Fly fishing New Zealand report by UK brown trout journalist…
Client Bernard Donges has recently returned from Turneffe Flats in Beleize and provides some detailed insight into his 10 days on the flats of this unique atoll. A must read for anyone planning a visit to Turneffe Flats.
Hi Mat, Kev,
Location: Great to fish most locations (beautiful Northern flats, inner lagoon, etc), but 45mn to the most Southern parts which has some of the best permit/big tarpons/snook spots (Turneffe Island Lodge is better positioned in that case, but I heard it’s a mess at the moment…). You can fish for bonefish (and I even saw permits at high tides!) on the flat in front of the lodge. Peer has jacks, snappers and barracudas (no tarpons) at night.
The scenery of the outer flats is just beautiful, especially in the North!
Facilities: nice and tidy. AC worked well but warm water (solar energy…) mostly when coming back in the afternoon, coldish water in the morning. I think water supply may become an issue for the lodge if it does not rain for a prolonged period.
Staff: were great, operations are being run very smoothly/professionnally. Very friendly and caring despite 25-30 guests during my stay. They had 30 supporting staff members!
Food&Drinks: Nothing to complain about!
Guides: had Kimbral Williams, gave me more than half a dozen shots at permits every day (on the flats, not in the inner lagoon!) + secret spot for big resident tarpons in the channels + secret spot for snook family, so very happy with him. Heard good things about Dion Young, Mark Hyde and Dubs Young (and Winston “Pops” Cabral, very funny guy…) from other guests. Every guide has his secret spots…
Permits: I had >50-60 shots (mostly 25-35-pounders) during my stay… but zero takes! In Ascencion or Espiritu Santo Bay (Casa/Playa Blanca) I probably would have landed 10-20! Now I know why permit fishing can be tough ;) The guys who managed to get one chased the tailing schools of smaller fish (10-15lb) in the inner lagoons for hours (like literally 3 to 5 hours!) with the engine still on on the skiff (I think the permits from the inner fishery got used to it, and are now “educated” on top of being permits!). Then you can also pole for fish on the flats, in the channels or around the small islands of the atoll, wade near the edge of the reef, etc. Lots of different places/ways to try to catch them!
Flies that hooked permits were the EP CRAB TAN #2 (in the inner lagoon) and EP CRAB OLIVE GREEN #2 (in the outer flats). I would have used the opposite colours (olive for the dark-bottomed inner lagoon and tan for the outer flats)… One guy also got one using an EP SPAWNING SHRIMP OLIVE #1/0 after chasing a school during 5 hours in the inner lagoon… Information gathered from many guests (included myself) having tried whole fly boxes!
Use a super slow (or no) strip as these fish take their time to inspect the fly!
Use a 16lb fluorocarbon tippet (20lb is too big…).
If I were to go back I would use a stiff Sage Salt 10-weight with a long tapered line to cast these heavy crabs at some distance, as my Helios 2 was sometimes lacking power when windy.
According to the “locals”, Best time to go permit fishing is around a full moon when high tides are in the morning at the beginning of the week, and you’re just out of a cold front… Then more permits come on the flats (around high tides).
Tarpons: Bring an 11-weight (or a 12), even if not the migratory tarpon season (May to Sep; my guide told me Aug is probably the best month as the tarpons have settled down and the weather is more stable…). And an intermediate/sinking line like the Rio Leviathan 26ft sink tip 400gr as you are blind casting in 20-30ft deep channels on the outgoing tides (can be during 1 hour…). The EP PEANUT BUTTER™ BLACK/PURPLE #3/0 worked best for me in slightly overcast conditions, but my guide said something like the EP TARPON STREAMER ORANGE/YELLOW #3/0 worked very well in sunny conditions. Also don’t forget ‘some imitations to fish when tarpons are chasing balls of sardines/baitfish. I managed to land a 90-pounder and to break on an even bigger fish (200 yards run then jump, even bowing to the king did not help on a 20lb IGFA class tippet…). Use 60 or 80lb shock tippet, if you want to land the fish quickly think about using straight 60lb fluorocarbon. Otherwise enjoy a 45mn fight! BTW, my guide told me the fish I landed was a resident tarpon, not a migratory one!
Bonefish: very smart fish. A 7-weight is enough. Avoid textured line (they can hear the friction of the line in the rings… and don’t take it! This made me crazy…). Size 10 unweighted (or with plastic/mono eye) flies worked the best (krystal/orange/pink/green/tan gotchas…). The strip is more of a twitch to imitate a shrimp, they don’t take it if too fast/unrealistic, and even spook (my guide told me they can hear the resistance of the line when you make a big strip… which I believed in the end)! These fish are smart/educated (I think they must have seen many many flies…) and lazy (they often wait perpendicular to the reef for the food to be washed to them…).
Ask your guide how to do it, you will save a lot of time! I used 12-14lb fluorocarbon tippet as many fish break you on the coral… and 16 feet leaders as they spook if the fly line lands too close to them.
I heard that they were flats with much easier bones but did not go there as primariy focused on permits and tarpons.
A word on sunglasses: bring a pair of Smith Low Light Ignitor (or Maui Jim HT) on top of your other shades (Costa 580G Green Mirror…) for overcast days, this was super helpful to spot the fish!
So in summary the location and the different fishing spots were amazing despite the fishing being quite tough (but you see many permits…)! But that’s what makes you come back…