Des Westmore and family enjoy the delights of Mexico’s Riviera Maya, so much so that they returned for another sunshine break. This time, daughter Bronwyn was to hook up with a fish of a lifetime as they hit the blue water off the Mexican coast.
We have travelled to Mexico’s Riviera Maya before but the variety of things to see and do draws us back; Mayan ruins like Tulum and Chichen Itza, water activity parks such as Xel Ha and Xcaret, snorkelling with giant turtles at Akumal beach and of course, fishing. The secure harbour community of Puerto Aventuras is a great destination for the angler holidaying with family or with a group of anglers targeting Mexican marlin as you can stay at the fully inclusive “Catalonia Riviera Maya” spa resort which is less than a ten-minute walk from the marina.
This is home to “Captain Ricks”, the largest charter outfit on the Riviera Maya with sixteen boats from 31’ to 48’ and is owned by Glenna Uecker and her husband Bob. Trips may be booked joining up with a group as an individual or you can charter the whole boat for four hour, six hour or eight hour trips. Both bottom fishing and trolling is available with all tackle included if required or, you can take your own. Some may be sceptical of a four-hour trip because of the time lost to travel but this is not a concern as the fishing grounds are very close. This is due to the proximity of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System which begins near Cancun and stretches along the Riviera Maya, often only half a mile from land.
Puerto Aventuras’ waters are home to most pelagic species including a resident population of sailfish. Fishing is therefore available all year-round though the best times are May to July. Previously we had always travelled in October and have enjoyed great days afloat, particularly when bottom fishing. Species we have caught include various types of trigger fish, jack, snapper, grouper and tuna.
Even in depths of up to 160’ you rarely need more than three ounces of lead which makes the fishing very sporting. Last year however, as my daughter Bronwyn would be starting university in September, we instead travelled in July and decided to book two trips. One would be a full day dedicated to trolling, with the option of doing some bottom fishing, followed by a further half day dedicated solely to the bottom fishing. There would always be the option of joining other charters as individuals if we wanted to fish more.
Trip with Flaco
The start time for our full day trip was 08.00 and it was already swelteringly hot as we arrived at the dock. We would be fishing aboard “Sakitumi”, a 42’ Hatteras and our Captain would be “Flaco” assisted by Mate “Nestor”. We have fished with them before and both have a mountain of angling knowledge. As we set out from the marina I climbed up to the flybridge to discuss the game plan. Flaco informed me that the fishing had slowed down near Puerto Aventuras over the last week but that as we had booked a full day, this gave us another option which was to fish the waters off Cozumel; an island located around twelve miles from the Riviera Maya coast at its closest point. Reports indicated the fishing was better there.
As we would be fishing the far side of the island, around the point at Faro Celarain, this would involve a two-hour crossing at a “fast troll”, four hours trolling around Cozumel at slower speeds and a two-hour crossing back again. There would be the option of some bottom fishing around the island and we would be fishing throughout the whole trip. I hadn’t been expecting this format for the day but it certainly sounded like a good plan.
The commute to Cozumel gave Nestor a chance to get plenty of hooks pre-rigged with the ballyhoo we would be using for bait for mahi-mahi and Mexican marlin. The way in which he first broke off the beak, then used it as a tool to remove the eyes before feeding in the hooks and finally using copper wire to rig the bait is always fascinating to watch. Sometimes an egg lead is added like a keel if the bait to be fished deep rather than on the surface. All the baits were stored over ice in a coolbox and plenty of rigged ballyhoo would be needed to service the spread of six outfits ranging between 30lb and 50lb class that we would be fishing.
One rod was mounted at the centre of the transom, fishing directly out of the back of the boat, with another in each corner attached to the outriggers at a halfway position. A further outfit was mounted on each gunwale, with each attached to the tips of the outriggers. Finally, another outfit was mounted on the flybridge behind Flaco. This is the “Shotgun” position and is fished furthest from the boat. Finishing the spread off were two reels mounted on the rails which were attached to the un-baited “teaser” rigs whose job it was to attract the fish.
Captain Ricks provide soft drinks and water on all charters and Bronwyn and I made maximum use of this to guard against dehydration which is a very real danger. You can take your own alcohol if you wish (we didn’t) and on an eight-hour trip lunch is also provided.
The two-hour crossing proved uneventful though we did see plenty of flying fish, frigate birds and a dolphin. Our anticipation grew as we closed on the Faro Celarain lighthouse at around ten o’clock and Flaco throttled back while Nestor got out the downrigger to fish a deep bait on the slower troll. Almost as soon as this was set we had our first hit which unfortunately didn’t result in a hook-up.
We were on edge now but it was over an hour until we heard a sharp “crack” as a fish hit one of the baits on the outriggers. The sound is produced because the reel line is attached to the outrigger in a clip with an elastic band which releases when a fish hits. The setting of the hook is done by the reel’s lever drag being set at the “Strike” position (hence the name) with the preload set correctly to prevent line breakage.
Bronwyn took the first fish which turned out to be a very nice female dorado (or Mahi-mahi or dolphin). The colours were terrific but we didn’t get a picture of it as it came aboard because by that time I was grappling with a dorado of my own – another big female which had taken the 50lb class outfit.
Don’t be fooled into thinking the 50lb class outfit meant I could just crank it in though – the reality was far from it. As I had, rather stupidly, declined a butt pad when offered one, the stout rod was doing an excellent job of transferring every lunge of the fish (and there were plenty) directly to me. A lesson learnt the hard way but I didn’t mind when I saw the stunning colours of the fish as it hit the deck.
No sooner was this one aboard than Bronwyn was into another. This was more like the fishing should be and it was confusion all round as I scrabbled for my camera while Nestor made sure the other Dorado, which were being kept for the table, were safely stowed. I was still trying to get some pictures when yet another fish hit and as I tightened into this one a fantastic cyan blue shape leapt into the air around fifty yards from the boat while Nestor shouted “It’s a bull – this one will fight a lot harder”.
He wasn’t wrong and I was dragged towards the transom as I tried to keep balance as this big male Dorado peeled line of the Shimano TLD 30 reel. As the fish slowed, I tried to turn the handle but couldn’t. It was only at this point I remembered it was a two-speed reel and by selecting low gear I made some ground on the fish. I was still shocked by the spectacular colouring – I had no idea dorado could be so vibrantly blue. By the time the fish reached the boat it was the more usual yellow-green colouring though.
After this hour of mayhem, we had one smaller dorado then, as is often the way in angling, things went quiet. The afternoon was broken up only by a single barracuda which I guess is the Caribbean equivalent of catching a conger eel on a winter cod trip; nice to pull your line but not what you’re really there for.
Working the Coast for Mexican Marlin
As we started to work our way back along the Cozumel coast, to prepare for the fast troll “home”, we started to think our day was probably done. Neither of us was worried as although my dream was to bag a sailfish on this trip, I had actually set my sights on the more realistic target of a bull dorado. I was therefore in the cabin messing with my camera when I heard commotion on deck; lots of shouting in Spanish with one English word – “Marlin”.
Getting out on deck quickly I shouted to Bronwyn to get in the fighting chair. She tightened into the fish, which had taken a 30lb class outfit with a single speed Shimano TLD25 and to my surprise, immediately started get line onto the spool. I thought to myself that things weren’t meant to be this easy and I was right. The fish turned and mono started disappearing off the reel at a crazy rate with the line entering the water a couple of feet behind the transom. Just as I said “It’s going deep” the fish cleared the water around 150 yards behind the boat and jumped – which demonstrated to all of us just how little I know about Mexican marlin fishing. I can’t think how big the bow in the line was to achieve this but looking at how little line was on the reel, it had to be pretty big.
Tug of War with Mexican Marlin
What followed was an epic tug of war with line going in and out for around half an hour. Flaco moved the boat whenever possible, not so much to help Bronwyn (who recently had an operation on her left elbow) but to protect the fish so as to ensure a successful release. Nestor was great throughout giving instructions and making sure the line was going on the reel level. Eventually, the Mexican marlin was alongside and that was as close as I thought we would get to it.
However, Nestor and Flaco went to work seamlessly to get the fish in the boat for hurried pictures before returning it. It was all in a day’s work for them but for me and Bronwyn, we just sat there unable to believe what had just happened – not to mention the fact that Bronwyn was now totally exhausted.
As is so typical in angling, the action that had taken place was confined to a small percentage of the day. I am therefore very glad we went all in and stuck to our plan and trolled the whole day. Had we gone bottom fishing for just a couple of hours we could have missed some terrific fishing.
It was with immense pride we steamed back in to Puerto Aventuras marina flying five pennants – four dorado and one blue marlin; the marlin’s pennant flying upside down to signify safe release.
We took a fillet off the bull dorado to the “Hippo Bar” in the marina where they cooked it three different ways to perfection. We always take fish we have caught while aboard Captain Rick’s to this bar and they have never let us down, but I still have no idea why it is called the Hippo.
The Mexican marlin outing was very much a trip to savour but four days later we were back out with Nestor and Flaco for some bottom fishing. This time we took along some of our own gear in the form of travel rods from Snowbee and reels from Shimano. We got among some good fish on the day but it was down to me to catch the smallest fish of the trip while Bronwyn bagged a large barracuda on a free-lined ballyhoo using one of the boat’s rods. We had a selection of jacks, trigger fish and grouper but the best eating fish of the day was what Nestor described as a “Feather Fish” which I think was a grey or mangrove snapper. Whatever it was, it had some seriously weird teeth.
Not Just Fishing
Most anglers I know are also very interested in the marine environment as a whole and between these two fishing trips we did something truly amazing – swimming with migrating Whale sharks in the open sea some seventeen miles off Cancun. I can’t recommend it enough and if you ever get the chance to do this, make sure you take it. Mexico is a great destination and we will definitely be going back again. Here are some web sites you should look at if you’re thinking of going.
Swimming with Whale sharks: www.oceantoursmexico.com
Holiday package: www.thomascook.com
Hotel’s own web site: