launch that perfect cast, I finally got one – all ten inches of it!

Bonefish.  There are not huge schools of bonefish roaming all the cays in southern Belize.   Nevertheless, the guides know which cays have resident populations. Max warned me that the bonefish were on the small side and that it wasn’t a good idea to spend a great deal of time at any one cay hammering a finite resource.  Not surpisingly then, our first bonefish excursion resulted in several one pound bonefish. It was fairly challenging fishing because the fish were over a deeper flat and quite hard to see. Nevertheless, after a few permit-only sessions, it was nice to cast to something that would eat.  Their fly of choice was a very small Gotcha type pattern with lead eyes and a marabou tail.

Our second bonefish excursion was VERY memorable.  We rode the boat a long ways to a cay right on the edge of the reef.  On the calm side of the cay, there were a few resort docks and a light, sand bottom.  I had a 6 weight with me because I was expecting small bonefish. There were bonefish all over – schools close to the docks and singles and doubles patrolling the sand bottom between the docks.  But they weren’t small. A lot of them were big, solid 5 to 6 pounders.

What followed was an epic couple hours of bonefishing.  I was casting small Gummy minnows to schools, singles, doubles, and sometimes just dock pilings.  I think I landed half a dozen that ranged from two to five pounds. The largest smashed my Gummy and promptly ran underneath a dock to the other side.  I hopped out of the boat and followed it, submerging myself completely to get underneath the dock. Then it ran back underneath the dock to its starting point.  Again, I followed. By this time, Max was also in the water. He had one hand on the net and the other on the boat so the stiff breeze wouldn’t blow it to Guatemala.  Eventually, the bonefish wound up in the net and the boat didn’t wind up in Guatemala.

Cobia.  Max pointed out one of these bad boys – about 50 pounds worth – just off the edge of a permit flat.  Before slinking off to deeper water, the fish was nice enough to give me a couple shots at it with the 10 weight and the sinking line.

Bonito.  We targeted these by trolling a fly in the deep water alongside the permit flats.  We also went through an opening in the reef and spent a couple hours in the blue water chasing bonito that were busting bait beneath some very excited gulls.  Although small, a couple of them smacked my trolled fly, and fought well beyond their weight class.

Snorkeling.  Right off the doorstep of the lodge, there were patches of coral in some very shallow water.  The fish life and snorkeling there were incredible.

Miscellaneous.  The meals at Tarpon Caye Lodge were excellent – plentiful, hearty, and tasty.  As soon as you got in from a long, hard afternoon of fishing, you found a cold beer and a mouth-watering snack in your cabin.   You didn’t have to worry about rinsing off your gear, either – the lodge helpers did that and delivered it to the rod rack outside your door.   Phil, the lodge manager made sure everything went smoothly. Sheldon, the owner, made sure dinner conversation was lively with his hunting stories from around the globe.  Permit and Tarpon – the lodge dogs – were always entertaining. Lastly, Rambo – the lodge pelican – picked things up where the dogs left off…

(Read my previous article about Tarpon Caye Lodge for more about my experience there.)