Fly Fishing The Yucatan

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Photos by Rod Hamilton

Photos by Rod Hamilton

By Rod Hamilton

Standing beside our overheated car, an hour north of Cancun, my three-week fishing adventure to the Yucatan was off to a rocky start.

Weeks of preparation and planning had gone into this trip and with military precision three of us were going to explore as much of the Yucatan as possible.  The end game being to collect the remaining material I required for my next book due out in December, Fly Fishing The Yucatan.

What I had failed to do was build into the itinerary eight hours on the side of the road in one hundred degree heat.  Clearly an oversight since I have been fishing the Yucatan for more than ten years and should have expected that something “exciting” would happen.

Accompanied by co-authors Rhett Schober and Nick Denbow, the mission was to fish the Yucatan starting in the north at Rio Lagartos and over the next twenty one days, work our way south along the Caribbean coast eventually ending at the Belize border.

yucatan-1We could have outfitted a small fly shop with all the gear we had, including three inflatable SUP’s.  Fly rods in hand we booked days with independent guides, lodges and fished on our own when we could.  But secretly I had fallen in love with the romantic notion of catching all of the target species; tarpon, permit, bonefish, snook, jacks and barracuda from the platform of my SUP.

Dealing with the disabled car, we arrived in Rio Lagartos in the early morning hours.  Grabbed a couple of hours sleep then dragged our sorry, tired butts down to the dock.   Coffee in hand we met up with our guide, Isamael Navarro of The Rolling Silver Tarpon Club.

We stashed the gear into Isamael’s twenty-foot panga and made the three-minute run to the fishing grounds.  

yucatan6Peering through the early morning mist, with the engine off we could hear and see tarpon to 35 pounds all around us.  As with all trips, the travel and troubles from yesterday were now a distant memory.  Rhett jumped on the SUP we had loaded, began casting a #4 Black Death and was soon into a leaping slab of silver.  Rhett wouldn’t make it as a performer in Cirque du Soleil, but did manage to stay upright while fighting and landing the first tarpon of our trip.

Weary and bedraggled from our first day of fishing, the traveling band of misfits (that would be us) loaded all our gear into the back of a truck heading in the general direction (did I mention we didn’t have a car) of our next stop, Isla Holbox.  Excitement was off the charts anticipating our time with one of Mexico’s most famous guides, Alejandro Vega Cruz of the Holbox Tarpon Club.


Alejandro and his family are fantastic hosts and his fishing expertise lived up to his reputation. We had a marvelous time working the flats sixty minutes south of his lodge, visiting the areas where he had fished and grew up as a child.  We all caught fish under his watchful eye, but the highlight was handing him a fly rod and watching a master of our sport, cast.  Poetry is what comes to mind as we watched 100 feet of fly line effortlessly leave the bottom of the boat.

Isla Holbox is an interesting place to visit and offers a laid back, relaxed vacation destination for those who want more than just a week of tarpon fishing.  Beautiful, manicured, sandy beaches engulf a funky artist vibe that you can’t help but embrace as you poke around the island in your rented golf cart.

Next on the itinerary was Isla Blanca, located on the outskirts of Cancun.

bone1It barely gets mentioned when talking about flats fishing.  Yet an hour from the dock your guide will be polling over some of the finest flats in the Caribbean.  We were fortunate to get hooked up with Edwin Patron of Cancun Fly Fishing Express who picked us up at our Cancun hotel and drove us to his nicely outfitted panga.

Without the hyperbole of a typical fishing story, the chances are very good an average fisherman will have shots at tarpon, permit and bones.  That day we hooked all three species and as a bit of a permit snob I can tell you we had something like twenty shots at the shyest of flats fish and landing a couple by days end.  The real treasure of Isla Blanca is you can always tell your wife you have booked a beautiful romantic vacation in Cancun.  If you happen to slip away for a day while she is shopping and getting a massage, well that’s just good marital management on your part.

Taking the ferry to Cozumel, there is no question you are headed to a world famous tourist location.

Nobody else looked like us. They are all young, happy and ready to eat, drink, shop and enjoy the amenities of a first class tropical vacation spot.   Cozumel is not a fly fishing destination in itself but at the north end is a series of flats teeming with bonefish.  There are several guides that service the area and we were taken out by one of the best, Carlos Vega of Aquarius Fishing.  It’s a forty-minute run up the coastline before entering a series of flats and lagoons that stretch for miles.  Cozumel is a perfect place to combine a day or two of fishing with a family vacation.

BP-2Continuing south, the beaches along the tourist areas of Akumal and Tulum offer some fishing during non-swimming hours so it’s worthwhile to throw a rod in while packing.   For those of you carrying a fly rod along the beach at two in the afternoon, we all know you’re just looking at the girls sun bathing.

Entering the Sian Ka’an Biosphere through the north entrance, be assured you are about to encounter some of the best warm water fishing on the planet.  Stopping first at the Boca Paila bridge it’s easy to spend a full day fishing on your own for monster snook, jacks that will rip the rod out of your hands, bones that appear from nowhere, permit cruising by, ninety pound tarpon streaming along the shoreline and five foot cudas that will scare the begeezus out of you when they eat your popper.

As good as the fishing is at the mouth of Boca Paila, the best known destination is found farther south at the world class lodges along the shore of Ascension Bay.

PermitFor decades, the self-proclaimed “Permit Capital Of The World”, Punta Allen and Ascension Bay have offered flats fisherman the ultimate challenge of bagging the Grand Slam.  Staying at places like Club Grand Slam and Pesca Maya it’s difficult to imagine better fishing, accommodation, food or guides.

After exiting the Biosphere back toward Tulum, head due south away from gringo Mexico to real Mexico.  Traveling through small villages and stopping at a roadside vendor for a piece of refreshing fruit gives you the feeling that you are experiencing Mexico as it is meant to be seen.

When you reach Mahahual prepare yourself for either a quaint little Mexican fishing village or a full-blown tourist beach party.  It just depends on whether a cruise ship is in dock or not.  Regardless, this is one of my favorite places in the Yucatan to set up shop.  From here the possibilities are endless.  You can spend days exploring either north or south, fishing the ocean side for bones, permit, jacks and cudas or jump on an SUP to fish the inland lagoons for tarpon and snook.

Forty minutes south of Mahahual is Xcalak, everything a small Mexican fishing village is supposed to be.

yucatan2With a population of a few hundred people, sand roads and virtually no services, it feels like this is where permit, tarpon and bonefish live.  There are a few places to stay like Costa de Cocos and Tierra Maya and a couple of small restaurants that serve lunch and dinner.  For the fisherman that doesn’t require anything fancy this is the ideal destination to either fish on your own or with one of the established local guides.

It was a fantastic trip and we fished a different location every day from the Yucatan’s far north to Chetumal Bay on the Belize border.  There are very few places in the world that are so simple to reach, are easy on the pocketbook and offer the fly fisherman a chance to hook up with a multitude of species.

I know, you are wondering if I accomplished my goal of catching every target species off the SUP.   Why don’t we just leave it at this, I hardly ever fell in.

Rod’s book “Do It Yourself Bonefishing” is spectacular! You can read a review HERE.



Or order your copy HERE

Rod Hamilton
Gink & Gasoline
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5 thoughts on “Fly Fishing The Yucatan

  1. Saw some pics of the trip on FB, looking forwarding to picking up a copy when it hits the shelves. I’m sure between the 3 of you we can expect an awesome resource for those wishing to explore more then the ‘typical’ spots…I know just from reading this I’ve got one on my radar.

    Tight Lines

  2. Living in Mexico I know Rhett Schober well and if any man knows flyfishing the Yucatan (He’s lived there for many years) it’s this guy.

    If he’s a contributor then anybody wanting to get a background on this great part of Mexico can’t go far wrong!

  3. Awesome article and awesome book!! I’ll be heading to the Yucatan in January for my honeymoon, and my wife-to-be and I have a day booked with Carlos Vega. It will be my first time on the flats and I can’t wait to mess up on some bonefish (and maybe even land a few)! Thanks again for the great book Rod, can’t wait to get the next one!!

  4. One word of caution at the Sian Ka’an, There are many salt water crocodiles there. I fished it recently and saw a 12′ specimen and a couple of others. Since this became a reserve 20+ years ago the population has rebounded and they are protected. I don’t think I’m spot burning on the Boca Paila bridge when I give the advice to park at the bridge parking area and then hike back from the bridge where the flat meets the road. Do not take the small path to the channel and hike in that way. The water at the end of the path leading to the flat is deep to the point where you can’t see the bottom. In my mind a great ambush point for a croc. I hired a local guide form Casa Viejo Chac, Manuel Chac in Punta Allen for a day. Aside from being amazing and knowledgeable to spend time with he told a story relating to the crocodiles about a local guy who was hand line fishing. The end of the story was, “all they found was his bike…” Beautiful location, caught some bones and other less noteworthy flats fish DIYing it. Be aware.

  5. Rod. I don’t know if you knew it but Manuel Chac, Owner of Casa Villa Chac in Punta Allen, was murdered Wednesday ( 1/17/2018. I had fished with him for the last 30 years and he was an amazing person and guide… He will be greatly missed in the fishing village of Punta Allen

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