So you’ve chosen to tick the Mexican Caribbean off your angling bucket list. Good for you! With countless species and techniques to explore, fishing the Riviera Maya will put you smack in the middle of one of the most prolific angling destinations on the planet. Couple that with dream-like natural beauty and year-round pleasant weather, and you’ll see why this place is hailed as a bonafide angler’s paradise.
Each year, thousands of hopeful anglers flock to the Riviera Maya to catch the fish of their life. Beginners, experts, fly fishers, and big game hunters – all of them come in search of the big one. Many leave the Yucatán with dreams fulfilled and tales to tell. What is it that makes this strip of land so special? Let’s dive right into it!
What can I catch?
Perched on the lush Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, the Riviera Maya is a 150-mile stretch of coastline looking out into the mesmerizing, blue Caribbean. Spreading from Cancún in the north to Punta Allen in the south, the Riviera holds a variety of fish species roaming around.
One of the most iconic inshore fish species in the world, the “Ghost of the Flats” is a thing of legends. Anyone who’s ever fished the Riviera Maya knows that local anglers love nothing more than the thrill of chasing some feisty Bonefish. They love really shallow waters, and you’ll find them in abundance in Mexico’s flats.
If you’re looking for the most prolific Bonefishing spots, look no further than the island of Cozumel. Fly fishing in the island’s northern flats is one of the best experiences in all of the Caribbean. Its three spacious lagoons are home to a yearly supply of Bonefish. Head over there from March–May, or in fall for the most productive trip.
Snapper and Grouper
We can’t make a list of the Riviera Maya’s top fish species without including some bottom dwellers. These are the fish that will give you a real run for your money, but that will also have your mouth watering. At the top of the list, we have to mention the iconic Cubera Snapper, known as “Red Snapper” in this part of the world. These hard fighters live in the reefs off the coast of Riviera Maya, where you’ll find them gorging on anything from shrimp to lobster.
As for Grouper, there’s a variety of species that inhabit these beautiful reefs. Dusky, Red, and Black Grouper all love to roam around underwater structures, so you’ll be doing some serious bottom fishing here. You might also run into the giant Goliath Grouper, which is sure to be the experience of a lifetime. However, make sure to release this gentle beast if it ends up on the end of your line!
While we’re on the subject of tasty bottom dwellers, let’s mention another iconic creature – Amberjack. The Great Mayan Reef off the coast of Playa del Carmen holds an abundance of fish, and you’ll find Amberjack here in great numbers. They love roaming around these waters, and the best time to target them is September–March.
These are powerful creatures that are sure to put up a great fight and, as such, they’ve become a favorite of many anglers. The best way to entice their bite is to try out some jigging with a bait fish of your choice. They are aggressive eaters, so be prepared for them to bite hard!
Probably the most photogenic creature underwater, Mahi Mahi is a sight for sore eyes. These stunning colorful fish call the waters of Riviera Maya their home, and you’ll have no issues spotting them all along the coast. They absolutely love basking in the waters of the reefs, meaning you can get to their playgrounds in no time.
The best time to head out on a Mahi Mahi quest is anywhere from March through July. This is when the waters are beautiful and calm, and the only thing breaking the serenity is the fight you’ll get once you hook into this fighter! Along with the battle, you’ll get some delicious dinner at the end of the day, as well as some of the most beautiful photos.
Wrapping up our list, these fish are truly something special. They’re a family of some of the most coveted species out there. White Marlin, Blue Marlin, Sailfish, and Swordfish all call these tropical waters their home. If you manage to reel in three different Billfish species in a day, you’ll have a “Billfish Grand Slam” under your belt. Not too bad, eh?
So if this is something that sounds interesting, you’ll be happy to know that you can get all of these species not too far from shore. These incredible hard-fighting beasts are available all year-round, but the best time to target Billfish in these waters is in summer. Head out for some trolling action, and watch their stunning acrobatic leaps as you reel ’em in.
How to Fish the Riviera Maya
This stretch of Caribbean coastline is very diverse, so it’s no wonder that there are lots of ways to explore the area. Over the years, some of these places have become renowned for various types of fishing. You can enjoy many different types of fishing here, so let’s dive into it.
There’s nothing that can compare to cruising the turquoise waters of the Caribbean aboard a charter boat. It’s such a beautiful place that you’ll never want your trip to end. Not to mention how productive it is! Heading out with a professional captain is invaluable, especially when it’s your first time exploring this abundant fishery.
Visiting the deep waters off the coast requires you to hop on a boat, whether it’s the Mesoamerican Reefs or the open sea. You’ll get to enjoy your day in stunning nature, basking in the sun, with the wind in your hair. Paints a nice picture, doesn’t it? Add to that the thrill of fighting some of the most prized fish species that live in these waters and filling the bags, and you’ve got yourself an adventure to remember.
If you see yourself as more of a stationary angler, you’ll have a great time in the Riviera Maya too. The beaches are as stunning as they get, but they can be packed with tourists, making a fishing adventure a bit harder to come by. Be aware that you can’t cast a line within 250 meters of swimmers. However, there are some places you can visit for some surf fishing, as well as some incredible fly fishing spots!
Up in Cancún, there’s a host of lagoons and inlets you can explore. You can visit Isla Mujeres and Isla Blanca, famous for their fly fishing opportunities. Also, the coastal flats and lagoons around Tulum will allow you to experience inshore action that’s pretty much unrivaled in the Caribbean – and that’s saying a lot. The waters of Ascension Bay are home to an ungodly number of fish you can catch on the fly.
Depending on the season, you can catch anything from Bonefish and Permit to Snook and Tarpon. Land all of these on the same day, and you’ll achieve the coveted Inshore Grand Slam!
Are you a real thrill seeker? If you’re looking for a big adrenaline rush, you should consider one of the most primal ways of fishing. We’re talking about spearfishing, of course. It’s becoming increasingly popular on the Riviera Maya, especially around Playa del Carmen, where anglers explore the Great Mayan Reef this way.
It’s not for the faint of heart though, so make sure you find a reputable guide to take you out. You will be free diving, after all, so you want to make sure you’re safe at all times. Rise to the challenge, however, and you’ll be “underwater hunting” for Wahoo, Barracuda, Grouper, Snapper, and other reef inhabitants.
Where to Go Fishing on the Riviera Maya
Starting your coastal journey from the northeastern tip of the peninsula, you’ll see a number of bustling resort towns. In contrast, the southern Riviera Maya is a quieter part of the coast. With ancient ruins jutting out silently from the jungle, this part of the coast seems a world away from the luxury resort towns of the north. Let’s see what some of the best fishing spots on the Riviera Maya are.
- Cancún: This is one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of the Caribbean. It gives entrance to a key migratory route for the world’s most exciting pelagic fish. If you thought the town was packed with action, wait until you get on the water. Billfish, Mackerel, Wahoo, Mahi Mahi, Snapper Grouper – they’re all in the cards!
- Playa del Carmen: The channel formed between the coast of Playa and the island of Cozumel creates a giant game fish superhighway. This means that just a few hundred feet from the coast, the ocean floor suddenly and substantially plummets. For you, that spells offshore fishing as close to the coast as possible.
- Cozumel: Just across from Playa del Carmen, Cozumel stands as Mexico’s largest Caribbean island. Nestled amidst the largest reef system in the Americas, this island is teeming with all manner of marine life. The area is rich in coral formations, making it an ideal feeding ground for a large number of fish species.
- Tulum: Further down the coastline, the landscape shifts into an untamed, but more tranquil one. Tulum might be quieter than its northern neighbors, but you certainly wouldn’t know it by its waters. There’s an astounding variety of fish to see in these parts. You’ll have no crowds to contend with, so you’ll pretty much have all this bounty to yourself.
Fishing Regulations on the Riviera Maya
If you want to fish with a local captain, you should know that most fishing charters on the Riviera Maya cover the licensing for you, and simply include it in the overall price. However, you should still check with your captain to make sure that they’ve taken care of the licensing. Otherwise, you can easily get a permit online.
Fishing from land, on the other hand, doesn’t require a permit. But each angler can only have one line in the water at a time. If you’re bottom fishing, you can use up to four hooks on a single vertical line at a time. Your daily bag limit is 10 fish per person, but there’s a catch. You can bag no more than five 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 (Mahi Mahi), Tarpon, Shad, or Roosterfish in a single day, amounting to half of the said 10-fish requirement. Basically, this means that 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 even after you reach your bag limit. Keep in mind that many captains do practice a strict “catch and release” policy for all Billfish.
Riviera Maya: A Fishing Hotspot for Every Angler
Most good fishing destinations “specialize” in one kind of angling. The great places excel in as many as two, sometimes even three. But when you find a place that offers pretty much every form of angling known to man, you know that you’re talking about one special place. Riviera Maya is one of those places.
Have you ever visited the Riviera Maya? Did you get a taste of the angling scene? Let us know about it in the comments below, or ask questions you might have. We love hearing from you!
Sean is an optometrist who left his day job to write about fishing. He calls himself a lucky angler because his favorite fish, Mahi Mahi, can be found almost anywhere – even though he’s lost more of them than he’s willing to admit. Obsessed by all forms of water sports, you’ll find him carrying one of three things: a ball, a surf board, or his fishing rod.