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 Post subject: Mexico May '18
PostPosted: Mon May 21, 2018 4:10 pm 
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Joined: Fri Jul 18, 2008 9:42 am
Posts: 438
My last trip to the Zapata area of Cuba in November was so good that I could not imagine it being topped (Lesson 1...never make assumptions where flats fishing is concerned) and I could envisage making all future trips to the same destination. Before falling in to that routine however, I wanted to make one return visit to Punta Allen, Ascension Bay in Mexico to fully discover what the area had to offer. My first trip to Punta Allen resulted in the capture of my first permit within a few hours of arrival and the remainder of the 6 days fishing were spent in pursuit of these enigmatic beasts, to the exclusion of all other finny forms. Now, I wanted to see if Ascension Bay could produce the kind of exciting bonefishing in skinny water over white sand in which Cuba excels.
My companion for the trip was Neville Broad and this was Nev's first bonefishing trip. Our home for the week was to be Casa Viejo Chac in Punta Allen. There is a fair bit of reference within the various saltwater forums at present regards the safety of Mexico as a destination. All I can say is that at no time during the trip did Nev or I witness anything untoward and the villagers, lodge staff and guides were the friendliest people you could hope to meet and to whom nothing was too much trouble.

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Day 1- May 6th...Rose at 6.30am to assemble our rods with our guides, Jose and Heysler. You really could not ask for two more attentive, knowledgeable and affable guides with which to spend the next six days. While they appeared pleased with our selection of bonefish and permit flies you could tell that Heysler was less than impressed with the tarpon flies on offer and arranged to sit with Nev at 6am the following morning to tie some patterns for the local fish.
Following a hearty breakfast of freshly squeezed pineapple and empanadas we walked the short distance to the boat dock and the panga was soon motoring south across the calm, turquoise waters of Ascension Bay.
Todays mission was to catch Nev's first bonefish and he was first to take position on the casting deck as Jose poled the panga over a mixed bottom. Nev suffered the frustration of follows which came to nothing, missed takes and lost fish but finally triumphed with a brace of nice bones by days end. The huge smile on his face said it all. My first cast of the day was to a decent permit which suddenly appeared twenty feet from the boat. I made my cast and saw the fish turn to chase the fly before the guides were aware of its presence. I kept stripping while enjoying a perfect view of the permit hunting down the fly until everything went tight. I struck and held the fish until sure that the hook was set. The 6wt rod produced the kind of arc that mathematicians can only dream about as the fish launched in to its first run. A few seconds later the leader snapped like cotton. The 12lb tapered leader had been extended with a few feet of 10lb fluoro by one of my previous guides (lesson 2...use 12lb fluoro to extend bonefish leaders and 16lb for permit leaders).
Several bottles of chilled Modelo Negra beer helped to ease the pain on our return to the lodge. Each afternoon we were to be welcomed by our waiter Samuel at the lodge with a delicious selection of snacks at 4.30pm, in advance of the evening meal at 7.30pm. Meals ranged from grouper to fajitas and the snacks from ceviche to guacamole, all equally delicious. Outside of the bedrooms was a spacious sitting area, complete with pool table, table football, a fishing library and fly tying table. The lodge is all about fishing and the enthusiasm of the owners is reflected in special touches such as carvings of permit on the headboards in each bedroom and fresh towels each day laid out on the beds in the shape of sting rays, crocodiles and permit. Such attention makes an angler feel welcome indeed.

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Day 2 - May 7th...Coffee is served at 6am in the sitting area, by which time Heysler and Nev were already busy tying shrimp patterns on Gamakatsu circle hooks for tarpon.
The day dawned hot and steamy with clear skies and a forecast of 35c. News was filtering through of storms affecting Cuba and the Bahamas to the north and we counted ourselves lucky to be south of the storm line. Heysler had spotted several tarpon rolling off the beach in Punta Allen while walking to the lodge and the guides were keen to wet the freshly tied tarpon flies. The panga made the short journey in minutes but the calm waters were unruffled by the presence of the Sabalo. The beach area is normally too rough to fish but with an offshore breeze the sea was like a mirror and soon revealed copious amounts of bonefish. These fish were significantly more difficult to temp than the Cuban bones but a mix of casting from the panga and some highly enjoyable wading rewarded Nev with six nice bones to a skinny shrimp while I bagged seven bones on a tan gotcha. My recollection of the bones from my previous trip to Mexico were fish of 2.5 to 3lb but some of these bones were noticeably larger.
After lunch we capitalised on the calm conditions and searched the fringes of the reef for permit but despite encountering several dustbin lid sized fish our flies brought no response.

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Day 3 - May 8th...Jose and Heysler suggested that we head south west from Punta Allen to check the Vigia Grande area for snook and tarpon. This is normally an area of beautiful white sand beaches and turquoise water but today the beach was covered with a light brown weed which floats in large rafts in the Carribean, driven by prevailing wind and wave. The weed has the effect of colouring the water a shade of browny red and apparently the snook and tarpon love it, most probably because of the huge numbers of baitfish present. Impressive numbers of both tarpon and large snook were on display but despite numerous shots to moving fish the fly line remained limp. Nev and I also had bonefish rods at the ready for despite the red tinge to the water it was still possible to see roving shoals of bones over the white sand. The fish were quite skittish to begin with but perseverance provided us with a handful of fish each to Nev's skinny shrimp and a Cuban shrimp on my own line.
Next stop was deep inside a mangrove channel where the guides frequently had to exit the panga to coax the hull over mangrove branches and roots obstructing our path. Eventually in a small clearing we observed large numbers of snook in excess of 12lb where catapult casts were the order of the day but the fish remained uninterested,
Nev and I were keen to finish the day wading for bones but the guides were more than keen to return to the beach we had visited earlier. Good call! Tarpon were rolling at regular intervals and Nev took his position on the casting deck with growing excitement. Heysler repeatedly barked out instructions for Nev to cast in a certain direction at a certain distance as fish broke surface all around. Within minutes Nev struck hard into his first tarpon, a beautiful fish estimated at 30lb. Nev played the fish like a veteran and the whole boat cheered as Heysler managed to grapple the fish in to submission like a Mexican wrestler.
I was up next and after a few casts a fish of 40lb rolled over the shrimp pattern without making contact. No time for self pity with so many fish showing and within minutes I saw the surface erupt as a fish ploughed through the water to grab the shrimp. 'Set the hook. Set the hook' screamed Heysler. I was busy trying to do that very thing but the fish had gone ballistic and refused to stop jumping. The panga was within feet of shore so we jumped of the boat to do battle from the beach. Concerted pressure from the 10wt eventually coaxed the stubborn fish to shore and Heysler grabbed the leader to help beach the tarpon. What an end to the day. We were all elated and carrying on like school children. Two tarpon on the trot and both to Heysler's freshly tied shrimp pattern. The journey back to Punta Allen was a happy one.

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Day 4 - 9th May...I rose at 6.15am to find Heysler and Nev already tying flies. The morning was exceptionally beautiful and the plan was to wade for bonefish around the Tres Marias, an area of shallow, white sand. While waiting for the tide to rise sufficiently to grant the boat access to the shallow lagoon we went searching for tarpon along the coast by the Casa Blanca Lodge. As we arrived one of the lodge boats was playing a nice tarpon. Unfortunately we could not follow suit.
An hour or so before lunch we pulled up at the edge of a lagoon to wade over perfectly white sand. I waded with Jose while Nev and Heysler paired off in the opposite direction. It took a while to locate the first school, a group of small bones. which harried and nipped a Cuban shrimp until one stuck. Soon after we saw a pod moving quickly towards us over the sand. These were small permit of 4lb but they spooked on the first cast. We continued to tail the group, who moved in a circular direction but often they would spook on the first false cast. 'Next time try a side cast' instructed Jose. I could see the group approaching at speed from the edge of a mangrove lined island. A side cast deposited the fly some ten feet ahead of the advancing group. Jose wanted to wait for the nucleus of the group to be over the fly before commencing to strip. This time we had a follow. Next cast saw three fish chasing the fly and Jose had me stripping faster and faster until one snatched the fly. I could see the whole story unfold in the tequila clear water. The fish gave great bonefish like runs but certainly possessed more stamina. The 6wt outfit was perfectly matched to fish of this size.
The next shoal to approach were permit of 5-6lb. I had a couple of shots at them before landing the fly 12 feet ahead of the lead fish. Once more Jose waited for the main nucleus of the group to reach the fly before stripping, to encourage competition. As the first few fish swam over the shrimp I could swear that one stopped, turned and went down on the fly. A few seconds later Jose told me to strip. I pulled the line a few inches and it was already tight. The permit took off at speed and before I could react the line went slack. Two permit in two casts would have been greedy.
After a late lunch we returned to the scene of yesterdays tarpon triumph in hope of a grand slam but the red sea had become the dead sea.

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Day 5 - May 10th....Scorchio!! 35c and deep blue skies. The southern end of Ascension Bay is home to a number of named lagoons offering superb wading in clear, shallow water and when the tide is high, the possibility to fish from the panga. The tide was just beginning to fall from the mouth of the lagoon as we arrived. Many hundreds of bonefish congregated in the strengthening current, accompanied by sea perch, barracuda and lemon shark. Nev was first up as we poled through the inlet, losing several bonefish flies as mercurial barracuda beat the bonefish to the kill. Jose searched our fly boxes for patterns without flash, to reduce interest from the little cudas. Embarrassingly, all our patterns contained flash to a greater or lesser degree. A Cuban shrimp was selected as the least conspicuous (lesson 3....don't assume that all bonefish patterns need flash). Nev and I soon brought 4 bones each to the boat while progressing through the lagoon before Jose and I donned flats boots to wade a bottom of soft silt and rocks carrying a 6wt for bones and a 10wt for tarpon. This lagoon normally hosts good shoals of tarpon despite averaging 18 inches in depth.
The lagoon is also home to huge numbers of bonefish and three more fell to the Cuban shrimp and many more lost. Most fish took the fly on the drop. Eventually the water deepened slightly and Jose replaced the 6wt with the 10. Nev stood on the casting deck some forty yards away, casting to a school of tarpon. Twice in two casts the water erupted as a tarpon snatched the fly but following brief struggles the fish broke free. I managed a single shot at a passing group before the falling tide ushered us from the lagoon and towards Iguana Island for lunch.
The day concluded with a brief visit to a small area of flats which appeared to be in the middle of the ocean. This was an incredibly beautiful place and I enjoyed some shots at bones while Nev briefly connected with his first permit.

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Day 6 - May 11th....El ultimo dia. The weather felt hotter and more humid than ever! The storms affecting Cuba were moving south. with thunder and lightning forecast for Tulum, a few hours to the north. Fortunately we were blessed once more with clear skies and sizzling sunshine. For our last day the guides wanted to take us to a special lagoon to the south of Ascension Bay.
The lagoon was truly beautiful and looked every inch a bonefish heaven. The rising tide pushed through the lagoon entrance on our arrival, allowing the boat to navigate the narrow channel before motoring at speed deep in to the heart of the lagoon, passing large areas of mudding bones on the way. Nev and I sported 'Funky Gotchas' on the end of our leaders, tied last evening at the lodge from sand coloured funky fibre and most definitely without flash following Jose's comment.
The whole place was literally teeming with bones but they were certainly nervous, perhaps due to fishing pressure as we now approached the end of the November to May bonefishing season. The Funky Gotcha proved popular with the lagoon bones and brought 9 feisty bones to my own rod and 6 more to Nevs with many, many more fish missed or lost, including fish up to 5lb in weight. All of the bones fought extremely well and ran like the devil.

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And sadly a fantastic week came to an end. Nev thoroughly enjoyed his first taste of flats fishing and acquitted himself well. I'm sure his first trip will not be his last and we are already planning a return to the beautiful waters of Ascension Bay. Cuba has been usurped.


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 Post subject: Re: Mexico May '18
PostPosted: Mon Aug 13, 2018 3:29 pm 
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Joined: Fri Aug 03, 2012 12:07 pm
Posts: 33
Loved the report. I havent fished Ascension Bay since 2016, I found the road trip down to Punta Allen too much of a boneshaker the road was flooded and very badly rutted. I was only there for a day breaking up the journey south to Mahahual for a DIY trip to sharpen my eyes. Think about extending your journey next time and heading even further south. The fishing is I think everybit as good as Ascension Bay but much cheaper 300-350 dollars a day for a guide if you want one, but I like the challenge of DIY and prefer to hunt on my own either wading or from an iSUP.
Michael


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