My wife, Katie, and I were very fortunate to be able to travel to the Turneffe Atoll this past week and experience that beautiful and wonderful paradise. We stayed at Turneffe Island Resort are were blown away by their accommodations, staff, food, their diving, the fishing guides – you name it, I have nothing but glowing compliments for the entire resort. I would recommend them to any client of mine, without a single hesitation.
For those of you not aware – Turneffe is an atoll about 35 miles off the coast of Belize. The island is ringed with coral and the entire atoll is literally a giant bonefish and permit flat interlocked by a maze of mangroves. We did a lot of diving (including a visit to the “blue hole”), and I, of course, did a lot of flats fishing.
I was also really surprised to learn a few facts about the country of Belize. First of all, ALL GILL NETS ARE BANNED! Second, Bonefish, permit and tarpon are 100% catch and release for everyone! Third, all fish caught commercially are required to retain a 1 inch by 2 inch piece of skin so that it can be identified. Gee – nice to know that Belize figured out what North Carolina and its inept (and corrupt) politicians and fishery managers cannot.
Regardless, commercial fishermen abounded on the atoll fishing in small pangas – free diving for conch and lobster, chumming and cast netting for shrimp and hand-lining the reefs for snapper, grouper and king mackerel. While the coral and tropical fish was, hands down, the healthiest I have ever seen – anywhere – it was really obvious that the larger grouper and snapper were scarce. When we visited the Marine Reserve (zero fishing – period) around the Blue Hole – we saw monster grouper, big hogfish and big snappers all over the place.
However, the bonefish were unbelievably numerous and I can honestly saw I never went more than 10 minutes at any time not being able to see a school of bones. The average school was easily 100 fish and we saw many over 500. They were still wary and difficult but the numbers were breathtaking. I caught countless bones and katie caught her first bonefish on fly! The permit were also around in mesmerizing numbers – all over the reefs and scattered across the flats. I managed to catch 6 on the fly.
My guide, Fabian, grew up in the Atoll – commercial fishing his entire life and told me many stories about the price trends and the realities of their fishery. He also, hands down, had the best eyes of any fishermen I have ever been around. He could spot individual bonefish from hundreds of yards away. Amazing. He had me in bonefish at all times, showed me tailing permit, huge schools of permit and even though it was a really poor time of the year for tarpon – got me hooked up, on fly, with a very big ‘poon. I, however, wasn’t able to seal the deal and the grandslam eluded me this trip as the tarpon threw the fly on a jump. I will be back and I hope to accomplish the slam (bonefish, tarpon and permit) on my next trip.
The real highlight were the permit – I was able to land 6 on fly (all in the 10-15lb range) and lost just as many. On the last day, we got on a school of about a dozen 30lb+ fish – i had three follow my fly and a big boy rushed it, inhaling my crab and ran right at me…unable to get tight, he spat the hook. Wow! I still get a rush thinking about it!
A few pics…
Tailing Bonefish – school of about 150.
SMALL school of Bones cruising a sand flat
Katie and I at Half-Moon Caye – Marine Reserve. INCREDIBLE diving.
A couple of Antillean Manatees that came to check us out while we were looking for permit – poor picture but pretty big deal to see these guys!!!