I’ve been to a fair number of baby tarpon spots but I finally got a chance to spend three July days chasing them in Campeche, Mexico. Here’s a sample…
5:35 AM: The hotel van driver drops me off at the pier in total darkness. I’m a little worried ‘cause the parking lot is completely empty. Where is the guide’s vehicle?
5:43 AM: Ah-ha! The drone of an outboard answers my question and the guide pulls up in his panga.
5:55 AM: We’re driving through complete blackness at what seems like full throttle. The only immediate illumination is the guide’s flashlight. It is my second day fishing and the guide is taking me to the very edge of the usual fishing grounds.
6:09 AM: The sun begins to peek over the horizon. With a bit of light, the boat speeds up. I’m quite relieved that we weren’t going as fast as possible through the dark.
6:50 AM: The guide pulls up to where a creek pours into the mangrove shoreline. The channel is about five feet wide. With the first day jitters behind me, I get a fly tied on and my first cast off reasonably quickly.
6:54 AM: Fish on! A tarpon cartwheels to the left into the mangroves. And it’s gone…
6:57 AM: Fish on! A tarpon cartwheels to the right into the mangroves. And it’s gone…
7:01 AM: Fish on! This one remains cooperatively in the middle of the creek and I land about a 3 pound snook. I’m pumped! It’s only the second snook I’ve ever caught.
8:21 AM: I haven’t seen anything since the snook. But my casting is dialed in. I’m actually feeling rather smug. I haven’t snagged a mangrove in at least half an hour. I’m dropping my fly in every juicy little pocket that presents itself as we pole down the shoreline.
8:22 AM: The guide calls out, “Tarpon! By mangroves! 11 o’clock!” I see a couple dark shapes in the clear water. Naturally, my casting ability instantly implodes and the fly ends up in the mangroves about 4 feet above the tarpon. The tarpon simply melt away.
9:15 AM: A small barracuda grabs my fly. Luckily he doesn’t bite me off and I unceremoniously strip him in. When he is ten feet from the boat a gang of three tarpon show up. They are large for babies – about 20 pounds each – and look like they have mayhem on their minds. At least as far as the barracuda is concerned…
9:20 AM: The barracuda is unhooked and back in the water. Somehow, the tarpon don’t notice as it darts away. They are circling about 30 feet from the boat and they still look like a bunch of thugs.
9:30 AM: Evidently, the tarpon are shrewd thugs. They ignore two or three different flies and drift into the mangroves.
10:45 AM: The guide poles us by a large tree that has toppled into the water, extending well beyond the mangrove shoreline. I crawl a Seaducer along the length of the tree. Blow up! A tarpon clears the water three or four times. He is still hooked; I’m hopeful that this could be my first tarpon to the boat.
10:50 AM: Yes! It makes it to the boat for a picture and a release.
11:45 AM: After eating lunch further down the shoreline, we return to the fallen tree. It’s a good call on the guide’s part because another tarpon inhales the Seaducer and comes to the boat. But not quietly, of course – thrashing and churning all the way.
1:05 PM: We’re on a large flat covered in turtle grass. Every few minutes or so a tarpon comes within range. It’s like this for about an hour and a half. These tarpon are pretty cagey and I get mostly refusals. Nevertheless, three or four end up leaping skward with my fly in their mouth. But – sigh – all but one fall back down to the water with the fly indignantly tossed aside. I have to admit I’m used to that.
2:35 PM: We start the run back to Campeche.
4:00 PM: I’m in the neighbourhood bar, enjoying a superb Margarita. Life doesn’t get any better ‘cause I’ve got one more day of fishing left….
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Here’s a few notes about Campeche and the fishing…
Campeche is a great place to take a partner who doesn’t want to spend everyday in the boat. It is an amazing city with stunning and historical architecture. There are lots of comfortable hotels and good restaurants.
An 8 weight rod with a floating 9 weight line was perfect for Campeche’s baby tarpon. I found a leader that was 11 or 12 feet long led to more grabs than the standard 9 footer. Puglisi patterns, Seaducers, and Mayan Warriors a little better than 3 inches long worked well. There was a lot of blind casting but a fair bit of sight fishing to both rolling and cruising tarpon.
The tarpon were generally between 5 and 10 pounds. They were plentiful and grabby. I never seemed to have to wait very long for my next shot. Most baby tarpon locations seem to suffer a definite slow down during the heat of the day but the action in Campeche stayed reasonably consistent. On an average day, I would get at least 10 or 15 strikes. For the sake of brevity, I left out a few grabs in my diary above.
The diary also left out a couple noteworthy spots that were fished on another day… Quite close to Campeche, there are some beautiful mangrove islands that seemed to hold rolling tarpon all day. There are also hidden lagoons tucked into the mangrove shoreline where I literally watched schools of baby tarpon swim laps. Although my partner never caught a fish, she fished those spots with me and had a great time just soaking up the scenery.
Although he didn’t speak much English, the guide was great. As well, he had a good panga with a casting platform. My outfitter for the trip was Yucatan Fly Fishing Adventures; they also have operations at Isla del Sabalo and Tarpon Cay Lodge.
**Editors Note: Fishwest hosts a yearly trip down to Campeche Mexico with Yucatan Fly Fishing Adventures. Spots on our 2015 trip are still available however they are going fast. For further details please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the “Destination Travel” page of Fishwest HERE** -JC