Sep 7th, 2016
Isla del Sabalo – Yucatan Fly Fishing Adventures
Isla del Sabalo or “Island of Tarpon” is the most remote and exclusive tarpon destination on the Yucatan Peninsula. It is truly the new frontier in world-class fly fishing for juvenile tarpon. This small, off-the-beaten path operation focuses exclusively on the expansive flats, estuaries and creeks surrounding Isla del Sabalo and the small commercial fishing village of Isla Arena. This incredibly large area provides for a thriving baby tarpon nursery which arguably offers some of the most prolific tarpon fishing opportunities found anywhere in the world. The sheer number of tarpon that inhabit the turtle grass flats, mangrove lined lagoons, creeks, and channels of this area is mind boggling and range from 5 to 30+ pounds.
The accommodations at Isla del Sabalo are simple, comfortable and slightly rustic in nature. Guests stay in one of several ocean front beach cabanas that are equipped with air-conditioning, fans, and a full private bathroom. Meals consist of traditional Mexican fare and are served in the lodge’s beach front “palapa”. Furthermore, this operation takes a highly unique approach to its booking calendar by only offering dates during the very best tides and months available to fish the destination. Meaning it is only available for extremely limited windows during May – September. This policy ensures anglers making the journey to IDS have the very best chance possible at finding happy tarpon with tides that make them accessible to the fly angler.
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Isla del Sabalo, Mexico
A high-flying baby rips the water’s surface at Isla del Sablao, Mexico.
A 40 pound juvenile clears the horizon at Isla Del Sabalo!
Never was there a more perfect fish created for fly anglers than Megalops Atlanticus.
The many estuaries of the area are home to countless populations of juvenile tarpon.
A perfect specimen is reflected in the water below.
Every one of them jumps at Isla del Sabalo!
Expert Interview with Dylan Rose
Isla del Sabalo is the most remote and exclusive juvenile tarpon destinations found anywhere in the world. It is only offered during the very best tides and during the very best months of year.
1. To gain experience in the techniques and skills demanded by tarpon.
2. The entire region is fished exclusively by Isla del Sabalo guides.
3. Tarpon may be available in larger sizes than many other baby tarpon destinations, sometimes up to 40+ pounds.
4. To visit a seldom seen, off-the-beaten track portion of the Yucatan Peninsula.
5. Small groups of six anglers can enjoy exclusive use of the lodge.
Where is the lodge?
The lodge is located in the small commercial fishing village of Isla Arena, Mexico approximately 60 miles north of Campeche.
How do I get there?
Guests fly in to Merida International Airport where the outfitter will meet you and transfer you approximately 2.5 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 Isla del Sabalo 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 estuaries, creeks and off-shore flats south of Isla Arena all the way to Campeche.
Who is best suited to visit this destination?
Intermediate to advanced saltwater anglers with good casting skills are best suited to Isla del Sabalo. 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 very simple, clean and rustic but remain comfortable and satisfactory for a fishing based trip. Guests stay is small beach cabanas (2 guests per cabana) with private bathrooms, air conditioning and fans. Home-cooked Mexican meals are prepared and served in a central dining palapa on plastic chairs. Seafood is a staple at Isla del Sabalo, as is traditional Mexican food with rice, ceviche, empanadas, tacos, beans, guacamole and poultry. The lodge only takes six anglers per week or 3 boats worth of anglers.
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 lodge manager Israel speaks only limited english but does a fantastic of looking after any need that may arise.
Is there internet and cell service?
Not really. The lodge sometimes has a satellite Internet connection but it is unreliable. It is doubtful that you’ll receive a cell signal here. This is a place far from everything and anything and if you need to stay plugged in, this may not be a good location for you.
How do they fish?
Anglers fish two per boat. The 18 foot pangas are clean with level casting decks and built specifically 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 and rivers that the tarpon are known to frequent.
What fish will I catch?
Juvenile tarpon that average 6 lbs to 15 lbs are the name of the game at Isla del Sablao. There are some chances for snook and also barracuda. Also sometimes available are larger juveniles in the 20 – 40lb range.
How many fish will I catch?
This fishery rewards good fly casters. Fly anglers that have no trouble reaching distances of 70+ feet in the wind will excel at Isla del Sabalo. On a good day with good casters, anglers 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. Also even though the lodge is only open during the very best months and tide windows, the area is extremely large and they are days when the tarpon just can not be found. For this reason it should still be considered a high risk/high reward destination. We have experienced truly mind blowing tarpon action, the likes of which may be unmatched anywhere else on the planet, but we have also had to come home with our tails between our legs. If you are up for the adventure and are looking for home-run potential, the new frontier in tarpon and a slice of “real” Mexico then this is the place for you!
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 15 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. 60 feet. Cast 2 o’clock now!”
What are the guides like?
The guides live and work in Campeche and make the trip north by boat about 60 miles. 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 Isla del Sablao. 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.