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/
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
Curacao, Netherland Antilles Retrospective
Curacao is part of the Netherland Antilles. Specifically, it is part of a three-island group (Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire) off the coast of Venezuela. I have traveled there many times and experienced some very good snook and tarpon fishing, but this fishery is at the mercy of industrial pressures. The three major languages spoken are Dutch, Papiemento (the local “creole”), and English. The diving in Curacao can be quite good, at times rivaling Bonaire. The climate is dry and the island is full of melodious birds. Curacao is perhaps best known for the colorful Punda section and the floating bridge in Willemstad, the island’s capital.
Here are some images of a recent trip I made to Curacao.
CLICK ON THE IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM-
SaltyShores Close-Up: Tybee Island and Savannah, Georgia
Tybee Island has an inshore fishery like a paradise. Loads of gamesters swim in the complex of marshes, creeks, and open ocean. And the Southern, Low Country food to be enjoyed there is diverse, plentiful, and superb. My guide was Captain Brian Woelber of One More Cast Charters.
Here are some images of the wonderful experience.
BE SURE TO CLICK ON THE IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.
The summer heat isn’t the only cause for anglers perspiring at the thought of our National Parks right now. The recent National Park closures have sparked some heat among us fisherman who really enjoy this great resource we have in South FL. Times like these leave me reflecting on the great memories raising Hell in the Everglades and Biscayne National Parks this past summer. Law Enforcement is now patrolling the boundary line entering the ENP from the Keys but I can’t help but feel tempted to cross over and pole some of my favorite flats until the blue lights chase us.
Fall is approaching now as we are adorned by NE winds following the last few storms of the year. As the season takes a shift, so does our fishery. The park closures have kept man out of the glades and there is no telling what we will find when the gates open up once more. I, for one am anxious to get back to my slices of heaven… Everglades and Biscayne National Park.
A story told through photo’s of a great trip in a beautiful place. I flew to Colorado and meet up with my friend Marsh Thomson. A retired veteran guide and now fishing tackle rep.We did over a thousand miles of driving in the five day trip to fish his favorite spots and as many great places we could. I hope you enjoy seeing the images as much as I did taking them! Enjoy
First off we stopped in Kirk’s fly shop for my waders and fishing license.
Hahahaha Had to take a pick,love the name. Don’t see that in Miami.
Next we stopped in Boulder Boat Works to pick up or boat for the first part of the trip.
Got a quick tour of how they build the best drift boats on the market!
The owner Andy gave us a quick walk through.
And we hit the road
Seeing new things
And new landscapes in Wyoming
First stop in Wyoming five hrs later was to set up our shuttle service for our tomorrow mornings fishing.
Check in our room and hit the water for a quick sunset trip to wet a line
We were hooked up instantly! Field testing out the new Hardy Jet 4wt. Sick rod!
Beautiful sunset rainbow
Yes after a little food we were back out fly fishing at night for trout!?! A little dangerous in the currents for sure but we did it.
Morning came quick and we were back at it ready to take on the North Platte river! Square anchors??? going to be interesting!
Never seen a drain plug like that and in the center of a boat! They call me a flat lander out here! hahaha
Got them to eat the hopper fly! Epic bite!
Sure didn’t expect to see white pelicans in Wyoming in a cold river!!!!!!
We took turns rowing and fishing
Caught a bunch and stopped in the local fly shop for some swag before we hit the road
Dropped the boat back off and drove through the Rockies
Ten hrs in the truck and we were on the Frying Pan river in Colorado night fishing again!
I don’t know why but I love this shot. Net looks so cool! More browns
The morning came quick again. A “PMD” Pale Morning Dun epic hatch was under way!
Big lid up “bows” were hungry!
rare green back cutthroat trout
Brook trout, that makes a grand slam on fly!
Beautiful colors everywhere!
MONSTER BROWN TROUT!
Epic Brown trout on the 4wt Hardy Jet we were testing!
the fly the big brown ate! #28 red midge! yes that is pinky finger it’s on!
The fly hatch was over, the googan hatch was not. Time to go!
Took a pit stop to walk as high as the clouds!
Some mule deer said hi
The last sunset of the trip was beautiful! Back on the road!
I made the choice to downsize my skiff this year so in the midst of selling my 18 HPX, I researched several v bottom poling skiffs in the 16ft to 17ft range. It really didn’t take long to make up my mind on which skiff would fit my needs. I spend most of my winters and summers poling for redfish and snook in the shallows; tarpon seasons running big open bodies of water to either sit on a wind chopped ocean or pole down laid up poons in backcountry basins; and some months stalking weary bonefish and permit on the flats when conditions get snotty. This required a skiff that is able to pole in less then a foot of water, move around quietly, and handle like a sports car on the pole while producing the least amount of pressure wake possible; all while being seaworthy enough to get there and back safely and comfortably when conditions get rough. Was there one perfect do it all technical poling skiff to get this job done?
After having tested the new Maverick Mirage 17 HPX-V2, it did not take me long to spec one out. It took an even shorter amount of time to get those ideas on paper and get in line to have one built to my specs. The first concern of mine was power. If I was still guiding, I would have opted for a 4 stroke motor; likely a Suzuki DF90, seeing it was the lightest in it’s class. But along came the opportunity to pick up a sought after Yamaha 90TLR 2 stroke (due to ridiculous tree hugging EPA laws, these simple 2 stroke carb’d motors are no longer brought to the states). This was the lightest 90hp motor I could put on this skiff so it was the choice motor. I needed some decent speed and load carrying capability but also needed the skiff to pole light when I arrived at my destination. With speeds into the mid 40s, the ability to spin a 13.5″ wheel, and less then 300lbs of motor on the transom, the Yamaha 90TLR was the perfect candidate. What I will lack in 4 stroke fuel efficiency, I will gain when the throttle is backed off and the push pole becomes the means of mobility.
The folks at Maverick Boat Co. welcomed my needs to personalize the skiff. I opted for a 2 tone white nonskid deck with whisper grey hull and slicks. The skiff is adorned with black powder-coated aluminum platforms and grab rails, as well as a black Edson steering wheel. To keep the skiff light, I chose to go with a light weight Odyssey PC925 battery for cranking/house and house it in the center console. I went with the old reliable plastic Stiffy push pole holders to hold my Stiffy Guide push pole in place. I preferred the the plastic holders over the popular aluminum ones because the plastic holders have a little bit of give and thus are less stressful to a bouncing push pole or stumbling foot. Personally, I think they give a nice vintage look. Speaking of vintage, I kept my old black aluminum Pro-Trim cage ready casting platform to give a little extra height to the angler on the bow. A Tibor push pole caddy and custom SeaDeck from Castaway Customs (http://castawaycustoms.com) finishes off the last bits of bling on this skiff. The idea is to be as minimalistic as possible, keeping the skiff very light and balanced.
The HPX-VII sits on a dry launch specific AmeraTrail trailer with every option available: port side walk-board, dual rollers on rear crossmember, negative 20 degree torsion axle, upgraded wheels, and the works. I wanted the skiff to sit low into the trailer like a glove.
A long road of shallow flats that lies ahead is filled with endless possibilities. If the fish swim it, I’ll pole it.
Stay tuned for the next chapter…