Jul 20th, 2016
Not far from the bustling madness of Cancun on the northern shore of the Yucatan Peninsula lies the quaint, commercial fishing village of San Felipe and Tarpon Cay Lodge. Tarpon Cay Lodge offers saltwater fly anglers unparalleled opportunities to target juvenile tarpon in the 5 to 25 pound class from boats in shallow water with floating lines. This small operation caters to a maximum of only six anglers. This keeps angling pressure low and offers exclusive access to private groups of six. Two massive preserves protect these waters from commercial fishing and provide an expansive refuge for juvenile tarpon.
Here, roving schools of fish vary greatly in size from just a few tarpon all the way to several hundred fish. Similar to their larger brothers and sisters, these babies can be sensitive to environmental conditions and may challenge even the most skilled fly anglers. Properly setting the hook and making a well presented cast is half the battle and the experience is always thrilling and utterly addictive. The Tarpon Cay guides are a highly experienced crew and are extremely skilled at scanning for rolling fish and spotting schools moving under the surface.
Guests stay at the Hotel San Felipe de Jesus at the water’s edge. The hotel provides air-conditioned rooms, fans, private bathrooms and hot/cold water. Meals are served in the hotel dining area and consist of a host of fresh seafood and traditional Mexican cuisine.
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Tarpon Cay Lodge, Mexico
A baby tarpon takes flight at Tarpon Cay.
Dylan displays a typical beauty from the mouth of a creek.
Days end, Tarpon Cay.
Expert Interview with Dylan Rose
1. To gain experience in the techniques and skills demanded by tarpon.
2. The entire region is fished exclusively by Tarpon Cay Lodge.
3. Flights to Cancun are relatively inexpensive and readily available.
4. Their split day schedule puts you on the water at the best fishing times.
5. Small groups of six anglers can enjoy exclusive use of the lodge.
6. Trips are very reasonably priced with varying stay lengths welcome.
Where is the lodge?
The lodge is located in the small commercial fishing village of San Felipe, Mexico on the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula.
How do I get there?
Guests fly into Cancun International Airport where the outfitter will meet you and transfer you approximately four hours to the lodge by air conditioned van.
When should I go?
Tarpon are happiest when the conditions are hot, humid and calm. The best time of year for Tarpon Cay Lodge is May – September. When temperatures rise, oxygen content in the water goes down and the tarpon start to roll to breath air. That makes them easier to find.
Where do they fish?
They fish the mangrove-lined flats, creeks and coastlines of the Parque Natural San Felipe and the Rio Lagartos preserves which extend for miles on either side of San Felipe.
Who is best suited to visit this destination?
Intermediate to advanced saltwater anglers with good casting skills are best suited to Tarpon Cay. Just because the fish are juvenile tarpon does not mean they are push-overs and good casting will pay off.
What are the accommodations and meals like?
Accommodations are at the Hotel San Felipe. The hotel is very simple and nothing there is over-the-top. While they only take six anglers per week, they also can accommodate up to six other guests, may of which are locals. There is both hot and cold running water, private bathrooms and air conditioning. Meals are plentiful and good with a lot of fresh seafood and traditional Mexican cuisine.
Describe the atmosphere and style of the lodge?
The lodge is very casual, comfortable and basic.
Is the owner on site? If so who is it, if not who is the manager?
The owner is Marco Ruz. He is often on site looking after the operation. Marco is a skilled tarpon angler and is an invaluable resource for anglers on site that have questions about targeting the babies. The manager Beto is a fantastic host that is fun, attentive and a consummate professional. He will look after your every need and assists you with any questions you may have during your trip.
Is there internet and cell service?
Yes, the lodge does have internet that you may use in the main office, but the wi-fi can be intermittent and slow. You’ll need to check with your carrier for cell service on the Yucatan. I have Verizon and do not typically have coverage in San Felipe.
How do they fish?
Anglers fish two per boat. The 18 foot pangas are clean with level casting decks for fly fishing. All fishing is done from the boat. The guides cruise open water flats looking for fish or explore a multitude of small estuaries that the tarpon frequent.
What fish will I catch?
Juvenile tarpon that average 5 lbs to 7 lbs are the name of the game at Tarpon Cay. There are some chances for snook and also barracuda. In the later portion of the summer through the fall larger migratory tarpon (40 – 150 lb range) are available when weather permits.
How many fish will I catch?
This fishery rewards good casters. Fly anglers that have no trouble reaching distances of 70+ feet in the wind will excel at Tarpon Cay. Good casters on a good day can hook double digit numbers of tarpon and may land about half of them. Baby tarpon have extremely hard mouths and more often it is not about how many fish you land, but how many you send jumping into the air.
Is there wade fishing?
How Long does it take to reach the fishing grounds?
In general, runs to the fishing grounds are anywhere from 20 minutes to 45 minutes. In some cases you may find fish 10 minutes from the lodge.
Do guides speak English?
The guides speak very limited English. They can provide good fishing direction in English. In general, they can give you help that may sound like this, “fish coming about 60 feet. Cast 2 o’clock now…. Re-cast 40 feet!”
What are the guides like?
The guides are locals from San Felipe. They are very knowledgeable about their waters and the needs of fly anglers with regard to boat positioning and spotting fish. The have a lot of experience working with fly fisherman but may not always offer help with things like knot tying or removing fish unless you ask them.
Will we see other anglers?
The only other fly anglers you will see are those from Tarpon Cay Lodge. At times you may see Mexican commercial fishermen but they are not targeting tarpon.
Does the lodge provide equipment?
Anglers need to be able to provide all of their own equipment. In a pinch, the lodge can provide gear with advanced notice.
What is your favorite rod(s) for the trip?
Sage 8wt and 9wt Salt rods.
Are there other activities?
Additional activities are few and far between. This is a trip best suited for hardcore fly anglers, that want to fish hard every day.
Are there special skills required?
Sometimes lengthy casts will help you reach fish when the boat is still and fish are cruising. If you can quickly reach distances of 70 plus feet you will simply have more access to cruising tarpon.
What are the physical demands?
There are no special physical demands for this trip. Anglers with good balance and good casting technique will do the best.
Dangers and annoyances?
The summer months on the Yucatan can yield some mosquitoes and biting black flies. Bringing along a good bug repellent and long pants/sleeves is a good idea.
Are there health concerns?
There are no immediate health concerns for Mexico. It’s always a good idea to check the CDC guidelines before traveling internationally.
What is your favorite memory of this trip?
They fish a “split shift” schedule at Tarpon Cay, which puts you on the water early in the day and late in the evening (which I love). The opportunity to fish through the sunset is a rare one in the saltwater world as temperatures start to cool off and the day transitions into evening. One night we were so caught up catching tarpon for the evening session that darkness fell on us all too quickly. As we were making our way slowly back to the lodge in the complete darkness bursts of phosphorescence began showing in the water all around us. At one point, there was so much that it looked like mini explosions were lighting up the water in all directions. Bursts of fiery gold were erupting all around the boat and coupled with a crystal clear night and the milky way shining clear as day, it made for an incredibly beautiful boat ride back to the lodge and one that I will never forget!