Tarpon Fly Fishing in Mexico

Planning a big fly fishing holiday in 2021, once things return to normal? Of all the places and species you might tackle, one real bucket-list favourite has to be the Tarpon- and Mexico offers some excellent adventure fly fishing, as Turrall’s Rodney Wevill recalls.

It already seems a distant world, but before the dramatic winter covid spike and lockdown III, myself and some friends from the Team Fluff Chuckers – Fly Fishing Fanatics  Facebook group were like kids on Christmas Eve, setting out for Mahahaul in Mexico.

Our aim was a bit of assisted DIY fly fishing on the open coast, before heading to some of the inland lakes. Our mission was to fish the coast for permit and jack crevalle, with the added thrill of going for tarpon, which could be an especially good option on inland waters if the weather at sea wasn’t kind.

Indeed, so it proved that after six days of great weather and plenty of action on the beaches, the day finally came when the cloud was thick and the sun didn’t shine. Under the guidance of   Nick Denbow, the main man down in Mahahaul, we decided to go for the tarpon.

It was a real no-brainer to book Nick, because his knowledge of the area and salt water fly fishing is second to none having lived in the area for nineteen years. So, it was load his boat on the truck and off to a lake that he had not fished for over 12 months.

Tarpon paradise!

A tight spot! Our destination wasn’t exactly easy access…

Just getting there was going to be a real challenge, as the entrance to the place was going to be overgrown and it would be a matter of cutting our way through the mangrove and being bitten to death by hungry bugs. Nor did it end there, because just as we had nearly cleared our pathway,  the trusty machete we where using got dropped overboard! Even though we were safe in the boat, no one was going volunteer to jump overboard and take a swim with the crocodiles to retrieve the machete, so it was a very difficult final few yards into the lake!

Finally, we had broken through to the most stunning hidden lake, which was an average of five to eight feet deep, carrying a bit of a tinge to the water from recent rainfall.

Our first step was to set out to find one of the two deep-holed entrances of the cenotes (the term for Mexico’s rocky, natural freshwater sources) that feed the lake from the open coast. These fascinating natural features are a network of underground caves that connect these inland lakes to the sea.

Well, we were in for a surprise once we got there, because in the distance we could already see lots of disturbed water and fish breaking the surface all around the entrance of the first cenota! With nerves jangling, we maneuvered within casting distance and started to thow our tarpon flies at the broken water, encouraged by the sight of fish breaking the surface.

The next hour was going to be crazy! We had just joined the tarpon party, with cast after cast, missed takes, fish on and jumping for freedom, double hook ups and more. These fish are notoriously good at throwing hooks, but we managed tarpon from 12lb to 20lb to the boat.

I really cannot fully explain the excitement in words alone, suffice to say that these fish are just incredible fun on a fly rod! We were using Orvis Helios 3d 10# rods and they gave us a merry dance, pulling hard and making searing runs and insane leaps that just left you laughing and physically shaking!

Cold beer and a change of location

After an hour or so the fish finally disappeared into the deep hole and it was time to catch our breath and move on. For a few minutes we just sat on the boat and enjoyed a cold beer, before moving onto the second cenote on the same lake.

As we arrived, the scene of predatory activity was similar to tthe previous cenote.  Another large shoal of fish were rolling on the surface and we could hardly get going fast enough! We anchored the boat and started to cast and, once more, all hell broke loose.  These fish hit the fly insanely hard, instantly jumping high into the air and sometimes throwing the hook on the first leap. It was breathless stuff, with cast after cast leading to hook ups, fish on and off,  and yet the tarpon party still wasn’t yet over.

Best tarpon flies, fly lines and recommended tackle

We had a further hour of madness and more fish to the boat before things finally fizzled out. There are various flies for tarpon that will work, but for us the Blue Macleod tarpon fly was the one doing the most damage, although chartreuse patterns were a good backup.

 

It goes without saying these fish need tough tackle. Our preferred setups where Cortland Compact Floating Lines with a short leader (5-6ft / 2m) of 50lb fluorocarbon leader.

If that sounds rather heavy, it’s worth remembering that these fish have incredibly hard mouths and can rub through lighter leaders very easily, hence 40lb is a sensible minimum. Even in these strengths, one good tarpon fishing tip is to keep checking the leader after every hook up for signs of damage!

 

Last orders at the tarpon bar!

Once again the fish disappeared into the deep, so we fished around the lake’s mangrove margins for the rest of the session. While the action wasn’t quite as crazy as before, we hunted down a couple more hard-fighting fish before heading back home.

All in all then, it was an adventure I’ll never forget. We had perhaps taken a chance fishing this hard to access lake, but it had paid off. The lesson here is to listen to local expertise, and when a guide as experienced as Nick Denbow has a hunch, you would be a fool not to take up the challenge! Negotiating the thick mangroves and multiple bug bites was a small price to pay for the immense fun we had at this tarpon party!

Let’s hope that as life returns to normal and travel is possible once again, we can plan more great adventures in 2021 and beyond. Should you fancy planning an amazing saltwater fly fishing trip in 2021, Nick Denbow’s “Catchafish” Guiding service comes highly recommended for anyone who fancies a taste of the incredible sport Mexico can offer.

Don’t forget to also check out Turrall’s range of special saltwater flies and fly tying materials, including some ultra-tough patterns and hooks for catching tarpon, GT and other exciting species on your next adventure.

 

Late Season Bass Fishing Tips, with Chris Ogborne

Has the sun already set on your saltwater fly fishing this year? With big bass still a mouthwatering possibility, you might just want to reconsider! Chris Ogborne still finds plenty of encouragement to launch his boat on the Camel Estuary. Here, he tells us the story of an Autumn day’s bass fishing on one of those special rare days between the Autumn storms.
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boat fishing bass Cornwall winter autumn tips
Well, the crazy and ill-advised Bass regulations have at last been relaxed, and from 1st October we leisure anglers can fish again with the option of retaining a Bass for the table.
Or put another way, we can once again exercise our rights as part of our national and marine heritage.  Whether the draconian imposition on our sport for most of 2018 will have had any effect on fish stocks is debatable, and in fact will probably never be proved one way or the other.  With commercially licensed boats taking five tonnes each, I severely doubt that the quantities taken by leisure anglers would  have had any impact at all, but doubtless the  politicians will find a way of making the numbers read the way it suits them.

Regardless of this, at least we still have the rest of this lovely autumn in which to enjoy our fishing. Besides, if things don’t get too cold in a hurry, I’m hoping the back-end sport will be at least as good as it was last year.  These days, of course, you can enjoy fishing bass year round, although timing is key. So what are the best conditions for bass on the fly?

Glorious autumn fly fishing for bass

Bass fishing cornwall fly boat
I took the boat out this week on a glorious day and was reminded for the millionth time why I love living in this special part of the U.K.  The estuary looked stunning.  Autumn colours were blazing in the sunshine, skeins of geese were flying overhead as I left the mooring and a huge mixed flock of Curlews and Oystercatchers exploded from the salt marshes as I cruised past, on route to sea.  I thought, as indeed I think every time I take the boat out, that life doesn’t get a whole lot better than this!
The fish were in a good mood, too. Last week’s storms had  stirred things up nicely – we need a good blow now and then to liven up the water and move the food around for the fish – and the extreme water clarity of summer had changed to a very slight green haze, which is exactly what we want for Bass fishing.

Best fly colours and fly lines for late season bass

Bass fly fishing tips lines colours sandeels
I stopped off at several estuary marks on the way down channel, taking a couple of schoolies at each one on the fly.  The Turrall sand eel patterns in chartreuse and pink are just right in the brackish water, as the fish can see them more clearly than the neutral, grey or blue colours that we use in clearer water.
I tend to use intermediate lines almost exclusively at this time of year, as the fish can be a touch lethargic when the water cools down from summer temperatures.  Retrieve rates are slower too and the ultra fast stripping of high summer is replaced by slower, staccato movements which give you the opportunity for more variety in each cast.
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Conditions were as near flat calm as I’ve seen for a while, so I headed out to sea for a bit of prospecting around the islands.  Sport on the fly was good, but I had to switch to a fast sinker on some of the marks, just to get down quickly.
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Fish were feeding well in the running tide, and I positioned the boat in the down-tide lee of the island to fish the seams effectively. As high tide approached I just let the boat drift off across the rocky reefs that circle the island, taking fish between two and four pounds from around 15 feet of water.  Brilliant sport, made so much better by the near-calm conditions that allowed the rare luxury of perfect control on the fly line.
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Plan B: From fly casting to lure fishing

As often happens a breeze picked up after the tide changed, so I had to adjust  tactics.  For anyone sniffy at doing this, there’s no shame in casting lures when the need arises. As much as we’d love to catch every fish on the fly, lures can be a brilliant backup weapon that could save you a blank afternoon should the fly become difficult or impossible to fish.
On this occasion, a light LRF  spin rod and 25gram soft baits enabled me to find the depth and if anything the sport just got better.  I headed back inside the estuary to explore a couple of favourite marks inside the headland and they didn’t disappoint.  I found a good pod of fish, all in the 3 to 4 pound class that gave a great account of themselves on the LRF tackle.  There were still a few mackerel around too, to I dropped a string of feathers down to pick up a few for supper – the humble mackerel is still one of the most delicious fish to eat when it’s this fresh.

Time and tide…

All too soon it was time for home.  I keep my boat on a mooring that gives me around 3 hours either side of high tide, so I have to make sure I’m back in time  before the water disappears. Get it wrong, and you and your boat are stranded for ten hours or more!! Only once in thirty years have I left it too late to get back on the mooring – lesson learned!  It wasn’t dangerous in any way, but the embarrassment factor was off the scale and I didn’t live it down in the boat club for many seasons!  These days, no matter how good the fishing is, I always err on the side of caution!  Or maybe that’s old age for you!
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As is a part of my boating ritual, I stopped off on a little shingle beach about a mile from the mooring to gut the mackerel.  In the flat water, I couldn’t help but notice a spray of tiny fish (probably baby Mullet) which were obviously being chased by something bigger.
  It happened again about twenty yards away with an accompanying swirl so I quickly dropped the filling knife, reached for the fly rod, and put a fly  down near the last disturbance.  Three seconds later I was into a beautiful bass that must have been close to five pounds and he lead me a right old dance around the beds of wrack before I subdued him in the shallows. A spectacular end to a very special day and I admired him for a few long moments before slipping him back into the water.
Whatever your sport, get out and enjoy these final weeks of the season.  The legacy of the summer heat is that we have a stunning array of autumn colour this year, but all too soon this will turn into the inevitable grey of winter and, as we all know, it’s a long old time till spring!”
Fishing_sunset_cornwall
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For further reading on bass and saltwater fly fishing, check out our blog archives. Previous posts include:
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Bass and Saltwater Fly Fishing Tips

-Beyond Bass: Saltwater Tips from Garfish to Grey Mullet

Perfect fly lines and saltwater fly patterns for bass…

Looking for the best flies to catch bass and other saltwater predators this autumn? Look no further than Turrall’s own range of proven fish catchers. Designed and tested by Chris himself, our various sandeels and baitfish designs are spot on for bass. Chris recommends the brighter colours for later in the year, especially following disturbance and less than gin clear water. Find them at your local Turrall stockist or order online from the likes of Troutcatchers.co.uk or FliesOnline.

Sandeel flies for sea bass

As for fly lines, an intermediate or fast intermediate is perhaps the most useful tool later in the year, with slower retrieves. Tough and long-casting, Cortland Lines come especially well recommended for the job. Find all the best Cortland products from fly stockists across the UK.

Red Letter Fly Fishing for Sea Bass!

In spite of the recent heatwave conditions, there has been some sensational saltwater fly fishing around the English coast so far this year. Chris Ogborne reports on some phenomenal action with sea bass in Cornwall.

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saltwater fly fishing cornwall UK chris ogborne

“It’s not often that I get really excited about fishing these days. At my age, you tend to temper over-enthusiasm with a little reality and there are few things that still get the adrenalin flowing at high speed.

But last week, I ran out of superlatives to describe the sport we had on one of my favourite beaches here in Cornwall. It was, quite simply, off the scale!

Picture the scene: I was hosting two friends for the week. John Pawson (former England International fly fisher and individual World Champion no less!) and Andy Payne, who although relatively new to the game is already a very accomplished angler. I was therefore understandably a little nervous about how good the fishing would be, especially in the light of the current heatwave, and also because the beach fishing in general hasn’t really switched on yet. In the event, I needn’t have worried.

bass fly fishing cornwall uk

For some reason, which I can only try to explain, there was a higher than usual number of very big bass coming in to this particular beach. This doesn’t usually happen until September, when the tourists have gone home and the big solitary bass come close in prowling.The only explanation I’d offer is that the fishing has been poor out at sea because of a lack of wind – we need a good storm every now and then to stir things up – and because of the heat and continued bright conditions.

Whatever the cause, the schoolies we normally play with have headed up into the estuary and the normally elusive big fish were here in numbers. Big numbers. Every ten or fifteen minutes or so we’d see a huge shape moving through the shallows, mopping up the prolific bootlace sand eels that are everywhere at the moment. And if you can spot these feeding fish, you can catch them.

I was using the new Cortland line which is proving a real delight to fish with. Supple in cold water and easy to handle even within the demands of saltwater flyfishing, where you constantly need a mix of long and short casting and lightning quick responses when you see a fish. The water was full of bootlace sandeels so our imitations were simple – the Turralls bootlace eels in pink, chartreuse, and blue, depending on water conditions. To clarify this point, you need the pink and chartreuse in any kind of brackish or ‘low tide’ water, whilst the blue and grey artificials are perfect when there’s a high degree of clarity in the water.

Sandeel flies specially designed by Chris. Find these from various UK suppliers including www.troutcatchers.co.uk

John and Andy were visibly excited when we spotted fish almost immediately, and I have to confess that I was too. If you don’t get a buzz when you see fish up to and beyond double figures in casting range, then you’re in the wrong sport!

John’s very first fish of the trip turned out to be his lifetime best sea fish, a stunning Bass of around 7 1/2 lbs. We spotted it, he covered it perfectly with around 20 feet of forward lead and we both gasped out loud when it turned and surged towards his pink sand eel. With an almighty swirl it took the fly. A full fly line then disappeared in seconds!


Such was the power and pace of the fish that he had to literally run through the waves to keep up with the monster that was heading for the Doom Bar at about thirty knots! Two grown men were giggling like school children – well, why not!! It took nearly twenty minutes to subdue, and a further five minutes to relax the fish before releasing it. The high five was a bit special!

Although I initially thought that this would be the high point of the trip, if anything it just went on getting better. Andy had never caught a Sea Bass before, so his first fish the following day which touched 4lbs or better, was a real moment. The pictures here show the quality of the fish we caught, but of course nothing quite compares with seeing them in real life. The pure silver flanks, the beautiful eye and the sheer power of them, all this makes it a genuine pleasure to release them back to the sea. The Bass is a stunning. fish and arguably the greatest challenge you can get on a fly rod, so these were memorable days.

Whether you fish by bank or boat this summer it certainly bodes well for the summer. Should you want to book your own special trip and make some memories, do take a look at my site.

boat fishing cornish bass on fly

In the end, I guess it’s a combination of factors that makes a top fishing experience. The tackle was perfect and performed faultlessly, the flies were exactly right and we just happened to hit on a unique set of water and weather conditions. Whatever the analysis, these were some red letter days with some special friends in a special place, and they will live in the memory for a very long time.”

guided bass fly fishing cornwall uk

Chris Ogborne
July 2018