Exploring the Yucatan
Fishing in Sian Ka’an’s 1.3 million-acre biosphere.
By Joe Richard Assistant Editor

The sun rose higher and hotter, and we sailed across miles of light-speckled shallows. Then the quiet approach, poling in from upwind, and we began to see bonefish—groups mudding, single fish pushing slight wakes, even a small pack of 5- to 7-pounders over clean bottom, very decent fish for these waters. (Yucatan bonefish average smaller than some areas.)

We bailed out of the panga, Amy uncertain with the fly rod, as she waded off with Augustin. As she later explained, he was wonderfully polite and patient, teaching her the basic skills and pointing out fish. Working 80 yards apart, I heard her whoop from afar; she was hooked up already, amazed at her first runaway fish on a fly rod. Hooked up myself, I was powerless to take pictures of her first bonefish; at that distance, nothing could be done. I had to settle for shots of Armando with several fish, all released. It was obvious the guides here prize their bonefish and take care of them. In fact, they release everything during a trip, unless someone saves a different fish for dinner. (We baked a nice snapper that very night.)

We continued to explore a series of islands, flats and creeks, only spotting one skiff on the horizon, based out of a fishing camp much farther south. Later in the day we prowled a deeper creek, where cubera snapper up to 50 pounds lurk in the tree roots, though they’re mostly caught at night. One can only imagine what goes on around there after dark: The fish must feed with complete abandon when the tide runs. But one would have to be hardcore to stay out there past happy hour, good company and a fine supper.

Back at the dock, rather worn after nine hours on the flats, the only boat heading out was a Marine Patrol vessel on a night mission. As one of the locals on the dock explained, they patrol the coast looking for pirates or Columbians. “Who knows, even Arabs,” he said with a wink.

Indeed...we pondered that over our snapper dinner, but not for long. Our hosts provided many details about the local fishing co-op, and how proud they are that marine conservation and ecotourism work so well here. The co-op includes an earnest group of up-and-coming ecotour/fishing guides who are anxious to show their expertise and protect their fish. We even met the school teacher brought in from the States, who teaches night classes on conversational English to fishing guides, among others.

Next day promised a real Mexican offshore fishing tournament—the biggest event of the year for Punta Allen. The boats, mostly center consoles, arrive by water from Cozumel or Cancun and anchor just off the beach. Local guides compete against each other in a spirit of fun. They weighed in mostly big mahi-mahi, kingfish and smaller yellowfin tuna. Hundreds of locals clapped and cheered, beer banners were strung up, kids played on the tops of overturned pangas, small groups of (rather happy looking) dogs wandered everywhere or lay in the dirt roads. The master of ceremony yelled in the microphone while some real talent cavorted on stage to loud music. No one spoke a word of English, but the fun was universal. Top prize was $3,000 and the government donated a free motorcycle for the winning angler.

This is one laid-back town on the edge of the biosphere, electricity provided by the town’s huge generator for 16 hours a day, the entire place only a few feet above sea level. A happy community by the looks of it, with the other half of the fisherman’s co-op continuing to manage and harvest mostly lobster each year, exported to the States.

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