Ascension Bay - a saltwater fly fishing paradise!
3 hours south of Cancun - Mexico (which is rapidly becoming the Ibiza of Mexico) you leave the cherry-red tourists and to a large extent civilisation behind. What you find instead is an anglers dream as Fish&Fly Editor Paul Sharman found out......
When The Hollies famously sang "The road is long, with many a winding turn.." it makes you wonder if they may have experienced travelling down the Yucatan Peninsula to the little fishing town of Punta Allen as the words seem to come to life.
The stretch of unpaved highway south of the entrance to the Sian Ka'an biosphere reserve in reality is little more then a string of potholes joined together haphazardly courtesy of hurricane damage over the last decade. I like it that way - it keeps the crowds away as it's a good hours bounce south by car from that point so only those that really want to get there do so. Most try it for a while before getting to the little bridge over the inlet from the Caribbean to the inner lagoon where the locals like to go and drop handlines which is where they stop and spend a while before returning north. Progress though is slowly paving the road south and there was already a stretch of improved road that had appeared since I last visited the popular fishing lodge of Pesca Maya about 4 years ago.
And so to the fishing however which was of course the reason for myself, my father and a small group from the Crawley Fly Fishers making the long journey to Mexico. Leaving the freezing UK behind was not a problem and emerging into warm 20 degree sunshine in Cancun was particularly nice. There was a mix of experience in the group from seasoned veterans to those with a couple of saltwater trips under their belts and also several first timers. All of us were excited at the prospect of chasing some bonefish, permit, tarpon and whatever else we came across in the warm tropical waters of Ascension Bay after a particularly dreary and hard UK winter.
The week was mixed in terms of the weather. We had a fairly persistant breeze that was often quite strong with some days where the sun shone all the time to those where clouds "turned the lights off" as it is often termed when sighfishing clear waters such as these, making it harder to spot fish in advance and target them efficiently. Some cold water areas also slowed the fishing on occasion but one of the beauties of this area is that because it is so vast, you can always leave one location and find another somewhere else that is enjoying better conditions. The guides are always aware of this being local Mayans and "ok reel in, we move" becomes a phrase you begin to recognise and ultimately welcome during your stay. That being said there are also plenty of occasions where you hit the right spot straight away as a couple of our group found out on the first day when they shared a catch of 30 or more bonefish only to find everyone else had only been able to catch one or two thanks to the conditions. The good news though is that the large bonefish schools that Ascension Bay is famous for rarely disappear for long and improved weather and warmer water will ensure most anglers will come across them during their stay but there are always small pods and larger single fish roaming around. We had good sport on and off throughout our week on the bones with most of us being able to target tailing fish which for me anyway is always a bonus.
Ascension Bay is also known as a permit hotspot and as always plenty were seen but they lived up to their reputation as being difficult to catch. My father had two fish on during the week including a true last cast when targetting permit that turned out to be large jacks that had been shadowing the school, probably stealing crabs that had been stirred up by their feeding. Close but no cigar pops!
Tarpon were to be found deep in the mangroves and channels either right at the south end of Ascension Bay or north of Pesca Maya up in the Boca Paila region of the lagoon. These were mainly juvenile fish up to the 50lb mark but a handful of larger fish were seen cruising in the clearer water channels too. Those caught were true babies of just a few pounds each largely but on lighter gear and in small confined spaces were a great challenge and added variety to only fishing the flats. The bird life in and around the mangroves was fascinating with several species of herons as well as ibis and spoonbill amongst others and there was always the chance to spot the occasional crocodile too just to spice things up a little.
For me though the revelation of the week was the snook fishing. I knew they were to be found there and I had seen pictures of obscenely large fish on the walls of the lodge on my last visit but was told they were few and far between. This visit we could not seem to stop seeing small schools of snook laying under the mangroves or occassionally swimming out into the open water with some true monsters amongst them into double figures. It's quite technical fishing in that your side-casting technique has to be very precise and low to the water so you can lay the fly under the mangroves into their lairs. One tip we picked up was to use a short and straight shot of relatively strong mono such as 40lb from fly to fly line that would not flex and therefore allow the fly to follow the line without turning over and potentially getting caught up on the vegetation so forget the tapered leaders for this specific application. Itis very exciting and visual fishing though and quite a thrill when the water erupts as you have to turn their heads and get them out into open water quickly before they wrap you in the mangrove roots.
The bay in the Punta Allen area is attracting more eco-tourists who are drawn to the biosphere reserve of course hoping to see the dolphins and other wildlife. They only get an hour or so out in the tourist boats whereas us anglers get all day to soak up the areas highlights so keep your eyes open. We spotted flamingos, dolphins, crocodiles and even a rare manatee on one afternoon. Ascension Bay and the Sian Ka'an reserve really are a special place that is well worth the journey. I could bore you with a detailed account of each fishing day now but I suspect you would rather see some photographs which will show you all you need to know anyway! If you fancy some great flats fishing in one of the best mixed fishing locations in the world and staying with a very friendly and well-run operation then you should seriously consider a stay at Pesca Maya. The lodge manager and his team will be pleased to see you.
Please click on the slideshows below and enjoy (I've included some 2006 trip photos below as well in the 2nd slideshow)...............
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