Couples Trip Report from Belize // Copal Tree Lodge and Thatch Caye
October 14, 2019
Like many folks, my wife and I had always wanted to go to Belize. When Steve Joyce threw out the idea of taking our wives to visit a couple of different resorts and do a few days of fishing we jumped at the opportunity! It’s not always easy to make time and pull from savings for a big trip like this but we are sure glad we did. Belize sits in shore from the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world and the marine life harbored inside it is incredible. Most destinations feature an opportunity at all of the Grand Slam species, Permit, Tarpon, and Bonefish.
In addition to fishing, we were interested in having a relaxing vacation and seeing more of the world. Out of all the central American countries Belize is definitely one of the easiest to navigate given that English is typically their first language, depending on the specific location.
Getting to Belize
Since each of us have 3 kids, time out of the home is precious. Fortunately we both have awesome parents that offered to take care of the kids for a short week. There are multiple US flights that land in Belize each day, so booking tickets was a snap and the rates were quite reasonable despite our short term planning. We hopped on a Red-Eye flight out of Seattle, stopped for breakfast in Atlanta, and landed in Belize City before lunch.
Getting through customs was a cinch, and from there we walked over to the Maya Air counter to connect with our little domestic flight. We had just enough time to sample the local beer, which was great! The plane was very nice, pilot a pro, and the 20 minute flight went by in the blink of an eye. We got to look down on beautiful locations and a vast network of Cayes (keys) on the flight. We landed in Dangriga, enjoyed a quick cocktail before we took a 20 minute boat ride out to Thatch Caye, where we would stay 3 nights and fish 2 days.
Tasting the local brew just after landing in Belize City, this is where we hooked up with Maya Air and transfered to a smaller plane.
Maya Air was super professional and flying over the coastlines of Belize was a really fun adventure.
Arrival Day in Thatch Caye
Although we got some sleep, flying all night tires you out. We got off the boat on Thatch Caye and after a nice orientation we chose between naps and the private veranda/hammock setup on top of our beachfront Bungalows. This resort is unique and special. It might be the ideal place for a couple, or some good friends to just unplug for a short week and really enjoy each other. The rooms were absolutely great, super comfortable beds, fine linens, cold A/C, and nice amenities. You just never know what you are going to get, and this quality made relaxing with our wives even better.
We used the SUP’s and paddled along the shoreline that evening before dinner and enjoyed a really great first dinner. We met couples from ALL OVER the country. Surprisingly, we were the only ones there to fly fish and most were simply enjoying the solitude, saltwater, and the great food and drink.
On the arrival evening, we met Lincoln Atsby, #permitmaster, still guiding these flats at 78 years young! This guy is great. Fun, humorous, and unbelievably knowledgeable. He have us a rundown on the fishing and scheduled us to start at 7 am the following day. We were very excited!
Lincoln and Charlie's wisdom is unparalelled, young Jensen (in front) was in training and as nice of a young guide as I've ever met. I fell very lucky to have learned from these guys. Although it was only 2 days on this trip, I'll be back for more knowldege bombs.
Day 1 // Fishing Thatch Caye, Placencia Belize
After a nice breakfast at 6:30 am, we met up with Mr. Charles and his son Marlon. Steve and Natalie would fish with Marlon, and Kelly and I would fish with Charles. The lodge packed a nice lunch so that we could stay on the flats, but its not uncommon for anglers to return to the lodge for a mid-day lunch as the fishing is usually pretty near the resort.
We fished in 23’ Panga style boats, which were very nice and comfortable. The featured nice casting decks and well-maintained engines as well. The guides suggested that we target Permit most of the day, as is the norm for these guys. As we found out, these guys are Permit specialists. They do catch some Bonefish, and won’t pass up opp’s to chase Tarpon, but their specialty is tracking Permit. It didn’t take long for Charles and our assistant guide Jenisen to locate a tailing Permit. The adrenaline you get when you see that big black tailing sticking up through the waves! I got one good shot and managed to show my fly to the fish without spooking it, got a look, soft follow and the fish immediately left the flat. When you see Permit do this… you become shocked that anyone ever catches these fish. They are tough.
Immediately I loved fishing this destination. The flats are tiny! This means that the fish are on the peaks of the flats and quite easy to spot. If they are there… they are feeding and most often tailing. After seeing how demanding the casting and presentation was on Permit, my wife had very little interest in casting at Permit. She said she was there to relax! Kelly read almost an entire book on day 1. For her that is heaven. I did manage to yank her away from a good book to catch some Blue Runner Jacks. They are the opposite of Permit and eat everything in site!
My gal can dry fly fish for trout with almost anyone, but adapting to the wind and challenge of saltwater casting is tough.
These opp’s at fish like that shouldn’t be wasted. Anytime you get some fish that raise the “fun factor” take it. Natalie’s feedback was much the same, it was really fun being on the hunt but having to cast 40-70’ in the wind with a heavy rod is pretty tough for anyone. Just being on the water, in the sun, and hanging out together was a really successful day.
Mid-day we were poling a flat and spotted some nervous water, waves that don’t fit the surrounding environment, and spotted a tailing Bonefish. We snuck in and I made one great shot to catch my first Belize Bonefish!
Took a shot at this tailing Bonefish and connected, good fun to mix up the Permit pursuit.
As the day went on I got a total of about 6 great shots at Permit, a couple of which gave me weak follows and obviously saw the fly. Charles taught me some new tricks and I really appreciated learning some new strategies and perspectives on how to get these fish to take. In a game where opportunities are so rare, every advantage matters. Every movement, strip, cast, and shot needs to be leveraged.
Steve fared much better than myself. He has always had a good hand and mind for catching Permit and seems to close the deal as well as anyone I know. He hooked TWO Permit and landed a very nice fish. He also went out for Tarpon later that evening and his guide was willing to put in a long day. They dropped Natalie back off at Thatch Caye and Steve and Marlon went back out to strip-drift flies for Tarpon in a deep channel. They used a heavy sinking line and Steve managed to get one very solid grab. He said it was a great shot of adrenaline as this channel is known for producing some very large Tarpon!
Steve has caught many Permit, but this was his first one in Belize. It won't be his last. This place is outstanding for a Permit specific destination.
Our arrival and first day was an amazing success. We learned quickly that the opportunity for new saltwater anglers to produce fish was limited, and the Bonefish opp’s at this particular destination were limited. We’ve been to some far better Bonefish locations, but the Permit fishing was among the best we had ever experienced.
We finished off the day with drinks at the “Starfish Bar” which is the over the water bar and a wonderful dinner. Kelly and I took out the SUP’s for a little stroll as well and laid on the little groomed beach. Much of the Caye is rugged shoreline but they do have a very nice little Barefoot Beach with kayaks, SUP’s, and a little Hobie Cat sailboat to use at your discretion. Sleep came easy and the morning came early. It is a very comfortable and relaxing resort.
The Starfish Bar is the one you see in all the photos, its out over the water and a great place to leave ALL of your cares and baggage behind. We had a good time out there!
Day 1 Gear and Stats
Joe and Kelly Catch: 1 Bonefish, 3 Blue Runner Jacks, 6 GOOD Shots at Permit with 2-3 looks
Steve and Natalie Catch: 1 Permit Landed, 1 Hooked and Broke Off on Coral, many more shots, and 1 Tarpon Grab
Day 2 // Fishing Thatch Caye, Placencia Belize
Same routine. Breakfast at 6:30 ish, fishing at 7 ish. We kept the same guides. It was much windier on the 2nd morning but even Mr. Charles at 68 years old wasn’t deterred. He said that we would just do some wading on these small flats rather than try to pole the boat. Kelly was looking forward to getting into another book and finishing off her tan. I was on the lookout for a group of hungry Blue Runners for her.
Our very first flat we stepped out of the boat and in the white caps we spotted a great big tail! It was a giant Permit. Charles had me stalking from right to left to take maximum advantage from the strong side wind. You always want to get the wind in your favor and utilize it to help your leader turnover. A tailwind/sidewind from left to right is ideal for the right handed caster. My first shot looked perfect as the Permit was aggressively feeding and searching. It landed about 5’ ahead of him right in line with his slow path of travel. The fish made one move for the fly and refused! Charles had me lift my rod tip gently to quietly remove my fly and told me to put the fly 1 foot from the fish… I think I put it about 1” from the fish haha. I spooked that big sucker and he tore off the flat literally leaving a roostertail! Well that was a very exciting start to Day 2.
The morning waves were perfect for concealing our approach, this was one of the biggest Permit of the week. I played it too tight and put the crab on his head. I really enjoyed the waves, they are warm and tropical and very enjoyable to stalk Permit in.
The guides suggested we try for a Bonefish and said they new where we might find a big school. The school was hiding right in front of another resort! I had never seen anything like it. There were 200 Bonefish, some 8 pounders, holding right at this resort!
We threw some casts and frankly I didn’t have much interest in it but how do you pass up casting at fish like that? I managed to catch one and Kelly hooked another but lost it. She got a ton of casting in and it was a great opportunity for her to hone her skills, despite not being able to land one she enjoyed how easy to see they were and the countless consecutive casts. It was a pretty humorous situation though, at one point there was a guy cleaning a Snapper on the dock and a bunch of Reggae music pumping to a competitive volleyball game within casting distance. We got a good laugh, but it got even funnier when we talked to Steve and Natalie later on. They were casting at those same fish and a guy rowed over the fish on a SUP and spooked them. Glad we did that but it wasn’t exactly our idea of Bonefish fishing.
The remainder of the day I spent in Permit Purgatory. It was torture yet one of the best days of fishing I’ve ever experienced. I would give anything to repeat it.
I had a total of 12 GREAT shots all of which were on foot stalking these fish. Kelly has a good eye for these and spotted several of the fish we stalked. I had a couple of looks and soft follows, but never touched a fish. I made some fabulous attempts but that is what is so intriguing about these fish. Matching wit and skill against these fish is one of the greatest challenges an angler can ever experience.
I fished till about 2 pm and we strolled into the resort to enjoy a nice afternoon on the beach. As it turned out, Steve and Marlon dropped Natalie off for a massage and they went back out to the Tarpon channel. Steve hooked into a huge Tarpon! He fought it through 2 major jumps where the fish cleared 6’ into the air or more. The fish came unhooked as they so often do. The guide estimated it at 100 pounds or even more.
We ended Day 2 with drinks on the beach and an amazing dinner. I read part of a great book, and we enjoyed chatting with some of the other couples staying there. Another two couples dropped into the resort via large sailboat. They were on a big tour of Belize and decided to stop in and have some dinner at Thatch Caye. There were wonderful folks from Maryland and New York. It really added a nice element to the trip meeting these other folks.
Day 2 Gear and Stats
Joe and Kelly – 12 GOOD Shots at Permit with 3 strong follows and 1 take (no fish to hand, but one of the best and most intense days of fly fishing I've ever had!)
Steve and Natalie - 5 Shots at Tailing Permit, several shots at shallow movers. 3 follows, 1 possible grab on a tight follow.
Thatch Caye in a Nutshell
This is a wonderful little resort that offers you a quiet, unplugged (there is WiFi but we didn’t use it), and relaxing visit. The island is very small and the gals were glad they fished with us each day, although they chose not throw many casts. The logistics make it super easy to fish part of a day, and get back to the resort and still get some R and R or get into some water sports. Natalie took advantage of this and Kelly said next time she would probably just fish partial days, but enjoyed time on water with the guides. There are lots of other things to do. You can island hop and get a really neat history and cultural tour, do a guided hunt and dive for lobster, get a massage, drink Mojitos all day, or just read, relax, and meditate. As couples we were the exception and fished long days. Most couples we met were there to rest and relax, and didn’t want to have a strict agenda like Permit fishing haha. Great place. Please don’t hesitate to contact us for more information.
Day 3 // Transfer from Thatch Caye, Placencia to Copal Treel Lodge, Punta Gorda
This was a really nice day. We had no agenda other than being packed up by about 8:30 am. I get up early and I read about 100 pages of my book in my roof-top hammock and enjoyed a cup of coffee and no sounds other than the sea breeze waving through the Palm Trees.
Spending time on a trip with your best couple friends is a joy. Whether it's Belize or another trip, plan a vacation with good friends. It was awesome getting out of the home shop/lodge environment and vacationing with Steve and Natalie.
We had breakfast together as a couple, loaded up into one of the very nice boats along with another couple from Chicago and headed for Dangriga and our flight south to Punta Gorda and Copal Treel Lodge. The only problem was our stay was too short! We loved our guides and the staff. They really made this a special visit and we would go back anytime. We rode back with another couple that has traveled extensively and asked them for their most honest review, they said their stay was wonderful and had no complaints. We felt the same way.
Getting back to the little airport was easy, and before we knew it we were loaded up and flying south. It was only the 4 of us on the little plane and again the views were spectacular.
We were greeted at the airstrip by a uniformed associate from Copal Tree Lodge in a cool Land Cruiser modified to haul groups. We were at the new lodge in time for a wonderful lunch!
The Organic Farm Tour
We took advantage of the free time on arrival day to tour the gardens. This was one of the coolest things we did on this entire trip. I could go on and on about all the things we learned about organic agriculture, but I’ll keep it pretty simple. The gardens and farm at Copal Tree Lodge is a fascinating process and science. This is a must do for anyone visiting here. It added a rich element of education and culture with an experience that I can bring home.
Raw Coca beans, fascinating! We learned so much about agriculture, food, and biology on this tour. I can't even really describe how interesting it all is.
The night before our day of fishing, It was really cool that our guides came up to meet us and talk game plan at the lodge, which is about 15 minutes from the Garbutt marina. They gave us a fishing report and were super friendly in helping us understand what to expect. Our goal was to fish Permit primarily in what they call the “Lagoon” which is a protected area of flats surrounded and populated with small Mangroves.
I would strongly suggest getting a "Canopy Suite" at the top of the resort. How we got a room with its own pool that was big enough to sleep 12 I have no idea. Nicest place I've ever stayed BAR NONE.
Day 4 // Fishing at Copal Tree Lodge with the Garbutt Brothers
The lodge packed us a very nice lunch, drinks, and even a great breakfast “to go” that we ate while we were on the boat heading out to the flats. We left the lodge at 6:45 am and got to the dock at 7 am. The marina is really cool and you can’t help but feel the vibe that you are in sacred Permit territory. The sign proclaims it’s the Permit Capital of the World for crying out loud! So many great anglers and have stepped into a Panga boat at that launch.
It absolutely poured down rain all night with tons of thunder and lightning, but like it usually does the rain stopped and the clouds began to burn off as the sun climbed high. By 8 am the sky was clear and we knew it was going to be a great day.
Our guide Alex poled a few of the small flats outside of the lagoon checking out some areas first thing in the morning that he was excited about. We moved one fish off the flats but after checking 4 little flats he elected to head for the lagoon. We snaked our way back through the Mangroves into an area that was like no place I had ever Permit fished! It felt like we were looking for Snook. Finally we made our way into a big open lagoon that was about 2’ deep in all directions. The light was pretty flat from high clouds and Alex said that we would be looking primarily for “V wakes” as the fish patrolled and fed. It only took about 10 minutes and I managed to spot a big black tail! It’s not often I see this before the guide, these guys seem to be looking everywhere at once. We quietly poled in the direction of the fish which was probably 150 yards away. We snuck in and the fish held its ground likely pursuing a crab diving into the soft bottom. In the lagoon there would be no wading, everything would be cast at from the boat. I organized all my running line, took a deep breath, and made a great shot of about 60’ (which is as far as I personally like to cast). It’s tough to gauge distance on shots much further than that, and tough to pick back up and shoot again if you miss.
The fish gave my Colby’s Corona Crab a good look and refused! I was so frustrated. I have caught quite a few Permit but still listen to my guide for each command if he gives them. I felt like I was doing everything right but couldn’t generate a lifelike edge that encouraged a bite.
That fish immediately left the area. I changed to an Alphonse Crab at Alex’s suggestion and we kept searching. While there was a little downtime, I wound up having the most intense day of Permit fishing ever. I used several different flies but the first fish I cast at with the Flexo Crab it swam 6 feet out of its way to eat the fly! It ate it 2 times but I strip set and missed both opportunities. Sometimes they just don’t hook up. The next fish I cast at ate it AGAIN, missed him. Heartbreak. This was my last day and my chance to land a Belize Permit was fading fast. By this time it was 2 pm and we were heading in at 3 pm.
We poled back out into the lagoon and Alex spotted a great big Permit, in the 20 pound range, working through some small mangroves and it appeared to be eating everything in site! Just my kind of fish. The Permit worked in and out of the mangroves and finally when it came to the edge and was in the clear I made a good enough 40’ shot on it. The Permit swam out of its way to grab the fly, tailed as it ate, I set… miss, it kept following, tailed and ate AGAIN, I missed on the strip set, it followed and ATE A THIRD TIME! This time my hook found it’s purchase and as I was setting again the fish turned to run simultaneously and broke me off on it’s initial acceleration. I had been a long time since I hooked a Permit that big… forgot how powerful they are. So I break it off, then it swims out to about 30’ away at the edge of some tiny mangroves and is just sitting there and I can SEE MY FLY IN IT’S MOUTH! Frantically I attempt to tie on another fly as it wasn’t even acting phased by what just happened. My hands were shaking pretty bad and I bungled my attempt at tieing on another fly.
That was my one solid hookup in 3 days and I blew it. It’s a high stakes game and the reason it’s so addictive. We fished about another 45 minutes without any other decents shots. I drank 2 beers heading in with my wife and we had a lot of fun laughing at how close I came at the very end of the trip. She got super tan and read several books and loved being on the water. On our next trip to Copal Tree Lodge she plans to stay inshore most days and visit some Mayan Ruins, learn to make chocolate, and maybe swim into an underwater cave. That is what is so cool about this place, there is a ton of other stuff do in addition to fishing.
That night we had our last dinner at Copal Tree Lodge and it was spectacular. The food and service was absolutely outstanding the entire time, and we all agreed it was some of the most enjoyable dining we’ve ever had. It’s a very good experience. We drank our share of Mojitos that night and had lots of laughs. We were sad to have our short week come to an end, but we all missed our kids and were ready to head back to the states.
Day 3 Gear and Stats
Joe and Kelly 10 GOOD Shots at Permit with 3 takes and 1 hook up that broke off 16# Leader
Steve and Natalie 2 shots at Permit, they fished near us in lagoons as well but didn’t get as much action.
Day 5 // Travel Day Home
Getting home was easy and fairly relaxing. You have to be prepared for lots of stops using Maya Air or Tropic Air within the country. It’s how many of the locals get around and its nothing to stop several times on your way to go somewhere.
After a nice breakfast, we departed the lodge with one of their drivers to the nearby airstrip. We got on our little plane at just after 9 am, and it took about 2 hours with a few quick stops to get to Belize City and head home. It was low stress and we got home to Seattle, Washington about 10 pm.
Copal Tree in a Nutshell
This place checks all the boxes. Interesting, great fishing, memorable, and luxurious. We really enjoyed being in the jungle and the overall experience was outstanding. The food, dining, Howler Monkeys, farm tour, and the various activities were awesome.
The lodge is located up on a large hill about 15 minutes from the coastline so if you are looking for a “sea breeze” experience then this isn’t the place.
It is ecologically interesting and an experience you won’t soon forget. It is relaxing and their spa services etc. are excellent. If you are looking to be engaged with lots of activities there is lots to do. No shortage of action here.
The food was absolutely spectacular. No matter where you've been, or how discriminating you are... everyone will be delighted at Copal Tree. Much of the food is grown right there on the resort property at the organic farm.
Our food and beverage package was all inclusive. Wine? Yes please!
Fine dining combined with fly fishing is fun. It doesn't always have to be burgers and beer after a long day on the water.