Turneffe Flats: Rested and Ready

Featured photo by Abel Coe

On The Fly Saltwater

In February we ran Part One about Belize reopening to traveling anglers. Here’s Part Two telling you what they are finding there now.

By Claude Preston

April 2021

What do you look for when planning your next fly-fishing adventure?  Is it the diversity of species, other activities offered, accommodations, guide team, location, health of fishery, or all of the above?  In this final article in our series on Belize, we look at what sets Turneffe Flats apart from the rest and why it should be at the top of your list when planning your next trip.

When I am planning an upcoming trip there are a couple of things I tend to focus on in order:

  • First – Health and diversity of the fishery
  • Second – Guide staff
  • Third – Accommodations & other activities offered

Health and Diversity of the Fishery

Located about 30 miles off the coast of Belize, the Turneffe Atoll is 30 miles long by 10 miles wide and offers some of the best and least pressured flats along the Mesoamerican Reef system.  The “Big 3” are available all year long with a fly rod, giving anglers a chance at the elusive Grand Slam, consisting of a permit, bonefish, and tarpon all taken in the same day.

Photo courtesy of Brett Graham.

During the summer season it is migratory tarpon season and temperatures in Belize are more comfortable than in the Southeast U.S. Outside of traditional targets, I recommend spending a day chasing other species like triggerfish, mutton snapper, barracuda and even some giant snook on certain low tides. 

I have been to Turneffe Flats three times and I can attest that the bonefish here are not your average Belizean bones – they are larger, averaging about 3 pounds with double digit bones around.  This past December I caught one that I estimated to be about 7 pounds and he attacked the fly like he had never seen one in his life.  I have seen that average size increase every year that I have visited. 

A month prior to our visit Belize receive some great news with the passing of legislation that bans the use of gillnets in Belizean waters, this will only help protect and conserve the fishery for the long run.  The biodiversity of the fishery surrounding Turneffe Flats not only caters to beginners but also to the serious anglers like dedicated permit fishermen.  My wife caught her first bonefish in December, which was her first fish ever on a fly rod!

Jennifer Preston with her first fish on a fly rod: a Turneffe Flats bone! Photo by Claude Preston.

Guide Staff

The next item I look for is the depth and knowledge of the guide staff.  The group at Turneffe Flats is second to none.   It is a very deep group that has unique knowledge of the fishery and the history of the Turneffe Atoll.  All of the guides are English speaking and each brings their own unique style to guiding and interacting with guests.  During my three visits I have had the pleasure of fishing with Dubs, Daniel, and John.  Dubs Young has been guiding Turneffe Flats since 1983 and is a pleasure to be with.  He truly believes each day on his boat is your day, and he aims to put you on whatever fish you are pursuing. 

John Gongora is a great guide and he will keep you laughing all day.  I had the pleasure of fishing with him on my first trip, and he taught me a great deal about the atoll and put me on my first permit. John also is an experienced divemaster and his knowledge of the inhabitants of the flats of Turneffe Atoll is incredible. 

On my visit in December, I had the pleasure of fishing with Daniel Bennett.  Daniel is soft spoken, patient, and a great boat captain.  Daniel, like me, also loves to get out of the boat and chase permit and bones on foot.   His patience was on prime display while guiding my wife to her first bonefish.  There really is not a weak link in this group and you will enjoy your day with whomever you are paired with.

The author with guide Daniel Bennett. Photo courtesy of the author.

Accommodations and Other Activities Offered

Finally, this is a big one as well.  Are the accommodations comfortable and what else is offered?  Although Turneffe Flats is 30 miles off the coast on a remote atoll, it offers all the luxuries you need from home.  The eight beachfront cabanas are equipped with private bathrooms, two queen beds and air conditioner.  There is nothing better than an ice cold Belikin at the Infinity pool bar and then retiring to the deck on your cabana to watch the sunset before dinner.  Also offered on the property are three very nice villas perfectly suited for travelling couples or families, all of which offer impressive views of the atoll or the large flat right out front. 

While fishing has been my attraction, Turneffe Flats is also well known for its Diving and Atoll Adventure programs.  Turneffe has over 60 dive sites they have access to, and weather permitting, there is a weekly trip that is led out to the famous Blue Hole, although there are a few that believe there are even better sites closer to the atoll. 

Photo by Abel Coe.

For those that are not divers or into the fishing scene the Atoll Adventure program led by Abel Coe is perfect.  The program consists of marine life discussions, nature walks, snorkeling, kayaking through mangroves and even a weekly nighttime nature walk.  My wife and I did this on our stay and actually saw some saltwater crocodiles. 

The author with a big Turneffe Flats bonefish.

Turneffe Flats checks all of the boxes and with the lack of pressure the fishery received during Covid, there is not a better time to go.  You will get a top of the line experience and help support an economy that has really missed us.  I look forward to my next trip in August; maybe I will see you there. 

For more information, check out tflats.com.