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A Great Fishing Experience

Updated: Oct 8, 2023

Saltwater Fly-Fishing Mexico

Fisherman’s Lodge Ascension Bay 23

Having spent the best part of 30 years listening to people talking about the raw excitement of saltwater fly fishing, and after promising myself I’d do it for my 50th Birthday present to myself, finally, aged 60, I booked a week fishing with a great group of fishing people to the lodge above.

The adventure began at home, meeting the team at Gatwick before flying over to Cancun. After landing the Lodge had arranged transport to take us 2 hours south toward Ascension Bay, overnighting in the town of Tulum. From here it was a 45-minute boat ride to the fishing lodge at Ascension Bay.

Hotel in Tulum
A great place to spend a first night in Mexico

This is where the adventure really begins. The ride down there is spectacular, 40 minutes in a speedboat through mangroves and sheltered lagoon. The sense of anticipation, for me was high, as, having never done this before I have to say, the potential of fishing catching Bonefish and Tarpon had been in my thoughts and high up the bucket list for years. My sense of anticipation matched that of my first time to Alta or the Lake in Iceland; but would the fishing match the excitement of those amazing locations? Well, I have to say, this turned out to be everything I’d ever thought it would be and more. For me, fishing trips are all about the people you fish with, this comes first and the fishing second. The team put together by Tom Beattie were all pals of a pal, and boy was this a great team. The fun was epic, loads of laughs in an extremely relaxed environment.

Boat Taxi
Your Taxi Sir. Boat to take us from Tulum to Ascension Bay

As a double handed caster, I’d always wondered how this would work on salt water, I’d asked many people over the years but now I had a chance to gauge this for myself. The three target species were Bonefish, Tarpon and Permit. For people more acquaint with double handers over single, my feeling was that, for casting bigger flies at the bigger fish, i.e., Tarpon, the double handed rod made much more sense. I know many will disagree with this, however, the way I see it is, its like winding with left or right hand, frankly, it’s a matter of preference and what you are personally comfortable with. I’m much more comfortable with a double hander and this is what I’ll use here from now on.

Salt Water Fly Rod
Cadence Salt Water Rods 100% made in the UK

During the week I had a few chances at Permit. One of those chances saw me wading up to my chest following a shoal of around 8 fish. With the #9 Single hander in my hand, personally, I knew I was armed with the wrong kit. Permit are seriously spooky and one of those where, having got yourself into the right place you definitely want something you are totally comfortable with in your hand. The idea is to drop the fly in the path of the fish a few meters in front. Anywhere closer will end your stalk. I have to say, the learning process here was a magical part of the whole experience.

When I go back here in January, I’ll have a specialised double hander for both Tarpon and Permit, a #7 Single hander for stalking Bones and one of our 8/9 Microspeys for casting blind for Bones.

Because Tarpon was my target species I used the line given to me by my good pal, Simon Gawesworth. Simon is the line designer at Rio Flylines and an authority on the subject. I have to say, his #11 tarpon line with clear intermediate tip ticked all the boxes. I will look forward to using this line next time on my slightly adapted 11’ Double handed #11 Rod.

I’ll never forget when visiting the Lake in Iceland, everyone said single handed rod. I really wish I’d had a 12’ double. Thankfully I had a switch rod and the ability to adapt my line, meaning when wading up to my armpits, I could change the configuration and easily cast a much longer line, something which in this case let to me catching the biggest trout on the lake that year and there hasn’t been a bigger one since. Maybe I need to get back here again. One thing for sure is, like the saltwater fishing, I will have a double hander with me next time.

Fly-Fishermen in a boat
Heading off in the morning

But back to the fishing. After a nice breakfast, each morning at 8am all 12 of us would pair up and head off for the 40 minute or so ride in the boat across the bay to some of the best spots, which, depending on your preferred target species, could be in the calm, sheltered lagoon, or, further offshore nearer the reef. The diverse nature of the fishery means you have so much choice.

It maybe you would see some of the other rods in the distance, but, in essence, you were on your own, you, your fishing partner and two guides. In the boat targeting your chosen species. This could change depending on changing conditions and how the day was going. I loved this part of the whole thing. Targeting Barracuda as they swam past was something I’d like to do more of in the future. The were aggressive but wary too. Fishing for Bone fish blind I thought was also good fun. The first hour’s fishing after arriving at the lodge saw me landing 3 of those using my double handed Microspey with single Spey and snake rolls. This made the fishing so easy, especially when I looked at the work going into double hauling 20 meters of line with a single-handed rod. For me it was a total no brainer, methodically making my way over the flats, waist deep in water and enjoying being in that incredible environment.

The boats would take us back to the lodge for 4pm, leaving 3 hours before dinner to de brief with the others in the group.

Fishing Lodge Ascension Bay
Debriefing over a Margarita or G&T

The talk was always of fish, the only blanks were those more seasoned rods specifically looking for Permit. This was a magic time of day to de brief and enjoy the stories of the day over a Margarita, Mojito or Gin and Tonic with a few canopies provided by the lodge. I know most of my life has been about organising and hosting and this was a personal holiday for my 60th birthday so I was going to make the most of it. No guiding for me this time. The feeling of relaxation I had in this moment was like no other fishing trip I’d ever been on. It was so different, yet similar. I loved it and was enjoying every minute.

The ice hadn’t melted in my Margarita when I saw Giles grab his rod and head for the ocean, which, like in some idyllic dream, was 50 yards from the lodge and was now moving with rolling Jacks and Tarpon. Such a sight on the river would have me trying to get one of my clients lined up for a fish, however, as this was my holiday, I thought, Ian, just go for it. After Giles had landed a Jack of around 15lbs, I grabbed my own rod and was soon up to my waist in the warm Caribbean surrounded by Tarpon, Jacks and Snook.

Fly Fisherman with Jack
Giles Whittingham with a lovely Jack caught 10 yerds outside the lodge

This was where, for a salmon fisherman, things got a little tricky. It was one thing attracting those, but quite another hooking and landing them. However, as with salmon fishing, the fun is always in the chase. The excitement had brought the guys from the lodge to view what was going on and it wasn’t long before cries of “12 O Clock” – “1 O Clock” resonated from the beach. Ah, bugger, you missed it! Oh, that was another! As a seasoned salmon fisher, I just wasn’t quick enough in setting the hook. It would seem those Saltwater fish have extremely hard mouths and the only way of getting one to stick was to “Strip Set” the single hook or even turn and run in the opposite direction. Losing a few fish is all part of the learning process. The session finished with the chef calling us in for dinner at 8pm. What an amazing hour and a half. The camp manager said that this didn’t happen so much, only in specific conditions. Giles, David and I had seized the moment and had the most magical hours fishing ending for me with 2 Tarpon a Jack and Snapper. Wonderful and worthy of celebration with another fresh Margarita from the bar before dinner. Sitting there in that moment I have to say, was one of those times where you think, nope, I couldn’t get better than this. Great company, location, fishing, weather, what more!?

Baby Tarpon
Me with a nice baby Tarpon

The typical days fishing saw us taking the 40-minute trip on the boats to intercept our target species. Except for wading the flats with a guide each, most of the fishing was from the boat, taking turns at having a shot at a fish with your partner. Personally, I found this a good arrangement especially if you know your fishing partner. Meeting up with the other boats from our group for lunch was a memorable part of the trip. Sitting for an hour on the middle of the flats with a gin and tonic, a few beers and a sandwich lunch chatting to the other guys about how their morning had gone and watching the local guides show their prowess with a singlehanded rod, was just bliss.

Boats Stopping for Lunch
Lunchtime on the flats

Armed with the best information from the other guys, depending on the target species, our guides would then take us to a specific part of the lagoon hunting more fish in the afternoon. 4pm would come along quickly and it was back to the lodge for another debrief over another gin and tonic in paradise.

Room with a iew
View from the Lodge at Ascension Bay

This was a trip I had promised myself I’d do for my 50th birthday, looking back it was a mistake not doing this as I’d have been doing this a lot more over the past 10 years, but now I have found it, I’m already planning heading back there with a group in 3rd - 9th November 2024. The lodge, staff, food guides were all first class and having set high standards in all my fishing trips, I can say that this was right up there.

I loved every minute and for anyone looking to do something slightly different from salmon I’d recommend this trip.

Click Here for more information on my November trip

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