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Tarpon Cay Lodge, Mexico

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 6 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.

Expert Q&A with Dylan Rose

Top Reasons to Go:
1. To gain experience in the techniques and skills demanded by tarpon in a highly productive fishery.
2. To fish a region exclusively accessed by Tarpon Cay Lodge guides.
3. Getting there is easy with many affordable flights to/from Cancun.
4. To fish a split day schedule that puts you on the water at the best fishing times early in the morning and late in the evening.
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 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 three and a half 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?
The guides at Tarpon Cay Lodge fish the expansive turtle grass flats and mangrove-lined creeks and estuaries of the Parque Natural San Felipe and the Rio Lagartos preserves ,which extend for miles on either side of the town 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 skills will reward anglers with good catch rates.

What are the accommodations and meals like?
Guests stay at the Hotel San Felipe de Jesus in downtown San Felipe. The hotel is very simple and bordering on rustic. While they only take six anglers per week, the hotel may also accommodate locals and travelers vacationing in San Felipe for other reasons. Rooms are kept clean with both hot and cold running water, private bathrooms and air conditioning. Most would say the beds are a little on the firm side. Meals are plentiful with copious amounts of fresh seafood, beans, rice and traditional Mexican cuisine.

Describe the atmosphere and style of the lodge?
The lodge is very casual, comfortable and basic. You’ll feel right at home having dinner in flip flops and a t-shirt. There is a fly tying station in the main lounge area and plenty of space to work on rigging your rods and tackle.

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. Marco also manages other operations so he may or may not be there during your trip. However the manager Beto is almost always on site. He is simply a fantastic host that is fun, attentive and a consummate professional. He will look after your every need and assists you with any questions that may come up 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 and connection speeds 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 and fly line friendly with level casting decks that are specifically designed 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, creeks and mangrove coastlines.

What fish will I catch?
Juvenile tarpon that average 6 lbs to 25 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 (mid-August through November) larger migratory tarpon (40 – 150 lb range) may available with a long run from the lodge 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. Setting the hook on these fish and keeping them hooked is specific skill that can take some time to learn.

Is there wade fishing?
No.

How Long does it take to reach the fishing grounds?
In general, runs to the fishing grounds are typically anywhere from 15 minutes to 45 minutes. In some cases you may find fish 10 minutes from the lodge. Tarpon Cay Lodge is not known for long runs to the fishing grounds. 

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!” The better your spanish, the better you will be able to communicate with your guide. 

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 for help.

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. That said there are a few excursions to experience huge flocks of migrating Flamingoes, a beautiful beach area, and a salt making operation.

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. Pregnant women are cautioned by the CDC over concerns regarding the Zika virus.

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!

Click above for an in depth article on Tarpon Cay Lodge. 

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A baby tarpon takes flight at Tarpon Cay.

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The main lodge at Tarpon Cay is actually a small family owned hotel called the Hotel San Felipe. 

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The split shift schedule at Tarpon Cay Lodge allows you to fish through the magic of dusk.