PART TWO – ARRIVING AT THE LODGE
As the sun dipped below the mangrove jungle to the west of the small fishing village of Punta Allen, our Yellow Dog anglers disembarked from the transfer pangas, which had delivered them from boat ramp south of Tulum. In the past, it was usual for the pangas to constantly cross the bumpy wakes from eco-tourist boats heading back to their all-inclusive resorts in Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and Cancun. On this trip, however, there was no boat traffic at all through the Boca Pailla lagoon system due to the overall lack of tourism on the Yucatan peninsula. While this is crushing to the local economy, the wildlife and fish species are enjoying an extended respite from human interaction. Within our group of anglers, anticipation mounted to fish the waters of Ascension Bay, which had not been visited by anglers in months.
Mike, the lodge manager at Grand Slam Fishing Lodge, greeted our guests as they walked down the dock. Along with the entire Grand Slam staff, Mike wore a mask and kept a safe distance. All the guests were asked to confirm once again that they had recently tested negative for coronavirus. As the guides took care of the luggage, the anglers walked the short path from the boats to the lodge, where Victor the lodge bartender welcomed everyone with ice-cold margaritas. Mike gave the group a fishing orientation and COVID safety briefing, outlining the lodge protocols that would be in place for the week. Each guest would have their own room, all social areas would be disinfected after each use, hand sanitizer would be available in all settings, and the staff would practice social distancing. The guides, chefs, and staff had been in quarantine for weeks, and we were the first group at the lodge since the start of the pandemic. The group would have limited interaction with the staff, the only people the group would see would be Mike, the bartender, and the guides. This was reassuring and set everyone at ease.
Yellow Dog’s saltwater program director, Ian Davis hosted the group and helped the anglers rig their permit, tarpon, and bonefish rods before dinner. A hurricane had just dissipated into a tropical storm to the south of the Yucatan Peninsula, which was creating strong winds from the south. This pushed bait to the shoreline in front of the lodge, which in turn attracted hovering flocks of birds that dove to pick off the small fish and shrimp from the dark sea. Tarpon were rolling in the surf, which fired up the group to hit the water the following day.
In the main lodge, the tables were spaced out in the bar and dining room areas, as well as on the outdoor deck, so guests could choose to dine in or outside. This provided ample space for social distancing during cocktail hour and for all meals. Even the chairs and tables – spread out around the shaded pool deck – enabled the guests to social distance. Between the shaded deck, the pool, and air-conditioned rooms, the guests could easily cool down from the summer heat. After being “benched” from flats fishing for months due to COVID, this stormy weather on our arrival was a disappointment. What did the fish gods have in store for the group?
The next few days would tell, and in the end, fortune would smile upon the group! On day one, however, just being back together, socializing, and escaping the news cycles of home meant that the trip was already a success. A few fish would simply be the icing on the cake, and the story would continue to unfold in the days to come!