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In March, Angling Destinations' Clark Smyth and Cole Burnham hosted a trip to the Yucatan's Ascension Bay. They fished out of La Pescadora Lodge in Punta Allen. 
Here is Clark's report...
Clark with a hefty tarpon
Cole with a great jack

Stingrays, Manatees, Crocodiles, Crabs and Flamingos
by Clark Smyth

Our red-eye flight landed in Cancún at 4:45 in the morning but being groggy from the abbreviated night’s sleep I had a lot of trouble recalling much of that early arrival.  We’ll start this report from that same morning around 7am as we rolled through daybreak into the increasingly touristy spa-laden pueblo of Tulum.   It’s a Saturday morning and the town is still asleep, nothing’s open.  Our group included of a handful whole hearted trout bums, two childhood friends, one of whom claimed to be Mexican sportscasters (evidently, he’s not), an orthopedic surgeon his wife and the owner of a mainstay Sheridan watering hole.  For some, this was their umpteenth salt-water fishing trip in search of another catch or species while others in the group had never cast a fly rod in the ocean.  Before we left, we’d been assured we won’t be needing the services offered at the Casa de Cambio - everyone in the Mayan Riviera accepts US Dollars (despite the unfavorable exchange rate).  We ask our driver to stop for some “postres” or “desayuno” and all agree Breakfast is long overdue.  The FullGas station is the only open option - suppose Rebanadas and Sabritas will suffice.  In a little more than an hour we’ll be kicking off our shoes and sifting our toes through the sand on the beach.

After a scenic hour-long panga ride through the mangrove lagoons between the bridge at Boca Paila and the small fishing village of Punta Allen, we turn the corner at the lighthouse and moments later, glimpse the other guide boats moored in front of the La Pescadora Fly Fishing Lodge.

Jose Briceño and his wife Lily Bertram run the lodge with an adept combination of American hospitality and Mexican work-ethic. Makes sense. Jose is from Punta Allen while Lily was raised in North Carolina. Their son’s Parker and Romeo are also very much involved. Parker as an up and coming bilingual fly tier, kite flyer, kayak poler and spider finder while his little brother, Romeo, although a skillful browser of YouTube, is amazingly deft at capturing and then removing the stinger from venomous scorpions using a small stick - he’s not yet five. Aside from the host family, the lodge offers very comfortable accommodations, home cooked Mayan meals and direct access to the celebrated flats of Ascension Bay.

The guides consist of four main guides and four “junior guides.” The jr.’s offer additional assistance on deck, another set of eyes on the water and aid in managing the angler’s line (particularly when hopping out of the boat in a “time is of the essence” wade fishing pursuit - helpful when wary Permit hear the waves slapping against the hull of the boat and therefore keep their distance).  The lodge can accommodate eight anglers and is tropically modest, has a well designed elevated front porch that connects each guest room to the main building.  It’s stick-built mahogany and very well appointed.  The rooms are beautiful, air conditioned and each have ocean views with showers with adjustable window shutters to steer the sea breeze.  The lodge’s cleaning staff have a knack for creatively folding clean unused bath towels into ocean-going creatures (our room had both crabs and flamingos).

We shifted our bags and equipment from the transfer boats to the lodge porch.  My mind was elsewhere, all I could think of was how each Wyoming winter has a tendency to outdo all of the previous winters.  I found myself staring at the innumerable shades of turquoise blue the Caribbean Ocean while seriously contemplating how each subsequent Winter could be perpetually worse than the last.  I was distracted when the mid-morning sun broke from behind a cloud bank and wholly enhanced the pallet of gaze-able turquoise.  I lost my train of thought and parked a truly relaxing smile on my face.  I snatched up the last of the freshly prepared conch Ceviche and was told our rooms may not be ready for a while - we did arrive unusually early.  So, I quickly rigged a 7-weight bonefish rod, slathered on a little sunscreen and walked the Sargasso speckled beach south to a flat that extends out in front of the lighthouse we saw upon arrival.

As I stepped into the clear Caribbean water, it wasn’t but ten seconds that I saw the blue hue of a bonefish rooting around near a pocket of less than clear water swirling near the shoreline all but a rod length away.  I never made a cast, merely unhooked my fly from the rod and flipped the fly in the water in front of me toward the slow approaching fish.  Immediately the bonefish swam over and snatched up the fly as if he finally found what he was looking for.  “Ha!” I laughed out loud as I let the fish peel some line while looking over my shoulder toward to lodge hopeful for an audience or at least someone to confirm that one can wade within two-rod’s length of bonefish and roll-cast effectively for them.  All I see is Justin who’s dawning an Indiana Jones style fedora with a mesh panel sewn-in to make it useful in the tropics - that is, unless you forget to put sunscreen on your forehead under the mesh.  Justin’s bent over studying the myriad of plastic trash washed up on the beach.  I let out a “yelp” he looked up, smiled and asked, “bonefish?” followed by, “all this shit’s washed up from Port-au-Prince, is that a bonefish?”

“Get over here” I shout as I release the bonefish to swim off in search of real crustaceans.  “It’s your turn.”  I say as I hand Justin the rod.  In return he hands me a faded empty bottle of Haitian laundry detergent.  There is far too much plastic floating in the Caribbean - all oceans for that matter.  Troublesomely the problem is worsening.  It’s an environmental disaster on a scale that is essentially immeasurable.  Please “effing” recycle your plastics and find ways to eliminate them as best you can!  But I digress. 

As I’m wading closely alongside Justin, merely a minute after the first bonefish of our trip had been released, I proceed to mention that the sand on the bottom is softer than it looks and there may be stingrays lurking around.  While I’m mentioning that it’s always a good idea to shuffle/drag one’s feet in this scenario, Zang! A searing pain throttles up my leg.  That’s right, unbelievable, a freakin’ stingray plunged its barb just under my right ankle bone.  What are the chances?  I had kicked the ray with my left foot (shuffling) and it chose to spook into my right, felt threatened, and stung.  “Shit,” I exclaimed as I put most of my weight on Justin’s shoulder. “I think I just got stung.”

“No way” came his sarcastically reply. As I pulled my foot from the sea, we both saw the blood oozing out of a small puncture wound on my right instep below the anklebone and immediately Justin glanced around the immediate area.   I assumed for sharks, although maybe he was trying to identify the ray swimming away.  Either way, no-one feels okay bleeding in the ocean.  And assuredly, no-one feels okay after the sting from a ray.  There’s nothing comparable to the pain inflicted by this sting except, maybe that from the bite of a rattlesnake (unfortunately, I’ve had the misfortune of experiencing both - a different story for a different time).  I can unequivocally attest that the pain from a stingray unquestionably trumps that of the bite from a rattlesnake - though I strongly recommend neither.  I was not prepared for the pain that ensued but I sure as hell wasn’t going to let this distressing mishap get in the way of the next six-days of fishing.

Justin quickly came to terms with the situation and was of considerable help in shouldering me out of the ocean and onto the beach to where I could sit down and further asses the situation.  A short time later our compadre Woody arrived (after what seemed like more than significant time to rub in sunscreen) and immediately offered a helping hand.  Apparently, it was discernible I was struggling.  It took the two of them to help me hobble down the beach back to the porch of the lodge.  Just then, both the supposed Mexican sportscaster and Juan, the lodge foreman, arrived on the scene in order to surmise the commotion.  Immediately Juan convinced the supposed Mexican sportscaster of the benefits of urinating on my ankle.  Let it be known that the supposed Mexican sportscaster knows little Spanish and Juan speaks no English.  However, the universal man pissing gesture needs no translator.  After a brief awkward silence one could hear the sound of a lightbulb clicking on just above the head of the supposed Mexican sportscaster.  “I’m not going to pee on your foot,” he continued, “I’m going to pee in a cup so you can pour it on your foot.”  Then he dashed for the kitchen.

In trying to remain calm and endure the ray’s venom searing it’s way up my right leg and into the lymph nodes in my hip I let my thoughts drifted back to Wyoming and the coldest February in quite some time.  What I wouldn’t do to thrust my leg in a snowbank… my thought was disrupted when the supposed Mexican sportscaster handed me a piss-warm plastic cup.

Thinking this was the cure all I so desperately desired and an environmental catastrophe at the same time, the pain won over the environmental impact of the cup and I immediately doused my wound with someone else’s urine, to little or no avail, spilled a few drops on my iPhone only to have the spilled cupful roll downhill to and encircle my supportive uninjured foot.  By then the pain had increased up under my right ribcage causing me to flat-out not care.  Good thing I was not calling the shots here.  The cupful did nothing but make Juan and the supposed Mexican sportscaster laugh.  Thankfully, Lily, the lodge manager was first-rate when asked to call the shots during a stingray incident. Although off at volleyball practice, Juan was able to reach her on a cell phone.  Having recently dealt with another’s encounter with a stingray that resulted in a trip to the Emergency Room, Lily offered amazing advice.

As it turns out, the one tried and true antidote to alleviate the ill-effects of stingray venom is to soak the injured area in the hottest water tolerable.  Nice to find this out moments after the Mexican sportscaster handed me that warm red cup.  I still didn’t care.  Juan brought a five-gallon bucket of boiling water and added just enough cold water to the mix as to not burn my foot.  The contents were excruciatingly hot.  Not a care nor comparison to the worsening agony.  After ten minutes with my foot in the bucket the pain wained by half, or more.  It was then that I realized the next six days were likely not in jeopardy of being spent in a hospital room in Playa del Carmen.  In fact, after about two or three hours of soaking my injury in hot water, I was that afternoon able to dress the wound and participate in a round of beach Bocci.

That evening, prior to convening in the dining room for a pre-dinner margarita Juan, the foreman, pulled me aside while he heated up a leaf plucked from a Barquilla plant in a raw skillet.  He then applied the hot tacky bandage to my wounded ankle.  The dressing stayed in place throughout dinner (i remember a memorable chicken molé).  After dinner, the medicinal properties of the Barquilla plant significantly reduced the swelling in my ankle.  Disaster averted, whew!

The next morning we awoke to the chunking of an ice pick chopping a block of ice out the back door to the kitchen.  I got up and peered out the back of our room and saw one of our guides filling his cooler, a few sodas, a couple beers, chips, cookies, fresh mango, a double decker sandwich and a pile of pickled jalepeños.  The wind had laid down overnight, the ocean was calm and clear and my injury was pain free.  Yesterday was a long day.  Today, was our first day of fishing and It was going to be a good one!

Over the remainder of the week, the weather held, for the most part, and every angler in our group had, not only good fishing, but a great time.  New friendships were forged, and several notable occurrences were experienced.  Aside fro the stingray incident, John and Penny had lunch with a crocodile merely inches from their boat.  Monte, the bar owner, caught his first Tarpon and improved his angling game significantly over the six days.  Woody learned that the Manatee is his spirit animal, caught thirteen bonefish over forty minutes while the boat was anchored in place.  He also caught Montezuma’s Revenge.  The author caught a “Grand Slam” (Tarpon, Permit and Bonefish) on day two.  Trout guides Justin, and Nick each caught their first Permit and consequently, per la Pescadora rules, publicly ingested pickled scorpions.  Angling Destination’s own Cole Burnham added to his ever-growing list of Permit landed as well as his ever-growing list of Spanish slang words.  He, along with yours truly, saw Permit eating mango peels left floating on the surface cast away during lunch.  Considerable time was spent casting floating crab patterns near these Permit, nibbling away on the mango, but they must have been vegetarian, they preferred the mango to the floating crab fly.  The supposed Mexican sportscaster, we learned his name is Homer, but not what he really does, spent a lot of the trip in awe of what a place like Ascension Bay can offer the fly angler.  Not only did he pee on my foot, but he caught his first Bonefish, Snook and Jack.  He also was the cause for all in the group to learn about Enrique Bermudéz de la Serna - most call him “El Perro.”  I digress, again. Furthermore, Homer’s childhood friend, Jonathan who’s an accomplished freshwater angler, tested his prowess in the ocean for the first time and on our last day landed 2019’s first “Super Slam” (Tarpon, Permit, Bonefish and Snook) in Ascension Bay!  He too ate a tequila-soaked scorpion.

We have another March-week reserved at this gem of a lodge nestled at the southern tip of the Mayan Riviera.  Contact Angling Destinations at 800.211.8530 to inquire about the possibility visiting La Pescadora on March 14-21, 2020 with Angling Destinations’ host Clark Smyth.