A Fly Fishing Safari

Ascencion Bay, Mexico

On The Fly Saltwater

Article and photos by Capt. David Edens

Three hours of flying out of Atlanta; overnighting in Cancun; then traveling south down the worst dirt road you can imagine for three hours to a lodge at the end of the road in Punta Allen, which is at the tip of Ascension Bay on Mexico’s Atlantic Coast. This was the start of some of the best fishing you can imagine. Bonefish, permit, tarpon, snook, jacks, snapper and other fishes were our targets for the next six days.

It was the start of an amazing six-day, seven-night “Fly Fishing Safari.” Ten intrepid anglers participated in this trip in late April. We were greeted at the Casa Viejo Chac Lodge with smiles, margueritas and cervezas. All but one of the group were veterans of past ventures. Some have been making this annual trip for many years to enjoy great Mexican hospitality and fishing. The guides and owner of the lodge are like family to many of us.

Seven-, 8-, 9- and 10-weight rods were our “rifles” for this safari. After dinner, we strung our rods for the next morning, looked over flies and leaders, all while talking excitedly about the week to come. We hit the sack early. The fishing day starts with coffee at 5:30 and breakfast at 7:00.

After breakfast, we met our guides and planned our day. Most of us wanted to target bonefish the first day to get the casting kinks out and warm up for the rest of the week. The bones in Ascension Bay are normally not double digits, but they are very plentiful.  As we left the dock it was all smiles and good luck.

At the end of the day, most of us had caught numerous bonefish and a few other non-target species. Coming back by 5:00, we sat on the patio enjoying the margueritas, cervesas and the appetizer of the day. After stories, showers, dinner and double checking our equipment, it was time to call it a day.

Back at the lodge for happy hour and fishing lies!

Every day started and ended like this. We rotated fishing partners and guides every day. There is no better way to make a new friend than sharing a casting platform.

Several of us had spectacular days. We had four Bobs on the trip, so each one had his own moniker. I was sharing a panga-style skiff with Doc Bob. Our guide abruptly turned the panga to the right, indicating he had seen a large school of permit. The permit were constantly moving, circling around the waist deep flat. They turned left; they turned right; they disappeared only to come up again a hundred yards away. 

I got the first shot at the school. I made a quick cast to where I thought the school was headed, only to have them make a different turn. After several shots and misses, I surrendered the bow to Doc Bob. 

The guide chased the school several hundred yards. The fish circled here and circled there. Finally, the guide put us within casting distance. Doc Bob’s hours of casting practice prior to the trip paid off, as he became solidly hooked to a 15-pound permit. After a 40-minute fight on his 10-weight, the guide grabbed the fish by the tail and hoisted him into the boat. High fives and cameras were going off everywhere.  Shortly after boating the fish, we released him to fight again.

Doc Bob with his permit.

Another highlight of the trip was fishing for baby tarpon. By baby, I mean 15- to 20-pound tarpon. After pulling and pushing our way through a mangrove tunnel, we stuck the nose of the panga into a small, remote lagoon. The tarpon were thick, rolling and swimming around in circles in the small lagoon. It was so small that most presentations were roll casts, with a haul to achieve the necessary distance. On my first cast, five tarpon attacked the fly. I was so startled I completely missed the strike. After settling down, I hooked a nice 20-pound fish. 

One of the author’s baby tarpon.

You cannot fight these fish on the reel. You have to keep the line under control and give line grudgingly. If you don’t, they will get back into the mangroves. If that happens, you have no chance of landing them. 

The day continued like that in different lagoons, with constant action. Bob G – who was my partner that day – and I each landed four to six fish each. We “leadered,” and l lost, many more. It was constant action and will go down in my book as one of the most epic day’s fishing I have ever had. The fish are ferocious and made me appreciate the 10-weight rod.

At the end of the trip, seven of us had landed permit. One landed a 90-pound tarpon on a 9-weight. Snapper and jacks had been caught. 

Oh! I forgot about the bonefish. We lost count. Toward the end of the trip, most of us concentrated on tarpon and permit. However, if it had been a slow day, the guide usually poled through a bonefish flat so we could feel a tug. Bonefish are easy in Ascension Bay, but the permit are tough.

If you go, take everything you need. There are no fly shops anywhere. Seven- to 10-weight rods are perfect. The most versatile rods to bring are 8- and 9-weights. Of course, you need good saltwater reels with a quality drag. 

Your selection of flies should be for bonies, permit, tarpon and snook. Take an extra fly line, in case you lose one. Also bring extra fluorocarbon leaders with 12-, 16- and 20- pound tippets. Take your pliers and nippers. You need everything. At the end of the trip, if you have extras, consider leaving them for the guides. They need everything they can get.

Traveling to Mexico only requires a valid passport. We overnighted at an airport hotel and had a private van to Punta Allen. These trips are surprisingly affordable, especially compared to lodges in the Bahamas. I feel as safe in Punta Allen as I do on my home island of St. Simons. I genuinely enjoy the Mexican Fishing Safaris and always look forward to my yearly trip to paradise.

Capt. David Edens is in the planning stage for leading future safaris to Mexico and the Bahamas. For details check out his web site at flycastcharters.com.