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March 07, 2012

The Flats of Ascension Bay

Fish for a flats grand slam on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula

Making a Move
As the tide ran out, we stopped and checked  the outside of the islands at the mouth of the bay for tarpon, but the wind had things so roiled they were not around. Ordinarily you fish them on foot, wading waist deep as you cast into the mangroves. But it was not to be this trip.

Offshore we saw black clouds massing, heading our way. Our weather window was about to close.

As the sky giveth, so can it taketh away in this part of the world. We piled into the panga and headed north. We’d been running less than five minutes when the storm closed in, and the sunny shoreline disappeared behind black clouds and driving rain. Grateful for the brief gift, I was already thinking about a return trip.


Ascension Bay is often acknowledged as the best spot on the planet for a flats grand slam — bonefish, permit and tarpon on the same day, or the same trip. Add snook for a fourth species, and it doesn’t get any better. On spinning or fly tackle, the opportunity here is huge. Flats-fishing is never easy, but the number of shots you’ll get here will stack the odds as far in your favor as you’ll ever find them.

Pesca Maya lodge, established in 1996, is 90 miles south of Cancun and can accommodate 22 anglers. Three buildings hold 11 rooms, all with air conditioning and private bathrooms with walk-in showers. Situated on a strip of barrier beach, the lodge faces the Caribbean Sea, and the barrier reef that stretches from north of Cancun to southern Belize runs within swimming distance offshore. On the western side lies the vast El Rio system of protected flats, channels and mangroves.

Fishing is done from a fleet of 12 pangas, each manned by a guide and an assistant. Pesca Maya regularly brings in captains from the southern United States to familiarize the guiding staff with current gear and techniques. The majority of the guides in the area, at all lodges, were trained by American captains at Pesca Maya. They’re a sharp crew.

What: Bonefish, permit, tarpon and snook.

When: Year-round.

Where: The Caribbean flats and back bays of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula at Ascension Bay.

Who: Pesca Maya

Rods: For fly-fishing: 9-foot 6- to 8-weight for bonefish, 8- to 10-weight for permit and tarpon, 71/2- or 8-foot 10-weight for snook in the mangroves. For spinning: 7- to 71/2-foot 8-pound-class for bonefish, 12- to 20-pound for general casting.

Reels: To match.

Lines: For fly-fishing: floating or intermediate 6- to 10-weight. For spinning: 12-pound mono for most purposes, with 30- or 40-pound braid as a backup for mangroves and blue holes.

Lures: 1/8- to 1/2-ounce skimmer jigs in brown, white and pink, such as those in the Yucatan collection by BackBone Lures (, or equivalent.

Flies: Bonefish: Gotcha, Bonefish Scampi, Yucatan Special and Baby Lobster flies; permit: crab flies; tarpon and snook: black, green, yellow, white and red streamer flies, assorted poppers. My guide used an orange permanent marker to put bands on the wing material of every bonefish fly I fished.Think lobster.

Other: The lodge has a surprisingly large selection of tackle for sale and fly rods to loan, but you should still bring everything you think you’ll need, such as 30- to 60-pound fluorocarbon leader, extra mono, braid, leaders and tippet. Bring what you need to cover yourself, and expect to leave what’s left over for the guides. They greatly appreciate what to us seems common and easy to get.