As summer starts to wind down, many of us anticipate all the great things that fall brings. But now is also time to start thinking of that winter getaway, when you leave the cold and snow behind. My younger brother recently asked me where he should go for his first flats-fishing trip. He’s a longtime trout, bass, and striper fisherman, but he’s never tried the tropics. As far as I’m concerned, this one’s a no-brainer: go to the Bahamas or Belize for bonefish. There are several reasons these destinations are the best place to start your saltwater angling career.
1. Bahamians and Belizians speak English and are very accustomed to hosting Americans. This is not to suggest that other destinations in Central or South America aren’t as welcoming—most are—but if you’re on your very first international fly-fishing trip, it will help if there’s no communication gap between you and your guide. The Bahamas are only 50 miles off the coast of Florida, so traveling to the islands is extremely easy from the East Coast; Belize is a bit farther for Easterners, but still an easy trip from most parts of the country. The less travel-related stress, the more you can focus on fishing.
2. Bonefish should be your first saltwater flats fish. Casting for bones offers everything that makes saltwater flats angling so exciting. You’re casting to fish you can see, you have to make a pretty good presentation, you can watch the fish eat (or not), and once hooked they make reel-screaming runs. There are bigger species, such as tarpon, and more difficult species, such as permit, but bonefish are more forgiving for beginning anglers.
3. Bonefish are plentiful and (usually) willing to eat. Unlike the well-educated bonefish in the Keys, Bahamian and Belizian bones are not nearly as finicky or wary. You won’t need to cast 90 feet to catch a bonefish, and if things get really tough, you can usually find schools of “mudding” fish that are eager to put a bend in your rod. (In the late 1990s, I caught my first bone from a “mud” while staying at El Pescador.) If you’re starting on a long fascination with saltwater species, it’s good to start on a successful trip.
4. Sight-fishing is a blast, and no other combination of species and destinations offer you so many shots at fish. While you’re chasing bones, you can also get shots at barracuda, permit, or even tarpon.
5. Both places offer every kind of lodge, too. There are lots of bonefish lodges in the Bahamas and Belize, and they range wildly in amenities, location, and available water. Want to be close to civilization or way out in the boonies? Want to be surrounded by lots of other anglers or have a more intimate experience? Are you looking for huge numbers of fish or just really big ones? Do a little bit of research, and you can find an operation that fits your needs, your skill level, and your budget.
Keep in mind that this article is about a first flats-fishing trip. There are dozens of other wonderful destinations that offer unique experiences, bigger fish, etc. From Christmas Island to Key West, there are challenges to keep any angler busy for a lifetime.