January 29 – February 05, 2023
It’s hard to believe we’ve ripped the new sticker off another season here on the Riviera. What a wonderful feeling to have the hustle and bustle underway at the lodge. Delicious smells from the kitchen mask the freshly painted rooms, Emmanuel banging away at never ending touch ups, and the guides breaking in some impressive new 50 Yamahas. The lead up to opening week is always hectic and even after beginning the seventh season of ESBL one thing I have learned to accept are unforeseeable obstacles to overcome and work through. It’s a way of life here in the jungle, a challenge to say the least, and one that rewards us for the never-ending drive to deliver only the best.
The last Sunday of January brought us a plane full of familiar smiling faces, a carbon copy of the last few years for the opener. We fondly looked forward to seeing Hostetler, Forrester’s, O’Leary father/son duo, Coop, and my close friend Charles Mangum. Every week with new guests you see the dynamic change and set the lodge tempo to the rhythm of each group. Lots of laughter, plenty of food, belly aching humor, all lubricated by some tasty margs was in order for the week. The guides worked the bay hard eager to flex their skills with the new season and everyone had a shining moment or two in the bay.
As a lodge owner I have taken on the responsibility to fish the majority of the first week to have a moment to reconnect with my guides, hang with a close friend, and inspect the fishery in the present. I love it, could care less about the “productivity” of the day, and allow the to – do lists to be whisked away from my thoughts as I gulp ocean air from our skiffs. I selfishly use Charles as a catalyst to further convince Chiara of my needed presence on the bay. She now just smiles at me with an air of allowance a mother grants a little boy to carry on with whatever wish that may be. How could I be so lucky?
It was windy last week, rough average I would guess around 15 mph with moments stronger and less in the protected spots. I thought the weather overall was pleasant and one of my favorite things in the early season are cooler temps. Fish don’t particularly care for cooler temps but it’s a healthy trade and sure beats the doldrum of cold weather back home. We kicked off the week with a southeast wind which put us southside not far from the boat launch. Boca of red lagoon working west through the end of Tabascanoes had decent protection. I politely asked Pepe our first day out to hit my favorite flat, Flamingo, just for old times sake. It’s super slam country and we covered all 4 species in 200 yards. Tarpon and snook weren’t very cooperative but I coaxed a nice 8 pound permit from a school of 5 on a flexo crab. The flats along the bayside (still south) held permit but your chances were slim with only a handful of shots each day for those willing to put the time in. Cooler water bumps these fish into deeper water and it’s no joke balancing on a bucking bow with 2 foot rollers in the middle of the bay. Unfortunately, that was the game for the week and some were more willing than others to attempt it. Dave O’Leary had an incredible day with Victor and his first cast of the week resulted in his biggest permit yet and the first of the season. I’m very excited for Dave and he deserved that fish. It couldn’t have happened to a more friendly, genuine individual. First river on the northside held a handful of nervous water pushes from permit that led to a couple heart wrenching break-offs. Charles and I headed out with Victor on Wednesday and we worked permit hard in the western third of the bay, almost halfway between river 3 and tabascanoes if you’re thinking north to south. Hard wind aided with tough casting conditions make the few permit we saw have the upper hand. We cruised up almost parallel to river two about a mile from the mouth and worked with a decent amount of sunlight. Not a lot of fish but the ones we saw were impressive and hungry. What felt like casting from a mechanical riding bull, led me to an awesome fish over 15 pounds that gave us a ride and a couple heart stopping misses trying to tail the fish in big waves. Friday and Saturday wind direction abruptly changed from the north and I left Charles to fish alone again with Pepe due to an overflowing list of “to-dos” from the home front. He had a couple shots outside third river with some bigger fish and one that ate and spit his crab in milliseconds. Inside the river system they had another crack at a permit milling around the boat which ate Charles crab and 20 minutes later he was holding his largest permit to date. Not that it matters but I will politely add to the mix it was a permit landed on my freshly tied raghead with red eyes. I’d say the numbers fish seen throughout the week was ok at best but completely reflected on the given conditions. The guides and myself completely agree we feel more schools will become apparent as water temps begin to rise. One thing we will be changing in our weekly reports is publicly announcing the number of permit landed for the week. I feel it pulls readers/guests away from other tidbits we emphasize. My thoughts on displaying numbers landed would give us all another reason to protect such an important resource have gone by the wayside and it seemed misinterpreted. Trust me in the productivity of permit fishing we have here. ESB is a world class permit destination as many of you already know and upon your arrival you will have a chance to add to your own personal count if the opportunity arises.
Tides gave us access to chase tarpon and snook in the rivers. River one, Rio Loco’s, sunken boat, and a couple mangrove lined islands in river three were strongholds. With a north wind later also had us ply the shoreline between rivers 3 and 4. Bill and Liane had a great tarpon day with Fernando with Fernando lending a secret fly he twisted up over the break. I cornered Fernando later that evening, pulled rank, and asked to see his new creation. Impressive to say the least, and perhaps you might be lucky to have him pull it out for you one day. Snook fishing had its frustrating moments as usual and other moments where they were extremely aggressive attacking the fly. Charles pulled his largest snook in river one and we landed at least 5 more. Described as the Pitbull of the flats, these fish are my favorite when the feed bite gets turned on.
The crown Jewel of the fishery, bonefish were readily available to anyone who devoted time chasing them. I can confidently say we have the biggest bonefish in the Yucatan, and they demand respect. When banging around unproductively in deep water for permit it seems absurd not to slip into calmer water and chase these eager bullets who readily eat most shrimp patterns cast their way.
Permit flies for the week were white Casa Banca ragheads, Fulling Mills Tan Flexo crab and a white Casa Blanca tied with red eyes. All flies were on a #2 hook.
Tarpon and snook ate a plethora of EP baitfish, color schemes blk/purple, red/white, Everglades, and Chartreuse. Toads worked at moments and the tan “laid up tarpon” fly is productivity rate is hard to ignore.
Bonefish ate every shrimp pattern that was appropriately weighted to the depth you were fishing.
Tides for the week were low in the morning but incoming. Midday gave us a 30-minute slack and a hard fall for the remainder of the afternoon. We had mixed sun with hard southeast winds Monday through Thursday. Friday winds changed to north and dropped significantly.
Chef Luis and sous chef Angel are back in action firing on all cylinders between our two kitchens. This a dream team I’ve been waiting for many years and we have settled into a groove of outstanding dishes, way to much food, and compliments galore from guests. A lot of our menu is the same as last year but we took a moment to change small details, optimize on an open lobster season, and further dazzle our pallets of well thought out dishes. I did pretty well refraining myself from the complete three course dinners but fell hard our last night and succumbed to lava cake with homemade coconut ice cream. Freddy and Pancho were in fine form making sure all the comforts we take for granted were met to aid guests in enjoying a spotless and clean lodge.
I’m fired up for the new season in a big way. A solid bed of confidence sits underfoot as Chiara and I enjoy an incredible group of staff, guides, managers, and those that work tirelessly behind the scenes to make ESBL what it is today. We greeted 7 familiar faces yesterday at the airstrip and I’m excited to have a group of Michiganders fill the place up. It tugs on the heart strings having a hometown presence and fills me with pride. A mixed bag of weather is in the forecast (when isn’t it mixed?) but I’m sure we’ll carry on with an excellent week for everyone. Drop a line to our friends over at The Fly Shop to check in about up to date info, filling fly checklists, new gear or just some good old fashion banter about another great year coming down the pipe. The season is upon us, get ready and get excited. Stay tuned for us next week for the next report!
Saludos desde el Caribe Mexicano,
Dane & Chiara, Lucia, Negri, Canela
And the entire ESB crew!