The Yucatan Peninsula’s northern coast is renowned for its remarkable baby tarpon fishery, but Holbox Island offers more than superb action with 5- to 15-pounders in its vast mangrove lagoons and interior flats. Schools of migratory silver kings of 40 to more than 100 pounds travel through the area during the annual May though September run, and some resident fish of similar size hang out almost year-round. It is here that the shallow Gulf of Mexico meets the clear waters of the Caribbean Sea, and with forage in abundance, sharks scarce and temperatures well within their preferred range, tarpon find Holbox Island’s coastal waters very much to their liking.
Targeting the adult tarpon entails looking for rollers in some 12 to 25 feet of water, a swath that stretches from about 500 yards off the beach to two or three miles out. With trade winds calm or light during most mornings, guides begin the search shortly after daybreak and fish until 10:00 or 11:00 a.m., when the breeze tends to pick up. Once a school is pinpointed, the guides ease their boats into the path of the fish to let their anglers cast weighted flies on intermediate or sinking lines toward the approaching tarpon. Most takes occur well beneath the surface but, in the ultra-clear water, the fish can be seen tracking and rushing the fly as much as 10 feet down. With that much water for the launch, the jumps of tarpon hooked here are higher and more spectacular than those of their flats’ counterparts.
Baby tarpon may be targeted all day or after spending the morning chasing the large adults. Your guide will simply run to the inside lagoons where the juvies stage or travel in packs of just a few or schools of 10, 20 or more. They are found either rolling or cruising in troughs, along the mangroves and in channels, increasingly moving toward or away from the shorelines as the tide rises and falls. The guides use a push pole to propel the boats and quietly approach within casting range of the fish, and anglers need only place the fly a few feet ahead and strip it enticingly to warrant a strike. Snook, snapper and barracuda frequent many of the same spots baby tarpon inhabit, adding to the fun.
For anglers hoping for more variety or chances to achieve a flats slam, trips to remote Cayo Ratón (a boat run of a little more than an hour) will provide shots at permit and bonefish in open flats and various protected coves.
Viva Fly Fishing has a roster of veteran guides that have been fishing Holbox and its surroundings for many years, in fact, many were even born and raised on the island. They are all very familiar with the tactics and fly patterns best suited for their local waters, and also share information with each other to ensure everyone gets in on the hot bites.
Mornings usually mean gentle breezes and calm seas off Holbox Island, ideal for spotting rolling tarpon, so every fishing day begins around dawn (approximately 6:30 a.m., depending on the time of year). Anglers meet their guides and board their boats at the beach, just a couple of blocks from the lodge. Those who wish to target the large tarpon (both resident and migratory) that patrol the coastal waters will have about 4 hours to do so before the wind usually picks up. Then, it’s on to the backcountry to find the juvenile silver kings that abound in the area’s mangrove lagoons and adjacent flats. You’ll have lunch on the water and stay out until 3:00 or 3:30 p.m. Based on the day’s game plan, the initial run to the fishing grounds can be as short as 15 minutes or as long as 45. Special trips to Cayo Ratón also begin and end at the aforementioned times.
Viva Fly Fishing guides are equipped with 23-foot pangas, a traditional open-boat design that is seaworthy, very maneuverable, and also runs and floats in shallow water. The pangas feature recent-year outboards, a spacious casting deck at the bow and comfortable seats. Some also sport rod racks on the gunwales to keep several rigged fly outfits handy yet out of harms way.
Viva Fly Fishing 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.