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There are all sorts of reasons why most anglers prefer their out-of-country trips to be neatly packaged for them. Personal safety is a big consideration, as is the desire for reliable fishing. After all, how many of us really know enough about the fishing in a place like Chile, British Columbia – or, God forbid, The Yucatan – to rent a car and drive off into the sunset with fly or light-tackle equipment in the back seat?
I say all this by way of introducing a way to fish some coastal waters along the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico that you used to be able to fish only by booking a full-price lodge trip. The waters I am talking about are within driving distance of the resort city of Cancun. They begin just south of the famous Mayan ruins of Tulum and continue south 18 miles to Punta Allen. There is a narrow strip of land here, with a road running down it, sandwiched between the Caribbean Sea and large, shallow lagoons. The lagoons are of primary interest to fly and light-tackle fishermen as they are home to bonefish, barracuda and a goodly number of permit. The shorelines also hold some snook and tarpon and there are blue holes in the flats which contain cubera snapper and other reef fish.
Most of the lagoons are accessible only by boat, but some of them can be wade-fished from the secondary road that branches southward from Highway 307 near the town of Tulum, some 60 miles south of Cancun. As you head south on this secondary road you will soon come to the check station of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a 1.3 million-acre protected area that encompasses the entire Peninsula area under discussion here, plus all of the mainland south of Tulum and east of Highway 307.
Almost immediately after you enter the reserve, you will begin to see short spur roads and trails leading off through the mangroves on your right. These only go a few hundred yards before they dead-end on the lagoons. Vast, wadeable flats systems extend out from many of these dead-ends. And the remarkable thing is, there are access points such as this all the way to Punta Allen where the road ends.
Some of the flats you can reach this way are hard enough to wade, while others aren’t. You’ll need to do some prospecting to find good places to fish. One place I fished was around Boca Paila, an inlet connecting a series of lagoons to the sea. It is located about 45 minutes south of the park entrance. You can fish from the bridge here or from the shore near the bridge.
My own fishing in this area was limited to one day, so I only scratched the surface of what is available. All I did was rent a Volkswagen bug in Cancun for about $35 per day and head south out of Cancun on the highway to Tulum. This is a good road and they have crews working 24 hours a day to widen it to a divided, four lane highway all the way to Tulum. Once you leave this road and follow the shore to Sian Ka’an the going gets pretty rough. There are large potholes which were filled with water when I passed through.
I didn’t arrive in the area until around noon, at which point I arbitrarily picked a flat near the Boca Paila bridge and waded out from shore. Despite cloudy skies, which made the fish difficult to spot, I managed to get approximately 15 casting opportunities, numerous hits and landed two bonefish in the three to four-pound range all on fly. Provided you don’t spook these fish by casting too close, I found that they will pursue a fly with an enthusiasm I have not seen anywhere else in the many areas I have traveled to in search of bonefish.
I am convinced that a good angler with a few days to poke around here will get into some very exciting fishing. The do-it-yourself option becomes even more attractive if you are willing to stay in one of the many rustic, eco-tourist-type resorts found along the beach between Tulum and the park entrance. These usually consist of cabins with a central dining room and bar. One such establishment I checked out is the Tita Tulum Ecological Hotel (*) where you can rent a cabin for one to three persons for $70 US per day, which does not include food.
It is worth noting that all fishing in Sian Ka’an is catch-and-release. Also, this area is very remote so you won’t want to leave valuables in your car when you wade out on the flats. And, finally, some of the water you will fish in this area is the home turf of major international lodges. I didn’t detect any hostility during my one day of fishing, but then I did make a point to stay well away from the boats from Boca Paila Lodge. I suggest you do the same thing. Good luck! – Adam Redford.