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The Southern Yucatan 05-04-2002


At the southernmost tip of the Yucatan province of Quintana Roo, a twisted maze of mangrove canals serves as the border between Mexico and Belize. Here you'll find the small fishing village of Xcalak (Ish-ka-lack). Our group of six experienced anglers had come to explore this relatively unfished area some 200 miles south of Ascension Bay.

Our goal was to explore the Chetumal Bay side of this ancient Mayan canal for bonefish, tarpon, permit and snook. Our base of operations was the small resort of Costa de Cocos, located less than a mile north of Xcalak. Costa de Cocos lies nestled among stately palms on shallows that drop off quickly into scattered patch reefs that eventually give way to the outer coral reef. This expansive reef system is the second largest barrier reef in the world.

We arrived to 20˝30 knot winds and were informed by anglers that we had met on Belize's Ambergris Cay that the wind had been blowing like this for three days! We had scheduled this trip for the beginning of the calm season and felt sure that the wind would abate after a day or two... it did not. The wind blew day and night for 6 days ˝very unusual for May when usually moderate tropical day breezes give way to calm nights.

As a result, our bonefishing for the "meat and potatoes" species was either excellent or poor. We saw very few tarpon except in the deep recesses of "secret" lagoons in almost uncatchable lies. They seemed to be hiding-out here weathering the wind. I caught three tarpon ranging from 10-20 lb. for the week.

The abundant bonefish we had seen on the outside flats last spring now seemed to be more "up the creeks". In the morning, when the water was cool, the bonefish were easier to find and seemed to be out prowling for food. As the afternoons wore on and the flats heated up, we found bones at the far end of creeks in deeper and cooler holding areas. Some of these areas were no doubt supplied by cool water from underground springs that feed inland lakes called "cenotes". If you could find these holding areas, it was a bonefish bonanza, if not, the bones were few and far between in the afternoon. I believe that the strong winds held up the tides and reduced the cooling effects of these daily floods and the 85 degree temperatures quickly warmed the flats causing the bones to seek cooler, more oxygenated spots. As a result, we had sometimes good and sometimes difficult bonefishing... depending on where you were.

Two to forty pound permit were abundant. In fact, I don't think I have ever seen as many permit anywhere else in Mexico or Belize. Unfortunately, we saw few permit actively feeding. Almost each and every permit we spotted was excitedly prowling or nervously cruising. As a result, shots were difficult and when we did get a good cast, it was tough to get permit to look at our offerings. Lockjaw best describes their behavior- "frustratingly beautiful" as one member of our group described his numerous opportunities. One afternoon, I waded a long flat determined to catch a permit to fill out two-thirds of a grand slam. I saw fish after fish but could get no takers. It was the most fun I've ever had going fishless! That afternoon severely challenged both my fish sighting and stealthy wading skills.

Our guides were sensational. Everisto "Eveready" the charming, very knowledgeable head guide, Alberto the fun-loving Ascension Bay transplant and Tucho (Choochoe) the intense quiet man all worked hard, fished late and were all on time each day. Each guide had an assistant on board his panga to help spot fish and control the front of the boat in the wind. This two-poling technique took a little getting used to and although the guides love their larger chop "water softeners", at least one shallow-draft flats boat would open up some unfished areas.

Costa de Cocos manager, David Randall did a great job. Our accommodations were clean, comfortable and made-up each day. These comfortable "palapas" were well cooled by cross ventilation and ceiling fans. We had ample water for showering and bottled water for drinking. Cocktail hour was wonderful either at the bar or on the beach. The fresh salsa and conch fritters went well with whatever libation you chose.

And our meals...wow! Hats off to Lena and the cooks. We usually started off with a freshly made soup like Gazpacho or black bean followed by a fresh salad. Entrees were chicken enchiladas, stuffed peppers, and grouper complete with vegetables and wonderful sauces. There was plenty to eat! In fact, you had to remember to make room for key lime pie or other freshly baked deserts. Breakfasts consisted of abundant fresh fruits and juices, your choice of eggs, pancakes, or anything else you wanted. Lunches were taken between casts usually under the comforting shade of a Casuarina tree.

All in all, a wonderful trip with a great group! Our fishing could have been better and it certainly could have been worse. The only major disappointment was the wind that prevented us from getting out to the remote offshore atoll called Banco Chinchorro. Next year, we will hope for less wind, hungry permit, and an opportunity to visit Banco Chinchorro.


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