In Xcalak fishing is a big deal. I mean a BIG deal. It’s the entire reason why the town exists, why most tourists visit and the only real source of recreation or income for miles. In our short time here we’ve met people who have travelled all the way from not only the US and Canada but Sweden, Australia and Austria (yes, they’re different countries) just to fish the area around Xcalak. Now, imagine flying 21 hours from Sydney, Australia to Cancun and then having to drive an additional 6 hours to get to Xcalak just to go fishing. That’s how serious people are about fishing here.
Me? I’m not so serious about it. Don’t get me wrong, I like fishing. I grew up fishing for bass and catfish on freshwater lakes in the Midwest but saltwater fishing is a whole different animal (see what I did there?). So after being here surrounded by all of this prime fishing for a few months I definitely got the itch to get out there and get back at it. Only a couple of minor things were holding me back – I had no idea what I was doing nor did I have the right gear. Lucky for me my buddy Matt from Casa de Sueños is a hardcore fisherman with a lot of fishing knowledge and we had a visitor from the States recently who was nice enough to bring me down some new gear. Now I was all set right? Kind of.
Between work and taking care of the property here I hadn’t really had a lot of time to devote to full days of fishing, just a few casts here and there. But recently a golden opportunity presented itself. We go to the only restaurant/bar anywhere close to us once a week or so and the topic of conversation is always, of course, fishing. The staff and patrons freely swap tips and tricks and discuss where the good fishing is etc. During the course of one of these conversations a local guy we know invited Matt, Jerry (another fishing buddy) and I to a super secret spot where he swore that even a novice like myself could catch Baby Tarpon.
We couldn’t have been more excited, this guy has been fishing this area for years and he was offering to take us to his secret spot! Keep in mind that this is something that not even a $400 a day guide could offer. Also keep this in mind – “Baby” Tarpon can reach up to 50 pounds and are one of the most sought after gamefish in the world. We thought about for about a nanosecond before happily accepting the generous offer.
So a few days later Chepo and Julian* picked us up at dawn in their fishing panga and away we went. Straight into the open ocean. If you’ve never been on a tiny boat in the open ocean first thing in the morning let me just say this – it’s a more effective wake up than a cup of coffee! Sorry but I don’t have any pictures of the open water portion of the journey since I was too busy trying not to fall out of the boat. We paralleled the shore for a while before pulling into a nearly invisible opening in the mangroves.
Taking a page out of Apocalypse Now we sped down a snaking (and likely snakey) little waterway barely wide enough for the boat before coming to a beautiful wide open lagoon. The lagoon was surrounded by mangrove and jungle and looked super “fishy.” As the boat slowed we began to break out our gear before being told that we had a couple of more turns to make before we got to the spot.
That’s when I knew how serious this trip was. This wasn’t just taking a boat trip to a good fishing spot, this was blazing a trail through the jungle in a boat! Chepo told me that he only knew about the secret spot and how to get there because older fisherman had shown him the way. We’re talking about some real tradition and secrecy here. It was truly an honor to be taken into an area rarely seen by outsiders. I was happy just being shown around the mangroves and lagoons by an experienced guide until we finally arrived to the secret spot and I remembered why we were here. To catch Baby Tarpon.
And catch them we did! In just a few hours we all managed to catch at least a tarpon and snook apiece, pretty good fishing for a guy from Kansas.
The great fishing certainly helped but it wasn’t the only thing that made the day so special. I wish I could better describe how cool it was of Chepo and Julian to take us to their secret honey hole or how much I learned from the 130+ years of combined fishing experience on the boat, but the fact is I simply don’t have adequate words to describe it. When we left Kansas City we did so in order to see and experience new things and fishing with these guys was certainly a new and excellent experience. I’ve had days where we caught more and bigger fish but this day ranks right up there as one of my top days fishing. I’ll probably never have the skill or dedication that my four fishing buddies displayed but after a day with them I certainly have the passion!
*Not their real names. Out of respect for their trust in me to not reveal their secret spot I have changed their names, not pictured them without masks and not listed their name for their secret spot.