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Subscriber Frederick Meine has checked in with this great little report from a couples trip to Campeche he took in February before international travel was locked down. It sounds like he and his wife had a great experience in Mexico, which he called, “the perfect couples trip.” Thanks Frederick!
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Since the current pandemic has caused halted all international travel for the foreseeable future, I thought I would take this time to send along my report of a recent trip my wife and I took to Campeche, Mexico to go tarpon fishing. I booked our trip through Yellow Dog, and they handled all the arrangements flawlessly. My wife is not a fisherman, but she was a Mayan art/architecture major when we met in college, so I thought Campeche might offer her some sightseeing while I fished. Yellow Dog arranged our trip with Campeche Tarpon, and Alejandro, the owner, was wonderful in setting up two guided trips for my wife— one to the ruins at Edzna and the other to the Uxmal site. Both were spectacular, and her guide each day was fantastic. I think she enjoyed her trip even more that I did mine.
Traveling to Campeche was relatively simple with one caveat. We flew from our home in North Carolina to Atlanta and then to Mexico City. From there, you can fly into Merida or Campeche. Campeche is obviously closer (just a few minutes from the hotels, apparently) but has fewer flights each day. Merida is about a 2-hour car ride on a good road. We had planned to fly in and out of Campeche when I booked our tickets through Travelocity. The flights were on Delta and were codeshared with AeroMexico. On Travelocity, the flights were offered both by Delta and by AeroMexico— same flights, same flight numbers, same price. Naively, the flight I clicked on was the AeroMexico one rather than the Delta one. A few months later, when the flight times were changed in a way that made our US connections no longer work, I called AeroMexico and they were unwilling/unable to change my flights. Delta could not/would not help either, as the flights were deemed “AeroMexico” flights. I eventually, after multiple phone calls with both airlines, was allowed to cancel the AeroMexico flights and rebook (the same flights) through Delta, which allowed me to make the necessary changes. The entire experience cost a couple hundred dollars (and several lost hours on the phone). The lesson I learned was that even though flights are codeshared and appear to be the same, always book the Delta (or main airline) one!
With that exception, the actual travel was quite smooth. We were met by an air-conditioned car and driver at the Merida airport and were driven to Campeche. We stayed at the Hotel Don Gustavo, which was ideal for us. It is in the center of the beautiful city of Campeche and is situated right in the middle of everything. Each evening, the pedestrian-only street in front of the hotel is filled with tables from the street-side restaurants and dozens of people enjoy their meals and tableside music and entertainment. It was quite lively and made for a great atmosphere. The hotel itself was beautiful with a nice garden/sitting area as well as a small pool. It was the perfect hotel for a couple. Other anglers apparently stayed nearer to the water in a hotel called the Oceanview that was not as close to the town center and appeared from the street to be a bit more utilitarian (though I did not go inside to see for myself). There is also an upscale hotel called the Hacienda Puerta Campeche. I walked through it one afternoon. It was quite nice, though it seemed no more elegant than the Don Gustavo and was not quite as convenient to the evening dining area.
Campeche itself is a fantastic little town. In addition to the lively dining I mentioned above, there were several small museums as well as a town square that had a light show projected on the building walls most evenings. The city center is filled with colorful buildings and pretty architecture and is walled—you can actually walk around the top of part of the historical wall. My wife and I spent two afternoons walking around the town and visiting the museums and shopping. There is also a Malecon along the waterfront that was full of walkers, joggers, and bikers each day.
But about the fishing…The baby tarpon fishing begins early in the morning. I was met at the hotel around 5AM and driven about 5 minutes to the dock. There was apparently supposed to be breakfast at the hotel for us fishermen, but it never materialized at that early hour; however, they did have a thermos of coffee available for the car ride. My wife reported that the hotel’s included breakfast, which began around 8AM, was actually fantastic. Other fishermen told me that at the waterfront hotel, breakfast was available. Regardless, it was easy enough to buy a sweet roll or bread at one of the nearby bakeries the night before. The boat was a nice flats skiff in good condition. I brought my own rods, reels, and flies. There did not appear to be any spares on the boat, so be sure to bring a couple rods and reels. I had tied up multiple complex tarpon leaders with new knots I had spent the winter perfecting, but my guide shunned them all for a 9 foot piece of 40-lb leader, which worked just fine. I brought a box of flies in size 1 and 1/0 that I had tied, and all patterns seemed to work. I had the most fun with topwaters—Dahlberg Divers, and Gurglers were a blast to fish, but subsurface Tarpon Toads and Puglisi flies worked well too. Basically everything we tried worked in the early mornings. I carried an 8 weight and a 9 weight rod. Each was fine. I liked the 9 weight a little better for throwing bigger patterns. Reels were less important, as the fish are strong but don’t run or require a lot of backing like bonefish.
The boat ride each morning was anywhere from 15-45 minutes along the coast to the north. We then poled along the mangrove jungle and into small bays and inlets and creeks. The area is absolutely beautiful with countless herons, egrets and even flamingos visible. We saw no more than a couple boats each day, and none was tarpon fishing. Tarpon were rolling everywhere and strikes were pretty frequent in the early morning. The drill was that you would see pods of fish rolling and feeding, and you would cast into or near the pods. When fish were not visible, you would cast to the mangroves in likely areas. It wasn’t exactly like sight-fishing the flats, as you couldn’t really see individual fish swimming in the fairly dark water, but it was definitely visual and a heck of a lot of fun. I liken it to summertime smallmouth bass fishing when the dragonflies are on the water— plenty of visual action and casting to areas where you can see fish working interspersed with times of fishing obvious structure. I actually enjoyed it more than standard flats fishing.
The tarpon ranged from 5-20 pounds and put on the show you expect of them when they are hooked, jumping and cartwheeling all over the place. The first day, I had 14 strikes, jumped 8 and landed 2. The second day was better, with 43 strikes, 22 fish jumped and 8 landed. Both days, however, the bulk of the fishing was between 6-11 AM. On the first day, we did not see or hook a fish after 11 AM. The second day, which was sunnier, we spotted dozens of fish cruising in the late morning and early afternoon. Multiple casts to the fish were ignored, as they would simply swim right past the fly. My guide did not seem surprised by this and indicated that it was pretty normal afternoon behavior. We did manage about 4-5 strikes in the afternoon on the second day, all of which were while blind casting to the openings in the mangroves. Regardless, on each day, by about 1-2 PM the fishing day was over and we headed back to town. I actually enjoyed this schedule, as we got off the water as it was really starting to get oppressively hot, and it gave my wife and me time to sightsee and explore the city in the afternoons. Lunch aboard the boat was a sandwich, and there were plenty of cold drinks available as well.
Dinner each night was on our own at one of the restaurants in town. There are several very good ones within an easy walk of the hotel. We had heard La Pigua was the best, but it closed early each night and we never made it there. We enjoyed La Maria the most and also liked Aduano. Casa Vieja had a great view of the town square and would be a nice place for a drink and a view of the light show at night, but neither of us felt the food was as good. Overall, with the favorable exchange rate, the cost of food and drinks was quite reasonable. The two of us ate most nights (with drinks) for about $20-30!
Our trip was in February, which is considered the off season, but we had great weather the entire time. I am not sure if the fishing is different in the summer months, but Alejandro told me that even though the fish are available year-round, the winter tides can create problems in certain months and that only certain weeks in the winter are “good fishing.” I am not sure what this means, but would certainly check with Yellow Dog or whomever else books your trip before choosing your dates.
Overall, we had a wonderful time in Campeche. The fishing was great and my wife had a fantastic time as well. It is the perfect couples trip and I could not recommend it more highly.