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August 27, 2010

Belize's Permit Paradise

Prowling the southern flats of Belize

Belize mapOver the next several hours, before storms rolled in, a dozen bonefish came boat-side. While we hit double digits, Scully said his best day included 68 bones, all on fly.

Scully constantly encouraged larger bones to bite, talking to the fish as he poled; however, our fattest fish weighed about 3 pounds. Bones can top 5 pounds here, but the majority are smaller schoolies.

Spud was casting the lightest - 6- to 12-pound class - of our three 7-foot Temple Fork travel rods and had tied on a 4-foot length of 12-pound fluorocarbon leader. He placed a split shot about a foot above the hooked plastic shrimp. He needed the weight to cast in the stiffening winds, and it didn't seem to spook the fish.

Coastal Exploration
The next morning's cloud cover meant we'd start the day at the mouth of the nearby Rio Grande River, casting and trolling spoons and lures for tarpon and snook. As the clouds dissipated, we planned to pole some of the 130 or more mangrove islands of the Port Honduras Marine Reserve.

Seven rivers flow to the basin at the landward edge of the 160-square-mile reserve, just north of Punta Gorda. Recreational fishing is allowed throughout much of the region except in select special-management zones.

Permit thrive in this estuary, which reminded me of the Florida Bay backcountry. Scully says most permit appear in pairs, though tailing schools are not uncommon. He has hooked as many as 12 permit in one day on flies; his biggest fish weighed 47 pounds.

The sun emerged at about 8:30 a.m., and our hunt began. Spud baited our light travel rod with a green Gulp! crab and hooked a Z-Man ElaZtech crab on the medium-size - 8- to 17-pound-class - rod.

Scully poled the flats ringing each island, which were generally covered with 18 inches to three feet of water, rocks, sand and various kinds of vegetation, including grass beds and sponges. A fine chop rippled the surface.

Scully prefers a moving outgoing tide, though incoming works. Bright sun and light winds also improve an angler's odds. A morning sun, ­positioned behind the guide, means the angler casts with the ­predominant east/southeast wind.

A pair of permit suddenly appeared within five feet of the boat as the sun drew away from a cloud bank. Spud cast to a single off the bow, but the fish swam past his bait. He cast to another fish three times but got the cold shoulder. "They're just being permit," Scully said, laughing.

Under Pressure
By 11 a.m., we had thrown to four targets multiple times - no takers. Scully decided we should abandon ship to find some live crabs. With no nearby bait stores or any fellow fishermen in the vicinity, we slid off the boat and started turning over rocks in the clear, knee-deep water.

Small green crabs cling to the ­undersides and in the crannies of the limestone chunks. We caught a few and put them in Scully's makeshift plastic bait holder/bailing cup. Scully re-rigged a leader, placing a split shot above the J hook holding the crab.