MIKE LAWSON REPORTS ON PLAYA BLANCA
From Mike Lawson:
Living in St. Anthony, Idaho, at just under 5,000 feet, winter can get a little long. Some choose to get completely out for the duration and join other snowbirds that head south to Southern Utah, Arizona or California. Others like to pack themselves into an inverted high-rise apartment on the sea to go on a cruise. That isn’t my idea of fun. I really don’t mind winter so much, especially if I can break it up with a fishing trip to a warm place.
This December I spent a few hours on the Yellow Dog website looking at possibilities. I’ve always enjoyed the Ascension Bay region in the Southern part of the Yucatan where I’ve stayed at a number of lodges over the years, mostly in and around the small town of Punta Allen. The only real drawback is getting there can be a little rough if you have to drive all of the way down.
It just happens our son Shaun Lawson is the program manager and director for Mexico so I gave him a call. He reported there were a few openings the first week of February at Playa Blanca Lodge. At first I balked at the cost which is higher than most of the surrounding lodges in the region. After considering the rate includes a charter flight from Cancun directly to the lodge, we told Shaun to sign us up.
Over the years I’ve learned to consider the entire cost of a trip including travel, gratuities, insurance, etc. when planning a trip. It isn’t easy to go anywhere from St. Anthony but Salt Lake City is less than 4 hours away and offers plenty of options. We found a direct flight from Salt Lake to Cancun for about $400, not bad in today’s market. We drove to Salt Lake where we spent the night before our flight to Cancun. Most of the hotels near the airport allow you to leave your car which saves on parking. Our trip required an overnight stay in Cancun and Shaun suggested the Marriott Courtyard which was a great choice. They picked us up and delivered us to the hotel. The next morning we were transported to the charter plane to Playa Blanca.
The weather was perfect and we enjoyed the flight south over the Maya Riviera. I couldn’t help but think of the many times we’ve bounced over the road south from Tulum as I looked at the jungle and the beach below.
We arrived at Casa Blanca, the sister lodge of Playa Blanca where the staff greeted us with ice water or cold lemonade. After we got our stuff organized we were driven south about 10 miles to our ultimate destination. We really enjoyed the drive through the jungle of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
The lodge manager, Jeff Pavlovich, showed us to our large cabana equipped with a comfortable king bed, walk-in shower, and plenty of room to really spread out. After stowing our gear we met at the beachfront restaurant and bar with the other lodge guests where we were served a superb lunch. We couldn’t bear the thought of wasting the fine weather so Jeff offered to drive us south a quarter mile or so to a magnificent flat. It was great for us, especially my wife Sheralee, to shake out the kinks with our casting without a guide looking over our shoulders. We found plenty of bonefish with several in the 4 or 5 pound range. Sheralee really put the hurt on them which lifted her confidence for the week ahead.
After a comfortable night’s rest we assembled at the dining area at 6 AM where we were served breakfast. A wide variety of fruit was available prior to specific orders of scrambled eggs, French toast, huevos rancheros and a variety of other options. Lunches were custom-built from a buffet with lots of wonderful options. After breakfast we met our guide David who offered to take us in search of bonefish. While there are lots of other saltwater species including permit, tarpon, snook and barracuda, we opted to focus primarily on bonefish the first day to get into the saltwater mindset. We found plenty of them, more than enough to get our bonefish fix.
The following days were more of the same. The fishing options are limitless. Some days we fished south of our lodge in the great bay of Espiritu Santo. Other days we went on the backside into the Santa Rosa Lagoon. The weather, the prevailing wind, and the fish species we targeted determined our destination. The last day was heavily overcast and spitting rain so we stayed closer to the lodge where David found large numbers of tailing bonefish and a few snook.
All in all the fishing could only be described as awesome; some of the best flats fishing we’ve ever experienced. Sheralee caught more bonefish the first day than she normally catches in an entire week. I’m not great at guessing the weight of bonefish but if they were trout they would average 3lbs. Most of them screamed into our backing. We caught several in the 4 – 5lb. range, great for a 7-weight rod. We each had our knuckles rapped from hard running bonefish.
While we didn’t focus too much on other species, we hooked a few small tarpon and I got completely manhandled by a huge snook. One day the wind was totally calm so we targeted permit. The surface was like glass and the permit were everywhere, floating with their fins out of the water. They were extremely difficult to approach with the skiff. I’ve always been vexed with these crazy fish and with the conditions at hand I was vexed to the 10th power. After lots of follows and close calls along with a couple of issues with hyperventilating, I finally hooked up and landed a nice one. Sheralee also had a couple of good shots but her best permit experience came the previous day when a monster in the 30lb. class went for her bonefish fly. I can only imagine the result of hooking that fish on a 7-weight rod.
Like most great trips our week went fast. Along with great fishing the lodging, food, service, quality of the guides, management, atmosphere and more made this trip one of the best we can remember. We also enjoyed the wildlife and birdlife. Each fishing day was like an eco-tour. We saw a crocodile, white-tailed deer, kudamundi, chachalaca (pheasant-like bird) as well as a wide variety of songbirds and shorebirds. To top things there are Mayan ruins hidden away only a short walk from the lodge.
Looking back I’m sure glad we listened to Shaun’s advice. Playa Blanca costs a bit more than some of the other lodges in the area but you definitely get what you pay for.
Playa Blanca looking pretty tempting?
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