Tying for the Atoll

April 2021

The fish that are synonymous with fly casting at Turneffe Atoll are bonefish, permit and tarpon. Having a fly box stocked with the right flies is the first step in catching those fish. Here’s a look at the patterns you should be tying when heading to Belize for this action.


Pop’s Bonefish Bitters

The Pop’s Bonefish Bitters is a staple in the fly boxes of astute anglers chasing the gray ghosts of the flats at Turneffe Atoll. The gift shop at Turneffe Flats offers the Pops Bonefish Bitters in a couple of colors. The fly was developed by Winston “Pops” Cabral, who has guided for the lodge since 1987.

If you want to tie your own bitters, here’s a simple prescription. Tie on a pair of bead chain eyes just behind the eye of the hook. Add three sets of rubber legs about midway back on the hook.

Next tie in some stacked deer hair halfway between the chain eyes and the rubber legs, with a third of the hairs’ tip ends toward the back and the other two-thirds of the butt ends angled forward. Trim the forward hairs off just to the level of the eyes, not sticking up over them. Now trim the legs off so they are about the length from the chain eyes to the back of the hook.

Finish off with an epoxy head around the chain eyes.

Mantis Shrimp Fly

The Mantis Shrimp Fly’s most prominent feature is its three sets of rubber legs. While we ordinarily think of shrimp as hapless creatures at the bottom of the food chain and on the menu for every fish in the sea, that doesn’t apply to the mantis. These creatures are tiny members of the lobster family, are extremely fast and are predatory. Most important, they are a favorite food for bonefish.


Del’s Merkin Crab

Finding the Merkin Crab on the list is no surprise, since it is probably the most popular permit fly that exists. Originated by Del Brown, who is generally credited with having caught more permit that any angler, the  Merkin slightly resembles a crab, but more importantly, when cast, it acts like a crab.

Avalon Permit Fly

Although sometimes referred to as the Avalon Crab Fly, the pattern actually more resembles a shrimp. Purported to have been developed in Cuba by Italian angler Mauro Ginevri, regardless of what it looks like, it is a fast-sinking fly that works well in deeper flats around Turneffe Atoll.


EP Tarpon SP Peanut Butter

This fly designed by Enrico Puglisi is a mainstay of the arsenal for tarpon anglers at the atoll. Tied on a size 2/0 hook, it is ideal for both smaller juvenile tarpon, but also attracts the 100-plus-pound silver kings. Several color patterns can work, but the most dependable is the black/purple scheme.

Tarpon Toad

First developed in smaller sizes for bonefish in the Florida Keys, Atlanta fly shop owner and traveling angler Gary Merriman led the way in popularizing the pattern for tarpon in the same region in the 1980s. The fly is tied in larger sizes and with stronger hooks when stepping up to the tarpon game. Purple or chartreuse are the most often fished colors.

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