Tabasco is the state in Mexico that lies along the curve of the Gulf, just below the Yucatan. Offshore oil is big business there and it is not on the radar of most tourists nor fly anglers. Nevertheless, based on a trip I took in early July, here are 12 compelling reasons to visit:
1. Tabasco is prime habitat for hoards of baby tarpon. Holding 1/3 of Mexico’s freshwater, it is laced rivers, swamps, and lagoons that have quick access to the warm Gulf of Mexico. The American equivalent of Tabasco might be the Everglades.
2. The head guide at Flyfishing Tabasco is a certified fishing addict. Paco Maroquin is also young, energetic, and personable. He will be your driver, guide, and concierge for the whole trip. In short, he will take great care of you off and on the water. For an instructional – and inspirational – moment, hand him your rod and watch him rip the entire fly line to the far shore backhanded. Over dinner, get him talking about permit in Ascension Bay, or roosters out of Puerto Vallarta.
3. You dislike resorts. Ground-zero for fly anglers in Tabasco is the coastal town of Frontera. It is accessible by a 1 hour flight starting in Mexico City and terminating in Villahermosa. From there, Paco drives you for an hour to completely non-touristed Frontera. You stay in a tidy little hotel right on the main square, which comes with all the adornments of people enjoying life – strolling couples, street vendors, basketball games, a beautiful church, and plentiful birds. (Don’t worry, it’s not your car parked underneath the birds.)
4. You dislike long, rough boat rides. The fishing day starts with a 20 minute boat ride up a local river through a pleasant mixture of farmland and mangroves. The destination is a black water tributary and a lagoon above that. All kinds of little creeks pour into both the lagoon and the tributary. The entire area is part of a national park and huge, majestic mangroves line all the banks. The standard operating procedure is to motor along until some tarpon are spotted – either rolling or on Paco’s side imaging depth finder; it generally doesn’t take too long. Sometimes, the water is almost boiling with them.
5. You appreciate a target-rich environments. With fish sighted, Paco either anchors or sets the boat on a controlled drift. And then you start casting to rolling fish, or pockets and submerged branches in the mangroves. A few times, I even saw fish finning on the surface. For a challenge, and to maximize strikes, Paco can hold the boat 80 feet from the shoreline. To build up some confidence, that distance might be reduced to 30 feet. Truth be told, I had a couple strikes on flies that were just left dangling in the water. Another truth is that the best target is often the middle of the river.
6. You want to maximize jumps per angler-hour. Baby tarpon share their parents’ tendency to go airborne, but babies are far easier to come by and also far grabbier. Each day, I averaged about 8 to the boat and likely had double that number strike or jump off. Most fish were between 2 and 4 pounds, with several stretching out to 5 or 6. My trip coincided with the beginning of the rainy season in Tabasco; more rain means more bait washing down the system and more active fish. Apparently, real prime time happens in the fall.
7. You have some equipment that is collecting dust. Like that Sage Bass rod and some poppers? It wasn’t the most effective tactic, but I spent one morning tossing a popper and got rewarded with a couple blow- ups. How about the intermediate line that gets packed on all those flats trips, but never sees the boat deck? Most of the deep shorelines along the black water trib really liked the I-line I brought. #8 and #9 rods did a good job handling the distances, flies, and often stubborn wind. Given the size of the fish, it would be tempting to string up a #6 occasionally.
8. A snook is calling. Many destinations claim that snook are a possibility but they seldom materialize. In Tabasco, I actually landed a couple. I am quite certain that if someone put in the time, and works the shoreline structure hard and regularly, they would be rewarded.
9. You want a little more variety than a lodge menu. When the fishing day is done, Paco puts on his foodie/concierge hat and accompanies you to various restaurants around town, making sure you are well fed. It was mission accomplished in my case.
10. You like to sleep in. A couple of times Paco and I had a leisurely breakfast at 7 AM and hit the water a couple hours later. In the tarpon angler’s world, that is like sleeping till noon. Some might even say it is like a death wish, or at least bringing a banana on the boat. Nevertheless, when we got there the action was immediate. That is not to say there is peak action all day, but peaks of action occur throughout the day. We actually found that between 2 and 4 PM was pretty consistent.
11. There is a great view of the Popcatepetl Volcano as you fly between Mexico City and Villahermosa. It sure took me by surprise. There was even some snow near the top, which is impressive, given the latitude and time of year.
12. Did I mention the hot sauce?
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