Editor Note: Want to fish your heart out in Belize and maybe never see another angler? Here’s an option to consider. Subscriber Don Armstrong filed the report.
I love fishing in Belize for permit, as well as tarpon and bonefish. So when I heard about an opportunity to do that from a mother ship, moving through various offshore islands for a week, I jumped at the chance. Here is a bit of background. Don Muelrath, of Fly Fishing Adventures represents Rising Tide (a 58-foot Hatteras) and Meca (a homemade 38-foot boat that seems bigger than it actually is). Rising Tide has three staterooms and accommodates up to six anglers and Meca has two staterooms and can accommodate up to four. I was looking for a partner to share a Belize mother ship trip and Don connected me with another fisherman, Rod. He and I both like fishing single with our own guide and getting all the shots, so that is what we arranged.
Since it was just the two of us, we chose to fish from Meca, which turned out to be very comfortable. It suited all our needs. Each stateroom had two single beds and a full bathroom. The rooms also had small dressers and places to hang clothes. There was also a dining/kitchen area, as well as a small parlor where you could watch DVD movies and such. Surprisingly, there was lots of room.
On our trip, there were four crew members. Dean served as captain, as well as one of our guides. Edward, whose regular job is to serve as captain of Meca, was our other guide. Generally, Edward is the captain of Meca, while Dean is captain of Rising Tide. Dean’s wife, Georgia, and Nikki were our cooks/housekeepers.
Getting to our departure point was supposed to be very easy and fast, as flights from many US cities to Belize City take less than three hours. After you clear customs in Belize City, all you have to do is walk outside where your meet-and-greet person transfers you to your mother ship. That transfer takes about 15 minutes. In our case, however, both of our flights were late. A small setback, but we were soon on our way.
The fishing on this trip is focused on the shallow flats around the Belizean keys that stretch the full length of Belize, inside the shelter of the world’s second-largest barrier reef. Dean told me he can fish north of Belize City into Chetumal Bay on a one-week trip. On trips longer than seven nights, the mother ship can explore even more waters. Trips can be customized according to the anglers’ preferences as to species and fishing environments (shallow flats, mangrove lagoons and edges, jungle rivers, and the reef system). We spent most of our trip fishing the many flats near the Belizean keys, inside the barrier reef, though we did also fish along one main north-south channel where large tarpon migrate each year during the summer months. Unfortunately, we did not see many large tarpon on our trip, though the guides told us many had been seen the week prior to our trip.
Dean recommends clients bring a 10 wt. for the permit and an 11 wt. or 12 wt. for the tarpon. I fished with a 9 wt. for the permit and it worked fine. Of course, when you are fishing saltwater flats, coastal wind is usually a factor. Indeed, one day it did get up to around 5 knots. Overall, wind was not much of a factor for us.
We didn’t really fish for bonefish much at all. We saw a few, including one very large school on one flat. And I did hook one bonefish on a permit crab fly. That occurred on my second cast of the trip. We spent most of our time focused on permit.
The guides prefer Raghead Crab patterns that are specially tied with light eyes to allow the flies to sink slowly over the turtle grass. I had one fly that seemed to work well (two eats), but the permit used their “crushers” to bend the hook while obtaining their freedom. It was a great fly with cheap, bad hooks.
“We spent the rest of that afternoon and early evening getting many shots at permit. It was amazing seeing so many tailing fish!”
Don Muelrath provides a very good tackle list that describes the appropriate equipment, including the best flies, etc. He has fished on mother ships in Belize for 30 years and knows the operation and Belize very well. Don says it’s important that booked anglers decide ahead of time whether they want to focus on tarpon, bonefish, snook, or permit, or a combination of any of those species. The direction of sail and timing of stops will all be planned accordingly. Of course, catching a permit or tarpon is never easy, and if you focus on them alone, yours will not be a highnumbers trip. On the other hand, if you are a fishing addict, a trip focused on those species just might work for you. You get a lot of hours on the water during a three-shift fishing day that lasts from dawn to dusk and sometimes later. Meals are prepared around the fishing schedule rather than the other way around.
The skiffs used on our trip were 23-foot pangas with raised decks in the bow. They also have aluminum “leaning posts” on the casting deck to aid those like me who don’t have perfect balance. The leaning posts take the weight off your legs, too, and makes a long fishing day more comfortable. Both of our guides on this trip were very good at poling the boat, staying in the right locations, and setting up the best cast for each angler.
Our fishing days, not surprisingly, provided different levels of activity and excitement. Some days we would find few fish, while other days provided world-class excitement. Permit provided most of the excitement on our trip. Our first day was pretty typical. It also introduced us to what is meant by three fishing “sessions” in a single day. We began the day around 6:00 AM looking for rolling tarpon in a certain channel where they often can be found early and late. They weren’t rolling, so we tried some blind casting. No luck. We didn’t see any fish at all. At that point we went back to Meca for a fantastic breakfast.
After breakfast, we focused on looking for permit and didn’t find any. So it was back to the boat for a great lunch. By the time we got back on the water there was a rising tide. Dean immediately saw and pointed out a tailing permit. I promptly hooked up on my first cast. We got the fish back to within 30 feet, at which point it broke off. Dean thought it was because the fish dragged the line across some coral. Soon afterward, I saw more tails and cast. We decided these were bonefish. I got a strike immediately, then another. We spent the rest of that afternoon and early evening getting many shots at permit. It was amazing seeing so many tailing fish!
We stayed in that area for one more day before moving south to a new anchorage. We had a few more tailing permit shots where we had found fish the day before. On my last cast of the day, I hooked up and landed a five-pound permit. A great ending to that day.
Over the next four days, we moved south to two different anchorages. We found new flats to fish every time we moved. Amazingly, after our first move south, we saw no other anglers at all. We passed many islands, some with inhabitants, some with commercial lobster fishermen, but we saw no other recreational fishermen.
On two occasions, we had the opportunity to learn the downside of finding a school of up to 100 permit. Yes, up to 100! Unfortunately, with that many fish in a school, any small thing can spook the entire school, and that is what happened to us. We had one day when the weather was basically ugly with 25-knot wind and rain squalls in the morning. Raincoats were necessary whenever we moved, and there were times we got soaked. However, I did have one permit eat on this cloudy day. Unfortunately, it was one of the fish who crushed my fly and bent the hook!
One non-permit highlight of our trip occurred on the fifth day when Dean took me to a mangrove key with several beautiful mangrove creeks and a large sheltered lagoon on the inside. We found small pods of 15- to 20-pound tarpon rolling and splashing there. Using a black and purple tarpon fly, we jumped four of these tarpon and landed two.
Since my flight out on our last day wasn’t until 4:00 PM, we fished around the city. We found a few tailing permit (no luck) and released one snook. We were told the record number of permit released from a Belize mother ship trip was 23 fish. While our results certainly weren’t in that same league, I did get a solid 35 to 50 shots at permit. In all, I had five fish eat my crab pattern, one of which I brought to the boat. Hooks let me down on two fish or I might have had three in all to the boat. I learned my lesson: bring flies tied tightly on good hooks! The size of the permit we saw ranged from 5 to 25 pounds.
The cost of a seven-night Belize mother ship trip can vary from $3,000 to $5,000 depending on the number in your group and which boat you use. The cost for our trip was just over $4,300 based on each of us having a single room and each of us fishing in our own skiff. Would I go back? I am hoping to.
You can get more information about booking Rising Tide and Meca from Don Muelrath at Fly Fishing Adventures, 888-347-4896. Web: flyfishingadventures.org.