Ascension Bay Trip Report
We just returned from a few days of fruitful research and development on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. My traveling companions were Brent Boone from the shop, and Captain Bryan Carter – our headliner redfish guide and good friend from Louisiana. The spirit of our mission was to visit one of the newest and most respected lodges in the saltwater fishing community, the Palometa Club. Located in the lobster fishing village of Punta Allen on the north shores of Ascension Bay, Palometa Club has quickly developed a reputation as the destination of choice for serious anglers wanting to even the score with the king of all saltwater species– the Permit (Palometa in Spanish).
There is a lot of buzz about the Palometa Club within the fly fishing community, and I was excited to see what it was all about. Bryan was looking for a vacation away from the chilly winter fishing on the marshes of southern Louisiana, and his angling prowess and sense of humor are always a welcome addition to any group. Our host was the charismatic, high energy, and super entertaining owner/operator, Dick Cameron. We had a blast.
While our mission was to validate the claims that the Palometa Club is a solid operation worthy of Tailwaters’ traveling clients – we actually discovered the Club offers infinitely more than a nice angling holiday. First and foremost, IT IS THE PLACE TO GO IF YOU WANT TO CATCH A PERMIT! Their approach to their fishing program is totally unique compared to anything I have experienced on Ascension Bay – without question due to their superior cast of all-star guides and professional management.
What’s more, the Palometa Club is anything but the “Fishing Hotel” that some competing Yucatan lodges have been labeled. It is the definition of an owner operated boutique fishing lodge in the purist form, with a strong sense of family and teamwork throughout the ranks. Owners, Dick and Kaye Cameron, have built a group of loyal staff that are totally dedicated to their employers, as well as their guests. From the gardener to the girls in the kitchen to the longest tenured guides – it is glaringly clear everyone loves coming to work for the Camerons. The Palometa Club offers an incredible fishing and tropical vacation delivered by people who love what they do – and it shows.
As their name implies, the Palometa Club hangs their hat on effectively catching permit. The proof is in the pudding. They boast of a 70%+ catch rate for their guests each of the last five seasons with a total of over 500 permit landed in that time. Owner Dick Cameron landed the uncertified world record permit last year on Ascension Bay, weighing an estimated 54 pounds! However, anglers are by no mean niched into targeting permit while a guest at the club. Ascension Bay is a rich fishery with zillions of Mexican sized bonefish, great baby tarpon fishing, huge snook, and of course all the other species like jack crevalle, barracuda, mutton snapper, and more. Mr. Cameron also runs his offshore boat during the spring and summer months targeting all the critters on the reef – both with fly and conventional gear.
Tailwaters is now one of two agents representing the Palometa Club worldwide. We are super pumped to join the effort in fulfilling the dreams of saltwater fly fishing anglers. Their commitment to teaming up with Tailwaters Fly Fishing Company has not only been totally flattering for me personally, but a testament to their philosophy of keeping their program intimate, exclusive, and genuine. Trust me; you need to book a trip here. Pack your bags and join the Club.
The Mayan Riviera & The Drive Down…
We met at the Cancun airport and loaded up for the 1.5 hour drive through Playa del Carmen en route to Tulum. Real estate developers have marketed this stretch of the Yucatan Peninsula as the “Mayan Riviera”, both for the regions stunning white sandy beaches as well as its rich indigenous culture. The safe and easy drive down highway 307 takes you passed dozens of high powered and opulent resorts loaded with gringo tourists. This a completely docile, safe, and Americanized part of Mexico – light years from the border violence making headlines.
From Tulum, you duck off the blacktop heading easterly and then southerly to the entrance of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a million plus acre national park protected by the Federal Government and the State of Quintana Roo. In the spirit of full disclosure, the only knock on any trip to Ascension Bay is that there is a commitment to get there from Cancun. The last 36 kilometers of the road down the peninsula to Punta Allen is often rough and slow going. Depending upon the weather and state of disrepair, the road can take anywhere from a half hour to one hour forty-minutes from Tulum. However, the drive is actually quite pretty with dense tropical jungle and several stunning views of the Caribbean. Having made the drive a dozen times myself, good conversation and a cooler of cerveza always make it tolerable. Just remember, A 2.5 hour direct flight from Dallas, Houston, or Miami puts you in Cancun. Only 3 hours later you are chilling on the beach having a margarita while rigging rods and sharpening your hooks. The drive is a small price to pay to reach such a wonderful spot. Besides, if it were a two lane highway the whole way down, Ascension Bay would not be considered perhaps the Caribbean’s greatest shallow flats fishery.
Note about Road Repairs: The road crew has recently repaired the portion of the road up to the Boca Paila Bridge, and was unloading the heavy equipment to begin the resurfacing from the bridge down to Punta Allen. Barring a wetter than usual 2011, the road should be in good shape for at least a year or longer.
Kaye and Dick Cameron & Their Permit Club.
After five years as manager of the Ascension Bay Bonefish Club, Dick and his lovely bride, Kaye, started the Palometa Club in 2006. As a 4th generation Alaskan, Dick has led an action packed and colorful life as a commercial fishermen, sportfishing guide, mechanical pipefitter, and Mexican fishing lodge owner (not to mention an obsession for every other masculine hobby you can think of). Growing up as an outdoorsman hunting and fishing the Alaskan frontier has made him a true guy’s guy. He also has an incredible sense of humor and the perfect no-nonsense personality for running a fishing lodge. Kaye is a beautiful and hospitable hostess who is in charge of keeping good manners in check and ensuring your margarita glass is always full. Kaye is 51 years young with the looks and attitude of a 25 year old, and one of the sweetest people you will ever come across. It is impossible not to instantly have a crush on both of them.
The Camerons have built the charming lodge with a houseful of fly anglers in mind. It has six double occupancy bedrooms with private baths and air conditioning, a spacious dining room, fly tying room, wireless internet, and cozy common areas. While not the Ritz Carlton, it is new and fresh, quiet, private, and more than comfortable enough for ladies and gentlemen anglers alike. The lodge is tastefully decorated, and their outdoor bar area is ideal for relaxing to a Yucatan sunset with fresh ceviche and a margarita – only fifty paces from the lapping waves of the Caribbean Sea.
Rosie and Josifina in the kitchen produce beautiful meals consisting of traditional Quintana Roo cuisine. The food was simply outstanding, but not the overly fatty and rich fare found at many fishing lodges. The menu consists of many traditional Yucatan dishes complete with handmade tortillas, habanero, garden vegetables, flavorful soups and stews, and of course fresh caught fish.
While we did not enjoy the most stellar conditions, we did find enough sunshine to keep in interesting and managed three respectable permit from 10-15 pounds and lost a couple more. I fished with Dick and Bryan during the week. Boy did we share some laughter as well as some excellent opportunities. We were consistently into fish more or less the entire time, and each enjoyed an average of 8-10 shots at permit per day. Brent fished solo on day three and made the most out of crumby conditions by tagging a half dozen baby tarpon and some exceptionally large Mexican bonefish on the west side of the bay and in the lagoon system.
While Mother Nature can be a tad more finicky during the winter months, whatever frustration there was over the cloud cover was quickly washed away with the fact we were the ONLY boats on the Bay. Too many anglers only hold out for the “prime” springtime months when planning a saltwater flats fishing trip. There is never really a bad time to go to Ascension Bay, and there are idiosyncrasies and pros and cons to every month of the year. Furthermore, lousy fishing conditions can occur any time of the season, and Murphy’s Law always seems to punish those clients who over think the “best time” to go. Sure, you can get some less than ideal weather in January, but it never lasts long – and I am telling you, every fish we saw was hungry and willing to eat! No doubt the cooperative nature of the permit we encountered last week was largely due to the lack of fishing pressure this time of year.
Day four was slated to be our day to target other species such as bonefish, baby tarpon, and snook, however we were unfortunately rained out. Given our 5:30PM flight back to Dallas, we opted for a casual day hanging around the lodge as well as eating lunch and some shopping (for my 2 year old) in Tulum.
Lot of Laughs…
While we could have used a little more sunshine at times, one thing we were not ever short of was good conversation. If you have ever fished with Captain Bryan Carter before, you know the BS can get real thick (I am one of his particularly favorite punching bags). Dick is one of those dudes that seems to have been everywhere and done everything, is well read, seen all the movies, and generally has great bullshit. The web of chatter ranged from commercial fishing / overfishing discussion, to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, to a few Big Lebowski quotes, Katrina, Swine Flu, Permit, a few more Big Lebowski quotes, a bunch of fishing industry talk, some more talk about Permit, Alaska, and a few more Big Lebowski quotes – and everything else in between. One night we strolled down to the local cantina in Punta Allen to watch the BCS National Championship – and suffered through the Oregon Ducks handing the game to Auburn (Dick ran track on scholarship at Oregon), and learned of Bryan’s unfounded hatred of Cam Newton.
Incredible Staff of Guides… The real equity in the Palometa Club.
The Palometa Club guide staff consists of 14 senior guides that all have a minimum of six years as a proper guide on the Bay. While not fishing the lobster season, these guys are poling around gringos like us looking for permit or other species. Not a day goes by when these guys are not on the water keeping their finger on fish movement and behavior. You can sense their genuine enthusiasm for fly-fishing and guiding – and a true dedication to the mission. They all love to tie flies, are spectacular fly casters, speak excellent English, and are every bit as psyched about chasing permit around as their sunburned gringo clientele.
As anyone who has every spent a day on the flats will attest, the quality of your guide is the absolute most important piece of the puzzle. The Palometa Club has developed a very unique approach to how they run the program – especially when targeting permit. Here is how it works: Each two anglers are provided with two experienced guides for a real 1:1 guide:angler ratio. This is not one senior guide and a young “apprentice guide” – rather a true one on one guiding experience lead by two guides each worth their salt. The standard drill when targeting permit is to pole the flat till you encounter fish. Once permit are spotted, almost without exception, one or more anglers hop out to approach fish while wading. It is not uncommon to wade in water above your belly button (particularly for short guys like me). This makes for some interesting casting, but is a much more stealthy and effective way to make multiple presentations without spooking your target. The guide on the platform will give direction until visual contact is reestablished by the angler and the guide in the water.
What happens next is what most impressed me. While wading to get into position with the sun and wind, the guide by your side provides you with blow by blow coaching, in perfect English, of exactly what he wants you to do. As each opportunity calls for a different cast placement, stripping technique, etc – getting coached up by the guide calms your nerves and loads you with confidence. Furthermore, the guides have a very cooperative and scientific analysis of what flies to use and when. They are in tune with what crabs and shrimp are hatching at different times throughout the season, and will design patterns and presentation techniques to reflect exactly what the fish are feeding on. This “match the hatch” analysis is unlike anything I have witnessed at a saltwater fishing lodge – and totally indicative of the tremendous dedication exemplified by the staff at the Palometa Club.
You add up all these variables and you get a recipe for success that truly equips the angler with every possible advantage. I don’t think there is a better location or operation found anywhere in the world of permit fishing that gives anglers a better opportunity for closing the deal on landing one.
Post Script: I spoke with Dick a couple days after our return and learned that his six anglers managed 8 permit and a Grand Slam (bonefish, permit, tarpon) all in one day. That is not supposed to happen!
For more information about the Palometa Club, please check out our web page as follows: http://www.tailwatersflyfishing.com/travel/destination/view/id/133 and download our in-house PDF brochure by clicking here: PALOMETA CLUB-2011
If you are interested in chatting with David about our trip or if you are considering a trip to the Palometa Club please give us a call or email: firstname.lastname@example.org or (214) 219-2500. Theh lodge is open now through June 10th. Now is the time to book!