Bonefish and Permit fishing in Belize, The Bahamas, and Mexico

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On the shallow water flats of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and Belize there is one fish that is more plentiful than most of the saltwater gamefish and more willing to eat artifical offerings from flyfishers. That fish is the legendary bonefish.This fish rivals any in the sea for strength on the initial run often stripping 100 yards of backing with a nuclear like power. They simply defy the laws of physics. A two pound fish will bend an eight weight graphite flyrod double and you will not be able to stop it with ten pound test tippet. These fish provide consistent action when everything else in a typical saltwater fishing scenario is inconsistent. Too windy to cast? No problem, find a mud and fish down wind.

Bonefish can be found all along the Yucatan from just north of Cancun at Isla Blanca and Isla Mujeres all the way down to the border of Belize and Honduras...and into Honduras as well. They often school up with numbers into the hundreds, but a typical group will be anywhere from six to twenty fish. The bigger fish are often in smaller groups and even travel solo. The biggest fish are almost always alone or in pairs.WHAT BONEFISH EAT
Bonefish are opportunists dining on crabs, baitfish, and shrimp. The most consistent food source seems to be the shrimp. These tiny creatures must taste like candy because bonefish will often chase down the right shrimp fly from twenty or more feet. When everything goes according to plan, if they can see it, they will eat it.

In saltwater you have a number of variables at work at all times. The wind is blowing. The fish are usually moving. The boat is moving. And you have to cast your fly within seconds of seeing your moving target to a point in front of him...not too far, but not so close that it spooks him. Many frustrating attempts are the norm, so don't get discouraged.THE MOMENT OF TRUTH
You've finally conquered the wind enough to make a cast that you think is perfect. You see the bonefish turn on your fly and begin to follow it. Keep your fly moving until the fish has locked on. Short strips of a foot or less are usually right. The bonefish finally eats the fly while you watch it all in stressful slow motion...if you haven't fished salt before your instinct will be to lift the rod to set the hook - DON'T. Keep stripping the fly until you feel the weight of the fish. Then give a good short tug with the rod still pointed down at the fly and the fish. This is called a STRIP STRIKE and is vital to catching bonefish, tarpon, permit, and other saltwater species. It's like your hand is pulling the hook directly into the fishes hard spongy lip. When he starts his run, lift your rod tip high to avoid mangrove shoots and other debris in the water. Be prepared for a rocket like initial run and let him go!

A seven or eight weight flyrod with a saltwater taper floating line is the best choice. Experienced flycasters will opt for the smaller seven weight as long as the wind isn't howling...but in the flats of the Yucatan, the wind is everpresent. A little heavier rod and line will make casting in the wind measurably easier. Nine to twelve foot tapered fluorocarbon leaders down to ten pound test is my suggestion. Although there are times when you need to go lighter for fish that have been educated or heavier in grassy or mangrove shoot laden flats.

First of all, let me say that the permit is likely the most difficult saltwater fish to catch and photograph. Those who catch permit consistently have my utmost respect. And those who can consistently catch permit flyfishing without the use of scent or attractant are very few and far between. Because they are difficult, they tend to be a "holy grail" type of trophy.One important thing to remember is that permit have FREAKISHLY GOOD VISION. They spook easily and you will often have only one shot at a fish before... POOF - Gone. Other times they will know you are chasing them on foot and will stay exactly three yards outside of your casting range while continuing to feed away from you. The guide will often have you get back into the boat and motor a few hundreds yards to get in front of feeding permit for another chance...but this is often futile. Sometimes you wonder how a lifeform with such a relatively small brain can act like a rocket scientist when it thinks its life is on the line. Maybe if we catch more permit, they will learn we ALWAYS LET THEM GO!

Another thing to remember is that if you have found yourself in a place where making a good cast seems relatively easy - don't waste your opportunity. If the fish allows you to be this close, it is because he is more intent on eating crabs then he is on your presence. Make sure you put the fly within a foot of an aggressively feeding permit. The plop of the fly probably won't spook him but your line being stripped back by him if you cast too far WILL. If you miss, strip your line back just fast enough that your fly doesn't hang up on the bottom, but slow enough to keep the fish in front of you calm.THE MOMENT OF TRUTH
When the permit finally tails on your fly - give one short strip strike and lift the rod tip. Permit have a soft mouth so the microbarbed hook should penetrate easily without a giant BASS SET. And if he misses your fly and your strip was small, he will often go after it again. They are used to feeling the pincers of a crab or shrimp so the tiny sting of a hook will be a natural phenomenon.

I use an eight or nine weight flyrod and a saltwater fly reel with a good drag system capable of holding my floating flyline and 200 yards of 30# dacron backing. The fly of choice is almost always a yarn crab. Have some tan, some brown, some mixed tan and brown, some olive, and be creative. The guide will choose a fly from your fly box or from his based on the success or failure of the previous clients at the lodge and his years of experience.

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