fly fishing sport fishing freshwater fishing
Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


Mutton Snappers are Tough Fighters

With a good dollar exchange rate, there has never been a better time to visit the Caribbean, and recently I chose to return to Belize at Turneffe Flats in Central America, not for bonefish but snappers. This area of the Caribbean has some of the world's most pristine marine habitat. Belize is a leader in environmental protection with nearly one third of the country under a National Park or some other protected status. Its home to three of the four coral atolls in the Western Hemisphere, Turneffe being the largest and most diverse. The atolls provide a unique and remarkably diverse marine eco-system with an extensive coral system. In fact during my stay at Turneffe a barge delivered all the building materials and equipment to build a recycling centre. These people really care about the environment.

Belize is very British; many people have a picture of the Queen in their home. When you talk to the locals they give you the impression they are very proud to be part of the Commonwealth. The British Army also have a jungle training camp in the country. David Jones and I booked our flights through Clitheroe travel flying from Manchester to Orlando then Miami where we stopped over night, before taking a flight to Belize the following day.

Arriving in Belize City airport we quickly cleared immigration and customs, I must say the staff were most friendly. It was a lot quicker than clearing an American airport. As we cleared customs a representative from Turneffe Flats was on hand to take our bags then lead us to a large station wagon for the trip to the docks; Fifteen minutes later we were aboard a forty five foot jet boat heading for Turneffe Island some thirty miles offshore. An hour long boat trip. Walking along the dock I stopped to watch a bunch of snappers swimming around the dock.

Accommodation and Dining

The social centre for Turneffe Flats is the air-conditioned ’Lodge’. A pre-dinner gathering for hors d'oeuvres and refreshments is customary; the screened veranda is a wonderful place to enjoy the tropical evening with new and old friends. A breathtaking view from the upper and lower decks makes the 'Lodge' a favourite spot with everyone. Meals are a tasty combination of Belizean and American dishes served family-style. Fresh seafood, local produce and home-baked pastries are standard fare. Three delicious meals are part of your package.

Every person at Turneffe Flats from the owners Craig and Karen Hayes, the cooks who ensured we were well fed. The maids who looked after our rooms. Gardeners, guides, fishing manager Jeff Pfaender were all committed to make my stay one of enjoyment and fun. I couldn’t have wished for a better crew. They were wonderful. Depending upon your plans and your preference, you will have the option to take a packed lunch or return to the lodge for lunch. Following hors d'oeuvres and refreshments, dinner is the big meal of the day comprised of soup or salad, entree and homemade dessert. Entrees vary among seafood, chicken, pork and beef. If you have special dietary needs, they will do their best to accommodate you.

The bar is well stocked with Scotch, Bourbon, Gin, Rum, Vodka, Tequila and several liqueurs. In addition, they offer a variety of wines as well as local Belikin beer. Cuban and Dominican cigars are also available. The bar is located in the 'Lodge' just off of the dining area with plenty of open space to gather around after a day of adventure.

You will stay in one of eight spacious, air-conditioned cabanas located on the beach with panoramic views of Turneffe's coral reef. All rooms are furnished with a queen size bed and an extra-long single bed, ample closet space, chest of drawers and a sitting area. Each room has a large private bath with two sinks and a shower.
Imagine awakening in your air-conditioned beachfront cabin with an incredible tropical seascape of white sand beach, tranquil bonefish flats, lush mangroves and the surf breaking over the reef for miles in either direction. Many mornings I would stand on the veranda watching a few tailing bones and hear the great long tailed grackles. Get up early and watch a spectacular sunrise from your veranda then when night falls, the stars look close enough to touch.

Fish of the Reefs

The island has been popular with British anglers for many years; where the guides are all experienced; know the waters extremely well. Bonefish, permit and tarpon are what most anglers’ target, Not for me on this trip I let all the bonefishers disappear about eight in the morning for distant flats while I went for breakfast. This area offers some excellent fishing for jacks and snappers, with an excellent chance of a big mutton snapper. In my book its one of the prize fish in tropical water. This fish grows big and they can often be difficult to catch at times. The world record is 28lbs 5 ounces. A good fish is one of five pounds plus. They are a tough fighter and will savage a surface fished popper either on fly tackle or spin gear. Let’s not forget the schoolmaster another member of the snapper family. I had these pushing four pounds. You have the lane snapper, yellow tail snapper, red snapper, rainbow runner, trigger fish, skip-jack, big eye jack, and if your lucky a jack crevale. The street fighter of the aquatic world. Last but not least the barracuda with its mouthful of razor sharp teeth. It can weigh 60lbs but the average is probably 12lbs.

Tackle Choice

For all my fly fishing I use the best available. Wulff Bermuda Triangle taper fly lines, which are built for use in the tropics. I use Abel and Tibor reels. Being on the Pro-Staff of Thomas and Thomas I get to use what are the best fly rods for fresh and saltwater fishing. They are an all American built rod even down to the reel fittings. I carried Helix and Horizon in eight and nine weights. Choosing the right leader is most important, I put my trust in Deep blue leaders from Gamma, and they haven’t let me down. I see no reason to change. I had a large selection of Deceivers, clousers and other streamer patterns, I also included some poppers.

Stalking Fish on a Corral Reef

Often as I hunted the mutton snapper I would stand on chunk of coral to give me a better of the underwater scene, in the gullies between corrals of various colours I would see a couple of parrot fish, a fascinating species of the reef which could be seen feeding on the corral. Without doubt what can only be described as an exciting experience is watching a snapper or jack savage a popper you’re working across the clear emerald green water. Suddenly the water boils as the lure is savaged aggressively by your quarry. Suddenly you’re on a high, adrenaline courses through the veins. Your strip strike sets the hook into a fish that’s doesn’t know about submitting to my well balanced tackle. The rod tip is pulled down to the water surface as the reel grudgingly gives line. If you’re lucky you will get the fish to hand but often you will get broken off. One day while hunting snappers I spotted two trigger fish, in slightly deeper water over clear sand was a huge trigger fish which must have gone fifteen pounds plus.

I well remember fishing an area of deep emerald green coloured water two hundred yards from the boat dock, as I caught a succession of nice sized mutton snappers on a shrimp pattern my attention was drawn to fifteen frigate birds within fifty feet of where I was fishing. These magnificent birds which could work the thermals for hours without moving were hovering twenty feet above the ocean. Who said fishing was boring? No way, there is something interesting happening all around us.

My week at Turneffe flats was all about relaxing, I would fish for an hour or two, and then take a nap perhaps have a mug of tea and read a novel. There were a couple of days when I didn’t even bother to fish, though I would perhaps walk the reef or lay on the boat dock watching a variety of fish, observing their movements occasionally watching them feed. I found it all fascinating. I would have lunch in the lodge with some of the divers who I found to be charming company. Sadly because of a few guests there were times when the dining room sounded like the House of Commons at Question time. My mate David on one occasion said “If you were to make all this noise in an English restaurant you would be asked to leave” The behaviour then improved. There were times when I couldn’t escape quickly enough from their rather loud chatter for the peace of the tropical wilderness.

Hooked up to a Big One

Taking the advice of Pocco one of the locals I fished a spot some two hundred yards to the left of the boat dock and twenty yards offshore where I had some great fishing for mutton snappers. After catching a succession of fish between a pound and two pounds I hooked the fish I had been seeking for several years, I hooked a fish which was not only aggressive but ripped lines off the reel at a fast rate of knots for a snapper, soon the fish had me down into the backing. Its not often a snapper will do this. For some ten minutes or more it was give and take slowly I backed closer to the shore wining a few feet of line then letting the fish slog away hoping it would tire. Suddenly the fish swirled on the surface its prickly dorsal fin erect. It was my dream fish, a far bigger prize than a double figure bonefish. It was twenty yards away; I reckon it might go six pounds. Slowly I worked line inch by inch back on the reel, occasionally a foot or more. Then disaster the fish dived and I tried to stop it. The result was a broken leader where I had joined three feet of fluorocarbon tippet to my leader. How did I make such a silly mistake? I am always practising the tying of knots so I get it right on the water, but not this time. If you’re looking for a new adventure in 2008 why not visit Turneffe Flats email:

Martin James Fishing