I’m not a huge fan of social media. I know what you are thinking - this is some old man talking about how millennials screwed up the economy and the reason fishing and everything else in the world is going straight to hell. Well my compadres, joke’s on you. I’m a 23-year old who just likes to fly fish. I don’t like social media. There are benefits to being young, knowing just enough about Instagram to log in and follow fishing stuff. Given my personal dislike, I recently joined a fishing trip, incredibly, made possible by social media. Something positive and helpful, what social media should provide.
No shit! There I was, in early December, doing that one thing I try to avoid. Wasting time scrolling through my Instagram feed. So, yes, I am “hip”. I even use social media terminology. I came upon a post. A guy, Marcus, was going to Mexico to fly fish and wanted to know if anyone wanted to come, a normal sounding person. “That sounded like fun, no way that’s crazy”. Me “I’m in!”. After a couple of Dm’s (for all the non-hip people Dm stands for direct message) and some phone calls, I bought a plane ticket, going against almost everyone’s advice. Leaving on Christmas, returning on 6 January. I could have stayed longer, my boss had other plans. Thanks Chad.
The day of departure snuck up on me faster than a puma cat mixed with a cobra mongoose. It was time to load my gear into my wife’s Subaru. She kindly shuttled me to the airport. I flew outbound to Houston, connected to Cancún. I was full of mixed emotions. So much so, my trip was more like a roller coaster ride than an airplane flight. In the words of Ron Burgundy, “I’m in a glass cage of emotion!” (some of you will get that reference) There was anxiety while I pondered whether Marcus was a real person? Could we get along? What if my gear is stolen? Is Mexico as bad as people say? What if I get robbed? What if I lose my passport? What if Marcus isn’t there when I arrive? Anyone who has watched ‘Locked Up Abroad’ knows the kind of stuff I was thinking about.
However, my level of excitement increased with each travel segment completed. Will fish be everywhere? What if I catch a permit? What if I catch a double-digit bonefish? What if I catch a trigger or even a tarpon? What if I make lifelong friends while I’m there? What if dinosaurs still lived in Mexico?
I reminded myself that anything could happen, but the only way to find out was to go and do it. You learn from mistakes. Adventure satiates souls of restless people. Those who dream differently from the rest of the world. Those people who differentiate the merits between fancy homes and the open sky. Yes, I am restless, and I have my dreams.
All was looking promising. My uneventful flight to Houston netted me a free beer during my short layover. Courtesy of my bartender’s unintended mistake. Good fortune eases anxiety. On my Cancun flight, wheels down, a smacking contact with the pavement – I was snapped awake.
My anxiety returned prior to my face to face meet with Marcus. Our introductory talk lasted only about 5 minutes. I knew we were going to get along just fine. Like my pa pa used to say, “two peas in a pod”. After slipping the rental car guy a 20, we got an SUV for the price of a compact car. No broken down rods for us! We drove south on 307 and reached Tulum, with 1 hour of sun light left. Our spirits were soaring, we drove around for about 30 min eagerly searching for something that looked fishy. Stopping at a pull-off, we followed a trail snaking through the mangroves. Hopefully, towards open water and not a Mexican cult hangout or something similarly uninviting. We ran along the mangrove trail, hunched over like little demons, in search of water before sunset. Our arrival was greeted by a swarm of mosquitos, which we ignored. We were on a quest. We immediately viewed fish eating near the surface on an outgoing tide. A few casts later, we sensed and became more aware of the mosquitos. The sun fell quickly. Soon, our return trek to our SUV would challenge our wilderness memory. I hooked and landed a fish, not any of the game fish we wanted, a clue to call quits for the day. We slowly paced our way back to the car, itching badly from our souvenir bug bites. We had high hopes, had one fish landed, we weren’t lost, and we where fishing in Mexico. No dinosaurs. A fly-guy bingo moment.
We stayed our first night at a Tulum hostel. The city had lots of people and some inviting restaurants. I befriended a very mean rooster whom I named Dude, a very un-dude like creature. On the morning of the 26th at 6 am, we were in our SUV and driving south on 307. We reached Mahahual a few hours later. Mahahual became our home base for the rest of the trip. A 2-hour drive from Xcalak, only 5 minutes to nearest ocean side flats and convenient access to a variety of restaurants and stores. It was the perfect place for our base camp. We bunked in hostels the entire time. The 26th was the start of the windy days. A local feature-of-nature that afterward plagued our trip. That being said, the wind did not keep us off the water. We soon found our first flat to fish, one we nicknamed ‘Winterfell’. During the remainder of our Mexico trip, we fished south of Winterfell. We encountered barracudas. I hooked the only trigger we spotted during our trip. I walked on coral in 7-8 inches of water, viewing the surrounding area. There was a coral maze with a 3-4-foot sand hole surrounding them. Scanning from the corner of my eye, I spotted a tail sticking out of the water. My heart rate quickly elevated. I focused on a blue/green shaped football, a tail attached. A trigger! My cast landed 3 feet to his front, a frigging bullseye!!!!!!!!
I calmed myself, too early to celebrate. I paused as the trigger approached to within 12 inches of my fly. Mind racing, heart pounding, mouth awkwardly dry - I’ve seen so many pictures of, heard many stories. A fish I had become weirdly obsessive over during the past year and now I had the chance to feed one! I slowly inched forward my fly. The trigger spotted it. His interest noticeable. He swam to the fly with the attitude of a teenage girl who found out her mom deactivated her cellphone. Disbelieving, I was going to get a trigger to eat! Now comes the interesting part. I see the trigger swim to the fly tail, ate it, then came parallel again. I strip set. The fly connected, a short 3 seconds later my line slacked. Disappointedly, I watched my beautiful blue green blurred vision swim away, his middle finger extended skyward, pointed at me. Laughter, my only recourse. A seriously ‘wow’ moment for a fly-guy.
The 27th proved a great day for exploration. We drove through lagoon sized puddles, fended off a wild pack of dogs (see my Instagram for that fight @misguidedoutdoors1), stole a boat (jokingly, didn’t actually steal the boat), got lost, Marcus stepped in what we both joked was poop water, marooned ourselves in a mangrove forest unable to paddle against the wind and current in our “stolen boat”. No game fish were caught. I spotted the biggest snook of my life and saw other smaller sized snook. No takers. Good news, we were rescued by a guy who just happened along in his panga. He towed our stolen boat back to the place where we slipped a guy a 20 to use the boat for the day. Sleep came easy although my dreams revisited that monster snook who swam by me and ignored my fly. Before sleep came, we decided to make plans. The wind showed no sign of changing. Marcus was going to see Nick, our local contact, to see if we could rent two inflatable paddle boards and more properly fish the lagoons. Using the paddle boards as our aircraft carrier, we delivered flies to the shadows. Our rods worked as our fighter jets delivering pinpoint accuracy of our feather and thread missiles to the enemy. The boards were loaded. Nick offered local insight on the lagoons. Instantaneously we were cocked, rocked and ready to party.
The 28th was ushered in with our hopes for the day elevated, well, like each of our days. Boom, harshness of reality descended upon us, the day’s wind was hellish. Anchored paddle boards drifted faster than one could work cover with a fly rod. An anchor provided no relief. Our day’s fishing consisted of one swipe at my fly by a smaller tarpon. The day provided quite the adventure. We coined a new technique of paddle boarding against gale force winds. Our recourse was to lay flat on our boards, invoking an awkward butterfly stroke just to get any head way against the wind. Simply, a brutal day of work netting little reward. On our return, we offered aid and jumped started someone’s car. We hoped fishing gods would favorably view upon our act of kindness. A rewarding bountiful plunder of large fish landed with our whip sticks would pleasantly suffice.
The 29th was déjà vu, a repeat of the previous day. Instead of a tarpon, a snook swiped at my fly. We fished a lagoon north of the one we fished one day earlier. This was our last day with paddle boards. In search of reduced wind, we decided to venture south to Xcalak.
The 30th proved successful as we encountered a good amount of bonefish. Marcus caught one and I had a shot at a good sized one, unfortunately I landed my fly too close to the bonefish. He was gone. Although successful compared to earlier, we were defeated and drained. Decision time, we would enlist a guide tomorrow. We were in need of catching fish and along the way might gain some pointers. Our trip was about to flip 180 degrees, rejuvenate our energies and stroke the coals of our dwindling fires.
On the 31st we hired a guide, Guivene, from Casa Cangrejo, owned by Victor. Our guide was known as Keesey. The first flat we pulled up to was tucked away behind mangroves and was out of the wind. It was noticeably a comforting change. Marcus and I alternately walked next to Keesey while the other walked about 25-50 yards away. Up first, I walked a mangrove tree line. Within 5 min we spotted nervous water, about 50 yards away, moving fast in our direction. It looked like those worms from Tremors (the cult classic with Kevin Bacon) wiggling towards us. I launched my cast and waited for the funny looking water to close on my fly. Soon, I was maneuvering my fly. Instead of anxious, I was in that moment calm, a vibe of nothing could go wrong in the world. Even with my good vibes, whatever was making the water shake with excitement didn’t eat my fly. About 5 seconds later we found out why. The school was about 5-10 permit hauling ass down the flat. I couldn’t help but get excited, viewing our first permit during my fishing trip. After much intrigue, we continued walking. About 5 min later we saw some dark bonefish shaped-things swimming towards us. I again launched a cast, found cover behind a mangrove. Slowly maneuvering my fly, I gained the attention of one of the shapes. My smile stretched from ear to ear. My fly line was ripped out of my fingers. A fish was landed and released quickly. A fist bump from Keesey, our walk resumed. Next, Marcus joined with Keesey. I assumed the role of outlier.
Off and on for the next hour, we sparred with bones. We approached a lagoon, feeder creek on one side, the other joined the bay. Keesey posted me near the mouth of the creek, advising bone fish traveled in and out. The lagoon, 20x40 yards, was circularly shaped. Keesey guided Marcus to our left, a flanking mission similarly exercised by super-secret squirrel commandos. I scanned the surrounding water. We were stalking for bones. After 5 min, a BIG BONE 20 feet away on my right rounded a mangrove. I fast cast about two feet to his front, lowered myself to one knee. In the moment, the bone spied the fly, determinedly picked it up. All in real time, no time for being apprehensive while I admired its silver laid body and distinctive light green back. A strong hard set, my fly line generously splayed at and around my feet, came racing out toward the rod tip.
In a matter of a second, my line ripped from the reel. Imagine a super cool playlist played in my head, Hells Bells, Back in Black, or any other super cool song that added fire to one’s spirit. For the next 5, 10 possibly even 15 min, I navigated my combatant fish to my hand. I chased, backed up, fell over, and would have resorted to back flips to keep distance between the fish and nearby mangroves. Well, not back flips. My day’s hellish end found me in high spirits. Marcus and I later retired to our well-earned beers, soon returned to our lodge after first hanging for a few minutes at Keesey’s house. A 2-hour commute had returned us to Mahahual. We settled that night at hostel Maha Sand, amazingly situated on the beach. Victor, our hostel’s host, was exceptional. Maha Sand provided hot showers and comfy clean beds. So be it, life was good.
In this manner, I finished 2018. In bed before 9 pm. Having had fished hard for 6 long days, frequently wet, tired and exhausted. Eyes strained from non-stop searching the water’s surface. Physically challenged, but never losing hope to find that fish of a lifetime. I lay in my hostel bed. While everyone else was vigorously partying into 2018’s last night. Happy and without regret, I was quickly asleep. My bonefish, challenged and caught, soon appeared in dreamland, my sleeping mind’s screams of joy echoed around that day’s magical flat, a restful reminder of all future fish, yet to be caught, all of whom will similarly rattle my mind.
- Jacob Meier