Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Doug Jeffries Trip report on Nov. Tarpon Trip

As you might remember, Doug Jeffries was going to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula to fish for baby tarpon out of Campeche in mid-November click here to see post.  Doug gave us a peek into his fly box then and now we get this great trip report: THANKS DOUG!

My final fishing trip this year was back down to Campeche, Mexico where we fish for juvenile tarpon. I think this was my 7 or 8th time down there. The fishery is amazingly consistent (but with enough unknowns to keep it interesting) and the town of Campeche is beautiful, safe, with good water, and several really excellent restaurants. Raul Castenada is the outfitter and he and his guides are some of the best I've ever fished with - just a real pleasure to share a boat with. 

I went down on Nov 12 and fished Nov 13, 14 & 15. I flew in and out of Merida which is a two hour drive from Campeche. You can fly directly into Campeche but that requires flying through Mexico City on Aero Mexico. I prefer to use my frequent flier miles and go through Houston. This trip we stayed in the Ocean View Hotel which is right on the esplanade. It is a little farther to walk into the town plaza for a beer and dinner but they do a better job of breakfast and we walk right across the road to load out in the morning. We've also stayed in the Castel Mar Hotel which is about two blocks from the plaza.

Our typical day began with breakfast at 5:30am. Breakfast was very good with cold yogurts, cereals, fruits, choice of breads and muffins, eggs with ham, mushrooms, cheese, coffee and tea (actually we started with the coffee and tea). Raul would join us sometime and at 6am we'd get our gear and walk across the road, step over the sea wall and into the pangas. After the first day our rods would already be stowed on the pangas so we didn't need to wrestle them out hotel room doors, etc. Raul has a lock room at the marina where they rinse down and secure the rods each night. If the tide is high early, we might start a little later as low or dropping tides are usually better fishing.

The guides typically like to motor north pretty far and then work back toward the marina as the day goes by (not always though).  But these days we motored out for about 30 minutes and then started checking the turtle grass flats for cruising and rolling tarpon.  If the water is smooth we may head off shore a little farther and check a couple spots where the guides have marked large schools of fish.  These can usually be slightly larger fish so it's worth the time.  As the day passes, the wind often picks up and the fish tend to move into the mouths of the rios or even up into the rios.  So we follow.  We watch for rolling fish and if the water is clear enough and the sun high we can even sight fish for them.  This trip we found good numbers of decent size snook in addition to the tarpon.  We saw a couple snook that weighed probably 6 - 9 pounds but didn't catch any that large.  Tarpon and snook aren't the only fish we caught.  We landed bar jacks, horse eye jacks, pargo snapper, mangrove snapper, ladyfish, and one octopus (the octopus was in a rio and was accidentally foul hooked.)  Since it was octopus season there, Fernando (one of our guides) kept it for his family's dinner.

The fishing is typically done by watching for rolling tarpon.  Once we find them, we position the boat so we can present the fly in front of the fish.  We typically cast minnow imitations.  We strip them back with long strips with a little twitch at the end of the strip.  We try to keep the fly in front of the tarpon for as long as possible as sometimes they will follow it for a long time before eating.  When a fish takes the fly, we pull hard on the fly line without raising the rod tip (we call this "strip striking").  If you try to set the hook by lifting the rod tip like we do when trout fishing, you'll likely not get a good hook-up and the fish will escape.  That's because the tarpon's mouth is very hard and boney.  Tarpon usually jump a few times when hooked and with larger fish you have to "bow" (lower the rod and allow slack in the line) when the jumps to prevent it from breaking the line.  Tarpon are one of the harder fish to land which makes them one of the most entertaining fish to chase.

As the day passes and the wind picks up, we typically head up into the rios to search for fish.  The rios are tightly edged by mangroves and often completely roofed over.  When we get far enough up the rios, we're typically casting from our knees and roll casting and inventing other casts to get the fly to the fish without hanging up in the mangroves.  When a tarpon is hooked up in the mangroves it's even more of a challenge to land them due to the amount of mangroves surrounding the water and the mangrove branches under the water.  That's another reason this fishing is so much fun.

The guides bring sandwiches from a local deli, chips, and drinks on the boat for lunch.  We eat lunch on the boat around 11:30 - noon.  Then we check some more rios.  Often times the wind drops when it changes direction midday.  So sometimes we'll check the far off shore flats for the cruising schools of fish.  The day usually ends around 2:30 - 3pm (when we start at 6am) and a cold beer goes down real well on the boat ride back to the esplanade.

After a shower we walk into Campeche.  Like most Mexican towns, the plaza is the center of activity.  All plazas are built around a large cathedral and Campeche is no different.  It's a beautiful old cathedral with twin bell towers and high vaulted ceilings.  There are easily a half dozen excellent restaurants in the plaza which makes dinner a delight.  I prefer places which serve local meals but you can get typical American fast food if that's your poison.  There's even an Applebee's restaurant a block from the Ocean View.

This trip was even more interesting because Dr. Aaron Adams was there with Rafael (I can't recall his last name) who is a biologist with the Sian Kaan Reserve.  They were there setting up a tagging operation to allow them to track the tarpon movements and recapture rates.  Tagging involves measuring a fish (nose to fork), inserting a tag behind the dorsal fin that has an ID number and contact information to report if the fish is caught again.  The data is recorded and computerized by Rafael.  We tagged over 25 tarpon this trip.  I had also requested some DNA capture kits from Florida Marine Fisheries.  This involves rubbing a scratch pad on the upper jaw bone of the fish to grab some skin cells.  The lab with analyze the DNA which will be used to identify migration patterns and recapture rates.  We filled all 12 sample bottles this trip and I'll be mailing them to the lab in Florida.  It would be cool if one of these fish was later caught again in Florida or Texas, which would prove they migrate all that way.  If that is the case, it adds emphasis that to truly protect the tarpon fishery, we have to do more than just protect the waters around Florida and Texas.



  1. Sorry if parts of that were a little elementary and simplistic for most of you. I'd written an email to my family and friends who don't fish and tried to give them an understandind about what it's like. Telling them we used "light squirrel cockroaches on 2/0 Gamas with an I-line and a long toss" only causes their mouths to open and their eyes to cross.

  2. I liked it! Good details and good info. Octopus was really cool... beautiful animal!!! Anymore photos?
    I could have spent the whole day playing with that!
    Cool too that you caught snook.
    How did Raul's fly do? What is your read on flies for this area now??
    Anyway, thanks for the report Doug!

  3. It was pulpo (octopus) season down there. We saw lots of pangas with two, sometimes three long poles suspended at an angle over the sides of the boats. Frm each pole the fisherman would tie 4 - 6 lines with a hook on each. He'd bait each hook and then drift along waiting to float over a pulpo and have it grab the bait. Juan said they could catch 150 lbs of octopus a day!! It'd be a hard life tho, floating out there all day in the sun.

    We tried the rattle fly but I think the deer hair head caused it to float too high. I think I caught one fish on it. Regarding flies, yellow with a red hackle collar was probably the best producer this trip. All black was a very close second, especially in the rios. We did use more flies with lead barbell or beadchain eyes this time. It seemed like getting the fly 12 - 18 inches deep worked better. I tried a shrimp pattern that sat in the surface film and didn't stir a fish. After the last day I opened my box for Raul and Fernando to choose a few and they took all the yellow & red and interestingly took most of the San Felipe Specials.

  4. cool Doug!... I'm going to post this as it is very good info.
    Can you tell me again what the San Felipe Special so I don't make a mistake?