Southern Belize and the waters of Punta Gorda deserves its reputation as a permit fishing mecca. A lot of fish live here, and contrary to the beliefs of some, they are not small fish. Most fish caught are 10-15 lbs, there are plenty of fish over 20 lbs, and a few over 30 lbs. Not many locations where you can specifically target permit and expect double digit shots on most days can match that. And as far as permit go, they are willing to eat a fly. We have been skunked (this is permit fishing after all) but we have also had anglers catch over ten permit in a week!
A big part of what makes the permit fishing in Punta Gorda so consistent are the two main types of flats. There are hundreds of cayes and pancake flats “outside,” which are made up of sand and turtle grass. Most of these flats are normally patrolled by schools of permit. But if the outside flats do not have many fish, it is typically because the permit are in the huge lagoon system “inside.” The lagoon system is within a national park and is truly wild — jaguar sightings are not an infrequent occurrence and the bird life always provides entertainment. The water in the lagoon system is clear, but is a tea-stained color with a brown bottom due to the decaying mangrove leaves. Most of it is less than two feet deep however, so the permit usually tail or push water. When they do, it is especially visible due to the protected nature of the lagoon. It is hard to maintain your composure when you see a permit pushing toward you from hundreds of yards away! Access to both the outside flats and the lagoon system mean that you will almost always find fish regardless of weather conditions and other factors that can shut down less diverse fisheries.
In addition to the outside flats and the lagoon, there are a few flats along the Belize Barrier Reef, which ends at the Sapodilla Cayes offshore of Punta Gorda. However, it is more than an hour ride in open water to the reef, with comparatively little fishable water when you finally arrive. It is beautiful, however, with coral and crystal clear water — a great place to snorkel or dive for non-anglers or if you would like a break from fishing.
The Garbutt family (brothers Scully and Oliver, cousin Yogi, Uncle Victor) has called southern Belize home for generations and have been THE Punta Gorda permit guides for decades. They are true watermen and know the area and fish better than anyone. They are accomplished fly fishermen in their own right, tons of fun to fish with, but above all they are capable, knowledgeable, and experienced guides who know how to put permit in the boat.
The Garbutts run 23’ center console superpanga skiffs with comfortable cushioned seats, YETI coolers, and a forward casting deck with lean bars. There is very little wading in Punta Gorda so almost all of the fishing is from the bow of the skiff. The Garbutts are excellent outboard mechanics.
Snook, tarpon, bonefish, barracuda, snapper, jacks, triggerfish, and all the species usually encountered on or near the flats of Central America are found here. However, Punta Gorda would not be considered a top destination for a grand slam.
Adult tarpon show up in the summertime, but at other times of the year the tarpon fishing is sporadic. If your trip is in the summer, you should definitely bring a 12 wt. If you hit it right, you will find big schools of big fish — up to 200 lbs. They are usually found holding in deeper water near the flats, and a sink-tip line increases the number of eats and hookups dramatically. At other times of year, there are usually a handful of small to mid-size tarpon either rolling a short way up river mouths or cruising a few select locations on the flats. But they are not always visible and do not always cooperate. Tarpon should definitely be considered a bonus.
It is a similar story with snook — the fishing can be very good in winter but slow the rest of the year when the fish migrate north along the coast. In the winter, sections of local rivers hold decent numbers of 5-25 lb snook with most in the 10-12 lb class. They usually hold just behind the wall of vegetation that comes right down to the water — so they can be a challenge, but well worth it if they are there. The rest of the year there are a few spots in the lagoon or along shorelines that sometimes hold snook. One problem is that snook are delicious and commercial fishing/netting take a toll. Snook are protected (as are permit, bonefish, and tarpon) but enforcement is a problem. Lately, however, the government has been stepping up enforcement efforts and we hope for and expect fabulous snook fishing in the near future throughout Belize and especially in the Punta Gorda area.
We catch bonefish every trip to Punta Gorda, but it is an odd version of bonefishing. Large schools of average size Belizean bonefish (and a few over 5 lbs) can be found in a handful of specific spots out at the reef (more than an hour boat run). A couple of these schools tail in shallow water, but several of them hang out in fairly deep water. There are also bonefish scattered throughout the lagoon. These are usually larger fish, from 3-7 lbs, in singles and small groups of a few fish. But these bones are usually spotted while looking for permit, after they are already in casting range due to the visibility in the lagoon. Since there is usually not enough time to switch rods or put on a bonefish fly, anglers present permit crabs to these bonefish, often successfully.
Snapper, hard- fighting jacks, and barracuda are often encountered if you would like a diversion from the hunt for permit. But the opportunities for all other species pale in comparison to the permit fishing, which is what makes this fishery special.