When the snow is falling in the Rocky Mountains, winter trout fishing may be an enticing option but most of the guides at Vail Valley Anglers are dreaming of their next saltwater fly fishing trip. This past month a group of Vail Valley Anglers guides and friends headed down to Belize to fish out of Placencia at the Blue Horizon Lodge. The lodge is located on a small “caye” (island) within a chain of islands that make up “permit alley”. An area known for its productive permit fishing opportunities. The group was excited for a week of guided fishing with the Blue Horizon Guides led by the “Permit Master” himself Mr. Lincoln Westby. Check out the full blog below to learn more about our week of saltwater fly fishing in Southern Belize, as well as the saltwater fly fishing gear we used.
Travel to Belize:
The travel out of Colorado was easy for most, a quick flight from Eagle, Colorado to DIA or a two hour drive to DIA and we were on a direct flight from Denver to Belize City. When arriving in Belize City we were faced with long customs lines for such a small airport. Most likely due to arriving on a Saturday. So a piece of advice, don’t arrive on a weekend or have enough time to catch your transfer as it was very close for most of us. After we cleared customs we checked into our commuter flight that would take us in a small hopper plane from Belize City south to Placencia (about a 35 minute flight). From Placencia, we then caught a boat transfer where we raced the sunlight to get out to the Blue Horizon Lodge.
Belize fly fishing is known as one of the best places to catch a grand slam on the fly. Which consists of catching a permit, bonefish, and tarpon all in one day. For us, we were mainly focused on catching permit as we had caught bonefish on previous trips. And of course, if there were tarpon around, we were all prepared to fish for them. The guides at Blue Horizon were very focused on permit which was great to see as guiding permit on fly is definitely a challenge. We had planned for 6 days of guided fly fishing, double occupancy sharing a boat. This would give us a decent amount of time to target permit and hopefully get the chance to land one. As these fish can be some of the most challenging and frustrating fish to catch on a fly rod. You can do everything perfectly and the permit will still not eat the fly.
Day 1 and 2 of Fishing:
The fishing started off with a bang, as Day 1 and Day 2 for the most part had decent conditions. We had planned this trip around a full moon, giving us prime tides to fish the flats. We arrived a couple days prior to a full moon. The high tide on day 1 was around 11:00 am which gave us from 7:30 am until then to fish a great incoming tide and then spend the midday and afternoon fishing the outgoing. It allowed us to fish the flats for the whole 8 hours and we didn’t have to start super early or super late in the day. On the mornings of Day 1 and Day 2, we had some clouds which made it tough to see fish. Most boats reported getting a decent number of shots at permit.
VVA Product Buyer and Guide, Andy Leister landed his first permit on fly on the first day. He made a hail marry of a cast to a school of fish and sure enough, one fish peeled off the school to eat the Raghead fly. What a way to start the trip for Andy! A few other boats reported hooking permit but not sealing the deal to land the fish. Whether it was not setting when the fish ate the fly or breaking the fish off with too hard of a set once the fish is hooked. We were only using 16-pound fluorocarbon, so once the fish is hooked, setting or not giving it slack will result in an immediate break-off.
A few other boats had warmed up on some of the bonefish spots on day 1 and day 2 as well and landed a good amount of bonefish on the fly that were concentrated around the islands.
Day 3 and 4 of Fishing:
Day 3 started with a bang as a huge rain system moved through just as we left the lodge to go fishing and we all had to retreat as the rain poured for about 30 minutes. We headed out in the pangas with the guides shortly after and the sky cleared and the day turned out to be alright. The boat I was in had about 8-12 “shots” at permit where we were able to make one cast or multiple casts to feeding fish. This seemed about average throughout the trip, we could expect about a shot at catching a permit every hour. Of course some parts of the day the fishing got hotter and we saw more fish and other parts were slower. This particular day we ended up seeing a good amount of boxfish feeding on flats and decided to cast the crab pattern at them. And sure enough, two boxfish were landed and one was kept to eat back at the lodge as the Blake the guide called it, “the chicken of the sea”.
One of the guys on the trip Chris Scherpf ended up catching a permit on Day 3 when he was on foot. He had chased a fish down, and somehow shook off a pesky jack that tried to steal the fly. Then made another presentation, where he landed the fly directly on the permit. Another permit for the group! Caught on a Tequila Twister Fly! As Chris says, “Hook them or Spook Them” (when talking about fly placement).
The conditions were definitely not perfect as we were dealing with a constant 10-20 mph wind throughout the days. This made it a lot tougher to see fish on the flats. But, lucky for us about half of the shots we were getting were to tailing permit. Where the fish was feeding on crabs in the coral so their black tails would expose out of the water and it was a lot easier to see the fish. It also made your heart race an infinite amount as you tried to calm the nerves to make a decent cast.
Day 5 and 6 of Fishing:
The winds were really bad on the last two mornings. The guides were saying that these winds, make the tarpon fishing pretty much non-existent. The local resident tarpon won’t roll or feed when the ocean has a chop on it. This was a bummer as most of us were looking forward to finding some tarpon.
The wind also made it so we were focusing all of our effort on wading the flats instead of poling the flats. The wind would push the boats way too fast and often made it tough to see fish before they saw us. So most of the guides resorted to wading. Which was a ton of fun, as you were able to get very close to these fish to make a shot at them. I had shots as close as 10-20 feet where the fish wasn’t spooked due to the chop on the water.
Chris S. got it done again on Day 4 and 5 with another two permit to hand. Both from wading the flats. Andy caught his first bonefish on the fly which was really funny as he had caught Tarpon, Permit, and Snook all on the fly before he caught a Bonefish.
I was wrapping up my last day of fishing with Jason and guide Blake, and we stopped on a pancake flat with a mangrove group in the center. Blake and I walked one side of the flat while Jason walked the other side with the boat. Blake and I immediately found a school of feeding fish. The tails were popping, I made multiple attempts on the school to get a fish to come off and eat, and nothing. The school wasn’t spooked but moving fast, I ran across the flat to cut them off and made a cast that landed a bit behind them. I stripped it back to make another cast, and the last fish in the school veered off and started chasing the crab fly down. I stripped almost to my leader and at last, the permit inhaled the crab and took off running. 10 minutes later, we tailed it in the surf, mission complete!
Food and Lodging at Blue Horizon Belize:
For this specific trip, we did an all-inclusive lodging and food package at the Blue Horizon Lodge. This made it awesome as we were all super focused on fishing. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner was all local Belizean Cusiuse that was made fresh by the chefs on the island. The highlight was the lobster night or the snapper dish.
The lodging was simple with ample room for gear and large bathrooms. The island is small and we were the only people staying on it, which made for a great setting. Beers and cocktails were self-serve and many indulged.
Recommended Saltwater Gear for Fly Fishing Belize:
Permit: 8, 9, and 10 Weight Rods. Most of us used 9 and 10 weight rods exclusively for this week of fishing. The wind was tough and the bigger rod made it easier to cut through the wind to turn over the fly. It is nice to have a lighter weight rod like an 8 weight for the calm glassy days, but we didn’t have any.
Bonefish: 7 and 8 Weight Rods. A 7 or 8 weight rod was perfect for fighting the Belizean bonefish. It was nice to have a smaller rod on board just in case you wanted to go chase bonefish for a couple hours.
Tarpon: 11 and 12 weight rods. The tarpon in this area this specific time of year were all residents, they range in 30-80 pounds, so an 11 and 12 weight rod was preferred.
We prefer faster action rods, that can turn over flies with accuracy. Our favorites are:
Sage Salt R8 Fly Rod – $1,100.00
G LOOMIS NRX+ SALTWATER FLY ROD $990.00
The saltwater is where your drag really matters. A fully sealed large arbor fly reel is a must.
TIBOR SIGNATURE SERIES FLY REEL $745.00
ROSS REELS EVOLUTION R SALT FLY REEL $895.00
HATCH ICONIC FLY REEL – 9 PLUS $919.00
For this specific week of fishing a more aggressive taper was necessary. The Airflo Superflo Ridge 2.0 Power Taper or the Scientific Anglers Amplitude Smooth Grand Slam Taper was what most of us had on our setups.
Umpqua Pink Fluorocarbon Tippet:
The talk of the trip was the Umpqua Pink Fluorocarbon Tippet. Umpqua recently released their new tippet which is the exact same makeup as the clear fluorocarbon just the color of the tippet is pink. The reasoning is “Red is the first color in the water column to disappear and pink is the lightest shade of red making it fall out the quickest.” So when Umpqua gave us some spools to try out, we thought it only would make sense to test it on the pickiest of fish, the permit!
On day 1 of fishing the flats of Belize, sure enough, we got a permit to eat on the pink tippet. The fly didn’t stick, but still cool to see. Then on day 2, again got a permit to eat but unfortunately set so hard that it immediately broke off. Heading into day three, most of the guys on the trip had now switched to the pink tippet. Maybe it was a confidence thing, but hell confidence goes a long way when permit fishing. Then on day 6, a permit was landed using the Umpua Pink Fluorocarbon tippet. So if you want to step up your saltwater game a little bit, try using the new tippet from Umpqua, it works! And be sure to pair it with the UMPQUA DECEIVER HD BONE/PERMIT FLUORO LEADER – 12′.
Flies for Fishing Belize:
We highly recommend bringing an array of different permit flies, as the conditions can dictate which weight and size flies to use and of course what the guide prefers. Most of us used the following, Bauer Crabs Tan and Olive, Camo Crabs, Ragheads, Tequila Twisters, Contraband Crabs, and Flexo Crabs in a variety of colors and sizes. For bonefish it really didn’t seem to matter, a variety of bonefish flies in different weights will do the trick. We did find some of the bigger bonefish in some deeper water, chasing bait, so a gummy minnow worked great for these bigger fish. For tarpon, the bigger black and purple flies were what the guides seemed to like, patterns like the Tarpon Toad or EP’s Peanut Butter.
Accessories for Fishing Belize:
Most of the guys on the trip had a fly rod case like the Sea Run Norfork Travel Case or the Fishpond Dakota Carry-On. As well as a waterproof backpack or bag like the Fishpond Thunderhead Backpack for all your gear when you’re out on the boat. The sun is also no joke so a proper sun hoody, and sun shirt, with a buff, is a must. And if we didn’t have flats shoes we wouldn’t have been able to fish, so make sure to have proper flats footwear. Most of the guys recommend the Simms Flats Sneaker.
Overall, we were faced with some tough weather conditions with a strong east wind bringing in some colder currents. It made the fishing challenging but we all still had 5 plus shots at permit on most days and plenty of chances to chase bonefish if desired. Five permit were landed over the course of 6 days, which is really pretty good for chasing permit on fly. One thing is for sure most everyone on the trip will be headed back down. Stop by the shop to check out our full selection of saltwater fly fishing gear and be sure to talk to us about your next salt trip as I’m sure we have another planned as well!
Article and Photos by Patrick Perry, Former Fishing Guide, and Content Contributor. Additional photos from Jason Paez.