© 2015 Grace Baldwin

Fly Fishing in Belize: Outcome and Reflection

During an awesome 20-day ecological field study in Belize (video above), I was able to fish a total of 10 days! I fished the most on South Water Caye, an island off the Mainland where we spent the last week of our trip. On this post are the Trips and Tricks, Fishing Logs, Daily Fishing Journal, and Final Reflection for my trip to Belize!

 

TIPS AND TRICKS

Below is a write up of the information I learned from the book “Fly Fishing for Bonefish” by Dick Brown but also the points that I found most useful while fishing and that I continued to reflect on over my time at South Caye.

 

Louis Cahill Photography

Where to Find Them: At high tide they are in mangroves, rocky shores, sandy beaches and tidal pools. At medium tide in grass and sand flats. At low tide deep water and reefs. Rising and falling tides are a good time to fish. Water temperature should be between 75 to 85 degrees; bigger fish can withstand the extremes more easily. When spooked the fish swim through “escape routes,” which are channels to deeper water.

How to See Them: Look for tailing fish, mud clouds, bonefish following rays, nervous water, or swimming fish. Tailing is the easiest to see; sometimes may be easier without sunglasses depending on lighting. Swimming fish are the hardest but when the swim it looks like a rounded arrow driving through the water. Schools are fairly easy to see, especially when they are tailing, but be careful because the schools always look smaller than they actually are and spooking one fish will spook them all. Also sharks and barracudas are a sign that bonefish are around; it can either be a positive or negative because sometimes they will spook all the fish, but sometimes they won’t.

Choosing Flies: Ask locals what flies work best. But in general you want to match the flies based on the color of the water; when the water is neutral choose a neutral fly, if it is reddish choose a more orange fly. If you want to get technical you can measure the temperature of the water and choose your fly based on what prey are most active during that temperature for that area; for example prey at extreme temperatures are typically bigger. Sink rates are the most important aspect of your flies to pay attention to. You should try to get a variety of weights if possible, because depending on the tides and where you are fishing impacts how deep you want the fly to go. Sometimes the water is so shallow and the grass is so high that you want a totally non-weighted fly that will stay on top; if not you will keep tangling and spooking fish.

Casting: For casting it is important to place the fly in front of the fish and pull away from the fish so it looks like the fly is swimming away. A strip stop motion is used for most flies, particularly shrimp and crab patterns. Many times fish strike when the fly is stopped so be sure to hold the stop. For stripping, typically 6-12 inches per strip is recommended. Delicate presentation is also crucial to bonefishing. If the fly lands too hard the fish will spook. For deeper water a more aggressive landing is sometimes needed. It is important to cast further from a school than you think, because many times fish will be sitting closer to you than you expect; start closer and then cast further each time.

Setting the hook: A strip set is used to set the hook. Many times you can watch the fish’s tail to see when they turn and then watch them stalk the fly. If you strip set too soon you will pull the fly out of the mouth of the fish, but if too late the fish will have already spit it out. After strip setting, you should hold the fly rod as high as possible.

Fighting and Landing: The best part of bonefishing is the runs. The fish run at 25 to 30 mph and go 100 to 200 yards out. Apparently the reel spins at 10,000 rpm when you have a bonefish on your line. Bonefish will run at least two times and sometimes more than five times. Runs can also last 5, 10, or 20 minutes. When fighting its important to try to keep the line out of the water to prevent tangles and to try to keep fish away from mangroves. If the line does get caught its important to loosen the line and then walk and loosely reel in carefully to untangle. It is important to let the fish tire themselves out and even when they are near you be ready in case they do one last final run.

Reviving: Reviving bonefish is crucially important. As stated above bonefish are a prized sport fish and so it is important to take the time to carefully revive them. Also if a fish isn’t fully revived it increases its chances of getting eaten by sharks or barracudas.

 

10947288_812142372186599_2615748712656513583_n

 

OVERALL FISHING LOG

Total days fished: 10

Total fish: 6

1/12: Hill Bank – Freshwater – no fish

1/13: Dam – Freshwater – no fish

1/17 – 1/18: Blue Creek – Freshwater – no fish

1/23 – 1/28: South Water Caye – Saltwater – one bar jack and five bonefish

 

SOUTH WATER CAYE LOG

  •  1/23
    • 6 am: hooked one bone, saw a permit, landed a bar jack [with Albin]
    • 4 pm: fished off a boat; no fish [with Albin]
  • 1/24
    • 6 am: hooked two bone, landed one bone [with Albin]
    • 2 pm: hooked two bone (first time alone)
  • 1/25
    • 6 am: no fish [with Albin]
    • 11 am: landed bone (first time alone)
    • 12noon: landed bone
  • 1/26
    • 6 am: no fish
    • 11 am: landed bone
  • 1/27
    • 11 am: no fish
    • 1 pm: no fish
    • 5 pm: no fish
  • 1/28
    • 6 am: landed bone, saw a shark

 

SOUTH CAYE DAILY FISHING JOURNAL

Note: Everytime I fished I used Cowen’s Bonefish Scampi or Christmas Island Special. I did not end up paying for a fly fishing guide but instead was assisted by one of the snorkeling guides, Albin, who showed me where the bonefish were and helped me to see them the first 3 times I fished. Each day on the island I kept a daily fishing journal, which is typed up below.

10933775_10200250002568803_3947879738651556444_n

January 23rd, Friday:

Today I woke up at 6 am to go fly fishing. I met Albin who first took me to the back mangroves. We trudged through seaweed to the shallow bottom where it was more rocky. Albin pointed to black spikes sticking out of the water which was a cluster of about six bonefish. I started casting and on my second or third cast, I hooked a bonefish! I felt the take pretty fast, but I was so caught off guard that I did pretty much everything wrong. I was just too excited. I should have kept my rod higher. I also struggled and waited too long the get the fish on the reel. I should have let it run further and then reeled it in, but wow hooking it was the coolest fish I have ever fought. It really looked like a little torpedo running with the fly. I could feel its muscular body on my reel and see flashes of its silver body.

We continued casting to different fish. It was crazy windy so I had to stand with my back to the wind. At one point I saw a huge honey comb cow fish, probably around 11 inches. It was so funny watching it clumsily swim through the waves. Later we were hunting a big bonefish that turned out to be a permit! Albin really wanted me to hook it, but it wouldn’t take the fly.

After the mangroves, we fished off the beach in the front. I hooked into one fish near the main dock, and it started to run, but this time I got it on the reel quickly and held my rod high and before I knew it I handed landed a beautiful bar jack (pictured above). It’s lateral line was flashing like a rainbow. It was so exciting and I smiled the whole time!

At 4 pm I went fishing off of a boat with Albin. It was not very successful, but I received some unsolicited casting lessons from one of Albin’s friends. It was very helpful to watch him cast and then I was able to practice on my own. I realized I need to be more confident and put more power into my casts.

 

10451717_10200250001168768_8198028432713997680_n

January 24th, Saturday:

I woke up again this morning at 6 am to go fishing. We went to the back mangroves again, where there were tons of bonefish again. My casting has gotten much better so I was able to get the fly closer and more accurately to the fish, but I kept spooking the school. At one point I hooked a fish but because I thought it was going to run I kept the line too loose and it shook off. Later, I hooked another and this time I got him on the reel, but I held the reel too long and so he cut the line.

I felt really bad that I kept losing fish, especially since Albin was out helping me again. We were about to go in when I did one last cast to a school and I hooked another bone! This time I got him on the reel but then let him run. The reel was spinning so fast you couldn’t see the handle and all the yellow line was spitting out until it got to white line (a part of the reel I did not know existed). The fish must have gone 150 yards at least; he stopped the first run and I reeled back and then bam another run and the reeel was whipping again This happened about 3 more times until the fish finally got tired and I landed him! It was so exhilarating and holding the fish I could feel its strong muscular body; it was about 11 inches long (pictured above). It felt so good to land it, I smiled the whole way to breakfast.

At 2 pm I went fishing again but this time alone. It was exciting because I was able to find the fish all by myself, and I even hooked into two but I didn’t keep the line tight enough so I lost them.

 

1977397_10200250001728782_688764899720215475_n

January 25th, Sunday:

Yet again I woke up for morning bonefishing. The water was too cold for the fish to be super active so I didn’t hook any. However at 11 am I went fishing; the water had warmed and it was high tide so the fish were much more active. When I walked over I saw a man fishing with a guide and then looked down and saw tons of bonefish. I waved and pointed to the fish but the man was too far and didn’t seem to want to try casting over so I decided to drop my fly in and I hooked one! It was so quick I hadn’t even had time to put my shoes on. Ironically the fish ran right past the man and his guide which was really funny. I let the fish run and then reeled and walked to the fish. At one point the fish had wrapped around a little tree so I unwrapped the fish and then grabbed the line. It was so awesome to land the fish, because it was my first bonefish I had landed without Albin (pictured above).

After lunch I went fishing again with my friend Emily and caught another bonefish! This one was the smallest yet but he fought the longest. It was cool to catch the fish with my friend who really enjoyed watching. (Sadly I was unable to take a picture of this fish). I then went to get my friend Kel, who also enjoys fly fishing and fished with him a bit but the school had disappeared.

 

10420762_10200250017169168_637173999885119815_n

January 26th, Monday:

Again I went fishing at 6 am, but this time with Kel. However the tide was too low and the water too cool so the fish were not very active.

At ll am I went fishing with Emily again. She stood on a bench and helped to spot fish. She saw one run into the mangroves and so I fished into the mangroves blind but was able to hook it! It was another small fish but very fun to fight (pictured above). I then fished around the front was trying to hunt a huge bonefish but never hooked it.

 

1512295_10153582408124392_4806749625579256322_n

January 27th, Tuesday:

Today was my first day getting skunked. I didn’t fish in the morning but I fished throughout the day and sadly never caught any fish. I fished both in the mangroves and out front. I think that I wasn’t timing the tides correctly.

 

10426125_10200250020889261_2898109984798558248_n

January 28th, Wednesday:

Today was our last morning at South Caye. I woke up at 6 am to fish one last time and Emily and Brian came with me. We walked down further than usual on the mangrove side of the island and found a huge school of bonefish. The sunrise was the most beautiful yet because the sky was so clear. We were chasing the school and spooked them so many times. Then finally I hooked a fish and then passed the rod to my friend Emily to reel in. It was really cool to coach her through her first bonefish and watch her excitement at reeling it in. We landed the fish (pictured above) and then when taking the fly out realized it was all the way down the fish’s mouth. I had to stick my finger in its mouth to get the fly out which was pretty funny.

A couple minutes later we saw a huge dark fin sticking out of the water and realized it was a shark! We saw its dorsal fin sticking out and at one point I saw its head poke up a little. It was so cool to see it lurking around. We kept fishing until 8 am; at one point we saw a fish dance on top of the water, it must have been spawning.

 

10952271_10200250026649405_7317687995925460859_n

FINAL REFLECTION

Upon realizing that Belize is renowned for fly fishing, I began researching the fishing opportunities and became obsessed with bonefish. However upon reading “Fly Fishing for Bone Fish” by Dick Brown I was extremely humbled by the complexity and skill required to catch a bonefish. I realized all the necessary experience required, and knew I did not possess any of it. Every chance I got throughout the trip I tried to get tips from other fly fishermen, locals, and people I saw with rods. My first day fishing on the Island was not particularly confidence boosting, but I continued to fish and try to improve. After hooking a bone the first morning with Albin, I thought that was the best I would get. The bar jack I caught that morning was exciting, but also sheer luck. But then the next morning after losing two fish, I landed my first bone, it was amazing! Fighting the bonefish was everything it was promised to be and more. I was sure that would be my only fish of the trip but I continued anyways and the next day caught two! I ended up landing a total of five bonefish during my time on the island, five more than I ever thought possible!

My favorite aspect of fishing is how catching fish is just one small part of the sport. What the sport really is about are the lessons you learn from each experience on the water. This trip solidified for me the power of goal setting and perseverance. My lack of skill and experience, I made up for in my consistent and tireless effort to improve and try again and for that effort I was rewarded.

It was some of the most successful but most independent fishing I have ever done, and I know that I grew in many ways as a fishermen in a short period of time. My steep learning curve became evident the last morning when I coached my friend through her first bonefish. I realized how much I had learned and recognized how much I had improved. It was an amazing feeling! Best of all Albin, the snorkeling guide who doesn’t fly fish but does a lot of trawling, said to me that now he is going to buy a fly rod! That was extremely exciting for me to pass on to both my friend Emily and Albin the joy of fly fishing. It was really wonderful to see their enthusiasm for a sport I am becoming increasingly passionate about.