Let me start off by saying I travel and fish…a lot. And although it is my job, I have to admit that often it doesn’t feel like work. I am a blessed man to have an occupation that is also my passion and I don’t take it for granted.
Of all the places I travel to fish, the little thumb of land that juts into the Caribbean on the East side of Mexico is perhaps my favorite. This peninsula is home to the three Mexican states of Yucatan, Campeche, and Quintana-Roo and the country of Belize. I really love the Yucatan. I love the hot weather. I love the people, the culture, the food, the margaritas…and yes – the flyfishing. I really love the flyfishing. But at the risk of offending flyfishing purists – I also ALWAYS bring a spinning rod. There is nothing like spending an hour catching snapper with a 3/8 oz. jig after a day on the flats chasing bonefish, permit, and hunting the mangroves for tarpon. And the guides love it when they get to keep a fresh fish or two for the family.
I have spent the equivalent of five months of my life in the Yucatan over the past twenty years. I go there almost every year and this year I’ll host two weeks for the third time in six years. This much fishing in one area has given me a wealth of experience that I am thrilled to be able to provide to you. There are at least seven distinct areas that I know intimately. And in these areas are at least 20 quality operators of fishing adventures. Some are small and do only day trips around Cancun, Cozumel, and Puerto Aventuras. Others are large lodges that hold up to twenty or more guests per week. Almost all claim to have the best of something and the most of something else…but they have marked differences in price, accommodation, and fishing.
How does a person choose?
First things first – what do you want to catch? There is no one place that has the best fishing for all the species most of us think of when we think Yucatan. These are tarpon, permit, bonefish, and snook. Let’s look at each species –
In my opinion, the best big tarpon fishing is in Belize. By big, I mean fish that are 40-150 pounds. These silver kings are a great trophy and the waters of Belize are home to thousands of them. Some are resident fish and many are migratory fish that come through Belize from May through August each year. Remember that July through October is traditionally what the world calls hurricane season for the Caribbean, so travel insurance is a good idea. But anglers willing to live on the edge a little will find the conditions in late summer and fall the absolute best time to catch big tarpon.
Nursery sized tarpon – or baby tarpon are without a doubt my favorite saltwater species.There is some evidence that suggests these smaller tarpon may in fact be a separate sub-species…but that is fodder for another blog. One of the reasons I love the smaller tarpon is that I have lower back issues. If I catch one big tarpon a day, I need a lot of ice – some for my back, and a lot more for my margaritas to wash down my Ibuprofen. With “baby tarpon” (fish that are 5-35 pounds) I can catch them all day and don’t need nearly as much medication! But the other more important reason, is that I can actually catch 10 or more (best day was 28 for our boat) of these little supercharged fish in a single day. They are aggressive to a host of fly types. They often feed all day and and seem to be less sensitive to moon phases, tides, and temperatures. The best place I have found on the Yucatan is Campeche. Isla Holbox is a close second, and Isla Holbox also has a good number of larger tarpon as well about a half mile offshore of this charming isle at the northernmost tip of the peninsula.
The best permit fishing – that is a tough one. Permit are so hard to catch. So as usual, catching and fishing can be two very different activities. I have seen many permit in Ascencion Bay, but the fishing pressure there makes them tough to photograph up close. I would have to give the honor of “best permit catching” to Belize again. There is a little place in Southern Belize off the coast of Placencia called Tarpon Alley. I have only spent one week there (week two is likely this spring) but I saw more feeding permit there then anyplace on the peninsula. And I caught my biggest permit to date on my last day. Patience is a good thing.
The best bonefishing I have seen is probably in Xcalak for numbers and overall size…however Ascencion Bay and Belize also have hundreds of quality flats with thousands of bonefish on all of them. The truth is that bonefish are easy to find and pretty easy to catch. The really big ones can make the last statement patently false, but they are certainly easier than Permit, tarpon, and snook.
Snook are delicious at the table. For this reason, many of the snook populations (yes, even in the nationally protected areas) have been decimated by illegal harvesting. The biggest ones I have seen caught are in Ascencion Bay in some hard to reach areas. I’ve also caught literally hundreds of smaller snook on my Campeche adventures. Many anglers consider the snook an “accessory” item on a fishing trip, but the big ones are true trophies.
Once you have figured out your targets, you can more easily choose your region. Now comes the hard part. How much money do you want to spend? Cost is directly determined by a combination of quality of accommodation, logistics, supply, and demand. Like any free market, the destinations are trying to earn enough to cover their costs and make a living for the people involved in putting the adventures together. There are small intimate lodges that are very remote. There are nice hotels in larger cities with great fishing just minutes away. Do you want a private charter flight to the lodge or is a four-hour drive ok? Ia A/C a must? Or will you be able to handle ceiling fans and ocean breezes to cool you off? Your budget will definitely help dictate your choice, but keep this in mind – you only live once, you can’t take it with you, and you will never regret the memories you will share with good friends on a fishing trip!