ESB Lodge Trip Report
March 26 – April 4, 2022
Erik Argotti

Saturday  March 26, 2022
Redding to San Francisco – I flew out of Redding at 6:10 am. I don’t know why I get there an hour and a half before departure, as I am always one of the first ones there and the security typically isn’t even open yet. It all went smoothly and everything was on time. Flying out of Redding was only around $70 more than out of SMF, so it made it an easy choice.

I had a little time in the San Francisco airport. I got a quick bite to eat and departed San Francisco at 8:30 am direct to Cancun arriving at 3:25 pm. Smooth!

Customs lines in Cancun were long and it took a little while to get through. I made it out at 4:35 pm. I ran the gauntlet of Taxi drivers and made it out front. I saw a guy with a Fly Shop hat on and introduced myself. It was Lou Fehrenbacher, and Thor Start was with him. They said they contacted the Faifield and a van would be there in 45 minutes. 10 minutes later the Van pulled up. Not sure what the confusion was about, but it was good to be on our way.

Made it to the Hotel and checked in and got settled. We met up at the Fairfield bar for a beer and decided to  walk over to the Courtyard for dinner as it was right next door. The menu and food was definitely better at the Courtyard. The Fairfield had lots of basic options for food, like sandwiches and pizza and the Courtyard had nicer dinner options. We all got fresh fish and it was very good. We got back and were in bed early.

Boarding the Cessna at the Airport

Sunday, March 27, 2022
We were up early for the 6:00 am breakfast at the Fairfield and ready to go out and meet Manny in front of the Hotel. We met up with David and Katherine from Missoula, MT, this was their second trip to ESBL, and headed over to the Courtyard to pick up Rob and Todd. Todd Darling was replacing his father on the trip last minute. He was excited to see ESBL as he had never caught a Permit before. He was pretty new to saltwater fly fishing. We made it to FBO, got checked in and were on our way. We landed a little after 9:00 am and were headed out from the strip at 9:30 am. We made it to the lodge around 11:00 am. It was a quiet day and  I relaxed for the day. Some of the guys walked the beach looking for Triggerfish and we saw one swimming right in front of the lodge. David took some casts at the fish, but with the east wind, the Sargasso moved in and it made fishing impossible. Dinner was delicious. Ceviche for a starter and Chile Relleno for the main dinner and Mango Mousse for dessert.

Erik Argotti holding bonefishMonday, March 28, 2022
Everybody was up early for the first day. We had breakfast at 6:30 am and were all out front ready to go at 7:30 am. I had the boat to myself that day with my guide Pepe. The wind was blowing pretty hard out of the east and Pepe thought it would be a good idea to go for Tarpon and Bonefish for the day to get warmed up and because of the wind.

We crossed over to the northwest side and went into the first river and started looking for Bonefish. There were clouds off and on for most of the day and so the sight fishing was intermittent. We started off great and got into lots of single and double Bonefish in the shallow waters. I caught my first Bonefish. They were very aggressive and were moving pretty far to take the flies. The fly of choice was the tan Miheve Flats Fly. It seemed to work the best for us. We landed a half dozen and then ate lunch. The afternoon was a little more overcast and we didn’t have as many shots seeing fish until we were too close. We did see a Permit feeding and jumped out of the boat and I was able to get a cast on it. He moved for the fly, but never took it. I put another cast close by and he spooked. I landed a couple of more Bonefish and by the end of the day we made it to the second river. We found some tailing Bonefish and I caught 4-5 more in really skinny water. It was a lot of fun fishing for these Bonefish. We headed back for a jarring ride across the bay. It was a great first day! Nobody landed a Permit that day. Back to the lodge for margaritas and we got cleaned up for dinner. We had a shrimp cocktail for a starter and a Pargo (snapper) with rice and beans and slaw for the main course and Mexican Flan for dessert. Very good!

Erik Argotti holding permitTuesday, March 29, 2022
Martin, the new ESBL Manager, joined me for the rest of the week to see the bay and get to know the guides. Martin has a ton of experience guiding. He is from Bariloche, and guides on the Limay and Collon Cura and surrounding area and also in Brazil for Untamed Angling at Rio Marié. He will be at Xingu for a couple of months this fall. We fished with Marcos. We saw Rob hooked up on a Permit at Tabasqueños and drove by another ¼ mile and found a huge school of Permit, probably 60+ fish. We hopped out and the school was coming right at us. I put a cast in with a white Casa Blaca Raghead, made 2 strips and one took it. The power of these Permit is pretty incredible. The first run took me to my backing and a whole lot more. I was getting a little worried but the fish turned and started making his way back to us. I think he was with the school, because as he made his way back the whole school came swimming back to us and Martin was out and got a cast on the school as they quickly went by again. I landed the fish and we got some great pictures. Martin’s Iphone 13 took some amazing photos. In live mode and HDR on, it filled in a lot of the shadows. Martin wanted me to get a grand slam and I am pretty sure he wanted it more than me as I was pretty content for the day. We made our way back to River 3.5 and went looking for Tarpon. We saw a few groups of small fish and I put some good casts on them, but they weren’t interested. We changed flies a few times and moved out to the mouth of River 3. We put some casts on some Bonefish, but they weren’t interested and were pretty spooky. We ate lunch and right after, we went back in the bay and were looking for either bones or Tarpon. We saw a group of 4 or 5 Tarpon coming at us. I put a cast on them and immediately hooked one. He jumped and shook the hook and was off. I put another cast back in on the group and hooked another fish and landed that one.

Enchiladas for dinnerMartin jumped up front and he got some casts on Tarpon, but didn’t hook any. We went back to the mouth looking for a Bonefish, and saw a few singles, but none were interested and they were pretty spooky. We moved back over to the mouth of River 4 and set up there. The tide was rushing out and we saw lots of Bonefish swimming by at mach speed. I don’t think they were feeding as they were moving very fast. After a bunch of fish swam by, Marcos decided to take us across to the east side by Tabasqueños. There is a narrow channel and a deep pool which he had us blind cast into. I called it the Kiddy pool as I had a small Bonefish on the second cast for the slam. Martin made a couple of casts and landed a nicer fish. We caught a couple more and headed home. 4 Permit were landed that day. Rob and Todd each got a Permit as well as David. Excitement was high. Dinner was a shrimp tostada to start with, Enchiladas for the main course and Tres Leches for dessert.

Lodge Manager, Martin, with his first permitWednesday, March 30, 2022
Martin and I were with Alex for the day. It was very windy, with winds coming out of the east. Since we had a good couple of days and it was supposed to be windy we decided to spend the day, seeing new areas and spent a little time chasing barracuda. Martin made a bunch of casts at multiple fish, but none were committed to taking the popper. We decided to stop in a small channel and cast for bonefish. I hooked a small Bonefish and a big Barracuda attacked it and I came back with a head. We ate lunch, and after we went to look for a Permit for the afternoon in the Cenote area.. I really liked fishing with Alex. He is a predator. He is quiet, competitive and loves catching Permit. Martin jumped up front and he had some good shots on Permit. He had two really good shots at two groups and ended up landing one from the second group. It was his first Permit. He was pretty pumped. After that I had one shot at a Permit following a ray. He was swimming at a 45 degree angle as his back was out of the water in 8-10 inches of water. I made a good cast, slightly to the left and in front of the ray and the Permit moved over and looked at it, but got freaked out in the shallow water and took off. We saw 6-7 fish that afternoon. Back at Punta Herrera by 5 and back for margaritas and another great dinner.

Erik Argotti with a TarponThursday, March 31, 2022
Martin and I were with Victor for the day. We spent another morning boating and Victor showed us some new spots so Martin and I were both familiar with these areas. After a couple hours of exploring, he dropped us off at the Kiddy pool and I ended up getting a couple of Bonefish and took a break for lunch. Motivated after lunch, we headed back to the 5th river. We explored deep in the mangroves. We saw some Tapon right off the bat, and they were moving in and out of the mangroves. We didn’t hook any. Things got tighter and tighter as we got in there and ended up dropping our push pole and hand pulling our way up some narrow mangrove channels. Tarpon were swimming in and out of the mangroves but casting was all but impossible. Too tight for me and I gave the rod to Martin and he bow and arrow casted to a few big groups swimming around, but we didn’t get any. We started to head out and as we got closer to the mouth, we started to see lots of groups of Tarpon rolling. There were a lot more fish moving. We each made a couple of casts and each landed a fish. We had to go for the long 1.5 hour drive. Katherine landed one small Permit for the day.

Another great dinner at ESB LodgeFriday, April 1, 2022
Martin and I were with Pepe again. Another windy day. We poled early for Permit closer to the lodge around some of the rocks and worked our way closer to Tabasqueños. We saw quite a few Triggerfish, but no Permit. Not much moving.  We headed over to the mouth of River 5. We saw a Permit and a couple of bonefish as well as a triple tail. No shots at any fish all morning. Headed back to Tabasqueños Bay. We started shallow, way to the east out of the wind. We spotted a couple of permit right away and I had a good shot at the two fish. One came right to the fly and I thought it was going to take it, but it turned and moved away. The second shot I made a nice cast and I felt good about that one as well, the fish moved to the fly and no go. We saw a couple more Permit, but they were moving fast out of there. It was a tough day for everybody. We headed back to the lodge for margaritas and another great dinner. The Cream of Poblano soup was amazing.

Erik Argotti holding a bonefish at ESB LodgeSaturday, April 2, 2022
Finally a calmer morning. Martin and I fished with Marcos. We headed over to the north side of the bay. We went for Tarpon first in a small bay. We saw a bunch of fish moving in and out of the mangroves. I ended up catching two Tarpon and Martin got one pretty quickly. We went inside Ensenada Bay looking for Permit. Marcos saw one way out there, but we didn’t get any casts on it. We moved into the bay at the first river and went looking for bonefish in some skinny water. That is a lot of fun. There were plenty of them and they were fairly spooky, which made it just challenging enough. I landed one right away. We saw a Permit moving out that was a little too far for a cast. Martin took over and had a few shots at bones, but they were very spooky in the shallow water. We saw a couple of Tarpon and I took a couple of casts. Marcos spotted a Permit close and Martin had a great shot at the fish and he couldn’t get a good cast to put the fly in front of the fish. We switched and I had a shot at a Permit and nothing. We had lunch and went back to the spot we saw the Permit, but didn’t see any of them. We saw a few bonefish. We moved closer to the mouth at the bay and ran into a huge group of small Permit, but there was a Barracuda chasing them around and they swam out of there. We saw a Snook that I put a good cast on but no go.

Amazing desserts at ESB LodgeWe found a big group of Bonefish and Martin ended up landing one. It was a pretty active day. We didn’t catch a ton of fish, but we saw lots of fish around. Made our way back for margaritas/beer and dinner.

We all got settled up that evening with Dane and had a nice evening with the group.

Sunday, April 3, 2022
We were up at the same time, ate breakfast and were off to the airstrip. We made it there just before 9:00 am. We had to fly into Playa del Carmen because of reduced air traffic around Cancun and drive for 45 minute to get to the Cancun Airport. I had to spend another night at the Fairfield Inn and Manny’s brother dropped me off there after leaving the rest of the group at the airport.

I got my COVID test right next door to the hotel and it was easy and cheap. $20 and results back in a half hour.

Monday, April 4, 2022
I had an early flight back out of Cancun and was up at 4:30 am. Everything went smoothly and I was back in Redding late that afternoon.

The group of us at the last dinner on April 2nd

It was a great trip overall. A good group that all got along and they all seemed to have a wonderful time even though conditions were a little tough. ESBL has become such an exclusive location and for good reason. Besides the winds most of the week, when we had breaks in wind, the fishing was definitely better. Probably due to the ability to access more areas and see the fish. The guides there are all great guys and all of them worked hard to put us on fish. That is a long season for those guys standing up on the platform polling all day.

Dane runs the program at a very high level. Everything is to the T and times are all very concise and organized. Nothing/nobody was ever late, all the guides were back at the launch site at almost exactly the same time, meals were always on time and I didn’t realize how much Dane was involved in the planning of these meals. I told him he should make an ESBL cookbook with all the recipes for the week.

Espiritu Santo Bay is a fantastic fishery with lots of variety and of course the best Permit fishing in the world right now. I am glad I was able to get down there and see what all the hype was about. A truly spectacular fishery.