Blackfly Lodge – Schooner Bay Abaco Island Bahamas

Blackfly Lodge – Luxury Lodging & Excellent Flats Fishing at Black Fly Bonefish Lodge

 The new Black Fly Bonefish Lodge is open for business at Schooner Bay, Abaco Island Bahamas. Black Fly Lodge officially opened this past March and enthusiastic anglers are making the trek, keen to sample the great bonefishing found on south side of Great Abaco Island. The launch of the new Black Fly Bonefish Lodge’s marks an important milestone for luxury Bahamian fishing lodges. If you are interested in bonefishing on Abaco Island and  Black Fly Lodge  please read on!

Black Fly Bonefish Lodge - Abaco Bahamas

There is something about the allure of the Bahamas; the beauty of the azure ocean; the smell of the salty air and the soothing sound of the waves; the feel of the moisture on your face as the ocean wind swirls it around; maybe it’s just a great place to get away from it all.  Perhaps, because the Bahamas are located just off the coast of Florida, but far enough away culturally and visually that there is a feeling of adventure.

For this quest I am heading to the Abacos which are a string of Bahamian islands located approximately 175 miles east of Palm Beach, Florida. The mainland is Great Abaco, the third largest island in the Bahamas.

For anglers, the main target in the Bahamas is bonefish.  Shimmering silver out of water, but grey green shadows below the surface, bonefish are difficult to see in the water and provide a worthy piscine adversary.

 Arrival Abaco Island

We left Florida on a United turbo-prop flight originating in Orlando, conveniently, just an hour and a half drive from my home in Homosassa/Crystal River. The sky was overcast and dark with rain when we left.  The ominous thoughts of the storms in the making were discomforting. The plane climbed smoothly through the clouds and finally sunlight poured into the cabin. The captain cut back the throttle and leveled off. The interminable cloud cover below us extended to the horizon and was not a good sign.

Finally the thick layer of clouds started to break up a bit. From our vantage point, white cumulous clouds hung like lily pads over the sapphire ocean below and wispy cirrus were suspended high in the blue sky above. Our flight path took us over the vast shallow flats of Grand Bahama Island and the Little Bahama Bank.

 Black Fly Lodge overlooking the harbor at Schooner Bay

The name “Bahamas” comes from the Spanish baja mar which means shallow sea. The cobalt blue water of the Gulf Stream gradually turns into many shades of radiant blue then a marine landscape of bright white coral sand under sparkling clear water. From the eastern edge of the Florida Straight to Great Abaco Island there is a 200 mile stretch of shallow water most of it less than twenty-feet deep.

The change in the sound of the engines signaled the beginning of our descent. A slight change of course and we were lined up for Marsh Harbor.

The Bahamas weather is generally pleasant; however, a winter or early spring cool front can create quite a breeze which obviously affects fishing quality. Summer tropical rains with their overcast conditions can make visibility a challenge and there is also the occasional hurricane. The official hurricane season is June to November, but mid-August to late September is generally the period of highest risk.

On this fine late March day the air was warm and velvety and a light breeze ruffled the palm trees. Yes this was the gorgeous weather the Bahama Islands are known for. However, the angler rarely gets perfect weather for the entire trip. I tell my clients if you get more than three good days of fishing out of six this time of the year you are lucky.

I stopped by Abaco lodge for a short visit before heading down to Black Fly Lodge as I had six happy clients lodged there and they had already spent three days fishing the Marls of Abaco. Their fishing reports were excellent with numerous catches including several big heavy bonefish. However, after reviewing the weather reports, the apprehension of the foreboding weather was in their minds as well.

The next day was different; I could paint a pretty picture of the weather and write that high in the sky a beautiful rainbow arched over the clear blue horizon and the bonefish happily danced and jumped over shimming crystal clear waters, eager to take a fly. The truth is the heavy weather we had left in Florida the day before had arrived and was making fishing life difficult, nevertheless, any seasoned angler understands, you take the weather like it comes and make the best of it. With harsh weather, fishing life is not over, just different. I will dwell upon this later.

Black Fly Bonefish Lodge Abaco Island Bahamas

 

 Schooner Bay at Abaco Island

 Schooner Bay is the brainchild of developer Orjan Lindroth and is located approximately 25 miles south of Marsh Harbor near the southern end of Great Abaco Island. The development enjoys a prominent location in a pristine environment overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Schooner Bay boasts the only protected harbor for twenty miles in each direction and possesses beautiful beaches for miles both north and south where you can curl your toes in the sugar white sand.  Schooner Bay on South Abaco Island

Orjan Lindroth hired a team of architects, planners and engineers to help create his dream of a walk-able traditional Bahamian village. Orjan has given great thought to this sustainable pedestrian community where a person can stroll throughout the neighborhood and everything you need is within easy reach.

Orjan’s vision is to provide a simple beautiful efficient lifestyle in this small town and he is well on his way to providing it.

This report is about fishing Abaco Island and it would take great detail to fully describe the plans for this practical and livable development. Once you have visited Schooner Bay you will understand why ultimately this development will be a great out-island family and fishing destination. (We at Leisure Time Travel can help make this happen!)

The Lodge 

Black Fly Lodge  is situated prominently at Harbor Square, perched on top of a slight hill and overlooking the marina in Schooner Bay. The harbor area has been designed to be the principle gathering place for the Schooner Bay development.

This elegant two-story colonial-style plantation building was built in the form of a traditional Bahamian manor. The construction of the building adhered to demanding specifications and is solid as a rock. The whole structure sits on a massive concrete foundation (I know, as I visited the site under construction a year ago). The first floor exterior walls of the new lodge are constructed of vertical formed cast in place concrete. The second floor is poured in-place concrete and the second story exterior walls are built of 2” X 6” structural steel studs sheathed with plywood. The hip roof is covered with real wood shingles. Blackfly Lodge will be around for a long-long time!
Black Fly Boneffish Lodge Abaco Island Bahamas

As for aesthetics, functional wood porches and balconies on the facade and sides of the building dominate the appearance. A cement plaster finish swathes the first floor exterior walls and a light outer layer of wood siding envelops the second floor exterior walls, all painted in a subtle off-white pastel with bright white trim. Dark shutters frame the door and windows, and the soft hues of the wood shingles all combine to create a pleasing curb-site appeal.

As you step inside, the unique and intimate atmosphere will immediately put you at ease. Large windows allow ample light to flow in and a cool soft off-white pastel is the color of the interior. Fans of Vaughn Cochran art will be pleased to know that his work and logo adorn the walls throughout the Blackfly Lodge (and boats).

The lodge features a public restaurant and cozy little bar on the main floor. And. don’t worry about retaining your place at the table, Blackfly Lodge guest are first to have dinner seating, if there are any places at the table left then the general public can slip in and join the crowd. I am sure if outside guest show up at the lodge they will make interesting dinner partners.

Kitchen responsibilities are supervised under the watchful eye of master chef Devon Roker who trained at the culinary institute of Ft. Lauderdale and served in some of the best hotels in Nassau including the great kitchen of Compass Point. One word to describe chef Devon’s abilities would be “exceptional “.

Everyone generally dines together at one big table served in the Black Fly Club dining room from a set menu featuring gourmet dinners which include delicious locally caught fish, lobster, stone crab claws, aged beef, chicken and fresh vegetables from the Schooner Bay farm.

One evening developer Orjan Lindroth joined us and I was pleased to sit next to him. I asked him dozens of questions about anything from what materials the road would be paved with, how the community geothermal heat exchange system works, how the Schooner Bay hydroponic gardening was coming along, approximate build-out time of the development and a few curve balls, such as had he read Evan Cottman’s book “Out Island Doctor” which he had, and did he speak Swedish, which he does.  I can tell you with absolute certainty; Orjan Lindroth is an exceptionally knowledgeable gentleman (about a lot of things).

The Accommodations

Black Fly Bonefish Lodge Abaco Island BahamasBlack Fly Lodge offers unique comfortable accommodations with eight private rooms each with a ceiling fan, private bathroom, and air conditioning. Guest accommodations are located on the second floor which is off limits to the public. There is a wrap-around verandah overlooking the picturesque Schooner Bay harbor and the Atlantic Ocean in the distance. Typically there is one angler to the room, however if you wish to bring your spouse there are a couple of larger rooms with bigger beds. I would suggest you book well in advance if you wish to have one of the larger rooms (feel free to give us a call and we can arrange this for you!).

In the event you want to check your email or go online, for you convenience there is free Wi-Fi access.

Boats and equipment

 Anglers generally leave the Black Fly Club at about 8:00 am and normally return by 4:30 pm.  Anglers are provided with a picnic lunch and their selection of drinks for the day.

The Black Fly Lodge has brand new East Cape Skiffs rigged with new light weight Evinrude e-tech 90HP engines. The skiffs have comfortable padded seats, a custom leaning bar on the casting platform, rod storage and ample dry storage lockers.

As a long-time flats skiff owner I was very impressed by the boat and motor.

This was my first ride in an East Cape Vantage skiff. The Black Fly Lodge skiffs have been customized to their specifications. The good-looking open-water 19-foot skiff has an ample beam and she is built to take on rough water. I can certainly vouch for the reasonably dry ride as my fishing partner and I were literally smashed by big seas and high winds for three solid days.

Having guided tarpon anglers at Homosassa for many years, I know how to pole a boat. I jumped up on the poling platform one day and poled along a nice flat for perhaps twenty-minutes (I have already noted the wind was howling). The skiff tracked true and in amazingly skinny water for a boat of this size. One word to describe the new East Cape Vantage technical skiff would be “extraordinary”.

Black Fly Bonefish Lodge - East Cape Skiff
I have normally used Mercury motors on my boats, although I have owned Johnson, Yamaha and Suzuki motors in the past, so I have some experience with outboard motors. I was immediately surprised how quiet the Evinrude e-tech 90HP outboard was.  While visiting various Caribbean fishing lodges, I usually bring along a pair of ear muffs to deaden the sound of the Yahama 2-strokes found at many of these places. This is not the case with the Evinrude e-tech. The Evinrude motor is quiet and it is powerful. Paired with East Cape Vantage, you have a high-performance skiff. 

The Fishing

As far as the shallow water angler is concerned, the Bahama Islands  have long been known for the seaside charm, white sandy beaches, aquamarine water, and one of the best areas in the world to stalk bonefish.

BBlack Fly Bonefish Lodge Abaco Islan Bahamas

The main target on Abaco Island is also bonefish.  There are some permit to be found in certain areas, an occasional tarpon, sharks, barracuda and variety snappers. Off-shore fishing is also available at Black Fly Lodge. The lodge has purchased a 31′ Yellowfin for off-shore fishing and can accommodate up to 4 anglers.  You can check the rates for offshore fishing here.

Captain Clint Kemp, co-owner of Black Fly Lodge, is very involved in conservation and the health of the fishery and insists on catch-and release fishing using barbless hooks.

Black Fly Bonefish Lodge Abaco Island BahamasThe flats, creeks and bays surrounding south Abaco Island offer some of the finest light tackle fishing found anywhere. The great majority of the fishing is from boats, but there are ample opportunities for wading.

The fishing is divided into six different fishing zones, each area a little different. During a week’s time you will probably visit all of six of the fishing zones. The Schooner Bay ramp is the closest and is less than a half of a mile from the lodge. The remaining boat launch points are just 10-20 minutes away from the Black Fly Bonefish Club with the exception of Cross Harbour which is approximately 30 minutes away (but worth the trip!).

You can read more about the fishing zones in our previous 2012 Black Fly Lodge post found here.

The first morning, my friend John Stout and I polished off a hearty Black Fly Lodge breakfast at 7:00 am and met our guide Derek a half an hour later. The East Cape skiff was attached to the truck and ready to go. Captain Derek had the storage hatches open ready to store our gear. We stashed our equipment, jumped in the truck and continued on to the boat ramp.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this report, the weather was less than optimal. The early morning overcast leaden sky projected a menacing look as we boarded our waiting boat.

We quickly left the dock. Captain Derek swung our skiff into the shallow Schooner Bay channel and we headed west in search of those elusive grey ghosts. The morning run was cool and the scenery was spectacular. The reflection of light on the water as our skiff carved a smooth path across the skinny mangrove studded flat was awesome. For me, this never gets old.

At the end of the Schooner Bay channel, Captain Derek tried to bring us around a point to the north so we could investigate the southern end of the Marls. The squally breeze of the north wind was just too harsh to make the crossing, even for the seaworthy boat we were riding in. Black Fly Bonefish Lodge Abaco Island Bahamas

Just to give you an idea of the wind, we had a Fly Line Tamer, which is a device to store your fly line and keep the line from blowing overboard. The Fly Line Tamer is a cylindrical unit about 36″ High x 12″ wide with a weighted non-skid bottom and an open top which allows you to cast quickly without worrying about your line getting tangled. While my fishing partner John Stout was on the bow a gust of wind came along and blew the Fly Line Tamer into the water. As John hoisted the Fly Line Tamer back into the boat I suggested that he just leave the remaining five inches of water in the can as it would help hold it down.

Captain Derek knows what he is doing and took us south to an area where we could fish the lee side of the shore with some relief from the wind. With the morning sun behind us and a somewhat smoother surface it was easy to spot a fish at a distance.

John Stout was on the bow; with a faint shoulder tap to get his attention, I pointed ahead.

A few hundred feet in front of the skiff translucent tails were happily wiggling. Aside from the muffled crunch of our push pole we were in stealth mode.

Turtle grass and sea fans wobbled in the current. Suddenly, a pair of grey ghosts materialized on our port side within casting distance.

John adroitly loaded his Sage rod with a Rio Bonefish line.  The long forward taper of the Rio line turns over impressively and is perfect to smooth out the casting loop on long shots like this.

The fly landed on the fish’s nose. The water exploded before I could contort my face into a wince. We turned to each other and shrugged simultaneously. Oh well, on to the next fish.  We traveled too far to be foiled easily.

A bonefish is a solid bundle of pure instincts and it does not take much to spook them, but we can and do outfox them.

John and I both scored a fish as the morning progressed and we decided to call it a day just after noon and headed in. Back at the lodge, backgammon was the game of choice on this afternoon.

Black Fly Bonefish Lodge Abaco Island BahamasOur second day was again windy with the addition of heavy thunderstorms. Near our boat ramp we investigated a small mangrove estuary where small tarpon were known to live. We did find a dozen or so baby poon’s and a few bones as well, but could not entice them to the fly. The thunderstorms unleashed several bolts of lightning to close for comfort and we headed back to the ramp and to a shelter for a while. After the squall cleared we tried the flats again, but the storms returned and we decided we had enough of the foul weather by lunchtime.

The stakes were raised that afternoon on the backgammon board. Given that you could not fish-out your excess energy on the bonefish you could direct it on your fellow backgammon players.

One the third day the morning was fresh. The clouds parted and the sun burst through giving us some much needed visibility. There was still a stiff breeze from the northeast but the water cleared and the tide was right. We headed down to the south end of the island to an area called Cross Harbour where permit are known to frequent. John and I were on a mission and focused on permit  all day. It was a couple of hours before we spied a pair a small permit. John made a nice cast but the fish did not seem to notice. On the second cast John did have a nice follow but the permit turned off near the boat.  We found a large school of bonefish mulling around but passed on them.

After lunch Captain Derek brought us to the mouth of a lagoon where the tide was near the bottom but still flowing out at a steady pace. There were some smaller bones around but we did not fool with them. Captain Derek knew permit were occasionally found of this spot and it was not long before we had our shots. There were no permit caught on this day but we had set our eyes on the fish and that in itself was exciting.

We came, we saw, but we did not triumph over the wily bonefish or neurotic permit. However, we did have a good time.

I would consider this an average winter/spring week in the Bahamas. Sometimes you will get balmy weather for weeks at a time, but this time of the year cold fronts affect the Caribbean. The angler rarely gets perfect weather for the entire trip. I tell my clients if you get more than three good days of fishing out of six this time of the year you are lucky. As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I had six happy clients lodged at Abaco Lodge and they had three good days fishing the Marls of Abaco before the front approached. I am sure the anglers that replaced us after the front had good fishing as well.

Last year, during a trip in March 2012 the weather was more cooperative and we did quite well. You can read our previous 2012 Black Fly Lodge post here.

The lodge has a small fly shop with a good selection of local fly patterns and some technical clothing should you have the need or just want to stock up. And for you avid fly tyers, the vice is on the table and tying materials are within easy reach for your fly-tying enjoyment.

Conclusion

Before dawn on departure day I had my only chance during my brief visit to catch a glimpse of the rising sun. I walked down to the kitchen and poured myself a fresh cup of coffee and went back up and settled into a nice rattan chair.

The sound of halyards clanged against the mast on the couple of boats in the harbor below. As my eyes adjusted to the early morning light I noticed the tide was just coming in. The setting made me think of the hundreds of mornings I have spent in the pre-dawn darkness at Homosassa waiting for the first tarpon to roll.

A cool ocean breeze with the smell of fresh salty air was coming in from the east which bade well for the incoming anglers. In the distance you could hear crashing sound of the surf pummeling against the beach. Seagulls slowly started their morning cacophony of cries.

The whole experience, both on land and on water is exceptional at Black Fly Lodge. The staff at the lodge and the guides make a genuine effort to take good care of you.

You will be rewarded with excellent flats fishing for bonefish and an occasionally permit. The area has hundreds of flats, many which offer protection from north winds.

True taste of the Abaco out island fishing experience; great fishing, fantastic guides, handsome accommodations and beautiful scenery make Black Fly the perfect combination for your next fishing trip or family vacation.

 

Black Fly Bonefish Lodge Abaco Island Bahamas

***

It does not take long for your senses to adjust to the solitude and the vast open spaces of the Bahamas. The sky so blue and ever clear, layers of clouds moving different speeds, and the crystalline waters carve a backdrop unlike any you have seen. If you have been there then you know already, if you haven’t been, then go now! Just remember, Edward Johnston told you so……….Book now for the rest of this year and/or reserve your spot at the new Lodge  in 2014. Call us now at 800-771-2202 or 352-795-3474.

Click here for rates.

 Visit our main Blackfly Lodge page here.

 Read our 2012  Blackfly Lodge report here.

 More photographs can be view here

Leisure Time Travel – Your best and most knowledgeable choice for fishing the Caribbean

Leisure Time Travel Inc.

531 N. Citrus Ave.

Crystal River, Florida 34428

352-795-FISH (3474)

1-800-771-2202

 All Photographs by Edward R. Johnston

Copyright © 2013 Edward R. Johnston & Leisure Time Travel, Inc. 1996-2013

 

Black Fly Bonefish Lodge Abaco Island Bahamas

Ascension Bay Permit on the Fly

The Pursuit of Giant Permit with Dr. Rick Weisenburger (a.k.a. “Dr. Dick”)

This is a story about permit fishing at Ascension Bay Mexico with my good friend and client, Dr. Rick Weisenburger and a bunch of other cool guys. Fourteen enthusiastic anglers converged at Casa Blanca Lodge on Ascension Bay to search for permit. It was an unusual fall week at Casa Blanca Lodge and Ascension Bay for permit fishing on the Fly.

Ascension Bay permit : Dr. Rick & Augustin

My good friend and client, Dr. Rick Weisenburger lives in a nearby State, but he occasionally has reasons to visit Florida. He called me recently and said he would be passing through my home town of Crystal River on a certain date and he would like to stop by and visit with me. I readily agreed as I like “Dr. Dick” immensely and always look forward to spending a little time together.

On the agreed date Rick Weisenburger called me in the morning and said he would be by my travel office by noon. He was an hour early and I was quite surprised. Not by the early arrival, but by the souvenir he brought me.

You see, Rick Weisenburger, twelve of our fishing buddies and I had one heck of a good week fishing at Ascension Bay from Casa Blanca Lodge. As a reminder of the great time we had, Rick brought me a memento from our trip

Our group of fourteen anglers fishing out of ten Dolphin skiffs caught a total of thirty permit during this certain week. Rick Weisenburger caught several including the permit in the photo at the top of this story. Dr. Rick had a fiberglass replica made of the large permit he caught and bestowed upon me.

Wow….I was delighted. What a thoughtful gift! That huge permit is already mounted on the wall in my office. I gaze at it every day and reminisce about the many wonderful and exciting trips I have take to the Yucatan. Thanks again Dr. Dick !!!

Dr. Rick Weisenburger giant permit

 

THE STORY

 Ascension Bay offers the angler one of the best places in the world to catch a permit on the fly and is arguable one of the finest saltwater flats’ fisheries in the world

Edward Russell Johnston of Leisure Time Travel and a group of ardent anglers visited the Casa Blanca lodge at Ascension Bay during a blustery fall week. Despite the fact that three days of fishing were hampered by strong northeast winds and a cold front, our group of fourteen anglers caught 30 permit during the week!

ARRIVAL DAY – The undulating coast line of the Yucatan peninsula became visible from about 100 miles out in the Boeing 737. As we neared Cancun the Caribbean water colors stair cased from the deepest blue, to azure, to aquamarine, to palest green where the waters lap the famous coral sand beaches.Ascension Bay permit

The first breath of Gulf air became fact. The warmth of the Caribbean was apparent. Once through customs we were quickly back into the air on a charter flight to our final destination, Ascension Bay. Soft trade wind clouds floated in a clear blue sky. Islands appeared with luxuriant vegetation shading white sand beaches.

A fine rain scattered on the windshield as we started our decent toward Casa Blanca. The water below was a myriad of turquoise and blues. We could see palm trees spread far along the shore. The coral reef edged deep blue water. The lumbering Cessna Carvan landed at Punta Pajaros (Pa-ha-row-s) just a short distance from the lodge. “Team Homosassa” was on the ground. Fourteen eager anglers were ready to tangle with all Ascension Bay had to offer, especially the wily permit.

DAY ONE – Our first fishing day was great. The sky was clear and the weather was very nice with warm temperatures and a prevailing wind. Our group caught 11 permit that day.

DAY TWO – A cold front moved in slowed things down. The wind changed to the northeast and started too blown hard. Thunder clouds overspread the whole heaven and only occasionally was the sky clear. Light showers in the afternoon became torrential the evening. We caught two permit.

DAY THREE – A Total blow out. It rained hard and steady. The wind was so high it was extremely difficult to fish. No permit. We did have a great party in the lodge that night!

Dr. Curt Johnson's Permit : Casa Blanca LodgeDAY FOUR – The wind was still from the northeast but staring to slow down a bit. The temperature had dropped considerably from the beginning of our week. The main bay was still muddy from the turbulence, but there were areas of clear water. We caught three permit.

DAY FIVE – The morning was fresh. The clouds parted and the sun burst through. There was still a mild breeze from the northeast but the water cleared and the tide was right. Most of the casting was into the wind, but we caught 11 permit. All the permit caught on this day were big fish. Most of the permit were in the 15-20 pound range, but one was in the mid-thirties and the whopper permit caught by Dr. Rick Weisenburger was even larger; an exceptionally good day in any angler’s book.

DAY SIX – Last day. The wind shifted to the west with a mild breeze. There were plenty of permit but they were very spooky. We caught three permit one of which was well more than thirty pounds. (Note: most of the anglers had 30# Boca-grips for weighing so when they bottomed out we had to estimate)

CONCLUSION

I would consider this an average fall week at Ascension Bay. Sometimes you will get balmy weather for weeks at a time, but this is fall and cold fronts affect the Caribbean. The angler rarely gets perfect weather for the entire trip. I tell my clients if you get more than three good days of fishing out of six this time of the year you are lucky. Call the specialists at Leisure Time Travel today and get the counsel to assist you in booking the best fishing adventure you’ve ever experienced.

Edward Johnston, of Leisure Time Travel, has visited the Yucatan peninsula  30 times in the past twenty years and has caught 80 Ascension Bay permit with a fly rod .

Why take chances with your precious time? We’ve been there numerous times. There is no substitute for first-hand experience.

Tight lines !

Edward Johnston

Leisure Time Travel – Your best and most knowledgeable choice for fishing the Caribbean

Leisure Time Travel Inc.

531 N. Citrus Ave. Crystal River, Florida 34428

352-795-FISH (3474) 1-800-771-2202

All photographs by Edward R. Johnston

Copyright © 2013 Edward R. Johnston & Leisure Time Travel, Inc. 1996-2013

Ascesnion Bay permit

Edward Johnston with a nice Ascesnion Bay permit

The Tale of Tacu – Flats Fishing Turneffe Island Belize

Twenty-one years ago on Turneffe Island Belize, a few of my friends and I were on an exploratory fishing trip to this interesting coral atoll.
Read on for a story about flats fishing at Turneffe Island Belize.

Turneffe Island Lodge : Tacu Johnson and Edward Johnston

This tale starts twenty-one years ago on the Turneffe Island about 35 miles off the coast of Belize in Central America. A few of my friends and I were on an exploratory fishing trip to this interesting coral atoll.

A year or so earlier I had fished the well know tarpon flats around Ambergris Cay Belize from the El Pescador Lodge and also I had visited Ascension Bay Mexico which was located about 100 miles north up the Yucatan coast, so I was not a total stranger to this part of the world.

Turneffe Flats Lodge : Edward Johnston with a Turneffe permitWe flew into Belize City on a Saturday afternoon and spent our evening in town at the Radisson Hotel. First thing Sunday morning we boarded the Turneffe Flats Lodge transfer boat and headed for our destination.

These days Turneffe Flats takes you to the lodge on Saturday afternoon, so you don’t spend a night in Belize City any longer.

The ninety minute trip takes you past the famous St. George Keys and out to blue water.  In the craft, you run a short distance through sparkling open waters. In the distance, lining the horizon, a string of palm trees border Turneffe Islands, dazzling and inviting. As you near your destination at the Turneffe atoll, the water colors changes from the deepest blue, to azure, to aquamarine, to palest green where crystalline waters lap the white coral sand beaches.

The Turneffe Islands, Located 35 miles east of Belize City , comprise part of the largest and most biodiverse coral reef system in the western hemisphere. Turneffe is the largest of the three offshore atolls in Belize. Inside the atoll there are more than 200 mangrove covered islands, brackish lagoons, deeps creeks and expansive flats surrounded by shallow reef. Together this area supports an abundance of wildlife. The crystal clear waters offer Permit, Bonefish, Tarpon, Snook, and a host of other species.

Craig Mathews was manager at the time and the lodge was quaint but quite primitive by today’s standards. Since that time the entire lodge has been rebuilt with spacious ocean side guest suites, a beautiful gathering dining area and a swimming pool.

I was to be escorted a young Belizean fishing guide by the name of Tacu. Tacu and his brother Fabian grew up around the island helping their father fish for conch, spiny lobster and some of the various species of food fish. Brother Fabian still owns the land on Turneffe where his father’s fish camp was located. Both brothers were, and still are extremely familiar with the geography of both above and below the surface of this beautiful place and know every creek, nook and cranny of the 35 mile long and 12 mile wide island.

Turneffe Flats Lodge : Pool overlooking a bonefish flat

Throughout the week we fished the hard bottomed coral sand flats of the eastern side of the island for bonefish and the deep creeks of the western side for tarpon and were successful at both, but always in my mind was that elusive permit.

I will never forget one calm morning; we eased away from the dock in the predawn darkness. The first rays of light were just peering over the coral reef. There is a large deep channel adjacent to the lodge and this morning it was full of tarpon. We motored for just a couple of minutes and Tacu cut the engine and poled the skiff as far as he could go until he lost contact with the bottom. We drifted in a slow current with the incoming tide. The surface of the water was like a sheet of glass punctuated by the backs of the rolling tarpon around us. There were literally hundreds of tarpon surrounding our boat. Turneffe Flats Lodge : Early morning tarpon fishing

One short cast and I was hooked solid. I made quick work of the fight and released the fish. I was a bit dirty from the encounter. Moments later a friend eased up in his boat and took one look at me and said “you rascal” as he knew I was already up one “poon” for the day.

Towards the end of the week there was little wind and the sea was calm. Tacu had a bright idea and decided we should visit the Lighthouse reef on this fine day and we should take the 16 foot Dolphin skiff the fourteen miles across. This action would be frowned upon these days as it was very risky, especially with the less than dependable little two-stroke engine we had, and looking back I certainly would not recommend you try it. However, at the time Tacu was determined and I did not know any better, so we went.

It was a smooth boat ride in the skiff and from the midpoint of the very deep oceanic waters you could see both islands, barely. Famous for the Blue Hole, the Lighthouse Reef is nearly as large as Turneffe, but most the area is submerged with just a few small islands above sea level.

Turneffe Flats Lodge : Edward Johnston with bonefish

The north end has a decent fishery but is too small to support a lodge or excessive fishing pressure. There is a small mangrove island with nice grass flats and a slightly larger island with hard coral flats on the north side and a deep harbor on the south side with an abundance of bonefish (at the time).

The bonefish was easy that day and we moved on the hunt for other species.

Tacu poled us along the mangrove island and spied a school of juvenile tarpon one of which we soon had to the boat and released. A short while later we came across the telltale sign of a permit feeding with its sickle shaped fins protruding from the surface.

My good friend Ted Williams was an excellent angler and also a master fly tier. Ted had success with a buggy looking fly which he used in the Florida Keys and bestowed a few samples to me. Well, I can tell you, when the permit saw that fly he jumped all over it. I was tight to my first permit and gently persuaded the fish back to the boat. I had never caught a permit on the fly and I was delighted. After a few photos the fish was released back to the ocean and we headed back to Turnefffe.

The ride back to Turneffe was pure bliss, I was in paradise and life was good! However Tacu was not finished just yet. We had to check a few other places before we called it a day.

This part of the story I have rarely told; it would be hard to convince most anglers as the rest of this remarkable tale as it was amazing. Tacu took me to a swampy area deep in the mangroves where we found baby tarpon rolling. I downsized my tackle for the little guys and started casting. A few moments later I was fast to a…..snook, and “wow’, a super grand slam, four flats species caught in one day.

Edward Johnston's first permit Tacu wanted to take me to a spot on the south side of the Turneffe island near Cay Bokel where he previously guided a client to a world record cubera snapper on the fly rod. It was late in the afternoon I was not about to consider the hour run down there and back. He did convince me to try a place nearby where we could sight fish for snapper. Sure enough, the fish were visible in the crystal clear water. I tossed a fly and watched a fine mutton snapper engulf my offering. The snapper did not willingly come to the boat, but to the boat he came.

Five flats species in one day. Hard to believe, but true.

I returned to Turneffe the following year with permit obsession. Tacu and I had a good week and caught five permit together. I was so pleased that after the fifth permit I traded places with Tacu and poled the Dolphin skiff along a grassy flat until he caught a permit on the fly.

Tacu and I did not see each other for a long period of time. Tacu quit guiding for a while and went to live in the United States. It would be nearly twenty years before we were reunited on the flats….

In the interim period I became fairly successful at catching permit and had caught exactly one-hundred on a fly when Tacu’s and my path crossed again.

On this particular trip I was with a group of anglers I normally travel with every year to a Caribbean destination. We were staying at the Turneffe Island Resort on the south side of the Turneffe Atoll. The lodge has five dolphin skiffs which would normally fish two per boat or ten anglers. That week the lodge was short a fishing guide so they brought an extra guide from Belize City. Obviously, being a good group leader, I had the fishing manager assign the recognized “house guides” to my friends and clients and I opted for the unknown guide from the mainland.

Early the first morning at the Turneffe Island Resort I was wandering around the portion of the property where the staff quarters are located. As I rounded the corner of a building I came face to face with a person I had not seen in a very long time, Tacu.

After a happy hello, I wondered what would bring us back together again. Tacu informed me that he was the back-up guide for the week.

I started contemplating the situation; I caught my first permit on the Turneffe Atoll more than twenty years ago with Tacu and here we were together again potentially for permit number 101.  The karma seemed good and I realized it was our destiny to catch that permit together, which we did and a few more that week.

Turneffe Island Lodge : Edward Johnston with a fine permit Tacu’s long absence did not affect his memory and we investigated every nook and cranny on the Turneffe Atoll. We caught permit number 101 and 102 on the second day of the trip.

Every day we would look for migrating tarpon and finally found them mid-week. These were not the huge migratory tarpon, but rather smaller fish from the reef in the 20-60 pound range, which in my opinion are the perfect fun size. Later that week we caught permit number 103.

An incredible story, but true. And that’s the Tale of Tacu! Stay tuned as the saga continues!

With regard to our trip to Turneffe Island Lodge that particular week with Tacu – I would have to say it was one of our best trips ever. Not just remarkable fishing, but all around. Our group averaged 3.6 permit per boat for the week. (18 permit/5 boats =3.6 per boat). This compares to some of the best trips we have had at Ascension Bay. Our best week to date at Casa Blanca Lodge at Ascension Bay was 30 permit divided by 10 boats which equals 3 per permit per boat for the week.

Worth mentioning is our colleague and fellow angler Peter Merriam who experienced some great fishing at Turneffe Island Lodge for that entire week  and came very-very close to a Grand Slam.

Turneffe Island Lodge : Phil Clark with a Turneffe Island permit***

In Twenty-one years I have visited the island eight times, each for a week, including the last four years in a row. The graceful manatee can still be seen gliding lithely throughout the atoll. The pelicans, wading birds, and seagulls are there performing their avian wonders.

The large schools of tarpon are not as plentiful as in the past, but you can still find tarpon if you look for them. The huge bones that used to tail on the Oceanside flats are harder to find, but again there are plenty of bonefish to cast to including the rare and elusive golden bonefish. The permit fishing is holding up and the experienced angler will be successful. And occasionally you will score a nice snook. Turneffe is still a premier saltwater fly fishing and that’s why we continue to return.

***

On the southeastern side of the atoll a five story hotel is being built on a sliver of picturesque costal land with sand dredged from a beautiful ocean side turtle grass flat. The building silhouette is a visual distraction you can see from miles away in this pristine environment. On the interior side, a channel has been dredged for a marina. The dredging has reduced precious ocean habitat and nursery areas for a multitude of  species.

Turneffe Island Resort : Larry Fuller releasing a nice permit The cruise ships heading for Belize City pass the island displaying a striking form and a spectacular sight at night, but pose an ominous threat over the fragile ecosystem.

Will a visit to Turneffe in the future be similar to a trip to Biscayne Bay with the Miami skyline in the background? As of this writing, thankfully, as a result hard work from many concerned people, I don’t think so.

Recently, the Turneffe Atoll, has been designated a Marine Reserve by Belize’s Government, thanks in large part to the hard work of Craig Hayes, owner of Turneffe Flats lodge and the folks at the Turneffe Atoll Trust..  This sets aside 325,000 acres of this unique ecosystem for environmental management, scientific research, sustainability, as well as species protection and promotion of catch and release sport fishing.

Two fish spawning sites were recently chosen as Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserves. Dog Flea Caye Marine Reserve one of the largest spawning sites for Nassau grouper in Belize, and Caye Bokel Marine Reserve which is a large spawning site for mutton, cubera and yellowtail snappers, permit and other species.

Will I return? The answer is yes, as long as the fishery holds up. Would I still recommend Turneffe as a world class fishing destination? The answer is yes and with active management I believe the fishery will improve.

***

We would like to arrange your next trip to Turneffe Flats Lodge, Turneffe Island Resort or one of the other fine lodges in Belize.

Edward  Johnston, of Leisure Time Travel,Inc. has visited Turneffe Atoll eight times (last trip April 2012) and has caught 18 permit on a fly at Turneffe. Why take chances with your precious time? We’ve been there. Remember, There is no substitute for first-hand experience.

Tight lines !

Edward Johnston

Leisure Time Travel – Your best and most knowledgeable choice for fishing the Caribbean

Leisure Time Travel Inc.

531 N. Citrus Ave. Crystal River, Florida 34428

352-795-FISH (3474) 1-800-771-2202

All photographs by Edward R. Johnston

Copyright © 2013 Edward R. Johnston & Leisure Time Travel, Inc. 1996-2013

Turneffe Island Resort : Tacu Johnston with a very fine Turneffe Island permit

Copyright © 2013 Edward R. Johnston & Leisure Time Travel, Inc. 1996-2013