Bucket List: Catching Snook in Costa Maya

Captain Nick Denbow.

By Lisa Danforth

Our Mahahual, Costa Maya fishing adventure started out like a spy novel. “Don’t worry about the wind. Look for me at the lighthouse. It’s the only one in town and you can see it from the ship. I’ll find you” said Capt. Nick of Catchafish by email as we finalized our plans before we entered the port of Mahaual, Costa Maya Mexico.

We were leaving the safety of our cruise ship, the Norwegian Pearl, to meet Capt. Nick of Catchafish and do some tarpon fishing, or maybe hit the Caribbean grand slam of tarpon, snook and permit that this area of Mexico delivers to skilled and lucky anglers. The wind and waves had been dramatic all morning and we worried fishing would be impossible.

As our ship entered the port, the wind continued to whip up 8-10 foot seas. We entered the stream of passengers disembarking and feared we might end up with most of them shopping or crowded into the cruise ship-corrals of beach loungers placed cheek to jowl that spread out in either direction.

There is a new system in place in the Costa Maya port which prevents you from making a quick exit. A series of baffles and arrows direct you through the shops to ensure that you pass every one of them before exiting the port. Finally, we escaped the crush and grabbed a cab. The driver did not speak English but my high-school Spanish was enough to get us on our way to the faro, lighthouse, where we were met Capt. Nick of Catchafish.

Capt. Nick is a man who loves adventure, a Brit who came to the Yucatan for a few weeks decades again and never left. His passion for the area and its fishing riches are clear. Wind and waves were not going to deter him from fishing, if we were up for an adventure.

He loaded us into a Suburban which had clearly seen better days and headed inland. After 20 minutes or so we turned down a dirt road and stopped on the side near a small clearing. Grabbing the Tracker skiff from the roof and launching it through a thicket that looked like a perfect nest for a croc family, we headed out into the lake.

The lakes in Costa Maya are different than anywhere else in the world. The freshwater anchialine lakes are connected to the saltwater of the ocean through underground passages. In the Yucatan the entrances to these tunnels and passageways are known as cenotes.

Tarpon and snook enter the lakes by smelling the fresh water and swimming through the tunnels, under the beach, to surface and feed in the shallow mangrove lakes. At less than 3 feet deep in most places, this sets the scene for amazing fly-fishing. Tarpon are generally in the 3-30 pound range, but Capt. Nick has caught them as large as 80 pounds.

As we headed out Capt. Nick explained about the cenotes and how the saltwater fish enter the lake through the underwater tunnels. He shared with us his favorite spot for snook and pointed out the patch of saltwater rising in the lake where we would aim our lines.

The wind was still strong, even on the lake, so Mike opted for a spinner rod. Nick hooked him up and no sooner had the lure hit the water than he saw action. Snook can throw the hook, so Mike quickly set the hook and kept careful pressure on the line. The snook hits and runs, so the fight didn’t disappoint.

Mike boated the first 6 pound snook quickly and safely released him. A delightful 2 hours of casting, catching and releasing ensued with 5 more snook ranging from 6-9 pounds. While snook are delicious eating fish, they are unwelcome on Norwegian cruise lines and Capt Nick had a freezer full, so all of our catch lived to fight another day.

We ended our day with Capt. Nick and friends drinking margaritas and eating delicious Mexican food at Nohochaka’s Big Fish on the beach.

You can reach Captain Nick Denbow for fishing, special tours which include catching and eating your fish, and more at Nick@catchafish.net. He offers clean and basic accommodations for fisherman at extremely reasonable rates.