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August 27, 2010

Belize's Permit Paradise

Prowling the southern flats of Belize

The 10-pound permit zigged and zagged across the south Belize flat like a soused sailor on shore leave. On the bow casting platform, angler Spud Woodward grumbled in frustration, "So, where am I supposed to cast?"

Picking a spot, he flung the live crab to intercept the fish. It turned; he retrieved. Time to start again. Targeting flats permit can be onerous, but the payoff is sweet.

Fortunately, in southern Belize permit odds improve. The area near Punta Gorda, where we fished with Garbutt's Fishing Lodge last October, offers upward of 30 shots a day at flats permit. And that's good because it can take 10 to 20 shots to actually land a fish.

Punta Gorda is also off the beaten tourist path - for now - and offers great ops for bonefish, tarpon and snook as well as eco-tourism for families.

We visited during the wet season, which runs from June through January. Many anglers focus on fishing the dry (non-hurricane) season, but crowds introduce a different set of obstacles. In October, we scored permit, double-digit numbers of bonefish and trophy snook. Nightly rains turned river mouths into torrents, flushing baitfish and predators into the estuaries.

Line of Sight
Like most Belizean outfitters, the Garbutt family - which included our guide Scully and host/lodge manager Dennis - sees more fly-fishermen than spin anglers. On the flats, fly guys have a slight advantage when it comes to making multiple casts at finicky fish. With spinning tackle, an angler has to fully retrieve the line before recasting. However, spin casters have the option of using live bait when necessary.

We started our Punta Gorda ­adventure by heading east to the Sapodilla Cayes to search out ­resident bonefish. Schools of a hundred or more 1- to 2-pound bones patrol the sandy flats along the mostly uninhabited islets at the southern end of Belize's barrier reef.

The Garbutts lease one of the cays, where they host scuba-diving groups, and they know the surrounding waters well. The ride in Scully's 23-foot panga, powered by a 50 hp Yamaha, took a little more than an hour. Scully spotted a bonefish mud on the northwest side of Nicholas Caye and poled the skiff forward.

The school swam just 15 feet ahead of us. Spud cast a 2-inch D.O.A. shrimp soaked in Gulp! juice to the pack and let it sink. He started a slow retrieve - fish on! The frenzied bone shifted into overdrive as we saw a 'cuda turn to give chase.

In seconds, Spud reeled in a bonefish head and Scully saw visions of 'cuda steaks. Belizeans eat 'cuda, and those locals I spoke with say they've never had a case of ciguatera from the fish.