From our good friends Andrew and Colleen Shipman a recent report on Isla Holbox Tarpon fishing in Mexico.
After thirteen seasons in Key West fishing for migratory tarpon, including lasts years one tarpon jump in five days on the last afternoon, Colleen and I decided to switch it up to juvenile and baby tarpon on Isla Holbox, Mexico. If you haven’t heard of Alejandro Vega Cruz, a.k.a. Mr. Sandflea, you probably need to watch more outdoor/fly fishing shows. I think right now he’s fishing with Jimmy Buffett in a permit tournament. He was born on Holbox and has guided for 25 plus years there with his family. His passion for life and fly fishing for tarpon, permit, and bonefish is infectious and if you aren’t smiling on his boat within seconds and for days after, something’s wrong with you. To get there: fly into Cancun, drive or taxi two hours north (Sandflea can arrange), 1/2 hour ferry to the island, and golf cart to your hotel. The inhabited part of Holbox is about 1.5 miles long which is all easily accessible by foot, bike, or golf cart taxi. Other than fishing, the island offers many beaches and an easy way to forget about daily life and just relax.
After meeting with Sandflea the night before, we decided to target only juvenile and baby tarpon. Large, migratory tarpon are in the area but 12 weights and sink tips are needed. Our first day Sandflea picked us up from the beach of our hotel in a panga boat, he brought an extra guide (Valentino) to pole so he could stand next to the angler sight fish and re-tie flies (very helpful). We made an hour run to our flat (Sandflea: ‘hey, there’s my son-in-law on a guide trip’), we saw fish immediately and it didn’t take long for both Colleen and I to each ‘trout set’ an eat and miss fish. I asked Sandflea and Valentino to only make fun of us in English so we could understand…we took turns on the platform and I had several more eats with spit flies, chewed through leaders, and another broken rod. Colleen’s hook sets were more precise and allowed her to land a nice fish (below). We spent the afternoon going through small creeks under mangroves into remote lagoons. We only saw one school of tarpon racing past us and Sandflea was perplexed why no tarpon were rolling in the backcountry.
Day two: Sandflea wanted to take us permit fishing, so we made an hour and fifteen minutes run (Sandflea: ‘hey, that’s my uncle on a guide trip’). I had a lot of faith in a guy who says he’s caught 169 permit. As we pulled into the area, he stood up with a confused look on his face, the flat was actually dirty and he said something about a muddy smell. Needless to say we didn’t see a permit on a flat that he said ‘they’re usually everywhere, small, but everywhere’. Oh well. We spent half the day searching for permit and then again back into the mangrove creeks and lagoons. No rolling tarpon. We fished another flat that had plenty of tarpon that just followed our fly but wouldn’t commit to it eating them. Sandflea spoke to his uncle who said the same, no fish today for two reasons (1) 24 hour rain the week before filled up the lagoons and mangroves and (2) the full moon tides (strongest of the month) pulled the rain water out of the mangroves into the flats, with mud.
Day three: Back to tarpon. We made the same run as the first day, but fished a different flat. We saw hundreds of fish, big schools, little schools, I had six eats in the morning and again chewed lines, spit flies, broken leader (fish jumped twice after breaking off), and broken rod. Colleen, only 2 eats, but again the better fisher-person…we ate lunch and then ran to the mangroves hoping for rolling fish however nothing happening. Instead he took us to a private lagoon to show us some Tiger Heron chicks and a mother (tough to see in the pic) that I’m pretty sure no one else knows about. We called it a day and Sandflea ran us back to our hotel.
We met up with Sandflea later that night to buy t-shirts, visors and to square-up on the guide tab. Below are a couple links to find Sandflea, he responds to email relatively quickly (sometimes he’s busy fishing). Typical day is 6am to 2pm, lunch and drinks included. He has equipment, but encourages people to bring their own 8 wt. thru 10 wt. for juveniles and babies and 12 wt. for migratory fish. We mostly used different variations of tarpon toads, but he picked through my box and wasn’t afraid to try something he liked. I brought six spools of fresh leader material and left it with him as well as two brand new fly lines as part of my tip, they don’t have a local fly shop or reliable mail…we’re already planning next year’s trip, with more fishing days.