In a five-part series, Yellow Dog’s Ian Davis gives us a full trip report and talks about being one of the first groups of anglers to fish Ascension Bay in months! The area is open to traveling anglers, and the fishing has been fantastic. Having been closed for the past five months, the Ascension Bay fishery has seen less pressure than it has in decades! It is possible to book a near-future trip to the Yucatan, and the country is open to visitors.
PART ONE – FLYING TO MEXICO AND THE ARRIVAL PROCESS
After months of stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders and more canceled fishing excursions than we can count, Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures put together a saltwater trip in late July to Ascension Bay in the Yucatan. We had some dedicated anglers that were eager to get back on the water. To reach our destination in the Yucatan, the group would be flying from different airports throughout the USA (Charleston, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Bozeman) and Yellow Dog provided great options with minimal connections and easy transfers to Cancun. While most of the group wanted to do a full week of fishing, some of the group could only do a few days, so being able to arrive and depart any day was also important. The sense of security of being able to fly home at any time was important to the group as well.
It was decided that traveling to Cancun, Mexico was the easiest destination for flexible travel logistics. Fishing Ascension Bay would check all the boxes for easy transfers, a wide variety of accommodations, and of course world-class flats fishing with top-notch professional guides. The summer fishing in this area can be epic for glassy mornings with tailing permit, large migratory tarpon, snook in the mangroves, and bones aplenty. While there is lots of conflicting information about COVID in Mexico, the village of Punta Allen has been on lock-down for over four months, and the area has been COVID-free for months and officially open for business as of July 15. With Ascension Bay having been “closed” for the past five months, we knew that the fishery had not been rested and untouched like this in more than 20 years.
All of the anglers found that the airlines provided a safe environment and protocols for air travel for their flights to Cancun. Mask wearing and social distancing were practiced from the groups’ hometown airports all the way to the lodge in Punta Allen. With all of these routes, the planes were not filled to capacity. In fact, Delta had all the middle seats vacant, with open gaps of rows between first-class, comfort plus, and the main cabin. Sanitizing wipes were handed out as one entered the plane so you could wipe down your seat area, and no meals or drink carts were included in the flights. All snacks and water bottles were distributed in a single-use Ziplock bag, which also had more wipes and disinfectant gel. The pilots, flight attendants, and all passengers respected the mandatory mask protocol and social distancing rules when entering and exiting the plane. Upon arrival at the lodge, it was evident that everyone felt safe during their first air travel experience since the start of the pandemic.
Upon arrival at the Cancun International Airport, the customs and immigration processes were expedited safely and quickly. All travelers filled out a COVID questionnaire asking basic health questions, flight and seat information, the length of your trip, as well as where you would be staying so the government could track all tourists throughout their stay. Thermal imaging camera sensors monitored the body temperatures of all arriving passengers as they exited the plane and moved towards the customs hall. After claiming luggage and exiting the airport, the ground transfer company representative welcomed the group with a sign that listed all individual names from the group, as well as the lodge’s name. The transfer agent was masked and offered each guest hand sanitizer upon entering the van. Signage with-in the van stated that it has been disinfected between groups, that masks would be mandatory during the transfer, and that half the seats would be marked with an “X” to ensure passengers spaced out appropriately. The only stops permitted on the van ride were for bathroom breaks. Again, this group of Yellow Dog anglers felt very safe and secure during the entire travel and transfer process to the lodge.
One added bonus occurred as the van entered the Sian Kaan Biosphere, just south of Tulum. The group was pleasantly surprised at how well the dirt road has been improved – something that will be appreciated by anyone who has made this trip before! Historically, this road is riddled with massive potholes that have been known to swallow cars. The Mexican government has taken advantage of the down-time over the past several months to rebuild the road between Tulum and Punta Allen by raising the roadbed two feet. Guests may now continue in the van to their lodge of choice in Punta Allen or have a boat transfer run you from Tulum down to the Punta Allen (which is how our group made the trip). The guests were greeted upon exiting the van by the lodge guides – all of whom wore masks and practiced social distancing while carrying the luggage from the van to the dock, where the pangas were waiting to move the group to the lodge. As the pangas weaved south through the calming waters of the Boca Paila Lagoon, the sun was setting and the group finally sat back and soaked in the natural world: something that all of us had missed dearly over the past several months.