No matter how much I love to experience the succession of seasons in our temperate climate, long about March, I develop a hankering to get out of the snowbelt. I know I am not alone in these sentiments. Fortunately, my wife and I are able to head south for a month each winter—way south, as in a bit over an hour south of Cancun. It is no surprise that we run into hordes of like-minded folks from Canada, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Here, in a Caribbean paradise, thoughts never stray too far from fishing.
As much as I love to fish our magnificent north country, there is something very different about fishing the warm ocean waters near the second largest barrier reef in the world. Just the play of color on the water is breathtaking. From the turquoise and greens of shallower areas to the ultramarine blue of the deep, under it all lurk fish with colors to surpass your wildest imaginings. Fish that literally light up with color during their ferocious battling while hooked.
While many target big game species such as sailfish, marlin, and dorado, I prefer to “meat fish.” This is definitely not catch-and-release. It is catch and eat! While the masses are out trolling aboard larger vessels, I prefer the local style. A small panga is just fine with me. A favorite strategy, especially on windy days, is to head to the flats. Traveling south out of Tulum, you run into the Sian Kaan reserve, a huge tract of land that extends south almost to the Belize border. After a bone-jarring ride through some of the roughest road you might ever travel, you leave the tourist masses behind and enter the vast bays and flats that harken to fly fishermen targeting bonefish, permit, snook, and tarpon.
Still, my objective is a bit different. A stout spinning rod and a small tackle box full of hooks, sinkers, and a few plugs that imitate minnows are the order of the day. First on the menu is bottom fishing. It simply involves a chunk of fish tossed in a school of snapper, and the fun begins: nonstop action involving yellow tail, lane, and grey snapper, punctuated by an occasional grouper. These fish put up one heck of a tussle for their size. This year I brought some Berkeley Gulp bait and surprised the local fishermen by filling a bucket with fish just as fast as we could with sardines.
After this crazy action, which is always a given down there, it is off to troll and cast for some barracuda. Think hard-fighting musky equivalent. This is not a fish of 10,000 casts. More often than not, you hook up with these brawlers five or more times within the space of an hour. These silver torpedoes can be quite aerobatic with their leaps. While many gringos shy away from eating these fish, locals eat them all the time. A raw fish dish known as ceviche and made from ‘cudas is simply heavenly. Slab fillets grilled over wood smoke are equally tasty. Along the culinary lines, I must say these ocean fish taste much better than most freshwater counterparts. My fishing partner down that way told me of his trip to Minnesota where he caught a bass. “I don’t know why you gringos catch them. They don’t fight much, and the taste was so bad I had to cover it with catsup.”
Nothing ends the day quite like sitting on the back porch of a lodge we frequent, enjoying our fish with a cold beer, staring out into the play of blues and greens undulating near the reef. There are no tourists on the empty beach, and a cooling ocean breeze soothes both skin and soul. It is perhaps my favorite spot on the planet to just sit and take it all in.
If you head down that way, skip the long trolling trips that are often unproductive and get in on the bottom and flats fishing. The bite is always on! You can contact me at www.aa-taxidermy, and I can connect you with some wonderful local guides and real fishermen that can take you out for a day of fishing you will not soon forget. If you are unfamiliar with where the flats are, search Pesca Maya on the Web.