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As a primarily freshwater angler I could not help but feel intimidated by the salt. 

A world known only to me by images. Some printed others in my mind. 

Photo: Jon Lee

For me it was the mangroves. Poling down that ragged edge, hunting. I poured over charts, read and reached out to anglers with experience. I was building a starting point as the place had already found me. 

A brackish system containing miles of creeks, mangrove shorelines and open flats – all perfectly representing what the Florida backcountry is.  These fisheries are massive and several could be fished for a lifetime and In that time you would only have a brief view of what it truly is. That view, is a privilege and the vastness is just more room for opportunity. 

I started close and worked outward. You learn what areas need to have to hold fish. 

Photo: Jon Lee

These fish know exactly where they are and why they are there at any time .This world lives and dies on the tides. It dictates everything and knowing how these fish move at certain times is key. The day’s low tides would give me a glimpse of what was there and with enough time, why.  Each spot had to be checked time and again.  A education that takes time and that information is currency. Even on the worst day I came back with something. 

Although the majority of the fish you’ll encounter are not 9wt fish a few are and that’s what I throw.  My Mangrove Coast rod matched with a longer tapered bonefish line has done an incredible job of hitting fish and keeping them out of the trees.  The leader is simple, #50 tapered down to #30 fluorocarbon.  I will build that out to #25 when targeting crawling fish although it makes landing bigger snook very difficult.  If big snook and smaller tarpon are around I’ll run a #40 or #50 bite guard.  Sight fishing the flats I’ve had to drop all the way down to #15 fluorocarbon to get the take.  

Photo: Jon Lee

My two tarpon rods are both 11wts in the Mangrove Coast and the Axiom ll-X. One rigged with a match floating line and the other a match intermediate line.  My leader is a straight section of #80 with a #100 bite guard. Tarpon leaning in on that 200 mark are a real opportunity and I rig to go toe to toe with that fish.  If big North American GTs (Giant Trevally) are busting bait, I will run a section of #80 hard mono to a popper on the floating line rod. 

Photo: Jon Lee

I rig as heavy as I can to beat fish quickly. I believe the longer the fight lasts, the less likely the fish will survive.  

Once in this world you’ll have stepped into story with no ending and that story is just now being told. Many of the anglers who made possible what we can do today are still with us. It’s that new. The innovations continue with every single push toward the edge of what can be done. That cost is so high because the reward is so great. 

Once paid for it has to be respected.  

Blog author and TFO Ambassador Jon Lee.

Blog written by TFO Ambassador Jon Lee (@kalamazoo_river_guide). Jon spends half his year fishing and guiding in Michigan for smallmouth, carp and pike, and the other part of the year you can find him in Florida putting clients on tarpon, redfish, and snook.

Fly Fishing in Belize + Reel Women Fly Fishing

“An inordinate passion for pleasure is the secret of remaining young.” Oscar Wilde

There is a great saying here in Belize, “Why not?” Working with Belizean guides creating and building Reel Belize in San Pedro, I ask a lot of questions. And most of the time I’m answered with “Why not?” Which is how I like to roll. Yes, it was a very big decision to move to San Pedro, Belize in 2009. A lot has happened since then, including staying on the island the past two years without travel.

For me and the rest of the world we have had time to assess what is important in our lives. You wouldn’t be reading this if fly fishing wasn’t important to you. What we all don’t know is how far our passion for this all inclusive captivating sport will lead us. If you have been to Belize, you know about the warm hearted English speaking fly fishing guides who share your same love for the hunt of bonefish, permit, and tarpon on the flats. They too are passionate casters and when TFO sent me the 7wt Axiom II-X – everyone was in line to cast and borrow our new favorite. We love this rod!

Photo: Oliver Sutro

If you are planning a trip it’s an exciting time! It is also extremely important to know and love your gear. Precious moments don’t have time for used and beat up gear. Our fishery on Ambergris Caye is for bonefish that average 2 to 6 lbs, permit 5-30 lbs, tarpon 5-150 lbs! We also have jacks, barracuda and snapper – all fun on a fly rod. We have used this one rod – the 7wt Axiom II-X – for all of these fish. Including tarpon landed up to 50 lbs. It’s nice to have a bigger rod for fighting bigger fish, but if the opportunity presents itself, this rod will get it done.

Fly delivery is a huge part of the game – the fish have to see the fly and it needs to be moving away from them. A shrimp or crab would never swim to the mouth of any fish. Smooth casts – one for speed the next for accuracy and put it! Not all casts have to be great but the fly does need to get in the water without a lot of false casting. They see what looks like a new kind of osprey flying over them. Yes, we have ospreys in Belize that love to grab and eat bonefish.

Photo: Lori-Ann Murphy

Depending on the weather and conditions we are generally fishing six inches of water to 3-5 feet for permit and tarpon. You will want a nice selection of Christmas Island Specials, Gotcha’s, Squimps, Tarpon Toads, the Strong Armed Merkin is the latest craze for permit – but basically flies that will fish weedless if needed or some heavy eyes or lead wrapped flies to get down fast. And generally speaking – the flies imitate a shrimp, crab or bait fish. Make sure you fish the fly how a shrimp, crab or baitfish would move in the water. A crab does not swim as fast as a shrimp. I have learned this lesson many times and I’m sure I’ll goof up again. Be the fly!

Photo: Lori-Ann Murphy

Travel

Traveling to Belize is as easy as 1,2,3! This is our slogan. Just this week, entry into Belize has been updated. It is no longer necessary to download an app from the Ministry of Health. A card showing you are fully vaccinated, or COVID testing before travel is still required. The US requires a rapid test 42 hrs prior to return – which is easily done from your hotel or lodge and costs $75 US.

Belize is also making lists! – “the safest international places to travel right now.” (TravelPulse). While many countries were downgraded by the US State Department for COVID levels, Belize was one of only 15 countries upgraded to a Level 2 travel advisory. Level 2= Exercise Increased Caution. 4= Do Not Travel. No countries are currently at Level 1.

Belize has very low COVID numbers. However, only 15% of the population has been vaccinated, so it is still law to wear a mask and safe practices remain in place. It is required that the travelers stay at a Gold Standard Hotel and fish with a Gold Standard Tour Operator. I’m happy to say Reel Belize has met all Gold Standard requirements. I submitted a 47 page application! I felt like I was in nursing school all over again but it did put us all on the same page.  Plan to be treated like royalty when you show up – Belizeans were very very sad without tourists!

Photo: Lori-Ann Murphy

Reel Women Fly Fishing Adventures

I’m proud to say that women are fly fishing on waters all over the world. And I’m proud because RWFFA was established in 1994 to do just that – get women fly fishing so we could lead trips to fun places. For almost thirty years, we have met women who have an adventurous spirit and the guts to make it happen. These are incredible women and many of them have made friends from these trips that have lasted over time with many more fishing stories to tell.

The most exciting time in all of this for me is now. Now we have remarkable fly fishing women and guides who have become RWFFA Ambassadors leading their own trips. Now, there are so many women fly fishing guides all over the world – I can’t name them all. It used to be easy, because there were so few of us for such a long time.

Photo: Lori-Ann Murphy

This year fly fishing exploded due to the pandemic. People are wanting to get out and explore rivers and salt flats and learn about fly fishing. To accommodate the demand, we have added more trips and fly fishing schools. We have schools for the beginners and schools for guides. There are freshwater trout trips in the mountains of the east and west, and then of course we have our RWFFA saltwater trips!

Since I live in San Pedro, Belize, own a fly shop and outfitting business (Reel Belize), it only makes sense to lasso these women and invite them to fish our waters! This week, eight women are showing up from all over the place for our first ever RWFFA Women’s Tarpon Quest! There is only one beginner in the group and she will have a lot of love to bring her up to speed. Stay tuned for the action!

Photo: Lori-Ann Murphy

 

Blog written by TFO Ambassador Lori-Ann Murphy. You can find out more about Reel Belize here, or Reel Women Fly Fishing here.