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A bumpy trip to Punta Allen, Mexico for bonefish and tarpon.By Martin Joergensen
This is about a trip to Mexico—a two week trip that was supposed to consist of two parts: a bonefish part and a tarpon part. One down south on the Yucatan Peninsula in Ascension Bay and one further north in the area outside Rio Lagartos. It was not going to turn out that way
The trip was set up by my local fly shop Salmon Fly, and headed by the shop's owner and my good friend Kim Rasmussen.
Bumpy I—a car ride
It took place in January and we left a bitterly cold Denmark a party of four: Kim Rasmussen, Michael G. Olsen, Nils Joergensen and myself—GFF partner Martin Joergensen. We flew into Cancun and took a shuttle from there to our final destination Punta Allen. The ride was supposed to be a few hours—three or four maybe—but as it turned out we would take us seven hours to reach the small village through the jungle on an extremely rough dirt road. We were bumbing along all through the evening and didn't reach our destination until close to midnight.
Now, close to midnight is pitch dark down here, and a small town like Punta Allen isn't really a metropolis with lots of light and commotion that time of night. There was hardly anybody to ask for directions. But we managed to find Sirena—the American woman we rented our cabin from—and the primitive cabin itself with four beds.
We spent the evening checking up on the gear and slept well after a couple of beers.
The next morning we hauled our rods and stuff to the beach to meet up with the guides and go for bones.
We said hello to the guides: Gaspar and his father Juanito. Gasper was fluent in English, his father unable to speak a word of any other language than his native tongue.
They started preparing and as always in these parts of the world things took time.
We had no idea about what to expect from the town, where to buy breakfast or anything else, so a search party of two was sent out to get bread, juice and fruit while the other two were watching the guides getting the boats ready.
The supply team returned with food, and we could enjoy some calories while the guides were getting out outboards, fuelling up, finding food, drink, ice and chatting with the other guides preparing for their clients on the beach.
At long last we were ready, and entered the boats with our stuff. Kim and I with the old man and Nils and Michael with Gaspar. We would go together this first day and search for bonefish over some sandy banks an hour's boat ride away.
I soon learned why Kim had kept his wading jacket with him all the time and was wearing it in spite of the fairly warm weather.
A boat ride with a powerful engine over a slightly waved ocean surface can be very bumpy, very wet and actually very cold too. This was January and not nearly as hot as you could fear. Before ten minutes I was wet and cold.
Bumpy IV—the first day
Well, the place that we went was actually beautiful, and perfect for bonefishing: a set of coral sanded flats separated by mangrove patches and small sandy islands and sandbars, which revealed themselves at low tide. Lots of little channels for the fish to travel in, and lots of flat water for the to feed in.
The only disadvantage was that we didn't see many fish. The other one that we were four anglers and two guides fighting for space. And believe me, even on the vast flats, six people can have a hard time finding elbow room—especially when four of just arrived, feel insecure and want to listen to every word the guide says.
As the days passed our tension eased and we started catching fish. The guides—especially Gaspar—were eager to put us into fish and prove that they were worth their money. In the beginning we would follow their every wink, and do exactly as they said. But as time passed, we realised that spotting bonefish is not that difficult.
Thanks to our height and proper Polaroid sunglasses we often had a clear advantage over the guides—particularly the old man Juanito who denied wearing glasses. He was very depending on surface activity—also referred to as nervous water—and having the light in the face. We were more alert to shadows and movement over the light bottom and dearly preferred having the sun in our backs.
The Northern wind brought several other problems. First of all it was cold and left the water cold. Even we Scandinavians could feel it. Secondly it meant casting into the wind if you spotted fish with the sun in your back. The last week we had Hector as a stand-in for Juanito. Hector was able to speak English, but not a fishing guide. He wanted to learn, and his good mood, language skills and plain ciriosity made him very good company. He was usually a bird watching guide, and acted only as our boat man. He would take us to the lagoons, set us off and pick us up later at an agreed spot. We would then walk our way through the lagoons on our own, looking for fish. This actually worked quite well, and would be an excellent way of fishing—only marred by the fact that that we paid full guide fee to Hector...
Bumpy VI—too much service
Fishing with a guide can be an frustrating experience. On one hand you are very dependent on having him show you where the fish are—on the large and small scale. He is needed to ride the boat to the locations where the fish are, and the value of his local knowledge cannot be overestimated.
Once there he has the keen eye to find the fish. In the beginning you will feel intimidated by the massive amount of surface that you have to scan, and whenever he points and says "There!", you will feel tempted to think he is lying to prove the he is worth his fee, because you see nothing.
When you then at long last see a fish, or decide to trust his precise directions, and cast, he will immediately want to change your fly if nothing happens, thus blaming the fly and not your obviously lousy casting... Quite frustrating actually, because you can just watch the fish disappear while he is clipping, tying and trimming.
I usually fish alone, and have a hard time with guides. I prefer fouling up and acting stupid in my own company and learning from my own experiences and mistakes. I set my own pace, select my own flies and take my time. I stay if I want to and go if I want to.
Your mileage my vary, but don't necessarily take a guide's words for law. You pay, so you decide! Let them know, and get your money's worth. God knows that guides are expensive enough, and there is no reason to feel that your money is wasted or feel frustrated because the guide doesn't do what you want. Ha can't read your mind! Express you wishes. They are his command.
|The following email exchange took place in the beginning of 2004 after a comment submitted on GFF as a reaction to my article on Belize:|
Well, we managed to get some fishing done anyway. All of us got on the scoreboard within a couple of days and started getting the feel for the fishing and the fish.
And it is a rush!
Catching bonefish is probably the best fun you can have with lightweight tackle, and about the best you can have with any tackle.
The fishing can be challenging. Casting heavy flies on light gear to very spooky fish is not easy. I had selected my old, trusty Loomis IMX 7 weight to be my main rod for the trip, but had a hard time getting it to do what I wanted. I swithed to my Hardy 9 weight Pike Teaser in our last week, and that made some difference! This rod was much more responsive, much better at getting through the wind, and perfect in action for the fights.
On my next trip I will probably bring a light 7 weight with more crisp action than the IMX. My partner Kim was fishing a Scott 8'8" for an 8 weight and that seemed to be a perfect combination.
Our most productive area was the inland lagoons behind the village, about an hour's boat ride south of the peninsula and into the Northern part of Bahia de la Ascension. These areas were huge, with one small lagoon after the other, broken up into smaller areas by islands, strips of mangrove and the mainland creating a myriad of narrow peninsulas.
Wading was easy, even though the bottom was quite muddy most places, and spotting fish was quite easy too—in spite of some windy conditions and the occasional day with unclear water.
During the last days of our stay we ventured on our own fishing alone with no guide, and during that period we found what seemed to be almost unfished, pristine water with excellent bottom and very good fishing.
The area hold other types of fishing too. Apart from the odd needlefish and barracuda that will rush out and take your fly, the outer reef offers fishing for a host of species, including large barracudas, jacks, snappers and many others.
Our original plan was to leave Punta Allen after a week and go to Rio Lagartos for tarpon on the North coast of Yucatan. A call to our local contact spoiled that. The cold wind was head on the coast up there, and his best advice was to stay where we were and get the best out of what we had. There was no fishing in Rio Lagartos!
That was the end of dreams about tarpon, a hot shower and having some laundry done!
We decided to move from our primitive cabin in the village and rented the lower floor of a beautiful beach house from American Niki and Shon. The house was great, not that expensive and Niki and Shon were very kind and helpful hosts.
So doomed for yet another week of bonefishing, we had to overcome the disappointment of not seeing any tarpon this time around.
Nils, Michael and Gasper tried one day for tarpon in Ascension Bay, but to no avail, and even though we spotted Permit on several occasions, we never got a proper cast to any. So bones it was... for another week.
Shame on us for thinking bad about a situation like that!
We were supposed to leave from Punta Allen early and ride up to Cancun. Leaving in the morning and flying out in the late afternoon would give us a chance to see some Mayan ruins in Tulum on the way.
Knowing full well that the trip down here had taken about twice the time expected, we took no chances. We had booked a shuttle to pick us up at 7 AM and asked Sirena—our first hostess—to call and confirm it the day before.
Unfortunately this had not happened! We were up and waiting at 7, but no shuttle was in sight. At 8 we were getting impatient and checked with Sirena. Well, not she hadn't called, but she could do it now. Yes please! Well, they hadn't sent anybody, but they would do it now... YES PLEASE! We have a flight to catch! With connections!
So it was watching paint dry slowly for hour upon hour. We decided to give it until noon, but started looking around for other options anyway.
Now, in most places you would expect that some local driver would be willing to help—for good words and money. But not here. Not that they didn't want to help, but they had no cars! And the few who had, had no gas. Not even to take us to Tulum or as far as we would get before we could rendezvous with our shuttle.
We were getting desperate.
About five past noon a large four wheel drive rode into town, and about five minutes later we were on our way—assured by the driver that getting to the airport in time was no problem at all!
Goodbye Bumpy Mexico!
Punta Allen is located in the North part of Bahiah del la Ascension—or just Ascension Bay. This is again located in the province of Quintana Roo on the Yucatan Peninsula—the most Eastern part of Mexico renown for its Mayan cultural heritage and many astonishing sights for tourists. The whole area of Yucatan's Eastern coast caters to tourists and hotels are numerous as are diving sites.
Punta Allen itself is a small, remote and fairly primitive village, with few facilities and little to do apart from fishing. The restaurants are few as are the options for accommodation. But people are very friendly, seem honest and kind and the village hosts a few American citizens who for the most own businesses—outfitting anglers and other tourists, feeding them and providing them a place to sleep.
Bring plenty backing on your reels and check your knots. GFF partner Steve Schweitzer recently lost a whole line to a Hawaiian bone, which decided that it didn't want to be handled.
The leaders can be knotted or tapered leaders. About a rod length or 9' should suffice. Get some good fluorcarbon tippet material in 1X, 2X and 3X.
Flats boots are highly recommended. Wear plain socks inside them.
Wear suitable, versatile clothing, which dries fast. Long sleeves and legs if you don't withstand the sun well.
And tote your gear in a light vest, a chest or fanny pack with room for water. Always bring water.
Our single most successful fly was a small Gotcha. Gaspar recommended that over almost anything else, and would constantly ask around for a small Gotchas.Gotcha
But the fish would take other patterns too. I had particular luck with Bonefish Bitters and a small white shrimp creation that I had put together before we left home. I had about six in my box, and all except one were shredded before we headed back. The fly had no name, but to honour this trip I have named it The Bumpy White Shrimp.
General considerations about flies should be: not too big and not too shiny. Sizes from 6 to 10 seemed perfect. And bring a variation of densities and weights. Some with dumbbell eyes, some with bead chain and some with nothing—or plastic eyes.
And do bring a bunch of crab flies. Bahia de la Ascension is one of the world's best places to hunt for Permit. Especially if you come later in the season.
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