Fly fishing Mexico: From issue 32 – Jeff Tyser on his DIY trip with Beniamino Pellegrini to Chetumal Bay on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

“’Hola, amigo! Como estas?’

 My salutations are met with a quizzical stare. Is it the South African accent? Or has he simply not heard? I shuffle closer, clear my throat, and cut to the chase: ‘Seen any bonefish up here, brother?’

fly fishing Mexico

At this distance – no more than a rod length – his most striking features are revealed. A neon pink bill is tipped in black, as if stained by the blood of its hapless victims. A glint of mischief flickers in a beady, yellow eye. The heron chuckles smugly. It would appear he’s giving no secrets away today.

On the other side of the bay, another heron quietly picks its way along a mangrove shoreline. This one, however, is armed with a 7-weight and a box of flies.

Fortunately, Ben’s gaze is fixed on a patch of water up ahead, so he doesn’t see me conversing with a bird. His quarry lures him round a point, and he disappears. Just like that, I’m the only person in the world.

fly fishing Mexico
Ben Pellegrini with a snook off a SUP

I’m about to push on up the flat, when the heron finally retorts. “Slow down, hermano.” His frankness is disarming, but he’s not wrong. I have indeed been moving too swiftly; not just today, but since the very first session of the trip. Not always in my movements, but most certainly in my mind. All too often, I’ve been guilty of silently competing with Ben. Worse still, I’ve been in competition with my own expectations, set months before while pouring over Google Earth, filling fly boxes and scrolling through the Instagram feeds of Scandinavian DIYers. The net result of this frenzied state of mind is that, even when the fishing’s been good – and at times it’s been truly exceptional – it’s never quite felt good enough. And so I force myself to just stand there, and breathe, and be, and stare down a bird that’s staring down me.

Getting to where I now stand – deep in this maze of unnamed mangrove islets and shallow bays – wasn’t easy. An earlier-than-usual start had seen us fighting off relentless armies of blood lusty mosquitos. They punctured our hands and flew down our throats as we feverishly inflated our SUPs. By sunrise we were well on our way, dripping in sweat as we paddled against the breeze, onto the vast expanse of Chetumal Bay. It would be several more kilometres of toil before either of us even made a cast.

fly fishing Mexico

This morning’s grind has me pondering the experience of the guided angler. I imagine myself in his boots, strolling to the end of the lodge jetty, hopping aboard his guide’s panga, giddy with anticipation. As we jet effortlessly down the palm-fringed coast, I sip my tea and marvel at the sunrise, pink as a heron’s bill. My guide knows these waters like the back of his leathered hands, and our first stop is a proven honey hole. The tide is just right for this spot. We approach from just the right angle. His raptor-like eyes are already trained on where the morning’s first tails are most likely to materialise. My heart thumps loudly as he quietly poles us into the perfect position from which to intercept them.

I’d arrived in Mexico a bonefish neophyte, but the learning curve has been steep on the calf-deep flats of Chetumal Bay.

My fantasy is interrupted by two shadows drifting across the flat. It’s only fair to interrupt them, so I send a lightly weighted Gotcha off to meet them. I’d arrived in Mexico a bonefish neophyte, but the learning curve has been steep on the calf-deep flats of Chetumal Bay. With each fish fooled, my Imposter Syndrome dwindles. In its place is a tempered confidence – by far the most effective weapon in the flyfisher’s arsenal. The wannabe shrimp lands softly, close enough to where I’m aiming, and I mark the spot with an invisible X. Time stands still as I wait for the shadows to close in.

I return the bonefish to the crystalline wilderness she calls home and take a minute to cherish the experience. In principle there’s really nothing special about this fish. Yet in the sum of her parts – the mosquitos, the toil, the Google Earth gamble and the wonderous solitude – she attains trophy status in my mind. I think about the guided angler in my fantasy. Would yet another 2-pound bonefish seem quite as profound to him?

I turn to the heron and thank him for his time. I’m the one chuckling smugly now. This isn’t good enough; this is as good as it goddamn gets.”

DIY fly fishing diehards Jeff Tyser and Ben Pellegrini left Joburg and crossed the pond with the express purpose of losing themselves in Chetumal Bay on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Between soothing his brain and cooling his balls, Jeff had an epiphany. Read the rest of this story and more in issue 32 of The Mission below. As always, it’s free.



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