Recently one of our Denver Sales Associates Scott Battista escaped the grips of old man winter for some much-needed time with a 10wt in hand. Enjoy.
The day started how many of my fishing days in December start, cold and otherwise slow. While still on a river, the scene was very different than usual. Rio Ameca is found on Mexico's Pacific coast in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. This coastal river has a sense of familiarity as it's just down the beach from a vacation spot my family has visited for the past six years. However, this was the first time seeing the river and surrounding areas from a skiff accompanied by a guide.
Captain Carlos Sanchez, "Mr. Snook" and Co-Owner of Snook Mafia, was set in his 17 ft skiff to take us up the river. If his nickname or the operation's name hadn't given it away, the target for the day was snook with a chance at some other species.
We arrived at the first hole after a quick but chilly motor up the river. A shady spot with over-hanging tree limbs and plenty of piled-up driftwood. Looking past the giant iguanas in the trees reminded me of my midwestern roots and largemouth bass. I thought to myself, "this place has to hold fish.:"
After throwing around 20 casts at the structure, some accurately and some over eagerly fired into the woodpile itself (thank god for weedless flies). Carlos knew it was time for a change of spot. After passing and fishing several other fishy looking spots along the river and only getting one grab, the game plan shifted. Carlos suggested the tides weren't right for the snook, and we'd return when conditions were on our side.
Tides are everything on the coast and fishing in the salt. Similar to the flows on a western river or tailwater, they dictate how the fishing might be that day or for a specific period of time in the case of tides. For us, low tide would be best.
We took off downstream to the mouth of the river and into the bay. That was the place to be mid-morning as we were accompanied by 30-40 other boats within a couple square miles. Briefly acknowledging that fishing could be tough with that much boat traffic, Carlos proceeded to spot a school of jack crevalle in the distance. My only experience with a 10wt to this point was practice casting in the grass at the park in downtown Denver. As if my heart wasn't jumping enough seeing the 80-100 large jacks schooled up just out of casting range, the wind and waves were tossing me about the bow as I stripped off line in preparation. My first cast short. Very short. My next cast met the school right on the edge, but no follows. The nerves revealed themselves on the third cast as I overshot and lined my target. The entire school spooked and disappeared like the floor was pulled from underneath them. Disappointing? Yes, but it was the humbling I needed.
Luckily the day was young. Carlos waited a little longer in the bay then insisted the tides were finally right for snook. We moved back up the river and pulled up to the same spot where we had started the day. Changing flies, lines, and retrieves every 15 minutes or so. We tried just about every combination, but a white and chartreuse baitfish on a floating line was the ticket all along (who would have thought). It turned on like a light. A roll, a grab, or some acrobatics on every cast thereafter. Snook are an incredible sport fish to target because they hit hard and have an extremely violent strike.
The coolest thing to me that Carlos later explained is that a snook actually responds to the water's turbulence. Not just the splashiness or slap of each presentation, but the frequency at which you deliver those splashes and water disruptions.
More casts = More Splashes = More Fish. That's math!
It was no surprise to him that the bite turned on after throwing no fewer than 200 casts in a single hole. It was like the snook were waiting for us to give up before deciding to bite. This was an absolutely ludicrous idea coming from trout fishing where if a fish sees your fly more than five times, it might as well give you the finger. We continued to pull fish from this hole for an hour or so, 20 snook from under a single log in the pile. The biggest of the bunch was around 6 pounds, just over the 3-4 pound average for that river. Our luck continued upriver, again at a spot we had hit earlier in the day.
There was evident eagerness to get something a little more significant in the boat, a cherry on top, if you will. We started for the bay near the mouth of the river to finish the day. A significant drop-off in boat traffic paired with ideal tides were good initial signs.
Carlos spotted birds gathering in the distance and handed me the 10 wt but not before saying, "take your time, relax, one cast, you've got this." He had us on a school of jacks in a matter of minutes. These fish were darting and pushing bait fish out of the water, a spectacle no picture could do justice. I picked a large jack working the edges and sent my first cast a rod length above him, two strips, and his course was set for my fly. I stripped once more, and it was on! Yet just as fast as it happened, it was over. A knot had formed in my fly line about 70 feet down from the loop and the fish popped off when the knot met my hand near the first stripping guide. I was gutted. However, there was still time to capitalize on the day. We picked up a couple smaller jacks by teasing them to the surface with a hookless plug, but none worth writing home about.
As our time was winding down, Carlos was set on making something happen, and he did. He played the birds like he was counting cards. He waited for the right moment and had us motoring towards diving birds and a feeding frenzy just as it all came together. This school was further out where the water was much rougher. Standing to make a cast was one thing, but making a GOOD cast to a fish that was darting around the surface was another. Carlos used the hookless plug to keep the fish interested and in the area long enough for me to make two casts. The first is slightly off the mark, but the second connects after several hard strips. It was beautiful and chaotic all at the same time. The line cleared, and it was on again. I'll be the first to say I pulled as hard as I could on that fish for 20 minutes with a 10 wt and saw my backing two different times. A feeling of relief fell over me as I saw the leader and the fish meet the boat.
A 25lb Jack Crevalle. Speechless.
As our day was supposed to be coming to an end, the fish of the day had just been caught, so to Carlos, that meant our day had just begun. We quickly spotted another school of jacks. Having hogged the bow most of the day, I insisted my Dad take the next shot. Like a pro, my old man laid down a cast or two before putting one right in front of a nice jack patrolling the outside of the school and was hooked up just like that. After getting his butt kicked for a little bit, we saw the second 25lb + jack to the boat in a little over half an hour. And we weren't done.
One last school sat between us and the mouth of the river where our day would officially end. Despite being well over our set time, Carlos instructed me to the bow one final time. This time no words were said. I readied on the bow and made a single cast to a fish I could make out near the school's front. Like clockwork, I was hooked up again, and there was another large jack onboard.
It was a rather special thing to fish here with my Dad and have our fishing come full circle. Apart from being my Dad, he has been my fishing mentor since I was old enough to hold a rod. Cherish those moments on the water with friends and loved ones.
Without an amazing guide like Carlos, none of this would have been possible. He knew the tides, the structures in the rivers, the flies, and the timing of it all. Carlos was born and raised in PV, and that has everything to do with his knowledge of the area. Snook and Jack alike are often overlooked in many areas but offer incredible and exhilarating fishing when targeting them on the fly. If you are looking for your next adventure or find yourself in Puerto Vallarta in the future, please reach out to Carlos and Snook Mafia.