March 13 – 20, 2022
We’ve enjoyed another great week here in the Yucatan. ESB had the pleasure of hosting a fun group of friends that have made the annual trip now the past four seasons. They’re led by front man Captain Ben Paschal who was able to take a break from poling the flats for redfish on his home waters of Laguna Madre in southern Texas. Ben easily is one of the most sought out guides on the Texas coast and we’re always excited to see him and the gang year after year. We had a great 6 days with the crew laughing, drinking, consuming too much food, and managing to catch a fish or two along the way.
There’s been squirrelly weather patterns on the coast for the last few weeks. It seems like one week will feel like full blown early spring only to be followed by another week that settles back into winter. It’s a seasonal tug a war event that has kept us on our toes and the guides have done a great job of keeping their pulse on the fishery. They’re adjusting when needed, fishing either side of our bay to accommodate the ever-changing conditions.
We kicked off the week riding on the coattails of a cold front that moved its way south ironically from Texas. Naturally the lone star group must’ve brought the conditions with them, right? Tim Kelly informed me Saturday morning departing from Austin it was a crisp 23 degrees. Thankfully we didn’t feel the extreme cold in the same fashion, but it had definitely dropped in our neck of the woods the first couple of days. The week prior we worked the south bank hard and with the cold front coming from the north we ended up seeing the southside blown out and better water to the north. Later in the week wind shifted to the east and added a direct shot of more discolored water with Sargasso beginning to build up at the entrance of the bay.
Permit do not like the dramatic changes of wind. It throws the tides off, creates an unbalanced rise and fall or as I put it, a “proper flush”. You need consistent water movement, consistent wind direction, and some warmer temps for the fishery to really shine. A lot of our permit are hunkered down in the deeper water and when we had chances to chase them on the flats it seemed a little off. Guests along with the guides had days where they had plenty of shots, but the permit wouldn’t eat. I equate this obviously to fly/leader/tippet choice but also to a sense of extra caution the permit develops. An already skittish fish with the addition of varying weather patterns puts them even more moody and unpredictable. There really wasn’t a particular part of the bay where we saw good numbers in the same region 6 days in a row. One boat would be in first river and have multiple shots, another boat would be tight to red buoy along the south bank and see nothing. The following day we’d be in second river with another boat deep in Tabasquenos with multiple shots. Tarpon were similar. We fished a couple small “creeks” that feed the third river and saw plenty of fish one day only to hit the next creek north and see no signs of life the following day. I heard a comment after Monday the bonefish were a little skittish and had become picky. That’s a telltale sign we need to settle in a consistent weather groove to get the fishery moving.
The promising thing we guarantee here is flexibility and the guides will sniff out pockets of the bay that are productive. ESB is a small by but most flat fishing standards. At the widest point north to south you have 5 miles and east to west another 15 miles. If something isn’t clicking, we move, and we’re not committed necessarily to one side or not. We find fish one way or another it just takes a little more patience and some serious game planning with our guides. Every morning guides called audibles where to go and you had to make last minute adjustments to work around the wind. We caught permit pretty much around the whole bay. Ensenada held a couple schools of smaller permit. These schools were fresh and the same flat the week before was vacant. Tabasquenos held larger permit trickling through with an outgoing tide. Not a lot of fish but bigger. 100 yards made a massive difference with locating permit around Red Buoy. One boat poling the depth transition saw little to no fish then another boat hugging the bank had all the shots. Despite inconsistency plenty of fish were still seen and plenty of fish caught. It was an even week and everyone took their turn of having a banner day. I suspect with spring officially here we will slowly move to a more permanent basis fishing the south bank for permit. If you were in the mood for a grand slam you needed to be on Fernando’s boat for the week. He did an incredible job with Robert Gauntt and Tim Kelly last Wednesday catching two slams back in river one. He hit my favorite mangrove island in the bay which was covered up with tarpon and some permit sliding in with an incoming tide about 30 yards off the island. Ben Bowne who had his first trip to ESB kicked off the week also with Fernando last Monday with a grand slam. Day after Tim’s slam he fished with Victor and got another nice permit outside of third river. Mark Gaskamp rallied with Marcos and they worked the fresh schools in Ensenada which turned into a slam. Ryan Freeman a fellow Michigander, got four permit for the week with a great day on Victor’s boat landing two permit and completing a slam. Ben Paschal closed out his week with 2 permit and caught a great fish with Fernando the last day. John Thomas a was able to also pull a couple permit out of Ensenada schools last Friday with Marcos. The group collectively landed 21 permit with 8 guests. We’re on a roll here with season totals at 136 permit with 61 guests. Based off my reports last year at this time we seem to be a little ahead with the permit count which really shows the strength of the fishery and puts us on the stage as one of the best permit fisheries in the world.
Tarpon were around when tides were right and small channels in third, Rio Locos, and pockets off the south shore produced. It seemed that Fernando had the lockdown set with first river holding an impressive number of fish. I mentioned Flamingo to Pepe one morning with Ben and Tim. It’s a tough spot for us to get into but after a quick 50 yard walk pushing the boat you find yourself tucked into a small bay. Tarpon were found sitting in a small depression and milling around a creek mouth. Despite seeing good numbers of fish your first few shots are crucial and the tarpon become wary despite numerous fly changes. “Sunken boat” a small cut 200 yards long with a shoreline loaded with mature mangroves was a great option when the tide was at its lowest point. Another small cut located around the corner from where we launch the boats held a few tarpon. I was hoping we’d have a chance to search deeper water for the larger tarpon but a change in the forecast kept the channel rough and too difficult to balance on the bow dredging for the migratory fish. I know they’re around and we’ve heard from some locals they were coming across big fish close to the reef as they were diving with spear guns for snappers. Any day now with a little cooperation from the weather we’ll be seeing those prehistoric rolls that just unglues me from any form of rational composure.
Bonefish were around and became easier to catch as the week wore on. We’re loaded on the north, south, and west with fish. As long as little tide movement was there, we had good shots. I love these fish and feel like a broken record babbling about them. Do yourself a favor and invest in a 7 weight or in the case of Lizzie Paschal, a T&T 6 weight and watch your line get peeled from these 3 pound bullets. Who the hell wants to make themselves sick chasing permit for hours on end only to be faced with a wicked crosswind cast at 70 feet? You can comfortably adjust, and find yourself in protected rivers, lagoons, small flats that are sprinkled with turtle grass loaded with fish. When the flat finally goes quiet it means a predator has shown up either a shark or a cuda. Speaking of cuda, Tim Kelly rallied one on a big Redfish popper tied by Ben Paschal. I will say we are seeing an unusual trend with sharks in the bay. We started to notice it last fall when some of the big tarpon were accompanied by hammerheads in the cut. There’s almost a daily encounter now with Blacktips in the system and we have no idea what has caused these predators to come in the bay in such numbers. By no stretch of the imagination are we at a Bahamas caliber of losing fish to sharks but they’re here in solid numbers. It makes us wonder at perhaps rigging a set up for these critters. I have experienced hooking a couple small Blacktips in the past and they are quite the ride on a 10 weight. I would love to see that we embrace them and adjust our gear to accommodate landing one or two in the future.
I’ve been on a rant the last few weeks singling out our productive permit flies. There are about 6-7 permit flies that I deem necessary to landing fish here in the bay. We landed a couple permit on ESB crabs, white Casa Blanca crabs, and a Flexo crab. I hate Flexo crabs and have tried to use them religiously for a span of 4 months a couple seasons ago when the y became labeled as “the permit fly”. Unfortunately, the majority of our permit for the week were landed on a tan flexo tied on a #4 hook. I’m not sure if I’m excited or discouraged by this change of patterns. Time will tell how long the Flexo will play for us and for the sake of everyone I hope it doesn’t last to long! Perhaps throw a couple in your box if can for your next trip.
Tarpon ate Toads and EP baitfish.
Bonefish love every small shrimp imitation thrown at them in sizes #2 down to #8. John Thomas and I share a love for fishing small Puffs. This is a great fly, lands softly, easy to tie, and very deadly.
We kicked off last week with a fast-moving cold front, north winds, and high tides. Middle of the week we saw more sun, winds changing to easterly and dipping southeast. Tides changed midweek with an incoming in the morning and a big fall starting early afternoon. A full moon creates big pushes of water and couple that with a hard wind and you’ll never predict the tide here.
7 pounds is the average weight gain a guest can anticipate when staying through the week. I heard a comment loose fitting shorts were held up by belts and by Saturday the need for the extra support was lost. Chef Carlos continues to dazzle us with rich Mexican dishes appropriately fried, roasted, or baked. He has been on a tremendous roll and the kitchen performing flawlessly starting with breakfast all the way to the evening dessert.
Emmanuel and our grounds crew worked hard to keep the lodge up and running in an orderly fashion that kept us all comfortable. I can’t thank these guys enough for the hard work they put out every day. Despite being in the background with guides, and the kitchen crew, this really is the backbone of our operation and the foundation of success we’ve enjoyed.
We’re off to the first official spring week here at ESB. We’ve got fantastic group of friends joining us for the next six days. You’ve read the names Joe Checchio and Bill Ingram many times over the years and it’s always a pleasure seeming them each a couple times a year. Harry Singer and his band from Cleveland are also back gladly joining us again after losing a year to Covid driven cancellations. We also celebrated last night with a birthday cake for our friend George Klein who turned 80 years young. George, you’re an inspiration and I admire your willingness and never-ending youth. It’s sunny right now, calm winds, and zero remnants of any winter weather in the upcoming forecast. I hope everyone is experiencing the new season and enjoying the spring holidays outside as much as possible. Make sure you check in with our friends at The Fly Shop® to get any updates about this place or any other destination you might be interested about. Please be safe, play outside, practice conservation, and be ready next week for another report.
Saludos desde el Caribe Mexicana
Dane & Chiara and the entire ESBL crew