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The Tarpon Coast at Campeche 05-21-2011



Let me get this out of the way quickly. Our conditions were not ideal on this trip and they were far from normal especially for this time of year. The necessary spring rains had not yet come. It was hot and windy. We had one afternoon that topped 110 degrees with 30 mile per hour winds. Not ideal tarpon conditions! We needed the rains to change the salinity of the estuaries which flushes the baitfish out of the mangroves and brings the tarpon both into the lagoons and onto the surface as they chase the bait. I would say our fishing was 40% of normal for this time of year. But then nothing has been normal this year. Tornados in the midwest, drought in Texas, floods where I live in Wyoming (where runoff is over a month late). With all this weather craziness, it didn’t seem that odd that Campeche’s rainy season was now a month overdue. But despite all this, we still had a great trip and everyone caught fish. We actually had some great fishing from time to time, just not as often as usual or in the numbers we have come to expect from this fantastic fishery.


Raul Castaneda and his guides were outstanding. Neko, Daniel (Gordo), Juan (Chino) and Fernando (Cameron) were hardworking, knowledgeable and fun. Our lodging at Castelmar Hotel, two blocks off the Campeche Plaza, was comfortable with great breakfasts, super A/C in our rooms and a very friendly staff. We ate at local restaurants and especially loved Marganza’s, Bastions, and La Pigua. We became margarita connosieurs and loved our evenings in this beautiful town. Music, dancing... something was going on in the Plaza every night. We never worried about our safety and the State Department concerns for Mexico seemed very far away indeed.

Our schedule was a hearty, but quick breakfast at 5:30 AM. Then on the way to the docks at 6:00 AM. The fishing near Campeche takes place in the biosphere reserve of "Los Petenes". A huge and complicated area of mangrove-choked rios, interior lagoons and turtlegrass flats. We fished till approximately 4:00 PM. Then it was showers and dinner. Mornings offered our best fishing as it always does in Campeche. I’m not going to go into all the details of this fishery but, instead in this trip report offer some technical suggestions. If you want more info please check these previous trip reports:

The Tarpon Coast 2005:
Click here to see the article
June 2005:
Click here to see the article
May 2005:
Click here to see the article
Tarpon Coast Camping 2006:
Click here to see the article
Tarpon Coast Camping 2007:
Click here to see the article


Jim jammed the last bite of his sandwich in his mouth. He slapped sandwich’s foil and his water bottle in my waiting hands. I tossed both in the the lunch bag and told him he had to go faster. He tried to strip line off his reel, but I impolitely took over and double handed line off his reel and stacked it on the deck as he unhooked his fly and snaked some line out the tip top. He hurriedly rolled into a cast and somehow managed to shove out a 30 foot cast just as the first of the porpoising tarpon reached the bow of our skiff. Jim stripped his fly and it wasn’t a split second later that a huge tarpon jumped not 40 feet off the port gunnel. This was certainly no baby, but was a fish well into its early adolescence. The tarpon struggled to keep up with its gang punctuating his efforts with a few spectacular jumps. I looked to see Jim. His rod tip was only slightly bent and pointed at the tarpon. It looked like he had his drag set for a 5 lb. trout as line melted off his reel’s spool like an ice cube on a hot engine. A look of awe covered his face.

“Can I check your drag”? I, this time, politely asked Jim.
“Please” he said obviously willing to get any help he could find.

We tightened his drag and I told him if he was to land this fish, he would have to stop him. I told him that if he expected to let the tarpon run out of steam and then land him it simply would would not happen. The fish would either spool him or the hook would eventually work itself free. He must fight this fish... now!

He lowered his rod parallel to the water’s surface and used his body to fight the fish with the butt of his rod. We coached him on the proper technique. Ten minutes later and after a couple more spectacular jumps, the fish was now at least headed back in the direction of our boat. I donned a pair of gloves and explained that many tarpon are lost at the boat. It was now that a whole lot of things could go wrong. Keep that rod bent and don’t give him a chance I said. Hell, I was into this as much as Jim. I told him to pull the fish in the opposite direction to which he was headed and not to reel too much line so that he had some “wiggle room” in his system.

As it got closer, the fish repeatedly ran under the boat. The first time this happened, Jim looked at me and said “What do I do now?” I told him to dunk his rod underwater and follow the boat’s contour around the boat until he had his rod on the side of the boat with the fish. He did exactly as instructed. It worked to perfection and the next time it happened, Jim didn’t need any coaxing! In fact, with his rod practically up to his reel during one event, he expertly followed the fish around the boat and even managed to navigate his fish past the motor. After another ten minutes, I grabbed his leader and immediately let go as the fish tried to make another jump, but this time he couldn’t clear the water’s surface. This was a big fish for an 8 weight and these last few moments were tedious and difficult. Finally, Jim led the fish towards me, I jammed both my hands in his jaw and held on. The fish thrashed repeatedly, but I managed to keep a grip and eventually hoisted the fish up and into Jim’s hands. What a tub of a fish and what a great moment! A 30 Lb. tarpon on an 8 weight. Whew!


There are basically three areas one fishes on Campeche’s Tarpon Coast:

The Outside SEAGRASS FLATS 

Offshore from 200 to 2000 yards. Anglers will both blind cast, and sight cast to rolling tarpon. When the wind is down, rolling schools can be spotted from 100 yds away. You can expect larger fish on te outside and bigger schools. This area will be referred to as the “outside” henceforth.

The Inside MANGROVE SHORE

Casts under hanging branches or creeks mouth can be very productive. Casting accuracy is required to avoid the mangroves. Sight cast opportunities abound as this area provides the most visual part of the trip. We will refer to this and the area below as the “inside”.

Inside the CANOPY

 Anglers make their way back up in the creeks where you will be making short, but technical overhand, sidearm and roll casts all under a beautiful mangrove canopy.

The whole bay bottom is soft, We fished in 1 to 15 feet of water. There are no chances to wade. All fishing was from the boat and lunch is taken onboard whenever you want.


 Flies:

Inside rios, mangrove edge and lagos: White and red, red and yellow, grizzly seaducer/ deceiver-type flies tied on bait hooks with wide gaps in size 2/0 to 1/0. Flies were 2-3 inches in length. Mono weed guards help lessen mangrove casting mistakes and help your confidence to make that cast one foot off a mangrove or into that patch of shad. In the mangroves and flats adjacent strip short and quickly and try not to make too much noise with your line popping off the water. Keeping your rod tip at water’s edge helps with this. Don’t rock the boat while you cast and be quiet in the boat. Follow your quide’s lead. Make no more noise than he does.

Outside turtle grass flats: 2/0 to 3/0 black/ red, black/purple, blue/ black, tan/ red. Strip long and steadily always keeping the fly in action. As a general rule here, the bigger the fish you are after the longer the strip.

Leaders:
6-10 feet tapered inside with a 40-50 lb shock. I started with a 7 foot 20 Lb. tapered leader and added 50 lb. shock about 18 inches. Leaders should be shorter outside with straight 30-40 lb tied to a 50 lb. shock.. The tapered leader allows a quieter presentation and a more accurate cast which is essential on the inside. I broke off two 12-15 lb fish with 40 lb shock so I believe 50 is appropriate. I also think fluoro is more resistant to abrasion from the tarpon’s mouth.

Lines:
WF floating and a sink tip is sufficient. A T-200/300 or equivalent is perfect. An intermediate is also a good choice for the outside turtlegrass flats. Bring back up lines. I used only 8 wt rods with my WF overlined with a 9 wt. tropical line.

Rods:
8 or 9 is perfect. Fast Action.

To a man, everyone had a great trip. It is a testament to the fishery, the outfitter and to the town of Campeche that even with the fishing being slower than normal, everyone still had a great trip. The guides worked incredibly hard, we made the most of our opportunities, the town was fun and the friendships formed will endure. Thanks to all of you for a great trip. Rick Otto, Bob Mankin, Doug Ellis, Doug Jeffries, Deam Kalmbach, Fred Abramowitz, Scott Matthews, Scott Sawtelle, Seaborn Jones, Steve Peskoe and Jim Woolett... thank you gentlemen.

Written by Scott Heywood


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