The west coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, where Isla del Sábalo is situated, is renowned for its juvenile tarpon fishery, and with good reason, as 5- to 15-pounders are astoundingly abundant and frequently found in groups ranging from a few fish to large schools of more than 100. Now and then, 20- to 30-pound tarpon are also present, and an influx of much larger adults (of 40 to over 100 pounds) can spice things up during the annual May-through-August migration. In addition, visiting anglers are also likely to cross paths with snook, barracuda, mangrove snapper, jacks, and the occasional seatrout.
To make things even more exciting, the bulk of the action takes place in clear water only two to four feet deep, allowing anglers to track their targets’ movements with ease, and read their reactions to each presentation, thus bolstering chances for a hook-up. While some tarpon are spotted cruising or laid-up, many are seen rolling on the surface, especially in sheltered areas or in open water when the wind isn’t kicking up a chop. Lush grass flats extending from about 100 to more than 500 yards off the coastline are usual gathering areas, but plenty of tarpon also prowl the mangrove shorelines and the myriad coves, tidal lagoons, and river and creek mouths.
Isla del Sábalo guides, all seasoned veterans with more than a decade fishing in the region, are very familiar with the tactics and fly patterns best suited for their local waters. They also stay in touch via VHF radio and share information to ensure everyone gets in on the hot bites.
Since mornings are usually calm and produce excellent action, every fishing day begins at daybreak (approximately 6 a.m., depending on the time of year). To take full advantage of the region’s seasonal weather patterns, you’ll either have lunch out on the water (the guides always find a shady spot) and fish until 2 or 3 p.m., when the wind turns and starts blowing toward shore, or head back to the lodge for lunch and a siesta instead. After the break, you’ll go back out in the early evening to cash in on another peak period of tarpon activity. Based on your guide’s game plan (with tides and weather forecast taken into account), the run to the fishing grounds can be as short as 15 minutes or as long as 45.
Isla del Sábalo guides are equipped with custom, 18-foot pangas, tunnel-hull versions of a traditional open-boat design that is seaworthy, very maneuverable and lightweight. The boats run and float in extremely shallow water, and feature recent-year outboards, a spacious casting deck with leaning bar at the bow, comfortable seats, rod racks on the gunwales, and a poling platform at the stern that affords guides an elevated perch from which to spot fish with greater ease.
The lodge does NOT have any fly outfits to lend guests, so you must bring you own gear (including at least one spare rod and reel), as well as plenty of flies, leaders and other essentials, like a rain jacket and polarized sunglasses.