Maybe it comes with getting older but I hate being cold! As a matter of fact, the only good thing about winter even as a kid were the holidays and snow days off from school. When it comes to fishing I have a rule that it has to be above 50. Not only am I a wimp about it, but usually that means stream temperatures are low and the trout fishing will be a long day with not a lot of catching. Okay, maybe that's a bit hyperbolic, but it does keep me inside and warm.
Winter is also a good time to plan a trip or two to shake off the winter blues. This year I decided to make it to the Caribbean, and more specifically Cozumel, Mexico. If you are unfamiliar Cozumel is an island off of Mexico's peninsula and due east of Playa del Carmen and Cancun. It is most well known for it's reefs and diving opportunities. About 60% off the Island is either a nature preserve or not accessible unless by boat.
Fishing isn't necessarily overlooked here, but with Belize nearby, most fly fishers head there for bonefish and tarpon. There are half a dozen charters on the island and all speak perfectly understandable English if that is a concern. I was fortunate to be set up with Miguel "Mike" with Uno Mas Charters. He was very friendly and we had a great time. We started the day poling through mangroves looking for snook and baby tarpon. The snook you couldn't really see. They seemed to appear out of nowhere all of a sudden. The tarpon went through the mangroves and you could hear little bubbles and slaps of the water. Casting was a bit of a challenge as you were surrounded by mangroves and really had to pick where to backcast. After snagging several mangroves and missing a tarpon I was told I was doing a good job catching "monkeyfish" and Miguel had a good laugh. Casting was done with heavy flies that had to be put in a tight spot and quickly retrieved to look like a baitfish. We got a few follows but nothing took the fly.
I decided I was trying to hard and we took a break for lunch and a beer, which for a Tecate, tasted great in January in the tropics. That seemed to do the trick because we hit the flats and started for bonefish. This was a species I had never caught before and I was super excited. You couldn't see big schools like you see on TV sometimes but Miguel assured me that they were in the slightly murky water on the edges. Casting was as far as possible, usually sending all 90' of line in a cast, then a slow retrieve. A pink Crazy Charlie was the fly of choice and all of a sudden BOOM! A was lucky enough to remember to line set the hook and we were on.
It was a fight I will always remember. This bonefish wasn't more than 20" long but it put up an amazing fight. It had several runs and I was using a 9 weight. I use a 10 for musky so thought the 9 was for tarpon, but equally just as useful for Bones apparently. I managed to catch another that day, lose one more, and then asked Miguel if I could have another shot at the mangroves to prove myself now that I had finally settled down. We slipped back over and I had my cast down much better. We managed a nice snook out from a hole in the mangroves and I considered
myself redeemed. Riding back on the boat the colors of blue, green, clear, aquamarine waters, they all seemed to have their own place. It's a truly beautiful location.
One thing to note is that fly fishing is Cozumel is really only possible by boat. All the beaches are public and fishing is permitted but the flats are on the north end of the island and not accessible by car. You can wade fish from the beach but sinking lines are required as it drops off to 10-20 rather quickly. Miguel did tell me that early in the morning and around dusk tarpon move around the surf and plenty of fish were around the beaches, but most are reef fish and eating coral.
One quick plug for Uno Mas Charters- Not only was Miguel an awesome guide Uno Mas made the whole experience easy. We chartered them for a second half day so that we could get to some unique snorkling opportunities and they happily obliged. While getting to the reef Miguel hand caught a few smaller fish and as we went from place to place we trolled and hooked into the barracuda pictured above. I can't say I caught it on a fly rod, but it was a lot of fun to reel him in. A lot of high speed acrobatics and a lot of strength. If you are looking for a great trip check them out: