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.
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.