Cozumel Fishing: Fishing the Lagoons
by William V. Connell
It’s 4:30 am on a clear, cool Cozumel morning. As an avid, occasionally successful angler, I’ve barely slept thinking about casting for bone fish and snapper in the shallow north side mangrove area of the island. This little adventure means a lot to me because my 83-year-old Dad is coming along and who knows how many more fishing trips we’ll make together?
Getting us to the Marina is a surprisingly speedy 10 minute hop from the central part of town by taxi. The owner of the fishing guide operation, Carlos Vega, is waiting for us there. He’s a charmer, greets us warmly at the marina gate at 5am, points us to the boat, shouting “buena suerte”! With assists from our Captain, Enrique Torres and first mate Vincente Millan, my Dad and my brother-in-law Tony venture aboard with me onto the solid-looking fishing craft.
It’s a white, open-cockpit vessel, broad of beam, seemingly constructed of cement until you realize it’s thick fiberglass. You can tell the thing is all business, bristling with rod holders, coolers, backed by a massive 100 hp, Evinrude outboard. The boat has comfortable seating for 3 and affords passengers a commanding view.
One of the cool things about Cozumel is that its waters are so clean and clear. Even in this crowded marina, the water is gin-clear, tinged pale green and alive with swarms of tiny minnows. These seem a good omen for today’s adventure.
Powering us out of the marina, Captain Enrique sets a northeast course, paralleling the coastline a couple of hundreds yards offshore.
As we begin curving around the northern tip of the island the swells increase somewhat and we begin bouncing a bit through the oncoming 3-foot swells. Captain Enrique skillfully turns the prow of the craft into the larger waves. You get a feeling he’s done this many times before and that these seas today are ‘par for the course’ for him.
As the sun rises over the horizon it warms us and gives the ocean an emerald blue-green Caribbean beauty and we’re quickly transported beyond signs of coastal civilization. This is looking good!
After a half-hour gliding off a sandy, deserted coastline we arrive at the mouth of a narrow inlet through which multiple, productive-looking lagoons are visible.
Captain Enrique slows us to a putter as we negotiate increasingly shallow waters. We pull up to an opening so narrow it seems the boat won’t fit, when Captain Enrique cuts the motor and Vincente begins poling us forward from the rear deck of the boat. We squeak through the tiny gap, pole forward into a large lagoon about 3 feet deep, crystal clear and – hopefully- brimming with bone fish and snapper
It’s “go time” and Captain Enrique asks “spinning gear or fly rod”. Well, that one was easy because it was a little windy and I’ve never used a fly rod! My colleagues agreed that spinning gear was the thing and Vincente rigged us up with weighted jig heads with deer hair and a piece of squid on the hook. It sure looked like a tasty morsel for hungry fish lurking about.
Dad’s quite spry for his age and decides to take a position on the front deck of the boat, Tony and I slung our offerings from behind Dad, off either side, trying to land the jigs near the mangroves. Luckily the lures were heavy enough to allow casting accuracy in spite of a cool and steady 10mph breeze.
As Vincente silently poles us through clear shallows, we see torpedo-like shapes hurtling throw the water, under and around our boat! Bone fish!
This is exciting indeed. Our quarry seemingly is teasing us, daring us to dupe them with a barbed meal. Cast after cast fails to tempt the elusive creatures, though we occasionally think we’re getting hits. Tony says, “no, it’s a bottom hit”, Dad complains “it’s just a snag”.
Then Tony gets a genuine strike. He sets the hook and the rod is bending over and quick silver is glinting through the water as he reels in a smallish silver fish, probably about a pound. Captain Enrique informs us it’s a snapper as Tony releases it unharmed. Catch and release is the name of the game today.
I throw out a cast that lands right under a mangrove overhang and bang, I’ve got a live one. It’s exciting being able to see the fish through the clear water all the way as I reel it in. It’s another small snapper and my Dad tells me to ‘go get his big brother’.
Sharp squawks startle us while rounding a mangrove bend. Surprisingly, only about 20 feet off our port bow are a pair of bald eagles, an adult and what looks like an immature sitting in a large, elaborate nest. I’m an enthusiastic bird watcher and this close-up sighting makes the trip worth it to me right here. .
I’ve seen bald eagles before in the Potomac River area of Maryland, I know they’re making a great comeback after near extinction from DDT use years ago but this is very rewarding to find them thriving down here too
Dad hooks a couple of snappers, about that same one-pound size, He’s having a ball landing these scrappy little fish. He tells us they fight like the big bluegill sunfish he used to catch in clear Minnesota lakes as a boy. I snap a lot of pictures of Dad on the boat as he’s reeling them in.
After catching some more snapper but no bone fish, Captain Enrique says it’s about time to head back but he wants to make one more stop on the way to see if the barracuda will hit our lures. After going back through the same unbelievably tight opening we came in through, we throttle up and head to a deeper lagoon where the tide is moving through fairly briskly. We cast here for about half an hour, but alas the ‘cuda aren’t cooperating today.
As we head home, I think about our Cozumel adventure in the mangroves today. I think about my Dad, how wonderful it was to see him still able to scramble about the boat like a kid, artfully flinging out lures. I think of how lucky I am to be with him on this gorgeous day in this exotic locale.
We weren’t so lucky today with the fish, but with this super-competent and friendly Captain and crew, I know our angling luck might well change for the better the next time.