Down a long and winding pothole-covered road, nestled amongst a series of Mangrove-enveloped channels and towering palm trees on the Southern tip of Belize, lays a place where fisherman’s tales finally turn to truth, and the wails of battles, won or lost, are complemented by the hiss of a cold Belekin being cracked open. It’s there, at the Caribbean water’s edge, where one will find Blue Bonefish Lodge.
Last December, we traded in our waders and winter coats for shorts and flats booties with our heading set to the Southern Hemisphere. There, we paid a visit to our friends at Blue Bonefish Lodge, in hopes of getting a taste of everything this unique location had to offer. In this Lodge Spotlight activation, we’ll be looking back on our time spent exploring the Belizean flats, and showcasing just what makes this place so special.
About Blue Bonefish Lodge:
Blue Bonefish Lodge is situated on an island just Northeast of Belize City, at the Southern point of Ambergris Caye, and overlooks the crystal waters of the Caribbean at the very edge of Belize. The lodge itself is owned and operated by Chris and Mary Leeman, alongside an array of personable and attentive staff, and embodies everything a tropical getaway should. The lodge’s location makes it a mecca for all kinds of fishing, including fly, conventional, and even spearfishing. It also holds a robust population of popular saltwater game fish such as Permit, Bonefish, Jack, Tarpon, and many more.
Blue Bonefish Lodge’s location also lends itself to many more exciting experiences outside of fishing! Being just a few miles from the small city of San Pedro, visitors can enjoy a nice night savoring some local cuisine and experiencing a taste of Belizean culture. Additionally, the lodge itself sits on the edge of the second-largest barrier reef in the world, making it a premier spot for snorkeling and ecotourism. Additionally, if you or someone in your party is less interested in fishing and more focused on relaxing, the lodge offers plenty of options within a few feet of the front door: On-site massages, paddle boarding, a hot tub, and a cabana stocked full of beverages and food.
When the plane doors finally opened and we piled onto the tarmac, the humid tropical air immediately enveloped us, letting us know right away that our boots and jeans would not be welcomed in this climate. This was no longer the dry, cold Colorado winter we had been acclimating to over the last two and a half months – this was another world. As we filed through customs and collected our bags full of fishing rods and camera gear, we made our way up to the airport bar to wait out the two hour connection over some Belekins (my very first, as a matter of fact). After a healthy indulgence in some airport fried chicken and a touching conversation with an elderly lady waiting for her son to land, we made our way back to the tarmac to board our next flight in a small puddle-jumper headed to San Pedro.
Our short 35 minute plane ride gave us the opportunity to take in the beauty of the Caribbean’s rich blue water as we passed overhead. The crystal blue water was striking, and as we watched small fishing vessels and mangrove islands pass through our line of sight, our imaginations ran wild with the possibilities that lay beneath us.
As the plane touched down in the tiny city of San Pedro, we filed out and made our way to the street exit. The airport was no bigger than your run-of-the-mill DMV, but luckily, much friendlier faces sat behind the desks. As we exited the building, we were met by two taxi drivers that the lodge had sent to pick us up. After some warm welcomes, we crammed our bags into the vans and jumped in the back seats, eager to finally see the lodge in person. As we made our way down the road, the paved streets eventually turned to gravel, and the vans bounced in and out of crater-like potholes with a familiar ease. Shortly, we pulled up to a small gate and a sign that read: “Blue Bonefish Lodge”.
Immediately after pulling in, the lodge staff was there to greet us, collecting our bags from the trunk and carrying them up to our rooms in the main lodge area before we even stepped out of the van. As we greeted our hosts, we all immediately grew enamored with the marvelous landscape that was surrounding us.
On the horizon, a beautiful tropical sunset was unfolding over the ocean, which was now only a few yards from where we were standing. The lodge stood tall and overlooked a hot tub and a cabana. To the left, past a fleet of golf carts, was the newest addition to the property: The Villa. Placed perfectly between the two structures, it featured a long dock stretching into the ocean bay with several Panga boats parked along the walkway, leading to a hut with a palm roof and a hammock underneath.
Inside the lodge was just as beautiful. As we made our way in, we were directed to the dining area, which doubled as a living room and social area. Multiple long wooden tables were set in preparation for the wonderful meal currently being crafted, the smell of which had already captured the desire of our empty stomachs. Our rooms were located right through doors located to the left and right of the dining area. Each room had a bed, neatly made and decorated with flower pedals, a full bathroom, and direct access to a deck that spanned across the entirety of the building. In addition to our rooms, there were also the villas, which were decorated with teak interiors and tile flooring, each with a private balcony that over looked the Caribbean Sea.
While the amenities were nice and we were excited to enjoy some downtime, our true interest lay in what was swimming around beyond the dock… but for now, it was time for dinner, a beer, and some sleep. Tomorrow would come soon enough.
The Fishing at Blue Bonefish Lodge:
As the sun slowly unfolded over the placid seascape, we rose to the clanking of silverware and the smell of fresh empanadas and coffee being laid out just on the other side of our door in the dining area. After enjoying a nice breakfast made up of melted cheese and ambitious planning for the days to come, we headed back to our quarters, collected our things, and made our way down to the docks.
Waiting for us at the docks was a group of 3 guides, their boats, a collection of rods, flies, and coolers that implied we were in for a fun day in the sun. After a few excited introductions, there was little time wasted before we loaded into the boats and zipped off to different corners of the nearest flat in pursuit of what everyone had come here for… the almighty permit.
As the Panga planed over the calm salt flat, the silhouettes of other boats on the hunt were barely distinguishable from the islands of mangroves that lined the bay. Aboard our boat, we had two anglers, a guide, and ourselves. As we shot past floating patches of sargassum and idle seagulls, bobbing in the wakes, waiting for their next meal to be spooked into action by the boat, the horizon began to give way to a long corridor of vegetation. All was quiet besides the sound of the motor chugging away and the wind beating at our clothes. Like the locker room before a championship game, all parties were busy in silent preparation.
In one smooth motion, the guide killed the motor and jumped up to the poling platform, his eyes fixed on the shallow water ahead. One of the anglers reached for his rod, a 9-weight with a small blue crab pattern fly tied to the end of a long leader. As he stepped up to the bow of the boat, he made a quick scan and carefully began pulling line from his reel, letting it pile at his feet. The guide began to push the boat forward with his pole, and began to unload all the info he had about the area we were fishing. The ritual had begun.
It hadn’t been 30 minutes until we heard the first call come from behind us as the guide began to rotate the boat ever so slightly to expose the starboard side. “A ray…”, was all he muttered. His voice was calm and collected, but we could all feel the electricity in the air. “Let’s see…” he continued. “I don’t see – OH. Permit. Permit behind the ray. Two permit,” he explained. 50 feet ahead of us, a large black shadow was moving toward the boat. “Okay. Get ready,” the guide instructed. The angler adjusted his weight and prepared to cast. “Now. Go – GO!” The angler took one, two false casts and laid down the line directly in front of the fish. The fly landed hard and a small shadow darted out from underneath what was now visibly the stingray kicking up sand. “One’s still there. Recast”, the guide exclaimed, now readjusting the boat. Now at only 40 or so feet to his strong side, the angler laid down another cast.
He stripped line in slowly. “Slow. Slow,” instructed the guide, calmly. “Okay! Strip! Stripstripstripstripstri-set! Got him!” The rod bowed as fly line began to dance around the angler’s feet. In seconds, the line had vanished from the bow of the boat as it was ripped from the screaming reel, further and further away into the sea. Cheers rang out as we watched the battle unfold. After what felt like hours, but was really only a few seconds, the run began to slow. The drag slowly started grabbing hold of the line and we all watched in anticipation as the angler lifted his rod, and began to reel. But as soon as it had stopped, the fish began to run once again, making a fool of the technology on the other end its pierced lip. This same process occurred again, instilling what seemed like a futile sense of hope among us spectators. As the guide barked instructions, the same dance occurred over and over again. Finally, the opponent began to tire. Hoisting the weight of the animal, the angler dragged him to the side of the boat where he made one last run, before being brought back to the hands of his captors.
The battle was over. Throwing his rod to the side, the angler leaped from the boat into the water, just as excited as a child on Christmas day, ready to open his present. Gripping the permit by the strong forked tail and his belly, the angler hoisted the fish out of the water for display – and boy, it was impressive. The size of a serving dish, the fish’s vibrant skin gleamed in the tropical sun. Quickly, the guide plucked the small crab fly from the fish’s mouth and tossed it into the boat. Slowly, the angler lowered the fish back into the water, and within moments, the permit’s tail began to kick and the fish glided out of the angler’s hands back into the depths where he had been plucked from. A few high-fives and hugs were exchanged before loading back into the boat. As saltwater spilled onto the floor from the angler’s boots, we all chuckled and cheered, ready to bid farewell to the experience and eager to encounter the next.
Over the next few hours and days, six more permit were landed, with many more missed or lost. However amazing permit are, one doesn’t travel to such a diverse fishery to spend all their time targeting a single species (well, at least not us). On the same afternoon of the wild permit fiasco, we all reconvened to push deeper into the brush in pursuit of the fish whose name and image were plastered on the very signage of the lodge, itself: Bonefish.
As our convoy pushed deeper into the channels running through the mangroves, each boat split into a different section, separated by only ten or so yards of brush – each of our push poles still visible as they crested the top of the leafy walls. With one angler stationed at the front of the bow, now toting an 8-weight with a crazy charlie tied onto the end of a homemade leader, the pursuit from earlier continued – but in a far different fashion.
The Bonefish, nicknamed “the Grey Ghost,” lives up to its nickname. Working the flats in small pods, these creatures are not only fast, but virtually invisible to the untrained eye. Due to their smaller size and ability to sense oncoming danger just from the change in pressure around them, these fish make for one heck of a hunt. Spotting them takes honed focus, and one is more likely to see their shadow before they see the actual fish. The key to finding these fish, is watching for irregular movement on the sand.
Suddenly, 30 feet to our right, a pod spooks out from underneath a mangrove. A group of about ten fish dart out from cover and away from our course. It happened in the blink of an eye. As we watched the fish swim off, our angler had realigned his focus to the left of the boat. “There’s one,” he exclaimed, pointing 45 degrees ahead of us with his rod. Without further words being exchanged, the guide pivoted the boat, making the most minor adjustment to give our angler his best cast. From the distance, a tiny shadow darted towards us. The angler made a short 30-foot cast. Unlike the permit, the second the Bonefish saw the shrimp fly enter his level of the water column, he raced towards it and attacked.
With a hard strip, the line shot tight. Immediately realizing his mistake, the fish reared and turned a hard 90 degrees and began to race away from us. This fish, considering its size, displayed impressive speed, zipping sporadically across our section of the flat, as it fought to free itself from the fly. With each turn, the fish sent previously invisible Bonefish scurrying for cover in their attempt to escape their captured companion.
After a fair fight, our angler was able to reel him in and bring him to the side of the boat. The fish probably weighed around two to three pounds, a fairly average specimen for the area. Even up close, the translucent scales and pale, bluish coloring made the fish seem invisible in mid-air. Its body was remarkably rigid, and its tail, tapering down from its fins to a strong, forked shape, resembled that of an underwater torpedo—a marvel of nature, perfectly crafted for survival in shark-infested waters.
As we lowered the fish back into the water, it immediately took off back into the shaded cover of the mangroves. Without missing a beat, our angler, clearly fulfilled, passed the rod off to the next participant and made his way to the cooler for a Coke. As the day rolled on, quite a few more Bonefish were hooked, landed, and released – including a few from our team. Soon enough, we were headed back to the lodge, spirits high and bellies growling, ready to see what the rest of the evening had in store. It had been a good day.
It was our third day of fishing when we decided to deviate from our normal routine. With plenty of permit and Bonefish in the bag shared amongst all of the anglers we’d been following, it was time for something different. The lodge isn’t necessarily known for Tarpon, but when our guide, David, mentioned he knew of a flat that was only a 30-minute boat ride away, and was coveted as a common feeding ground for some residential tarpon, all we asked was “When do you want us at the dock?”
As we raced past the mangrove islands we had explored days prior, the dotted horizon gave way to an expansive plane of shimmering blue, accompanied only by an aggregation of towering storm clouds accumulating in the distance. Suddenly, the guide cut the engine. From there, we slowly drifted overtop rows of coral, giving way to deep blue channels of water.
Max, our angler, digging through his fly box emerged with a large white feather changer that shook in the light headwinds as we made our way into position. He tied it onto the end of some 16 pound leader and made his way to the bow of the boat as David simultaneously climbed back onto the poling tower. As we pushed forward, we scanned each pocket of blue for shadows and any hint of movement that might indicate the presence of life. All was quiet… but it wouldn’t be for long.
After about an hour had passed, Max pointed out onto the horizon. David confirmed he saw it too and began to pole us closer. The shadows were barely distinguishable to our untrained eyes, but Max and David knew what they were looking at.
A group of two juvenile Tarpon were making their way across our bow at about 70 yards. Left to right. Max began to strip out more line from his reel as David began our approach. 60 yards. 50. With the slightest turn of the boat, Max began to cast. With a single heavy haul, he shot the line directly towards their position, laying the fluffy white fly out 8 feet in front of the predator’s path. He waited a beat, then began a slow strip. “He sees it”, David confirmed. As Max continued to strip, the fish followed. Another strip. Another. The fly’s path was continuous and uninterrupted as Max slowly brought it towards the boat. Suddenly, the line went tight.
With a violent strip, Max ripped the line past his hip, followed quickly by another in an attempt to lodge the hook into the bony mouth of the Tarpon. The line vibrated, then began to fly. As it danced around us, we all began to scream with excitement, realizing we were finally in the fight. 30 yards ahead of us, the water erupted into a culmination of spray and silver. As the mighty beast launched itself into the air, it shook its head violently, like a bull lassoed around the horns. But, as soon as it started, the chaos was over. As the fish came crashing down into the ocean, the fly line went slack and we watched as the shadows darted off into oblivion. The young Tarpon had shaken the fly and had no plans of sticking around longer than it took to do so.
As our cheers turned into sighs, David assured us with his voice still shaking with excitement, “Don’t worry. There will be more,” and he would not be made a liar. After only 20 minutes, he called down to the bow, “Max, you see that?” Max pointed his rod tip straight ahead in confirmation. Just like before, the two began the first steps of their dance – and with one well-placed, 40-foot cast, Max had found yet another partner to tango.
This time, the eat was almost immediate. Max slammed his fly into the fish, and held tight as the line ripped off the water to form a direct connection with the target. The two were entangled, and despite the fish’s best efforts, Max had no intention of losing this one. The fish jumped. Once. Twice. Three times. Each time, Max lunged his rod tip toward the watery explosions, allowing the fish room to play. In a display of violent refinement, the fish raced through the open water, attempting to break the line with all its might.
The fight waged on for a mere 20 minutes before it was over. As we watched the exasperated mass of muscle and fervor pulled towards the boat, David jumped down from his station and grabbed at the leader. He missed his first grab, but on the second attempt, secured it in his blistered hands. From there, both boys leaped from the boat into the mucky water in order to grab the thrashing beast.
For its size, the Tarpon had put up one hell of a fight. Even once in David’s hand, it gave one last spiteful tale slap which slammed our guide in the chin, almost knocking his glasses clean off his face. But there was no use fighting further… this time. We had won.
As we watched the fish swim off, the clouds above us rapidly morphed into a torrent of rain and thunder. Eagerly, we packed our things up and began a run back to the lodge. Upon returning, we headed towards the beer fridge in the cabana, eager to enjoy the splendors of our victory and share the story that had unfolded.
Food at Blue Bonefish Lodge:
Something Blue Bonefish Lodge does incredibly well is food. Unlike many fishing lodges, the focus of mealtime isn’t simply to impress its guests with fancy ingredients and elegant methods of presenting a steak and wine. While these things do hold value, the mission of the Blue Bonefish’s kitchen staff, all of which are local residents of the island, is to bring Belize to its guests on a platter. In the words of Mary Leeman, one of the owners of the lodge, “We don’t want to bring the US to Blue Bonefish, we want to make sure San Pedro and Belize stay right here.”
From slow-cooked chicken seasoned in local herbs, spices, and a meticulously concocted broth, to seared snapper served alongside fresh vegetables and potatoes, the food at Blue Bonefish Lodge delivers the same warm and fuzzy elements of a home-cooked meal, each dish with its own background and story. Accompanied by a boozy punch and good company, the meals enjoyed at Blue Bonefish Lodge act as a catalyst for stories of wins and losses had on the water; many from the days prior, but even more drawn from the rich histories each guest seated at the table brings from their time on this blue planet.
Other Things to Do at Blue Bonefish Lodge
One thing that makes Blue Bonefish Lodge stand out is the abundance of activities to enjoy around the area besides fishing. Whether fishing’s just not quite your thing, or you’re looking to give your casting arm a break for the day, there’s no shortage of adventures to be had.
With Belize being a teeming mecca of life, abundant in all forms of fauna and flora, the “ecotourism” to be found in the Caribbean is second to none. One offering BBFL provides directly is snorkeling. However, with the lodge being located just across from one of the largest barrier reefs in the world, this endeavor is far from your typical dip off a commercial hotel beach.
If swimming with sharks interests you, look no further. Accompanied by BBFL’s own snorkel guides, we had the opportunity to dive into the confines of the reef and swim among the hundreds of different fish species that make Belize worthy of its nickname: the “Jewel.” Powered only by flippers and our legs, we got up close and personal with nurse sharks, parrotfish, jacks, stingrays, sea turtles, Permit (it was a unique experience to interact with such an incredible species on their terms), and many more. These creatures inhabit a complex ecosystem that further exemplifies what makes this fishery such a one-of-a-kind opportunity to visit. We were profoundly grateful for the chance to see what lived beneath our fishing boats, which allowed us to resurface with a newfound appreciation for the unseen life that exists on a day-to-day basis.
Furthermore, if you’re looking to take the underwater experience to the next level, and don’t QUITE want to leave the fishing behind, these guides also offer a taste of their own culture by allowing guests to try out a different sort of fishing, done with a spear and a rubber band. Proving to be a much more challenging feat than it appears to be on television, the opportunity to procure one’s own food from the underwater grocery store that is the reef was one we won’t forget.
Making our way around the perimeter of the sub-surface jungle, we hunted for spiny lobster and snapper, hoping to bring a few back to the docks for dinner. After some missed shots and a humbling experience, we finally managed to get the hang of the dance that is the simultaneous action of “swim and shoot.” We brought a few lobsters, a barracuda, and, of course, some conch to the boat. However, these captures paled in comparison to the massive Cubera snapper that our guide managed to shoot not once but twice, and brought it aboard.
With our well full, we jetted back to the beaches where we filleted the fish, fed the scraps to some hopeful frigates, and enjoyed one of the freshest meals of fish and conch salad we’ve ever had as we watched the beautiful Belizean sun settle into the horizon for the night.
Exploring San Pedro:
One thing that stands out about Blue Bonefish Lodge is not only its proximity to San Pedro, which is just a mile up the road, but its accessibility to the city. Oftentimes, when it comes to premiere lodges, guests are confined to the lodge property and encouraged to stay close and amongst themselves. However, with Blue Bonefish, it’s the opposite. The culture around the lodge is focused on making sure people experience all that Belize has to offer.
Just outside the main lodge, guests can find a fleet of golf carts just waiting to be utilized for exploration. There are no check-out procedures, it’s just get in and go. This makes it super easy to explore the surrounding areas, and encourages travelers to do more than just hang around the lodge all day.
Just minutes up the road is a classic fly shop, owned and operated by Blue Bonefish Lodge themselves, that carries everything from flies to rods and reels, and any gear you might need to have a successful fly fishing trip in Belize if you don’t want to borrow the gear the lodge has on hand. From there, guests can continue up the road, into the small city of San Pedro…
The city itself is teaming with sights, sounds, and smells that entice a full cultural emersion. Whether it’s dock-side eateries, shops, fruit stands, or nightclubs – there is always something to do in San Pedro. Additionally, the city is an extremely welcoming and friendly place for tourists. Not once on our travels did we ever feel like we weren’t safe or unwelcome. Tourism plays a significant role in the Belizean economy, and an appreciation of this, combined with the relaxed island lifestyle, benefits both tourists and locals. If you plan to visit Blue Bonefish Lodge, we recommend setting aside at least an evening to explore the surrounding areas.
Relaxing at the Lodge:
If you’re not looking to fish or explore, Blue Bonefish Lodge is also an ideal location to go full vacation mode. Underneath the cabana, there are always drinks and food readily available, and you can also watch any sports game on any given day. If you’re in search of a spa day, the hot tub, located right in the middle of the property, is open and running all day and night. On-site masseuses are also readily available to provide a relaxing hot stone treatment, right at the edge of the dock as you listen to the sounds of the ocean. Amongst the hustle and bustle of the world around us, the staff at Blue Bonefish pride themselves on aiding guests in the ultimate pursuit of slowing down…
When we reached to the island, the first word we heard used to describe Blue Bonefish Lodge was “Paradise.” While this term has become a bit of a cliché in describing tropical locations around the world, we believe guests at the lodge will quickly come to realize that this description holds strong merit when used to reference this little getaway in Ambergris Caye.
The element our team aimed to explore when we arrived on the island was of course, the fly fishing. However, what we left with was a far greater appreciation for the dedication and hard work every member of Blue Bonefish Lodge has put into curating a once-in-a-lifetime experience for its guests, and staff alike. To limit this experience to just fishing, while it was some of the best saltwater fly fishing we’ve experienced in a long time, would be a disservice to a place that is so abundant in opportunity and rich with culture. From relaxing underneath the warm starry nights to the days spent sandwiched between water as blue as the sky above, the spirit of Belize seems to find a way to simply melt your troubles away.
Whether you’re chasing Permits into the open ocean or leisurely paddling around the bay on one of the lodge’s paddle boards, we’ll say this: the trip is worth it, no matter where you’re coming from. To experience an abundant, diverse, and healthy fishery such as this is a rarity these days. In so many places, we hear the same song: “You should have been here yesterday.” However, due to the conservation efforts of the lodge, as well as the natural blessing of its location, one can expect to hear, instead: “We can’t wait for you to get here.”
For anyone looking to learn more about Blue Bonefish Lodge, or Book a trip, you can do so, HERE. Thank you to Blue Bonefish Lodge for hosting us for such an unbelievable week and hospitality. We look forward to seeing you all again, soon!