I first tried my hand at angling when I was eight years old, and I ended up winning a fishing contest. I remember standing on a tiny bridge over the creek in our neighborhood, gloating and bragging to the kids around me. My prize? A brand-spanking-new Mickey Mouse fishing pole. I used that pole proudly for years to come. That little neighborhood contest sparked something within me, and I’ve since learned – like many others who share my passion for fishing – that the glory of the first catch lasts a lifetime. While now I aim for bigger and more challenging species, the thrill of seeing that iridescent glint in the sunlight as the fish breaks the water’s surface still gives me the same childlike joy.
Flash forward 20 years: I’m planning the fishing trip of a lifetime to Central America. No small-fry creek fish this time, and I’m going to have to leave the good ol’ Mickey Mouse fishing pole at home (I mean, not that I still have it or anything)…
My destination? The Belizean cayes. I’ve been hearing about the lively waters around Long Caye, an unspoiled mangrove-covered island and an absolute mecca for those who travel for the thrill of the catch. I intend to get a piece of the action, but I’m not hopping into the boat quite yet. The first leg of my journey to Long Caye is one of exploration and research. First order of business: finding out what types of fish are waiting for me in the waters of Long Caye!
Here are some of the top challengers worth your cast:
The tarpon is a behemoth. Weighing anywhere from 80-280 pounds, this fish grows to about 5-8 feet long. A hefty underbite and large eyes define the face and distinguish the head from the body, which features lateral lines and shiny silver scales. Tarpon leap out of the water with a vigor similar to a breaching whale and put up a spectacular fight when caught. Haul up one of these aptly-nicknamed Silver Kings, snap a triumphant photo, and then let him go. For biology buffs, the tarpon adapts to his surroundings with an air bladder, allowing him to live in environments with little oxygen content. Hardly any other fish enjoys this evolutionary luxury.
No boat ride necessary when you’re fishing for snook – you can take up your fishing pole on a pier near your Belize island retreat, or drop your line among the mangroves. You’ll know this fish when you see him because of his silvery-green color, bright yellow fins, and stark black line stretching from gills to tail. He may be small (the snook averages about ten pounds), but he’s still a lively and thrilling catch because of his temperamental behavior. Snook are well-known for a finicky and stubborn attitude – what may work to catch the fish one day may not work the next. Your best bet? Use live shrimp as bait.
The bonefish loves beef. Ask any avid fisherman in Belize – the bonefish does not have the most discriminating taste when it comes to the cut of steak, so long as beef is what’s for dinner. But clogged arteries won’t stop this fish from putting up a fight. His speed and endurance put most other fish to shame. You can catch bonefish while sitting comfortably on the beach. You’ll know him when you see him in the shallows by the dark smudges between the silver scales on the upper half of his body. Nab one of these small fish (on average, three to five pounds) but don’t eat him unless you want to find out for yourself why he’s called a bonefish.
The jet black forked tail of this wide-bodied fish makes him easy to find in the water. Add in the sickle-shaped fins and the thin depth of the body and you’ve got one heck of a good-looking catch. The permit weighs 25 pounds on average and moves slower and more deliberately than other fish. Get out on the boat for this one – permit love hanging around shipwrecks and coral, so you can take in the endless views of sea and sky and paradisiacal cayes in the distance while you reel in your catch.
The fish around Long Caye are paramount to the heath of the surrounding Lighthouse Reef – adult fish and their young offspring eat the algae covering the reef, preventing the algae from overgrowing and smothering the sunlight-dependent coral species. Populations of these fish must be protected to ensure that the pristine coral reef systems around Long Caye remain that way for divers, snorkelers, and swimmers to enjoy.
Sustainable fishing practices help to maintain healthy populations of reef fish. Catch-and-release methods, biodegradable bait, circle hooks (easier to dislodge without injuring the fish), and lead-free lures help responsible anglers avoid disrupting the aquatic ecosystem while still finding endless thrills. I’m brushing up on the latest sustainable fishing techniques before my trip – I can’t think of anyplace more worthy of preservation than the beautiful waters around Long Caye, home to a thriving coral reef and abundant aquatic life. It may be time for the Mickey Mouse pole to get some serious upgrades before I tackle the exciting sport fishing scene in Belize!