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Belize’s Most Prized Gamefish: Fly Fishing For Permit in Ambergris Caye

Located off the coast of Belize, the waters of Ambergris Caye are home to some of the best permit fishing on the planet.  There’s a seemingly endless expanse of flats surrounding the island offering the chance to take a shot at one of the many permit.

Fly fishing for permit can be described as frustrating, heartbreaking, and what’s often the case, addicting.  It’s the ultimate test of skill and patience, as the fish are naturally wary and overly picky in their eating habits.  But, with a few pointers and some tips from the insiders, you increase your chances of landing a permit.


Ambergris Caye offers large numbers of permit.  Bumping schools of 15 to 20 permit isn’t uncommon.  Anglers can take anywhere between 10 to 15 shots at permit each day.  Even though the large schools of permit are primarily juveniles, there are larger adult ones mixed in as well.  For a first-time permit angler, Ambergris Caye is a great place to land the first.

Quick Overview of Permit Fishing:

What Permit Eat –  A permit’s diet is composed mainly of crabs and shrimp.  Both food sources are abundant on the flats, and for the angler, the challenge is to imitate the two crustaceans.

When to Fish – Year-round.  It’s 12 months of great fishing.

Equipment – When fly fishing for permit on Ambergris Caye it’s important you have the correct equipment:

  • 9 or 10 weight rods
  • Floating line
  • 12 to 15-pound tippet

Flies – The flies for permit and bonefish are similar, but generally permit prefer larger flies.  You’ll want:

  • Crabs – The McCrab: size 1/0 is a must-have for permit
  • Shrimp – Enrico Puglisi’s Mantis shrimp: Size 4

Permit Fly fishing Tactics:

Since crab and shrimp patterns are the most effective for permit, it’s critical to understand how to fish both and what the differences are.

Crab Patterns – Crabs aren’t fast-moving crustaceans.  For that reason, their defense against predators involves sitting still, and burrowing in the sand.  Your fly to try to imitate that:

  1. Try to “hit the permit on the nose” and cast as close to the fish as possible.
  2. Allow the crab to sink to the bottom.
  3. Slowly move the fly to stir up small amounts of sand and get the rubber legs moving.
  4. Once the fish notices the carb, stop stripping.
  5. If you can keep ahold of your nerves, while the permit is taking your crab – it’s game on.

Shrimp Patterns –   Unlike a crab where they’ll stop moving, shrimp will try to swim as fast as they can away from the fish.  Some keys to shrimp patterns:

  1. Listen to your guide. They have a great vantage point from their poling platform and can see the fish.
  2. When the guide says strip – you strip. From their spot on the platform, they will yell out the pace of the strip.  They will let you know how fast, slow, or when to pause.

Note: The biggest mistake anglers make stripping shrimp, is stripping too far.  Shrimp can’t swim long distances quickly, so be sure your strips follow suit.

Lodges on Ambergris Caye:

Yellow Dog is proud to work with two different operations on Ambergris Caye.  Both are unique and offer access to the world-class fisheries on Ambergris Caye:

  • El Pescador Lodge – In business for over 40 years, El Pescador has been a partner for Yellow Dog since the beginning.  Today it remains one of the most popular lodges.
  • Victoria House – The lodge gives anglers the chance to experience Belize in “style and luxury” without compromising the incredible fly fishing.

Some tips from the experts:

Listen to Your Guide –  Something that should never be taken for granted is the skill of the guides.  No one spends as much time fishing for permit on the flats of Ambergris Caye as the guides of the island.

  • Three generations of flats guides – Many of the lodges that Yellow Dog works within Belize have 3rd generation guides. You may have a 22-year-old guide, but they’ve grown up learning from their father and grandfathers!

Keep in mind next time you’re in the boat, and your guide suggests changing something up, maybe pattern or rod weight, follow their instructions – they know what they’re doing. You may have some of your own “home recipes” you whipped up on the vise before your arrival, but your chances of hooking into a permit significantly increase if you and your guide are a team.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Deeper Waters – Maybe you’re having trouble spotting permit on the flats – or maybe the tides are at the wrong levels.  There could be a number of factors adversely affecting the permit fishing.  Whatever the case, try deeper water.

Check out this Facebook Live video we did with Costa Del Mar’s Peter Vandergrift. He’ll help you select the right lens and frame so you won’t have any trouble spotting fish!

  • Permit are naturally wary and will gravitate towards deeper water to feel safe.
  • Fish the deeper parts towards the edge of the flats where depths are somewhere between 15 and 20 feet.

Rig Another Rod for Other Fish – Maybe the permit fishing is nonexistent an afternoon.  This is the worst-case scenario, abet even then it’s not that bad of a case.  Thankfully, Ambergris Caye hosts a diverse range of species.  If permit aren’t biting try one of these:

  • Tarpon – The flats and channels of Ambergris Caye are home to countless tarpon. There have even been reports of anglers fishing for both tarpon and permit swimming mixed together.
  • Bonefish – Ambergris Caye has some of the most exciting bonefish opportunities in the world – bonefish are always an option.
  • Jack Crevalle – The gluttonous cousin to the permit is everywhere on the flats of Ambergris Caye. The Jacks are more prone to take whatever is thrown at them, and in a lot of cases can make a fly fishing trip themselves.

With a few pointers, anyone can have success fly fishing for permit in Ambergris Caye, Belize.  The spectacular setting of fly fishing Caribbean flats, catching amazing fish, and dining on exquisite cuisine all make it a one-of-a-kind trip.

For more information on Belize lodges, trips, how-to articles, and more visit our Belize fly fishing page

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