Fishing in Cozumel: All You Need to Know
Aug 21, 2020 | 10 minute read
Reading Time: 10 minutes

Cozumel is separated from Mexico’s mainland by a small stretch of stunning blue ocean. A visit to this island, however, couldn’t be further away from the typical resort town experience! Untouched wild scenery, serene sandy shorelines, laid-back vibes…and then there’s the angling action. From deep sea waters to shallow lagoons, fishing in Cozumel is so diverse that it reels in anglers from Riviera Maya’s mainland and beyond.

A view of Cozumel's shoreline with white sands, clear water, three palm trees, and a blue rowboat

Something else that makes casting a line in Cozumel so exciting is how little time it takes. We’re not talking about time spent on the water, of course. We wouldn’t blame you for wanting to spend day after day cruising the Caribbean, rod in hand. Nope, we mean travel time.

Thanks to the natural underwater canyon that’s been formed between Cozumel and the mainland, you’ll be able to reach waters over 2 meters deep just minutes after departing this island’s shoreline. And with deep waters comes world-famous big game fish!

It’s not just about deep sea fishing in Cozumel, though. You’ll also be able to plumb the depths of the Mesoamerican Reef (also known as the Great Mayan Reef), where a bounty of tasty bottom-dwelling species lurk.

An underwater view of the Mesoamerican Reef showing coral, underwater wildlife, and the reef

Then there’s the flats fishing action on offer. The northern end of Cozumel is home to three lagoons, which are a real mecca for fly fishing and light tackle enthusiasts. There really is something for everyone on this island!

Read on to discover our favorite catches in the area, the best ways to cast a line here, and hotspots you shouldn’t miss out on…

What can I catch in Cozumel?

An infographic showing the top catches in Cozumel's flats, the reef, and offshore waters, including Mahi Mahi, Marlin, Swordfish, Sailfish, Snapper, Grouper, Wahoo, Kingfish, Amberjack, Permit, Bonefish, Tarpon, Snook

Bonefish

Ah, the Bonefish. Known around the world as the “Ghost of the Flats,” thanks to its sneaky, slippery nature, it’s really earned a name for itself as a top catch for anglers fishing in Cozumel.

Why? Well, its feisty nature means that hooking it is something of an art form. Also, it thrives in extremely shallow waters – and what can you find in the northern part of Cozumel? Three huge lagoons. They’re the perfect Bonefish habitat!

In fact, Bonefish love Cozumel’s shallow flats so much that you can find this species here year-round. The most plentiful months, however, are between March–May and during late fall, around October. This is because the larger species generally move to deeper waters when temperatures start to rise.

A man leans over a boat holding a Bonefish and smiling

The best way to target this fish in Cozumel has to be on the fly, or using light tackle. Try out these techniques either by poling a flats vessel or even wading in the lagoons. Accessing the waters in this way means you won’t spook your target. Just make sure you stick to cloudy, grassy fishing spots, as Bonefish are skittish and don’t spend a lot of time in clear waters.

This species might not be the biggest, usually measuring in at around 6 pounds, but the battle of wits and skills they offer is seriously huge. Want to go one step further and hook the Cozumel Inshore Grand Slam? Target Tarpon and Permit at the same time, and you’ll have an impressive fishing tale to go home with!

Billfish

From one Grand Slam to another! If you’re more into Billfish than Bonefish, then don’t worry – Cozumel’s got you covered in this area, too. An “underwater canyon” is located just minutes from the island’s shoreline, where the seafloor suddenly drops. This means you’ll be able to do battle against Marlin, Sailfish, and more, without the long journey that usually is a big part of deep sea fishing.

Two men hold a huge Sailfish as they sit on a sportfishing vessel with the Caribbean Sea behind them

Something that lures deep sea fishing fanatics to Cozumel in particular is the potential of hooking a Billfish Grand Slam. How does this happen? Simple – you reel in a combination of three of the following species: Blue Marlin, White Marlin, Sailfish, and Swordfish. With deep waters being so close to shore, the possibility of earning a Billfish Grand Slam in Cozumel is pretty great. The pure brute strength that these species display is unmatched, too.

The island boasts a year-round fishery, which means you can technically target Billfish whenever you’d like. The best time to cast your line for these beasts, however, is between March–August. Something to be aware of – locals practice catch and release when it comes to these majestic creatures, and we strongly recommend you do the same.

Three men smiling as they hold up a big Sailfish on board a sportfishing vessel

Although you don’t have to travel far to reach the Billfish hotspots, a fishing vessel is necessary. Hop aboard, and you’ll generally be trolling for these deep sea monsters. Because of this, newbies and hardened anglers alike can experience some Billfish action. It might be partly a waiting game, but nothing quite beats spotting the sail of your chosen fish just before it bites!

Mahi Mahi and Wahoo

Trying to decide between these famous big game fish was so tricky, we decided to just include them both! Often grouped together thanks to their hard-fighting natures, they’re the perfect addition to a Billfish battle.

Both of these fish provide some unforgettable rod-bending action at the end of a line and can be found in abundance on a Cozumel fishing trip. In fact, the deep waters around the Mesoamerican Reef are a real playground for these species.

A man holds a Mahi Mahi and smiles at the camera with the Caribbean in the background

Let’s start with Mahi Mahi. Not only does it put on a spectacular show when hooked, leaping out of the water, but it looks pretty fantastic too. There’s nothing like spotting the shining scales of your Mahi as you troll the Caribbean. Bringing along a camera is a must!

You’ll definitely want a snapshot of your Wahoo hookup, too – that is, if you’re quick enough to capture a photo! This fish is known and beloved around the world for the scorching runs it makes when hooked. Weighing in anywhere between 15–35 pounds, you’ll need to use all your wits and skills to reel ’em in.

A man holds a large Wahoo to the camera and smiles with the Caribbean in the background

Like the Mahi, this fish can be hooked by trolling the waters of the Caribbean. And when your Wahoo bites, you better hold on tight to that rod! Looking for a way to hook your Wahoo that’s less conventional? You can spearfish for this beast – but more on that later…

Snapper and Grouper

With the Mesoamerican Reef a mere stone’s throw away, it’d be silly not to include some bottom-dwelling fish on our list! You’ll find big game species such as Mahi Mahi and Wahoo lurking these waters, but you’ll also find plenty of tasty table fare, too. Yep, we’re talking about Snapper and Grouper.

A school of Snapper swims around part of the Mesoamerican Reef

Firstly, there’s the Cubera Snapper. This much-loved species is seriously tasty, grows to huge sizes, and fights surprisingly hard at the end of a line. In fact, its first run once it bites is said to be one of the most challenging around! The Cubera Snapper is also slightly confusing – thanks to its maroon color, it’s often referred to as the “Red” Snapper, but it’s a whole different beast to its Atlantic cousin.

Local anglers recommend using braided heavy tackle if you’re planning on going after this fish. Think Marlin-grade lines! Not so sure if your arms are ready for such an intense workout? You’ll also be able to bottom fish around the reef for Yellowtail, Mutton, and Mangrove varieties, too.

Two divers approach a Black Grouper with spear fishing equipment underwater

Where there’s Snapper, there’s often Grouper. This holds true in Cozumel! You’ll find mainly Black, Broomtail, and Goliath varieties patrolling the Mesoamerican Reef – and not far behind them, you might spot a spear fisher or two. This unusual technique is a favored way to target these tasty species in Cozumel. Otherwise, you’ll be able to bottom fish for ’em.

How can I fish in Cozumel?

On a Boat

Cozumel may only measure around 30 miles in length, but it packs a whole host of angling opportunities into such a small space. This means that, when it comes to exploring what these waters have to offer, hopping aboard a local fishing charter is the most time-efficient and productive option.

Not only will you be armed with top-quality fishing gear, bait, and lures, but you’ll also have your captain’s expert knowledge at your disposal. Looking to hook one of those Grand Slams, or target a specific fish? Your captain will make sure you cast your line in the best spots, and will share tips and tricks too.

Two adults and a child sit on a sport fishing vessel holding a Mahi Mahi and smiling

Depending on the type of fishing you’d like to do, your charter adventure might look slightly different. Depart from Cozumel’s shorelines for a deep sea or reef trip, and you’ll likely be stepping aboard a state-of-the-art, high-powered fishing machine. Looking to cruise the flats for Bonefish and more? Your captain will likely pole you across the waters in a skiff or flats boat.

With a Spear!

Above, we mentioned that a popular way to catch Grouper in Cozumel is by spearfishing. If you’re looking for something a little different, this is the perfect way to experience Cozumel’s waters. Come face-to-gills with some incredible fish and the Mesoamerican Reef, all at the same time? We’re in!

You’ll find most spearfishing outfitters located wherever there are charter boats. In fact, some captains even run spearfishing trips alongside their conventional fishing trips, providing all the necessary gear. Although anyone can technically spearfish, it’s important to note that you will be “free diving.” You have to be in relatively good shape and a confident swimmer.

Two men wearing diving gear and holding a spear gun underwater with a Snapper in the foreground

If you tick those boxes, though, there’s nothing quite like “hunting underwater,” as Cozumel locals like to call it. Captains are used to introducing novices to this sport, too, so why not add it on to your angling bucket list?

Can I go fishing on foot in Cozumel?

Although it might seem like Cozumel’s quieter beaches and shallow lagoons are built for on-foot fishing, most locals recommend avoiding this option. The lagoons in the northern end of the island may be shallow, but wading your way through the marshy mangroves to the best Bonefish spots can be exceptionally tricky, and even dangerous.

Similarly, although it’s possible to cast a line from the beach shores, you have to make sure you’re at least 250 meters away from swimmers. You also won’t be able to reach any supersized fish this way. In general, a boat will get you to the hottest spots more quickly. It will also allow a lot more “wiggle room” if the fish aren’t biting in a particular location.

A man casts a fishing line into the marshy lagoon waters of Cozumel

If you still want to get your fill of on-foot fishing, you’ll find many captains in the area who combine boat trips with wade fishing. They’ll take you to fish-filled waters, and from there you can jump into the water and do your thing!

Where can I fish in Cozumel?

Thanks to its size, fishing in Cozumel is excellent pretty much all over the island. The only area to really avoid is around the National Marine Reserve Park, also known locally as “the protected park zone.” Apart from this, the world (or island) is your oyster! Here are some places to get you started:

  • Montecristo, Paso Balem and Rio de la Plata Lagoons: Ah, Cozumel’s famous lagoons. These waters are surrounded by wild scenery and mangrove forests, and are home to Bonefish, Tarpon, Permit, and more. If it’s flats fishing you’re after, there really is no better place to cast a line.
  • San Miguel de Cozumel: The main “city” on the island, so it’s worth paying a visit just to get a taste of local life! It’s also located right along Cozumel’s northwest shoreline, so you’ll find plenty of deep sea charters departing from this location.
  • Playa Caletitas: Listen carefully to local spearfishing enthusiasts, and you’ll probably hear this name crop up a few times. It’s Cozumel’s unofficial spearfishing hotspot, thanks to the plethora of corals and underwater structures hidden close to its shoreline.

Anything else I need to know?

The local rules and regulations, of course! As is the case throughout Riviera Maya, you’ll need a valid fishing license to explore Cozumel’s waters. Luckily, if you’re fishing alongside a local charter captain, they’ll usually include your license for you within the cost. The same goes for spearfishing, too.

Signage at local Oceanside tackle shop, advertising bait and fishing licenses.

If you’re fishing in Cozumel alone, you’ll need to purchase a license, which can be done online. It’s a simple process, and usually costs around $8.40 for a one-day license.

Although catch and release is becoming more and more popular here, chances are you’ll probably want to keep some of your fish. This is possible, but each angler is limited to 10 fish per day. However, not all fish were created equal. Here’s a quick breakdown of the rules as they currently stand:

  • An individual angler can bag no more than five specimens of a single species (e.g. Grouper, Snapper).
  • An angler can keep only one sample of Marlin, Sailfish, or Swordfish per day. Each fish counts as half of your daily bag limit.
  • An angler can keep two Mahi Mahi or Tarpon on a single day, amounting to half of their daily bag limit.

Cozumel: Discover the Serene Side of Riviera Maya

If you’re ready to swap tequila for tranquility (and plenty of trolling, of course), then the island of Cozumel is calling your name. Something that makes this area of Mexico so magical is its diverse mix of locations that cater to people from all walks of life. We love that you can experience Cancún’s unforgettable beach parties one day, before hopping over to Cozumel and getting lost in nature.

A view of the shoreline of one of Cozumel's beaches with white sands, the Caribbean, and palm trees, as well as a pier in the distance

This diversity is reflected in Cozumel’s incredible fishing scene. Whether you’re looking to pole the lagoons for Bonefish, hook a bonanza of Billfish, or spear your very own tasty meal along the reefs, there’s something for everyone. Variety is the spice of life, after all – come discover it for yourself!

Have you ever been fishing in Cozumel? What did you catch? Let us know in the comments below!

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