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Costa de Cocos Lodge, Ten Years Later
Brian Green has long been an Honor Roll subscriber and he has offered up many credible and detailed reports to readers of The Angling Report throughout the years. His recent November trip to Mexico provided both he and his wife with the opportunity to explore and fish in the less-crowded, yet still productive waters of Chetumal Bay. Brian had this to say about their experience:
It has been more than ten years since the last Angling Report review was filed on Costa de Cocos Lodge in Xclak, (a small village just a few kilometres north of the Belize border in Mexico) so it’s time for an update. The lodge was built some thirty years ago to cater to divers who explore the reefs on the Caribbean coast just offshore, but the owner, Dave Randall, expanded his clientele more recently by catering to the angling community. His lodge runs up to 14 boats, mostly into Chetumal Bay, a fifteen minute ride south along the coast and through a channel guarded by a Mexican Coast Guard outpost. Chetumal is as vast and as large as Ascension Bay and Espirito Santo Bay combined, and lavishly endowed with bonefish, permit, tarpon, jacks, and snook.
My wife Valerie and I booked a week in mid November and flew into Cancun airport where we were met by our drivers in their well maintained VW van for the five hour trip to Xcalak. Even with an hour diversion to pick up another couple who had been staying in Playa del Carmen, we made it to Costa de Cocos in time for pre-dinner drinks and a delicious supper. The drive (fully included in the price of our week) is on well paved and maintained roads and, though long, was comfortable and sometimes interesting.
The lodge consists of a central restaurant and bar with plenty of outdoor seating, surrounded by 16 single room thatched-roof cottages right on the beach. The rooms are comfortable and clean but on the rustic side, with ceiling fans and screened windows in place of air conditioning—a far step up from some fishing camps I’ve stayed at, but not the five star resorts favoured by some anglers. All rooms have washrooms and showers, and some have one bed while others have two. Meals at the restaurant were uniformly excellent: full breakfasts on order, snacks on arrival after the day’s fishing, and really outstanding evening meals, either the daily special or from the extensive menu. Sandwich lunches are provided on the boats. The Randalls also have a nearby micro-brewery, so their craft beers are available along with a selection of wine and more commercial beers, and all manner of creative cocktails served up by a talented bartender (and all included). A recently added distillery provides some of the ingredients for the cocktails as well as craft sipping whisky and other libations.
While November is not prime season for fishing the Caribbean, we were more than happy with our daily excursions into Chetumal Bay with our very able guide, Julio. Bonefish are plentiful and average about three pounds, though much larger fish are common. As might be expected, the farther into the bay you venture, especially in the many creeks and bays and wetlands, the better the chances of spotting large schools and big fish. We saw cruising permit both in the bay and on the inside of the reef in the open Caribbean. Julio took us for a morning trip north along the shore to a series of inlets and creeks and lagoons to search for baby tarpon.
The best tarpon fishing is in the early summer months when the full grown variety cruise the beaches and bays, but the young ones can be found year round in the brackish lagoons behind the beaches. We saw several, but failed to catch one; however on the way back to the lodge, Julio spotted a school of permit and we were each able to get one of those to the boat. We never spent any time looking for snook, but other anglers targeted them with reasonable success.
We fished with 7 wt. rods mostly, switching to an 8 wt. in heavy winds, and we carried a 9 wt. for baby tarpon. Our most successful fly (though it was the one we used most) was Veverka’s Mantis Shrimp, both for bonefish and permit. In very skinny water, where the Mantis Shrimp’s bead chain eyes would spook the fish, we switched to Martin Joergensen’s One Mallard Shrimp with excellent results. Julio liked Black Death for the baby tarpon, but when they would not turn to the fly, he switched to a small popper.
In the last Angling Report review some ten years ago, there was concern expressed about over fishing in Chetumal Bay, but we saw no evidence of it. On most days we saw no other boats, even those from our lodge. The Randalls run a service for passengers in the cruise ships that put in at Majahual, about an hour north of Xcalak, ferrying them to the lodge for a half day of fishing in Chetumal. We saw only one of these excursion boats and the couple aboard were unhappy that they had been brought to this huge shallow bay when they wanted to catch grouper out on the reef! If all of Costa de Cocos’s fourteen boats had been engaged, I can see that the most accessible parts of the bay, near the entrance channel, might have been more crowded with half day excursion clients. However, during our stay, only three of the lodge’s boats were in use at any time and we saw little evidence on the flats of guides from the other three or four operations in Xcalak. The fish were plentiful and no more wary than we have experienced in other locations – indeed, a lot less wary than more heavily fished parts of the Bahamas and Florida.
The fishing is almost exclusively from the front platform of the wooden panga, with the guide standing at the back, poling and spotting fish. It is possible to wade in some areas where the bottom is firm enough and we took advantage of those opportunities. On one morning, Julio took us on foot into “The Fingers,” a series of creeks and mangrove islands in search of big bonefish, but the wading was very hard in foot- deep muck, so, while we did see and catch a few larger bonefish, we called it quits after lunch and returned to the boat. We had lunch perched in the branches of mangrove trees a foot off the water, since there was no dry land to be found.
We can’t say enough about the accommodating and friendly staff of the Randalls’ lodge. We were lucky in our timing since there were very few guests during our week, so we may have benefitted from extra attention. However, everyone from the kitchen staff, to the service staff, to the guides, seemed to take pride in making sure their guests were very well taken care of. We are already penciled in to Costa de Cocos for a week next fall.
The trip was arranged through Vince Tobia at Cattaraugus Creek Outfitters and cost $2300 each all included; this was a special price to encourage shoulder season visitors to the lodge. The normal price of $3400 is still a bargain. We flew out of Toronto direct to Cancun on Westjet, which has arrival and departure times that perfectly meshed with the five hour shuttle to Costa de Cocos; other travelers may have to overnight in Cancun depending on arrival and departure times.