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The Angling Report (TAR): Paul, who developed the tarpon fishing on Isla Holbox and how long has it been available?

Paul Melchoir, PanAngling Travel Service (Melchoir): A Mexican by the name of Alejandro Vega grew up on Isla Holbox and later became a guide in Cancun. One of his clients was Bill Marts, an angler and fly shop owner from the US who was interested in finding some new light tackle territory. They developed the fishing program together, with the first customers fishing the area in the fall of 1996.

TAR: What kind of place is Isla Holbox?

Melchoir: Isla Holbox is a sparsely populated island off the northern coast of the Yucatan. The majority of the island’s 1,000 to 1,500 inhabitants are concentrated in a small town. The major local commerce is lobster fishing, with a few locals making hammocks or craft items as well. Until last year, there were few modern hotel accommodations on the island at all, though a few spartan guest houses did exist.

The facility now being used to host anglers offers air conditioned private rooms and suites, with en-suite bathrooms, electricity and pretty good creature comforts. There are also several other facilities available and more in the planning stages. There are numerous restaurants in the village that serve both breakfast and dinner, at very reasonable prices. The area is beginning to show some vestiges of recognition as a tourist destination, but for now it’s a fishing location, and unless a companion wants to fish, there’s little to draw non-angling partners.

TAR: What kind of fishing grounds does Isla Holbox have?

Melchoir: There’s a huge area to fish, and only a small portion has thus far been fished to any degree. Future explorations may unlock more territory. At present, there are two basic areas to fish.

The first area consists of the bay, channels and lagoons. This is big-tarpon territory, with water running eight to 20 feet on the average. The water runs from clear to somewhat murky, depending on the wind. Tarpon are seen rolling quite often. Blind casting with a sinking line is the most often used approach, though when conditions permit, sight casting with a floating line is possible, though not the rule. Because the tarpon can get quite large here, a 12-weight outfit is recommended.

The second area is characterized by backwater lagoons and mangrove shorelines. This is more baby-tarpon territory, with clear water along the mangroves, and schools of smaller tarpon ghosting in and out. Snook, snapper, jack and cuda are also present, along with a limited bonefish population which is best found during the summer months. For the cruising tarpon, anglers can sight cast to schools of fish, while a well-placed blind cast to the mangroves is more the strategy for the snook, snapper, etc. Generally, a floating line, or at most, an intermediate or sink tip, is the best gear for this fishery, coupled with an eight or nine-weight rod.

TAR: What is a reasonable catch expectation, in terms of size and number?

Melchoir: This is always a difficult question to answer, as many factors play into success. On average, anglers should expect to jump three to five tarpon a day in the cuts, and about the same along the mangroves. Remember, that’s based on two anglers sharing a boat and each having their shots during the day. There have been days when over 20 tarpon have been jumped, and others when the fish had lock jaw. In the bay, it’s not uncommon to jump tarpon in the 100-pound-plus range, with the largest taped to date in the 130-pound range, though larger fish have been boated, and estimated to weigh over 150 pounds. There are good chances for 60 to 90-pound fish all the time, and some smaller tarpon in the under-25-pound range as well.

Along the mangroves, the tarpon will be under 20 pounds for the most part, with an odd fish over 40 pounds. The snook will run two to six pounds on average, with good fish over 10 pounds possible.

TAR: How, specifically, does one get there?

Melchoir: The most common way to get there is by road from Cancun to the coastal village of Chiquila, where a boat takes you on to the island. The entire trip takes about 3 1/2 hours. Guests can also be flown to the island, by small plane. Instead of a 3 1/2-hour drive and boat ride, the flight takes about 45 minutes. There is an extra charge for the flight, but the charge is very reasonable if a party of four to six takes the plane. Frankly, I am reluctant to say much about the overland route to Isla Holbox for fear that people will just rent a car in Cancun and drive up there on their own, and overrun the town and fishery, which is not equipped to handle such an influx. As guiding is limited anyway, just showing up may prove fruitless as well.

TAR: What does the basic fishing package include and how much does it cost?

Melchoir: A seven-night, six days of fishing package costs $1,745 per angler. This includes upgraded accommodations at the hotel, light breakfast and lunches, soft drinks and beer, guided fishing based on two per boat (and per room), plus round-trip land transfers from Cancun.

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