Heather and I just got back from 8 days in Mexico. This time we stayed at the Excellence in Isla Majeres. It was amazing. This is the first trip we have taken to Mexico where I have not been at least thinking about riding my bike. Didn't think about it at all. Never set foot in the gym. Completely relaxing. Except for the fishing. Heather booked me a full day on a skiff with a guide and we fished the flats and Mangroves. My guide Bernardo picked me up at 5:45 and we were off to the marina. The term "marina" is a bit misleading here. It was not what I expected. Very run down with really nasty dogs running around. There were dilapidated skiffs all over and, for a second, I was worried. Then I got over it. This is the only dock at the marina.
After we got the skiff loaded up and the motor started, we idled out towards the deeper water and this was the way the sun looked as it started to come up. I thought this scene was amazing. I did nothing to edit this picture. The first location was about a 20 minute boat ride and it was nothing but flats as far as you could see. The wind was fairly calm but it was never still. I should mention that this was my first time fly fishing in salt water and the first time ever being on a skiff so I didn't know what to expect. Now, I consider myself to be a better than average fly fisherman when on the river. My ability to spot fish, cast a nymph rig or a streamer rig are all very good. I quickly learned that this was going to be a long 8 hours. I knew the casts were going to have to be longer for salt water but not as long as they had to be. Factor in the wind and the fact that these fish are cruising (normally quite quickly) and you are balancing on the bow of a skiff and it's a whole new ball game. Trout generally set up in a lane and only move a little bit but they are set up when feeding so it is very possible to work a single trout for an hour as long as they don't spook. This is not the case on salt water. You have 2 maybe 3 shots at a fish or a school that is moving so you have to be able to cast quickly and accurately. Try getting 90 feet of line out in 2 front false casts and 2 rear false casts before finally making you're final cast. The fish are now 15 feet to the right (or left, or closer to you or farther away) than they initially were so you have to be taking this into account during your false casting. If your fly doesn't land correctly it's game over. If your retrieve isn't nuts on it's game over. When it's game over, you start from scratch, glassing the water and try the whole process again. I think I generally spot trout better than a lot of people I fish with and I couldn't see shit in Mexico. There were plenty of times when my guide was yelling at me to cast 25 yards at 2 o'clock but I was blind. Very humbling for me.
It must have been close to 3 hours and several location changes before we started consistently seeing fish (mostly Bonefish and Permit). Finally, I was beginning to be able to spot fish (sometimes on my own but mostly after being told which direction they were cruising). The first hookup came when I was able to see the small school and put the fly in the right spot with the right fall and the right retrieve and they turned on a dime and started following it. After several minutes of fighting the fish, Bernardo was giggling and I asked what was so funny, and apparently I had caught a less than desirable fish. The Jack Crevalle. It fought very hard for it's size and was peeling plenty of line off the 8 weight rod. As I was reeling in I looked over my shoulder and asked if the Bone would fight harder and he just laughed. I scooped up the Jack, took a picture (which Bernardo didn't understand) and released it.
Maybe 20 minutes later, we saw another school and, again, I was able to put it all together and see the whole thing unfold. This time it was a Bonefish and immediately I said, "Holy fuck." Bernard didn't speak much English at all but he understood that and was doubled over and leaning on the pole. I could not believe how hard the fish fought. It immediately made a run that went straight into the backing. I have never had a fish take me into the backing before. I made some ground on it but it made several more runs down into the backing and each time it went I was so glad my knuckles were not in the way because the handle on the reel would have hurt at the rate it was going. It probably took 15 minutes to get this fish to the boat. Wish there was sound here because all that could be heard was the drag screaming.
My first Bonefish. I was really impressed with Bernardo's care for the fish. One of the best parts of fly fishing for me is the revival process and making sure that the fish is ok before finally letting it slide out of your hand. He took great care of each fish that he handled to make sure that it was ok. I have caught trout that were easily twice as big as this Bone. I was amazed at the power it had.
Near 11 o'clock we decided to hit the Mangroves and look for Tarpon. I was very excited about this. Tarpon are much bigger and I was hoping they would be easier for me to spot but they hide themselves in the shadows very well. There was a school just hanging around the group of Mangroves on the right in this picture and we watched them for 10 minutes while Bernardo told me what needed to happen to catch one. Lead them by 5 or 6 feet. Strip as soon as the fly hits the water. Not too quick. Not too slow. Never stop the movement. Faster once you get their attention and they begin to move. I won't lie, it took me several casts to get the fly in the right spot. I had a fish hit and was immediately shocked at how hard the pull was. I stopped stripping in that instant and lost the fish. We let the school calm down for another 10 minutes and started in again. They would cruise in a circle maybe 20 foot in diameter and the plan was to put the fly in their path and let it sit until they got close and then start stripping. Again, Bernardo told me to be ready and DO NOT let dis feeeesh get to da mangroves. OK. Again the take was so violent and happened so fast that I didn't have much say in the matter. Before I knew what was going on it had darted straight to the mangroves and then ran to the right. It popped out of the trees 20 yards to the right and did a spectacular jump while it gulped air and filled its swim bladder to get ready to fight. Bernardo only said, "Told you not do dat!" I do not know how the line didn't break but it was almost like it cut straight through 50 branches. Completely free. The fight was on.
It took 20 minutes to get this tarpon to the boat and I was ecstatic. Such a beautiful creature. It took a long time for this one to be ready to go but finally it cruised away from the boat and started gulping air before, eventually, re-joining the school.
We fished for several more hours after this. I caught a Barracuda and made several more casts to tarpon but was not able to get any more which was fine. It was an amazing and very hot day on the water. I learned a ton of lessons. Before we started the day, I asked Bernardo how old he was. He said he was 21 but I'd be surprised if he was even 18. He put me on a lot of fish that I blew. I know there were times that he was frustrated with me. He said he had been guiding for about a year and there were times when I questioned whether or not he had me in the right position to make my casts. Don't get me wrong, I fucked up plenty of casts and, like I said, I've never been on a skiff before. I'll be anxious to talk to friends who have and see what they say about some of the positions of the boat that seemed off to me. I never questioned Bernardo (although I came very close in the last 2 hours when I was very frustrated with myself). I don't think he would have understood though because there was a big language barrier. There were several times where I would be false casting and he would shout out, "To da left. More left. More left!!" Each time I would correct and he would scream louder, "Left!!!" I finally realized that he didn't know the English words "left" or "right." He had them switched. The boy was deadly with a fly rod though. I like watching people cast. He could punch the better part of that fly line straight into a headwind.
I found holes in my fly fishing game during this trip that I never knew existed. I need to learn to cast farther. I need to learn to deal with windy conditions better. Here in Colorado, fly fishing is equivalent to more like putting is in golf. We have a relatively short game. Even if you're gonna pitch streamers and you're quartering them downstream, it's not that long of a cast. I need to be able to cast twice as far with a bigger fly. Heather asked if I would do it again. Oh fuck yes. When I first started fly fishing for trout, I routinely got my ass handed to me. If I had quit, I would not be where I am today. I cannot wait for our next trip to the flats. I even told Heather, "Ya know...we should look into relocating to the beach." Maybe...Cabo. Until then, I'll settle for chasing trout here in the Rockies and I'll for sure start to fish more still water where I can learn more. It's always good to challenge yourself.