Carlos Vega is a fourth generation Cozumeleño who has been in the fishing business here for many years. Not only is he extremely well respected locally but he has been written up numerous times in international sports fishing publications and has a large cadre of return clientele for his fishing-related businesses both here on the island and on the mainland.
Carlos was good enough to spend some time with Cozumel My Cozumel helping us fill in our numerous gaps in knowledge about how things work here in the fishing biz. We learned a lot and hope you find it interesting and informative as well!
Interviewer: The editors of Cozumel My Cozumel get a lot of emails from readers with questions about deep sea fishing, Carlos. We’re hoping you can answer some these for us. First of all, with all the Cozumel charter boats offering their services over the internet, how do you pick the good ones?
Carlos: In my opinion, always you start with the captain. A highly experienced ‘Capi’ makes all the difference in putting you on the fish.
Typically, such a man spends 10 years or more as a mate before taking command of his own boat.
Each capi has their own tricks they’ve learned over their many years at sea (and guard with jealousy). For example, a captain, will maybe look for big logs drifting as this is a good spot for mahi-mahi and wahoo that like to eat the barnacles. Captains also know how to follow the frigate birds.
Also, the best captains, they are always watching, always checking the bait and changing it no less than every 35 minutes or so.
Yes, the great capi use his eyes every minute. But just as important, he has learned to listen. He can be talking to you, making conversation, but always he is on the alert for that little pop, the small click that tells him there’s gonna be action coming up in maybe one second. So time to move fast!
The other thing all the great fishing capi’s share — a true love for their work. The captains I admire don’t think of fishing as just a job. To them it is their whole world. They love it. They live it and breath it!
“Where you’re going on your vacation,” I ask these guys every year.
“Oh, I’m going fishing, Carlos!,” is always going to be the answer.
Interviewer: We can see the importance of choosing the right captain now, Carlos. Now what about the boat? What guidelines recommend for making the right choice here?
Carlos: First of all, you want a boat that is constantly being updated. Good lines, fine reels such as 30 or 50 Penn Internationals or Shinanos. It should have good teasers and skirts and the bait should always be fresh.
All the boats I recommend have fighting chairs, an inside cabin and a head. Some are faster than others getting you out to the grounds in less time to allow for more fishing.
The faster boats can make it to the grounds in 30-35 minutes. Slower boats can take an hour each way. That’s why we suggest paying the little bit extra and going for a 6 hour trip rather than only four hours if you have time.
Interviewer: What price range are we looking at for folks who want to hire the best ‘capis’ and boats? We took a quick look at the going price in the US for a 6 hour trip in a 30-32 ft craft and those trips were going for $850 for 4 people into the Gulf out of Galvesten and $795 for comparable out of Venice, Florida. How do Cozumel prices compare?
Carlos: Oh, we can do much better than that down here!
Prices are usually quoted for 4.5 hours, 6 hours and 8 hours. But I think if you have the time you get much more bang for your buck with a 6 hour trip at the least. So for that length trip you’re looking at a low of $475 for the Captain Leo 30-footer’ craft and 4 people for 6 hours. To a high of $1000 for 6 people for 6 hours on a boat like Capi Carlos (Charlie Brown) Moreno’s 42′ Hatteras Sea Rose.
You may see Cozumel charters for a little less on the internet. But the best captains? They know their worth. They keep their boats in top condition and know they deserve the price they’re asking. Sure you can find something that costs less. But in this business, you get what you pay for has been my experience.
Interviewer: Those prices sound like a good deal to us when compared to state-side operations –especially since the equipment and captains down here are just as good. But supposing someone wished to book a Cozumel fishing charter. What time of the year is going to give them the most bang for their buck?
Carlos: March through August is prime fishing season and it can be a pretty spectacular time for catching sailfish especially. September through February, you troll for fish such as Wahoo, Tuna, Bonita, King fish, king mackerel, amber jack, grouper, mullet and snapper. You might see some mahi-mahi and maybe even a stray sailfish or marlin but not as likely as in high season.
In the shoulder season you can also bottom fish at places like Punta Norte, Punta Piedra, Calica, Punta Maroma or the Puerto Morelos buoy for grouper, red hind, yellow tail snapper, trigger fish and grunt.
I’d also like to add that if you’re fishing in the shoulder seasons — September through February — it’s even more important you have a good captain. Because it takes more skill and experience to put you on the fish at these times of year.
Some charter businesses here will tell you there’s great fishing — even sail fishing — all year long. Not true.
The fact is, for the great fishing, that’s very seasonal. Operations that take people out in, say, December, lot of times bring them back disappointed. And that gives the whole charter business down here a bad name.
That’s why the good captains really frown on this practice–of painting a picture that isn’t realistic. The captains want the work, sure. But not if it gives the business a bad reputation and makes for unhappy clients!
Interviewer: Now tell us about the fishing grounds. Where do the boats go?
Carlos:: Where the captains go is dependent on their personal grapevine and word of mouth from day to day with their colleagues. A captain may not share exactly where he caught those 4 Wahoos yesterday, but he’ll tell his competitors the area where the fish were biting.
And, of course, everybody’s always watching the catches that come back and finds out where they came from so they can try their luck in the same area the next day.
Also if there’s a strong S.E. wind they sometimes won’t go across to the mainland unless the clients have taken some Dramamine at least 1 hour before going out. Because it can get pretty rugged out there in those conditions.
If the winds are good to make the crossing, they’ll often fish off Playa del Carmen and just south at Punta Piedra, Calica, Punta Venado, Pamul or Puerto Aventuras. Or, depending on the reports of the day before from the other capis, they might fish north of Playa at Punta Maroma or Puerto Morelos. (Puerto Morelos in particular has a great buoy that attracts a lot of mahi-mahi and wahoo.
With a stiff southeaster, they may choose a spot near Chankannab or Punta Celerain) and go around to Punta Chiqueros . Or they might start at the northern end of the island at Puerto de Abrigo in the northern hotel zone and head north to Punta Norte and all the way to Punta Molas where wahoo fishing is a lot of times real good..
So where the captain’s fish is partly determined by the weather and their judgment of how the clients can handle rough seas. They want their people to have a good experience and, as I said, taking Dramamine with breakfast before you go out is a good way to ensure that.
But also keep in mind that you don’t want completely calm water. We use flash frozen fresh ballyhoo and mullet for bait and in flat water that’s not going to interest the fish. Gotta have some chop.
Interviewer: Here’s another question we see asked a lot: What happens to the fish that are caught on a charter?
Carlos: Typically the catch is split between the client and the captain/crew which generally leaves you with more fish than you can eat — on a good day, anyway. As to what to do with your half of the catch, you can take the fish to one of several local restaurants and they will prepare it for your group in any fashion you wish and with a variety of sauces. Well-known, centrally located restaurants that will do this for you include Las Palmeras, La Mission and La Choza to name just a few.
If you’re here on a cruise, this is your only choice, unfortunately. Because the cruise ships will not allow fish aboard. But if you’re flying out, you can take your fish home with you frozen ahead of time and inside zip lock bags. Your mate will be happy to help you with that if you need assistance.
Read about the history of the deep sea fishing charter biz on Cozumel