TarponTown Anglers-Campeche, Mexico Reprise
Jan S. Maizler
“Every effective angling travel trip begins months before departure”-
I’d been hearing about the discovery and unfolding of a prolific baby tarpon fishery on the west coast of the Yucatan peninsula for about 2 years. I was anxious to experience what all the buzz was about and so I made arrangements to visit the epicenter of the fishery in Campeche, Mexico. Since tarpon behave consistently- be it in Florida, the Caribbean, or central America, I booked my dates in June, a month that would assure me water temperatures over 75 degrees, relatively calm weather, as well as a time of year when the threat of hurricanes and tropical storms was not at its’ peak.
The pre-trip research I always did revealed that most of the fishery involved grassflats as well as mangrove canals. Therefore, I was sure to time my visit during the quarter moon neap tides- this would insure that the low tides would not be so extreme as to drive the fish completely out of the mangrove forests and into the expansive Gulf of Mexico. Conversely, it would also insure that the high tides would not be so extreme as to flood the mangroves and give the tarpon and rest of the game fish an overabundance of water to spread out in.
Amongst the guides and operators in Campeche, I chose Raul Castaneda of Tarpon Town Anglers. I got a distinct impression from his web site (in contrast to one or two other operations) that his fully licensed charter service had a multi-species and multi-tackle orientation. This would be important for at least two reasons. Firstly, it would give me the widest opportunities to search out and experience the broadest possible facets of a new fishery that I’d be covering. Secondly, it might also predict how open-minded the operating philosophy of his charter service would be as to welcoming light tackle anglers and flyfishers alike as well as the species they could pursue.
When I spoke to him on the phone, his friendly efficient demeanor and response to my questions indicated his obvious broadmindedness as to scope of anglers and fish species alike. I was convinced that I’d chosen the right man. He made it clear to me that while he and his five guides generally targeted tarpon, they were also open to catching snook, jacks, snapper, grouper, barracuda, and seatrout (locally called corvina). In fact, Raul’s willingness to experiment with my friend Art and I would result not only in confirming the excellent light tackle tarpon fishing, but it aided in my discovery of the finest spotted seatrout fishing I had ever experienced! My thinking even went so far as to discuss with Raul the three species that could constitute a “Campeche Slam”, but the fishing was so good, I never got around to it.
Given that the primary target species were tarpon, it was no surprise that the fishery was a boat-based experience. With that feature in mind, I asked Raul about the vessels that comprised TarponTown’s charter fleet. His charter service offered four pangas with either center console or tiller layouts. Two of the engines were modern Honda four-stroke engines. The other two skiffs had dependable Yamaha two-stroke motors. All of the fishing to be done would be by motoring to the outskirts of our target area, and then by poling the pangas into and through the fished areas, which were either open grass flats, mangrove edges, or canals that ran through the “bush.”
All of his skiffs had VHF radios, cell phones, GPS units, loads of drinking water, ice chests full of sandwiches, cookies, and fruit, and notably, extra gas tanks, which gave the vessels additional running range needed for searching out baby silver kings in this huge habitat. In addition, for family group fishing and/or offshore operation, Raul had an excellent 28-foot center console vessel with a tee-top on hand.
The research I did about the city of Campeche itself indicated that it was a delightful destination for anglers and non-anglers alike. The city itself had about 250,000 residents, which gave it a “big enough, but not too big” quality.
Campeche city is the capital of the Mexican state of Campeche and it lies on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. The city was founded around 1540 by Spanish conquistadors right on top of the pre-existing Mayan city of Canpech. The city nowadays is graced with a beautiful historic district that is replete with excellent restaurants, arts and crafts galleries, and entertainment complexes. In addition, the countryside- which lays in the Yucatan interior- features some breathtaking and splendid Mayan ruins. For the manicured sportsman, the city offers golf, while anglers and their friends and family looking to go “green” have a number of kayak operations to choose from.
Platformed on top of all these exciting prospects was Raul’s plan to have us stay at the beautiful Ocean View Hotel. As the name implies, it sits right across the Gulf of Mexico shoreline. I was informed that we would take an early yet sumptuous breakfast at the hotel before leaving for the close by marina where his pangas were moored. When we returned to the Ocean View, a dip in the pool would be a welcome prospect, as would a massage at the hotel’s modern state of the art spa. With all these wonderful features, Art and I decided this was definitely a “with-spouses” trip.
The Campeche Fishing Begins-
The first day of fishing began with Art and I fishing with our guide Juan, whose facial features and eyes gave him the nickname, “Chino.” Fernando followed us around in another panga for use as a camera boat. Though we were pleased to see it was a fair weather sky, the obvious brisk northeasterly winds were sure to give us a challenge in terms of spotting the tarpon as the grassflats off Campeche were carpeted with countless wavelets just past the mangrove “wind shadow” all the way out to the endless Gulf horizon. Also, it had been our experience that tarpon in the shallows are generally less reluctant to roll compared to their frolicking in bathtub-calm seas.
Nevertheless, with two great guides, two pangas, and Juan’s ever-present hand-held GPS, we were able to find tarpon- and lots of them! Our guides carefully scanned the “down-wave” seas with fair success by splitting up by 100 yards and double-teaming their spotting by talking on their VHF radios. We were able to get off about 20 casts to these outside fish, but managed only a few light strikes on our ¼ ounce white Spro bucktails and 3/8 -ounce red and white Backbone lures. Art employed 8-pound spinning tackle and I used 10-pound plug tackle.
We decided to move into the mangrove canals for more windless conditions. I pared down my fluorocarbon leader from 40-pound test to 30-pound test. We spotted a few fish deep in the forest, but they, too, seemed reluctant to strike. After 6 hours of fishing, we decided to pack it in and head south to Campeche. I have to confess I insisted that Juan stop the skiff a few miles from port so we could cast to a school of big jacks and some huge houndfish that were savaging a massive school of sardines. The jacks were locally called “corel” and ran to 5 pounds- they were great fighters! The houndfish ran to an incredible 7 pounds and fought like baby sailfish. Juan found these fish amusing, but his expression went to careful caution when he had to unhook these writhing monsters. We then headed in with some of our hunger for action sated.
Day #2- Success Both Early and Late-
Raul joined us this day in the second skiff. We were pleased to see that the conditions were overcast and flat calm. We ran north for over an hour to one of Raul’s secret spots. As soon as the two skiffs came off plane in unison, both guides pointed to a huge area that seemed coated with rolling tarpon- the fish were so numerous I felt like I was in a dream!
My first cast was about 10 feet in front of and past a slow moving school of small tarpon. After the second sweep of my rod, I had a solid strike and drove my hook hard as I struck back. Seconds later, a 15-pound specimen went flying into the air. I made short work of this fish on my plug tackle. It felt good that my first tarpon release came on my first cast. We spent that magic morning jumping lots of fish and releasing a few more.
But midday meant a change of venue, as our plans called for us to experience as many species and methods as possible in Campeche. Juan and Raul discussed our next move and they decided to run south-southwest to a reefy area in 6 feet of water that they said was ideal for casting lures on light tackle. After a 1-hour run to the spot, we had a few hours left to fish. Juan told me to cast my white Spro bucktail to the light areas on the bottom. As long as we kept our casts accurate and started our jigging on the bottom, we were rewarded with grouper, small cubera snappers, and barracuda topping 15 pounds. As the sun began setting, we got underway to head back to the city after an excellent day of fishing.
Day #3- A Seatrout Extravaganza
Since we had reached an agreement that we would devote one morning to seatrout, and this morning’s flat cloudy conditions replicated yesterday’s weather, today would be the day. Raul agreed to an even earlier start this day so we had the maximized low light hours seatrout often like.
Today, Raul, Juan and Fernando would be joining Art and I as fellow anglers: it was clear that they were looking forward to doing some fishing themselves. We all hopped into Raul’s big center console vessel and got underway. The total time from the marina to the grass beds was 5 minutes and right off downtown.
While the other anglers started out casting bucktails, Juan gave me a wink and rigged my plug rod with a ¼-ounce jighead rigged with a yellow and orange soft plastic grub. Almost immediately, everyone hooked up with seatrout, yet I observed that the biggest fish-, which almost ran to 5-pounds-, were caught on my colorful grub. In three hours we had released over 65 trout and had kept another half-dozen for the table.
After we’d caught our fill of trout with a frequency and size I’d never experienced in my home waters of Florida, we called it quits even though we were deep in the middle of an ongoing trout bite. My afternoon was to be taken up with Raul’s driver, Nacho, taking my wife and I inland to visit the spectacular Mayan ruins at Edzna.
Day #4- Fishing, Then Farewell-
The last morning was arranged for Art and I to sample the tarpon fishing south of Campeche along the rocky beaches. We were in 1 panga that day, as Juan ran south from downtown for about a half hour. Juan slowed down and cut the engine as we could see some gulls working a sardine school close to a shoreline. As he poled closer, we could see tarpon rolling in the midst of the bait school.
I hooked up a small tarpon on my second cast and released it. Art and I jumped a few more baby silver kings in the next hour. When we saw another melee down the beach, I asked Juan to take us there. All that action turned out to be a big jack attack and those wonderful fish hit practically anything we threw at them!
Since we had an afternoon plane to catch, we reluctantly headed back to port. During our farewell with Raul at the airport, I was quick to make it clear this was not “goodbye”- it was only “until next time.”
Web site: http://www.tarpontown.com/
Lately I just wanted to fish. I leave all the fancy camera gears at home and just concentrate on fishing. Sorry for the poor quality pics with the Iphone but I just wanted to Just fish.
My local waters of Tampa Bay has been fishing well lately. With fall passing and the fronts starting to come in our snook are starting to head into the rivers and the bait is thinning out.
This usually means low tide, the big trout are coming and the water clears up. This opening up room for sight fishing for reds and fly fishing opportunities. With all the bait gone fish are more apt to feed on the artificial as well.
The first day I took Jeremy and Todd out fishing in the Ranger Ghost. Jeremy was working as captain in Little Cayman for 8 years and he is back in his home town to fish a bit. His waters just so happen to be the Ruskin area.
We manage a few fish but the bite was a bit off but it was a good time on the waters. We caught reds, and black drum out on the flats. Little trout and jacks were also around to keep us busy.
This next trip I took the Hobie out to fish JD and Cameron. This was an early start for the half day fishing trip.
The bite the first two hours were dismal as nothing was feeding at all. By 10am though things started to turn on for us. We got into trout, lots of small snooks and towards the end redfish in the 22-24″ range.
What started off as a very poor start turned to be a good day. Some times it pays to stick it out.
Hilary is a girl from the running club. She started to follow me in instagram and wanted to try some fishing. You heard it, lives in Florida and has NEVER tried fishing.
Well she picked the right day to give a shot as it was chamber of commerce day. Seas were calm and winds were light.
It did not take long to get her fish fish ever. A little dink trout in the canal on the way out. As we tried for more trout we got a nice pompano out of it as well. This guy ended up going home for dinner I might add.
It being so calm we decided to make a run to a nearby reef. We got into Spanish Mackerel , baby mangrove snapper and I caught my largest Grouper this year.
I was drifting a shrimp on a 1/16th oz jig head and he came up on ate it. The fight was surprising brief considering I only had 15braid. By the time it was all said and one I had landed a 28.5″ Gag grouper.
After a few more spanish we called it day and headed in for some lunch. Hillary is now officially addicted to fishing.
This morning I took the kayak out for a spin. I only had a couple hours but with the tide so low and the sun forecasted to come out I wanted to see what is out there after the cold front.
I tell you it wasn’t much. I did hook a small redfish on a jig but before that eat it was tons of casting with out a hit or seeing any fish and bait.
Before heading in I decided to give up the my favorite winter jig and go with a mirrordine. After about 6 cast I hooked his 27.5″ redfish. After a few photo I released him and headed in. I made it my last cast.
Sweetwater Sanctuary with Captain Alan Zaremba
My trip this morning with Alan was perfectly-timed. Besides offering a refuge from the recent high winds, the trip was still during a time of moderate temperature- which in my opinion was more peacock-friendly. Alan reported that his recent freshwater canal fishing offered a chance of gamesters with an Everglades backdrop. Since Alan only fishes lures and flies, I looked forward to an added dimension of fun and challenge. I was disappointed with the poor lighting that the day afforded for photos but equally grateful that there was only a little drizzling under threatening skies.
Almost minutes after Alan launched his Gheenoe until four hours later, we had reliable action. Our tally was a mixture of about thirty fish comprised of largemouth bass, peacock bass, and mayan cichlids.
All of our fish were taken on either topwater or lipped swimming plugs.
Captain Alan Zaremba
Typical of our spooky Tampa Bay redfish these guys would not eat anything I would throw at them. I am referring the fishing I did last week when I got back in town all spoiled from fishing non spooky Texas fish.
I took out the Hobie Proangler on low tide and started poling the area. I started to see tailing reds but they will not eat anything. I even got desperate and tried dead sticking gulps to no avail. These guy know that there is a splash nearby they will refuse to eat and slowly move on.
Since I was suppose to testing out the Reddington Vapen Red Fly I had it with me. I tied on the weedless Meade’s Gutless crab fly. Since they was refusing pretty much everything(yes even live shrimp my friend was throwing at them) I figure I could not loose.
The first fish I saw that was in range here was the result.
So this is day 2 of my fishing Texas adventure. Today I fish with John West. I connected with John through a mutual fishing friend here in Florida, Kris Howell. We tried to get together before but circumstances just did not work out.
The day started off early for me. I was up by 4am to make the 1 hour 15minute drive over to meet John at his house in Beaumont. After quick stop ate McDonald for a chicken biscuit , a coffee and was actually on time. We loaded up the Ranger Phantom and was on our way in 15minutes. The drive was going to take us at least another 30 minutes. We were to be fishing Sabine Lake. Another random new place I have never fished so excited to see new scenery.
In the distance approaching the lake, I see lights high in the sky. I am thinking this looks like a big city, why have I not heard of this place? As we approach, it became clear these were not normal buildings at all, they were oil refinery structures. John explains, though the area has created a bunch of jobs for the locals the neighborhood itself however, is quite scary. Note to self: no hanging out in Port Arthur.
Driving through the structure it definitely is quite a departure from the boat ramps in Florida. I love it though, a change of scenery is always cool to see.
We arrived and there were a couple boats that had already a launched but definitely not busy day by any standards. With a surprising 5 to 10mph winds we were off as the sun came up.
The first thing we did after we launched was to look for birds feeding. Since fishing with Clint the day before I knew exactly what to look for.
We stopped at a point where the birds were feeding and we started to pull in small trout and reds. I had one blow up on the she dog and when I set the hook it took the top water with it. I must have had a nick in the line. I will never know how big that fish was. You know what they say “not makes a fish bigger than almost being caught.”
A few cast later John did that this slow red on the jig he was using. As the sun came up the bite slowed, the winds picked up so we decided to move on and fish the marshes.
The winds picked up dramatically as it went from 5-10mph to 15 to 20mph which made for some tough maneuvering in the mashes. We saw a few fish but I have to say, today the fish were a bit finicky. We would cast cast cast.. then we would drift over the spot and the fish would spook off. Quite frustrating knowing you cast there 5 times with out an eat right before.
Finally I found a small pod of fish that decided to cooperate. Success with the mirror lure Lil Jon.
The Lil jon worked out well for this flounder as well.
About noon we picked put the boat back on the trailer, grab some lunch and relaunched nearby . The tide at this point was slacked so we had to wait a bit. Since I had to be done by 3pm we were pressed for time. Once the tide changed though, the bite turned on quite nicely. John got 2 reds, miss a couple more and I landed my largest Flounder all in one stretch of shore line.
Logic lure jiggly wiggly jighead rigged on a gulp shrimp got this flounder to the boat and into the cooler.
After a couple photos it was time to head in … Thanks Jon for a great trip when I come back next time I promise to have more time to wait for the tide!
If you every used a truck bed extender then you are familiar with scrapping up your driveway and hitting speed bumps. Due to the design of the extenders under load the metal is sure to hit the asphalt sooner or later.
The guys at BooneDox Saw a need for a better bed extender so they came up with the T-bone. Again I say to myself “why didn’t I think of this!?”.
The concept is quite simple. Instead of heaving it squared off it curves upwards leaving plenty of clearance. It’s lightweight, compact and looks much better than the run of the mill bed extender.
One of the coolest thing about social media is the fact that you can network with almost anyone in the world. This networking came in handy when I was visiting Texas last week.
I was there for a week and did not really know the area. I message a few people I know in the fishing industry and in no time I had more fishing trips lined up that I had time for.
The first trip was kayak trip I got connected with was Clint. I got a hold of him through a fellow south east kayak fisherman Benton. Clint was super cool giving me tips and areas I should look this time of year to find fish in the Texas waters. This was very helpful when I fished myself later in the week.
Since we were kayak fishing I wanted to use a Hobie PA 14. With some help I found a place in Houston that rented them. Austin Kayak on Bissonnet had a PA14 bed extender and set up when I arrived. They had all kinds of gear inside for Kayaks I have never seen before. I wish I had more time to browse but time was wasting. I did buy a map of the area I was going to fish to get a better lay out of the land.
I drove from the Austin Kayak directly to the launch location to meet up with Clint. He tells me the area is good for big trout and that was what he was mainly targeting. Me I just wanted to catch anything.
It took an extra bit to rig up as this was the first time, but we manage to launch about 4pm. Clint tells me all he uses is She Dog, Corky and jigs with soft plastics. I always do what the locals tells me and add a couple of things I thought might work as well. This time I added a mirrordine and a doa shrimp.
It did not take long after the launch for us to start seeing life. Mullet everywhere and things getting chased. Clint tells me to look out for diving birds, this was a good sign for trout and redfish feeding on bait. Usually in Florida when I see that inshore I avoid them as they are usually lady fish or small jacks. He also tells me to look for slicks, as this was a sign of feeding activity. If I happen to smell watermelon this was also a sign of trout feeding. Wow the things you learn about species you thought you knew.
Not to be out done I catch a baby black drum on my DOA shrimp.
We did another drift with out any luck so we moved on looking for birds. Once the birds were found I peddle over and on the first cast got a nice slot red who was feeding under the birds. A few more cast resulted in more trout, but the small kind. We continued this strategy until we caught more trout and a couple more reds. Now it was time to look for schooling reds.
We drifted shallower and shallower. Clint manage to catch a couple more reds. The school of reds we were looking for was no where to be found however.
As the sun was setting we did a wading session that did not reward us. The sunset bite on the way in was pretty damn good though. The birds were all over and trout were feeding on top coming out of the water after my top water lure.
Almost every cast our lure was attacked. As we head in the mosquito came out and it was brutal. Wearing shorts proved a bad idea.
Thanks Clint for helping me out with shortening the learning curve fishing the Texas waters and showing me around. I will be back!
Stuff we used if you’re interested:
Today after fishing the Texas waters last week I was dying to get out and wet a line. The winds were blowing 20-25 mph so it was not pretty out side.
After a bit of contemplation I put my big boy pants on and hit the water in the Hobie PA14. Some times the weather man is wrong but he was spot on today with the 20-25mph winds forecast.
I drift the flats at hyper speed and stopped here and there at places that I thought looked promising but to no avail. I was running out of time since I know it will take me a bit to get back going against the winds and waves.
After 2 hours of casting and getting zero rewards and barely seeing any life on the flats I gave up and started to head in. I got to the point where the water was just too shallow for my mirage drive. I got out and tied the rope to my waist. Since it was sunny I could see in the shallow sand flats so I grabbed a rod rigged with a Logic Lure and a 1/4oz jig head.
To my surprise I started to see fish on the shallow sand bars where I was walking. First it was a small shark. Then a snook that was totally oblivious to me being there. I sight casted him while it was only 12′ from me and he did not hesitate.
The next fish not to long after I release the snook was my largest Florida flounder at almost 20″ on the same lure.
I packed it in so I could do some catching up. Some times it pays off to keep fishing when you head back in. Today was definitely the case.
This time of year I like low tide as the fish are concentrated.
I also like jigs as the fish are usually less aggressive and stay on near the bottom on cold days.
On the flats its 1/8th or 1/4 oz jig heads.
I like to fish 1 to 3′ of water, unless I am fishing canals.
These fish caught today were in less than knee high water.