Catching Bonefish Yucatan’s Caribbean Coast

Susan Cocking writes about the Boca Paila Fishing Lodge, outside Tulum in Mexico’s Yucatan region. Boca Paila, is the oldest fishing lodge in the southern Yucatan, built there 42 years ago, says Cocking, “for a very good reason: It sits on a shallow lagoon 26 miles long and about three miles wide that provides a natural lee from gusty winds.” As lodge proprietor Ricardo Gonzalez points out, “This lagoon system is unique because it’s always protected by the mangroves. There’s always a calm spot.”

In five days of fishing at Boca Paila several weeks ago, the wind never once dropped below 15 knots, and on my final day, it blew a steady 25 knots. Still, I managed to release 20 bonefish to about 5 pounds — all on my 8-weight fly rod — guided by 20-year veteran Jorge Luciano. We must have occupied the hot spot of the region: throughout the week, Luciano and I saw numerous pangas carrying guides and guests who had motored an hour north from Punta Allen to fish our waters. But it didn’t matter because there were plenty of fish — mostly bonefish — for everyone to catch on fly or spinning gear.

One of my fellow guests, Jan Maizler of Aventura, released an 8-pound bone using a jig on spinning gear. Another guest, Dr. Dean Hagness of Wisconsin, released his first-ever permit on fly rod on his first day of fishing, and went on to score a super grand slam that included bonefish, snook and tarpon. “The permit was the cake, and the frosting was the super slam,” Hagness said.

I was kind of jealous of Hagness’ permit — an estimated 18-pounder — because I’ve never caught one on fly rod on the flats in several years of trying. But the unyielding winds convinced me I would drive myself crazy if I concentrated on that maddening species, and I would no longer have fun on my vacation. So I decided to rack up the bonefish, which never gets old.

Fishing for bonefish in Boca Paila is very different from fishing for their cousins in Biscayne Bay, the Keys or the Bahamas. While these Mexican fish bite avidly, they were observed refusing several likely looking fly patterns that would have worked just fine in my home waters or elsewhere in the Caribbean. What they never refused in a week of casting were Crazy Charlie patterns of pink and gold with crystal flash.

The other big difference is that these bones almost never tail nor mud. You are casting only to cruising fish — singles, pairs or schools — over a soft, mud bottom. There’s almost no coral and no sea grass. It reminded me a lot of east-central Florida’s Indian River Lagoon, except for the absence of redfish. [. . .]

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