Belize is located on the Eastern Coast of Central America nestled between Mexico and Guatemala, the country is no bigger than the state of Massachusetts. It boasts the largest living barrier reef that spans the whole coastline and to the west are swathes of rainforest that make up most of the mainland. Belize is rich in biodiversity from the birds, wildlife, plants, to marine life. The independent and sovereign country has a diverse history, the ancient Mayan Civilization, followed by European Colonization and in 1981 Belize found it’s independence. Surprisingly, English is the official language.
Having the largest living barrier reef, second largest barrier reef (behind the great barrier reef), the coast is dotted with hundreds of small islands called Cayes (pronounced “Keys”). These low lying cayes are rich in marine biodiversity with a variety of different flats fish thriving in the robust ecosystem. Providing miles and miles of fishable water for the avid flats angler. In the past 20 years, Belize has become one of if not the biggest saltwater destination for anglers and for a good reason the fishing is really “Unbelizable”.
Many US airports offer direct flights to Belize City (Miami, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Newark, and Charlotte). A short commuter flight to one of the many popular tourist destinations can be an easy day of travel. The most visited areas of Belize are to the north, Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, Turneffe Atoll to name a few. These areas offer numerous hotels, resorts, diving, and fishing. The town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye is a hotspot for many travelers. While the fishing is still wonderful up north it can be a little busy. Traveling down to the South you can expect to find more solitude. So where do you start?
Where to Go:
Hopkins is a Garifuna village located just south of Dangriga. Garifuna are mixed indigenous people originally from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. The village only has a population of around 1,000 people and has been recently gaining traction from tourists due to its authentic cultural experience and solitude. There are a handful of small Bed and Breakfasts and a of couple beach style resorts, the most reputable and popular being Hopkins Bay Resort.
The fishing grounds from Hopkins require anywhere from a 20-40 minute boat run to get out to the barrier reef. The area has been coined “Permit Alley,” vast pancake style flats and cayes make it ideal for flats species like permit. The area stretches off the coast of Dangriga down to Placencia. It is a dream for any flats angler with crystal clear water, colorful coral and happy fish. It is like fishing a tropical aquarium.
The Sittee River that runs through Hopkins is also home to some brackish water where snook and rolling tarpon can be found. DIY fishing is not recommended out of Hopkins as most of the fishing grounds require a boat. Blue Horizon Belize, a reputable outfitter services the area and can be found here.
Placencia has been a longtime destination for hardcore permit anglers due to the sheer number of tailing permit in the area. As of late a booming tourist business has created a quaint destination for many different travelers. Being located on a thin peninsula with a large lagoon on one side and the ocean on the other, the isolated village is a must see for any traveler. “The sidewalk” on the tip on the peninsula has numerous smaller resorts, BandB’s, local restaurants and bars perfect for a couple of day stay for any angler.
Similar to Hopkins Village, the fishing grounds are located 20-40 minutes off the coast on the barrier reef. Blue Horizon Belize, a reputable outfitter services the area and can be found here.
If isolation and remote stay is what you’re looking for, skipping the small tourist towns is the way to go. There are numerous smaller island style resorts that offer luxury or simplicity. The best part about staying on a caye is you are located on the fishing grounds. No long boat runs cutting into your fishing time and the flexibility to fish the right tides when you want to. If you wanted to try some DIY fishing in Belize, staying on a caye would be your best option. As most of these cayes have shallow flats around them providing fishable water. They are usually home to schools of bonefish and some occasional permit flats in deeper water.
Punta Gorda, the Permit Capital of the Wold. The small fishing village is located just north of Guatamala. A family of commercial fishermen turned catch and release advocates the Garbutts have worked effortlessly to protect a marine reserve. The reserve is home to some of the most productive permit fishing in the world. The Garbutts operate a small fishing lodge and marina as well as guide for a more high end jungle lodge located 15 minutes up the road called Copal Tree Lodge. A perfect place to get away and experience the solitude that Belize has to offer.
Belize might be the best place in the Caribbean for anglers to get a grand slam. Catching a permit, bonefish, and tarpon in one day.
Tarpon are present year round in Belize, they inhibit the rivers, creeks, channels, lagoons, and flats (at times). In the rivers and creeks smaller juvenile tarpon thrive, out in the channels around the various flats anglers can find rolling tarpon feeding on schools of baitfish. Migratory tarpon move through Belize starting in April and May, with consistent fishing through the summer and they begin to thin out in September and October. While Belize doesn’t see the famous “daisy chains” like in the Florida Keys, the tarpon is Belize are hungry and will more often than not eat a fly.
Recommend Gear for Tarpon:
Rod: 11 or 12 wt
Reel: Saltwater class, should be able to hold a full line plus 300 yards of 20 or 30 lb. backing.
Line: Saltwater Intermediate Line as well as a heavy sinking line for deep water Tarpon.
Leaders: Pre-tied leaders with a 16 to 20lb class tippet and 80-100 lb. shock tippet.
Flies: A basic selection of Tarpon flies in a variety of colors and materials. Sizes 2/0 and 3/0 will cover most Tarpon situations in Belize.
Bonefish are plentiful in Belize, with large schools inhibiting most islands. The bonefish schools have fish in the 2-4 pound range more often than not and are eager to eat a fly. The larger bonefish can be found in the deeper flats and are educated and tough to trick into eating a fly. The bonefish provide a great sport fishery for anglers year round and are sure to peel some line off your reel.
Recommend Gear for Bonefish:
Rods: 7 or 8 wt
Reel: Saltwater class, should be able to hold a full line plus 250 yards of 20 lb. backing.
Line: Saltwater Floating Line.
Leaders/Tippet: 10 ft. 8lb and 12 lb leaders are standard. Tippet Spools of 8 lb and 12 lb.
Flies: Have a good selection of bonefish flies in a wide variety of sizes, colors and sink rates. The bonefish are not too incredibly picky in Belize but having a good variety can be key if fish become picky or spooked.
Considered the Holy Grail of salt water fly fishing, permit can be the most frustrating, tricky fish to trick into eating a fly. They have a well developed sense of smell and superb eye sight. Belize is home to more than anywhere in the Caribbean and more people have probably caught their first permit in Belize than anywhere in the world.
The permit can be found in a variety of different flats from the turtle grass, coral heads, and even lagoons. Belize is known for tailing permit, a tailing permit is when the permit comes to the shallows to feed on crabs and shrimp on the bottom and their black tails expose out of the water. They are happy and actively feeding, if the angler can manage to not choke under the pressure and present a fly to a tailing permit it’s your best bet in landing one of these trophy fish.
Recommend Gear for Permit:
Rod: 9 or 10 wt
Reel: Saltwater class, should be able to hold a full line plus 300 yards of 20 or 30 lb. backing.
Line: Saltwater Floating Line
Leaders/Tippet: 10 ft. 16lb and 20 lb leaders are standard. Tippet Spools of 16 lb and 20 lb
Flies: A large selection of crab and shrimp patterns in a variety of sizes, colors, and weights. Tan, olive and various shades of brown. Bauer Crab, Camo Crab, Contraband Crab, Rag Head, and Merkin.
Other than the main three (permit, bonefish, and tarpon) Belize is home to various other sports fish. Some of these species include Barracuda, Jacks, Box Fish, Oceanic Trigger Fish, Mackeral, Bonita, Mahi Mahi, and Cobia. Many of these species can pose some fun when you encounter out on the flats. Snook and Machaca also inhibit the coastal rivers.
Luckily for sport anglers, the fisheries department of Belize has protected tarpon, bonefish, and permit as catch and release only. Attempts from many grassroots organizations have also been trying to ban the use of gillnets in Belize as the fishery has seen drastic impacts over the year.
Best Time to Go:
Since the climate in Belize is around 80 degrees year round and the fishing is stable and consistent year round. The so called dry season is from February-May this is the safest bet for stable fishing conditions. But, it is also the busiest time of year for tourists. The summer has very consistent fishing and the tarpon fishing is best this time of year. The fall is very underrated, while some rain can affect the fishing you can expect to see no-one out there on the water.
What seems to be more important than time of year is the tide and moon cycle. Tides affect the fishing and if you’re targeting permit you will want to make sure you have prime tides each day. As a rule of thumb, 3 days before and after a new or full moon is a good bet for optimal tides.
How to Book?
Many fly fishing travel agents like Yellow Dog Fly Fishing or Fly Water Travel offer many different packages to Southern Belize. Or if you book on your own various lodges offer fly fishing packages where you can find discounts on rooms if you fish every day. This is what I recommend for your first trip as DIY or just booking one day does not do the justice fishery. Blue Horizon Belize is the largest outfitter in Southern Belize and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to swing by the shop to gear up on all your saltwater gear needs.
Patrick Perry, Former Guide and Content Contributor, @patperry