If you catch a ten pound bonefish, it is considered a huge trophy and perhaps the fish of a lifetime. But if you catch a ten, even a twenty, pound tarpon, it's termed a "baby" tarpon. How can this be? How can you call ten pounds of jumping, gill rattling excitement a baby?
Maybe we should call these babies something else like immature or perhaps, chronologically challenged. But whatever we call them, baby tarpon are one of the world's great gamefish and as such, have a loyal following. In fact, many anglers prefer to catch baby tarpon over their more mature brethren of 100, 150, even 200 pounds. They like the multiple shots and the non-stop action these juveniles provide. These anglers are content to pursue baby tarpon almost exclusively... and equally eager to explore new areas.
With these tarpon diehards in mind, and fresh from our successes further up the Yucatan Coast at Tarpon Cay, we spent the Fall of 2004 and the Winter of 2005 exploring south from Tarpon Cay all the way to the Chompoton River. What we found amazed us. This extensive area is an idyllic tarpon habitat consisting of three very distinct, yet adjacent areas.
On the outside, extensive lush flats extend out for miles and can only be crossed using narrow channels. These areas are a maze of undulating shallow bars blanketed with thick turtle grass. Acres of sardines school in these shallows and the tarpon gorge themselves not only on this bounty, but also on the many shrimp and crabs that live hidden in the shag of this undulating turtle grass carpet.
Depending on the stage of the tide, tarpon prowl the edges either way out or close to shore depending on water levels. Often the bigger tarpon, 20+lb. fish, are found on these outside flats. Sight fishing here means rolling, tailing or flashing tarpon ñ all classic and all good.
The second major tarpon habitat on this prolific coast is the many bays, creeks, rios and lagos that bring the ocean into the Yucatan's coastal interior. Here, tarpon are found either by sight fishing to rolling tarpon in the channels, or by blind casting to unseen fish in likely holding spots. Some of these lagos and rios are hidden, their entrances known only to local guides.
The third habitat is the mangrove edge that lies between the turtle grass flats and the interior cuts, lagos and creeks. This edge provides perhaps the finest sight fishing for baby tarpon found anywhere in the world. It is classic and reminiscent of bonefishing in the Bahamas. Find a fish as it weaves in and out of the mangroves, make an accurate cast and you'll most likely jump a tarpon. Tarpon found here eat with gusto and fight like champs, often tail walking across the blond and beige hued flats. To hook an 8-12lb. tarpon in this skinny water is what sight fishing is all about. If this doesn't get your motor running, you might consider going in for a major overhaul.
To begin with, we plan to fish from 20-30 miles of this coast. As our explorations continue, we will probably add more areas. We may ultimately trailer to some areas to cut down on running time in the skiffs, but it should be noted, the great fishing starts just 10 minutes north of your lodging.
To fish this spectacular area involves a short flight from the states to Merida, Mexico. Merida has a brand new airport. Visitors are met with small immigration lines and friendly English speaking customs officials. Going from Merida to our home base at Campeche involves a pleasant drive and takes just under two hours.
Upon arrival in Campeche, anglers are often surprised by the unexpected charm of this ancient city. With monuments, statues, forts and one of the largest flags in Mexico flying in the harbor, Campeche is a clean, beautiful city. Locals stroll along the Malecone Boulevard all hours of the day and night. The city sits perched overlooking the Bay of Campeche. Campeche consists of two major districts: old town and new town.
If you are love old world ambiance, you'll be delighted to know that the Tarpon Coast accommodates its visiting anglers at the Campeche Plaza Hotel which sits right in the center of old town, within walking distance of many museums, parks, shops and theatres. With excellent service, a health club, pool, spa and state-of-the-art business center, this hotel has not only all the amenities, but all the charm one could ask for. Rooms are elegant and luxurious and include marble-tilled bathrooms and floors! Optional junior master suites include a balcony that overlooks the plaza below. As such, we consider this hotel quite appropriate for adventuresome couples.
The Yucatan's cuisine is well-known throughout Mexico and reaches its highest level at the Plaza Hotel. Dinners at the Plaza are a cultural and culinary delight. Meals are served either in a beautiful indoor dining room or through French doors to a lovely patio poolside. The Plaza offers a gourmet sampling of regional dishes and traditional favorites with an emphasis on local seafood. All meals are elegantly presented and the service is impeccable. While the Yucatan is famous for its delicious spicy red and green chili sauces and the best guacamole in the Americas, the Plaza's interpretation of traditional Yucatan favorites is nothing short of top drawer. In addition, the menu is varied so that guests have many excellent choices if they choose to step away from these regional delicacies.
You may come for the tarpon, but the wonderful meals at the Plaza will make the decision to come back next year an easy one! After a succulent carne asada smothered in delicious Mayan salsa or a snapper filet superbly prepared in a delicate Yucatan sauce, you'll adjourn for the night to get some rest before you take on tomorrow's "big babies".
Fishing days start early when anglers are met promptly after breakfast by hotel staff and driven to meet the guides at the dock. Our manager will meet you at the dock with coolers filled to the brim with the drinks of your choice and homemade lunches, then it's off to the pangas to chase Mayan tarpon.
Head guide, "Neko" Pastrana, works with his son Daniel. They are both skilled tarpon fishermen who know this coast intimately. Neko and Daniel maneuver their 24-foot pangas with the best of them. These pangas are powered by 65 hp. Johnson engines and are well-outfitted for the fly angler. All of the front compartments are closed to give fly fisherman as much deck space as possible. Pangas may not be as pretty as the new high-tech flats boats, but they are far more versatile in rough water conditions and can navigate some truly skinny water with ease.
Lunch will be taken when anglers wish usually around 11:00 in the morning. Lunch consists of sandwiches, wraps, fruits, cookies, chips and snacks. Again, your cooler will be well-stocked with water and the beverages of your choice.
Depending on anglers' wishes and of course, the tides, the fishing day will run to about 3:00 p.m. Generally, anglers are thoroughly sated by this time. It is not uncommon to jump 20 tarpon per boat per day in these waters. Anglers will very rarely see the same water twice. This coast provides an extensive habitat and new lagoons, creeks and flats will be fished every day.
One final note: An alternate and more budget-minded option involves accommodations at a new hotel near the Malecone Boulevard from the boat docks. Think Holiday Inn and you have the right idea. This hotel is air conditioned, clean and provides very convenient access to the boats. This is especially convenient if anglers are fishing split days due to tides or hot weather. With this plan, meals are taken at local restaurants. If you are interested in this budget option, please ask us for all the details.
So if you like remote destinations, comfortable, classic accommodations, great regional food and terrific tarpon fishing, you should consider this area for your next adventure. One other note... given the level of amenities and the opportunities for non-fishing activities such as shopping, night life and Mayan ruin tours, we consider this destination also appropriate for non-angling friends and family.
We invite you to call us for more information and a spectacular DVD slide show on this pristine area.