We are very excited to announce the opening of the new frontier flats fishing destination, Espiritu Santo Bay Lodge (ESB), in the Mexican province of Quintana Roo. The newly-constructed ESB Lodge is located on a beautiful Caribbean beach in the southernmost part of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, just south of the sleepy lobster fishing village of Punta Herrero and within the massive 1.3 million acre Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, established in 1986. This is a remote wilderness flat fishing destination, 250 road miles from the mega resort metropolis of Cancun. The lost flats of the Caribbean!
ESB Lodge opens its inaugural season on April 2, 2017, and will finally allow saltwater anglers quick and easy access to the last frontier of Caribbean flats fishing – Espiritu Santo Bay. This fishery can provide fantastic action for all four of the Caribbean’s famous flats species – permit, tarpon, bonefish, and snook. This is “Super Grand Slam” country!
La Bahia del Espiritu Santo (ESB) is the true gem of the Yucatan, and perhaps the last remaining wilderness fly fishing outpost along the entire Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. It has always been the “second sister” to its larger, more accessible sibling to the north, Ascension Bay, but that’s all about to change… For the dedicated saltwater flats fly fisherman, ESB provides the least pressured angling opportunities in the entire Caribbean.
ESB was first discovered in 1518 by Juan de Grijalba, just a few days after the discovery of Ascension Bay. Grijalba was the nephew of the famous conquistador Diego Velazquez. He followed Velazquez in the conquest of Cuba in 1511, and in 1518 Velazquez sent Grijalba to be the first to explore the Yucatan Peninsula. Grijalba set sail from Cuba with four ships and about 200 men, exploring the peninsula and mapping the bays, rivers, and estuaries that today are renowned sanctuaries for permit, tarpon, snook and bonefish. He discovered Espiritu Santo Bay on Pentecost Day (May 24, 1518), hence the name Espiritu Santo Bay, “Bay of the Holy Spirit”.
Before the Spanish brought colonization and “civilization” to these eastern shores of Mexico, ESB was already considered more remote and isolated than Ascension Bay, and seen as a wilderness outpost. During Mayan times, Ascension Bay was critical in providing food for the city of Tulum. The bay and the Boca Paila lagoon were heavily fished by the local Mayan communities, many of which remain today and incorporate important towns like Punta Allen, Muyil, and Vigia Chico. There were no towns or significant populations at ESB, however, and its fishery remained intact and un-impacted by harvest.
From a topographical and geographical standpoint, the bays are very similar. Both are shallow and create navigation challenges for vessels of any size. This is perfect habitat for the shallow saltwater flats that bonefish, permit, and tarpon prefer, while prohibiting commercial navigation.
The primary differences between ESB and Ascension Bay are size and accessibility. ESB is approximately half the size of her more famous sister, but Ascension Bay has more than six thousand people living in the towns around her shores. There are nine official lodges plus several back country, “unofficial” guides that fish the bay, and as of 2015, one hundred and eighty boats with permits for fishing, snorkeling, bird watching, or tours of the bay. This creates a vibrant tourism-based economy centered around these communities, and a constant impact of pressure on the bay.
Espiritu Santo Bay, however, remains perfectly positioned in a remote wilderness, an area devoid of tourism and the impacts of population and people. There is a small community of approximately 95 lobster fishermen and their families that live in Punta Herrero, the only human settlement on the entire bay. Only seven boats have legal access to fish in the bay. This combination of remoteness, lack of human population, and limited access is what makes ESB unique, and one of the most pristine resources left in the region to target fish untouched by human influences.
There are simply very few places left in the world with the same sort of unspoiled natural resources found in ESB. Robust and healthy populations of bonefish, permit, tarpon, and snook abound in its flats, creeks, and backcountry lagoons. And nobody has better access to or more intimate knowledge of the bay than the guides at Espiritu Santo Bay Lodge, who have spent years guiding there with the former Paradise Lodge.
Over the course of the past three seasons these guides have been on ESB nearly every day of the season, logging literally thousands of hours learning every nook and cranny of this remarkable, remote fishery. The lightweight, super shallow-draft Hells Bay skiffs can enter the shallow flats inaccessible with the heavier, larger pangas more common in the region. Between August 2014 and August 2015, these guides are proud to have logged 201 fly fishing days on the bay. In that duration, they averaged 1.5 permit per day, registered 12 grand slams, and countless bonefish, tarpon, snook, and barracuda brought to the boat.
For permit fishermen, especially, there may be nowhere else on the planet that can compare to ESB. The populations of fish are amazing; especially in the prime permit fishing months when water temperatures are ideal and schools of fish abound on the flats of ESB.