My Summer Vacation 2017 Part I - Isla Holbox
Written by Rob Mukai on Sep. 22, 2017
I had to drive our Subaru back to the US to sell so we wouldn’t have to nationalize the car in Mexico when we get our Residente Permanente visas. So I called friend of the Inn, Greg Branin, to see if he was up for an adventure. Normally it takes about 4 and a half days to drive the 3,000 miles from Xcalak to Salt Lake City, but we decided to take the long way and check out some stuff I’ve always wanted to see in my new adopted country. We took 10 and a half days, we were able to check out some areas of Mexico I hadn’t seen. According to Google Maps it was 5,580 KM (About 3,500 Miles for the Metrically Challenged). This report on "My Summer Vacation 2017" is coming in 5 posts. Part 1 covers our 3 days at Isla Holbox.
Picked up Greg at the Cancun airport a little after noon, and headed directly out to Holbox. The road is a nice toll road and we were in the middle of the day so missed the bus traffic from Cancun going to Chichen Itza. Pretty easy. Parked in a parking area right next to the ferry terminal in Chiquila, and hopped on the ferry to Isla Holbox. The original plan was to fish with Mr. Sandflea (Alejandro Vega) at the Holbox Tarpon Club for a couple of days, then do a snorkel with the whale sharks that congregate there every summer on one day.
We checked into an AirBnB just a couple of blocks off the beach and had dinner at Restaurante Viva Zapata. We swung by the Holbox Tarpon Club to check in and talk with Alejandro and Carlos. We were told to meet up with Ebe, our guide, at the beach at 6:00 to go chase after some big tarpon. (Ebe also owns the Raices Beach Restaurant right in front of the beach the Holbox Tarpon Club boats launch from. The big boys were being a little shy and hard to keep on top, but we decided to go after them anyway. Just a plug, if you want to fish for big tarpon in Holbox Mr. Sandflea at the Holbox Tarpon Club is the place to go.
Day one was beautiful, with mild rolling waves out in the Gulf. For anyone who has never fly fished for big tarpon out at Holbox, it is a little different from what you see in the movies of flats fishing for migratory tarpon. You are sight fishing for them, but because you are in 20-30 feet of water a couple of miles off shore, you are looking for rolling tarpon or schools busting on bait. The boats then motor out to an intercept position, then you wait for them to come to you. The previous few days, the fish had been pretty shy, and would roll once then when the boats came would dive and not come back up again. We were lucky in the schools we saw stayed up. These schools probably have 50-100 fish in them. We had probably a half a dozen shots at rollers, but no takers. Saw some pretty huge fish. After not seeing fish for a while, we decided to go into the lagoons to chase babies.
We rolled up on a flat and there were what seemed like baby tarpon everywhere. Unfortunately we were right in the middle of them, and although Greg got a bunch of shots off, got a lot of looks, leans and follows. Even a couple of grabs but couldn’t land any.
We were looking into whether we should do the Whale shark snorkel or go fishing again. Harvey made the decision for us. Hurricane Harvey that wreaked so much havoc on Houston, was crossing the Yucatan as a tropical depression, dumping rain, but not much wind. It kept the whale shark fleet in the harbor, but didn’t stop the pangas from the Holbox Tarpon Club. Not to let any rain put a damper on, we went out fishing again, this time with Tony as our guide. We took a peek out in the gulf looking for babies but it was a lot rougher water than the day before and we weren’t seeing much of anything. So we decided to go looking for babies again. One note, because we were driving all the way to the states and I had to fly back, we didn’t bring any fishing gear, so we borrowed all our gear, rods, reels, leader, flies everything, from the Tarpon Club.
We rolled up on the same flat we hit the day before and found some babies there again. Kept rolling west, and came to a large flat. The weather was about to turn, but in the calm before the storm the water was like glass. We kept seeing rays farting around the flat that had jack crevalle following them around. A quick cast to a ray got you a jack crevalle that pulled like a freight train. Greg and I each got a couple. We also saw a whole bunch of permit. Unfortunately, the box of flies we got from the shop only had tarpon flies in it. We tried casting some smallish baitfish patterns at some permit, but you know how that went.
With clouds from Harvey rolling in, we called it a day. Alejandro was kind enough to invite us to dinner. We ate with the guides and a couple of other folks fishing with the Tarpon Club. You won’t go hungry after eating with Mr. Sandflea. Must be used to feeding Americans, because these were American sized portions of delicious shrimp pasta. We went back to our airbnb to find a lake where the kitchen was. The rainstorm had come in through the kitchen window and flooded the floor. A little work with the broom and we were back in business.
Last chance to go out whale shark snorkeling and the whale shark fleet is grounded by Harvey once again. So we go out fishing again. We’re back out with Tony again. Mr. Sandflea said we couldn’t come back in unless we each had a tarpon in the boat. We did a quick check out in the gulf, but it was even rougher than the day before. So we went back into the flats to find babies. Tony takes us into some mangrove creeks that the boat can barely fit into. There are baby tarpon everywhere, but it’s almost impossible to cast. Tried a little bow and arrow action, but even after a lot of shots, a couple of jumps, no luck. And in Holbox, if you go into the mangroves, be prepared with some heavy duty mosquito repellent. Just poling near the mangroves will bring a swarm of mosquitoes to you. The mosquitoes are so famous, there is even a thing called the Holbox Two Step, where you are on the casting deck of a panga trying to cast to fish, but using your feet to try to swat away mosquitoes on your legs :)
After lunch, I finally get a tarpon to the boat! Yeah. Now it’s Greg’s turn. We go polling down a channel, where baby tarpon are rolling everywhere, lots of looks, leans, and follows, but can’t quite get an eat. We roll down another channel, see a baby crocodile, more babies, but again, no luck. It’s starting to get late and Harvey is sending more squalls our way. And then, it all comes together and Greg gets his tarpon. This is actually his second tarpon. The first he got in the lagoon behind Acocote Eco Inn to complete a grand slam the last time he was here. As we are heading in, we see some huge squalls between us and the Holbox. Neither Greg nor I brought any rain gear, so we just had a couple of garbage bags that Mr. Sandflea had given us before we left. They actually worked pretty well, although in the Caribbean, the rain is pretty warm anyway, so it’s not that big a deal if you get wet. Although when we did hit the squall line, it came down in sheets.
Next morning we have to head out. We take the 5:30 AM ferry to Chiquila, and drive to Palenque. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do the whale shark snorkel. That will have to stay on the bucket list. Stay tuned for the next installment of “My Summer Vacation” coming soon.