If Planet Permit were looking for a new capital to spike its flag, Placencia, Belize would be a frontrunner. Located in the heart of Central America’s flats fishing la zona, it’s an area frequented by fish—tarpon, bones, snook, and permit—but one still mostly untapped compared to more frequented offerings running north and up through Ascension Bay.
Although Belize has been on the permit radar forever, it wasn’t until this past February that I finally had a chance to pop in. With enough crabby ingredients to appease Saturday night feasters at the local Red Lobster, and over six-and-a-half days of fishing, we were gifted with about two-and-a-half-days of permit-friendly weather. Over the course of the journey, we scoured Placencia’s massive flats systems characterized by mangrove hemmed lagoons to the north and south, as well as coral crusted ocean-side flats laying claim to larger marauding permit on incoming tides.
Permit, wherever you find them are smart, and they proved us stupid, often. Amidst scuttled opportunities, we caught fish up to ten pounds—small by Key’s standards—botched attempts at singles in the 20+ range, and witnessed many plate-sized juveniles schooling in packs of six or more fish. The diversity in size, as well as the prolific numbers, bodes well for this fishery’s future.
Day one found us running south; a plan concocted to combat a steady north wind—prime permit winds for the area are south and southeast, according to our veteran guide, Bruce Leslie. When we pulled into the lagoon and cut the engine, our north wind—any wind for that matter—was nonexistent. Flat conditions produced telltale wakes dilly-dallying across the skinny, dark-bottomed flat. This particular area is a wildlife refuge, where you can camp overnight at the ranger station and thanks to that designation it teemed with good numbers of micro-bones, snook, crab-smashing jacks, and neurotic permit in singles, pairs, and small packs. We chased jacks that we thought were permit. Then we chased permit that we knew weren’t jacks, and by noon we managed to coerce two to hand.
Catching two permit before lunch on day one has double-edged implications. First, it sets the mind into calculator mode: How many do we stand to land? Big numbers, for sure. On the other hand, it’s a red-flag, because we know shit slides downhill much easier than up from this high-flying perch. Big numbers, maybe not.
In this case, day two became a tale of the latter. We returned home from the lagoon like a couple of bruised pineapples. Yesterday we tasted sweet; now we were overripe and rather skunky. With continued garbage weather streaming in from the north, alternative playgrounds were scoured—including mini-tarpon in the canals near Placencia proper, and the chalky pools of landlocked shrimp factory housing larger tarpon that had been sucked into scampi heaven as juveniles via saltwater intake pipes. These diversions filled the void, but it still wasn’t permit fishing—the driving force for our visit. When the weather finally broke, we headed for the cayes, a short 25-minute run from our pick-up at the dock in Placencia. There we found coral flats, naked European sunbathers—of the hairy, nonsexy kind—and fresh tailing opportunities.
Placencia is somewhat of an anomaly when it comes to permit destinations. For one, and as previously stated, it is not yet riddled by commercial lodge operations catering solely to rabid permit sticks. Punta Gorda is close. There you can find great fishing with the famed Garbutt brothers. And Lincoln Westby’s Blue Horizon operation is also within striking distance. But generally, the lack of mainstream development is refreshing and we found clean, cheap accommodations at Dianni’s Guest House on the mainland for about $60 USD a night, double-occupancy. Food was also inexpensive and good—if you like a plate crawling with creatures of the sea. We ate for about $25 USD a day, minus bar tabs dripping in Belikin beers.
By day 6 we had added two more permit to the tally. Not bad for hit-and-miss February weather in the Caribbean Sea. We returned home to an epically lousy ski season on the Front Range, with out-of-place suntans and a story. In Placencia you’ll find plenty of permit, as well as a coconut and palm tree verve punctuated by its laidback and generally unfrequented flats offerings. And that’s why it gets our vote for Permit capital.
Geoff Mueller was born in a Montreal snowstorm, raised in North Vancouver, wasted some time at SFU, went to Europe and built a house with a good friend, a German with a gun, and a Russian carpenter named Vladimir, slings stories to put milk and cookies on the table, hearts good beats, thinks about you (sometimes), plans to journey to the end, likes sunsets, stars in the sky, B.C. in the spring, NYC in the summer, giraffes, old photographs, waves, natural features, backside airs, beer buzzes, girls with big ideas, and basically just wants to have fun.