Editor’s Note: Dave Zanardelli from Pennsylvania recently returned from the 2014 Fishwest hosted trip to Tarpon Cay Lodge in San Felipe, Mexico in cooperation with Yucatan Fly Fishing Adventures. Here is what he said to say about his experience:
Tarpon Cay Lodge, in cooperation with the Hotel San Felipe de Jesus, may be the perfect destination for the first time tarpon fly fisher. From my first impression upon arrival of complimentary margaritas to ease the travel fatigue, to the last impression of making a detour on the way to the airport to visit a Mayan ruin, everything is just about as good as it gets. Comfortable accommodations, excellent housekeeping, and the highest quality food make a visit here an experience that will remain a pleasant memory for a very long time.
Now, the important part…tarpon! Baby tarpon are not everywhere, but one is never out of sight of them for very long. Every day provided multiple opportunities at fish, from singles to schools of a dozen or more that had one thing on their minds – eating! The fishing is not difficult, and the casting is not all that demanding. Never before has a guide on a tropical flat instruct me to make a short cast, at nine o’clock, at 20 feet! A raw beginner will have reasonable opportunities to boat fish. Of course, being a capable caster greatly increases the number of chances. And when a tarpon does eat your fly, good luck boating it! These guys jump, fight, jump, run, jump, and bulldog all the way to the boat. One tarpon to the boat in three hook ups seemed about average.The second most important factor in any trip – the guides. These guides are friendly, expert at what they do, enthusiastic about what they do, and top notch at providing instruction. Carlos and Chris are among the best fly fishing guides I have encountered.
For those of you who want numbers, here they are. In six days of fishing, I jumped between 40 & 45 tarpon and managed to boat 16 of them. They weighed from about 7 pounds to nearly 20, averaging at about 12 pounds.
I will be back next year. Along with a companion too skeptical to go on this trip, but is now convinced of his error!
Last Thing: The team here at Fishwest is proud to announce we will once again be hosting a trip to the Tarpon Cay Lodge in conjunction with Yucatan Fly Fishing in San Felipe, Mexico. Join us from August 15-22nd of 2015. Please check out the Fishwest Outfitters Travel Page for more details or call us toll free at 877.773.5437
Once again the staff over at Smith Optics have brought us a killer video for our viewing pleasure. In this latest installment, A few guys from Idaho travel south in pursuit of Dorado and Roosterfish. It looks like quite the adventure and well the fishing doesn’t appear to suck… Enjoy
I cannot stress enough: Polarized glasses are arguably the most important piece of gear apart from a rod / reel / line. My Smith glasses have treated me so well over the years. I would urge you to check them out for yourself if you haven’t already . My personal choice? The Touchstone with Black Frames and Polarchromic Copper Mirrored lenses.
(A sample of the fishing and – the non-fishing – in Cabo San Lucas.)
To me, a “non-fishing” vacation involves fishing – just not the majority of the time. So even for a “non-fishing” vacation, I research the fishing possibilities well before any flights get booked. And I’m sure you can imagine why my girlfriend and I wound up in Cabo San Lucas this past March…
Halfway through the trip, I had a full day charter booked with Baja Anglers. At about 7 AM that morning, I hopped on a very fishable 26 foot Glacier Bay catamaran with my captain and mate. Our first stop was getting the bait part of “baiting and switching” from a local pangero; $20 got me a half dozen, 8 inch goggle eyes.
We started fishing almost as soon as we left the marina. The mate ran the boat slowly along likely beaches and rock outcroppings while the captain bombed out long casts with a spinning rod and a hookless surface plug – the teaser. My job, with a 9 weight and 350 grains of sinking line, was to land a Clouser just beyond the teaser as the captain skipped it back into range. And then strip like crazy. Sounds simple, right?
The persistent swell, which was likely great for surfing, was not terribly noticeable when just sitting in the boat. However, it felt like a mechanical bull was out to get me while casting. I have to admit that for the first 15 minutes I was pretty sure that my entire day would be stumbling around the stern of boat while trying to avoid “clousering” myself and the crew. Eventually, however, my casting smoothed out.
I actually found it helpful to throw my fly on alternate casts of the teaser. Every other cast of the teaser, I would merely watch, ready to throw if a fish showed behind it. The whole routine was a bit hypnotic, even zen-like…
Until fish crashed the party. About every third spot we tried, a gang of jacks assaulted the teaser. It was very visual – sometimes they were a dark, swarming mass and sometimes they churned the surface. Regardless, before they could touch the surface plug, the captain jerked it away and I replaced it with a fly.
The jacks were hyper-aggressive. The first struck so violently, I seriously thought my rod was going to break; I froze and the fish shook off. A second jack was well into the backing before it came unbuttoned. I finally landed jack number three and was shocked by its lack of size. The way it tested my backing knot and bore under the boat, it felt much larger than its 6 or 7 pounds.
When the action slowed down for jacks, the captain harnessed a goggle eye to the spinning rod and slow trolled along the shore, hoping to attract a roosterfish within casting range. Unfortunately, the roosters did not make themselves available and we changed gears again.
This time we headed about a half mile offshore, towards a loose gathering of other charter boats. I should point out, that up to this point, we weren’t exactly fishing in the wilderness . One of the jacks was taken with a construction site as a backdrop; many of the other spots were just off major resorts. So heading into a pack of boats seemed like no big deal.
“Spanish mackerel and maybe some yellowtail,” said the captain as we took our place in the formation over about one hundred feet of water. Fishing this depth was VERY relaxing. I believe I polished off a sandwich as my fly sank toward the bottom.
However, once more, the fish interrupted. Something pulled my rod into a deep bend and kept pulling until the backing knot was deep in the water. I thought it was a big yellowtail, but it turned out to be a 5 or 6 pound Sierra mackerel.
And so it went… Another half dozen sierras reluctantly came to the boat and a couple were kept for delivery to our resort’s kitchen later. As strange as it may same in that deep water, the sierras occasionally boiled on the surface and offered a visual target.
With an hour left in the charter, the captain still wanted me to experience a roosterfish, so we went back inshore to a couple more beaches. However, the roosters played shy and we were soon heading back to the dock, escorted by a squadron of low-flying gulls.
As I left the marina, a few locals filleted my catch for a few dollars. That night, with the wizardry of our resort’s kitchen, the sierras provided our best meal of the trip. Sierra mackerel definitely are definitely too tasty for their own good..
Overall, it was a great part of a non-fishing vacation. But what about the truly non-fishing aspects? Here’s a few things both my girlfriend and I would recommend:
Rent a car and drive out of town. Visit Todos Santos, a picturesque village with quaint shops and galleries. On your way, pull down a side road and look at the giant cacti. Maybe even find the beach at the end of the road….
Take a guided hike to a waterfall in Baja’s interior mountains. The scenery is incredibly unique. And the water is incredibly refreshing (icy?) if you decide to take a dip.
Stay at a resort that is off on its own with a quiet stretch of beach. Pueblo Bonita Pacifica is one such place. Watch the surf roll up. Watch for whales in the distance. Stroll down the sand to the rocks at either end of the beach.
A kayak tour and some snorkeling – those are a couple things we didn’t do in Cabo San Lucas. Someday, I’d like to get back there and try’em. Maybe in November, ‘cause I heard that’s a good time for striped marlin…
(P.S. For non-fly fishing significant others and family, Baja Anglers is adept with ALL types of light tackle.)
Authors Note: I am going to do my best impression of the late Roger Ebert here but by no means am I a film critic. After many years anticipating this movie release, here are my thoughts:
This is the type of adventure that I could find myself contemplating doing with my buddies. Going beyond the contemplation stage is probably out of the question for me at this point. The movie follows four friends, Jay Johnson, Chris Owens, Thad Robinson and Brian Jill (Formerly of AEG Media) as they attempt an 8,000 mile journey from the friendly confines of the Pacific Northwest to the tip of South America. Leg one sees the crew venture off into mainland Mexico.
The trip itself starts off as an adventure with the acquisition of a 1996 Ford F250 off of good ole reliable Craigslist. They picked up this truck from a Utah dairy farmer who delivered it to them on a trailer. Red flag? Not for these guys, just a minor speed bump. Running off of a limited budget these guys needed a more economical way of traveling. Knowing that gas prices would be the biggest determent the film budget these guys decided to convert their glorious F250 into a veggie oil powered home away from home. With the extreme generosity of Joel Woolf of Veg Powered systems who helped to do a complete overhaul of their F250 they were finally able to start their adventure.
Overcoming obstacles is a reoccurring theme throughout the movie. From spewing vegetable oil on the streets of Mexico to getting robbed at knifepoint at a Wal-Mart, these guys become good “amigos” with the Policia during their travels. The best part is that even after all these events they still soldier on, and with good reason.
The fishing sequences within this movie can be accurately described in one word. EPIC! First off is Marlin fishing 101. This isn’t your fancy marlin fishing that you see with a giant deep sea yacht and a full crew teasing in fish. The reality is that these guys are motoring around off the coast in a tiny panga with an outboard motor with a “guide” that doesn’t speak a lick of English searching for these leviathan creatures. The fishing starts off slow, but when they finally figure out how to do it the fishing pays off. That day Marlin fishing has to be one of those days that those guys will never ever forget.
It doesn’t end there. From lakes in central Mexico that are the homes goliath Bass to the baby Tarpon and Snook of the Yucatan. These fishing outings are the foundation of stories that become fishing legend and lore. Without giving too much away some of these locations and fish give a new fresh perspective to being “Off the Grid”.
Overall the greatest single thing about this adventure has to be that these guys got to do it together. Friendship and camaraderie is an important aspect of the sport of Fly Fishing. This movie is the ultimate example of that. Four buddies traveling thousands of miles while enjoying a sport that they love along the way. Does it get any better than that? I don’t think so. So get your popcorn ready! If you are interested in this Geofish or other fly fishing films and media please check out the Books & Media section at Fishwest enjoy!
Baby tarpon react to a hook like their oversized parents; they try to put as much air as possible between themselves and the water. However, they are far more accommodating. When fishing for adults, a great day is 5 fish jumped and 1 landed. With babies, jumping 15 and landing 5 is definitely not out of the question. And the babies aren’t exactly puny – 5 to 10 pounds is a common size.
I am by no means a seasoned tarpon hunter, but over the last few years I’ve managed to visit some of the Yucatan’s premier baby tarpon fisheries. Although not definitive, my impressions might be helpful if a trip is germinating in your brain.
It should be noted that all my trips took place in July or August. Visiting the Yucatan in the heat of summer sounds a bit twisted but it’s actually prime time for baby tarpon.
The gear for baby tarpon is simple – an 8 or 9 weight rod, a floating line, and a reel with a smooth drag. Most baby tarpon will not take you into your backing. Some veteran baby tarpon fishermen recommend stripping them in without putting them on the reel. A decent fly selection would include baitfish patterns, poppers, and Seaducers – all on 1/0 or 2/0 hooks. A very functional leader looks like this: 5 feet of 50 lb mono for a butt section, 2 feet of 25 lb mono for the tippet, and 2 feet of 40 lb fluorocarbon as a shock tippet.
Now, here’s a look at some baby tarpon destinations…
Tarpon Cay Lodge in San Felipe (Rio Lagartos) www.yucatanflyfishing.com
San Felipe, about 100 miles west of Cancun, is a sleepy, pleasant village where walking around gives your camera a taste of real Mexico.
The baby tarpon fishing starts after a 5 minute boat ride. It’s mostly blind casting the mangroves off points or in the rios, which are saltwater creeks. Oftentimes, rolling fish provide targets.
Once you’ve shaken the jitters when fishing to babies, San Felipe can give you the opportunity to come unglued in front of much larger fish. A boat ride of an hour or so will take you to a spot offshore where migratory adults up to 100 pounds hang out. This is sight casting to rolling fish over deep water.
Isla del Sabalo at Isla Arena www.yucatanflyfishing.com
If San Felipe is sleepy, then Isla Arena is comatose – in a good way. Even though you are only 100 km north of Campeche, it’s like the edge of the world.
The fishing is very similar to San Felipe with the addition of sight fishing on the flats in front of the mangroves. (N.B. Tarpon are much easier to see than a bonefish.) Some of the guides like to go WAY up the tiniest of creeks. Bring a mosquito repellant and don’t forget to duck under that mangrove branch! I found a Sage bass rod a great tool for such close quarters.
You will likely fly into Merida, which is an incredible colonial city. It’s like being in Europe, but the tarpon are much closer.
Paradise Lodge on the Costa Maya Coast www.tarponparadise.net
Between Chetumal Bay and Espiritu Santos Bay, Paradise Lodge has a breathtaking variety of fishing opportunity.
Baby tarpon are the backbone of this fishery; they hang out in cenote lakes, which are land-locked lagoons connected to the ocean via underground channels. Each day starts out with a truck ride as your boat is trailered to one of these lakes. Bring your casting arm – you’ll blind cast the mangroves like crazy. Nevertheless, you’ll probably see enough tarpon to keep your motivation in high gear. One of the lakes has a good population of both snook and barracuda.
During your stay at Paradise, you’ll probably drive south to sprawling Chetumal Bay to chase bonefish and permit. I caught my only permit in Chetumal Bay. I’d like to say I made a 70 foot cast to a tailing fish but I actually flipped a crab pattern about 30 feet into a HUGE mud. The permit that popped out was VERY small. At dinner that night, I downplayed my catch and was promptly chastised by the lodge owner. “A permit is a permit!” he insisted.
If baby tarpon are the backbone of the Paradise Lodge fishery, then Espiritu Santos Bay is the jewel. It’s a long, pre-dawn drive to the north. Punta Huerrero, an obscenely picturesque fishing village, guards the bay’s entrance. Once your skiff ventures into Espiritu Santos Bay, you’re not on the edge of the world, you’ve actually gone over it!
Very few people fish Espiritu Santos. Its flats are beautiful, wild and abundant, just like its bonefish. Chances are you’ll see permit, too. My guide even pointed out a few wily snook underneath the mangroves. I didn’t believe they were there until he chased them out with his push pole.
Isla Blanca by Cancun www.yucatanflyfishing.com
Cancun, as you probably know, is fueled by thousands of beach and bar-seeking tourists.
However, 30 minutes north of the sunscreen-slathered hordes lies Isla Blanca and its tremendous variety of fishing environments – hidden lagoons, picturesque bays, mangrove tunnels, small flats, large flats. Is your boat careening towards a solid wall of mangroves? Relax, the guide knows exactly where the opening to the other side is. Baby tarpon, a few bonefish, and smallish permit roam all over these waters. The permit, although small, are numerous.
If you want a break from fishing, and perhaps Cancun’s frantic pace, there are loads of guided excursions to Mayan ruins, traditional villages, and cenotes.
Isla Holbox is comfortably touristed but in a golf-carts-on-funky-sand-streets sort of way. It is about 60 miles northwest of Cancun; the last part of the journey is onboard a ferry.
Although Holbox is noted for big, migratory tarpon in the open ocean, the backcountry flats and channels in the lagoon behind it have excellent populations of babies. Tired of slinging 500 grain heads on a 12 weight? The babies chase poppers and streamers and put on a great show when connected to an 8 weight. I found sight-fishing for the babies to be excellent.
Another attraction at Holbox is the opportunity to snorkel with whale sharks.
Nichupte Lagoon (Cancun) and Campeche
These are a couple places I have yet to visit. The former is the lagoon directly behind the Cancun hotel strip. The latter is a colonial city.