Permit in Belize

Capt. Scud Yates

You Better Belize It!

By Captain Scud Yates, Fort Walton Beach, Florida

That saying was on the hatband of our guide when he picked us up from the dock on the mainland to head out to Blue Horizon Lodge. Unk Smith and I "Belized" it, for one of the most elusive of all the fish we chase on a fly, the permit. We had a whole week of fishing for nothing other than permit. This lodge specializes in nothing else. At another lodge long ago, over a rum, a lodge manager named Brian Jones stated, 'show me a person who loves fishing for permit and I will show you a person who does not mind NOT catching fish.' In Brian's world you fish for permit when the conditions are perfect and fish for other species when permit are not really findable. You always catch something. In this part of Belize you just fish permit and, therefore, come in empty handed with many stories of the persnickety fish that just "looked" at your fly that day.

Getting to the lodge is not all that easy. You get off a big airline in Belize City and fly on a smaller one to Dangriga where a taxi takes you a half hour to a dock on a river where you meet a lodge boat for the half hour ride to the lodge. In our case we had to stay on the mainland overnight as the seas were too rough for the pick up. That was handled well by the lodge but we did not know it was going to happen and did not like missing the first inbound tide of the following morning. A stay in a nicer hotel in the big city would have been preferable. We got on a boat finally at 0600 the first fishing day and were on the water by about 0830 fishing, not having the night before to rig. The "bite" for the morning was past so we did not get many shots until later in the day.

Dock at Blue Horizon

The lodge is on a remote island of about ten acres and "rustic" but not crude. The manager, Roy, runs it very well with excellent food, clean sheets and towels daily. All three guides are most excellent. The leader of this effort is Lincoln Westby. He served a time in the British army and runs the camp and fishing venue like a seasoned platoon sergeant. Six guests can be handled at a time and we had only five. Paul, from Washington state fished alone. Vicky and Ray from Great Britain rounded out the five.

Fishing for these fish is done in this area most successfully on the inbound tides when they come up on the flat, hungry, to eat the crabs amongst the coral. Two tides happen daily and the schedule changes daily to hit the best times. They do not start before light or stay after dark so some good times really do not work out. These are the prettiest, clearest waters you can find on earth, and so are the coral flats, but they would be a disaster to try and run through in the dark.

The lodge preferred fly is a Bauer Crab. The Fly Shop sent us one each and Unk made some and bought more. I used the one I was sent and that one only. Unk tried various shrimp patterns but it was hard to determine if the fish refused the fly or were not hungry.

Coffee is on by 0500 and we were on the water by 0600 to catch the last of the morning incoming tide. Breakfast was in the cooler to be had in route to the first fish. Usually, the good bite time was over by late morning and after pushing fish around at high tide, we would go in to eat a lunch and take a nap. We launched when the inbound started again to fish until 6 PM if need be. We were usually back earlier than that when the second tide topped out. Dinner was at 6:30. Lincoln held "court" afterwards and even with drinks and many fishing stories we were in bed by about 8:30. If you were the only one in camp with a light on you attracted more than your share of bugs. The bugs were held down by the wind but still it was not good as the little things could get through the screens. The lodge is not air-conditioned and does not need to be. Sleeping was easy and a noted lack of rum drinking time in the evening made for nice "clear" mornings.

Fishing was great! The venue consisted of running between flats looking for just the right water depth and also fish activity. If the conditions were correct or you saw something, the guide would pole the flat looking for these elusive fish. Most flats got you a shot and if done right several. In some conditions the guide and one of us would wade for the shot with the second fisherman manning the boat, following along if the walk were long.

Unk and I would swap front positions after a flat if you got shots on it or after two "dry" runs.

Day one and two were spent figuring out what Belize permit liked. The coral bottom makes a difference in what the crab should look like and what it does when under attack. Unk has a dozen permit to his credit but I had only one so the learning was steepest for me. Or perhaps, Unk's success ingrained more habits and his was steeper. It is hard to tell when you deliver the perfect pitch many times and the fish just look at it. We both were used to crabs that moved when threatened. The pro here was pushing us to let it sit until scarfed up. If the fish moved away we would move it sort of like the little thing was thumbing its' nose at the fish for not eating. At any rate a "take" was a rare thing. Although this was supposed to be a great tide week a cold front had the winds coming from the wrong direction all week. This weakened the tidal flow and unnerved the fish, according to Lincoln.

We fished with the newest guide for two days and had many shots but no takes. One day when the tide was late coming in we stopped action long enough to catch a couple of barracudas for the camp and the guide, Ransom, stopped many times to pick up conch. We had some of it with macaroni and also in salads. The third day we fished with Lincoln's brother David. I think we had even more shots but the tides were better. A couple of times we thought we were in the game. My hook up ended up as a snapper that took the fly from under the nose of the permit. David is a font of knowledge on all subjects associated with Belize and the fish that haunt the country. He readily shares all of it in a constant running commentary. Once being told about a "new" flat in Belize, he stopped the storyteller to say, "It must not be in Belize then."

On day two Paul got two permit. The first one he did not count as he had a clouser on with a little bit of conch and was working on a boxfish for dinner when a permit popped up. He tossed what he had and got the fish. Paul insisted it was the clouser part that tricked the fish. Lincoln thought differently. He got another bite on a crab fly later in the day so had a legal fish also. Day three Vicky got a fish after working a long flat with many shots. She thought she just found one bored enough to bite. I don't think she scares the fish as badly as we men do. She is not hard on the eyes besides being a world-class fisherman/lady.

Scud and Lincoln

On day four we fished with Lincoln himself. Lincoln switches the guides around among us so everybody gets to fish every guide's special spots. All of the guides are "Lincoln" trained and all good. Lincoln, himself, is there to teach you how to catch these fish and you can count on many lessons any time you screw anything. The other guides let you make mistakes and may offer a suggestion. Lincoln did not let anything get past without mentioning how he wanted you to do it. I relearned many things Unk taught me years ago. I surely didn't mind. I started my adult life with a sergeant yelling at me and besides he tuned me up enough for some success.

We ran a long way north to places we had not been to and after a bunch of shots at snotty fish I got one to bite. Unk will tell the story better than I, as I was not even ready when the three fish showed up and did not catch up until the pictures were snapped.

Instead of being on a coral flat these fish were roaming along a sand flat in a running tide just over an underwater ridge. We spotted them a long way off and my first move was to foul my line with my feet and have to untangle a rats' nest. It was alleged I muttered many bad words while Lincoln and the fish waited on me. Once ready I peeled off a long cast and put the leader right between them with the crab landing just beyond them. From what we had seen up to then, the fish should have left like a funny car from the line at the winter nationals. But, they only turned at the splash and one of them scooped the fly up from the sand.

I let out a whoop and the three fish bolted away, one of them dragging my line trying to keep up with his friends. He tried like all hell to stay up but finally fell back when he was way out into my backing. I was able to work him back onto the fly line in a few minutes but he decided to circle around out about 90 feet and head the other direction. It took me more minutes to get him up to about thirty feet when I bothered to mention to all watching that, "I think I have him whipped now." Lincoln laughed, Unk snorted and the fish easily ran off again well into the backing. I worked him hard praying for each knot in the line to hold, individually. I could actually remember each knot and wondered if I had made any small mistakes.

Back to boat he came and this time, on a small run, I got him to turn over on his back with a pull over his head. He was toast. He did manage to make a couple of small surges but I had the drag off by then and was hand holding the line so all I got was burned a little but he could not break the leader. Lincoln grabbed the fish by the tail on a pass by the side and we had our first one on board. A few pictures and a kiss for the little beauty ended his ten-minute E-ticket ride to meet the aliens. He recovered nicely and left us smiling. I hope he found his friends again. Lincoln thought it was at least 15 pounds. It was big enough for me but I wonder what a fight with a 40 pounder would be like?

Unk got several shots during the rest of the morning and I got a couple but the fish were back to bickering over who would bite and forgot to take the flies. Unk did a masterful job of catching a bonefish out of the only school we saw all week. It was a respectable 3-4 pound fish. There are few of these beauties out there from either netting or the environment just not being to their liking. The flats we were on would have made it pretty tough to see them on.

We were supposed to be with Lincoln again on our last day but a generator failed on the island. He needed to go to town to haggle for parts. Ransom gave us a bunch of shots, as he did every time, but the wind and tides were really wrong, as they were all week. Unk spent a long time putting the fly right in the mailbox only to get snubbed continuously. A couple of times he landed his shot short and I managed to open my mouth about that. I was only trying to help but he had noticed the same flaw. He offered me a chance to carry his rod in a most uncomfortable manner. My frustration was not as high as his and I turned down his most generous offer. I got back up and threw twice short at my next fish, so short he did not even spook. I followed up with a shot lining him by twenty feet. Unk politely said nothing, as I would in the future. Let the suffering suffer will be my credo, unless asked more than twice.

The week was over too quickly for us but for the wrong tides, three fish for the week was just a little under the lodge average. As we left Paul went out for his last two days of an eight-day package. The winds shifted back to the proper SE direction for the first time in the last week. I hope he got a million.

Would I go again? You bet your bootie. I like a place that puts the fishing above all else and still makes you pretty comfortable. We have been to a couple of lodges that make the meals and air-conditioning first on the list. Guide savvy and the venues are my biggest items. Blue Horizon Lodge really nailed them. ~Capt Scud Yates, April 2006,

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