Click through all the images above to see photos from the trip to Turneffe.
"Ernest Hemingway once said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” I think what Papa meant by that was, when it comes to putting your confidence in something, people simply have to take leaps of faith. When something feels right inside, trust your gut and you can’t go wrong. Case in point: Craig Hayes. Hayes fell for the beauty, bounty and culture upon his first steps on Belizian soil in1977. After several trips, he finally made it to the Turneffe Atoll and it was love at first sight. There was just something about the island that called to him. Instead of dipping his toe in to test the waters, self-assured, he practically decided right then and there to jump in the deep end and start a bonefish lodge. Who would have thought that, after 36 years, the bonefish camp that began as nothing more than a dock and an outhouse would turn into Turneffe Flats — a high-end lodge located smack-dab in the middle of one of the world’s most diverse and precious marine ecosystems and home to one of the finest bonefish, permit and tarpon fisheries an angler could ask for.
Just as it is for Hayes, Belize will always occupy a special place in my heart. The first time I traveled to the former British Honduras was in 2002, and it was during that monthlong trip that I landed my first bonefish and exposed my fly-fishing taste buds to the flavor of exotic travel. The first three weeks of this trip were spent on the interior of the country, which quickly made me realize that there’s much more to this small country than fishing alone. While I didn’t make it to Turneffe, I did spend a week on Glover’s Reef, which sits roughly 25 miles south. The guides spoke of Turneffe often. They compared stories about the Coolly Lady, the ghost that haunts the island; the ecosystem; the remoteness — they even swore up and down that Turneffe has golden bonefish that always lead the school. When they talked about the island, they lit up as if it were the Garden of Eden.
Ever since then, the atoll has had a mysterious draw to it. In August 2012, after years of waiting, I finally found myself on a dive boat leaving the port in Belize City with a heading pointed at Turneffe. I couldn’t wait to see if the hype I’d heard so long ago was accurate.
As on my initial trip to Belize, I spent hours at the vise, and I compared my patterns with photographer/fishing guide Scott Sommerlatte’s, who’d be joining me. Prior to our departure, Sommerlatte and I developed a game plan. We figured we’d spend the first day catching as many bonefish as possible and then spend the rest of our time on the water hunting for permit and tarpon. As with any well-thought-out plan, things didn’t happen that way.
Our Belizian guide, Dion Young, adopted our strategy, and in no time flat he spotted one of the largest schools of tailing bonefish I had ever seen. The three of us made a stealthy approach and figured it was only a matter of minutes before our rods were bent and our drags were screaming. Right before we were in casting range, we saw exactly why these bones were swimming in inches of water. A huge barracuda was sitting stationary in the deeper water adjacent to the flat waiting for a bold fish to leave the group.
We made a couple of casts into the mix and didn’t get as much as a follow. While Sommerlatte and I both realized that we could beat these fish to death and probably hook up, Dion suggested we move on. He felt that a ’cuda of that size waiting in the wings meant certain death to a struggling bonefish. We agreed, but instead of moving on, the three of us just stood there and watched. For Sommerlatte, it was a prime opportunity to fill a memory card with epic photography, but for me, it was an hourlong reminder of exactly why I love to fly-fish. It also served as one of many visuals I’d see in the days to come of what makes Turneffe such an amazing resource. I don’t know if it was the giant ’cuda hanging out only yards away or whether it was the fact that the fish got used to our presence. Whatever it was, they stayed put, allowing us to enjoy the moment. When we did decide to move, Young indeed put us on more willing bones, but it was that school that we watched that I will remember the most about that day.