Five of us fished 11 days in Placencia, Belize with guides Bruce Leslie, Benji Eiley, and Arthur Vernon. This was our 4th trip and we mostly focused on tarpon and permit. As in the past, we stayed at the Westwind Hotel with Lisa and George Westby. Lisa is working on a new website and she can put you in touch with the guides or I can. We stay at the Westwind because Lisa and George treat us very well. It is located right on the beach and the sidewalk, the guide pick us up there at 4:30 or 5 am, and it is close to some of the nicest restaurants. Placencia has been very quite due to the world economy and things were just beginning to pickup with more tourists toward the end of our trip. This was my 4th trip and I am already planning the 5th. Here are some trip highlights:
The weather was pretty bad for a few days early in the trip with torrential rain and heavy winds. I think this was largely due to tropical storm Ida sliding by. We had rain showers off and on most days. Some days it would be hot and sunny and 15 minutes later we were in the rain and soaked. This is to be anticipated in early November but we schedule the trip after our Alaska fall fishing and before the holidays set in. November is an excellent time for most species but I guess there are better times for everything like spring for permit and summer for tarpon. Later is probably better for the weather.
We missed or jumped approximately 60 to 70 tarpon between the five of us and I think we only landed about 15. The primary reason for this is that we fished one caye where we could wade a gorgeous white sand beach and cast to tarpon herding bait in 2 to 5 feet of water. Sometimes these fish would follow the fly to the rod tip before they hit and then immediately jump. It was very exciting but very difficult to connect and set the hook, especially when the waves were pounding us and lines were all over the place. I am not sure the stripping basket would have worked because sometimes the water and waves were more than waist deep. The thrill of seeing the bait clear little behind the fly and then lots more as a 40 to 50 pound fish follows the fly is pretty amazing. I think we all experienced the open mouth and total lack of ability to do anything but say “holy s***!” I actually had 3 fish bust bait between me and my rod tip while casting to other fish. I was the only one to land one of these fish, a 20 pounder, but we had lots of jumps. This is perhaps some of the most challenging fishing I have ever experienced.
We did much better on our hookup and landing ratio when fishing the deep water drops offs. This is very different, casting the entire line and letting it sink 20 to 30 seconds and then slow stripping. There is no doubt when the fish connect and you usually have lots more time to clear line, get the fish on the reel and get ready for the jumps.
We had an what I consider to be an incredible number of shots at permit. I estimate that we cast to between 200 and 250 different fish when the waves, wind, and sun were in alignment. I had 30 shots one afternoon in 3 hours on turtle grass flats and I did not connect. Bruce would see fish and I would see fish on the right. They were everywhere. Mike Scott landed 2 fish, Mack Tigert on his first ever saltwater trip had one, Mike Schoder had numerous fish on, some for 15 minutes, before they found the coral or the hook popped out. An interesting note is that we mostly had commercial crab flies and the number that did not land hook up was pretty scary. We started testing all the flies and discarding those that did not fish properly.
We caught lots, and lots, and lots of 3 to 4 pound bonefish. I did see some much bigger in the 7 to 8 pound range (according to Bruce) but these were usually when we were sight fishing for tarpon. We also had the usually range of Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, snappers, barracuda, bonito, and jacks. Al got into some 15 pound jacks one morning and we also had some nice horse-eye jacks. I hooked two large cuda when they inhaled jacks I had on and another time, I cast to rolling tarpon, hooked a very small Spanish mackerel, brought it to the boat, and it was promptly inhaled by an amberjack of about 40 pounds. Bruce says that is the first amberjack he has ever seen in shallow water. I lost it when it took out 200 yards of line in 9.7 seconds and wrapped around an anchor line on one of the other boats.
One day Mike Scott and Mack Tigert were with Bruce, and they each had a slam, starting with 50 pound tarpon, then with 15 pound permit and then the boners. Bruce said that was the first time in 17 years of guiding that he had 2 slams by 2 different anglers on the same day. Mack got his on his birthday and he did not realize just how amazing this was until the end of the trip. Two days later Mike Scott had a super slam fishing with Arthur Vernon. They had the small tarpon and snook by 8am, and the permit by 9, but they did not find the bonefish until noon. I thought this left plenty of time for another super slam but they went to Ranguana Caye for a beer instead.
Gear- For all tarpon fishing we mostly used 10 weight rods. I think the line of choice for the shallow water is a Rio tarpon line WF F/I. For the deep water several of us were using the Rio deep water 400 grain line. Permit lines were Teeny Bruce Chard lines, Rio bonefish lines and similar. A sad side note is that one of our group fished almost the entire trip for bonefish and permit with an intermediate sink tip line and he could not understand why he was having such a difficult time catching a fish. Flies for tarpon were mostly clousers (large for deep water and small for shallow), bait fish patterns, like the Kiss of Death I have been tying, and a few gummys. I did have two nice fish on black/purple bunny flies. As I mentioned in an earlier post, one afternoon one of us tied on a pink fly and it was like the switch was turned on for tarpon. This is the second year in a row this has happened, so maybe next year we’ll remember to pull the pink out earlier. All of the guides are wearing Haber sunglasses with copper/rose lenses and they say there is nothing better for seeing fish. All of us wear them as well but the guides must have the super secret models since they can see fish long before we can. I also used the Haber with amber lenses early in the morning and on cloudy days and all were left with the guides who were very impressed. After fishing in torrential rain all of us who did not have totally waterproof boat bags ordered them. At the end of two days of rain and spray I had inches of water in my bag.
It was a real shock to step out of the airport in Anchorage into -10 degree air. I miss Placencia already.
Wading for tarpon
Fishing in the rain
Horse Eye Jack
Phil, Burce Leslie and tarpon
Phil and beach Poon
Typical Belize Bonefish
Mike with permit 1
Sunset casting at Tobacco Caye
Jacks for dinner
Mack with his 1st permit