For many people the last five years have been financially challenging to say the least and this has meant that many people have been unable to justify a trip to another country solely for angling. For those lucky enough to still enjoy a family holiday abroad, this also becomes the vehicle to sample some fishing in foreign climes as Des Westmore relates in his Mexico holiday narrative.
Some potential pitfalls of this approach are that a family resort is very often nowhere near the best fishing, while accommodation adjacent to the best fishing is frequently basic. My family and I have encountered this on previous holidays but in 2013 this was most definitely not the case. We found a near perfect balance when we selected a fully-inclusive beach front resort only ten minutes walk from a secure gated marina community offering top class charter trips. The marina also boasted the chance to swim with dolphins, manatees, sharks or stingrays, as well as having shops, banks, pharmacies, bars and restaurants – pretty much all you’d be likely to need during the vacation. Long story short, the country was Mexico, the resort was Puerto Aventuras on the Riviera Maya and the hotel was the Catalonia Riviera Maya Resort and Spa.
So that was the destination, what about the fishing? Captain Rick’s charter outfit, owned by Bob and Glenna Uecker, is based in the marina. I found them via an internet search and their web site assured good fishing year round, even including a resident population of sailfish among other species, though the best times of year for billfish are May to July. We would be travelling towards the end of October so were out of the prime season but the web site still showed plenty of possibilities. These possibilities included bottom fishing as well as the more frequently offered trolling. Trolling can be spectacular on the right day but it is not as interactive as bottom fishing and as my family like to get involved with the fishing and not just sunbathe, the bottom fishing sounded top notch.
Though their office is outwardly humble, Captain Rick’s is a large concern with eighteen boats, a full-time mechanic, full-time laminator and insurance through Lloyds of London. Following some e-mail traffic with the ever helpful Glenna, we booked one full day on a boat to ourselves and one half day shared trip. If you fancy something in between, three-quarter day trips are also available. The fishing grounds are very close to the marina entrance as the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System begins near Cancun and continues along the Riviera Maya coastline southward to Guatemala, often only half a mile from land.
Our whole-day trip was with Captain Beto and his crew aboard “Sea Phantom”, a 36’ Trojan. We began trolling less than ten minutes after leaving the dock and within twenty minutes had a full spread on the go with a range of lures and dead-rigged ballyhoo. One of our target species was wahoo and as they often prefer baits set deep, I was especially pleased to see a ballyhoo presented on a down rigger. The gear typically ranged from TLD 25’s to TLD 50’s on 30-50lb class rods; heavy enough to get a good fish to the boat in inexperienced hands but hopefully not so heavy as to kill the sport completely. With that said, our first fish was a cero mackerel which was definitely completely out-classed by the tackle. As is the custom on our trips, I let my daughter Bronwyn reel in the first fish.
After the cero, we suffered a string of hits that only resulted in bitten off ballyhoo and no hook-ups. Barracuda were the culprits and while it was frustrating, it was certainly better than no bites at all. Our species count rose to two when we boated the second fish of the day in the form of a skipjack tuna and as the cero was small, I let my daughter have that fish too. This was followed soon after by another skipjack which my wife Marilyn reeled in. The weather was fantastic and despite it being early in the day the temperature had already climbed to thirty degrees. I know there is spectacular fishing in destinations that are far from warm, but I have to say I do like fishing in the sun and Mexico has plenty of that. Was I being generous by letting my wife and daughter reel in the first few fish or was I just hoping to gain some brownie points with the sailfish gods? Whatever, it didn’t work as all we got to the boat was more skipjack while the ever-cunning barracuda kept biting our baits off.
As my tactics to ingratiate myself with the gods had failed, I asked crewman Lenny if we could switch to the bottom fishing that had interested me during my research. I was told that it was our day and we could fish however we chose and he dived into the cabin and returned with three light rods fitted with depth-counter multiplier reels. He then proceeded to set them up with a simple rig consisting of two half ounce bullets rigged two foot away from what I would call a size 2 “whiting hook”. These were in turn baited up with long strips of ballyhoo. I didn’t borrow a rod and reel as I had brought along my trusty Abu Conolon four-piece up-tider and my late father’s 1979 Abu 7000 primarily for this task.
There is virtually no tidal flow on the Riviera Maya and our drift rate was down to the light surface breeze. The water depth varied from 70-120 feet and with the light weights in use, the depth counter reels that Marilyn and Bronwyn were using came into their own. It was Marilyn who had the first hook up and it was a powerful fish. Magnanimously, Marilyn let Bronwyn play the fish which turned out to be a superb red snapper. When I fished with him, Roger Bayzand always said that snapper were one of the best tasting fish he’d tried around the world so I was more than pleased when this one came over the gunwale. The next fish was a bright red Strawberry grouper followed by some triggerfish, which Marilyn and Bronwyn really got stuck into. Bronwyn then upped the ante with a stunningly coloured queen triggerfish and then we all hit into a patch of yellow snapper. These fought and ran very hard, often straight up only to then turn round and swim straight down again. I lagged behind on the trigger count but did eventually get myself a queen triggerfish – probably the most colourful fish I have ever caught.
We were having such a great time we didn’t realise that it was time to head back to port. We trolled all the way back to the harbour and this time we did get among the barracuda and got them to the boat. Bronwyn was bringing in one fish when there was a huge swirl on the surface, the rod arched over and line peeled away before everything went slack. Not surprisingly, the culprit was a shark and when Bronwyn reeled in, all that was left was the head of what would have been a nice blackfin tuna.
All fish caught are yours to do with as you please apart from billfish which are always returned. We kept some fish to give to the crew and these were cleaned on dock with the guts being thrown to a passing stingray. We took the snapper to the Hippo bar in the Marina, which was Lenny’s recommended destination. It was good advice as they cooked it simply but superbly; pan fried with garlic butter on the side and a mountain of fresh salad. Along with a cold beer it was the perfect end to a superb day.
In fact, we were so taken with the first day’s fishing that instead of having a shared half day for our second trip a week later, we booked the boat to ourselves and opted to spend the whole trip bottom fishing. We were again aboard Sea Phantom but this time with Captain Flaco. Just for the hell of it, we trolled on our way out to the reef and had three hits from barracuda. As we also trolled on the way back in as well, this meant we actually fished for three and three quarter hours out of the four hour trip. There aren’t many four hour charter trips that can better that statistic.
As I had been out-fished by my wife and daughter on the first trip, who were using the loaned gear, it was obvious I needed to raise my game if I was too leave Mexico with any last vestiges of my pride intact. Luckily I had with me some Sakuma mini manta hooks and a couple of 1oz bullets and in desperation I had tied a couple of “secret” traces in the hotel room. I really needed all the help I could get as I had also eaten some dodgy buffet while on a tour the day before the trip. It wasn’t the Tequila – honest! I therefore needed to buy some Pepto Bismol from a chemist in the marina to settle my stomach. Mexicans must have a dry sense of humour as the cap on the bottle was made to look like the mask of a Mexican Lucha Libra wrestler.
This time we were going to fish in water up to 200 feet deep in the hope of finding a black grouper; this depth of water with an ounce of lead – now that is my idea of sporting. What a shame you can’t fish for pollack in the English channel like that. I was soon into the first grouper of the day but it was red not black and this was followed by plenty of yellowtail snappers. For a while I thought braid I had loaded my 7000 with might be giving me an advantage, but Marilyn and Bronwyn were soon into fish, mostly triggerfish of many different shades, we must have caught at least half a dozen distinct sub-species. With the triggers, if you missed the bite, they would often come back and eventually get hooked a bit like wrasse back home. This seemed to be because they were eating the flesh off of the ballyhoo strips, leaving the skin and if you missed them on the first strike, they would generally come back for the remaining flesh. Lots of the boated fish had strips of skin hanging off the hook with not a bit of flesh in sight.
We were getting into the swing of things when my Conolon was wrenched over in rather dramatic fashion. Line immediately started peeling off my reel smoothly thanks to the greased Carbontex drag washers that are fitted. The crew however, went frantic shouting “No pressure, no pressure!” As the drag is very quiet and they hadn’t realised the fish was taking line. There followed an amazing scrap from what turned out to a cracking queen triggerfish. I love bream fishing in the UK but with no tide, light leads and 200 feet of water, this was like bream fishing on steroids. I had desperately wanted to catch a memorable fish on my dad’s old reel and now I had. I was more than satisfied but the day just got better.
The crew had been chucking groundbait over the side and had enticed some trigger fish to around 30’ from the surface. Bronwyn pitched her bait into the middle of the shoal and her rod arced over almost instantly as the line counter went from 30 to 120 feet in the blink of an eye. She did a great job of subduing the fish as every time it got near the boat it just turned around and went back down. Eventually the fish tired and a goggle-eyed creature was hauled over the rail. It was a horse eye, or big-eye, jack and it was easy to see how it got its name and was a great end to the day. Actually, it wasn’t quite the end as the jack accompanied us on another pilgrimage to the Hippo bar. The chef cooked the whole thing and we ate the lot, it would have been rude not to.
Though there was a 70lb sailfish caught on another boat that day, we really enjoyed the bottom fishing. We intend to return in 2014 and this time will be taking some gear to experiment with. I will definitely try working some lures as well as taking a baitcaster or spinning rod and maybe even some LRF gear. With the lack of tide, you have got a world of possibilities. Thanks to all the staff and crew at Captain Rick’s – I can’t recommend you more highly and am looking forward to returning later this year.
Finally, a bit about our accommodation. The Catalonia Riviera Maya Resort & Spa is situated in a peaceful setting within the Puerto Aventuras marina development, located directly on the beach. Puerto Aventuras is right in the “Heart” of the Riviera Maya being only 20 km from Playa del Carmen and 80 km (50 miles) south of Cancun International Airport, in the state of Quintana Roo. The resort is actually a twin hotel with seven restaurants and seven bars as well as a night club and theatre. You get the use of the inclusive facilities in both hotels. Facilities requiring extra payment include the Spa Alegría if you want to bribe your other half to gain extra fishing credits.
Excellent scuba diving and snorkelling facilities are available too if you want to go and see firsthand what the reef looks like. We had a standard room but upgrades and suites are available. The Catalonia is used by Thomas Cook and Thomson while other carriers flying to Cancun include Virgin Atlantic and British Airways.
Transfer from Cancun takes around one and a half hours. Last year we booked a package with Thomas Cook but this year we booked the Catalonia resort via the Trivago web site and booked flights direct with Virgin. Virgin Holidays also offer packages to the Riviera Maya but not to this hotel.