So you chose the Mexican Caribbean as the next item on your fishing bucket list. May we begin by saying what a superb choice that is, given that fishing the Riviera Maya is just about perfect this time of the year.
Reading this in front of your fireplace in mid-January? Dozens of panga boats just off the warm shores of Playa del Carmen are reeling in Marlin and Mahi Mahi right now.
Reading this in the middle of an August heat wave? Somebody’s just caught their first Permit in what is quickly proving to be the fly-fishing experience of their life, wading the flats of Cozumel’s north.
In fact, so many game fish annually call the clear turquoise waters of Riviera Maya home, you are very likely to find seasoned career captains swearing you can catch a Blue Marlin any day of the year. More and more fishing charters are currently spicing up their deals by implementing a ‘no catch, no pay’ policy for their big game fishing trips.
Before we dig deeper into all of the various angling opportunities these places have to offer, it is important to address the rules and regulations you are going to have to abide by.
First and foremost, you’re going to need a fishing license if you plan on engaging in any offshore fishing activities.
Fishing from land, on the other hand, doesn’t require a permit. You’ll need to fish at least 250 meters away from swimmers, however.
If you want to fish with a local captain, you should know that most fishing charters cover the licensing for you, and simply include it in the overall price. However, check with your captain to make sure that they’ve taken care of the licensing. Otherwise, you can easily get a permit online in a matter of minutes.
As far as the cost goes, the license will set you back about $8.40 for a day of fishing. A weekly license is $21, whereas the monthly and yearly permits are $31 and $42, respectively.
Only one rod per person can be in the water at a time. Of course, there aren’t any restrictions regarding the replacement items. If you’re bottom fishing, up to four hooks on a single vertical line can be used.
Riviera Maya Bag Limits
Your daily bag limit is ten fish per person, but there’s a catch. You can bag no more than 5 specimens of a single species, and only one sample of Marlin, Sailfish, and Swordfish per day, which counts as half of your daily limit.
Similarly, you can keep two Dorado, Tarpon, Shad, or Rooster Fish on a single day, amounting to half of the said ten-fish requirement. What this basically means is that, say, one Marlin and two Dorados, or one Sailfish and one Swordfish would count as your actual catch limit on any given day.
Of course, you can practice catch and release, as long as the fish leaves your boat alive and well. Keep in mind that, regardless of these rules, many captains do practice a strict ‘catch and release’ policy for all Billfish.
Riviera Maya Fishing Calendar
Now that we’ve covered the general know-how about fishing the Riviera Maya, it’s time we get close and personal with everything fish-related these three destinations have to offer. Starting with:
Playa del Carmen Fishing
This past decade marked the rapid transformation of Playa del Carmen from a sleepy fishing community to one of the top Mexican tourist destinations south of Cancun. The city is now a unique blend of ancient Mayan heritage and a bustling international residential population. The tropical paradise vibe is only an added bonus. But on to the more important things: fish!
You’ll be happy to learn that Playa has been geographically blessed with ripe angling conditions in two major ways.
First, the island of Cozumel lies just east of Playa’s shores, and the channel formed between the coast and the island creates what science refers to as a freaking game fish superhighway.
Second, the entire area is basically situated on the very edge of a large underwater valley, meaning that the ocean floor suddenly and substantially descends just a couple hundreds of meters from the coastline, bringing offshore fishing as close to the shore as you’ve ever had it.
And I’ve only just started with the good news.
The Billfish of Playa del Carmen
Sailfish and Marlin are abundant off the shores of Playa as they migrate through the channel during the entire spring and summer. The peak season is March to July, but if you’re the type of angler that appreciates a little peace and quiet with your fishing destination, come September, you can avoid the tourist mayhem and have the best of both worlds.
Although these are undoubtedly the best times to go after Billfish in Playa, keep in mind that most captains claim that there is a non-migratory, resident population of Sailfish in the area, and yes, that the Blue Marlin can be spotted on any day of the year.
In fact, both White and Blue Marlin are regulars in these waters (peak season: March – July). This is exactly why this is the place often cherry-picked by those looking to score a so-called Grand Slam – Catching a Sailfish, Blue and White Marlin in a single day.
The first week of May is considered the Grand Slam week around here. Most charter boats require you release any Billfish you catch. However, there are several taxidermists in the area, should you decide you want a replica of your catch. And of course, bring your camera!
As far as the smaller game fish are concerned, there are plenty of Dorado, Barracuda, Wahoo, Snapper, Grouper, Jack Crevalle and Kingfish around. The best part is, most of them are willing to hit your bait year-round. All of these (especially Dorado) make for some of the most premium tasting fish in the world. Although it isn’t allowed to prepare and fillet the fish right there on the charter boat, most restaurants in Playa would be more than happy to serve your catch to you. The service runs for around eight bucks, along with a side dish of the best that the local cuisine has to offer. Be aware, though, that many of the local restaurants are closed by 5 p.m.
Types of Fishing in Playa del Carmen
Being an international hotspot for Sailfish, big game trolling is naturally what it’s all about in Playa. The best part? Thanks to that whole sitting-at-the-edge-of-a-valley thing, the fishing grounds are as close as half a mile offshore. Expect to see Sailfish, Blue and White Marlin, Dolphin, Kingfish, Wahoo, and Barracuda at the end of your line.
A full day private charter including lunch for up to 6 people (31ft boat) will cost $700-800, and $900-$1100 on larger boats(40-50ft) for up to 12 people. Half day trips are $450-$650 depending on boat size & equipment on-board. You can see what’s on offer, compare prices, and book your Playa charter online here.
Playa del Carmen Bottom Fishing
More of a bottom fishing kind of guy/gal? You can look forward to groupers and a variety of Snappers (Mutton Gray, Yellow Tail, Cubera). Still, most charters recommend a trolling/bottom fishing combo for a couple of reasons.
One, if you’re a beginner angler or are vacationing with one, one single fishing technique can become boring after a time. What the captain will usually do is troll your way out to the bottom fishing destination, and repeat the motion on your way back.
Two, the sea does tend to get a bit rowdy every once in a while, making bottom fishing throughout the entire day a pretty uncomfortable experience on those occasions. Be sure to ask your captain for advice if you’re opting for this type of fishing.
Jigging in the Playa del Carmen Fisheries
Although jigging is not a traditional technique in Mexico, there are jigging opportunities in Playa if you look hard enough. A couple of jigging tournaments take place each year, aimed at promoting this type of fishing, and some charters offer to take you jigging for Amberjacks October through March.
Do, however, make sure to bring along your own jigging tackle, as most places don’t offer one. Also, you can thank the Barracudas in advance for losing some of your terminal tackle, so bring extra jigs as a rule of thumb.
Playa for the Fly Angler
As far as fly fishing and some light tackle action go, Playa del Carmen isn’t really flat abundant, which is why your best bet is finding a charter willing to take you a bit more to the south. The Sian Ka’an Biosphere, Xcalak and the Chetumal Bay (60-90 minute ride) are all prime fly fishing destinations. You might also want to visit the quieter areas of the local Playa beaches early in the morning.
Finally, beach fishing is a possibility, although most recommend you err on the side of caution and take a 20-minute walk south of the hotel zone. This is where you’ll find a few more remote beaches. Most hotel owners will be quick to shoo you away as soon as the first beachgoers arrive.
Cozumel Fishing Opportunities
Located east of the shores of Playa del Carmen and staring back at the entire Yucatan Peninsula, Cozumel stands as Mexico’s largest Caribbean island. The island is nestled amidst the largest reef system in the Americas, naturally vibrant with fish life.
Almost the entire annual income of Cozumel comes from tourism, primarily diving and charter fishing.
Similar to Playa, there are no lengthy travel times to your fishing destination: the shoreline disappears less than two miles from the pier, and other than being stunningly beautiful, the reefs serve to keep all the game fish very close to home. As far as offshore fishing is concerned, the fish selection and the peak seasons mostly mirror Playa del Carmen. However, there are exciting and unique opportunities for those of you looking to spend a day wading in the flats.
Trolling Cozumel Fisheries
Trolling is understandably super popular, with Sailfish and Marlin acting as the primary targets, usually followed by Wahoo, Tuna and Dorado. Bottom fishing offers good numbers of Grouper, Snappers, Triggerfish, Amberjack, as well as various reef fish that populate the area.
Drifting at the reefs will get you close to Mutton and Yellowtail Snapper as well as Strawberry Grouper and Amberjack. The fighting abilities of these fish are only paralleled by their sublime taste.
Hard as it is to believe, that’s not the best of what Cozumel has to offer. Fly fishing in the island’s northern flats is one of the best experiences in all of the Caribbean.
The three spacious lagoons are home to a yearly supply of Bonefish. If you time your visit correctly, you can also expect to find these shallow waters teeming with Permit and Tarpon. You know what that means, right? The coveted fly fishing Grand Slam.
If that’s not enough, there will be Snapper, Triggerfish, and even baby Snook to try your skills against.
And if you’re up for a bigger challenge, you can try an offshore fly fishing trip. This is where you’ll be battling the likes of Marlin, Sailfish, and Wahoo armed only with a fly fishing rod or light tackle rod. Now that’s bound to make for a story back home.
Obviously, Cancun doesn’t need much of an intro. This is the most popular tourist spot in all of the Caribbean, making Puerto Rico and the Bahamas look like quiet vacation alternatives in comparison. But does Cancun have what it takes to make the best of the world’s anglers happy as well? Yes. Yes, it does.
Trolling and bottom fishing opportunities are just as good as anywhere else along the coast of the Yucatan peninsula. You will find all the usual suspects: Sailfish, White and Blue Marlin, Mahi Mahi, Kingfish, Wahoo, Tuna, Grouper, and Snapper. What sets Cancun apart from Cozumel and Playa is that you actually have to go to the fish instead of the other way round. Excellent deep sea fishing grounds lie between 15 and 35 miles from the shore.
As with Cozumel, when it comes to fly fishing and light tackle, Cancun does not disappoint. There are two fly fishing and light tackle areas to choose from. First, you can try your luck in the Cancun Hotel Zone lagoons. If you’re up for a quieter experience, head for the shallow waters of Isla Blanca, notorious for amazing Bonefishing.
The Hotel Zone is located at the Yucatan’s northeastern tip. It consists of three lagoons, of which the Nichupte lagoon is the best known. Here you can fish for Tarpon and Snook throughout the year. The summer months are the best for Permit and Bonefishing.
The Isla Bonita ‘suffers’ from a lack of development compared to the rest of Cancun. If you’re looking to get away from all the noise and the commotion, come here. Not to mention that the locals claim that landing ten fish a day on the flats of Isla Bonita is anything but uncommon.
Got Questions About Fishing the Riviera Maya?
Don’t know which rod to bring, where to buy lures in Cancun, where to fish for Tarpon? Don’t hesitate to ask! We’ve got a few local captains that will be glad to help you out.