The post you’re about to read could’ve just as easily been a list of 77 reasons to go fishing in Belize right now, as this small country in Central America offers incredible opportunities for anglers. But that would make for a quite a lengthy article and I don’t want to cut into any of your precious gear-packing, plane-ticket-to-Belize-booking time.
A quick overview of fishing regulations in Belize
You’re going to need a license before you can wet the line. Whether it’s casting from the docks, or trolling far offshore, you have to take it with the Coastal Zone Management Authority first.
The sport fishing license sells for about 20$ for a week, 50$ per month, or just a hundred bucks if you want to fish the translucent Belizean waters all year round.
As far as specific species are concerned, you must release all Bonefish, Tarpon and Permit that you catch (and chances are, that’s going to be quite a number). Since most of the local guides support preservation efforts, they routinely practice catch and release for almost all species. You can purchase the fishing license here or call the CZMA at 223-0719/5739 for any additional questions.
Now, on to the good stuff! The perfect storm of elements bound to transform Belize into one of the hottest angling spots of the upcoming decade:
1. Unrivaled Geographical Features
Belizean fisheries are some of the most stunning spots in the world. Among the most important of these is the Belize Barrier Reef, a 300-kilometer subsection of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, one of the largest coral structures in the entire world.
Now that’s really exciting news if you’re a geography major or a plankton, but why should an angler care about a big coral formation?
Well, this giant topographical marvel stretches along the entire coast of Belize, supplying both nutrients and shelter to a wide range of smaller bait fish and crustaceans, which in turn attract – you guessed it – the big and the hungry of the game fish world. The reef is home to more than 500 species of fish, and is the prime culprit behind the creation of an impressive variety of flats, lagoons, and more than 200 islands, or ‘Cayes’ located off the shores of mainland Belize.
By the way, did someone mention flats and lagoons? In fact, Belize is so lagoon-abundant that 5% of the entire country’s land area (22,960 sq. miles) is covered by lagoons running along the coastline, as well as its atolls and the northern interior. Now some of you may not be good at math, but I’m pretty sure that multiplying those two numbers equals ‘more lagoons than you could fish in a lifetime’.
Another one of Nature’s blessings to the country is its string of freshwater rivers and estuaries, all of them packed with diverse freshwater and marine life. There are two reasons why these rivers should be relevant for you: one, game fish like Snook, Snapper, Jack and yes, Tarpon, use these waters both as a buffet and a viable spawning ground. Two, the rivers dump an incredible amount of nutritious biomass into the ocean, most of which is then utilized by baitfish and crustaceans, which in turn…well, you know this part already.
Finally, the average temperatures range from 75F in the middle of January to 80F during the July ‘heat wave’, which probably takes the crown as the most laid back seasonal change in the world. So, although there may be some considerable differences in humidity and rainfall depending on the season, you’re never more than couple of degrees shy from an optimal fishing experience.
2. The Fly-fishing Capital of The 21st Century
More than 200 miles of coastline flats call Belize their home. The country is renowned for its bonefishing prospects and is quickly gaining tract as a laudable permit fishery, but there’s more than enough opportunities to catch Tarpon in these waters as well. And Belize isn’t concerned with trying to be subtle about its angling opportunities either: there’s even an island called Tarpon Caye for crying out loud! Snook is also a regular catch. In fact, want an extra challenge? Snatch all 4 of these in a day and achieve what’s known as a Super Slam around here. Yes, fly fishing in Belize is so good, they had to go and add more difficult challenges just to keep all of you guys busy.
Here’s a quick overview of some of the most popular fly-fishing spots in Belize:
Ambergris Caye – the western lagoon side of Belize’s largest island is particularly promising for the visiting angler. Bonefish, Permit, Tarpon: you name it, it’s here.
Caye Caulker – again, check out the lagoons on the west side, or stroll down behind the nearby islands such as Caye Chapel. Bonefish and Tarpon bonanza ensues.
Coral atolls– of the 3, Turneffe atoll is your go-to fly fishing destination. Plenty of mangrove islands and saltwater flats, where Bonefish and Tarpon bite like crazy.
Punta Gorda – the flats around here are some of your safest shots at nailing a Permit. The best part? These areas are particularly uninhabited with residents and anglers alike, so you can enjoy a quiet day at sea next to your full bucket.
Placencia and Dangriga – the area east of Placencia is often referred to as the ‘Permit Alley’. Need we say more? Dangriga’s shallower flats are teeming with bonefish, and just as serendipity would have it, the infamous Tarpon Caye is closeby as well.
Keep in mind that a number of flats in Belize have soft bottoms, so most of your fly-fishing will be done via boat. Still, if you pride yourself on being a wader first, there are plenty of bountiful turtle grass flats located in and around Ambergris caye and Turneffe atoll, just sandy and sturdy enough for you to get close and personal with the infinite Permit and Bonefish schools.
The area just around Tarpon Caye is home to hundreds of square miles of wade-able flats as well. In general, Belize flats can vary greatly in their composition; depending on where you find yourself along the country’s shores, you may encounter anything from white sand and coral patches to eel grass covered bottoms. The flats surrounding Tarpon Caye, however, don firm and solid bottoms, making them a prime wading area, and a pretty solid Grand Slam opportunity at that. You can either cast from the boat as your guide poles the flats, or simply hop out of the vessel to get an optimal casting position.
3. Under-Tapped Deep Sea Fishing Potential
Thanks to the sheer number and size of its flats and lagoons, most tourists swarm to the Belizean coast searching primarily for a fly-fishing experience of a lifetime. This narrow vision of what the country actually has to offer to a serious sport angler has left its offshore game fish supplies vast and relatively unspoiled, at least compared to the likes of its northern neighbor, Mexico, or the mighty Bahamas.
Once you get past the Mother of all reefs, you are greeted with the variety of big game species parallel to any of the hottest deep sea destinations in the Western hemisphere. You can start trolling for Sailfish right along the drop off, or go out a bit further and have a go at the Marlin, Blackfin Tuna, Wahoo, Bonito, Mahi Mahi, King Mackerel and much more.
Most big game fish can be found down to a depth of almost 650 feet, and getting to the hot spots usually takes no longer than half an hour. Take a look at our fish chart to see when specific species should be targeted:
4. Wealth of Niche Fishing Opportunities – Reef and Inland River Fishing!
You didn’t think Belize’s great Barrier reef is just for show, now did you? About 500 species inhabit its waters, so if you’re looking for quantity and quality combined, consider anchoring on the reef’s side and trying your luck (although really, luck has little to do with it here). Jacks, Groupers, Snappers, Barracudas and the powerful Kingfish all use these corals to their advantage, and so can you! Apart from genuinely being a fly fishing hotspot of the Caribbean, many see Belize’s translucent waters doubling as the real-life utopia for spin fishermen as well. With that in mind, don’t forget to bring a favorite rod of each kind; all of them are more than likely to find themselves engaged in some quality sea battles ’round here.
Most islands are located in close proximity to the reef system (5-30 minutes boat ride), so expect to cast your lines in no time. Also, feel like doing some philanthropic work while fishing as well?
Ever since the Lionfish has been accidentally introduced to the area, it’s jeopardized much of the delicate ecosystem that is the Barrier reef. The fish has no natural predators in these waters, and the authorities are trying their best to systematically reduce its population. How about giving them a hand? Hey, if the girls seem unimpressed with your fishing tales, you can at least try following with: ‘Yep, I was actually saving the country’s environment. No biggie’.
Ok, one last amazing type of fishing in Belize, I promise: there are many inland rivers worthy of checking out as well. Bring your fly or spinning rod to hook up on Jacks, Snappers, Snooks, Tarpon and the mighty Cubera (a.k.a the ‘river rhino’). Catch a Tarpon, Snook and a Cubera all in one day, and add a so-called Jungle Slam to your list of fishing achievements.
5. Some of the Most Breathtaking Fishing Locations in the World
Now we’re sure most of you reading this are concerned with fishing first, and leave the sightseeing and admiring the scenery to those not trying to snatch a record-breaking game fish. But Belize knows you better than that, and it refuses to let you have to choose between the two ever again.
The islands just off the mainland are divine, and the transparent, unpolluted waters make for some excellent sight casting. The Barrier Reef is renowned for its scuba diving and snorkeling prospects, responsible for more than half of all the country’s visitors. You can also check with your charter or lodge for booking a sunset cruise. Furthermore, the country has one of the least dense mainland populations of entire Central America, and is still nowhere close to a tourist haven compared to the rest of its Caribbean competition.
Beach fishing is a treat as well. Although most charter operators will probably say you need to be on a boat in order to fish, there are more than a few limestone bottom flats you can easily wade in. Also, there’s no chance you can be fishing on private property: the country has a so-called Queen’s law, meaning the first sixty six feet of the shore is owned by the Queen, and is entirely free for public use.
6. Preservation Efforts Make Both Fish and Fishermen Very Happy
Belize is one of the countries in the Americas most seriously committed to protecting its natural resources and biodiversity, both marine and terrestrial. About a third of the entire land territory is currently under some form of protection, and there are many wildlife sanctuaries established as shelter for the endangered species.
As far as fishing is concerned, many policies have been put in place to address the dwindling numbers of various species. Belize is the first country ever to ban bottom trawling completely. Places like Hol Chan Marine Reserve are designed to preserve the sensitive marine habitat as well as the imperiled coral structures. Bonefish, Tarpon, and Permit are all catch-and-release only.
7. Loads of Low-cost Charters
All of this AND only at the fraction of a cost? Now someone other than a prying Permit must be yanking your leader, right? But it’s true: the competition among charters out here is progressively stiff, leading to many businesses slashing their prices dramatically in order to appeal to an increasingly curious angling demographic. After all, how often do you hear of going on a charter with a Grand Slam opportunity, starting at only 250 bucks? Well, you have now.
If you have any additional questions and comments, be sure to let us know in the comment section below! We always love hearing from you. Now off you go, that plane ticket isn’t going to book itself.