|John Parsons Fishing Report|
– THE FISHING
Early May, 2010: Yury and I commenced operations in Cancun. We made a base at the Ritz Carlton in Cancun deciding that a bit of luxury was appropriate after the long Trans Atlantic haul. We had a couple of sessions fishing locally and were rewarded with some lively fishing for baby tarpon up to around 12lbs - but the real adventure began when we headed south to find Ascension Bay and Pesca Maya. We left Cancun at 4 in the morning and had a straightforward run down the 307, past the Tulum ruins before making a left for the Sian Ka'an Arch and so into the nature reserve. The final 42 km were a mixture of ordeal and excitement. I won’t comment too much on the condition of the road – sufficient to say that I am glad we had hired a robust 4 wheel drive and were not in a hurry. It seemed as if our journey would never end. But periodically the jungle would open up to a sweeping sea view reminding us of what lay ahead.
When fishing with Yury, as I occasionally do, I have come to learn that there will never be a shortage of tackle between us. Yury packs for every eventuality! But really we didn’t need 6 rods each, 2000 flies and box after box of plastic lures for every occasion. A couple of rods will do fine: Perhaps a 7 weight for the bonefish and a 9 weight for Tarpon, Permit and Barracuda. A floating line is all you need on the flats although having a sinker in your bag might prove useful if you decide to go reef fishing. Leader material can be 8 to 10 pounds for bonefish, and 20 to 40 for bigger species. If you decide to fly fish for barracuda please bring some Kevlar!
Yury is an old hand in the Caribbean. He had an almost perverse selection of white, brown and pink crab and shrimp patterns – some with rubber legs and rabbit fur. We used mostly 10s and 8s. Bigger and more crabby versions can be used for permit (2s and 4s) and 1/0 lures in black and purple for tarpon. You can buy lures at Pesca Maya at $5 a pop but bring a modest selection if you can.
At breakfast Ricardo, the lodge manager, casually showed us the catch record book. It seems everything landed by guests at Pesca Maya is recorded. It also seemed to us that morning that the catches recorded were impossibly large! Double digit catches of bones were common and one entry from the previous day was for an unimaginable 60 bonefish!
At this point a few words about our main quarry: Bonefish are famous to almost every fisherman on the planet, even if they have not been lucky enough to cast for one. The fame is based mainly for two things. Firstly they are acknowledged, even by the most experienced globetrotting anglers, to be exceptional fighters: for their comparatively small size – perhaps the greatest. A fish of only a couple or three pounds, when hooked, can head for the horizon making long runs of up to 100 yards. A rueful Pesca Maya lodge guest told me one evening that he had lost a good bonefish and for several minutes he had not even been able to see his fly line, so far had the big fish run off. The second issue of fame or perhaps infamy is that bonefish are difficult to catch. You need (so the legend runs) exceptional eyesight, preternatural stealth and the ability to cast 35 yards with a single false cast and land the fly just in front of a near invisible quarry. Yury and I believed both. We had both fished the Caribbean before but neither of us had successfully taken a single bonefish on fly. As we flicked through the record book that first breakfast, it seemed to us that the claim that someone had caught 60 in a day was not merely beyond belief - but even beyond fantasy!
The two of us set off around 9 – one boat, two anglers and two guides - Dawrin Xec and his young assistant Rodolfo looking after Yuri and I. We explained to them that we had no sophisticated plans. We only wanted to catch a bonefish on fly and asked them to please take us to where they would take a beginner. If we caught some bonefish then we would be ready afterwards for more challenging fishing.
We motored around the reef anchoring occasionally and fishing for ten minutes then moving on. Eventually we split up with Yuri wading and me taking the boat. After two hours we had probably already caught more than 40 bonefish between us – not to mention small jacks and perch. We were very happy but...... Well firstly, the fish were rather small. Most were less than a pound. Secondly we were fishing “blind” – just casting to cloudy areas in which silt was kicked up by the grazing (but unseen) fish. We were more than satisfied having lost our bonefish virginity but were ready now for something a bit more challenging.
Dawrin explained that we should now go sight fishing for better quality fish. It is more difficult, he explained, but not impossible. And so, during the next few hours I landed 8 or 10 more bonefish, lost a similar number and of course spooked 100’s through inelegant and inaccurate casting. But in Ascension bay – a missed fish is hardly a disaster. Within a few minutes there was always a fresh target to cast for. Pesca Maya must be the best place in the world to learn basic bonefishing techniques. After graduating from our “fish-a-cast” induction fishing “blind”, we now spotted, cast towards and then induced a take from every fish. There was almost a rhythm to the whole thing. A sweep of the eyes, a swish of the rod – strip, strip, strip and set. To set the hook into a taking bone involved a “strip strike”. That is what they do in these parts. That is striking by stripping the line smartly back on the take rather than by raising the rod. It took a while to defy our instincts to slam the rod back every time we got a pull but we managed it eventually.
These “sight fished” bones were larger – between 2 and 3 pounds mostly - and fulfilled every promise with long peeling runs to the far beyond. They were not huge by Caribbean standards (although we spotted much larger fish) but more than enough to keep us happy. And of course there are lots of other things to see on the reef. Sting rays would sail by serenely; impossibly large barracuda would glare at us menacingly and then drift off. Now and again a small shark would come into view and shoot off in a panic: Always something going on – a slow moving visual feast.
Yury was addicted and didn’t stop until he had bought 50 bonefish to hand. I had around half that number although could have had more if I’d fished longer and wanted to. I am glad Yury did so well because unfortunately for the last 2 days Yury had to go back to Cancun whilst I was left alone to try any kind of fishing I fancied with 2 guides to myself!
So basically I tried a bit of everything and experimented with a lot with different techniques and locations. I had a go for a permit (failed), I tried sight fishing for shark (failed) and I had a go on the reef. The latter was great fun with several acrobatic barracudas and recalcitrant snapper and toothy needlefish coming to the boat. I of course had many more bones and nudged the personal best to around 4 pounds. The fishing is constantly absorbing, occasionally dramatic and generally highly visual. Although on my second day, out with Isaias Ancona and his assistant Moises, I had a couple of “mystery hook ups”: Big unseen fish that refused to be seen, let alone be landed.
Pesca Maya is a beautiful place to stay. It is a fisherman’s paradise and perhaps any person’s paradise: Set in amongst the coconut trees just a few steps away from a wooden staircase to a picture post card, Caribbean beach. Each evening was sat sipping beers on the terrace, viewing the white sandy beach, lulled by the surf – awaiting another Pesca Mayan communal feast. Then after dinner, in doors, there was the fishing talk. Ulrich and Wolfgang, 2 visitors from Germany really hammered the permit. Another group from Arkansas had great fun with tarpon – loosing 6 for every individual landed. But other conversations were more philosophical or even scientific. Rogelio, Pesca Maya’s owner, expounding on different technologies experimented with and applied to keeping Pesca Maya cool, efficient and safe in a sometimes challenging environment.
The accommodation at Pesca Maya is perfectly comfortable by the way. I had a large air conditioned room with a sea view and fish shaped wall hangers. I am sure that fishing mad Russians with beach loving partners would find the ideal mixed activity holiday here.
I caught up with Yuri in Cancun where we discovered that between us we had managed to leave a rod and reel behind at Pesca Maya. Don’t worry Ricardo – we’ll come back for it soon! I flew out midday on Sunday to London. However, Yury’s flight to Moscow was a bit later leaving him just 4 hours to make a final trip off Cancun. I am happy to report he managed a super Grand Slam of four species in the one short session: A bonefish, snook, permit and tarpon of 4, 2, 7 and 12 pounds respectively.
Lost rods aside, Pesca Maya is not the kind of place you can only visit once. The owner encouraged us to come back in the winter and concentrate on the permit. We’ll see you then Rogelio.
– THE FISH
These torpedo-shaped fish often resemble gray ghosts as they streak through the shallow backwaters and along the fringes of mangrove forests. Their silvery color often casts reflections of blue and green, and dark streaks punctuate the gaps between the scales on their upper body. Bonefish have a conical, scale-less head with a black-tipped snout and small mouth. They have a single sail-shaped dorsal fin, a powerful muscled body, and a deeply forked tail. Bonefish are grouped with tarpon, eels and ladyfish, because all of these fish have a similar larval stage, but the only other characteristic they share is that most of them are not considered good to eat. Nevertheless, tarpon and bonefish are greatly prized by sport anglers for their wily nature and tenacious spirit. Bonefish may live as long as 19 years. Females are slightly longer than males of the same age.
Permit are marine fish in the Trachinotus genus of the Carangidae family (better known as "jacks"). They are closely related to pompano, which also feed mostly on crabs and shrimp. Permit, however, when hungry, can be voracious predators, chasing down large baitfish or squid, contradicting their reputation as timid feeders that only eat crabs. Their appearance is deep bodied like a mackerel transformed into a parallelogram - but typically silver colored and toothless with a forked tail and narrow base. Two United States Navy submarines are named after it. Permit can exceptionally reach 3 feet long and weigh more than thirty pounds but those caught during my visit were mostly around seven pounds.
Permit live in tropical waters around the globe, and they come into the shallow flats found throughout the Caribbean where they are pursued by fly fishers. Because the permit is often so difficult to catch, the fish is regarded as saltwater fly fishing's most coveted trophy.
Tarpon look to me like North Sea herrings that decided to grow 100 times larger. The tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) inhabits coastal waters, estuaries, lagoons and rivers feeding mostly on schooling fish and occasionally crabs. Tarpons are capable of filling their swim bladder with air, like a primitive lung which gives the Tarpon a predatory advantage when oxygen levels in the water are low. In appearance, Tarpon are greenish or bluish on top with large, even silver scales on the sides. The large mouth is turned upwards and the lower jaw contains an elongated bony plate (making them tough to hook). The last ray of the dorsal fin is much longer than the others, reaching nearly to the tail.
These fish are often easy to see around the mangroves and not to difficult to cast a fly to and get a take. But even “baby” Tarpon of ten to twenty pounds are difficult to hook with the majority of fish coming off after a couple of jumps. Big Tarpon grow to over one hundred pounds and occasionally twice that but the usual target in Ascension Bay are the smaller fish up to around thirty pounds.
For more details please check out our fishing opportunities in Ascension Bay
Please check more pictures in our gallery
Please click here to check more information at Ascension Bay fishing links