The discovery and unfolding of a prolific baby tarpon fishery on the west coast of the Yucatan peninsula had been going on for a few years, and I was anxious to experience what all the buzz was about. I made arrangements to visit the epicenter of the action in Campeche, Mexico. Since tarpon behave consistently — be it in Florida, the Caribbean, or Central America — I booked my dates in June, a month that would assure me water temperatures over 75 degrees, relatively calm weather, as well as a time of year when the threat of hurricanes and tropical storms was not at its peak.
Amongst the guides and operators in Campeche, I chose Raul Castaneda of Tarpon Town Anglers. I got a distinct impression from his web site that his fully licensed charter service had a multi-species and multi-tackle orientation.
All of his panga-style skiffs had VHF radios, cell phones, GPS units, loads of drinking water, ice chests full of sandwiches, cookies and fruit, and notably, extra gas tanks, which gave the vessels additional running range needed for searching out baby silver kings in this huge habitat. In addition, Raul had an excellent 28-foot center console vessel with a tee-top on hand for family group fishing and/or offshore operation
On my first day of fishing, I was pleased to see that the conditions were overcast and flat calm. We (my skiff and Raul's camera boat) ran north for over an hour to one of Raul's secret spots. As soon as the two skiffs came off plane in unison, both guides pointed to a huge area that seemed coated with rolling tarpon —- the fish were so numerous I felt like I was in a dream!
My first cast was about 10 feet in front of and past a slow moving school of small tarpon. After the second sweep of my rod, I had a solid strike and drove my hook hard as I struck back. Seconds later, a 15-pound specimen went flying into the air. I made short work of this fish on my plug tackle. It felt good that my first tarpon release came on my first cast. We spent that magic morning jumping lots of fish and releasing a few more.
The last morning was arranged for me to sample the tarpon fishing south of Campeche along the rocky beaches. We were in one panga that day, and my guide Juan ran south from downtown for about a half hour. Juan slowed down and cut the engine as we could see some gulls working a sardine school close to a shoreline. As he poled closer, we could see tarpon rolling in the midst of the bait school.
I hooked up a small tarpon on my second cast and released it. I jumped a few more baby silver kings in the next hour. When we saw another melee down the beach, I asked Juan to take us there. All that action turned out to be a big jack attack and those wonderful fish hit practically anything we threw at them!
Since I had an afternoon plane to catch, we reluctantly headed back to port. During our farewell with Raul at the airport, I was quick to make it clear this was not "goodbye" — it was only "until next time."