In a year when local river flows are sure to sideline many of our regular fishing trips, why not take your fly rod and your dreams of big fish to the salt?
This was my family’s third annual summer trip to Cancun. They go for the swimming pools, the warm ocean, the resort activities, and of course, the all-inclusive food and drinks. I do too, but I also go for the Tarpon. Mangrove, or “baby” Tarpon to be precise.
A quick cab ride from my hotel and a transfer to my guide’s truck for a total of 40 minutes drive time and I’m dockside along with the motorized panga that will take us another hour out onto the flats of Isla Blanca. Isla Blanca is a humongous protected coral reef filled with turtles, dolphins, mangroves, Tarpon and often Bonefish and even Permit if your timing is right.
Within 15 minutes of reaching our fishing destination we were already on a couple of schools of Mangrove Tarpon. That day and another day that week my guide found them on many different spots across Isla Blanca, just like he did for me last year, and the year before that. Oh, and did I mention?… not one other boat to be seen all day long.
I’ve landed an adult Tarpon off the shores of Miami. It was only about 60 pounds, but it still took me nearly an hour of hard fighting (and a lot of luck) to get her to the side of the boat. After that, I was pretty much one and done for the day.
Just like the adults, “baby” Tarpon fight hard for their size. They jump constantly, snap 30 pound mono like it was dry spaghetti, and spit hooks with a frequency that’ll break your heart if not your resolve. They also love to nail a well presented fly. But what they won’t do is put you flat on your back after landing just one. Mangrove Tarpon are the most challenging fish I have stalked, and they are probably the most fun to fight and land. I highly recommend you grab your rod and head to Cancun.
If you go:
Despite what you may have read about Mexico, the resort area of Cancun is clean with many available amenities and nearly universal English speaking locals who prefer US dollars.
Lodging: the hotel zone in Cancun has a wide variety of accommodations to choose from. Most are all-inclusive and family friendly. I recommend staying at a hotel on the top of “the seven”, which is the northernmost part of the hotel zone. The ocean is calmer and those hotels are closer to the fishing. We like the Hyatt Ziva.
Rod & Line: Bring a medium-fast to fast 8 or 9 weight rod and a tropical floating line. You need to be able to cast with wind, and a faster rod can help with that. After a few years of trial and error, I now exclusively use a Sage XP 9 weight loaded with a Wulff Bermuda Short tropical floating 9 weight line. The XP, while fast, will also tip-bend nicely on shorter casts while in the mangroves. A 30 pound straight fluorocarbon 9 foot leader is the ticket for Tarpon. But bring 12 pound, 12 foot tapered fluorocarbon bonefish leaders just in case. A large arbor saltwater appropriate reel is best.
Flies: Any classic Tarpon fly should work well on Isla Blanca as long as it is white or tan, size 1/0 to 2, unweighted. My go-to fly for the past couple of years has been the white Puglisi Perfect Minnow size 2. It’s a Tarpon snickers bar. This year I also brought a tan Fox Fur Tarpon fly by S.S. Flies which was met with appropriate guide enthusiasm.
Guides: I use Enrique Trinidad of Cancun Flats Fishing for Isla Blanca trips. Cost is $400 USD per day. You will start your day with a pickup at your hotel at 5:30am and be back by about 4pm. You can also do partial day outings on the Nichupte Lagoon within the hotel zone with an outfit called Cancun Tarpon Fishing. Pricing and trip details are on their website. But the Lagoon, while convenient, doesn’t hold nearly the same number of Tarpon as does Isla Blanca.
Guide Enrique “da hombre” Trinidad on the flats of Isla Blanca
Other: Pack a hat, sunscreen, light clothing and shoes that provide good traction on the deck of a skiff. I like thin soled shoes so I can feel if I’m stepping on my line. The heat is intense, so plan to dress like a Bedouin, not like a college student on spring break (you can thank me later). Bring flies (see above) as likely your guide will have few. Your guide should have tippet, but it never hurts to be prepared with that too. Also bring bug spray as you’ll likely need it and a rain jacket as you never know.