I was onboard a silvery 737 bound for Belize's newest "offshore" flats fishing operation, Long Caye Island Resort. This venue was the most recent offering of the venerable Belize River Lodge, which was akin to the debut of Cadillac's launch of yet another exciting model.
Next to me was my companion, ace fishing guide Captain Ken Collette. The morning of takeoff had gone smoothly, always aided by lots of advanced planning. We went aloft out of Miami into cloudless china-blue skies. As we passed the western tip of Cuba and Yucatan Channel, the heat of the water and land below rose up some white cotton-candy shaped clouds. The pilot soon announced our passage over Cozumel Island. I looked below and saw its bold green outlines against the sapphire seas. Though I lived there many years ago, the island was now simply a waypoint on our journey and slow descent into Belize City, the portal to our Long Caye adventure.
The itinerary of our stay was already well established. We would overnight at the main lodge on the Belize River the day of our arrival. On the next day, we would fish our way out to Long Caye Resort, meanwhile a large panga would run our luggage out to the island separately. This way, our items would be waiting for us at the Floribbean-style resort when our fishing was over for that day. We'd then fish the offshore islands of Belize for the next four days and on the fifth day repeat the process in reverse back to the main lodge and airport, on the 'morrow.
The nice thing about the passage of time is that despite our excitements' tendency to slow the hands of the clock, the anticipated event puts itself in front of us anyway, which, in this case, meant that we were soon picked up at the airport, dropped off at the transfer panga in five minutes, and were stepping into the Lodge barely three minutes after that. It's rare to have a five-star destination so very close to your landing and arrival.
The main lodge — Belize River Lodge — and its new "offshore" flats operation, Long Caye Island Resort lies in the central section of the country. This is smack dab in the habitat which yields Super Grand Slams, which means the daily catch and release of a tarpon, bonefish, permit, and snook. The angling trends in this wonderful nation is that too far south is permit intensive and very far north and offshore yields less snook. As part of our mission, Ken and I would be using light tackle topping out at eight-pound test and basically lures only. At the time of our arrival, little did we know how well our BackBone jigs and Yum Money Minnows soft baits would serve us.
It wasn't long before I was saying hello to old friends (and new for Ken) Mike, Marguerite, and Misha. After settling into our comfy air-conditioned room, we returned to the sitting area and over a few Belikin beers, discussed the particulars of our itinerary and shove-off time. Misha told us that our guide would be Dirk Burgard. I'd never fished with Dirk before, but learned that not only had he fished these waters for over twenty years, but he also was a fly fishing trout guide in Idaho for part of each year. I knew Ken and I would be in good hands.
The Fishing Begins
I'd expressed the wish to Dirk from the get-go that Ken and I needed angling encounters with as many game fish species as possible to accurately portray the fishery. Therefore, Dirk was on the lookout for action as well as multiple honeyholes from the moment we left the dock.
The first encounter we had was a few miles out of the lodge at the mouth of the Belize River. It was simple for all three of us to spot some big pods of frigate birds wheeling and diving into explosions in the open expanses of the bay in front of us. Once Dirk steered the panga through the serpentine course through the flats, he pushed the tiller operated 40 H.P. Honda engine into maximum pursuit speed. As we neared the melee, Dirk said the activity looked more like big jacks than large tarpon. I picked up an eight-pound spinner rigged with a thirty-pound leader and white jig. Dirk ran around the action in the direction he anticipated it to be traveling so we could be waiting in its' trajectory path. When the blowups were in casting range, I fired off a good cast and was instantly hooked up. The long run and headshakes revealed it to indeed be a jack and ten minutes later, I had a nice nine pound specimen alongside the panga for pictures. I repeated the process with four smaller jacks.
Our next spot was one mile away on the wooded shores of a small island. Dirk told me to switch to a plastic swim bait so we could cast to the fallen trees near the shore for snook. I complied and by the time we completed our thirty minute- long poling along that island, I had my small snook on a Yum Money Minnow.
That accomplished, I told Dirk to go after the nearest and next-most-likely game fish. Since we had a sunny sky, he wanted to try some flats only a mile away. We blew up some "laid-up" permit en route to our spot because of momentary poor visibility from an overhead cloud, and Dirk immediately cut his engine. He let the area "rest" for a minute but kept his eyes open for tailing and cruising fish. He saw the fish tail far in the distance and fired up his engine to go way around them to head them off just as he did the jack schools. When we were placed for an intercept, I grabbed a 9-foot long salmon rod, rigged with a Penn Battle loaded with 8-pound test, double line and a brown Back Bone jig. On my first cast, a fish tailed on the lure but moved on. I quickly reeled in and fired another cast and quickly hooked up. This time the battle lasted a half hour and resulted in a 22-pound permit.
We spent a good ensuing part of that travel day trying to get Ken a permit on artificial, and he got in some good casts — but no takers. In the afternoon, I told Dirk to pole us into shallower water for bonefish. In ten minutes both Ken and I had a double header on two gray ghosts. Dirk told me that this qualified me for an inshore Grand Slam certificate from the Lodge and we only needed a tarpon for a Super Slam. We obviously went for tarpon for the rest of our transfer day, but in the increasing wind did not hook up. We arrived at the Long Caye Island Resort before sundown to rum and cokes, tapas, a fried fish dinner and a quick bedtime.
Over the next four days, we caught many more bonefish. In the increased winds we had to stick to the lee sides of the ocean keys, which limited our fishing spots. One highlight was my catching and releasing of a twenty-pound barracuda on eight-pound tackle and a Money Minnow. We fished to lee side muds and caught even more bones and small mutton snappers.
On our last transfer day back, the wind had died down, so Dirk insisted on fishing the ocean side of St. George's Caye. We quickly spotted some cruising tarpon and I was hooked up to a thirty-pound silver king in short order. After a ten minute battle, we took pictures of the fish and repeated poling. Ken got cut off by a huge barracuda and I lost a big jack that ran under the mangroves. We spent the rest of the day pursuing tarpon and saw many fish but no more takers. As we headed back to the main lodge, we knew this would be a trip to remember.
Some important features about Long Caye Island Resort:
- The resort is about twelve miles from the main lodge and depending on conditions about an hour away.
- Long Caye has an oceanic saline environment like the Keys or Tahiti. The main lodge has a tropical river habitat with tons of flora and fauna. You should try both.
- There is a flat right in front of the lodge where you can wade for bonefish. I spotted some nice bones passing right under the boat dock. I also caught a nice bone almost right off the resort's beach.
- There are three bedrooms, two downstairs and one upstairs. The bottom rooms have plans for air conditioning, but the top unit with countless windows and ocean breeze plus ceiling fan simply did not need a/c.
- When you are at the resort, you'll have a full-time cook, island keeper, and assistant. You guide overnights with you. The generator is always on when you are there.
- Whether good or bad, on Long Caye, I was in cell phone range to call when and where I wanted. Reception is better on the dock or upstairs. For me, this was good.
- The resort is right in the middle of a flats paradise. One day Dirk began poling right from the dock for about five hundred yards south. We saw a lot of bonefish and snook. Tarpon are only five minutes from the lodge in the back of the island.
Long Caye Island Resort contact data are Phone direct: 011-501-225-2002, Toll Free: 1-888-275-4843 and Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.