Fly Fishing for Coastal Gamefish
Project Permit in Mexico
Casa Blanca Lodge
Rain? It’s not bad if there’s no lightning and the winds are calm. If you face toward a dark sky and wear yellow-tinted polarized lenses, visibility can be good enough for good sight fishing. Wind? As long as there is sun, you can usually work with the wind too – search for fish as you move downwind, find a lee shoreline. When rain and wind combine, fishing becomes challenging at best. And when the wind and rain begin to organize into the umpteenth tropical system of the season, fishing is off the table.
I’ve experienced some great fishing in the heavy rains and windless conditions that often precede a tropical depression, but that’s all about timing. A system that is in the process of organizing or is not yet sure if it will become a cyclone often covers a large area, with much rain and dark skies but only intermittent winds associated with squall lines. The key is to know when these conditions are changing, when the system is becoming stronger and better organized. It’s important to not get too far from home and to be in an area where you can take shelter during a stronger squall.
After a day of perfect weather – sunny sky, moderate east winds – when we had many shots at permit, conditions deteriorated quickly as a tropical system began to form off the coast of Belize and drift north toward the Yucatan. We were at Casa Blanca Lodge to get the lodge up to speed on Project Permit in Mexico. This is a new permit and bonefish tagging program in the Yucatan, sponsored by Costa and Sunbrella. I was at Casa Blanca with Rafael Chacon, the Mexican biologist we are working with on this project. Rafael is overseeing the tagging effort throughout the Yucatan state of Quintana Roo, and had recently worked with guides in nearby Punta Allen on this project.
After a presentation to the Casa Blanca guides followed by some good discussion about the project, we were ready to head out onto the water to get the first permit and bonefish tagged by Casa Blanca Lodge. As is often the case, two boats had numerous shots at permit cruising the flats. And as is often the case, the flies were closely inspected each time, only to be refused. It’s interesting to watch the process across the water, from one boat to another – a different view that allows the viewer to take in the entire scene. Even from across the water, the deflation of the angler on the bow after a refusal by a permit is palpable.
Fortunately, a third boat had a better result, and tagged the first permit at Casa Blanca – a nice permit of 26” fork length. The angler was Joe Dudra, a BTT member and permit addict. An excellent start.
One of the nice things about this part of the world is the variety. Since the permit were acting their normal neurotic selves, two boats went in search of bonefish. They quickly found bonefish in a network of sand holes on the ridge of a large grassy flat, and tagged and took fin clips from 12 Yucatan bonefish. Another first for Casa Blanca Lodge.
At the end of the first day we were pretty happy with ourselves – one permit and 12 bonefish tagged, guides and lodge staff up to speed on the tagging program, and two more days left.
So much in life is about managing expectations. That night it began to rain, torrential rain that soaked up the light of the full moon and drowned the sound of waves crashing on the beach.
The next day began in a holding pattern, the guides waiting to see if the weather would break. It continued to rain, but the winds remained calm. Finally, at 10 AM, the decision was made to head to some protected areas to try to tag some bonefish.
As we got to the flat, the rain stopped. The wind remained calm. The skies remained dark. The flat was white to pale tan in color. Perfect.
It’s important to move slowly, and often even stand still, because when fishing in these conditions it is usually a short game. It’s unlikely that you will be able to see a bonefish more than 50 feet away, and a quick roll cast is typically the one shot you get at a sighted fish. Too much movement by you and it’s unlikely that a bonefish will come close enough to be sighted. But the fish tend to be less wary than on sunny days, so a stealthy roll cast that puts the fly in the fish’s path often results in a hookup.
It’s also important to keep an eye out for tails and wakes breaking the smooth water surface. Depending on the behavior of the fish on that day, you might be able to carefully stalk a fish as it tails among mangrove shoots or moves slowly along a shoreline. But the fish might also be a bit more frisky, tailing only briefly before moving on, or zigzagging across a flat pushing wakes as they move. These frisky fish require long, quick casts to get the fly in their zone before they move out of range or become invisible once again.
We saw tails and wakes within a minute of stepping onto the flat. The four anglers quickly fanned out, and the first cast of the day was rewarded with a take from a hungry bonefish. The result of the day was another 6 bonefish tagged, the largest measured 27” fork length.
Day three started as a carbon copy of day two – cloudy, wet, but with only light winds. The guides worked their way through a network of cuts in the sand to a large, sheltered lagoon. We saw only one permit – it tailed, a fly was cast, the fish inspected the fly and turned away – instead of the school of 50 that had been in the lagoon a week before. But the bonefish were feeding with abandon, and we tagged 16 more.
The squalls become more frequent, the squall lines a bit better defined walls of water. The winds picked up just enough to make the ride back to the lodge a rough one. The weather worsened, and it took us two days to get out of there and home. But our mission was accomplished – the guides were now tagging permit and bonefish, 34 bonefish and 1 permit were tagged, another step forward in Project Permit – Mexico. A heartfelt thanks to the owners, managers, guides and staff at Casa Blanca lodge for making this a successful trip. The feet on the ground that is making this project work are Nassim Joaquin and Rafael Chacon.
The Fisherman's Coast approach focuses on how coastal gamefish interact with their habitats and prey. The more you know about the gamefish you pursue with a fly rod, the more often you'll be in the right place at the right time with the right fly making the right presentation. It's about catching more fish.
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