It was in early June last year, having spent 4 months trying to move house, that Steve Parker looked at his wife, Karan and said “You know what, I like this house so let’s go on holiday instead”. A quick internet search produced a two week Easter break at the family’s favourite hotel, the Iberostar Quetzal in Mexico for less money than they paid in 2010, they booked that afternoon through Thomas Cook.
By the next day Steve had also booked three fishing trips thanks to the incredible efficiency of Vivian at Sport Fishing Playa Del Carmen. Having fished with Captain Ivan on his boat Papa Kees three times in 2011 he was dying to get back for more of the excellent sport that the skipper could provide.
It seemed like an age waiting for the departure date to come around and my anticipation was such that I had my rods packed a month before hand. I took my LRF gear, a baitcasting rod, a medium weight spinning rod, a 4lb class Awa Shima ugly battler and a couple of 6lb class rods for in case the kids came. All of these were for bottom fishing for smaller species as the skipper has all the gear for the serious fish.
Although we arrived on the Sunday I had to wait and enjoy the excellent hotel facilities and weather until my Wednesday rolled around for my first trip. A call to Ivan at 6.30am confirmed that the conditions were great and the trip was on. A short cab journey later and I was in Playa Del Carmen town to meet the boat, skipper and new deckie Bernard, who is a real asset to the boat and works tirelessly to help you all day.
Ivan said that conditions were perfect for bottom fishing if I wanted to do that but that we would troll on the steam to the reef to see if we could pick up a bigger fish. We would also stop at some deeper water to try for some snapper and jacks on the drift.
A Cool Start Hots Up
As Bernard set up the trolling gear I put my rods together ready for the bottom fishing. The trolling pattern included four heavier outfits pulling Ballyhoo dead baits plus a lighter spinning rod and fixed spool reel which skips a small muppet type lure across the surface. Last time I came we had success with bonito’s on this outfit which was great sporting fun. There is always something of interest to keep you occupied and as we passed the hotels along the beach we saw two huge mating sea turtles. Strangely, for Mexico, it was surprisingly cold and when Bernard went in to the locker for his sweat shirt I was regretting not packing mine, Ivan even donned his sou’ wester for a bit.
Half an hour into the session we were passing in front of my hotel and I was wondering whether Karan and the kids could see us from the beach. As I mused on what they might be able to see the spool on the spinning rod fizzed and Ivan throttled back the boat to strike. As he passed the rod down I remembered previously that hadn’t appreciated the power of the bonito and had let the rod whip the deck hand round the neck, I was ready with two hands this time.
I leaned into the fish and a felt its strength and weight, now I am hardly an athlete but I didn’t remember the bonito being this tough. “Bonito?” I asked, “TUNA, TUNA!” came the animated response. What a battle I had, the fish went deep, then shallow, then deep again as it did it’s best to throw the hook. On the lighter gear it got to the point where the fish was hanging in the water and line I tried to recover was swiftly lost again. After what seemed an age the fish began to tire, fortunately before I did, and it steadily rose in the water. “Step back and keep reeling” was the instruction and I did just that. Bernard reached over the back of the boat and tailed my prize. A smashing tuna of around 16lbs, what a way to start! Ivan and Bernard were extremely excited as this fish was pretty much out of season and are not typically taken off the top and hooking it on the light gear made all the difference to the fight.
Now I was warming up and the next stop was over deeper water where I rigged with a flying collar and a small Dexter Wedge. I had a couple of instant plucks but failed to hook up. Then I snagged the reef and lost the lot. No time to re-tackle however as Ivan had been working a small yellow jig and passed me the rod with a bend in it. Another strong fish which dived and ran all over the place, not as heavy as the tuna but a worthy adversary none the less. The result was a nice reef jack and Ivan commented that although he has caught many jacks he had never seen one with this head shape and dark colours.
The anchor was then dropped and I set up my LRF rod with a two hook Wessex rig. I buy these from Moonfleet Angling but replace the snoods for Mexico with 40lb mono. I arm these with size 4 Sakuma Mini Mantas as the triggers will bite through thin wire hooks. A couple of small grunts came aboard but Ivan wasn’t happy and moved us a couple of hundred yards down the reef. This time my light rod bent double as I landed the biggest grunt I have ever seen, about a pound and a half. Lots of these followed before I was taken in to the coral by a couple of decent fish as the LRF rod did not have the necessary stopping power. I switched to my baitcaster rod which is much stiffer and coupled with an Abu Black Max that felt better able to bully the fish a little. The terrific session continued with more grunts, a fair few blue tang which are beautiful fish and, to my delight some half a dozen queen trigger fish. I love catching these as they are ridiculously strong for their size. It had been a brilliant first day with five different species and lots of fish. I couldn’t wait for Monday to come round and get back to sea.
High Waves and Manta Rays
Another early morning call to Ivan and this time he said the weather was pretty windy and would be much rougher than the previous trip. I said if he was comfortable to go I was still keen and although it was rougher the weather had warmed up significantly. We were joined by Leo for this trip who helped Bernard set the rods and shared camera duty.
The day started with a fruitless troll to the coral reef and Ivan selected a spot in deeper water. No sooner had the had the anchor been set than the skipper called for the it to be lifted and advised me to head to the bow with my camera. We charged off and it became clear what the skipper had spotted. There in front of us was a magnificent manta ray, the first I have ever seen in the flesh. Not a fish for targeting this one, enough to be there to see this awesome species. We followed the fish which must have measured 9 feet from tip to tip for several minutes enjoying the treat of a lifetime before returning to the reef and dropping anchor.
I had noticed on the previous trip that the jigging / spinning outfits that Ivan had were rung very like my Ugly Battler so I had decided to pair this with my Penn Slammer fixed spool reel and see they performed. The ensuing experience established that this is definitely my new favourite outfit and really well matched to this type of fishing.
The fish were more finicky today with lots of bites resulting in lost baits. I did however, manage to boat plenty of grunts, lots of strawberry groupers and a fair number of triggers. As the day wore on I wound down into another bite and this time my reel sang. The fish fought really hard on light gear with several powerful dives in an attempt to reach the reef. The result was a very nice snapper type fish similar to one that my daughter caught three years ago. We released him another larger and even stronger one followed. They are a bit like bream on steroids and I would fish for these all day long if we had them at home.
All About the Sail
The forecast for my third outing was much better and Polly, my eldest daughter, decided to join me for the day. She had out-fished me last time out and was keen to rub it in. Polly has been nursing a torn cartilage injury in her hip and is taking some fairly potent pain killers. We scrutinised the advisory for these and the sea sickness tablets and there seemed to be no conflict. Polly took a couple of Stugeron with her breakfast and off we went to the boat.
At the beach Ivan advised that a sailfish had been taken late the previous afternoon and advised that we would be taking a fast troll to the reef to see if we could pick up an early season sail. Polly had gone very quiet and I was worried she might be feeling sick. She confirmed she wasn’t feeling sick, just a little strange, like she was not really there and she was really light headed. She was bombed, but with no other side effects I was sure that it would soon pass.
As we headed passed the area where we had the tuna on the first day I heard the reel fizz again. I looked over to my Ugly Battler and could see line stream off the reel. I was confused as Bernard was standing over a heavy rod on the other side of the boat. I picked up my rod and struck it before passing it to Polly, who was by now having the sort of party people in Ibiza town would pay good money for. As I handed her the rod Ivan suggested I might want to take the heavy rod from Bernard, a double hook up. Gratefully taking the rod I immediately knew I was going to take the chair for this fish. The line level on the spool rapidly lowered as a magnificent sailfish took off, jumping to give us a good look at him in all his glory. A great call from the skipper to target the sailfish from the off.
My first reaction was one of fear of losing the fish as I have fought two of these in the past and lost them both. This time however the advice from the crew was clear and I settled in to fight the fish in a steady and methodical way, keeping tight to him but not trying to bully the fish to the boat. Poor Polly was having to hang on to her bonito, and try and get line back while ducking under my line to stay out of the way.
Thoughts of the previous tussles I have had with Sailfish came flooding back, exhilaration coupled with pain in the arms. It felt at times that I was making no progress and when I asked Bernard how much more line I had out he said, “only another 200 meters or so”. I was relieved when I looked at him to see he was grinning. I remember at one point shouting, “I only wanted to catch trigger fish” but as the angle of the line approached vertical I knew I was in with a chance of boating this one and I became more serious. Next I could see the leader and a touch of that would mean a technical catch, I still needed to see the fish though.
Bernard grabbed the leader and this was my signal to get out of the chair and keep reeling, Polly was still connected to her bonito. The deckhand grabbed the fish by the beak and wrestled it aboard for unhooking. I was urged to get to the back of the boat so we could grab a really quick photo before it was returned to the water. No time for finesse, I dived behind the fish lifted it a little, ‘click’, then it was back in the water. Bernard held it for a few seconds as Ivan moved the boat forwards to aerate its gills and then it kicked and swam away strongly. Outstanding, just outstanding. This was a dream come true and of all the fish in the sea this is the one I have most wanted to catch for a number of years. I wondered whether achieving this would “scratch my itch” but boy do I want to go back and get another one. A round of high fives was in order before we remembered Polly. She had managed to bring the fish to the side of the boat and it too was subjected to the video camera before being released.
A bit of bottom fishing was in order to allow us both to recover. Polly hit gold immediately with a grunt / banana fish double shot which she then followed up with another grunt before falling asleep, rod in hand. She had an hour or so sleeping in the sunshine then we persuaded her to move in to the shade where she carried on sleeping.
The bottom fishing was slower today than the previous two trips but I had a few grunts, grouper and my first banana fish of the trip. I even managed a couple of beautiful but spiky squirrel fish. I asked Polly whether she wanted to go home but she stated she was happy snoozing and with an hour to go I carried on chasing the species. I am so glad we stayed because next up was a small red and blue parrot fish. Then I had a take from what I was sure was big trigger as it made several powerful, short runs. A flash of blue in the water seemed to confirm this but as it came nearer the surface we could see it was all blue, a clonking blue parrot fish. I followed this up with another but even more extravagantly coloured but much smaller variety of parrot and my holiday was complete.
As we headed home I treated myself to a cold beer from the boat’s cooler and Polly, now awake, smashed a full fat coke in about 3 seconds. She then proceeded to talk to me at 100 miles an hour for about 45 minutes, none of it making much sense,- this is going to take some explaining to her mother I thought. When we returned to the beach I thanked Ivan and Bernard for a great three days which seems scant gratitude for what had been an outstanding fishing experience. We had loads of fish with 14 different species in all. Ivan and his crew were perfect hosts, angling coaches and camera crew and make all the difference to a great fun day out.
I just know I have to return back and do it all again as I’m addicted to Mexico now. Here’s hoping Polly hasn’t developed any other addictions from her experience.