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Editor Note: Bob Dhalberg has supplied us with a report on a recent trip of his to Mexico to fish for juvenile tarpon on the Yucatan Peninsula. He was able to sample the fishing in two areas and had this to say about his experience:
We became interested in fishing for baby tarpon, after briefly fishing for them in Jardines de la Reina, Cuba, some while ago. The idea behind this trip was to explore the fishery on the Yucatan Peninsula. The main area we sought to fish is 60 miles of continuous mangroves. This fishery is accessible from two distinct locations: from the north via Isla Arena and from the south via Campeche, a historic colonial city.
We booked this trip with Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures. Yellow Dog was very professional; in fact, their pretrip information package was the best I have seen among numerous booking agents over the years.
For our trip, Yellow Dog chose a single outfitter to host us and fish both the Isla Arena and Campeche locations; that outfitter was Campeche Tarpon. We were slated to fish for three days in Isla Arena and three days in Campeche.
Our guide for all six days, Daniel, worked hard to get us to fish, accommodated our casting abilities, spotted fish well, and was enthusiastic when a fish was in casting range. His English was a little better than my ten-word Spanish vocabulary, so there was a bit of a communication issue, but it did not effect the fishing very much.
We confirmed what we had read in advance of the trip, that the fishing is optimal in the early morning, around high tide for both locations. You are fishing in and among mangroves almost exclusively.
Of the two locations, Isla Arena offers a more approachable fishery. You can be fishing in 10 minutes or less. There, we also saw bigger fish, 10 to 20 pounds, and more of them. However, the better fishing comes at the cost of staying in a remote Mexican village with intermittent and slow-speed internet and very little in the way of amenities and other things to do. The only interesting local attraction for an English speaker is Wotoch Aayin, the nearby crocodile farm and restaurant, where some of the staff do speak English.
In contrast, if you choose Campeche City as your base of operations, you do have excellent restaurants and historical sites for afternoon activities. Also, English is generally not a problem. The downside is that the morning fishing can start as early as five o’clock. If you start that early, you will be eating one of the two packed sandwiches for breakfast, since the hotel restaurants don’t open until six. We were lucky because Alejandro worked with our hotel to open up the restaurant for breakfast 15 minutes early, but this same deal cannot be gauranteed for all visitors.
Also, if you choose to stay at Campeche, you will be riding in a boat in the dark, without running lights, for 45 to 60 minutes each morning. Another upside to fishing from Campeche is that, since fishing is usually from six in the morning to two in the afternoon, you have more time to do more as a tourist in the afternoons.
Unfortunately, we did experience some non-fishing-related service lapses at Isla Arena. First, there was a big mix-up on the Campeche Tarpon agent’s responsibilities regarding our transfer from Isla Arena to Campeche. We were sent by way of an uncomfortable 60-mile flats-boat ride in stormy weather, when our written itinerary specified a land transfer.
Secondly, we ended up staying at the Tuunben Kin traveler’s hotel, not the Ecoturismo Carey (the common name of Isla Del Sabalo Lodge), which was the facility we were expecting. The Tuunben Kin rooms were comfortable and clean, and the staff was very friendly, although the three meals per day we received were fit only for a Spartan. If we were to stay another three nights, we would have likely gone to the Crocodile Restaurant (Wotoch Aayin) up the road for dinner. We learned later that there are other Isla Arena fishing outfitter choices.
We know that outfitters don’t have control over the weather and when the fish bite. But outfitters do have control of the services they offer and upholding prearranged itineraries. To Yellow Dog’s and Campeche Tarpon’s credit, they accepted full responsibility for the service lapses that we experienced on Isla Arena. In the end, both came together to make things right with us. We are impressed that both companies stand behind their offerings, and we will be returning customers. I have no hesitation in recommending both companies, and I plan to use them again. I also learned to do better due diligence when booking a fishing trip to a place I have not been to before. All the more reason to read The Angling Report!
Lastly, we encountered less-than-favorable weather conditions, but this can be chalked up to bad luck. On our second day, a major cold front moved into the Isla Arena area. High winds kept us off the water that day and affected the fishing for the next two days. Productivity finally returned on the fifth day. Even though the weather was not favorable, I managed to land three tarpon in five days fishing (one day lost to the cold front), and I jumped six tarpon on top of that.
We used 10-weight rods and lines, with a specific tapered leader structure that worked well. The leader was as follows: 6 feet of 30-pound mono + 5 feet of 20-pound + 2 inches of shock tippet (40-pound). We used a medley of Puglisi flies for our trip. We used the “Peanut Butter” fly in chartreuse and red/black, and the Puglisi “Bunny Tail” in brown/white and black/purple.
We chose to take the trip in April to avoid any chance of a hurricane ruining our stay, and to take advantage of Campeche Tarpon’s promotional pre–prime season discount. Prime baby tarpon season runs May through September. Next time, I would definitely consider September, as long as it was coupled with travel insurance. In season, we’d expect the tarpon to be more abundant.
I would still recommend this trip, as it is reasonably priced and easy to get to from the United States. Cost of the trip (excluding airfare): $2,635.00.