The Fish of “The Flats”
The fishery of Chetumal Bay is a picturesque shallow water flats fishery. Our main area of concentration lies in the back bay located directly behind Xcalak. The boat ride to the fishing grounds lies less than 30 minutes away. Our two main targets are that of permit and bonefish. If you have ever wanted to chase permit there might not be a better place to do so. The Chetumal Bay fishery has been proven as one of the most reliable and consistent permit fisheries and its uniqueness in many ways makes it one of the best places to chase permit in the world. The fishery of Chetumal Bay has long been a hot spot for permit and with the Navy’s construction of the Zaragoza Canal in 2002 a fish super freeway has been installed bringing in large numbers of permit to the Bay and increasing the daily water exchange and supporting a healthy populations of shrimp and crabs. Water depths range from less than 1 ft to over 5 ft and much of of opportunities allow for us to get out of the boat and chase fish on foot. Opportunities for Barracuda and Jacks are also provided on a daily basis. The fishery also supports opportunities for Baby Tarpon and Snook with most of our chances at these species being in the small local lagoons.
We recommend all leaders be fluorocarbon. We recommend over-lining all of your rods up to 10 weights. 8 & 9 weight rods will cast and load better in the conditions you will most likely face while in Xcalak. If you were to bring one rod to Xcalak, make it an 8 weight if you plan is to chase mainly bonefish and some permit. Make it a 9 weight if you want to chase mainly permit and some bonefish. You are completely covered to fish for most all species we will encounter if you were only to bring an 8 & 9 weight. You can bring a full selection of 7-10 weight rods to cover any and all species, but an 8 and 9 weight would have you covered in Chetumal Bay
Considered by many as “the holy grail of fly fishing”, permit are an addiction that is well fed in the waters of Chetumal Bay. If you enjoy the thrill of the hunt, you’ll enjoy chasing permit. The number of opportunities you will typically get fishing in Chetumal Bay help increase your odds greatly.
If your main goal is permit I recommend starting our day on the water as early as possible. The first few hours of each morning are prime permit hunting time with typically calmer weather which helps in spotting tails and seeing waking fish along with the fact that this is the first opportunity for the fish to start eating again. As the day progresses the hunt for permit does not stop. Again, if you are committed to catching a permit, we will do it all day. A light to medium wind is preferred which allows for us to get a little closer to permit for the wave action helps camouflage the movement and sounds coming from us and the ponga. Here is where your casting practice will pay huge dividends.
A permits behavior changes a lot when it leaves the comfort of its home in deeper water and moves in to the shallow of “the flats”. Permit are know to convey a nervous, frantic attitude while on “the flats” for a bit of their comfort level is gone. The only reason they have come to “the flats”, is to feed. Their amazing eyesight and four nostrils allow for them to get a good close inspections of your fur and feather presentation. Permit will regularly swim directly up to your fly and do a thorough inspection before deciding NOT to eat it. Your patience and calm at that point is absolutely critical. The best thing you can do when a permit refuses your fly is simply present it to them again. Or, if time allows, change your fly and hope for another shot at the fish.
Here in Chetumal Bay I like to use a slow stripping method of fishing for permit with our fly focus mainly on Mantis Shrimp patterns and fleeing crabs. Many of our encounters with permit allow for us to place the fly close to the head of the fish, and make a slow stip away from the fish. Permit will strike while your fly is sinking but only if it sees it, so it’s best to cast close to the fish. A slow strip of the fly (Think Shrimp or Crab) gives us direct contact to the fly and allows for the angler to become aware of any pressure indicating the permit has eaten the fly.
We like to do a lot of wading to permit whenever possible. When the opportunity arises where we have spotted the fish at a long enough distance, we like to allow for our angler(s) to exit the boat (in 2-4 feet of water) and approach the permit on foot. Chasing Permit on foot does two things – 1 – allows us to get much closer to the fish (15-30 feet) and – 2 – often allows for multiple shots at the fish.
Permit fishing in Xcalak exists on a year round basis. Good weather and cooperative fish (“Happy Fish”) tend to be the decisive factor in success on any given day. Mix that with a little skill and a lot of luck and you chances are even better. “Luck favors the prepared”. Permit are a fish of Murphy’s Law and if you aren’t ready, there they will be.
While the permit are truly around all year, there are some months which tend to be seasonally better due to the wind factor. April through August are prime time for permit opportunities but you will be counting on weather (Wind and Rain) to be on your side for we are also entering Hurricane Season at this time. When you book a trip during this time and the weather gods are in your favor, odds are you will be getting the best permit opportunities you have ever had. October to end of November are also prime months and are quickly becoming the official start to the fishing season.
If there is one thing you must due in the pursuit of permit, it is not giving up. Time spent fishing for permit increases your chances day by day. If you are an optimist, a little stubborn and known to not give up easily, you’ll make a good permit fisherman.
Moving/Waking fish – Fish moving by itself or in a school. Gauge the direction they are going. Wait for them to come in to your casting range. Lay the fly 3-4 feet in front of their direction and begin a slow to medium long stripping motion. You feel a click, or any kind of pressure, STIP SET!
Tailing Fish – These are happy fish. We will likely be getting out of the boat and pursuing on foot. We will make our approach as stealthy as possible moving in to your casting range of the tailing fish. We want the fly to land as close to the fish as possible, without landing right on top of them. The perfect cast drops your fly right in front of their face, within 1 foot. Again, slow to medium long stripping motion waiting for any feel or sight that the fish ate the fly, STRIP SET!
Fly-Fishing Equipment for Permit:
Rod: 8 to 10 wt, 9 feet long, fast action, designed for saltwater. If you had one rod for permit, make it a 9 weight rod loaded with 10 weight line.
Reel: Solid and designed for saltwater with good disc brake, capacity 250 yards of 20 # backing
Line: 8 to 10 wt, weight forward, floating, tapered, designed for warm saltwater. It is recommended to overweight your fly lines. EX: Put a 9 weight on your 8 weight, a 10 weight on your 9 weight, and so on.
Leader: 9 to 12 foot 16# Fluorocarbon leader with 12# tippet in gear bag.
Flies: Becks Fleeing Crab #2-8 , Senior Raghead Crab #4-6, Casa Blanca Crab#4-6 , Puglisi Mantis Shrimp Tan #1, Veverkas Mantis Shrimp #6&8 – This fly has been the best producer for the past three seasons
Fly colors: Light Sand, Tan, Brown
Arguably the most sought-after of all saltwater fish the bonefish could be called the pound for pound champ of the saltwater flats. The ice breaker for many people on their first saltwater fly fishing trip and the fish that ruins many trout fisherman is indeed the bonefish. In the waters of Chetumal Bay, you will chase bonefish on multiple flats, bays and lagoons. The bonefish here average 2-4 pounds but larger fish are available. We are continually searching back bays and lagoons for their presence. Each year we see and catch fish approaching the 10# mark.
Why bonefish? They regularly take a well presented fly and follow that up with a blistering run where you will hear the hiss of your line as it tears through the water. We chase bonefish in different water levels but the most exciting finds them in water 2 ft or less giving us the classic sight fishing opportunities. Their silver bodies attuned with green or black vertical stripes are at one point easy to see against their backdrop. You will undoubtedly witness their ability to shift their position and virtually disappear garnering their well earned nickname “ghost of the flats”.
We will bonefish from the ponga and also wading in areas we know they are in to an area where we believe we will see cruising, waking & tailing fish. The object is to get our fly in front of the bonefish’s projected path, and move it in small twitchy (Think shrimp) strips and watch the bonefish’s reaction. As opposed to a lot of permit fishing, you will see the bonefish eat your fly and with a decent to good presentation, they will actually eat your fly – STRIP SET!
BONEFISH TAGGING: There is an active bonefish tagging program being orchestrated by Belizean Addiel Perez. If you catch a bonefish with a thin yellow tag located just below their dorsal please take a picture of it or write down the # and where roughly it was caught. Addiel is gathering very valuable information to help sustain the populations of bonefish here and in Belize.
Fly-Fishing Equipment for Bonefish:
Rod: 8 wt, 9 feet long, fast action, designed for saltwater
Reel: Designed for saltwater with good disc brake, capacity 200 yards of 20 # backing
Line: 8 to 9 wt, weight forward, floating, tapered, designed for warm saltwater
Leader: 9 to 12 foot tapered 8 to 16 #
Flies: Crazy Charlie, Gotcha, Bonefish Bitters, EP Micro Crabs, Veverkas Mantis, Shrimp Patterns on #6 to #8 saltwater hooks
Fly colors: Light colors like sand, tan, pearl, olive, brown
Tarpon & Snook
Here in Chetumal Bay and the surrounding lagoons we have limited access to mostly Baby Tarpon in the 5-20# range. Our fishery exists around cenotes & blue holes in the bay along with surrounding lagoons. If you are hoping to have a shot at some of the large (100#+) migratory tarpon that move through the area then plan your trip in early June to end of July where spots in the bay and ocean front are regularly visited by the migrating fish.
The best times for snook would be from mid-December trough February which coincides with the snook migration. During this time we find snook along some mangrove shorelines and also cruising “the flats”. The local lagoons have a resident population of snook year round as well.
If your focus is having multiple shots in a full day of tarpon fishing, spending a few days in Mahahual with Nick Denbow (Catchafish.net) is the way to go. Nicks access to the many large alkaline lakes to the North of Mahahual provide for consistent opportunities for small to large tarpon (5-90#) and snook up to 30#. Fishing for tarpon and snook in this area will usually entail casting at rolling or cruising fish and also casting at structure. If a fish get behind your fly continue with a medium paced stripping motion that entices the fish. Upon any sign that the fish has eaten your fly you will need to engage a strip set of the strongest proportions. Both species have plate like bony mouths that driving a hook in to with a good strip set is mandatory.
Fly-Fishing Equipment for Tarpon & Snook:
Rod: 8 to 10 wt, 9 feet long, fast action, designed for saltwater
Reel: Designed for saltwater with good disc brake
Line: 9 to 10 wt, weight forward, floating, tapered, designed for warm saltwater
Leader: 6 to 8 foot tapered 20 to 25 wt, with 15 to 20 inches of 40 to 90 wt hard shock tippet
Leader Option #2 : 7-9 ft of straight 50# mono
Flies: Cockroach, Yucatan Sabalo, Deceivers, Seaducers, Clouser Minnows, Poppers on #2/0 to #4/0 saltwater hooks
Fly colors: Red, white, purple, black & silver. Red & Black combo most popular.
Barracuda may be the most underrated saltwater species to catch on a fly. Chetumal Bay is home to thousand and thousand of bonefish, and the Barracuda are well aware. Expect to come across multiple medium to Grande sized Barracudas (10-25#) in a day of fishing whether you are targeting them or not. Keeping a Barracuda rod handy or launching a Barracuda lure from a spinning rod is a great way to spice up the day.
You’ll want to place your fly or lure close to the front, or beyond, the barracuda – but hopefully in a way that doesn’t pull it towards his face. Make a few small strips (or a couple of quick pops of the spin rod) to get his attention, when he makes ANY move towards your fly or lure, start stripping or reeling it faster and if you see them accelerate to the fly, try to keep it away from them. Odds are you will witness the Barracudas amazing ability to teleport to your fly or lure seemingly appearing with your fly in his mouth while torpedoing out of the water when only a fraction of a second ago he was 15 feet away. Oh-my-god, its impressive.
If you see a fish behind your fly, DON’T STOP STRIPPING/REELING!
Fly-Fishing Equipment for Barracuda:
Rod: 9 or 10 wt, 9 feet long, fast action, designed for saltwater
Reel: Designed for saltwater with good disc brake
Line: 9 to 10 wt, weight forward, floating, tapered designed for warm saltwater
Leader: 9 ft 20# leader with table wire leader
Flies: Red, white, green, white deceivers & Needle Fish Flies, Poppers
Fly colors: Red, white, purple, black & silver
Jacks are most encountered while pursuing other fish – Bonefish, permit, cudas – and will eat ANY fly which gets in front of them. When a Jack is spotted, they are almost always moving fast, get your fly as close to the futon of the group of jacks as possible and start stripping FAST!
Fly-Fishing Equipment for Jacks
During a day of fishing you may also catch mangrove, gray and mutton snappers, trigger fish, boxfish, remoras, needlefish, triple tail and many other species that live in the waters of Chetumal Bay.