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Pandemonium & The Pandemic: Part 1

By Clark Smyth

The call of nature, what Thoreau called the “tonic of wildness,” is hard to ignore during times like these. A lot of traveling anglers are undoubtedly jonesing for a restorative getaway. Locally, both Rock Creek Anglers and the Fly Shop of the Bighorns reaped some benefit from those that chose the Bighorn Mountains of north-central Wyoming as their 2020 summer getaway. Angling Destination’s ownership duo, Clark Smyth and Cole Burnham, upon wrapping up a surprisingly (and thankfully) successful trout fishing season, agreed that they too were due a getaway. So, upon weighing the inherent risks in traveling during a pandemic, decided to head to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. Tales of fisheries void of fishermen for seven months seemed like a rare opportunity more than a dangerous endeavor.

Seizing the opportunity, Clark decided to check-out three separate fisheries in the Yucatan. He met up with Cole for number three. It all seemed too good to be true especially considering all that 2020 has had to offer (however, he knew the stars had to align, there ought to be something that Mexico could offer those willing to risk it). So Clark set out in early October with a high-school pal who recently caught the salt water fishing bug. The two anglers jetted to Isla Holbox for four days chasing tarpon where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Caribbean.

Flying During the Pandemic

Travel During Pandemic
Ferry to Holbox During Covid-19

Upon arrival, they encountered an island community that was taking the pandemic very seriously. The ferry service to the island was not allowing anyone to visit the island that had a fever and were routinely taking each passenger’s temperature before boarding the ferry. Additionally, every restaurant, hotel, store and bodega were requiring their customers to wear face coverings. A reassuring sign considering the not-so-consistent and widely scattered health policies found stateside.

Clark and James stayed in a VRBO apartment with a kitchen, two rooms each with its own bathroom. They prepared breakfast and dinner in their accommodations and had lunches provided by the Holbox Tarpon Club guide service.

Fly Fishing Isla Holbox
Holbox Island Tarpon Lodge
October is the rainy season and therefore rain was a daily occurrence. Consequently the mosquitos were a factor for a short half-an-hour during dusk and dawn. Mosquitos aside, the small village of Holbox is without any storm sewers and is subjected to large mud puddles accumulating in the streets when it rains. Not a big deal but mind you the clay-like mud that makes up the island of Holbox is undoubtedly “slippery when wet”.

Town of Holbox Sunset
Holbox Workers

Weather will always play it’s part on any salt water fishing trip and can certainly be of concern when heading to the Caribbean in the late-summer/early-fall. Turns out, 2020 will likely go down in the record books as one of the stormiest hurricane seasons on record. The risk of traveling during COVID-19 in addition to traveling during hurricane season added to the uncertainty of what was to come. However, Clark and James started their trip on the northern-most tip of the Yucatan Peninsula and for the first installment of their trip were able to overcome the mosquitos, the giant puddles, the rainiest October on record, and a two-month long high tide cycle (likely due to the unprecedented number of storms that pushed into the Gulf in September and October).

Tarpon Fishing Isla Holbox
Chartruse Fly for Mexico Tarpon
Tarpon Fly Fishing
They found tarpon fishing akin to stories of the good ‘ol days. In four days of targeting tarpon, James had landed his first-ever tarpon on a fly while together the two had hooked seventy-something tarpon in the ten to thirty pound class, landed forty-two fish and experienced nine doubles and one triple (their guide grabbed a rod while the less experienced gringos were engaged - each fighting a tarpon). Game on! Was this a fluke? Were they merely in the right time and right place or was this a sign that tarpon can change their behavior when they go unmolested for seven months?

Nice Cabo Catoche Tarpon
Fly Fishing Mexico for Tarpon
Double Tarpon Mexico
Isla Holbox Tarpon
Fly Fishing for Baby Tarpon
Silver King on a Fly
NEXT: Part 2 (Espiritu Santo Bay)