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At ease in Belize: Not just fishing, but some monkey business, too

By on June 25, 2019 in Travel with 0 Comments
Lyle Ostheller, from Brewster, had his hands full with this African pompano.

By Dave Graybill

Every year my wife Eileen and I host a fishing trip to somewhere warm. 

We have taken small groups of people to Belize twice and to three different destinations on the Sea of Cortez on the Baja peninsula of Mexico. 

Fishing is always the “bait” to attract our fellow travelers, but there are other considerations, like the other activities available in the area that we plan to visit.

This year we took our group to Placencia, Belize, which is on the southern coast of this Central American country. 

We have previously gone to the island of Ambergris Caye in Belize and have enjoyed those trips. 

I was anxious to get back to Belize. The country is the site of the second largest barrier reef in the world, which is one of the reasons that the fishing is so great and makes diving the number one attraction to the country. There are large, shallow flats along the shores here, too, and the fishing for tarpon, permit and bonefish is some of the best found anywhere.

I traveled to Placencia last November to see what this area had to offer. This is when I found Roberts Grove Resort, which everyone in our group found to be an excellent place to stay. This is one of the original resorts in Placencia and has been kept up very nicely and the staff is tremendously attentive. 

I also met Wayne Castellanos, a local guide. I arranged with him to have four boats with guides available to our group three of the days we were there. 

The boats were 23-foot pangas with Bimini tops for shade. They provided all the gear, bait, water, sodas and could arrange to have excellent lunches for the two anglers they had on board each day.

I also learned that there are some Mayan ruins nearby, a jaguar preserve and other attractions. Cave tubing is a popular activity here, and a boat tour of the Monkey River promised encounters with crocodiles and manatee that also inhabit the waters near Placencia. 

When we arrived in Placencia in early May, I started two of the fishing days on the Monkey River, fly fishing for tarpon. I managed to get a tarpon each morning, and then we headed out to the open water. 

Wayne would run out to the small island of Ranguana where he would cast a net for the sardines we would use for bait. From there we would head for the reef and troll these bait right on the surface. 

You never knew what would take the bait. Everything from Spanish pompano, mutton snapper, barracuda, bonito, yellow jacks, Spanish mackerel and other fish would attack the bait. 

There were times that as soon as your bait hit the water, you would get hit so hard it would nearly tear the rod out of your hands. 

One day Eileen and I caught and released at least nine species. We would release our fish, unless we wanted to have one for dinner. 

We had multiple dinners from the fresh fish some members of our group brought back to the resort. The resort would make ceviche from part of the catch, and then prepare the balance three ways. It would be grilled, fried and blackened and presented on a big platter for our dinner party to enjoy. Boy did we; these fresh fish dinners were out of this world. 

There are only 1,500 residents in the village of Placencia, but there were many great restaurants, gift shops, three banks, grocery stores and even an Italian-owned and operated gelato shop. 

Eileen and I liked to have lunch at one of the restaurants that faced the open water so we could take advantage of the on-shore breeze. The fish tacos and blackened shrimp salad were our favorites.

We fished every other day, so there was time for people to relax around the pools, visit the village or take one of the tours that is available. 

One of the most popular tours is the one to the Monkey River. Several members of our group took the river cruise, which exposed them to the dense jungle that lines the shore of this small river. They heard toucans calling in the trees, watched flocks of parrots fly overhead and other birds. Our people encountered crocodiles that swam right up to the tour boat. 

There was a short walk through the jungle so they could see the howler monkeys, and the guide beat on a tree with a large stick that got the whole troop of them yowling. 

Iguanas are everywhere in Placencia. This one watched visitors board the fishing boats one morning.

Iguanas are very common here, and we saw one that had to be at least three feet long near the path at the resort. 

A real treat was to come across manatees while running to and from the fishing grounds. Eileen and I were able to photograph and video a group of 10 to 12 of these big creatures one day. 

On my last day of fishing, instead of going back to the Monkey River for tarpon, we ran straight out to Ranguana Caye. Wayne wanted me to get some bonefish. 

When we arrived, there were a bunch of them right off the beach. There was a group of people in the water nearby, so he didn’t want me fly casting. 

He handed me a spinning rod with a piece of sardine on it. I cast this out in front of the bonefish I could see, and they would grab it. I landed three in very short order. 

We took a break for lunch and when I went back down to the water with my fly rod they were gone. No problem. Wayne put me in the bow and “poled” around the island until we found some. 

I got to break in my new 8 weight rod in style. I also saw a bonefish that had to weigh at least 6 pounds. I didn’t know what I was looking at when I first saw it. I had never seen one that large. 

Placencia is a very special and largely unspoiled place. The fishing is tremendous, the people incredibly friendly everywhere you go and the tropical environment is beautiful. I can’t wait to go back next year.

Dave Graybill is the owner of FishingMagician.COM LLC and provides current recreational fishing information in Eastern Washington.  His reports appear on his web site, Facebook page and are broadcast on several radio stations in the region and on KVI-AM 570 in Seattle.  His videos on fishing in the region, which are available through his web site have received over 1.5 million views.  He is also serving as a Commissioner for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

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