It felt like I was standing at the edge of the planet as Javier—who’s been guiding these waters for decades—expertly poled us across another of Ascension Bay’s seemingly endless flats. Without a cloud in sight and slick, pale blue water in every direction, the sky and sea met with such clarity that I found it nearly impossible to distinguish the horizon. Maybe Earth really is flat.
As the fish god’s would have it, minutes after etching that unforgettable scene into my memory bank, the wind came on and steadily climbed to 20-plus knots—making spotting and presenting my tiny fly to its intended target nearly impossible. Really, I didn’t care. I knew right around the corner would likely be another opportunity with another species. This was Ascension Bay, an area rich in history where bonefish, tarpon, permit and snook all share the same flats. A perfect example unfolded later that afternoon as we were closing in on an unsuspecting trio of snook stealthily patrolling the perimeter of a frigate-infested mangrove island. No matter how hard Javier poled, my bulky mullet imitation landed just a foot short of the fish’s business end. These were not giant fish by any means, but what made the scene extraordinary was the school of a dozen bonefish flanking the trio. They were practically rubbing shoulders with their larger flats friends. The scene was reminiscent of a black and white war movie where a fleet of submarines would surround and protect transatlantic liners. Twenty-seven failed attempts later, the fish, which I am still convinced knew exactly how far I could cast, finally melted into the shadows.
I visited this region before and knew then that I would one day fish these fertile waters again. There was simply way too much potential and too many fish to catch during only one visit. Pesca Maya was home base at the time, where I managed to release dozens of bonefish and even had a few shots at tailing permit, including one monster that would have certainly been the pinnacle of anyone’s fly fishing career.
When I caught wind of a new lodge on Ascention Bay and with the upcoming holiday break barely a month away, the decision was quickly made, tickets were booked and off we went early Christmas morning. While your children were opening presents under the tree, I was at 31,000-feet headed for Cancun. This trip however, things would be different. Unlike my first visit to Ascension Bay during the humid, rainy season, it was late December and one of the windiest and coldest Yucatan winters in history. Looking back, I should have known we were in for it right from the start when an attempt to explore the region’s rich reefs and wrecks quickly turned into a full on ass kicking. While narrow, shallow-drafting pangas offer many advantages, plowing into 30-knot gusts and a steep chop wasn’t exactly where we were hoping to be. Nevertheless, you can’t control Mother Nature and our guide did everything he could to keep us fishing.
In total, more than half of our scheduled time on the water ended up being a wash. The remaining two days were extremely challenging at best. Regardless, the blustery conditions gave us plenty of free time to explore the region and get to know Punta Allen’s rich heritage and colorful past.
In hindsight, I have to say that although I didn’t catch a single bonefish and never saw a permit this trip, during my limited time on the flats there were periods of pandemonium. I missed the trio of snook, came face to face with plenty of trophy size ‘cuda, and caught enough snapper and horse-eye jack on light tackle to satisfy any visiting angler. Would I visit the end of the road and fish Ascension Bay again? In a second!
Tackle To Go
While exceptions exist, few fishing lodges provide a wide selection of tackle. If there is something you think you may need you better bring it. While spin fishermen will enjoy the opportunities, Ascension Bay is truly a fly fishing Mecca.
6-weight for bonefish and juvenile permit. 9-weight with no less than 200 yards of 20lb. backing for large permit, snook, tarpon and barracuda.
Standard 8lb. & 10lb. tapered leaders for bonefish, 12lb. & 15lb. for permit, and 50lb. bite tippets for snook and tarpon.
#4, #6, #8 Gotchas, Puffs, Crazy Charlies and Bonefish Clousers in pink, beige, and white will keep you connected with 1 to 4-pound bonefish. Fur Crabs, Turneffe Crabs, Del’s Permit Crab, and Mantis Shrimp are local permit favorites. Brightly colored flies work best for tarpon in stained water and dark flies tend to be more appealing in clear water. The key is contrast so bring an assortment. Snook rarely resist surface poppers and I’ve been told they jump on properly presented subsurface tarpon flies as well.
After flying to Cancun and enjoying the scenic drive to the very end of the road from well known Tulum, you’ll run into Punta Allen—the most authentic Mexican fishing village you could imagine. With a population of only 500—most of Mayan decent—local captains earn a living lobster fishing, guiding on the flats, or operating tour boats. For you and I, while catching our breath in this last undeveloped piece of Mexican paradise is a given, Punta Allen protrudes right into the heart of Ascension Bay, considered one of the finest flats fishing destinations in the world. The body of water running north to south is located in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, Mayan for “Where The Sky Is Born.”
Sian Ka’an is the first established biosphere reserve in Mexico and the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean. It is currently a UNESCO World Heritage site where visitors encounter lowland forests, vast savannas, lush mangroves, and a portion of the world’s second largest coastal barrier reef—the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Sian Ka’an is home to 800 plant species, 350 bird species and over 100 mammals. Of course, Ascension Bay is home to a vast array of shallow waterways where releasing bonefish, tarpon, permit and snook on the same day isn’t a fantasy. The area has so many flats, so many miles of productive mangrove shoreline, and so many hidden coves and bays that it would take you multiple lifetimes to thoroughly fish the entire region.
While Ascension Bay is unprecedented for its Super Grand Slam potential, when you are not on the water there are other worthy activities. Stroll to the lighthouse, snorkel the reef, or visit the Mayan ruins. There are nearly two-dozen archeological sites inside the reserve where discoveries of human remains and other artifacts date back more than 2,300 years.
For anglers on the go, it doesn’t get any better than Grand Slam Fly Fishing Lodge—a newly built boutique resort hidden within the confines of a natural bamboo fence just a few hundred yards from town. Clients who demand plush accommodations enjoy private, knowledgeable, English speaking guides who have been fishing these waters for decades. Your panga will be waiting just steps from your front door.
Off the water, guests enjoy the lap of luxury in one of 12 deluxe beachfront villas, complete with A/C, king size beds, entertainment systems, wrap-around decks with personal rod racks and hammocks. In addition, each villa is equipped with a private whirlpool tub overlooking the Caribbean Sea.
Chill out in the pool or enjoy refreshing tropical delights delivered beachside. Anglers enjoy made to order breakfast, packed lunches, and dine on fresh seafood and succulent steak before swapping stories of the one that didn’t get away. The desserts and nightcaps are also extraordinary, as is the service.
Visit Grand Slam Fly Fishing Lodge for your next fishing adventure, alone or with a dozen of your closest colleagues, and you’ll quickly realize that this end of the road destination may just be the exit plan you’ve been looking for.
An alternative if Grand Salm Fly Fishing Lodge is fully booked is the world famous Ascension Bay Bonefsh Club (ascensionbay.com). ABBC maintains a long history of providing traveling fly fishermen with outstanding flats fishing.
Grand Slam Fly Fishing Lodge