Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Yucatan's Tarpon Coast Trip Report Part One

After having such a great trip last year (Tarpon Cay 2015), we decided to go again this year... but instead of spending all our time at Tarpon Cay, we decided to do three days here and then drive west across the peninsula to fish three more days at a new location further down the coast.
Here then is the trip report from the first half of our trip at Tarpon Cay:

After meeting at a small bar outside customs at the  Cancun airport, the five of us exchanged greetings, jumped in the van and quickly put all the craziness behind us. We began our journey on a four lane interstate highway that crosses the Yucatan. From the Mexican State of Quintana Roo, we soon crossed into the state of Yucatan then turned off the highway to head north. We were now on the narrow roads that made their way through the small villages and farmlands that now makeup the heart of Mayan Country.

Three hours later we reached our hotel and got our first glimpse of the Gulf of Mexico. It was great to be back! Our charming friend and affable host Beto had a tray of tasty margaritas ready for us as we stepped off the van. After storing our gear, we eagerly rigged rods and soon sat down to enjoy a delicious dinner featuring many of the Mexican classics we had enjoyed so much last year.

From our comfortable rooms on the second floor, we could see the coast that stretched beyond the harbor. We knew this to be an area of massive turtlegrass flats and mangrove-lined backcountry rios, lagoons, creeks, and bays.

Searching in the morning calm

This is tarpon country. It's where the babies or "sabalitos" spend their formative years chasing sardinas and grazing on shrimp and crabs. Juvenile tarpon prowl this coast all the way from Isla Holbox due north of Cancun to Campeche on the west coast and beyond. The numbers of tarpon found on this coast is staggering. The vast majority are 5-25 lb. and they range in schools from just a few in the interior to well over a hundred on the outside flats. But what makes this area unique to the angler is that almost all of the fishing is done with floating lines to sabalitos in water that is rarely over waist deep.

On this trip we hoped to explore some 70 miles of this "tarpon coast" spending three days here then motoring across the peninsula to fish another area that I had fished some seven or eight years ago. We knew the tarpon were here, we knew we would be comfortable at Tarpon Cay (and well fed), but we also knew we needed some good weather to find them!


I won't go into all the details on the first half of our trip. but instead will spend more time on the second half of our trip which will be in Part Two of this report. If interested in visiting Tarpon Cay, please use this link to see last year's trip details

A San Felipe Special

A caiman lurks in a rio

"Uno Mas" was our mantra. ONE MORE! Tarpon are the M&M's of the ocean. After a jumped fished or luckily boated, you always want to see one more fly engulfed and one more spectacular jump. It is an addictive sport and tarpon are truly one of the world's top gamefish. 

Suffice it to say for the first three days we had a great time even though we had a cold front come thru on our first morning which then brought winds especially in the afternoons. Generally, our fishing was best in the morning when large schools of fish fed aggressively on the turtlegrass flats both north and south of the lodge. As is usually the case with tarpon, jumping a fish was not the hard part, it was keeping them buttoned up. There is an important learning curve that exists with tarpon and somehow, I inexplicably need to relearn it every year. But that's tarpon fishing!  Every tarpon trip should come with a warning like those found on a pack of cigarettes. It should read:

If you choose to go tarpon fishing, you should be aware that tarpon are bitchy fish. Wind, cold fronts and who knows what can make tarpon hard to find and if found, sometimes hard to get to eat, and if they eat, hard to get a hook into and if hooked, hard to bring to the boat! 

But the effort is worth the reward as a good presentation followed by a proper strip strike often sends three to four feet of silver slicing six feet in the air. If you don't learn to "bow", that big-eyed bucket-o-fun evaporates as fast as you can say "S#@T, he threw the hook".

After a frustrating long line release, you talk to yourself, go through the proper sequence in your head then more often than not pull off a victory on your next fish. (For many more hints on fishing for baby tarpon, go here).

We also participated in the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust genetics program which consists of taking length and girth measurements of your catch, noting the location and date and then quickly collecting a scale for genetic analysis. The BTT is trying to answer many core questions needed to ensure a strong tarpon conservation plan. Those questions include in their words:
Is the Atlantic tarpon population made up of one large population or many smaller sub-populations? Are tarpon in Mexico the same tarpon that swim in Florida waters? Do tarpon mix between the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico? Where are juvenile tarpon spawned – do they come from local spawning locations or do they travel as larvae from far-away spawning sites? To what extent do fishing pressure and harvest in one location impact the fishery in other locations?

If you are interested in this program and want to help preserve a strong tarpon population for future generations, go here for more info. Participating in the program is easy, important and the only way to do it is to go fishing... talk about a win-win!

John Riggs and Chris measure a 28' fish

and the girth

and now for a scale

Soon enough our time at Tarpon Cay was over and we were off to the next location. We took away some great fishing memories and very much appreciated our attentive staff, the great food and comfortable lodging all only a short walk from the boats and the fishing... how does it get better than this?

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