Holbox is on the very tip of the Yucatan, where the Gulf of Mexico mixes with the Caribbean. The area’s nutrient rich waters are most famous for the world’s largest known gathering of Whale Sharks. Eco tourists flock to glimpse them in the spring.
Holbox is mellow sand streets trafficked by golf carts and bicycles, happy locals, beachfront taco stands and sun seeking tourists. For fishermen in the know, it is a world-class tarpon fishery. We sought out Alejandro Vega Cruz, AKA Sand Flea, (holboxtarponclub.com) a Holbox native and fishing guide of many years, in his house behind the school where he teaches three days a week. He arranged for us to go out the next day. If there was no wind, (a rare thing) we could try for the big resident tarpon. Otherwise we could try for juveniles in the mangroves. No migratory schools in the area yet.
There was no wind. We went some five miles off shore and began cruising around in the aquamarine depths. We’re looking for rolling tarpon, he told us. We scanned the blue until our eyes hurt, looking for those sleek dark backs to break the surface. We saw dolphins, and masses of sardines, turtles, but no tarpon. When we did see them though, there was no mistaking it. It was unlike any rolling tarpon I’ve ever seen before. It was neither sleek, nor graceful, nor slow. Instead it was hard and fast, violent.
The school charged through the sea, coming up nose first and slapping the water with their tails, great splashes and spray announcing their arrival from a kilometer away. The small ones were in the hundred pound range. It all happened so fast. I cast the purple fly tied on a 6/0 hook, let the sinking tip do its work, brought it in with long rapid strips and came up solid. The first jump was a hundred yards out.
The rest was a grueling battle of wills with a creature of impossible power, hours long. By the end I was shaking with exhaustion, sweat streaked, blistered fingers. Hands down the hardest thing I've ever had to do, fishingwise.