Campeche Tarpon Town // Trip Report and Useful Advice
On an early spring morning we stepped out of the air-conditioned airport in Merida, Mexico and were welcomed with a pleasant burst of warm tropical air. It reminded us we weren't in Kansas anymore. We had left the cold and wet Pacific Northwest behind and had arrived in paradise, or more appropriately... Tarpon Town. This was a special trip, it wasn't hosted and we didn't bring customers. Steve Joyce, Shop Manager Bob, Dallas Murrey, Shan Sedwick, Tony Robins, and I all went. Each of us plays a key role here in the travel operations at Red's and together we wanted to all experience Tarpon Town together.
If you want to see a real time photo essay that we put together, check out the "Play-by-Play" story we shared on our Instagram profile. It's a nice quick visual to supplement all the details here!
The City of Campeche is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Campeche, Mexico is a destination that I had heard about for many years. Anglers in my drift boat and personal network talked excitedly about the tarpon fishing and just how much they enjoyed this trip. They were always smiling and most had been several times. I was always intrigued but personally had many other destinations on my bucket-list. Fast forward many years and saltwater fishing has become different for me. With (3) teenagers and yes, "real life" responsibilities, I now appreciate some of the more enriching qualities on saltwater trips. New places, cultural attractions, unique dining, and just an overall fun time are very important whereas it used to be about catching that coveted fish be it migratory tarpon, permit, big roosterfish, etc. You won't find a giant ego fish in Campeche. What you will find is some of the coolest shallow sight casting on earth. We LOVED it. Let's cover some background first, then chat fishing.
Where is Campeche, Mexico?
Campeche is on the western coast of the Yucatan Penninsula and is often referred to as "Tarpon Coast" because of the incredible numbers of baby tarpon.
How Do I Get There?
Flights are easy. We prefer to fly into Merida, MX which is a very nice airport and is super easy to navigate customs. It's a pleasant 2.5 hour drive to Campeche. It is possible to fly directly into Campeche, but you'll need to go through MX city which requires a transfer from the International to Domestic terminals. This adds enough time most people choose to go through Merida.
The Fishing Experience
Raul personally walks us to the boats each day. Always good fun, laughs, and a wonderful outlook on both fishing and life.
To augment add to this article and see more photos, check out the "Play-by-Play" story we shared on our Instagram account.
We had so much fun on this trip in part due to the low pressure nature of fishing baby tarpon. While we all enjoy certain elements of high-stakes fisheries, I have to admit not having the pressure of trying to set up for and pursue a Grand Slam was refreshing. I've been to Ascension Bay (east Yucatan) 10 times, and you can put a lot of pressure on yourself trying to target permit, tarpon, bonefish, snook, and other various species all in one week. This trip was chill in comparison. Singularly focused.
Specifics on Fishing
Shop Manager Bob Scanning for Rollers at Dawn
I love early starts. We were having breakfast at 5 am and out to meet our guides at 5:30 am. Our guides were professional, on time, and really well dialed in. Ready to roll. We knew this was going to be a good trip.
Our first morning offered a glassy bay and the guides met us right on the water at the sea-wall in town and we were loaded up and off in an instant. Coolers were well stocked with ice, beer, water, and a great lunch. Dallas and I fished together on Day 1 and within 20 minutes we were gawking at schools of rolling tarpon! We chased pods for rolling fish in the open lagoons right off the bat and Dallas was looking for his first tarpon. He books and manages most of our travel reservations and he finally got to go on his first big tropical adventure. He really worked on his double-haul and distance casting and was dropping great shots on schools of fast movers. About an hour into our trip he got the right opportunity. It was a perfect sight casting situation to a small school of rollers moving quickly on quartering angle toward the boat with a 1 o'clock angle. Dallas delivered a lazer beam shot about 12' in front of the lead fish and dropped it like a feather on the reflective surface of the water. Using a RIO Smelling Salts fly he made 4-5 tantalizing strips of the fly and BAM! His first tarpon was out of the water like a Mexican Jumping Bean! After about 4 jumps his first tarpon hooked came off. It didn't take long and he was hooked up again and landed his first of many tarpon that week. His prep work on casting paid off and more than made up for his lack of first-hand tarpon fishing experience. He learned a ton this week and will make an excellent host for our upcoming trips. By the time you read this he will probably know more than I do about tarpon fishing! He's hooked.
Dallas's first Tarpon. Many more followed!
Our first day was amazing, but not rare or untypical of Campeche. Every angler hooked 3-4 tarpon each and landed 1-2, the largest being 10 pounds or so. The guides were almost apologetic, yet we were ecstatic. The number of opportunities we had was incredible. We explored deep mangroves and some off shore fishing over shallow grassy flats a couple miles off shore. Our guides were happy to put in an 8 hour fishing day, but truly it was unnecessary. The morning bite is excellent and later in the day the fish would move into the Mangroves which was fun to pursue them in "close quarters combat" but after about 6 hours we were totally satisfied each days and would opt to head in about noon.
The rest of the week just got better and better as the guides always seemed to know what lagoons or bays would have rolling fish. Most of our low-light fishing was chasing rollers and laying out fairly long casts at moving fish. Of course we did hook some tight to the boat but it was helpful being able to make a sharp 50' cast as the fish will be cruising faster than the guides can pole the boat.
Steve enjoyed himself on this one. He and I both got totally shut out in the Keys looking for big Tarpon a month later, so we are savoring memories with these fish!
After Fishing Activities
Most days followed up with air-conditioned down time and sometimes a nap till about 4 pm, then we would go hit the 59th street district for cold beers, happy hour, and culture. The historical town of Campeche is spectacular. I don't want to build it up too much, but the (6) of us that went were in awe of how well this historical city had preserved the architecture and rich culture of the city. It's a UNESCO World Herritage Site and you can learn more here.
The restaurants scene was absolutely awesome. We ate at various restaurants each night and enjoyed authentic Mexican cuisine. The service was absolutely outstanding at every restaurant and if you travel with us, your host will have a plan for restaurant rotations each evening. This adds a lot of culture to the trip.
You'll want to exchange about $300 USD into Pesos, it just makes paying dinner bills fast and easy. The restaurants all readily accept credit cards, but there was a tremendous amount of inconsistency with our banks. Sometimes our cards worked, sometimes they didn't even at the same restaurant. It's a city policy not to accept cash USD.
Edzna Mayan Pyramid Tour
One day we knocked off fishing early, which was just fine as the morning was amazing fishing, and hired a tour to the Edzna Mayan ruins. It was awesome. I'm going off slight recollection but I think it was about $75 USD per person and we got transportation the 45 minutes to the site, and a guided tour which was unbelievably personal and informative. There was hardly a soul there and we were the only Americans.
If you join one of our hosted trips, the host will offer up a day where you can get off the water early or skip a day of fishing to visit this site. Totally worth it.
You can see the video here of my setups that I used and liked. There are lots of options on gear, but unanimously we liked 9 weight rods. Just enough touch for the soft and short casts, but you could lean into an aggressive cast or handle some of the more unruly customers around the boat.
Essential Gear List and Rod Recommendations
One nice thing about this trip is you aren't packing for all the grand slam species. It's an easy tool kit.
- 9 weight rod
- Tropical Floating Line (or Stealth Tip)
- 30# and 40# Fluorocarbon Tippet (no taper required)
- (18) Tarpon Flies
- 40# 12' RIO Tarpon Leaders
Strategies for Campeche Tarpon Fishing
You'll experience a wide range of challenges and situations. Long casts, short casts along with many quick decisions to make. Do I recast? How much should I lead the fish? Single hand strip or two handed strip?
Check out this video for some off-the-cuff tips.
Quick Hitter Tips on Prepping for This Trip
- Work on your double haul with your 9 weight rod. Practice is free and it's extremely helpful to go out on a boat and work on long, light deliveries.
- Stretch and work on your balance leading up to the trip. Quick foot work in the boat gives you confidence and you'll enjoy time on your feet more.
- Drill a good "strip set" into your game. This should become your knee-jerk reflex. Work with a partner on simulating a bite, strip set and kep the rod tip down.
- Watch some our YouTube videos and write down what you learn. Drill it into your head how to handle the rod/line/reel around the boat to avoid breaking rods and chaos.
- Learn some basic Spanish. It enriches your trip and you'll find great enjoyment communicating with your guide.
- Practice an Improved Homer Rhodes Loop Knot, or Perfection Loop to fly. If you can handle your own fly changes, the guide can focus on finding fish!
About Tarpon Town
Raul Castaneda is the proprietor and operator of Tarpon Town, and the historical feedback we've gotten he runs the top op. He grew up in Campeche and is a highly skilled angler and guide, but these days he is spending most of his time running logistics for the operation. From the moment we first spoke on the phone I liked him. Knowledgeable, polite, professional, and a great sense of humor. He can always make you laugh and feel comfortable. Raul knows the water and the city like nobody else and makes things happen for our groups that nobody else can.
His guide crew is small and tight knit. They book a max of (8) anglers and focus on quality experiences. You should expect a language barrier unless you are fairly capable in Spanish, I'm working on it, but it is mucho trabajo learning Spanish in your 40's. My kids have never been to Mexico and pick it up faster than I do. While the guides don't speak much English, you'll connect well as they smile, understand when to laugh, and love to put their guests on fish. Boats are set up very well for fly with quality decks, engines, and they aren't afraid to burn plenty of fuel getting to the best spots. We did run well over an hour one morning getting to a more remote zone and it was so worth it.
Lodging in Tarpon Town
At the time we went on our trip, Raul wasn't quite finished up with his new lodge which is located 1 block away from the famous and historic "59th Street Pedestrian District". This is where we spent every afternoon and evening. We did get a tour of the lodge but it wasn't quite finished. It is located right in the heart of old Campeche and near the fine restaurants and beautiful parts of the town. It's called the Colonial Lodge and it's a polished and authentic local lodging experience. First class.
We stayed at a nice hotel in the area and while it was nice to be near the water, we did have a pretty good walk up to the historical district that we did every day for culture and dining. Looking forward to staying up at Raul's new place.
Listen to our Casual Podcast
After the trip Dallas, Shop Manager Bob, and I cracked a beer in the afternoon one day, turned the mic on, and shared a rundown of our trip. It's not quite the Joe Rogan Experience, but there is some great info and fun banter that you will enjoy if this trip is interesting to you.
Flies for Campeche Tarpon
The RIO Smelling Salt in Orange and the Sage R8 990-4 were unanimous winners in the gear department.
Overall the flies should be small. 2/0 on the extremely large end. Lighter wire hooks penetrate with less effort and just seem to hook up and keep fish pinned more consistently. There are LOTS of other flies, but here are a few that really jumped out at us as "must haves".
- RIO's Smelling Salt 1/0 Orange/Tan
- Millhouse Tarpon Shrimp 1/0
- Salty Mullet Tan/White 1/0
- RIO's Pink/White Clouser Minnow (a heavy fly during Mangrove fishing and higher tides was very handy for getting fish to come out from under the Mangroves)
- Tailer Trash 1/0 Skater (don't go without a surface fly)
Is This Trip for You?
Anglers will enjoy some variety of exploring picturesque Mangrove channels mixed with open water fishing to moving rollers.
This trip is for everyone IMO. It's not going to be over anyone's head, although you might come back motivated to improve your casting which is true of any trip. There are plenty of short-range shots for beginners. Inversely there will be some long range shots for you snipers.
I've been to many countries and more salt trips than I can count. A couple of the days I experienced in Campeche were among the best days I've ever had fly fishing. Period. We laughed, missed fish, hooked fish, and simply enjoyed the act of fly fishing. No IGFA records were going to be broken, nobody was going to be "wowed" by our fish pictures. It was just a fabulous experience both on and off the water. Campeche is at the top of the list for spots to get back to.
Let's Get Ready!
Ok so you are ready to book this trip. Our Campeche Tarpon Town trip details page will fill in most of the blanks regarding price, dates, etc. You can book this trip online, or give us a call at (509) 933-2300. Dallas, Bob, Steve, or Joe can help you voice-to-voice. In addition, I suggest you read this article called Tarpon 101 and a long form video that goes along with it. It will help you make the most out of your trip to Campeche.