Jan S. Maizler
Those poor souls that have a lifelong unrelenting addiction to the marvelous silver king can have consolations and one of them may be knowledge. Years of hunting for tarpon far and wide provides a realization that their movements, migrations and habitat adaptability are diverse and complex. We did not need scientists to tell us that some tarpon are homebodies, some move inshore and offshore with temperature changes, some follow baitfish aggregations and migrations, and some make long migratory journeys themselves.
While the range of tarpon can run from the Carolinas to Brazil, including the entire Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico offers an especially rich environment for the silver king. Indeed, this area forms a circular perimeter from the Florida Keys to the Panhandle, extending past Louisiana and Texas and completes its rough shape on the western side of the Yucatan peninsula. The northern Yucatan with Isla Holbox has some big tarpon, yet the east side -Quintana Roo- would force you to go south of Tulum to find amounts of tarpon; but nothing compares with the massive numbers of smaller tarpon in Campeche on the west side. In other areas like Florida there are large quick-season migratory concentrations in places like Boca Grande. In contrast, Campeche offers smaller tarpon in high quantity year-round. This suits the patterning of my tarpon career which now favors shorter fights with high jumping smaller specimens rather than being dragged about the shallows by giants over one hundred pounds.
I would even surmise that in the same way the Marls are bonefish nursery grounds for Abaco and Grand Bahama Island, so may Campeche serve the same function for the tarpon of the Gulf of Mexico and the Straits of Florida.
The tarpon here range in size from a few to forty pounds in very large numbers close to one of the finest and safest cities in Mexico. Campeche is a remarkable place featuring beautiful cafes and restaurants, a National Heritage walled old city, stunning churches, quaint shops, and an atmosphere that is almost feverish for baseball. The outfitter I used the first time to come here was Tarpon Town Anglers. Owner Raul Castaneda saw to every detail to make the trip an incredible tarpon vacation success. The lodgings he chose for us was the lovely Ocean View Hotel. It was right across from the Gulf and featured a vast strolling promenade and striking sunsets. The staff at the hotel was efficient and the rooms were immaculate. I released many tarpon and ate fine Campechano food, but like all good things, time passes quickly. I was determined to get back to Campeche as soon as my busy schedule would permit. As the plane made its’ approach to Miami, afterimages of orange Gulf sunsets and the Mayan ruins at Edzna played with my mind.
Good Things Come to Those that Wait-
After four years passed-seemingly an ocean of time-I was able to book another Campeche adventure with Tarpon Town Anglers. It would be good to see Raul and his wife Laura again. I asked fishing friend Don Eichin to join me. Using the traveler’s technique of very long range planning, I was able to secure direct flights from Miami to Merida and back with Aeromexico. Raul would be waiting for us at the airport for the brisk two hour drive over excellent highways right to Campeche. When we arrived, Raul was waiting for us: how nice to see him! He brought good weather tidings that the conditions for our four days of fishing would feature fair skies with the first two days being calm and the latter two somewhat windier. That night I rigged a few rods with 8-pound and 10-pound monofilament ending in 30-pound fluorocarbon leaders. My three lures of choice were ¼ ounce white Backbone jigs and the D.O.A. Tiny TerrorEyz and Baitbuster in silver with a black back.
Our guide for the first day was Fernando. He concentrated his efforts along the open mangrove shoreline and the results were excellent. By midday, we released six nice tarpon, with ten more jumped.
Our guide today was Juan. Raul and his wife would join us midday on the fishing grounds to pursue the larger tarpon slightly offshore. Don and I left Campeche quite early and Juan was poling the mangrove edges just after sunup. Before Raul and Laura met us four hours later, we’d released another four tarpon. After our two pangas met up, we ran for awhile until we spotted a massive school of rolling, happy tarpon coming our way. When they were in reach, Don fired off a white jig while I tossed my Baitbuster right in front of them. The fish were ravenous and struck immediately, resulting in a double hookup that lasted but a few seconds as the lures were thrown despite our bowing to the fish. I made another cast and had a solid hookup. After a half-hour battle on 8-pound tackle, I had a nice 40 pound tarpon alongside our panga. The rest of the afternoon provided good action.
The wind had picked up considerably, so we tried jig fishing off Campeche for seatrout, snappers, and perhaps a cobia. We hit some incredibly prolific holes featuring big lane, mangrove, and mutton snappers, but the small anchor was no match for the strong winds, resulting in upwind runs and downwind drifts. But we had fun catching and releasing a bunch of these colorful and tasty critters.
That night Raul treated Don, I, and another party of two clients to a wonderful seafood feast of seemingly endless preparations of crab, shrimp, cobia, and octopus. The repast went well with a few delicious margaritas. After dinner, he took us for some nighttime sightseeing of this lively beautiful town.
We were out bright and early with Juan and while the winds were lighter, they were still brisk. Juan decided to take us into some canals and lagoons deep in the mangroves. We saw quite a few snook and tarpon and succeeded in catching and releasing four snook. The jungle habitat was a nice contrast to the open seas.
The next day at sunrise, Raul drove Don and I back to Merida for our flight to Miami. The reluctance I felt stepping onto the plane let me know that Campeche had a hold on me, the kind of never-let-go grip that was entirely welcome.
Tarpon Town Anglers/ Raul Castaneda
Phone- 011 521 981 1332 135
Web site- www.tarpontown.com
Ocean View Hotel
Phone- 52 981 811 9999
Web site- www.oceanview.com.mx/