The Drake: For Those Who Fish | Tom Bie
Xcalak's Costa de Cocos
By Tom Bie
Why don't more people fish Chetumal Bay?
A BREWERY IS BEING BUILT IN XCALAK. IT'S A SMALL BREWERY, MIND you—no chairs yet except the folding kind and couple upside-down buckets. But is serves up a tasty Tarpon Tale Pale Ale and has the added benefit of sitting fifty feet from some of the finest and least pressured permit water in the world.
David Randall moved to Xcalak in the early '90s, after selling his catfish hatchery south of Kansas City. He and his wife Illana own Costa de Cocos resort, which sits on 350 feet of beachfront property looking over the water, 1/2 mile north of town (population 400). It's a typical Mexican flats lodge in many ways—pangas docked out front, friendly, open dining room with a well-stocked bar, 16 smallish but functional guest cabanas scattered across a breezy view to the water. But it is not typical in other ways. The lodge restaurant is open to everyone in town, rather than just the anglers staying there. So the bar and dining room get all types, and all types is exactly what you'll find there, from the Dutch backpackers I had breakfast with, to the Chilean eco-tourist who was staying in a place down the beach and came to dinner at Costa de Cocos for "the delightful lobster pizza."
This mix of company makes for a varied and eclectic topics around the table and also helps reduce the dinnertime dick-measuring conversations that can dominate an evening meal at a fishing lodge. Considering all of this, and the relatively easy drive to get here (250 miles from Cancun, five-ish hours on the road.) I was a bit surprised to learn how few people, even serious saltwater guys, have fished Chetumal Bay. It only took a couple hours past the Tulum turnoff—where a left at the light leads to the Sian Ka'an Preserve and the half-dozen lodges of Ascension Bay. The road is in great shape, with few opportunities to get caught in traffic or make a wrong turn. When you arrive, there is Chetumal Bay—As big as Ascension and Espirito Santo combined—with willing permit and far less boat traffic.
My guide, Alberto, formerly guided in Punta Allen, but moved down to Xcalak because his wife thought Chetumal had more to offer than Tulum. He found multiple schools of fish both mornings, and none of them required a lengthy run from the lodge.
Another reason reason to hit Xcalak: If you've always wanted to do the Mexican Yucatan/Belize doubleheader, rent a car like I did (there are a couple places in Cancun) and simply drive down. The border crossing is way easier, faster, and safer than crossing into Mexico from California or Arizona. I fished two days at Costa de Cocos, then made my way south to Hopkins, Belize. The border to Belize is so close to the lodge (six miles), that at one point Alberto had me fishing only one side of the creek we were on because Belize was on the other side, and he couldn't legally guide it. (Still, it takes 2 1/2 hours to reach Belize by car from Xcalak, because you have to drive north up the peninsula first, then back down.)
My point: Xcalak is worth the drive. David and Illana are excellent hosts, the town feels worlds away from the zoo that is Cancun or Playa de Cheesy, and your homemade micro brew will be waiting.
Some of the Permit Caught at Costa de Cocos during September through November 2012
Permit Hall Of Fame