Belize’s Turneffe Island Lodge offers a bounty of light-tackle and fly-fishing opportunities.
By Capt. Dave Lear — October 2001
It's easy to imagine pirate frigates hidden among the Turneffe Islands. Maybe that's because the mangrove-laden atoll, located 30 miles due east of Belize City, was a favorite hideout of buccaneers. Its close proximity to Caribbean shipping lanes, along with its seemingly impenetrable labyrinth of channels and backbays, made it the perfect spot to count loot, drink rum, and do all those swashbuckling things pirates are infamous for.
I was thinking about pirates and my own upcoming seafaring adventure as we approached the atoll last December by boat. The waning sunlight and fragrant salt air was therapeutic for my fishing buddy, Keith Grimes, and me after our long journey. Once we set foot on the sugar-sand beach of Cayo Bokel, home of Turneffe Island Lodge, all memories of flight delays and missed connections disappeared. We shifted into island time as quickly as it takes to walk the plank.
For the next week we'd be guests at the lodge, the oldest fishing resort on the atoll. Instead of gold doubloons, however, Grimes and I would be after silver--in the form of bonefish, permit, and tarpon. I also planned to sample Turneffe's other bounty, the variety of gamefish available nearby. Despite my weariness from travel, I had trouble falling asleep that night, finally falling under the spell of the gentle rustle of palm fronds outside my cabin window.
The next morning Grimes and I followed Vaughn Cochran, a well-known Key West guide and marine artist, to the docks. Cochran and his wife Jean had taken over as managers of Turneffe's fishing operations just prior to our visit. Their counterparts for the lodge's popular dive charters were Paul Stone and Stacy Babaz, transplanted several months earlier from the South Pacific. Along with their Belizean staff, the four Americans place a strong emphasis on service, as I was soon to discover.
Since the lodge is near the most productive flats, we were able to fish in the morning, then go ashore for a leisurely lunch before venturing out again for the afternoon bite. I was paired with Eddie Gabourel, a knowledgeable guide who's spent the better part of his life exploring and fishing the atoll and nearby reefs. Our mode of travel was a 16-foot Dolphin Super Skiff with a 40-hp tiller outboard.
Once we reached our destination, Gabourel and I poled the skiff or waded across shimmering, crystalline flats with colorful names like Calabash, Deadman's, and Big Flat. On rare occasions we might spot a dive boat in the distance or pass commercial fishermen hand-lining for snapper, but for the most part we were the only human inhabitants on the 35-mile long atoll. (Grimes and his guide were fishing elsewhere.) The flats were far from lifeless, however.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.