If you drive south from the popular resort town of Cancun for about 4 1/2 hours on a paved highway, you will arrive at a quaint little village called “Xcalak.” Xcalak is a hidden gem at the sudden tip of Yucatan Peninsula when it comes to a variety of saltwater flats species accessible to fly anglers.
I fished Xcalak early May this year and was pleasantly surprised at the abundance of Permit and Baby Tarpon, in addition to Bonefish and Barracuda. I was targeting Tarpon on this trip, my very first one. I’ve caught a plenty of Bonefish and have landed a few Permit as well, but I’ve never had a decent shot at a Tarpon. Getting a Baby Tarpon was my sole reason for joining this trip with a bunch of Northwest Steelhead fishermen whom I never met before.
On the first day of fishing, I wanted to just go along with the program and fish for whatever was available. It was a fun day of sight fishing to singles, pairs and small groups of Bonefish. A great way to get my eyes adjusted to the subtleties of the turquoise flats environment.
On the second day, I asked the guide if Tarpon are around. He said “Si” and took us to a mangrove lined lagoon close to the lodge. After a few minutes of blind casting, we saw a group of rolling Tarpon and my heatbeat jumped with excitement. After a few attempts, I felt a touch, but not a take. We quickly changed the fly and after a few casts, I hooked a nice Baby Tarpon, my first ever. However, my excitement lasted all but a minute or so, as the Tarpon broke off the 25 lb tippet on it’s 2nd jump. Maybe I forgot to bow?
Now the Tarpon fever was on. The next couple of days, I fished for Bonefish and occasional groups of Permit to be fair to my boat mate, while anxiously waiting for the next opportunity to target a Tarpon. That opportunity came on the last day in Xcalak as I was a single that day. My guide saw in my eyes what I wanted. He asked me if didn’t mind a longer boat run. “Heck, no!” It was about an hour boat ride but totally worth it, as we didn’t see another boat all day.
My anticipation turned into disappointment initially as we saw no Tarpon in the mangroves. We decided to go out into the lagoon, because at this point, I pretty much gave up on getting a Tarpon on this trip and just wanted to feel a tug at the end of my line. We quickly saw a pair of Permit, my guide stopped poling, and I got into a waist deep water, stealthly waded towards the fish and made my cast. Surpringly these two fish were on my fly as soon as they saw it, so I was able to land a Permit, not my biggest, but I was happy. I had a few more really great shots at Permit that day, some of them pushing 30 lbs. Yet, I was still searching for that illusive Tarpon. After lunch, my guide wanted to see if Snooks will coorperate, so we went serching for them in the mangroves on the other side of the lagoon. They were there but not interested in my fly at all. Now clocks ticking, we had to move on. Coming out of the mangroves, we saw a small group of what we thought were Permit approaching our direction. I threw my Permit fly into them but got ignored. And then my guide said, “Tarpon, they are Tarpon.” I literally threw my permit rod on the floor and picked up my Tarpon rod and made a cast. Instantly, the Tarpon were on my fly and I was able to hook one. This time, I was determined to land him and I did. I was ecstatic!!!
At this point, both my guide and I realized that the Grand Slam, catching Tarpon, Permit and Bonefish in one day, was within our grab. It was about 3 pm and we had to think about heading back, plus there are no Bonefish in this lagoon. On our run back to the lodge, we stopped at a turtle grass bottom flat and my guide started to pole. Within a minute or two, I sighted a single Bonefish cruising, made my cast and got him. Again, not a big fish, but it did the job. I got my first grand slam ever and my first Tarpon.
Our group consisted of 7 anglers, including me. Two of them were first time flats fishing and inexperienced fly fishermen. During that week, over 7 Permit (I left a day early and heard more catch on their last day), countless Bonefish, and 1 Tarpon were caught and at least one Barracuda per day (which makes the best Ceviche).
In comparison to Pesca Maya, located closer to Cancun but takes just as long to get to because of the road condition, Xcalak was far superior in the quality of fishing and attidudes of the guides. First of all, we fished longer hours, we started around 7:00 or 7:30 each day, and the run to the flats was a lot shorter, 20-30 minutes in most cases. The guides worked really hard and very accommodating. The lodge, Tierra Maya, is more basic than the resort style Pesca Maya, but it had everything I needed and the food was quite exceptional. But best of all, I saw far more Permit and Tarpon in Xcalak than in Pesca Maya.
Please enjoy the photos and let me know if you want to learn more about this hidden gem in the Yucatan Peninsula