Fly Fishing for Coastal Gamefish
In May 2009 I spent 5 days at Belize River Lodge as part of a Bonefish & Tarpon Trust Traveling Angler trip. We were there to teach the guides how to tag bonefish and to initiate a full-scale tagging program (2,000 tags in 3 years) to determine bonefish movements. We also trained the guides to take fin clips from bonefish (to determine which species of bonefish they are catching), and how to remove earbones (otoliths) from fish that were preyed upon after release or just didn’t survive the fishing encounter (to determine fish growth rate – they appear to grow faster in the Florida Keys than anywhere else). We also took a couple satellite tags with us to tag adult tarpon, but were unsuccessful.
But we also did some fishing, and it was fantastic. Despite bad weather (wind, then rain, then wind and rain, then wind), our group caught tarpon, snook, permit, and bonefish. On the second day I caught a slam (bonefish, snook, tarpon), after missing a slam the previous day because I couldn’t keep a tarpon on the line. My boat mate landed a permit, but all I saw was their tails (aka middle fingers). The great thing about fishing out of Belize River Lodge is the variety. There were times when there were almost too many choices. While being poled across sand and mud flats among mangrove islands, numerous times I had to put down the bonefish rod and grab a 10wt to cast to a snook holding among mangrove prop roots. And unlike so many of the snook here in southwest Florida, the Belizean snook were pretty aggressive to the fly.
If the weather made the flats too tough to fish, running up the Belize River resulted in tarpon to 30 pounds and some nice snook. We had boatside a snook in the 15-20 pound class before the hook pulled. The other great thing about fishing the river was the scenery. It was pretty wild to be casting for snook and tarpon as parakeets, parrots, and other tropical birds flew over, with the sounds of howler monkeys echoing through the jungle. Anglers that traveled farther up the river also caught some wild looking native cichlids.
Most of the large tarpon seemed to congregate outside the mouth of the river, but also can be spotted along the edges of numerous flats. I liked the lodge a lot. It is 49 years old, built out of mahogany, so has some great character. Mike and Marguerite, the owners, have the guest registration books gong back to the beginning, and these books hold some interesting names. Ask Mike about it if you go. Plus, Mike has been and continues to be highly involved in local conservation efforts. The staff and guides were great, as was the food. Would I go back? Without hesitation.
The Fisherman's Coast approach focuses on how coastal gamefish interact with their habitats and prey. The more you know about the gamefish you pursue with a fly rod, the more often you'll be in the right place at the right time with the right fly making the right presentation. It's about catching more fish.
Our sister site Tribal Bonefish is all about conservation through responsible fishing. Tribal Bonefish shows you how to become a better steward of our coasts to protect our fisheries today, and ensure future generations get a chance to experience these fisheries.