Fishing in Tulum: All You Need to Know
Sep 7, 2020 | 9 minute read
Reading Time: 9 minutes

In some ways, Tulum is a town of contradictions. It’s both ancient and modern. There are beaches and jungles, and luxury apartment buildings right next to traditional beach huts. You can explore Mayan ruins, then end your day at a fine-dining restaurant. “There’s something for everyone” has never been more true – and this isn’t just limited to the on-land offerings. A Tulum fishing adventure has something for everyone, too!

If you’re a deep sea fishing enthusiast, this pocket of the Yucatan Peninsula is home to some world-famous underwater beasts. Tulum has the good fortune of being located right on the edge of an underwater canyon. This means that waters get extremely deep, extremely quickly!

Tulum's coastline on a sunny day, showing the beach and the sea as well as Mayan ruins

More into plumbing the depths of the reefs for some tasty table fare? You’ll have the mighty Mesoamerican (or Great Mayan) Reef right at your disposal, just minutes from shore. Then, finally, there’s Tulum’s flats fishing action. An angling adventure in this town wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the shallow, fish-filled waters of Ascension Bay!

Once you’ve had your fill of angling action, you’ll be able to head to shore and experience the rest of Tulum your way. Whether you’re looking to enjoy the town’s traditional rustic side, its more polished and luxurious offerings, or simply want to listen to the waves crashing on one of its seemingly endless beaches, Tulum can be whatever you want it to be. Grab your rods and reels and carry on reading to find out what’s in store…

What can I catch in Tulum?

When you’re planning your Tulum fishing trip, this is the probably the first question on your lips. Luckily, this part of Riviera Maya is bustling with so many world-famous fish that we could probably fill a book with ’em. However, we’ve come up with a shortlist of our favorite species just for you!

Infographic showing the top catches in Tulum, covering the reef, the bay, and offshore waters, with Tarpon, Barracuda, Permit, Snook, Bonefish, Marlin, Sailfish, Mahi Mahi, Swordfish, Grouper, Snapper, and Amberjack

Permit

“Permit Mecca,” “The Permit Capital of the World…” Where better to cast a line for this hard-fighting fish than in a place that has earned these nicknames? We’re talking about Tulum’s Ascension Bay (bahía de la Ascensión), of course. It’s so Permit-packed that it draws saltwater fishing enthusiasts from far and wide.

The Permit is one of the most intelligent fish around, which makes it one of the hardest targets. It’s also one of the most exciting! Landing one takes plenty of skill, patience, and experimentation. Experts tend to face-off against these fish on the fly, or by using light tackle. They’ll chomp on anything from live crabs and shrimp to squid or cut lobster. You’ll usually spot them in the shallow waters of Ascension Bay, only 2–3 feet deep.

A man holds a big Permit on a flats boat and smiles, with the bay behind him

Once this fish has bitten, it makes long, fasts runs to the bottom of the water, aggressively shaking its head. Talk about rod-bending action! Although anyone can cast a line for Ascension Bay’s Permit population, this fish can be somewhat frustrating for newbies and little ones.

If you have some angling experience under your belt, however, and want to return home with some real bragging rights, a Permit battle should go straight to the top of your Tulum fishing list. Even better, this fish makes up one part of Mexico’s famous Inshore Grand Slam. Which brings us to the next species on our list…

Bonefish

Yep, the “Ghost of the Flats” is another popular catch in Ascension Bay. Along with Permit and Tarpon, it’s one third of that coveted Inshore Grand Slam. Casting a line for Bonefish on the flats is something of a local tradition in this part of Mexico. Tulum’s easy access to Ascension Bay means it’s the perfect place to try it out.

A man smiles and holds a Bonefish in front of him towards the camera with Ascension Bay in the background

As with Permit, most local anglers here prefer to test their skills on the fly, or by using light tackle. Unlike Permit, the Bonefish is a perfect target for novice fly fishermen and budding young anglers, as well as those with more experience. They swim in schools, are drawn to pretty much any fly, and will usually “compete” for your bait. Once you spot your school, you’re in with a pretty solid chance of a Bonefish battle!

Yes, this species might not grow to the epic proportions of other inshore favorites, but it makes up for it in intelligence and wit. Also, there’s the sheer number of fish here. Local anglers like to say that Tulum’s flats have the largest number of Bonefish per water acre than anywhere else in the world.

A view over Ascension Bay showing some grassy waters and a blue sky

We’re not 100% sure if this is true, but we do know that this area boasts a year-round Bonefish population. You can cast your line here 365 days a year, but the general rule of thumb is: the warmer the weather, the better the Bonefish bite.

Barracuda

Next up is a species known for being fast, ferocious, and extremely toothy. Yep, we could only be talking about the Great Barracuda. This species inhabits not only the flats of Ascension Bay, but the bluewaters around the Mesoamerican Reef. What does this mean? Well, no matter where you cast your line, the chances of coming face-to-gills with this fanged fish is pretty strong!

It also means that Barracuda fishing in Tulum is open to pretty much anyone, regardless of age or previous angling experience. Never wielded a rod in your life? Head to the calmer waters of the bay and practice your casts against this beast using braided tackle.

A man stands in the flats holding a big Barracuda with the water behind him

If you’re more experienced, you can battle your ‘Cuda on the fly, or head to the waters around the reef for a completely different approach – spearfishing.

Barracuda fishing in Tulum is strong year-round, so you’ll be able to chase your target whenever you visit. A ‘Cuda also makes for a pretty spectacular photo opportunity, thanks to the incredible sizes this species can reach – and then there are those teeth, of course! If you’re a newbie, or are taking your little ones on their first fishing trip in Tulum, nothing quite beats reeling in and then snapping a shot with this beast.

Billfish

How could we possibly talk about Tulum’s fishing scene without including the brilliant Billfish action that’s on offer? As we mentioned, this town is located right along a deep underwater canyon, which is home to a whole gang of world-famous big game fish. Among them, you’ll find Blue Marlin, White Marlin, Sailfish, and Swordfish – otherwise known as Mexico’s Billfish Grand Slam!

Three men hold a big Sailfish on board a sportfishing vessel

Although you can cast your line for these species all along Riviera Maya’s coastline, Tulum boasts one of the shortest travel times to these species’ hunting grounds. Thanks to that underwater canyon, you’ll be able to cast your line for these hard-fighters just minutes from departing the dock. It’s a truly unbeatable combination of less travel time and a lot more fishing time.

When you’re out on the water, chances are you’ll be trolling for your target catch. Anglers of all ages and skill levels can try out this technique, so if you’re a newbie, why not make your first catch one that’ll go down in the history books? If you’re an experienced angler, you’ll know there’s no better sight than your target’s fin slicing through the water – and the bite that comes after.

Two men and a woman hold a large Marlin on board a sport fishing vessel, with the ocean behind them

These waters are bustling with Billfish year-round, but the most productive time to visit is during the hot summer months. Working up a tan while battling deep sea beasts? Sign us up!

How can I fish in Tulum?

On a Boat

To get the most out of Tulum’s varied fishery, hopping aboard a local charter vessel is a must. You’ll find plenty of local captains waiting to take you out and explore these waters. Not only will you save precious fishing time as your captain guides you to hottest spots around, but you’ll also be treated to plenty of local tips and tricks. It’s a win-win situation!

The type of boat you’ll be fishing from depends on the type of angling action you want to experience. If you’re heading to Ascension Bay for that Inshore Grand Slam, chances are you’ll be poled across the shallow waters on a skiff or flats vessel. Some captains might even use a traditional Mexican-style panga.

Two men stand aboard a flats vessel as a third man poles them across the flats

If it’s reef and offshore action you’re after, however, then you’ll be climbing aboard a whole different beast. Captains in Tulum generally like their boats to be fast and rigged to the gills. They’re perfect for zooming off to the hotspots! Most offshore captains also carry spearfishing equipment, and you’ll find the majority of spearfishing opportunities on board these vessels.

On Foot

Perhaps the most popular way to fish on foot in Tulum is when you’re exploring the bays. We mentioned that most captains will pole you across the flats to hook your target fish. The others will encourage you to jump off the boat and climb in the water!

It’s true that some of the most productive spots in Ascension Bay can only be reached by boat, so most adventures start from a vessel. However, as the waters are so shallow, many captains like to encourage wade fishing once they’re at the hotspots. This allows you to follow the fish more carefully, and reduces the possibility of spooking them. It’s also a great way to cool off!

A man stands in shallow waters on a sunny day, holding a fishing rod

If you believe that on foot fishing should involve no vessel whatsoever, then the area of Sian Ka’an is strongly recommended by local anglers. It’s peaceful and tranquil, and you’ll be able to fish the lagoons and ocean from here. It’s the best of both worlds, all in one spot.

Where should I fish in Tulum?

We mentioned before that there’s something for everyone in Tulum. This extends to the angling action, too. There’s a whole variety of fish species to target, a plethora of ways to cast your line, and plenty of hotspots to visit, of course. Knowing where to start can be overwhelming! Not to worry, however. We’ve outlined our favorites below for you.

A view of Sian Ka'an reserve on a sunny day, showing the lagoon waters
  • Northwest Ascension Bay: Okay, we’re going to be honest here. No matter where you go in the bay, chances are you’ll be greeted by plenty of inshore game fish favorites. There’s a reason why this fishery is known around the world for its incredible angling action, after all! However, if it’s huge Permit and a Bonefish bonanza you’re after, head to the shallow water flats at the northwestern point of the bay.
  • Boca Paila: Ascension Bay might be the name on everyone’s lips when it comes to flats fishing, but make sure you don’t overlook nearby Boca Paila. Although it’s only located a short drive south of Tulum proper, this fishery hasn’t been decimated at all. It’s still packed full of Bonefish, and offers up a surprisingly peaceful (and plentiful!) day on the water.
  • Playa el Mariachi: Tulum has plenty of beaches, but Playa el Mariachi is a firm favorite with anglers and deep sea enthusiasts. Facing some incredible Mayan ruins, this location is an excellent departure point for visitors looking to explore the Mesoamerican Reef and beyond.
  • The Bridge at Sian Ka’an: If you’re looking for the perfect on-foot angling adventure, head straight to the Sian Ka’an reserve. Travel as far as the bridge, where you’ll be greeted by some excellent angling action. Turn one way, and you’ll have a plethora of lagoons at your disposal. Turn the other way, and the open ocean awaits.

Anything else I need to know?

Just the local rules and regulations! All anglers require a valid Mexico fishing license in order to cast a line in Tulum. If you’re fishing alongside a local charter captain, they’ll include your fishing license in the cost of your trip. This goes for spearfishing, too.

Signage at a tackle shop, advertising bait and fishing licenses.

If you’re fishing alone, you’ll need to purchase a license, which can be done online. It costs around US$8.40 for a one-day license.

Although catch and release is growing more popular in Tulum, you’ll probably want to keep some of your catch. Under Mexican regulations, each angler is limited to 10 fish per day. Some fish, however, are worth more “points” than others. Here’s a quick breakdown of the current rules:

  • An individual angler can bag no more than five specimens of a single species (e.g. Permit).
  • 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.

Tulum: Your Adventure, Your Way

We said it before, and we’ll say it again: fishing in Tulum really does offer something for everyone. Whether you’re looking to cruise the flats for plenty of Permit, or hook a Billfish bonanza offshore, the sheer diversity of angling opportunities here means nothing is off limits. Grab your rods and reels and get ready to discover your very own slice of Tulum, on land and beyond. Your perfect adventure awaits!

The castle at Tulum on the beach at sunset

Have you ever been fishing in Tulum? What did you catch? Any tips or tricks? Let us know in the comments!

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