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Bonefish In Belize: From Placencia to Belize City
Mark Bachmann and Patty Barnes travel to Belize to do some saltwater fly fishing for the much sought after bonefish.
We spent our last three days fishing out of Belize River Lodge, the oldest fishing lodge in Belize. Although we had fished in Belize many times before, this was our first trip to Belize River Lode. I had always thought that since it is located on the Belize River on the out-skirts of Belize City that the water in the surrounding area would be fished out. Boy was I wrong! For the next three days we experienced some of the best tarpon, bonefish and snook fishing we've ever had in Belize. Belize River Lodge can accommodate up to 16 anglers. It is the best organised sport fishing enterprise we have ever encountered. We are already looking to host a trip there in the future.
The coastline of Belize is barely above sea level and is pock marked with many bays and saltwater lagoons with acres of shallow water and lots of habitat for bonefish. In addition there are many off-shore keyes and flats, which offer even more opportunities for any bonefishing fly angler.
This bonefish was caught from a large school that was holding in water that was over 15-feet deep. A heavily weighted fly and very long leader was the answer. A fast sinking fly line would have made the task easier.
Bonefish have been termed "ghosts of the flats". They are indeed that. They spend much of their time in skinny water and are superbly adapted to it. Their biggest asset is their chameleon-like ability to change color with their surroundings.
They are streamlined and very fast. Their hydrodynamic shape gives them the capability of sneaking around with a minimum of surface disturbance and their speed gives them the chance to change locations very quickly if threatened. This speed makes them one of the worlds most sought after sport fish. Their preferred habitat makes them a premier fly rod fish.
Bonefish inhabit most of the world's tropical waters. Their range circumspans the globe. The most popular bonefish destinations are Christmas Island, Florida Keyes, Bahamas, Belize and Yucatan.
Bonefish average 1 1/2 to 15 pounds throughout their range. Most bonefish in shallow water are 2 to 5 pounds. A ten-pound fish is a trophy anywhere. Four year old bonefish average 20" long. Twenty five inch bonefish are 10-11 years old. Trophy bonefish of 30" may be more than twenty years old.
Bonefish are capitalistic bottom feeders. Their main diet consists of mollusks and crustaceans. They will however, also eat minnows and worms.
This bonefish was caught from water that was about 30-inches deep. The successful fly was weighted with brass eyes, which was allowed to sink for several seconds and then fished with a slow retrieve.
The selection of flies isparamount to success, no matter what kind of fish you are after. Bonefish are opportunistic feeders and according to scientific studies, they adapt very quickly to the food organisms in their environment. However, the angler who thinks that they are stupid is in for a rude awakening. Consider that bonefish are one of the oldest species of bone fishes and fossil records indicat that they have survived for a couple of hundred million years.
This bonefish was caught from from two-foot deep water. The fly is weighted with brass eyes, and was fished with a normal speed retrieve.
Bonefish only live in warm saltwater, but within this environment they are able to prosper in a fairly wide variety of depths and bottom structures. Bonefish are commonly caught by fly anglers in water depths from three inches to twenty feet deep. Therefore it stands to reason that an angler might want to have a wide variety of sizes and weights of flies, as well a floating and sinking fly lines. We have encountered huge schools of bonefish holding in deep water, and caught them on every cast. A full sinking line or a Teeny TS250 is the answer to getting your fly to bonefish that are holding deep.
This bonefish was tailing in ten-inch deep water and was caught with this lightly weighted fly, which was presented six inched from the fish's nose.
Most fly caught bone fish come from water less than two feet deep, because that is where they are visible, even to most experienced bonefish guides. For that reason, most bonefishing is done with floating fly lines and lightly weighted flies.
This bonefish was cruising in in water that was about six inches deep over a light colored sand bottom. The fly has plastic eyes, so it is unweighted.
Bonefish are often encountered in water that is so shallow that any extra weight on the fly means that it will get fouled on bottom structure. Be sure to carry some flies that are very small and unweighted to fool spooky fish that are feeding in skimpy water. A six weight rod and long fine leader can add to your success. Playing a four pound bonefish on a six-weight rod is a peaking experience.
This bonefish was tailing in water that was only three inches deep over sea grass. The Super Shrimp fly was fished in the surface film.
Having a few flies dressed with buoyant materials is a must for fishing to bonefish that are feeding in very shallow water over grass beds or coral. Bonefish may be encountered that are feeding with their tails, dorsal fins and even their back sticking out of the water. Needles to say, these fish will be skittish. Long fine leaders and delicate presentations are a must for success.
When fly fishing for bonefish, nothing will add more to your success than being able to see fish. A premium pair of polarized glasses can make all the difference. Practice your casting. Being able to make pin-point casts at longer distances is often required. Being able to make accurate casts to fish you can see will up your odds and add to your game.