On The Barrier Reef – Part 2

South Water Caye, Belize

On The Fly Saltwater

August 2023

Article and featured photo by Jimmy Jacobs

In last month’s edition of On The Fly South, we covered the guided bonefish action on South Water Caye in Belize. But during our visit to the Blue Marlin Beach Resort, we also discovered that the isle offers some very good options for chasing a variety of species while wade fishing.  

This other option is mostly made possible by the fortunate location of this island. South Water Caye is actually part of the Belize Barrier Reef that spans the country’s shore on the Caribbean Sea. This reef composed of rocks and coral stretches for 190 miles along the coast, ranging from 980 feet from the mainland in the north, to 25 miles offshore in the south.  

The north end flats with the reef visible stretching to the north. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

At the north end of South Water Caye, the island forms a part of the reef. At either end of the island, it is possible to wade out onto flats just inside of that barrier. These flats are composed of white sand, mixed with areas of small rocks. The portions near the reef itself, also have some juvenile coral. When wading if you hear a “crunch” under foot, you are treading on that coral and should move to another area. If you don’t, you basically are stomping out the future of the reef.  

Armed with that knowledge, and information provided by our guide Ian Guevas during the preceding days, Polly Dean and I began our wading at the southeast end of the isle. Ian had informed us that low, and incoming tides were best for bonefish and tarpon on the flats, with the high tide offering the best shot at permit. As fate would have it, we were faced with the flood tide early in the morning, with the ebb in mid afternoon both days we would be wading.  

As we began moving toward the breakers on the reef, the flat came alive. There were rays and small sharks cruising, which we’ve always found to be a good sign that it is feeding time in the shallows. But, due to the deeper water, spotting anything was a bit difficult until you were right on top of it. In one cast, “it” turned out to be school of bonefish that I waded right into, sending them streaking toward the reef and deeper water.  

Preparing to head out onto the south end flats. Photo by Polly Dean.

During the course of the morning, however, on two occasions the water turned out not to be deep enough to hide the black sickle-shape of permit fins jutting above the surface. Just the sight of them tends to get the blood boiling and brings on the need for haste that leads to badly placed “buck fever” casts. In each instance, those casts never got to be made. The fish disappeared before we could maneuver into casting range.  

We also got quite a surprise when we spotted some single fish cruising the flat that we didn’t recognize. Later we found out that they were in fact black drum. Though I’d never heard them mentioned with regard to fishing the Belize flats, the locals assured us they were always there.  

By afternoon, the flats seemed abandoned by the fish. Polly, being one who is never willing to give up easily, began blind casting her bonefish fly into some deeper holes along the shore. That produced a steady stream of blue-striped grunts, bar jacks, small barracuda and even a parrotfish.  

The most unusual catch was a slender fish with the top of its tail yellow and the bottom blue. Also, the fish had a beak protruding from its lower lip that features a red tip. We took a photo and released the fish. Later that evening, she posted a photo of it on social media asking for advice on what it was.  

Polly with her “world record.” Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

Turned out it was a ballyhoo, and one of the folks replying said it might be world record for the species.

On day two of wading, we moved to the north end of the South Water Caye. Here the flat wrapped all the way around the end of the island, before dropping off into deeper water near the Blue Marlin docks on the west side.  

On the north end flats. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

This end proved to hold numerous bonefish. In fact, while we fished the area, we shared it with a couple of guide boats at different times. The resident schools of bones here were no secret, and regularly attract boating anglers. As a result, the fish were a bit finicky.   Eventually we did manage three bonefish from this area, along with a couple of broken leaders and some missed strikes.  

One of our day two bonefish from the north end. Photo by Polly Dean.

Though we were not super successful in our wading ventures, the fish were there. We had a number of shots at them, and anytime you do catch a bonefish while wading on your own, it is a special moment.  

The Blue Marlin Beach Resort was a great headquarters for our wading, with the schools of bonefish often cruising quite near the shore.

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