November 2016, Belize in the Off Season

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Patty and I have been vacationing in Belize since 1983. The first ten years were amazing, then the fishery petered out because of over harvest. In 2008 the country of Belize passed a law that the only reason one could posses a bonefish, tarpon or permit was for catch and release. The fishery has rebounded and is now possibly as good as ever. Our 2012 trip found the fishery on the rebound, but with much better guides and accommodations than in past years.

November 12-18 was our second stay at Belize River Lodge, on the Belize River. This is the oldest continuous guide service in Belize. They have entertained all the rich, famous and infamous anglers that frequent saltwater flats, and the lodge has become an annual destination for us. They just do the best job of any lodge we have visited anywhere. They are also the most convenient. They are very secluded, but only fifteen minutes (10-minutes by SUV and 5-minutes by boat) from the Belize City International Airport. Our air-flight was from Portland to Houston and back again.

Fishing was consistently good for tarpon. It might even be safe to say there are only two kinds of fly fishers, those who have gone tarpon fishing and those who would like to try it. Belize tarpon come in all sizes, and in every stage of growth they are spectacular game fish. Rods for small tarpon of five to twenty pounds are best fished with the same size tackle as similar size steelhead, in other words, an 7, 8 or 9 weight. Twenty to forty pound fish will require 9 to 11 weight. Fish of forty to 100+ pounds are best fished with rods that you can pull really hard with. Twelve weight rods are the most popular size for larger tarpon. A tarpon rod needs to be very durable. It also needs to be well balanced and easy to cast with. Casting for tarpon requires that a rod will play both the long and the short casting game and be able to deliver a fly with pinpoint accuracy at all ranges.

Our guide, John Moore, put us on a lot of fish, and what a nice guy. During our November 2016 trip, tarpon of over sixty pounds were seen and fished too but were not hooked. Only tarpon of up to 20-pounds were landed. Yet, the larger tarpon were always available and had to be taken seriously. Smaller tarpon were prolific. Nine-weight, or even eight-weight might have been more appropriate for the seven pound tarpon pictured above, but this fish was still plenty sporty with the eleven-weight Beulah Opal rod that Patty was using. When the water is clear, tarpon of all sizes can prefer baitfish flies, such as Baja Bait Fish, but when the water is dirty, they prefer dark flies like Black Death or Bunny Deceivers in Purple, or the Enrico Puglisi Tarpon Streamers in black & red or purple. Even small tarpon require a heavy bite tippet.

Bonefishing on the Belize flats are as good as any we have encountered. Most bonefish range from two to three pounds, and there are lots of them. If you only have one rod for bonefish, an eight-weight is a good choice. However, our favorite bonefish rod for Belize is the Sage SALT 790-4. Another rod that we liked a lot for many different fisheries, including bonefish in Belize is Lefty's TFO BVK 990. Smaller flies and long leaders tend to be the rule for bonefish success in Belize. The best skinny-water bonefish fly for us was the Skampi tied by Solitude Fly Company with bead-chain eyes. The universal fly for bonefish, snook and smaller cudas encountered while fishing deeper flats was Mark's Spawning Shrimp. The best snook fly was the Red & White Gurgler.

Belize cudas can be very large and swim incredibly fast. Don't expect that you will be able to cast barracuda flies or control larger specimens with medium weight gear. Big cudas require tarpon size gear. I use a 12-weight Sage 1290-4 Salt rod and Clear-tip RIO OutBound line to cast Ka-Cudda flies. Giant Barracuda or Atlantic/Caribbean Barracuda is in the family of Sphyraena. Often called "cuda" and feared because of their razor sharp teeth, they like to stalk their prey and then ambush from short range. They are amazingly quick and can literally move faster than the eye can see. They eat any kind of fish that they can catch. They love to eat bonefish or jacks that have been hooked by fishermen.

Big cudas are smart and learn to use wading people or people in boats to flush their prey to them. Often when you are wading for bonefish or permit you will see a big cuda pacing you, waiting for you to flush fish to him. This is often their undoing as a large fly cast ten or twenty feet ahead of the cuda and stripped fast can produce a vicious strike. Never retrieve the fly toward a cuda as it will spook him. Big cudas over four feet in length have proven to be nearly impossible to land while wading. The best fishing is from a boat positioned in deep water off the edge of a shallow reef or flat. Throw the fly into the shallow water and retrieve over the edge.

Large cudas are usually in dispersed populations. Often a lot of water has to be fished. Trolling flies along the edges has proven to be the easiest approach, but very hard on fly lines because of twists that occur while trolling. However once a big cuda is spotted, expect it to remain around that location. They seem to have established territories. Points have proven to be more sought after cuda habitat than coves. Deep mouths of tidal creeks are great holding and ambush places for cudas. Large flies over 12" are needed to attract larger specimens. Make your fly look wounded or disoriented. Jerky retrieves have been most effective. You cannot retrieve the fly too fast. Use 12" of light piano wire for bite tippet. Cudas can easily bite through any monofilament. Average cudas caught on big flies are 30" to 50" long. The world record is 6' and 106 pounds.

Belize River Lodge has such an incredible personality, it is like visiting an old friend, even if it is your first time. It is the most relaxed, yet still the most efficient, fishing camp we've ever attended. The guides and meals are top notch. Our room was great. We can't wait to go back.

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