Swine, Scorpions, Margaritas…. and Permit
For nearly a year we have had this trip planned to Playa Blanca Lodge located on the north end of Espiritu Santo Bay on the Yucatan Peninsula. The bearish economy, Mother Nature, and the World Health Organization did everything they could to keep us from going! Nevertheless, Swine Flu or no Swine Flu, we were headed to Mexico…
Our unique group of gentlemen from all backgrounds actually melded to create one of the most enjoyable hosted trips I have done in a long time. He was the crew:
David Leake – Dallas, TX
Dennis Hilton – Lantana, TX
Ron Gard – Dallas, TX
Rhodes Hamilton – Dallas, TX
Kent Hamilton – Dallas, TX
Russ Morton – Santa Fe, NM
Henri Wedell – Memphis, TN
Brad Clowe – Ardmore, OK
Scott Rodgers – Dallas, TX
Bill Miller – Dallas, TX
Owned and operated by the same outfit, “Playa” is the sister property to Casa Blanca Lodge, located 15 miles to the north on the southern end of famed Ascension Bay. Together these two operations represent what has become the branded standard in Caribbean multi-species flats fishing…with a particular emphasis on phenomenal opportunities for permit. After 20+ years in operation, Casa and Playa have become a fraternal institution. Hundreds of experienced flats anglers returning every year to enjoy their incredibly solid program.
One of our oldest and most likeable clients, Scott Rodgers, actually headed down to Playa Blanca 5 days before the rest of the groups’ scheduled arrival. Scotty is in the commercial real estate business in Dallas, and is very fond of the lower Yucatan (his successful development company is called Ascension Development). This is Scott’s 7th trip down to Casa / Playa. In addition to a stagnant real estate market, Scotty is also single with few obligations tying him down…thus the 12 day hiatus. Needless to say, I love his style!
I knew we were in for some good luck when two days before the owner of Casa / Playa Blanca, Bobby Settles, emails me cryptically… “Scotty says bring $400 and lots more flies. 4 permit and 2 slams today. The permit are snapping”. Either Scotty lost a bet or owes his guides a fat gratuity for something special. Either way, the excitement level was growing. (Scotty ended up his trip with a grand slam and two gorgeous permit in the bag…including one trophy in the 20lb+ range. )
We all arrived Cancun on time and in good spirits and made the easy 45 minute connection on board the lodge’s Cessna Caravan to the Casa Blanca airstrip. When on approach, you can look outward and see hundreds of square miles of gorgeous flats, mangroves, and secluded islands. It is easy to see from the air why Ascension Bay is so special to so many flats anglers. We are greeted with the traditional Casa Blanca margarita on the pier and load up for the 30 minute truck ride south to Playa Blanca. Henri Wedell of Memphis shows up a few hours later with his incredible laughter and sense of humor. His introduction to everyone was walking into the dining room wearing a medical face mask… poking fun at the mass hysteria surrounding the swine flu “pandemic”.
The Playa Blanca facility sits on a completely remote and tranquil white sandy beach. Each of their 7 duplex style rooms overlooks the Caribbean Sea and are only a few steps from the sand. Playa offers up the ideal atmosphere for total relaxation and is comfortable enough for low maintenance ladies. It also lends itself well to a group of men wanting to get away and have a ton of fun. No cell phones, no internet access…. Just incredible fishing, fine service and food, and a well stocked bar!
Guests are delivered fresh coffee to their rooms around 6:00am, breakfast is served made to order, and everyone loads up for the 10 minute drive to the boat launch. The guides are awaiting us gringos every morning with the skiffs fueled up and off you head south into Espiritu Santo Bay. Espiritu Santo is approximately 1/3 the size of Ascension Bay to the north and the boat run to the best permit grounds on the bay is close to an hour on average. However, the trade off is total seclusion. Our group of five boats did not encounter another boat from another lodge the entire week! There are not many fisheries left on earth where anglers are guaranteed such solitude and opportunity for rested fish every day all year long.
The Playa Blanca and Casa Blanca programs are completely dialed in. Although I make a living representing and marketing fishing lodges, camps, and operations all over the world, and I still find it hard to convey the experience that these two lodges deliver week after week (year after year). They have an intangible atmosphere and style combined with a huge amount of tradition that simply separates them from the rest… Never mind the fact the fishery is perhaps the best in the Caribbean, the guides are stellar, the service minded staff works incredibly hard (always with a smile), the food is superb, and the accommodations are plush.
The week was very successful for everyone in the group… We had a lot of laughs, new friends were made, and the fishing was excellent. Other than a few blustery days, we were more or less blessed with six days of excellent conditions. Everyone had daily shots at permit in Espiritu Santo, baby tarpon in the backcountry, zillions of bonefish in Santa Rosa Lagoon, and some interesting encounters with the pet barracuda on the beach in front of the lodge. We also had 4-5 good shots at migratory big tarpon in the bay as well.
Dennis Hilton, a retired college professor from Lantana, Texas, fished with me on day number one. As this was Dennis’ first time on the flats, I had been lecturing him for months on the difficulties and low odds associated with permit fishing. Whatever progress I had made towards managing his expectations was completely thrashed when my first opportunity on the deck I hooked and landed a nice 10 pound permit. After explaining that it NEVER happens that way, the bar was set high for Dennis. I could sense he was going to be severely disappointed if he did not get one all week. Luckily (and skillfully), on day five Dennis landed his first permit on the fly!
A mixture of Mayan lore and a creative sense of humor are combined at Casa and Playa Blanca to create one of the greatest traditions at any fishing lodge anywhere… I won’t ruin the surprise for you other than to say the events surrounding the celebration of a first permit landed at Casa or Playa involves a lot of tequila and a dead scorpion. Mr. Hilton provided a lot of laughs when he continued the tradition and maintained good graces with the Mayan Gods of permit fishing.
As the lodge was closing for hurricane season, our last night at Playa Blanca was also the last night for the guide staff. Scotty and I offered up the bar tab for the evening and supplied plenty of booze for the crew to have some fun. Somehow the evening’s festivities led to a round robin arm wrestling tournament. It was quite fun to witness the dutiful and collected professional guide staff find themselves overserved and getting schooled by the soft gringos from Texas!
Thank you to Mike and the entire staff at Playa Blanca. Thank you to guides, Tacon, Rene, Carlos, Andres, and Jorge. You all do excellent work and are fine guides and anglers. I am looking forward to fishing with you all again soon.
Yo los veré el año próximo!