Saving The Day In Belize

Having a guide that knows the local fish and waters is a necessity!

On The Fly Saltwater

February 2023

Article and photos by Jimmy Jacobs

The world-class saltwater fly fishing found in Belize is no secret. Destinations like
Ambergris Caye in the north of the country or Turneffe Atoll that is 38 miles offshore get plenty of publicity. There is another alternative that is more conveniently located.

Belize River Lodge is situated on its namesake waterway, very near the capital at Belize City. It is even closer to Philip S.W. Goldston International Airport that is the gateway to the country. As with fishing at those other destinations, the glamor species of bonefish, permit and tarpon are all available here.

After arriving at the lodge and settling in, the crew from On The Fly South met our guide John Moore. Like many other fly-fishing guides in the Caribbean (Belizeans adamantly point out their country is part of that region, despite not being an island), Moore got his start in the commercial fishing business in Gales Point on the Southern Lagoon, which is where he grew up and still lives.

One of Belize River Lodge’s pangas heading out for a day of fishing.

Later on, he got the chance to transition into guiding anglers, which was an easier and more lucrative line of work. As it turned out for us, his roots in chasing all manner of fish was a trip saver.

Our trip turned out to coincide with a hurricane running up the coast of Mexico to our north. Though it was far enough away to not threaten life and limb, it did have an effect on tide and water conditions. It did not take long to discover that the bonefish and permit were not to be found on the flats, most probably moving to deeper water to ride out the conditions.

The prospect of having flown 1,100 miles to get skunked on the water was not very appealing. And, it got even worse when the usually present tarpon in the Belize River also decided to disappear. Fortunately, all those species did reappear later in the week. But our efforts to find them were futile for a couple of days. That’s where John’s knowledge of all the fish in these waters paid off.

On each of those first two days, as we motored the 3 1/2 miles down the Belize River in his panga headed for open water, we were constantly on the look out for those missing tarpon. Occasionally we would stop in what Moore described as places the silver kings usually hung out. We still drew blanks.

Upon exiting the river, the bay was churning as we motored toward Belize City proper. We then swung onto the ocean side of a small isle John proclaimed to be Moho Caye. Rounding the northern end, we passed where a boat basin was surrounded by an abandoned resort. As we then eased southward down the shore, small planes were visible taking off and landing at the Sir Barry Bowen Municipal Airport in Belize City.

At a small indention in the shore just before rounding the southern end of the caye, John stopped the boat and dropped anchors at both ends of the panga. The wind was coming in on us from the northeast, but he had it basically hitting our backs. Next the guide said we should blind cast a Clouser Minnow toward a couple of limbs sticking above the water in the little cove.

Working a cast to the snags in the wind.

Looking down into the milky green water churned up by the wind, I was not encouraged. I suggested that Associate Editor Polly Dean take the first shot and I would man the camera. Once she was accustomed to the angle of the wind, her fly began to land just past the snags. On one of those first casts the line went taught and a baby tarpon of perhaps two feet long cartwheeled out of the water, never allowing her to set the hook.

John Moore holding Polly’s first snook of the day.

Still not convinced, I encouraged her to try again. The next hook up did not escape  Rather, after a short tug-a-war she brought a snook to the gunnel. It was not a species that I had expected to see on this trip. Quickly I let Polly know her turn was over and grabbed my rod.

For probably the next hour, we took turns jumping (but never boating) those diminutive silver kings, but also bringing a couple more snook to the boat. On one of her later turns at the bow, something strong and determined grabbed Polly’s fly and the line cut a seam through the clouded water as it headed out to sea. After a bit longer fight, she brought in a most belligerent jack crevalle.

Polly with her ill-tempered jack crevalle.

The next day under similar conditions, we again found that potpourri of species hanging out around the snags in this cove.  Later in the week, we did finally find a few bonefish and a number of baby tarpon that we could land. But that is a story for another time.

In the meantime, John Moore’s knowledge of all the fish swimming in his waters had managed to put us on fish that saved us from having wasted a couple of days in paradise!

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