Angling Escapes Travel | T&G Staff Report .
Great bonefish and permit angling — at Costa de Cocos.
Tyler Hawthorne fishes Mexico's Yucatan and enjoys great bonefish and permit angling.
Being a fisherman who has spent most of my life fishing locally around the Midwest and Montana, I tasked our own Angling Escapes Travel with one proposition: List five fishing lodges that offer a unique experience for a person who has not previously traveled the globe fishing exotic locations, no price restrictions. This trip was a gift for my father's 60th birthday, a very special occasion. I knew he wanted to cross some fish off his "Bucket List," which included bonefish, snook, and permit. After careful deliberation Paul strongly recommended Costa de Cocos in Xcalak, Mexico as the best place for novice saltwater fisherman to get their feet wet. Though I have fly fished since I was eight, it has been exclusively in freshwater for salmon, steelhead, trout and warm water species. I was confident that saltwater fishing would be a most unique experience for my father and me. The fish pull harder, run farther and jump higher than anything we had previously experienced. We were not disappointed.
Our visit took place at the end of May, the start to tropical storm season.The day before we arrived the season's first one hit Guatemala. While it did send rain and some days of cloudy skies north to our area, it also, according to our excited guide, turned on the permit more than usual (and this is a pretty great permit fishery to start with). So instead of initiating our first saltwater experience by targeting bones, we went with the flow and broke out our nine weights, large crabs and prepared to tackle what many think is the trickiest, most difficult flats game fish to catch. After several heart thumping follows, and refusals, I managed to hook and boat a nice seven pounder. As the permit is the premier fish of Costa de Cocos, our guide, Alberto, was almost as thrilled as I was to land one. My father also had numerous casts at cruising and tailing permit, hooking though not landing a small one. Given our relative inexperience, it was a pretty inspiring initiation into salt water fishing.
While the permit continued to be on our radar, bonefish were a primary target as well. The large numbers of bonefish made it the perfect place to take your first saltwater trip. Sometimes it appeared like the bottom was moving as schools of hundreds of bones cruised the sandy flats of Chetumal Bay. The strongest fish I had ever caught previously were steelhead. Strong but nothing prepared me for the speed and strength of the bonefish. Two pounders were running into our backing against the drags of our eight weights, at least as fast and vigorous as any ten pound steelhead I've ever hooked. Most of our bonefish ranged from 1-3 pounds, though some of the inside lagoons offered good opportunities for larger fish. We landed several in the four to five pound range. We spent most of the time fishing from the boat but also did some wade fishing for bones, which added even more intimate feel to the flats experience.
In addition to the bones and permit, Chetumal Bay hosts many additional species of fish. Snook and tarpon inhabit the lagoons and sometimes the flats. While not as plentiful as the bones and permit, we did have our moments with each of them.Our guide spotted a hefty snook patrolling the edge of the mangroves while we were poling the flats for bones.He crushed a Deceiver, took off like freight train and wound my fly line into a spider's web racing through the mangroves, finally breaking the tippet. We jumped several tarpon as well; mostly babies in the 15 to 20 lb range, but again, their stamina and acrobatic antics are deeply etched into my memory. Often overlooked, this fishery is loaded with barracuda! Most were small but we ran into a half dozen that stretched beyond four feet. Even the "average" five to ten pounders were a handful, hammering a sleek needlefish fly, tearing off line like a bonefish and leaping like a tarpon.
Getting to the lodge was easy. We arrived in Cancun early afternoon and after clearing customs, were met by the camp's representatives, who escorted us to their air conditioned van for the five hour drive down coast of the Yucatan. The roads were paved and smooth all the way, except for the last 15 minutes while we wound through the gravel streets of Xcalak to the lodge. Upon arriving, we were greeted with margaritas that would be a staple the rest of our stay.
It was hot and humid during our visit, pretty typical of this time of the year. Our thatched roof, spacious cabana, while comfortable, did not have air conditioning. Overhead fans and screened windows helped. We prepared for the conditions with lots of lightweight clothing, like Insect Shield® from ExOfficio. It's not only comfortable in hot climes but has the added benefit of insect repellent built into the fabric. The breeze off the ocean kept the mosquitoes in the jungle but during our visit, didn't do much to cool you off.
Costa de Cocos has an on-site restaurant/bar where we were well taken care of off the water. All drinks are part of the package and the well stocked bar was very guest friendly. I tested the bartender on their drink mixing skills and was impressed. Of course the margaritas were great but fresh fruit made the Pina Coladas very tasty, there were many types of tequila to try and he made an excellent White Russian. The main lodge's outside deck is perfect for enjoying a pre-dinner drink as well as relaxing after a big meal. The food is great! Local fish, Mexican/Caribbean style entrees and homemade desserts were consistently excellent. Some of the highlights included huge, tasty chile relleno, fried hogfish and barracuda ceviche.You won't go hungry. The staff was friendly, spoke English well and was willing to help us in any way they could.
The best part was my dad had the trip of a lifetime and was making plans for a second trip before we had left. The bonefish were easy to come by, a few days of active permit and some leaping tarpon made our knees shake. It seemed there was always a fish off every rock, point and drop off, not to mention the varied sea life all around us. For me it was the challenge of the permit, the power of the bonefish and the nervous feeling you get as anticipation builds for the next fish. With a little experience under my belt now, I might do things differently next time but I doubt my pulse will be any slower when I spot that first bonefish or the black sickle tail of a permit. My dad and I had the perfect, first saltwater fly fishing trip at Costa de Cocos.
--Paul Melchior at www.anglingescapes.com