PART THREE – THE PLAN B FISHERY OF ASCENSION BAY
Just prior to the trip, a few of the anglers called their host, Ian Davis, and were concerned about the weather report for the Tulum area (80% chance of rain each day). Ian reassured the anglers that this was actually normal for this time of year. Ian conveyed that it does not mean it will rain 80% of the day, but rather there is an 80% chance of rain at some point on that specific day. It might only rain for five to ten minutes several times, but rarely will it rain constantly throughout the day in the tropics.
Then two major weather systems popped up on the weather maps – a substantial tropical storm in the gulf to the north of the Yucatan, and a young, level one hurricane moving up from the south. Another round of phone calls ensued and it was decided that this trip was more than just a fishing trip, but a chance to “get the team back together” and support one of our favorite fishing communities – Punta Allen! Both systems were weak and the trip was still a few days out. Hopes were high!
The rhythm of tropical rain was audible throughout the first night at Grand Slam Fishing Lodge. The sunrise on the first morning of fishing was shrouded by a dome of pewter clouds. Sheets of rain streaks surrounded the flats, with winds that would mask permit pushing water or rolling tarpon. It did not look good, especially as our pangas entered Ascension Bay from the lodge dock. The water was all off-color as if the fish gods had spilled their milk in our waters. We had three boats out that day between our group. Two-headed north for the protected waters of the Boca Pila lagoon and one panga made the crossing southwest into the bay, which was a wet, rough ride until the panga entered calmer waters on the lee side of Culebra Cay.
To the credit of the guides, all the anglers had shots at permit in the challenging conditions during the first few days. Getting the permit to eat flies when reading nervous water proved futile. The pushes from schooling permit would appear, but then fade before a shot was made, or pop up too late to get a cast-off. With no sun and milky water, it was time for Plan B.
The guides headed into the backcountry to hunt tarpon and snook to the anglers’ delight. They were ready to bend a rod. These inland lagoons are an ideal alternate fishery any time of year, since they are protected from the winds, and it is not imperative to have the sun to see black-backed fish. The tea-colored water remains mostly clear no matter the wind direction, so sight fishing in the mouth of Ascension Bay is consistent. The guides also put their anglers on plenty of bonefish where the lagoons met the larger bodies of water. Again, this is a group of satisfied anglers, but they all wanted to see the electric colors that the bay produces when the sun lights up the flats.
On the afternoon of the third day, the weather’s mood changed, with the extinguishing dark skies and heavy winds giving way to blue skies and cumulus clouds. Now it was time to actually experience how a well-rested Ascension Bay would fish. This flats system had not been resting like this in twenty years. Would COVID actually produce something beneficial after months of negativity?