The Taste of Salt is oh so sweet – Ascension Bay 2016Published: 13th July 2016 | Author: Phil Ratcliffe
It’s been on my bucket list for many a year to experience the “Ghost” of the flats, and with nearly eighteen months in the planning the trip became reality in mid-June of this year. I had teamed up with Fly Odyssey who made the booking and looked after all the necessary arrangements to Ascension Bay. It made life so simple with a group of us and nothing to worry about apart from remembering the fishing gear and passports. I can’t speak highly enough about them and the professional service we received was second to none.
After many a restless night in anticipation of the trip, I finally boarded the plane with the nine hour journey direct into Cancun. Nothing could have prepared me for what lay ahead, as others jumped into taxis and busses at the airport with only a short trip to their all-inclusive package holiday destinations several hours travel still beckoned. Our friendly mini bus driver welcomed us aboard and onward to Tulum which took a couple of hours. It was also a chance to grab a bite to eat and a few liquid refreshments at one of the many al-fresco restaurants along the main Tulum road.
The journey from Tulum almost 50 kilometers south was one of pure adventure. The dirt track, yes track was strewed with potholes and the recent rain had filled most of these making the journey slow but one that built up the anticipation even further. We were in raw Mexico, and finally the tiny Mayan fishing village was a welcome sight. Casa Viejo Chac was the residence for the week, set in Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve in the South-eastern Mexican state of Quintana Roo. A fascinating journey which is dotted along the route with the ruined temples from the Ancient Mayans.
On arrival to Ascension Bay, I was greeted by Manuel a legend in his own right, both in the local area and amongst the saltwater aficionado that he welcomes on a regular basis. He has been guiding the flats of Ascension Bay for many a year, now semi-retired but never far from the action. His knowledge and tales are invaluable, a few cold beers and I settled into a comfortable room for the evening. I certainly didn’t get much sleep that first night, it wasn’t the jet lag to blame but pure Adrenalin and anticipation of what lay ahead.
I was up at the crack of dawn and buzzing to get started, my roommate quickly reminded me it was only 4.30am and breakfast was a good two hours away. That two hours really dragged and then I heard the coffee and tea being put out for the guests and that was my queue. Proper coffee kick started the day coupled with a good breakfast. I had brought with me a 9ft #8 weight rod for the bonefish and 9ft #10 weight rod for the Permit, Tarpon and Barracuda that patrol the waters. Both rods lined up with the Rio Bonefish QuickShooter and Tarpon QuickShooter respectively. A variety of tapered leaders and several boxes of Fulling Mill saltwater patterns made up my arsenal for the flats.
After the introductions with guides and my partner for the day sorted I was on my way, the slow walk from the Chac to the Pangas. It was without doubt a morning made in heaven as the journey meandered through Ascension Bay and the maze of mangroves and lagoons then finally onto the flats. What seemed an endless expanse of flats coupled with a diverse array of bird and wildlife helped heighten the anticipation. I could only draw an imaginary comparison as to what I felt that morning to a football player walking out at packed Wembley stadium in front of their adorning supporters.
The scene was set and what a backdrop it was, I was fully prepared and ready to go, it was now up to me. I opened the fly boxes so my guide could take a look and dare I say he was like a kid in a candy shop. He spent very little time in selecting his fly of choice, a Fulling Mill Skinny Shrimp Tan (06). Throughout the week lightweight patterns with rubber legs seemed to be the go to choice for Bonefish for all of the guides I spent time with.
I moved up to the bow of the Panga and Christian was poling us through the flats, Choucho the second pair of eyes. These guys have eyes like hawks not only on the flats but in the deeper water and can see permit or the tell-tale signs of bonefish from a great distance. I was convinced during the week that Costa had developed a pair of glasses for these guys that enabled them to lock onto the fish. But as I know all too well its time on the water and being one with your environment and quarry that is the key.
The first few shoals of bonefish were extremely spooky but taking our time through the water the eagle eyes came across a small shoal of about a dozen or so fish. They were tucked tight into the margins, Christian poled us slowly into position and the instructions came almost immediately “Bonefish 3 oclock 45ft”, it was into a strong headwind as to be expected so every ounce of my casting experience came to the fore. I didn’t want to let this opportunity pass me by as well. I landed the fly a good five feet to the left of them, bang on as they were slowly moving right to left and I knew I’d hit the money with the acknowledgement of the guides . Choucho puts his hand out and stops me from the retrieve and whispers “wait wait”, then as the fly settled a puff of sand was the trigger. “Strip strip strip” the bones were locked on. In the back of my mind I had a voice “remember to strip strike, remember to strip strike, remember to strip strike” almost like a slow beating drum time and time again.
Then bang the Skinny Shrimp was engulfed with gusto and hell yes did I remember to strip strike! Talk about screaming reels, no You Tube video or magazine article can prepare you for what is about to happen. This fish took off at a rate of knots and in a blink of an eye had me down to the backing, when I gained some semblance of order I had it under control and eventually enjoyed the fight. It’s not just one run these fish take but several and finally after an unbelievable scrap my first bonefish was landed, knees and hands still shaking a quick mug shot and back.
One I will never ever forget, my childhood dream of landing a bonefish on the fly was now reality and oh so sweet, and what a place Ascension Bay is!
The rest of the week held more surprises with many a shot at large Permit, Barracuda, Tarpon and the tricky Snook which don’t give themselves up easily. Ascension bay is not only the Permit capital of the world but also the “Grand Slam” capital. It certainly lives up to its name and once you’ve got the bonefish fetish out of the way it’s onto something different. Hunting the permit takes time and covering many miles of water, patience and composure is the key.
The guides being very laid back one minute and meandering across the flats an imaginary switch is triggered with them and cries of “Palometa! Palometa” and your heart skips a beat. You have to step up to the plate and the pressures on. I recall one of several permit I had a shot at which was swimming between two large rays. Unknown to me as I stood fully loaded at the bow with an olive Flexo sand crab (06) in hand ready for action, this is prime time to catch a fish of a life time. They are feeding with rays picking up any morsel that the large fins of the rays churn up along the way.
I spot the rays but un-sighted on the permit and make the cast some fifty or so feet ahead, I hit the target but not the right target it was just behind the permit ! I daren’t put into print the words I uttered as I knew my chance had gone. The disappointment I felt after the hard work the guides put in to find the fish was for all to see. I was gutted. A few casts later and it was back on the bones, the loss of the day was soon forgotten but one to analyse at the bar later that evening.
Undeterred I managed a smaller permit later in the week which made up for my loss earlier, I also had shot at the few tarpon that were around but they certainly didn’t read my “Grand Slam” script.
Numerous bonefish, jack, permit, a few small tarpon and the odd barracuda was the order of the week for the group. The experience of fishing in Ascension Bay and the learning curve of such a trip brings is invaluable and one that will be built on for next year’s excursion. The week long salt water dream I lived it for sure, with great banter and company coupled with awesome fishing it doesn’t get much better.
The days all rolled into one and I soon forgot the pressures of work back home and the place lived up to my expectations tenfold. Being based in an environment that is so diverse, from one day to the next you never know what’s round the corner. Nurse sharks, flamingos, eagles, pelicans, vultures were for all to see on the travels. Wading waist deep in what can only be described as very warm bath water, latching into rod bending, screaming reel bonefish is indescribable. A pod of dolphins greeting you as you take in lunch in the middle of the deeper ocean, a truly magical place.
Ascension bay is very much an unspoilt world and one that I hope will remain so, a place that is rarely seen by the hordes of tourists that descend and stay in the lively resort of Cancun. That just suits me fine. It’s a place that your fly fishing dreams really do come true.
If you’re interested in joining us in Ascension Bay 2017 then visit my web site for more information.