A triple-digit tarpon... a fish over 100 pounds... that's 100 pounds of muscle and mouth. For the sake of argument, let's say that when a tarpon tops out at over 100 pounds, it then becomes a GIANT tarpon. If you have ever caught one of these big boys, it's an experience you'll never forget. Along with the memory comes the knowledge that you stand among the angling elite for not everyone has what it takes to cast to, hook and land a big tarpon on fly tackle. It's a difficult game, but if you can pull it off, it is a real accomplishment. Being properly prepped, relaxed and yet ready to take your shot at a giant tarpon is essential for success, but when that shot comes, it can be unnerving, especially those first few times on deck! While adrenaline races through your system, knees shake and hearts pound. It is then that you must make everything go perfectly. Many things can, and will, go wrong in this potentially tackle destroying moment. Catching giant tarpon on a fly can border on complete insanity and even for the best of anglers, quickly deteriorate into semi-controlled chaos.
So where is the best spot to get your proverbial feet wet in this exciting, yet demanding giant tarpon game? We think Isla Holbox may offer the perfect venue to hook and land your first giant tarpon on a fly. The reasons are many, but in these days of ever-increasing travel costs, Isla Holbox is very easy and economical to reach and it offer lots of shots at big tarpon. Isla Holbox is located at the northern tip of the Yucatan peninsula. It's only a little over two hours north of Cancun by van and an easy one-day journey from most major U.S. cities. Despite its close proximity to Cancun, it's a world away from the bustle of Cancun. Unbelievably, this island still remains a small, quiet and quaint fishing community.
The perfect spot to be headquartered when visiting Isla Holbox is at the Holbox Tarpon Lodge. Rooms at the lodge are what you'd expect from any top-notch saltwater lodge. They are clean, comfortable, tastefully decorated and best of all, they are air-conditioned... important when chasing giant tarpon during the summer months! Other amenities include an open bar, coffee "at your door" wake-ups, rod racks outside your room, gear wash-down stations, internet communication, satellite TV and of course, the beautiful white sand beaches of Isla Holbox. The lodge handles all your transfer details which involves a van and boat leg and these transfers are included in your package price.
The lodge also has a portable fly tying bench and a few materials in case you need to tie up the latest hot tarpon pattern. If you like to tie, it's a good idea to bring the materials you think you'll need as specialty tying materials are hard to come by in Mexico.
This lodge knows well the special requirements anglers must have in place in order to be successful on the water. For instance, they are masters at getting breakfast served at 5:30AM so you can be fed, prepped and ready to go fishing at 6:00AM. The staff wakes you each morning at 5:00AM with hot coffee delivered to your room and a hot breakfast is waiting for you minutes later in the dining room. Lunches are ample and taken in the boats usually after the craziness of chasing tarpon in the morning.
At the end of your fishing day, usually around 2:00 PM, the guide will drop you off on the beach right in front of the lodge. From there it's just a 50-yard stroll across the beach to the front porch and the cool shade of the lodge's massive palapa. There is a fresh water station for cleaning your gear and a help-yourself fridge full of ice-cold cervesas. These beverages are complimentary for lodge guests and a welcome sight after a hot day on the water. Now its time for an afternoon siesta on the beach or in you're A/C room or perhaps you'll take a stroll downtown. At around 5:00 PM, in the breeze and shade of the late afternoon, you'll gather on the lodge's upper deck for hors d'oeuvre, chips and salsa and cocktails. This is a great time of the day when everyone can share the day's exciting stories.
For dinner you are on your own and one of the area's best-kept secrets are the restaurants on Isla Holbox. The Lodge is located about three blocks from the center of town and within easy walking distance of many quality restaurants. The food at many of the restaurants in town is extremely good and the lodge staff can suggest which places you should try during your visit.
But back to the fishing... as we have said tarpon fishing can be tough. To do well in this arena requires passing through the proverbial tarpon school of hard knocks. The only way to get it is to do it... again and again, and screw up... over and over until you get it right. For many anglers, combining the visual thrill and the skills required makes tarpon one of fly fishing's favorite target species. The basic skills for hooking tarpon whether big or small are essentially the same, but there are a few noteworthy differences in intensity when dealing with the "big boys" especially after the strike and hook-up. If you took a baby tarpon, added 100 pounds and accelerated the game to N.F.L. levels in terms of speed and reaction time, you would approximate the difference in intensity. Make no mistake... giant tarpon on a fly rod is the Super Bowl of fly fishing!
From May to August, larger specimens are caught at Isla Holbox from first light to just before 10:00AM. It is then that tarpon take advantage of lighter seasonal winds to ball-up the sardinas and grab those last few morsels to top off their nightly binge. The big show is over about 10:00 AM and there's not a thing you, or the guides, can do about it. If you visit this area, this you must accept. Then it is time to leave the big tarpon waters behind and motor off to fish for Holbox's other resident species. While Isla Holbox does have a baby tarpon fishery and a mix of other species, the reason to come here is for the big tarpon.
At Holbox, there can be as many as 10 guide boats scattered about on a given morning. All these guides work for the only outfitter in Holbox, the legendary Alejandro Vega, a.k.a. Mr. Sandflea. Alejandro is an accomplished fly fisherman and fly tier. His trained guides have many years of professional guiding experience and a lifetime at fishing this area. They can accommodate all forms of light tackle and fly fishing. The guides use seaworthy 18 foot pangas, equipped with first aid kits, seat cushions and life jackets. These boats are as at home in the open water as they are in the shallow water of the mangrove flats.
Any competition that exists between guides is of a friendly nature. There can often be three to four boats working in concert to stay ahead of a traveling school of fish. In addition, there can often be four or five large schools of tarpon working in the same general area. Each boat takes turns at positioning itself in front of a traveling school. Guides take care to stay the proper distance from each other while still getting as many shots as possible for their clients. While this approach does not offer an entirely solitary experience, it's definitely not the Florida Keys in terms of fishing pressure either! Isla Holbox is what it is and despite some other anglers sharing your space, you should get many solid shots at big tarpon. As such, Isla Holbox truly is a spot where even a less than "expert angler" has a shot at landing a triple digit tarpon on a fly.
So come visit the friendly village at Isla Holbox where giant tarpon feed only ten minutes from your hotel door. This has got to be one of the best destinations in the world for tarpon from 2-200 lbs.!