exotic winter destinationsBy Larry Tullis
UTAH FISHING & OUTDOORS - December 31, 1991

When winter’s cold gets you down, it's time to plan a trip to southern climates where the temperatures are Warm and the fishing is outstanding. If you have never experienced southern exposures, it‘s your turn and now is the time to make one of those once-in-a-lifetime trips happen.

The fishing can be outstanding in many areas through the winter and spring, before our local fishing turns back on. There is something for everyone in the more tropical climates. Mexico’s big bass

Mexico has long been a popular vacation spot for folks escaping winter but less known is some of the great fishing that is available.

Down near Mazatlan, Way back up in the sparsely populated Sierra Madre Mountains, are some largemouth bass lakes that have incredible fishing.

These reservoirs were built to store and control the monsoon rain water that flows off the mountains. The area in and around the bass lakes is heavily wooded and the flooded timber has created some of the best bass habitat imaginable.

Local species of panfish, such as the prolific tilapia, provide a wonderful forage base for the bass and their growth rate in this ideal environment is amazing.

The larger tilapia are commercially harvested but the bass are left alone to grow to huge sizes. If you have ever wanted to catch lots of big bass and have the chance to catch a real trophy, this is the place.

In addition to the excellent bass fishing, the scenery is incredible. Traditional views of Mexico seldom include high mountains, heavily wooded slopes and many types of wildlife. The number and variety of birds is indescribable. Even the Mexican whitetail deer still has a strong hold here.

Local guides take you out in boats and show you where to fish. Most don't know much English but basic communication is all that is needed. Ron Speed’s Lodge has great service and excellent food. From the Speed Lodge guides will take you to two different lakes. Lake Commedero is a fairly new water which must have millions of one to five pound bass, with a few bigger fish — to eight pounds. The fish are extremely well fed and look like footballs.

The bass hit almost anything you would want to fish with, but have a special interest in silvery colored crankbaits. The bass also hit rubber worms, spinnerbaits, jigs, top-water plugs and many types of bass flies. The water is mostly clear but the fish are not line shy and heavy line is used to get the fish out of the submerged trees.

Lake El Salto has fewer but bigger bass. Here you have a good chance of catching a bass that weighs well over 10 pounds. And, there are enough of the smaller bass to keep the action going between the big fish. Large crankbaits are again the preferred lures but rubber worms often catch the biggest fish.

mexico fishingFlats fishing in Mexico

The other side of Mexico has some fishing that is equally great although it's a totally different kind of experience. Two hours drive south of Cancun is a place called Boca Paila. The lodge there is on the edge of a preserve that is protected from adverse development. Miles of white sand beaches are available out the front door of the lodge and tropical breezes blowing off the Atlantic Ocean gently sway the coconut trees.

This strip of land is actually an old coral reef that is now out of the water. It protects some extensive, sandy, saltwater flats inland of the ocean. The flats are home to thousands of feisty bonefish, permit, jacks, barracuda, needlefish, tarpon, snook, ladyflsh, snapper and even a few manatee. The flats average one to five feet deep and cover hundreds of square miles. The native Mayan guides pole the boats around the productive flats while you scan the flats for cruising fish.

The bonefish are like spooky ghosts and locating them regularly is a real trick. Your cast must be accurate and lead the fish enough so the lure and line hitting the water doesn't scare the fish. Fly rudders imitate shrimp with patterns such as the Crazy Charlie. Once hooked, bonefish fly across the flats ripping line out of your spool at a rate that will burn up all but the best drag systems.

Permit are fairly abundant and fly fishermen have a good chance of hooking one. Spin fishermen do well for both bonefish and permit with wiggle jigs tipped with a piece of crab leg. The fierce barracuda is always somewhere around and will attack a long, skinny tube lure or needlefish fly fished very fast. Wire leaders are a must for these toothy fish. Poppers also work at times and the strikes are more like explosions than hits.

Tarpon cruise the flats occasionally but are more commonly found in the channels carved by tidal action between the mangrove islands. Snook also like to congregate just off the mangrove islands where there is shelter and easy access to the channels. There are a Variety of other fish and part of the fun is catching all the different species available.

After a hard day of fishing, great seafood is prepared Mexican style, and then you can take a swim or just relax and enjoy the ambiance. This area is truly a place to call a slice of heaven on earth.

Christmas Island

South of the Hawaiian Islands (a three hour jet ride from Hawaii), Christmas Island is about as far away from anywhere you can find if you want to get away from it all. This coral island has some of the best bonefishing in the world. The size of the fish is bigger than in Boca Paila and there are other fish such as several variety of trevally you can angle for. Most of the fishing is done by wading the shallow flats, rather than from a boat. The fishing is good year-round and Christmas Island is always a great spot for a get-a-way because of it's consistently fine, warm weather. Accommodations are in the only hotel on the island and food is familiar with a few local specialties thrown in for variety.

Costa Rica tarpon

This small, safe, country is located near Panama in Central America. Although it is small, it harbors a wide variety of vacation opportunities. It has many beaches, volcanoes, Jungles and of course, some great fishing for tarpon, snook and billfish.

The tarpon are found in the lower river areas and outside on the river deltas. The rivers are murky but pods of tarpon cruise and roll on the surface. Some of the bigger tarpon are found off the river mouths and in clear ocean waters.

The snook are caught regularly by spin or fly casters. Offshore fishing for sailfish and marlin is some of the best anywhere. An average day raises 15 to 35 billfish. The guides are English speaking and are very well trained.

The southern hemisphere

Our winter is the summertime for areas in the southern hemisphere. Places like Chile, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia have some great fishing destinations when the snow is blowing here in the north.

Chile is a long, narrow, mountainous country. Fishing in the rivers coming out of these mountains rivals that of many of the rivers of British Columbia or Alaska but there isn’t anywhere near the fishing pressure. Large brown, brook and rainbow trout are common in the rivers and lakes of the area. Jet boats or four wheel drive vehicles are used to reach little fished waters. Trout in the two to 10 pound range are common with a few going much larger. These trout were planted here many years ago by European settlers.

Argentina has been compared to Montana, 50 years ago. It has many miles of trout streams and provides some great fishing for browns, rainbows and brook trout. Sea run browns are an added bonus and are much like steelhead in size and disposition.

New Zealand is an enchanted place. Most anglers have dreamed of going there at one time or another to fish to large, wild, spooky rainbow and brown trout in pristine rivers. The crystal waters flow over clean gravel and harbor fewer but larger fish. Don’t expect to catch many fish, instead think of this a a quality experience. Two or three fish a day is a good day, but the fish will average 22 to 26 inches each and will often take a Royal Wolff or another attractor fly pattern. Australia may seem inaccessible to most of us but air fares are often quite reasonable in the off-season. If you ever get the chance to go there, don’t ignore the myriad fishing opportunities available. Trout are common in many of the southern rivers of Australia and Tasmania.

Australia also has the worlds largest barrier reef. Many inshore and offshore angling opportunities are available for trollers, casters and fly rodders here.

In the tidal channels on the upper part of the island continent, barramundi, saratoga, threadfin salmon, mangrove jacks and many other species abound for fly and spin tackle anglers.

Offshore, huge black marlin are regularly hooked. The marlin may reach over 1,000 pounds and can only be handled with top quality tackle and an experienced crew even if you are the one on the business end of the rod.

Planning your exotic vacation

Planning is the most important part of making this kind of trip possible and enjoyable. If you are putting the trip together yourself, without the help of an outfitter, you must do lots of research and choose your gear carefully. The best way to go is to let reputable lodge put the trip together for you. Their experience and the comfort they can offer is invaluable and they will help you make the most of your time. Knowledgeable guides can show you where and how to fish and will point out other things that will make your trip more enjoyable.

A booking agent can assist you in picking a trip that is right for you. Booking agents represent many different lodges and can give you an idea about what the fishing is like at each potential destination. Each lodge or agent can give you a list of recommended equipment to bring and will help you in choosing proper transportation to and from the lodge.

Many of the lodges are expensive (averaging $1000 to $3000 a week plus airfare) but what are those kinds of memories worth? If you always dream about exotic locations but never make a commitment to go, you will never enjoy the excitement and adventure one of these trips can bring.

The pain of never having pursued your dreams is usually far greater than the sacrifice necessary to actually go and do the things you dream about.