Friday, August 25, 2006

Yucatan-2006...Tarpon time again!

This year our group of 6 guys headed off to the Yucatan in search of tarpon.

Our destination was Campeche, located on the western side of the Yucatan.
Campeche is an old city filled with history, and friendly Mayan and Mexican people. With no beaches or fancy resorts, there were very few American tourists; however, many European tourists flowed out of the city each day to view the incredible Mayan ruins and historical sites.

Campeche was sacked many times by pirates, and not until a wall and fort was built, did the people start to enjoy a peaceful life.

Our daily fishing trips took us north from the city, up to 30 miles, where our guides poled us quietly into narrow rivers, lined with mangroves. These estuaries flow with fresh water, which is a magnet for tarpon, searching food. Many of the rivers were only 2-3 feet deep, requiring sharp vision and good optics to spot tarpon cruising the shallows...even then fish were easily spooked by any noise, or movement. These areas provided some the most challenging fishing any of us had ever experienced.

Here is a typical mangrove-lined river, and at times, low casts were needed to punch our flies under low hanging branches, where tarpon cruised the shadows.

At the end of one particular river, as we approached a pod of tarpon, I glanced over to the bank, and there watching us was a fat 6' crocodile!

Some of the shallow rivers had significant current, and these areas held good populations of snook, especially around sunken limbs and trees.

Snook were taken with the new Slideball Slider!

This 7 lb. snook was caught near a small island with very low, clear water. Very long and accurate casts were needed with any chance of success.

With literally dozens of rivers, and miles of coastline, locating tarpon was not easy. At high tide, tarpon travel far back into the mangrove jungle, far beyond the anglers reach, so much searching and patience is needed. Sometimes it took a tide change to bring the tarpon back into the main part of the river, and accessible to the eager fly fisherman!

This 35# Tarpon was the largest of the trip-Taken with Lee's Foxxy Minnow!

When it all worked, the action was heart-stopping! Since tarpon can breath air, they can be located by their rolling on the surface, as they take in oxygen. You can actually hear them exhale, at times, with a bubble trail exposing their direction.

It was great returning each afternoon to the Plaza Hotel. First rate accommodations!

After a short rest, we headed out to sample the local Mayan cuisine-a different restaurant each night!

Note the tan Slideball Slider firmly planted in the jaw of this baby tarpon!

One afternoon, as we moved up a small river, we observed some tarpon feeding under the mangroves, some 100 ft. ahead. As we slowly moved into position the pod of 20+ tarpon moved down the channel and passed within a few feet of our boat. We were motionless as the pod split and half of the pod moved out into the open ocean while the other returned up river. I jumped two 20 lb. tarpon in the river, and it was simply impossible to keep them hooked in the trees.

My partner, John Quigley was up and ready, and we moved out of the river, and spotted the other 1/2 of the pod, rolling off shore. Within minutes we were in position, and John hooked a big tarpon, resulting in multiple jumps and acrobatics! However, as John was bringing the fish close to the boat, the guide pointed to a group of tarpon, closely shadowing the hooked fish, and yelled to me, "Cast Muchacho, Cast!". Of course I was seated with my rod stowed, and it was a "fire drill" getting the rod out, the line stripped out, and ready to cast. Whew! With John still playing the fish, I roll-cast the fly, into the the general area where the guide was pointing, and "Wham!", a second tarpon was in the air. What a thrill as 2, 20 lb. tarpon were bouncing around the boat! This certainly was a highlight to the trip!

Isla Arena

With our 5 day trip complete the group headed back to Merida for the flight back to the states. Fortunately, for me, I had 2 days remaining, to fish alone with the outfitter, Marco Caballos, and Belito, my guide. It had been determined earlier that we would do some exploration into waters further north and rarely fished!

We motored 60 miles north to fish water that is not fished by any operation. With dozens of rivers to explore, we found many large, deep rivers-much different from the rivers near Campeche. We found our largest fish in this new area, and I can say that I experienced one of the most incredible fishing days of my life! I jumped 18 tarpon that day, with 11 brought to the boat. 4 of these were over 20 lbs., with one around 35 lbs.

3 new flies were born on this trip...

...and were used exclusively the last 2 days, accounting for about 15 tarpon!

This fly was inspired by Marco Caballos, my Amigo that operates the tarpon lodge in the Yucatan.

It is called the TCL Special (Tarpon Cayo Lodge)
This fly was very effective in Campeche!

I snapped this picture from my hammock, as I watched the sun set. The end of an incredible day of fishing!

The beachfront bungalow was peaceful and relaxing after pulling on tarpon all day!

I can't wait to return! Adios!