As a lifelong freshwater angler I’ve always cast quietly envious glances towards the endless stream of glamorous destinations and beautiful fish found in tropical saltwaters across the globe. During the months of November to May, Farlows customers come from far and wide to share with us their amazing stories of battles with bonefish, barracuda, tarpon, snook and the much revered permit.
The inevitability of my first saltwater trip was certain from the moment I joined the team at Pall Mall. Having spent a year fishing the gin clear fresh waters of New Zealand I began to long for a different challenge and a saltwater trip would provide me with just that. With such a variety of global destinations on offer I experienced the trepidation that I imagine many anglers feel towards booking their first saltwater trip. I took the kind of advice I would offer to any angler in such a situation – talk at length to an experienced saltwater angler at a reputable tackle shop (in my case this conversation had been ongoing for eighteen months!) and then take further advice from an experienced destination fishing travel agent. Mat McHugh, owner of Fly Odyssey listened to my requirements and ambitions, took into account my budget and came up with the perfect trip – Ascension Bay, Mexico.
The Punta Allen resort on Ascension Bay has a fantastic reputation for providing a tempting mix of species, where one can conceivably catch a bonefish, permit, tarpon and snook from the same flat. It also offers a variety of fishing scenarios from white pancake bonefish and permit flats to lagoons where bonefish, tarpon and snook live alongside each other, to mangroves full of tarpon and snook and a whole number of offshore options. Having taken the advice of my fellow Farlows staff and of Mat McHugh I packed an 8# and 10# outfit which would appear to cover most eventualities. I chose the indestructible Hardy ProAxis rods and Fortuna X reels – having kit that can withstand the rigours of saltwater fish and resist corrosion is vital and I’ve seen too many examples of kit that wasn’t up to the job in the shop to make the same mistake. Gathering up the correct selection of flies, leaders and tippet can be time consuming but do take any advice given by experts who have been to your chosen destination – I found that there are specific requirements for particular areas. Remember to take plenty of lightweight UV proof clothing that will protect you from the searing sunshine. Take the best pair of polarised sunglasses you can afford as these will be totally vital to your success – Costa del Mar glass 580 lenses are perfect. Add in a pair of flats boots relevant to your destination and a few other generic travel essentials and you’ll find there really isn’t a huge amount of kit involved.
The flight to Cancun is around eleven hours and can be taken from either Gatwick or Manchester. Upon arrival you are met by your transfer host and taken by a very comfortable mini-bus to Punta Allen. The end of the drive can be a little arduous as the resort itself is very rural, but having arrived at the lodge late in the evening there is no issue with getting straight to sleep before the first days’ fishing. Casa Viejo Chac is one of the most established lodges in Punta Allen and is more than comfortable. The staff are very friendly and cannot do enough to help you, the food is excellent and the owner of the lodge Manuel Chac is a mine of fishing information that is well worth tapping. Many of the members of our trip took impromptu casting lessons from him and all agreed that his advice helped them hook more fish. The guides at Casa Viejo Chac are all very experienced and exceptionally knowledgeable. My boat partner and I were guided by Chucho and Oscar who at 24 and 21 years old respectively have fifteen years of guiding experience between them. It seemed that all the guides spoke more than adequate English, many had even picked up a few choice phrases that you might not have expected!
The fishing was very good indeed, despite the best efforts of the weather. Unsettled pressure around the Caribbean was pushing unseasonal tropical storms over Punta Allen at a rate of three per day – one in the morning, one in the early afternoon and one late in the evening. These rarely lasted more than half an hour and were punctuated by the kind of tropical conditions that often only seems to exist in travel catalogues – just perfect. Our group caught countless bonefish both from the pangas (the type of skiff used) and by stalking tailing fish on foot. There were permit, tarpon, snook, barracuda, snapper and many other species caught and the huge areas of flat around Punta Allen meant that no two days were the same. Our guides gave us regular shots at all the species and could give advice on not only fishing matters but also on the history of the area and the local wildlife that includes crocodiles, flamingoes and frigate birds amongst many others. They can also change a fly in seconds which often proved invaluable.
Given its accessibility, the multitude of species and variety of habitat along with its relatively low cost I would regard a trip to Punta Allen as the perfect destination for a first time saltwater angler. Huge shoals of bonefish, regular shots at tarpon and snook and some of the largest populations of permit anywhere in the world make Punta Allen a superb destination for anglers chasing the holy grail of saltwater achievements, the Grand Slam. I myself managed what is known as the “poor man’s slam” (snook, tarpon and bonefish) but I have seen and heard of many anglers who have managed the elusive permit too. The possibilities at Punta Allen are almost endless.