Ascension Bay Trip Report // March, 2022
Ascension Bay Trip Report
I have been working here at Reds for 6 years now, booking trips to Ascension Bay for other anglers, and chatting with folks about it for years. It felt like I had already been there since I talked about it so much, but this was my first trip to those fabled waters. In short, all I can is what a special place! We had a group of 9 anglers, only 2 of whom had been to Ascension Bay before. Everyone else was new to the area and most were new to saltwater fishing in general.
Day 0 // Travel Day
We flew into Cancun and most of us arrived between 3 pm and 6 pm. We were prepared for a 1-2 hour drive to Tulum and from there an absolutely horrible bumpy road, and that road did not disappoint. Dramamine is not a bad idea for that drive. Rumors around town were that the gov't was going to start fixing the road, as it hadn't been repaired for three years. We didn't get in until very late and everyone was exhausted after a long day of travel.
Day 1 // Time to Catch Some Fish!
After arriving late that night at the lodge and getting a few hours of sleep before the first day of fishing, it was a relief to wake up in the quaint town of Punta Allen. After a quick breakfast at 7:30 am and rigging rods, we were walking to the boats at 8 am. Most of the guys decided to chase after Bonefish the first day, just to get some fish under their belt. Other options include Barracuda, Tarpon, Snook and of course the ever elusive Permit. One of the guys was Permit only and saw some and had a shot or two but nothing too crazy. Everyone else, myself included, got some bonefish and I broke off a really nice barracuda. Back to the lodge by about 4-4:30 pm for a margarita and a snack of shrimp ceviche. Time to re-rig rods, take a shower and explore town before dinner at 7:30 pm. Everyone turned in early after the rough day of travel. Back at it again in the morning!
Day 2 // Mangroves
On day two I decided to see the scenery and check out some baby tarpon and snook in the mangrove channels that I had heard so much about. It was a fantastic change of pace and I enjoyed the fishing. It reminded me more of bass fishing back home than saltwater fishing. We motored into a mangrove channel then the guide hopped up on the platform and started poling us around a lagoon with a larger mangrove island in the middle. These guides really know the area and he called it well before we arrived at the spot that there would be tarpon around that mangrove island. Sure enough we started to hear some splashes of feeding tarpon pushing around baitfish. It wasn't long before I hooked into something which turned out to be a snook, that was followed by more snook and finally some baby tarpon. We pushed further down a mangrove channel into another lagoon that didn't plan out. Back out to the larger water and a short boat ride later we were headed into another channel, this one didn't open up into a lagoon. He poled the boat up the channel and we would come across some schools of baby tarpon, some of which I totally spooked by landing my fly too close to them. Others I would get to follow but they would turn off as they got closer to the boat. After some more fly changes and more practice I started to get more success. After a couple hours of that it was time to head back to the Casa and enjoy a cold margarita and talk about everyone's day of fishing.
Day 3 // Windy
We had been blessed with beautiful weather the first couple days of fishing. Now it was time for some wind. We headed out across the bay on a little longer boat ride than the previous two days. Guide Antonio pushed us into an area that was somewhat protected from the wind, we saw dozens and dozens of bonefish and shot after shot they just didn't want to seal the deal. We also saw at least 15 sharks pushing around, which between that and the wind made it feel like the fish were just really spooky. We kept pushing around, I continued to throw at shark after shark with some bigger flies and wire bite. Lots of follows but no serious grabs. We finally got to a slightly deeper milky spot and guide Antonio saw flashes, we proceeded to hook and pull out a handful of bonefish out of that spot. The wind continued and we caught some more bones in the afternoon, threw at more sharks and barracuda but didn't succeed in hooking any. Overall a good day, but we had to work for them.
Day 4 // Windy AND Cloudy
We knew that the weather was going to make fishing more challenging and the guides took us into some smaller shallow water. Mangroves mostly and we threw at bonefish tucked in some spotty mangroves. Tough to land those suckers as our instinct was to pull hard and try and keep them out of the mangroves. The guides kept insisting just let them run and they will keep out of the mangroves on their own. That sure was true, but we had a tougher day due to the tough conditions. Some of the other anglers had better days. One nice barracuda was caught and landed and we had that for a pre-dinner snack.
Day 5 // Still Windy but less Cloudy
I headed out with guide Rafael and he was really into some of his baby Tarpon and Snook spots. So if the guide is excited about it I figured best to give it a go! We went straight to his first Tarpon spot, saw a nice school of 8-10 larger Tarpon. Threw a couple casts, had a good follow and an eat. He says, "didn't you see it eat!". I did see it eat, but never felt it. A good learning experience that you have to rely on both sight and feel to have success. If I would have not been a dummy and set the hook instead of pulling the fly out of its mouth I would have had on a really nice baby Tarpon. Lots of shots on baby Tarpon, but not a lot of success. I got into some really nice Snook though and that made my day, or maybe the trip! A few of the other anglers had really good days on Bonefish, even though the conditions were tough by this point in the trip everyone was well practiced and able to see the fish much better and making great casts.
Day 6 // Last Day - Dedicated to Permit
It was a great trip so far and I thought that I might as well dedicate a day to the elusive Permit, just to say that I did. We went out across the bay to an area that guide Alphonso said was good for Permit. It was 6-8 feet deep and he instructed me to look for the "nervous water". Not too long into searching for the nervous water he spotted some and started to get really excited. We got closer and he told me where to cast. Just as I was false casting I saw a fish, dropped my cast perfectly, made three long strips and he followed. My heart started racing and as soon as it started the fish turned off and was gone. Alphonso was noticeably disappointed, but I was stoked to even have a chance! He said next time loooonger strips. Lesson learned. He saw some other nervous water that day, but no more shots on Permit. A fun experience and glad that I did it!
Day 7 // Bittersweet Travel Home
Same program as the rest of the week. Breakfast at 7:30 am and then loaded up in the boats at 8 am. Headed to meet the shuttle van at the bridge and that cuts out 2/3rds of the rough road. From there the shuttle takes us to the airport. We did not fish on the last day because we had to get to the airport for a Covid test. The test is offered right in the terminal. I waited in line for 20 minutes, got the nose swab and had my results emailed 20 minutes later. Back to reality, what a great trip with a great group of guys!
A note from one of the guests on the trip, Chris, with a really nice write up for first time Ascension Bay Anglers:
Top 10 Tips for Enjoying Ascension Bay (from an A Bay Rookie)
I'm an aspiring, intermediate angler who started fly fishing 4 years ago. I've been lucky enough to catch salmon, trout and steelhead in Washington, Oregon, and Montana, and I've been on about 50 trips down the Yakima, Klickitat, and Deschutes rivers. I love floating with a guide and I'm slowly getting better at wading solo, but I have a long way to go before anyone would consider me a skilled angler. Before my recent trip to Ascension Bay (hosted by Red's Fly Shop), I hadn't done any real saltwater flats fishing so I thought I'd write up my top 10 tips for people like me. I should start by saying I loved the trip and I caught lots of bonefish and some very nice barracuda, tarpon and snook. I also had an amazing 45 minute chaotic, messy, and exhilarating showdown with three permit that I'll never forget. I learned a tremendous amount and I hope the following tips might help you go on the trip with the right mindset and help you make some smart tactical choices as well.
Devour Red's Guidance
I read every blog post and watched all the videos Red's has published on Ascension Bay and they are very helpful. A couple of weeks before the trip, Red's will send you web links, but you should ask for them when you make your reservation, or just browse their web site and YouTube channel to find them. All my tips below build on their superb guidance, so you really need to start there. The list below is a recent customer's perspective to round out what they tell you.
Pack For Safety
I packed carefully for my trip, following Red's advice closely, and it paid off. I want to add a couple of tips with a stronger focus on safety. The basics really do matter. Sunscreen, SPF lip balm, sun gloves, long sleeve shirts and pants, sunglasses, baseball caps, buffs or shirts with hoodies are critical to not getting burned. I strongly encourage you to bring backups of all these items and leave one of them in your room in case you lose one. I also encourage you to bring Dramamine, Imodium AD, Tylenol, aloe vera, Polysporin, as well as anything you use to treat whatever body pains you sometimes suffer from. I brought tiger balm and heat wraps I use when my back gets wonky, and they are life savers for me. Plan for any recurring body issues to come up on the trip because you’re testing your body each day with 10 hours of sun exposure and real physical exertion. Wading in soft sand chasing permit in the hot sun takes it out of you quickly and chances are good your body will complain at some point during the trip. You don't want this to get in the way of 6 great days of fishing. I didn't use everything I brought, but I made very good use of some items and I was glad I had them. My last safety tip is to strongly consider a satellite messaging device. I regretted not bringing one. A fellow angler showed me the Garmin Inreach Explorer which allows you to send messages to any phone number or email address (your GPS location is automatically included) and get messages back. There is no cell service at A Bay and the wi-fi at Casa Viejo Chac is as fleeting as a permit, and slower than slow. The Garmin device would have made it easy to send my family a short message each night telling them I was fine. More importantly, if something were to happen on the water, I could message for help. On day two of my trip, I was out with a single guide. We were two hours from Punta Allen, and we’d been wading on foot through lagoons for 90 minutes, so the boat was well out of sight. My guide asked me to stay put for a few minutes while he checked a nearby mangrove. His "few minutes" turned into twenty which was enough time for me to start wondering what I would do if something terrible had happened to him. Did I know where the boat was? Did I know how to drive us back to Punta Allen? Did I know how to call for help? No to all three questions. With a satellite device I would have been able to let folks know I needed help with my exact location. The guide did come back, and it turns out the guides have radios in each boat so they can radio for help, but I realized how dependent I was on this single guide for my safety and that feels like a mistake I don't want to make again.
Prepare To Eat a Lot of Humble Pie
I followed all of Red's advice. Weeks before the trip I began making trips to my local park to practice casting. My double hauls got much better. I landed my line where I wanted on front casts and back casts. Not perfect, but pretty good. I practiced my knot tying at home. Non-slip loops, perfection loops, blood knots, triple surgeons, double figure 8 Homer rode hybrids. I also dutifully worked my way through the Red's packing list to pick up the gear I needed. A waterproof sling pack, saltwater pliers, wire tippet, saltwater flies, and sealed case reels to name just a few. How much did this prep work pay off? Quite a bit. My casting and fly tying both improved ahead of the big trip, and I had all the gear I needed. But this work just got me into the game. It didn't make me prime-time player. Casting in a local park is nothing like casting on a boat that's swaying back and forth with the wind swirling and a guide yelling in a mix of Spanish and English, "cast at 10 o-clock, 40 feet now!" Tying a non-slip loop knot at home is a heck of a lot different than tying one on wire tippet when your guide sees a big barracuda 60 feet away. This trip is a humbling experience. It will expose gaps in your knowledge and even larger gaps in your skills. Expect it. Check your ego at the door and realize this place will own you whenever it wants to. You must have an enormous appetite to all the humble pie that’s coming your way, but if you do, you will get visibly better during the trip. My casting still needs tons of work. But I now have 6 days of handling 8 and 10 weight rods in tough winds in a variety of settings and circumstances. And despite seeing all my shortcomings on display, I still caught a lot of fish, and had some awesome looks at others. So, my advice is to do the homework ahead of time but know that everyone on your trip is going to be humbled. Begin the trip looking forward to the frustrations and the silly mistakes coming your way. And know that each night at dinner everyone will share their most embarrassing story of the day and laugh together.
Gird Your Loins for Some Intense Transportation
If I could improve one thing about the Ascension Bay experience, the transportation realities would be it. The shuttle ride from Cancun airport to Ascension Bay is 5+ hours. The last 3 hours are without a doubt the craziest ride I've ever taken on a dirt road with massive potholes that had us bouncing across the road like a pinball. I took Dramamine at the start of the drive, and I passed on the beers in the shuttle van, and I’m glad I did. The locals in Punta Allen say the road is due to be repaired in April but if their repair accuracy is anything like Washington state, I wouldn't count on it. Be prepared for a real adventure after your flight. The good news is that once you get to Punta Allen, your done with the car shuttle for the week (and the car ride to the airport at the end of the week is shorter because you leave by boat cutting out half of the bumpy road). That brings me to the daily boat "commute" to your fishing spot. Each morning you'll leave Casa Viejo Chac at about 8 and you'll return at around 4. There are a million different spots the guides like (the variety is just fantastic) so your commute will vary from 60 to 90 minutes each way which does eat into your fishing time. On windy days (which are most days) this will be a rollicking way to start and end your day. I never felt seasick, but you will get knocked around pretty good on your way to calmer flats, mangroves and lagoons. You might consider Dramamine, but I found that after the first 15 minutes of bouncing, I got used to it. One of the anglers bemoaned not bringing something to protect his "gentleman parts" which gives you a sense for the ride. After getting adjusted, I did enjoy the commute to either gear up for, or wind day from the day but if this commute was half the duration, no one would complain. I suggest storing your baseball cap in your boat bag due to the wind and wearing your rain jacket as you're going to get very wet. Some anglers listened to music or audio books, but I just soaked up the sights and sounds of the commute as a part of each day.
Leave It in The Room
The first day I brought every possible item I might need including medicine, first aid kit, socks, sandals, booties, and backups for everything. That’s just too much stuff to manage in the boat. For the rest of the trip, I thought of my room as my supply chest, and I only brought the minimum on the water. By day 3, I had found my groove and was appropriately minimalistic. It's such a simple tip but it makes a big difference. I’ll also say, that for me, the sling bag was overkill and awkward. I think a small waterproof waist bag would work better. Even if you wade for 4 hours straight, you just don’t need that much gear on you because you have a boat nearby.
Learn From the Pros
The local fishing guides, your Red's host, and your fellow anglers have amazing knowledge to share. The anglers on my trip were more experienced and advanced than me so I learned a ton from them. A couple of the anglers in my group come to A Bay ever year and have favorite spots. One angler came to focus only on permit the entire week and could talk about great permit locations across the world. Others brought stories from Idaho, Utah, Minnesota, California, and Kentucky. I asked everyone questions until I was blue in the face, and they seemed to enjoy sharing their knowledge and learning from one another. One angler introduced me to little metal clips he uses to connect wire tippet to fluorocarbon nonslip loops without tying a knot. He didn't bring a dedicated barracuda rod, but he could be ready to cast at a "cuda" in about 15 seconds. A guide shared his tips for setting the hook differently for the variety of fish in A Bay, including strip setting three times quickly on tarpon to get through their hard mouths. An angler introduced me to the Gaia GPS app for your smartphone which maps your trip each day so you can see where your guide is taking you. Another shared how he likes to strip line off the reel into the boat, and then reverse the pile by re-stripping that line into a small pile so that when you cast, the line that leaves the boat first is on top of the pile instead of on the bottom. I never thought of that, but I noticed some of the guides did it too. An angler shared that they bring an empty prescription bottle to store their used flies during the day, so they aren't putting wet, salty flies back in the fly box with their clean flies. Fill the bottle with fresh water, shake, empty and repeat a few times and you have much cleaner flies ready to dry and store. I loved these tips! My advice is to push yourself to ask the guides and your fellow anglers questions you might think are basic. You'll learn more, you'll get to know everyone better and help build a supportive group dynamic that was an unexpected benefit of the trip.
Engage With the Guides on Their Terms
You’ll spend more time with the excellence local guides than anyone else on this trip because you’re with them all day, every day. Put in the time to connect and communicate as well as you can. Their English is much better than my Spanish, but it’s still limited. Before you go learn 40 Spanish words that apply to fishing: cloud, wind, sun, flats, mangrove, numbers on the clock to direct casting, left, right, farther, shorter, strip, wait, permit, bonefish, thank you, fantastic, terrible, I can’t see the fish, etc. A little bit goes a long way. If you speak Spanish, you have a huge leg up. Chances are good they won’t like your flies, but they will add their favorite flies to the mix for the day. If you really want to use one of your flies, be clear that you want to try yours and then switch if it doesn’t work. Set your rods up the way you want the night before and walk your guide through it or they will just reset your rods the way they think best. If you want to reserve your 10 weight for permit then set it and be clear that rod is off limits until you come across that dream fish. I loved seeing how they change my setups from day to day but towards the end of the week I got more opinionated about what I wanted, and they were happy to oblige when I was clear. At the start of the day when they ask what you want, have a clear answer (bonefish, no tarpon, no snook) or defer to them completely to pick based on weather. Ask if there is someplace close that will fish great today to minimize losing fishing time to long commutes. When you get to the first fishing spot of the day, calibrate what 40 feet at 9 o’clock looks like to both of you (just make a cast and check on distance and location). When you’re frustrated at something, ask for help. At one point I said, “My cast is awful in this wind… any tips?” which led my guide to climb down from the platform and show me three things to change (including low side casting) that were game changers. Why didn’t he show me 30 minutes earlier? Because I didn’t ask. I found if I pushed for help, they gave it and it made both of us happier. Every time I asked them to cast for a few minutes, and explain what they were doing, I saw and learned new things. And I’m not kidding when I say that every time, they hooked up with a fish. Do the work to overcome the language barrier to unlock what they have to offer because it’s well worth it.
Mother Nature Doesn't Care About You
Fishing for trout on cloudy days in Washington state is great and can be some of my most productive days on the water. But sight fishing for bonefish, permit, tarpon, snook, barracuda and GTs on cloudy days is just brutal. The whole point of sight fishing is to see the fish, cast to it, and see if you can get it to take. When your guide can't see the fish (which means you can't see it) it's just a tough day on the ocean. Mentally prepare for some days to be cloudy. You will catch zero or one fish. Period. The anglers on my trip called these days "eco tour days" because we still boated or waded through gorgeous landscapes with lots of flora and fauna that we don't see at home. That's the attitude you need to have. It's hard to accept bad days when you've spent thousands of dollars for six precious days of fishing in the Yucatan. My advice is to just push through these grumpy and entitled feelings and enjoy whatever Mother Nature brings you each day.
Relish The Big and The Small
The privilege we have to be able to experience this trip is hard to overstate and there is so much to appreciate. Make sure you take full advantage of everything that’s on offer and enjoy the big and little stuff. Here are some the things I was grateful for. Punta Allen is not a resort town. It is bare bones, but this is a fishing village where you can connect with the people who live here just by walking around and talking to them. Casa Viejo Chac is not a hotel, it’s someone’s home and they make you feel like a member of the family providing a different, delicious home cooked meal 3 times a day for 7 days straight. They do laundry for free any day you need it. They keep the place incredibly clean and fold your fresh towels in the shape of a different animal each day. The rooms have good air conditioning. When it comes to fishing, you can spend the whole day fishing from the boat or wading, or both. You can fish the open salt flats or disappear into mangroves and lagoons. Name the fish you want to focus on, and the guide will tailor the day to find and land that fish. The variety of fishing spots and fish here is really insane and you have a decent shot every day of achieving the coveted grand slam and even super slam (bonefish, permit tarpon and snook). I haven’t gone to Christmas Island or Belize or Cuba or the Bahamas or any of the other tropical destinations for some of the same fish you find in A Bay. Maybe they are all better in one way or another. But this place is special so make sure you soak it up and don’t take it for granted.
Here Are A Few Of My Favorite Things
The gear I brought performed well for the most part, but a few items really impressed me. For wading I brought the Orvis Christmas Island bootie (or comparable Simms Zip It Bootie) and I paired them with the Orvis neoprene wading Sock (or comparable Simms neoprene wading sock) to protect against the inevitable sand and rock invasion. This combination worked incredibly well for me. My feet were protected without getting hot and the booties were light and comfortable for many hours at a time. They're easy to get on and off even when wet. I wore Free Fly's bamboo lightweight hoodies (or comparable Simms Solarflex Hoody), and even though they're pricey, I found them soft, light and quick to dry. I really appreciated how the hood protected my head, ears, and neck. It doesn't cover my nose and lips like a buff does, but I liked how it's integrated into the shirt and felt less cumbersome. I also used Simms sun gloves which were very light and protected the back of my hands and fingers from burning. They also protected my fingers when bonefish grabbed the fly and exploded away from the boat taking loads of line with them. I could strip them back towards the boat and not worry about line burn when they ran again (and again).. Finally, I really liked the GAIA GPS app for recording each day's trip. You can save each recording individually and take photos from within the app to capture exactly where those permit showed up which makes it easy to share the location and pics with other anglers.