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My wife and I were vacationing with family this past December on Isla Mujeres, a short ferry ride from Cancun, Mexico, on the Yucatan Peninsula. We wanted to spend a day away from the resort scene and do some fishing, so I did some research on the internet. I found a number of fishing operations in that part of the Yucatan, but none were able to help me with ground transportation to reach their fishing areas. Eventually, though, I found a web site for a booking company called Fly Fishing Caribe (www.flyfishingcaribe.com) based in Argentina. The company promoted day-trips for permit, tarpon, bonefish and snook in a place called Isla Blanca. I contacted Fly Fishing Caribe and received an immediate e-mail response from one of the company’s principals, Daniel Beilinson. I found him very accommodating, so I booked a day of fishing through him.
Isla Blanca lies just north of Cancun and is accessible by car. The island is actually a peninsula, except when the tide is high and water covers the road. According to Fly Fishing Caribe’s web site, the fishing area covers about 60 square miles and is a maze of flats and mangrove-lined channels and creeks.
My wife and I took the ferry from Isla Mujeres back to Cancun, where our guide, Humberto, met us. We climbed into his car, a rather dilapidated older model Nissan that was reasonably comfortable for the 30- to 45-minute ride to Isla Blanca. The road was awful full of pot holes, large rocks and detours. A new road was almost complete and sat two feet higher than the old roadway, but it had not been opened yet when we were there. The new road will make this drive much easier.
Humberto finally pulled into the construction site of a partially-erected house of about 10,000 square feet. We could see the shoreline and a pier behind it where two boats with outboard engines were moored. Nearby, we saw a large cage about 25 x 45 feet and perhaps 12 to 15 feet high. Roaming the inside were a tiger, a lioness and a leopard. We watched the guide put his hand in the cage to scratch the tiger’s head as if it were a house cat. He said the tiger was declawed and friendly, but that we should stay away from the lioness. The only explanation he gave us regarding their presence was that his friend and the owner of the property had a permit to keep them.
A while later, we zipped across a bay in a panga-style boat with a 40hp Evinrude. The flats here were huge, and we did not see another boat anywhere. Humberto stopped after a while and began to rig up a couple of Sage nine-foot 8-weights with brand new Abel reels. He handed them to us and began poling the boat using a whittled tree branch over 20 feet long. Almost immediately, we spotted a school of small permit, and he got us into position for a few casts. The problem was that the water was so still and glassy that the line hitting the water spooked the fish. Just a little wind would have rippled the surface enough to keep that from happening, but that was not our luck. We pursued the permit for a while but did not get any takes.
A while later we spotted a school of about 30 small tarpon. Again, the still water made the fish very spooky. I got lucky when something actually spooked the fish towards my fly and a baby tarpon of about 15 pounds grabbed it. I did not strip the line in time, so he spit the fly. Still, it was exciting while it lasted.
Throughout the day, Humberto put us on different fish. We caught a few lizard fish and some small groupers and snappers but did not get into permit or tarpon again. At one point, Humberto moved several miles to another area where we had great fun catching aggressive barracuda. Between us, we landed about 20. After lunch, we looked for more fish and got a few casts. Humberto worked very hard poling the flats searching for permit and tarpon, but the water was so still it made sneaking up on fish almost impossible. I’m not a skilled, 150-foot caster, so I needed the boat to get closer than the fish would allow.
Beilinson had told us the cost would be $375 for a day’s fishing, plus $25 per person to rent fishing rods and tackle. But Humberto only charged us a flat $350. He was very unhappy that we did not have a better day of fishing, and he apologized that he could not find more fish. But we were satisfied with our experience and gave him a good tip for his effort. He obviously knew the area and worked hard to find fish. His equipment was in good shape and perfectly serviceable. The boat even had the requisite life vests and a fully-operational motor. Although Humberto did not have the crab patterns I expected to see for permit, he had a large selection of flies.
December is not the optimal time to fish Mexico, so it may not be fair to judge Isla Blanca solely on our one day of fishing. Beilinson’s web site says March through September is the best time of year to fish here. In truth, Isla Blanca is probably not a destination fishery that is, a place you would travel to solely to go fishing. But it is a good place for anglers who want to fit in some fishing while vacationing in the Cancun area. I would be willing to try it again and see. Besides, I’d like to find out what the story is with those caged wild cats.
(Postscript: Fly Fishing Caribe also offers three-day Isla Blanca fishing packages with accommodations for $765 and $930, depending on which hotel a client chooses. Interestingly, Fly Fishing Caribe also arranges for bonefishing on the island of Cozumel, a resort island east of Cancun. It’s a 30-minute ferry ride to Cozumel from the mainland. Seems Cozumel has several miles of flats, lagoons and mangroves on its northern coast. In addition to bonefish, Fly Fishing Caribe says there are permit, jacks and barracuda there. Cozumel fishing packages include transfers from one’s hotel on the island to a marina and run $300 a day. You can go offshore fishing for $350.
Another operator who books both of these destinations is Trek International Safaris. According to Trek’s Kevin Gehm, Isla Blanca should be considered a permit and tarpon nursery, with some opportunities for spotted sea trout. Bonefish, he says, have become rather scarce there the last few years, but Isla Blanca continues to be a good mixed-bag fishery that is easy to get to and relatively inexpensive at $375 for a day trip. On Cozumel, he says the flats are 20 minutes off shore, away from the diving operations and other water activities. The bones run three to five pounds, occasionally up to six. It’s not the Bahamas, he says, but it’s a nice getaway if you’re in the area. The daily rate there is also $375.)