Bucket list fly fishing adventure

Rob Towner of Dillon, MT. and guide Nato with a permitTom Vitolo with his guide, Nato, and a bonefish

My flight landed on time in Cancun to begin our adventure. The other guys should have landed about 30 minutes ahead of me. The plan was for everyone to meet at the Marriott Courtyard for dinner and then organize for the drive south to Xcalak the next morning. Everyone was on time; I was the last to show up. We rented Chrysler vans the next day and journeyed south to Xcalak in pursuit of bonefish, tarpon and the elusive permit. After a four hour drive south on well-maintained highways, we reached Xcalak, a village on a jungle beach.

Our trip took us through the tourist areas and eventually through remote, sleepy Mexican villages. The last 50 miles south are on a remote jungle road, paved, but the jungle and trees are encroaching on the edges of the pavement. Xcalak is just north of the Belize border. There were quite a few fishing lodges situated around the place. Our lodge, Tierra Maya, is one of three lodges there, the other two are diving and eco-tourism resorts. The stucco lodge, which is surrounded by tropical foliage, is owned by Eduardo Zapata who supervises all aspects of the operation. The lodge is spotless and meals excellent. The guides speak fluent English, use pangas with 60 hp. Yamaha outboards, and are knowledgeable.

Most of the fly fishers in our group were experienced casters and had fished bonefish in many areas of the world. We had one novice saltwater fisherman with us, Rob Towner of Dillon, Montana. As luck would have it, Rob landed the biggest fish of the trip, a 30 pound permit on the last day. Some of the fishing was done from the pangas and some was done by wading in knee deep waters, depending on the physical ability of the fisherman. All the fishing was done in the waters of the mangrove jungle in water less than six feet deep. The mangrove areas are quiet and humid, and we were amazed at how the guides could weave their way through the confusing jumble of mangrove clumps. The solitude was broken by the occasional cry of an osprey or roseate spoonbill. The ride to and from the flats takes about 20 minutes running down the coastline toward the Belize border. There is a constant off shore breeze, so fishermen should practice their casting before traveling to Xcalak. Bring all your own fly fishing gear, as there is none available in the area. Don’t forget sunscreen and a shady hat.

Practice your casting and be ready for the trip of a lifetime!


Fly into Cancun, Mexico. The Marriott Courtyard will pick you up at the airport if you email them your flight info. Food at the Marriott is excellent.

The car rental company we use is in the lobby of the hotel. If you do not feel comfortable driving in Mexico, there is a shuttle service available. They use brand new Chrysler vans. Email Marriott to line them up.


The best all-around fly rod is a nine foot, eight weight saltwater rod. Your reel should hold 250’ of backing and be loaded with a saltwater weight forward eight weight bonefish line. Traveling that far it would be advisable to have a spare rod, reel, line and leaders. Leaders should be nine foot saltwater leaders, 12 pound for bonefish and 20 pound for the occasional permit. Tarpon will require a heavier leader. Flies for bonefish – the ones that worked for us were Gotchas, size six, in tan pink, and brown. Flies for tarpon – the only one that worked for us was purple and black. All others were refused. For permit – crab patterns in tan.

You will need polarized sunglasses, light colored shirts in blue, tan or green are best. We washed our shirts in the shower, hung them up, and they would be dry for the next day. Bring lots of sunscreen. To wade the flats you can use an old pair of tennis shoes and remember to bring a couple pair of socks and a floppy hat.


Tom Vitolo lives in Sun Lakes winters and in Bozeman, Montana during the summer. He has fished extensively in Colorado, Montana, the Caribbean and Mexico. He has taught many people to fly fish.