25
Jun 18

Simon’s Revenge – A post by Nick Denbow

(This post is written by guide Nick Denbow, who I had the pleasure of fishing with in 2017 down in his home-waters of Mahahual, Mexico)

I first met Simon Chapman over 25 years ago Carp fishing in the south coast of England. Even in my youth, it was obvious to me he was a thinking, methodical and patient angler respected by all of the local angling community for his fishing accolades. I was thrilled, after our lives had taken us so far apart, when he got back in touch. Simon, now living in Canada, had a gap in his work schedule and had picked up a copy of my cowritten book as he was planning a trip to the Yucatan. He recognized my name, picked up the phone and we were planning his trip immediately.

Simon’s trip coincided with one time client now friend for life Ryan from Colorado. We met the evening of Simons arrival which coincided with me buying a large Cobia from a local spear fisherman. Over the ensuing banquet we hatched a plan to fish that next morning on a lake I hadn’t launched in for 15 years. I knew the put in would be bad, far worse than I could take most clients, but I also knew these guys were the ones to do it with me.

How Nick gets it done.

It was far worse than I feared. It took 3 trips each. Mud to the knees, a Mangrove tunnel the prefect height to hurt anyones back and hungry Mosquitos intent on getting inside your ears. Finally we launched just after dawn. We all drank a beer. I motored until i saw a shoreline that was more pole worthy. Only one cruising fish in 200 yards and I wanted more. We were in the wrong place. I knew they would be there in numbers and didn’t want to waste the early morning advantage. We motored to the southern end of the lagoon. We quickly spotted fish rolling off the shorelines in open water and poled out to investigate. The light was still too flat to spot beyond 20 feet from the Jon boat. We poled passed them and turned our back on the rising sun and were quickly rewarded by a rolling fish coming at us at forty feet. He was visible. Simon led the fish, an immediate and aggressive response, a visual grab and after an explosive fight the first fish came to the boat.

Nice lagoon tarpon.

Ryan took over and raised many small fish to a gurgler until it was flushed into a bigger mouth and Ryan brought a cookie cutter 20lb fish to the boat.

Ryan’s poon.

Having located the cenote (cave entrance) we found it to be alive with fish. The guys went on to land two more nice fish each though the real story was when a huge push of water came up behind Simons fly, was engulfed by a fish in the 60 to 70lb range that jumped, blitzed twenty yards, jumped again and spat our Clouser Minnow high in the air. This was the key moment. That fish threw down a gauntlet Simon’s way and he was going to pick it up. He said nothing at the time apart from sharing the obvious jubilation of having such a close up, visual fishing encounter with a fly rod, but it turns out he was already planning a return.

Both Simon and Ryan went on to land more fish that day amongst the birds and Crocodiles who were as surprised to see us as we were delighted to see them after a 15 year rest.

Simon fished Chetumal Bay and the Mahahual coast catching Jacks, Snappers and many, many Bonefish for the next few days. He had time to plan and the lake had time to rest, it worked both ways.

Simon was staying in my guest house next door and, as he often does, after fishing he came round for a chat. He told me what was on his brain. He had unfinished business in that lake. I should have seen it coming. He had a score to settle and knowing that I was working (and unwilling to go through that launch again) he asked to rent a paddle board and go back solo. With two other boards out, I set him up with everything except an anchor. I said “it doesn’t take much to stop a paddle board so take this spool of 50lb line and find yourself a rock”. He was happy with that. We both thought it would work.

I heard Simon leave at around 4.30 in the morning. I didnt see Simon until 6pm. He had a smile on his face and beer in his hand. The story began well. He carried all the gear on his own in just one trip down the muddy Mangrove tunnel. He fished around, caught a couple of fish and ended up back at the cenote where the one that got away was last seen. He hooks a fish of similar size and as he clamps down to set and begin the battle the 50lb anchor line gives. He’s not free floating though, he’s being dragged. Ive been there to help many people in my boat with fish that size but really don’t know how it must be on a personal watercraft with nobody to help to stop or position the boat and above all without an anchor. After a great fight recorded on Simons GoPro video he gets it board side and they part company on good terms. He had done it. The battle won, the score settled he is now free to move on feeling triumphant. A really big fish to catch from an SUP, another memorable accolade well deserved. Simon is now at the down wind end of the lake time 11.30.

After a long upwind paddle it was 1.30pm when Simon approached the take out. Happy with his achievements but exhausted nevertheless after the paddle. Feet from the gap in the trees he needs to go through, a Tarpon comes cruising casually yet purposefully through the gin clear, 2 feet deep water along the tree line. Whats an angler supposed to do? He swaps the paddle for his rod. Casts, feeds the fish at close range and is attached once more to another good sized fish. Once more he is at the mercy of the fish on his personal lightweight and anchor-less watercraft. In moments the fish runs into open water and Simon and his SUP are back in the wind in water too deep to wade to try to put any sort of meaningful brake on the fishes numerous charges and runs. He’s back to the wind, sailing and being dragged so its not too long until he finds himself all the way back to the bottom end of the lake again. Every yard he paddled hard for on the way back up was stripped from him in seconds on the return. It wasn’t until the water shallowed again at the down wind end of the lake until he was able to take more control. The fish came onboard for a couple of quick selfies and was measured at 44” to the fork before it kicked back off into its domain.

The tarpon that pulled Simon allllll the way back down the lagoon.

Simon, almost out of water in the cooler, now had to make the paddle back up wind to the take out. I am sure the adrenaline from the fishing had worn off before he was even half way back. He arrived to the exit exhausted at 3.30pm. This time it was not guarded by a Tarpon but a Crocodile which he needed to persuade to leave before he could drag himself and the kit back out. Question is… if he had seen a Tarpon instead of a Crocodile, would he have cast?

 

__

Thanks for the story Nick. Going to have to get back down there!


09
Aug 17

Interview with Nick Denbow of Mahahual

Nick with my trigger

Nick Denbow is a really interesting guy. He’s a Brit, supports Chealski Football Club and guides for permit, tarpon, bonefish and trigger fish in Mahahual Mexico. It all seems terribly implausible, but Nick is perfecting suited to Mahahual (minus his skin tone’s lack of innate cancer fighting properties). I got to fish with Nick for a couple of interesting days down around Mahahual. He showed himself to be extremely knowledgable, personable and thoughtful. We even stopped to help a stranded family from England with a flat tire. When you live in a place as remote as Mahahual, everyone has to look out for everyone.

Nick contributed to the book Fly Fishing the Yucatan and if you are headed that way, you should pick it up.

Nick answered a few questions about himself and his fishery. Enjoy.

Nick, how did an Englishmen end up in Mahahual, Mexico?

My first taste of Salt Water fly fishing was when I was sent (by my fishing store Sportfish Farlows of London) to Jardines de la Reina, Cuba in 1999. I think I knew from that trip on that i HAD to spend more time with a fly rod in the salt if I was to further my fly fishing career and quench a new personal thirst. The chance came after a spell as manager of Boss and Co Shotguns in 2001. The company was sold, I had some money in my pocket and was faced with going back to the fly shop. It was Feb 1st 2002 when I sold all i had, left my favorite Trout rod and a few clothes with my folks and jumped on a flight to Cancun. I didn’t go home for the next 5 years. I now call Mexico home.

You have a great quote about permit. Share with the group.

I get laughed at when I say it but to me it makes sense. People always say how hard Permit are to catch. I disagree. The ones you catch are some of the easiest fish you will ever catch. Its all the ones you didn’t catch that were hard. My point is simply that it is a numbers game. You need to get shots, lots of shots. The more fish you cast at you will eventually pull your fly across in front of a fish who will just swim up and eat it… theres nothing hard about that fish at all. I would also like to add some small print. The better at casting and presenting your fly you are, the more “easy” Permit you will find.

One thing I managed when I was down there was my first trigger fish. I wasn’t expecting that. What is it about triggers that you enjoy?

Trigger fish are rarely seen on the flats. Most people fishing here fish the flats. For these reasons they are largely unfished for. I am the only guide fishing 78 miles of coast here and Triggers are from top to bottom. They tail happily, are easy to see in the shallow clear water, they are fly friendly and can fight really well. Thats a great combination for fly fishermen. In the Pacific they are highly prized and targeted by fly fishermen, it seems strange to me that these fish are not getting more attention but they have helped me grow my business so I am actually glad nobody else is chasing them. Oops… how many people read this?

 

trigger

What do you think the biggest misconception about your fishery?

“Is it always this windy?”… thats my favorite misconception. Many people have come here once and go back with the understanding that its always really windy here! We have all weathers. An average wind speed here compared to that on a Trout pond or stream can be humbling and frustrating to an average caster. Firstly I encourage practicing casting into the wind before you get here. Once you are here and the wind picks up I advise anglers to look for areas where they can wade out on to one of the many shallow reefs, turn your back on the wind and cast across it. There are so many different habitat types here that if the waves are too big or the water to deep in one spot then you need to move to a different area instead of making it hard on yourself. It is not supposed to be an ordeal. Everyone seems to be here hoping for super flat and calm conditions however when this does happen (September and October between the storms) there is little flow and current on the reef and the water is often too warm and oxygen poor for the fish to come in and feed. In short, no waves generally equals no fish. Learn to deal with the cards you have been handed on that day and don’t waste time in an area where you cant cast or present a fly.

We caught one sabalito that had a line through it as some fisherman had figured he’d take the tarpon home to eat. Is consumption of gamefish impacting the fishery?

Currently Bonefish, Tarpon, Permit and Snook have no size limit, closed season or protection from the Mexican government. People here are allowed to harvest them. Its how they feed themselves and for some its how they make a living. This has been going on since there were people on this coastline. Hopefully soon this will be changed under the fisheries more protected under the new act that is passing through right now called “The Mexican Caribbean Reef Park”. This act will protect valuable sport fish species and restrict fishing activities for the whole coast from Isla Hotbox to Xcalak. Locally I have a problem with people leaving out gill nets unattended and spear gunning in the lagoons. Both of these activities are illegal. Its not so much for the fish but more as this is the last stronghold for Morelets Crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii) but the fish benefit from being in the same waters. This said I have not been checked in 15 years fishing the lagoons here by any authority. President Pena Nieto banned gill nets from the sea of Cortez 3 years ago. He desperately needs to do the same on this coast in my mind.

You have tarpon filled lakes connected to the sea by cenotes. What is the oddest thing you’ve seen in one of those lakes?

The oddest thing i ever saw i cant identify so Im going to have to assume it was an alien. At the risk of losing readers at this point I will move on to the oddest thing Ive seen that I could identify was a Bigmouth Sleeper (Gobiomorus dormitor) caught on a Gurgler. I had never seen one before and as it looked vaguely Catfish like I made the mistake of lipping it… I wont do that again as they have a zillion needle like teeth.

You are a guide working in a place without many other guides. How have you seen the fishery develop over your time in Mahahual?

Last two years we have had a drought (until TS Franklin arrived last night) and the lakes were the lowest and clearest I have ever seen them. This negatively affected catch results on Tarpon. This is a natural phenomenon and nothing I can do about it except harass the fish less, try to fight them harder and get them unhooked as quickly as possible. In general I think that I am finding more Permit on the beaches now than I was years ago but this I attribute to knowing them better not necessarily as there are more fish out there. Each year I see more and more fishermen on the coast. Most I know and are probably fishing with me a day or two during their stay. I always try to stay in touch with them almost daily to see where they have been and plan to go so that we can avoid fishing the same area or for fish that have already seen an angler that day. This way we get better catch results.

 

come out bonefish… where are you?

Is there a type of angler who should NOT come to Mahahual?

You know, I have had anglers with zero balance, anglers who are hard of hearing or vision impaired. I even fished with a gentleman who was born with no legs. If I am prepared I will try to make anything happen. I encourage guests to let me know so its not a surprise when I find out game time that they cant wade on anything but flat sand. One negative aspect of being a guide here is that Ive had people follow my car down the beach road and then run out in front of me and my guests and cut me off on the flat. Those guys should stay at home!

Dad’s First Sabalito

Best place to eat in town?

Nohoch Kay for Seafood is hard to beat. Try the whole Hogfish.

 

Thanks Nick. Hope to fish with you again at some point!


31
Jul 17

Mahahual 2017 – The Report Part II – Things that went right

As with life, on any fishing trip there are things that go well and things that don’t. This part of the report is going to focus on the stuff that went right.

Sabalito for Dad

Key requirement of the trip was a tarpon, of any size, for my dad. This, guide Nick Denbow accomplished within an hour. He knew of a ditch, formerly a river and potentially a river again after a lot of rain, that had some penned up sabalito (baby tarpon). Dad got his baby tarpon on the first day. Success.

Dad’s First Sabalito

Tarpon in the Lake

Now… the first day my go-pro ran out of battery and my back-up didn’t have a SIM card… nice… so, I have no pics. I got some baby tarpon in one of the lakes with Nick. I was making some pretty good casts and we were getting some responses. I botched a few. I converted others. Nothing big, although bigger fish were around. It was a little unsteady standing up in the jon boat, something that proved much harder for my 75 year old dad.

Nacional Beach Club

Nacional Beach Club is a fine place to stay. AC in the room. Right on the beach. Good food. Evan, the care-taker, made ribs one night that were simply outstanding. Breakfast included. Cheaper than it seems like it should have been.

Nick Denbow

Nick, a Brit, is a fine guy to share a day fishing with. He’s really knowledgeable about… well… everything. Birds, wildlife, fish… Nick seems perfectly placed in Mahahual. This is just where he should be. He knew where the fish were going to be, even if they wouldn’t eat. I mean… he knew pretty much exactly where we’d find permit. Who can dial up a permit?

Nick with my trigger

Speaking of triggers

I got a trigger. That wasn’t on my radar, but I got a trigger. Fun fish to stalk. Kind of easy to find, if you get the habitat right. Harder to hook, but still… a cool fish. I hooked one more and had two other confirmed eats. Super interesting fish.

That same trigger

Food and Drink

Mahahual was a fine place for food and drink. Montezuma didn’t get his revenge on us (which makes sense, we’re Scandinavian by genetics). I had ice in my drink. I drank water provided by the hotel. I even ate a salad. All those things you might be warned away from. I did them all and I didn’t get sick. The food was tasty and cheap. I had no complaints.

Octopus tacos from Fernando’s.

Permit

Nick found permit. I found permit. Finding permit is hard. Getting them to eat is harder. Nick had a great saying about permit, “The permit you catch is easy.” That rings true. I didn’t find any easy permit. I did have one circle my fly and then give it a pass. On the day we looked for permit on the flat, in the jon boat no less, we saw at least 5, maybe 8. I got one cast in.  On my last day of fishing I saw 4 and had three shots. I didn’t get a follow, but I found them. So, that’s something.


09
Apr 17

A plan comes together, like a phoenix from the ashes

Just days ago I was bereft. My beloved tarpon trip died and untimely death. Too soon… too soon. So hard to lose that trip. The fishing gods seemed to have insisted on a pre-payment plan, paid in karma, over the previous Florida trips with rain, rain and more rain, and no adult tarpon landed. This was going to be the year for the payoff!

Alas… it was not to be.

So I was adrift… slightly buoyed by the fact I’ll be in Belize next week, but still a bit bummed at the dashing of Florida dreams.

But, not all is lost. The world of saltwater fly fishing, maybe even those same fishing gods, seem to give as well as take. And so it was that a new trip possibility emerged in my consciousness. I’ve managed to fish a few places, the Bahamas, Belize, Cuba and the Keys, but I have never fished the Caribbean side of Mexico. Many moons ago I used to have family (different from my current family) trips to Nuevo Vallarta and I fished from the beach there for Jacks and lookdowns and whatever else I could fool with a clouser, but I never made it over to the Yucatan with a fly rod. I really wanted to change that. If only I had some sort of guide to the fishing in the Yucatan. If only there was some sort of book that laid it all out.

Oh look! A book, a guide of sorts, to fly fishing the Yucatan.

Just a couple of mouse clicks later (thanks Amazon) and I was reading said guide and getting more and more convinced this is what I should do.

So… I’m going to the Yucatan. I’m going despite my almost non-existent Spanish (maybe babble.com can help there). I’m going despite not having anyone, for sure, to go with.

I’m flying in July 24 and out July 29. I’m going to be staying in Mahahual, a place I honestly had not heard of until a couple days ago. I’m going to be fishing at least one day with Nick Denbow, a guide working out of Mahahual and co-author of the above book.

If YOU want to come along, well, we could fish with Nick another day. I figure if we want to put a group together, we could do that, probably no more than 4 guys total though, some being guided, some DIY on alternating days.

I’m excited about the trip and about seeing new water in a new area.

My wife is a fluent Spanish speaker and this general area (although I hadn’t thought about going this far South before) is where I’ve been thinking we could target for future family vacations, so I’m interested in seeing what the region is like.

So, let me know if you’d like to come along. Could be fun. I’m perfectly fine to do this trip solo… that way I get all the delicious water to myself, but, ya know, always good to share the experience (and cost).

To whet your appetite…