Gary Fritz and guide, Carlos, with a nice Snook...
The following report has just come in from Bill Ninke of Flemington NJ who spent a week fishing Tarpon Cay Lodge with his good friend, Gary Fritz of Cascade, MT. Bill's report is very informative and provides some excellent suggestions for a successful trip to Tarpon Cay Lodge. Thank you Bill for taking the time to write such a detailed report!
“I’m back home in New Jersey enduring deep withdrawal symptoms after returning from a wonderful week in San Felipe. The weather home this past week has been warmer and more humid than it was in Mexico. My wife volunteers that it was even worse while I was away. This has motivated my considerable sympathy toward her plight but has also spurred my thoughts of returning next August.
I had many memorable moments during my week at Tarpon Cay Lodge. Let me cover just a few where a lesson was learned that might be helpful to future guests.
My direct flight from Newark to Cancun arrived at 12:30 pm on Sunday. My fishing partner, Gary, had to take a flyover tour of most of the US to get to Cancun from Montana so didn’t arrive until 4:30 pm. So, while waiting for Gary (also Keith, Tad, and Bob) in the Berry Hill Restaurant I had a chance to tie up some of the baby tarpon leaders that Keith has recently recommended in this blog. I’d read Bill Kiene’s nice article on “Fishing for Baby Tarpon” in which he recommended buying fresh Hard Mason leader material, which deteriorates rapidly, before going on a trip. So I had purchased several coils in 30, 25, and 20 pound test in my local sporting goods store just before leaving and used these for the leaders.
Shortly after our arrival at San Felipe Beto served a wonderful seafood dinner that was to be a harbinger of the excellent meals to follow during the week, Let me say now that the food at Tarpon Cay during the entire week was the best lodge food I’ve ever had. After dinner, the guides appeared to help us set up our tackle. Imagine my surprise when my guide tested and busted every knot in the leaders I had so carefully tied in Cancun. Then he retied my leaders using the same Mason I had brought with me and busted all his knots also. My thoughtfully bought “fresh” Mason obviously wasn’t so fresh. Imagine my panic at having zillions of flies, rods, reels, and lines and no leaders. Fortunately, Keith had some extra Mason which he had bought from Bill Kiene and gave it to Gary and me. This proved to be truly fresh Mason and the remainder of my and Gary’s trip was rescued. So, let me strongly recommend now to anyone reading this blog to tie your Mason leaders before you leave home and test them out. Keith recommends a 3 turn blood knot. I like a 4 turn blood knot moistened well with saliva and tightened using wraps around leather gloves on your hands, stretching the knots between your knees. This really draws the knots down tight. Good knots look like small very compact barrels and don’t fail.
Gary and I had both been to Isla Holbox to fish for big tarpon two times previously and were anxious to try for the big tarpon at Tarpon Cay. Initial morning winds weren’t too bad each of the first three mornings so we ran for one hour to fish near the light house. Unfortunately, the winds continually picked up as each mornings progressed and, although we had a few shots at bigger tarpon, we never got any solid hook ups. Both of us did catch some small jacks and Gary landed two big snook on a red and white 3/0 Whistler.
Gary is a professional guide and casts like Steve Rajeff, at least it seems so to me. I’m barely an intermediate caster. So while Gary threw cast after beautiful long cast, I struggled with my 11 wgt. What’s to learn from all this? First, don’t go for the big tarpon unless the water is glassy calm. It’s not only one hour getting there, but one hour returning which really cuts into the time you could be fishing for baby tarpon near the Lodge. Second, practice with at least a 9 wgt rod if you don’t fish saltwater regularly and want to try for big tarpon. I had spent all my preparation time for the trip tying an enormous selection of flies. I hadn’t practiced casting at all. This was a big mistake.
Bob and Keith chose not to fish on the second afternoon so volunteered their guide to Gary and me. So we both went solo for the afternoon. The wind was starting to howl and the tide was up so my guide took me to some somewhat sheltered creek mouths in the mangroves well west of the “Bird Island”. The wind had stirred things up so that there were lots of weeds in the water and foam piled up on the shore, even in the mouths. Fishing was very frustrating since my fly would pick up weeds on almost every cast. My guide quickly noticed this problem and asked if I had any weedless patterns. I had tied a few SeaDucers with weed guards to use in the creeks with all the under water branches and he picked out a tannish one from my box and tied it on. This turned the whole afternoon around. The tarpon were stacked under the foam blankets at the edge of the shore, not really showing themselves, but very willing to come out and attack a fly placed a few feet into the clearer but still weedy water. The last two hours of the day were heaven for me, the absolute best stretch of saltwater fishing I’ve ever experienced. I must have had 30 tarpon attack my fly, hooked up about 20 of them, and finally landed about a dozen. Neither Gary nor Tad had fished a weedless fly that afternoon and, with all the wind and weeds, hadn’t done well at all.
So my lesson here is to take some weedless flies with you, not only to use in the creeks, but also on the flats when weeds are prevalent. For baby tarpon I used only four different patterns during the whole week. One pattern was the Mayan Warrior in both yellow and burnt orange. This pattern worked well in clean water. It has been described in a previous blog and accounted for about 25% of my babies. If I return to Tarpon Cay, I’ll be carrying weedless versions. The other three patterns are pictured below.
On the left is the tannish SeaDucer that yielded about 60% of my tarpon. It is tied on a 1/0 Gamakatsu SS15 hook, the fly being 2-1/2 inches long. Hackle is from a Barred Ginger Whiting American Hackle Neck, almost a Cree Color. Weed guard is a double prong of 20# Mason. On the last afternoon I ran out of this color and used one tied with orange dyed grizzly hackle. This is shown as the second fly and seemed just as effective. The last two flies are a chartreuse and yellow Toad and a small Zonker style minnow tied with a bar dyed rabbit strip. These latter two had their moments.
One afternoon, our guide noticed several tarpon rolling up a creek mouth blocked by a large log. So he had me remove my clogs and wade barefoot in the muck around the log to cast for the fish. Fortunately, I hooked and landed one of the tarpon, the only tarpon I landed in the creeks. All other had done various bad things to my leader and fly while jumping uncontrollably in the narrow channels. The lesson here is trust your guide, even when he recommends what may seem like a stupid maneuver.
Keith, Bob and Tad left Tarpon Cay after the first three days to fish at Isla del Sabalo. So this left two guides without work for the last three days Gary and I were to be there. Gary suggested that we hire one of the guides so we could both fish solo for the remainder of our trip. This we did and it really helped me improve my casting and retrieving. I got grooved to spotting and casting to the fish and the guide got grooved to my casting ability and positioning the boat appropriately. We both fished only for the babies those three days and did very well. It’s not always possible to arrange, but fishing solo for a day is really fun.
My final item is a fond recollection, not a lesson. The last afternoon, I hooked and landed both the first tarpon I cast to and also the last. There was still about a half hour of fishing time left when I landed that last one. But, I reeled up anyway and pointed to the Lodge. It had been a wonderful week. My guide smiled deeply as did I.
The run back was beautiful."