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Last month we published an “Information Sought” item, asking subscribers if they had ever been charged an import tax on “excess” fishing tackle at port of entry into Mexico. What occasioned that request was a recent report by a subscriber who says a friend of his experienced precisely that on a recent trip to Baja in search of roosterfish. Here is an edited version of his note to us: “As I came through customs, carrying seven rods in total, and pushing a cart with my two bags, I was asked to put my luggage through the X-ray machine.
I did so, figuring I was experiencing a random search. But when I put my bags up on the table for them to search, the officer ignored the bags and simply asked me how many reels I had with me. I replied that I did not know, as I just put all my salt water reels in my bag and was not sure how many, maybe 9, maybe 10, maybe 11. He then informed me that Mexico imposes a tax on each reel in excess of four.
Astounded, I told him that I had never heard of such a tax, that it was absurd and they were discouraging fishermen from patronizing their country. No go. He said that he would need to tax me. He asked again how many reels I had with me and I replied by opening the bags and counting the reels. Turns out I had eight reels plus one spool.
He said he would need to tax me on four reels. He then asked me how much they were worth. What a question, huh? I said they were old reels and had been used a great deal and that I could not get much for them at this point. They were all Ross Canyons and Abels, plus one Tibor, most of which I had purchased on significant sales over the last 30 years. At any rate, we marched off to a private office and I gave him my credit card to pay a fee of 1,030 pesos, which amounts to about $80. That meant the fee came to about $20 per reel. I was furious, of course, but had no choice. I am guessing that the logic in Mexico is that if you are bringing in a lot of reels, you must be selling them or giving them away as tips and therefore Mexico wants its cut of the action. No doubt they do not understand that fly fishermen want to have a variety of sizes of lines and of styles, floating, intermediate, and sinking, and therefore they will bring a selection of reels, unlike with spin rods, where two or three is all that are needed. I intend to complain to Mexico tourism authorities about this, as well as to alert you and your readers, should you choose to publish this. Could I have brought fewer reels? Of course. Would I have brought fewer if I had known of this tax? Probably. I never used two or three of the reels during the trip.”
So, what is our take on this? Indeed, over the years we have heard of occasional instances of this occurring. Not frequently. And not at any particular ports of entry. Occasionally, it seems, isolated customs officials simply throw their weight around and enforce what seems to be a prohibition against the import of “excess” amounts of fishing tackle. Some printed materials we have seen do mention a specific limit of four rods, but not reels.
Just how this limit got squirreled around into four reels in this instance is not clear. Suffice it to say there does seem to be a published limit on the amount of tackle you can take into Mexico on a fishing trip and customs officials have demonstrated an ability to interpret that in creative ways.
In a perfect world, there would be a way to convince Mexican authorities to start issuing Custom Declarations Forms that would allow them to track the export of “excess” fishing equipment when anglers leave the country. That would remove the need to impose an unrealistic limit on the amount of tackle anglers “import” temporarily for sporting purposes. Realistically, that is not going to happen, so the best course of action is to take a second look at how much tackle you are taking on your next trip to Mexico.
Don’t limit yourself unnecessarily, because probably nothing is going to happen anyway unless you bring in something that could realistically be confused with a commercial import. In that regard, here is another thing to consider: be careful that you don’t bring too many “new-looking” rods and reels with you.
What follows is a quote from an article on this subject we wrote back in August 2009. It’s Article ID: 2348 in our Trip Planning Database: “One fishing outfitter we spoke to, who did not want his name used, did allow that he had heard of anglers being stopped for having multiple ‘new-looking’ rods. Jeff de Brown of The Reel Baja concurred: ‘It’s often a matter of presentation—the way your equipment looks,’ de Brown said.
‘My advice to anglers headed to Mexico is to remove all plastic packaging from rods, reels, and rod tubes. Make them look like they are not new. Clean cork handles are a particular trigger you want to avoid.’ He went on to say that it’s important to be polite and low key if you have more than four rods with you. ‘Mexican Customs rarely bothers you about excess tackle, but they are well within their rights to do so,’ he says.” Postscript: Additional feedback is welcome. Write: [email protected].