Hopefully your New Year’s resolutions didn’t just consist of losing weight and making more money. Those resolutions come standard. However, to keep sanity in the crazy world one needs a fly fishing vacation that encompasses all the essentials; a beautiful place, great fighting fish, and a separation from the outside world. There is no better place to accomplish this than Isla Holbox fishing for Monster Tarpon.
Isla Holbox sits at the very tip of the north end of the Yucatan Peninsula in the Mexican state of Quinata Roo. It is a beautiful island with white sand beaches that is approximately 26 miles long. The population is roughly 1500 residents. The island has little to no vehicles, but rather its residents ride bikes or electrically powered golf carts. There are many places to relinquish the pangs of hunger after a long day out fishing. Everything from finer restaurants to family owned kitchens that offer authentic Yucatan food. The island also has hotels, but renting a casita is a sure way to save a little coin. Speaking of coin, you will not find any ATM machines or banks. Be sure to take ample cash. They do take the gringo’s dollars. Additional amenities: A basic pharmacy, public internet at one location, a small hospital for basic attention.
For the longest time Isla Holbox was a rendezvous for whale shark enthusiasts. Although, it still attracts the whale shark watchers, it has been an escape for those looking to get away and those that seek the adrenaline rush that comes with hunting Tarpon. Holbox is still relatively undiscovered. It lacks the night life of Cancun (thank heavens), but where it doesn’t lack is on beauty, serenity, and great fishing. It is also known for the many birds, namely flamingos that frequent the lagoons.
To arrive at Isla Holbox one will fly into Cancun International Airport. From there you can rent a car or take a taxi. There is also bus service, but most guiding services will provide you a shuttle. Take Highway #180 north out of Cancun toward the city of Merida and then cross around 80 km until you arrive to the town of El Ideal. At this point, head north for about 70 km to the town of Chiquila where you will ditch the car and catch a ferry across the Yalahau Lagoon to Isla Holbox. Holbox sits at the junction where the waters of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico meet.
Isla Holbox has a fantastic habitat for Giant Tarpon development. The migratory tarpons arrive in Holbox between April and August. Some of these monster tarpon can reach excess of 200 lbs. These beauties are fished just off the coast.
I have never experienced an adrenaline rush that rivals the rush you get from chasing silvers. Last year I went to Holbox in late May (my first time fishing for tarpon) with Wyatt ‘earp fish’ Tibbits, his brother Rhett Tibbitts, Jerry ‘Gene Simmons from Kiss’ Garn, and a rowdy fella named Pete from Colorado. We chased the big silvers all the morning we were there, but most of the time the weather didn’t cooperate. However, there was one day that the stars aligned and we had a window of opportunity for about 3 hours that these biggies were active.
Wyatt and Pete missed this outings as they went with Sandflea to try a ‘secret’ lagoon. Gene, however, seized the opportunity and nailed not 1, but 2 large tarpon. The first weighing in at around 100 lbs and the other 80 lbs. What an awesome sight to see as I was on a boat about 1/4 mile away. I could see the tarpon explode out of the water from where I was at. I meanwhile was fighting the wind, waves, and picky tarpon. I speak some spanish and could hear my guides commenting on my attempts. The main part I interpreted was ‘ellos estan brincando con el’.
Translation ‘they are toying with him’. I had to agree, but I did redeem myself as I landed a long cast in front of oncoming monster tarpon. All the sudden I felt tug like no other and set the hook the right way (that was a hard habit to break for a trout fisherman that always raises his rod to the first sense of fish). The monster was on. I stumbled off the platform and regained my nerves and began the fight. I wish this ended in me landing a 200+ lb tarpon, but I’ll cut to the chase. The tarpon came out of the water (way out) 2 times and fought me for 5 minutes before he finally gave me the fin and swam off. The guides estimated a 150+ lb tarpon. Although it ended in disappointment, that experience ruined me. Meaning I am hooked. I sometimes wake up in a cold sweat with visions of Silver leaping through the air. Those fish have my up most respect.
Not only did we fish for monster tarpon, but we hit the Rios and Lagoons constantly for baby tarpon (6 – 20 lbs). Those were a blast and our guides took us to some great places. Holbox is also known to hand up Snook, Jack Crevalle, Barracuda, and as the guides call them cat-sheet. Sheet is the Spanish word for shit. Oh, and I can’t forget the occasional sea trout. All in all, there was always somewhere to fish that was just awesome.
I have only been to Holbox once, but my experience was unbelievable and the guiding service was a prime factor for that. The only guiding service I would recommend is Holbox Tarpon Club. It is owned and operated by Alejandro ‘Mr. Sandflea’ Vega Cruz. He is a great guy that knows this island better than anyone. His guides are awesome. Whenever the cast wasn’t placed where it should have been, they will let you know. “Cast, cast, ah sheet”, were echoed often, but that added to the great time. The boats left at 5 am and lunch was provided on the boat. This group is very knowledgeable and very hospitable.
For Baby Tarpon:
* Rods # 8 or # 9 weight Salt water flyfishing reel with at least 100 meters of backing.
* WF floating Lines.
* 9 feet leaders.
* Class tippet from 16 to 20 pounds and Shock tippet section from 40 to 60 pounds.
* 1/0 or 2/0 flies.
For Giant Tarpon:
* Rods #11, # 12 weight or bigger Salt water fly fishing reel with at least 300 meters of backing.
* WF lines with sinking tips or full sinking lines from 400 to 500 grains.
* 9 feet leaders (see note below).
* Class tippet from 16 to 30 pounds and Shock tippet section from 80 to 100 pounds.
* 3/0 or 4/0 flies.
Note: IGFA rules do not allow leaders with “class tippet” section greater than 20 pounds but if you really wish to capture a giant tarpon, do not doubt to use leaders with a greater resistance. It resistance is not recommended to use class tippet section greater than 30 pounds of resistance.
The flies with better results are:
* Black Death
* Purple Death and
* the traditional Cockcroach
Isla Holbox is a dream destination experience that has captivated me in such a way that I plan to go there every year. I imagine it would do the same to anyone else that challenges this fly fishing vacation. I am forever hooked and hope each year to go out chasing silvers.