The tiny Central American nation of Belize offers some of the finest saltwater fishing opportunities on Earth, from the bonefish-rich waters around Ambergris Caye in the north, to the pristine Turneffe Atoll offshore, and all the way south to the legendary permit flats of Placencia, Hopkins and Punta Gorda. The entire coastline is home to a broad range of species that includes snook, snapper, jacks, barracuda, sharks and the occasional pelagic, as well as the coveted bonefish, permit and tarpon. Angling opportunities include sight-fishing over white-sand flats, shallow-water mangroves in sheltered lagoons, and some of the largest classic tarpon flats found anywhere. This diversity sets Belize apart from all other fishing in the Caribbean.
Almost 50 percent of the country has been protected as parkland or nature preserve, which explains Belize’s reputation as a pristine eco-paradise. No other Central American country offers such an intriguing mix of tropical jungles rich with wildlife, mysterious Mayan temples, world-class diving, and fishing beyond compare.
First-time saltwater anglers can experience great fishing in fabled destinations like Turneffe Atoll, Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye, where bonefish are plentiful, and shots at permit, tarpon and other species are also likely. For anglers who want to focus on the ultra-selective permit (the Holy Grail of saltwater species), the southern waters of Hopkins, Placencia and Punta Gorda offer some of the best opportunities anywhere. And, of course, there is the tarpon fishing in the central and northern waters of Belize, home to some of the largest silver kings in all of Central America.
One of the greatest things about Belize is that the fishing remains productive throughout the year. The climate is subtropical, with prevailing breezes from the Caribbean that keep the temperatures comfortable. The traditional rainy season is between June and August, and the dry season runs from February through May.
A 15-minute flight from Belize City takes you to San Pedro, the most popular tourist destination in Belize. Ignore the cruise-ship day-trippers and the drunken tourists, and focus on the fishing. With some of the largest tarpon flats in the world outside of South Florida, Ambergris is one of the few spots in the Caribbean where tarpon can be sight-fished year-round. Resident schools of tarpon in the 20- to 80-pound range roam the area’s deeper flats throughout the year. The larger migratory fish, 100 to 200 pounds, arrive in the late spring and early summer, and follow a schedule similar to fish in the Florida Keys. While it has become common for some to dismiss Ambergris as crowded and overfished, serious anglers know that when fishing with the right guide at the right time of year, this area easily stacks up against any fishery in the region.
As for diversity, it’s common to find snook in the mangroves, schools of small- to medium-size permit and large jacks cruising the flats, and snapper in the channels.
While there are some wadeable, do-it-yourself flats, most of the quality fishing is accessed via panga (a 23-foot workhorse skiff in this part of the Caribbean). And, as in most areas, having the right guide is key.
If you appreciate privacy and a fishing ecosystem that is one of the most protected and pristine in all of Central America, then check out Turneffe, the largest atoll in the Western Hemisphere and one of the least developed and least visited areas of Belize. Bonefishing is the mainstay of the fishing on Turneffe, as the atoll features miles of clean, wadeable flats that are home to huge numbers of bones, and the oceanside flats offer schools of tailing 2- to 3-pound bonefish any month of the year. Smaller schools of medium-size bones are also common, and large cruisers in the 5- to 7-pound range show up regularly.
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Turneffe’s permit fishing seems to get better with each passing year. In the inner waters of the atoll, large schools of permit in the 10- to 25-pound range hunt the soft flats throughout the spring and summer. Here, even anglers of limited casting ability have a legitimate chance of getting a permit to eat a fly.
Hopkins and Placencia
Wary, elusive and ultra-selective, permit may be the most highly prized shallow-water gamefish in the world. For anglers looking to fish permit in classic skinny-water, tails-in-the-air, hard-sand-and-turtle-grass-flats situations, then this is the area to focus on. The offshore flats and waters from Hopkins south to Placencia have for years been synonymous with world-class permit fishing. This is also home to some of the most experienced flats guides in Central America. The names of famous saltwater guides such as Cabral, Godfrey, Westby and Leslie have long made Placencia a favored destination for serious saltwater anglers. While bonefish, tarpon and snook inhabit these waters, permit is the reason you come here. If you’re impatient, quick to anger, or suffer from ADD, you may want to stick to more-diverse waters farther north. If you’re serious about permit, however, this is the place to be.
Southern Belize has little tourism, and few anglers traditionally visit. The fishing in Punta Gorda focuses primarily on permit, meaning this destination may not be for everyone.
That said, Punta Gorda boasts more permit and more big ones than just about any place in Central America. It is not unusual to see hundreds of permit every day, from heavy singles to larger schools of 5- to 15-pounders. These fish are by no means easy, but many provide a maximum opportunity and the chance to hook and land a permit on the fly. For anglers seeking other species, the outer reef islands of the Sapodilla Cayes offer bonefish and, when the weather cooperates, is well worth the hour-plus run from the mainland.
Relatively untouched and numerous, the bonefish on the outer cayes average 2 to 3 pounds, with larger fish occasionally found. The rivers and river mouths in the Punta Gorda region also offer seasonal fishing for snook, large jacks and tarpon that run anywhere from 10 to well over 100 pounds.
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Overall, Belize is a saltwater angler’s paradise, and one can easily make the argument that the fishing today is as good as it ever was, thanks in large part to 10 years of nationwide catch-and-release laws that protect the country’s healthy populations of bonefish, permit and tarpon. Belize was the first and is still the only country in the Caribbean to enact this type of protection for these three species.
SWS Planner: Belize
When You Go: You’ll need a valid passport to visit Belize. The country is easily reached from anywhere in the U.S., with flights into Philip Goldson International Airport in Belize City. English is the official language, and currency is pegged to the U.S. dollar. You can piece together a trip on your own from the following lodges, or complete travel and fishing packages are easily arranged through Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures.
El Pescador Lodge
Belize River Lodge
Turneffe Flats Lodge
Belize Permit Club
Garbutt’s Fishing Lodge