It was early morning in Playa Del Carmen Mexico. The cab driver pointed his finger towards a dark alley flanked with old beat up pick-up trucks, small cars and scooters. There were a couple of vehicles plugging the middle of the alley facing out, engines running. Some dim lights peeking out from the end of the alley with the darkness of the sky silhouetting the scene. I knew this was where I asked him to drop us off. I tracked our progress during the 40 minute cab ride from the resort. I just wasn’t really comfortable with where we were.
Our driver asks in broken English, “What time do you want me to pick you up?” I had no idea how this was going to work out. I thought about saying we would stay in the cab right now. I just replied, “I don’t know when we will be back.” He gave me a card and said I could call him. Tony and I looked at each other in the back of the cab. I saw a look of confused inquisition on his face. I have no idea what he saw in my face. I took out $30 USD and gave it to the driver as we stepped out into the darkness. Tony and I watched him take off, grabbed our backpack, and headed down the alley.
We squeezed past two delivery trucks in the alley with their cargo doors wide open blocking the narrow path between vehicles. We had to swing the doors to get past. Finally, we were able to make out a gang of short stocky figures under a solid wooden archway. Light was spilling out open doorways and windows on either side of the alley. The sounds of laughter and conversations in Spanish all stopped as we emerged from the darkness into the dim light under to archway. One of the guys is facing away from us with both hands stuffed full of fishing poles. The tips of the poles vibrated in the air as he turned towards us. “Who are you looking for?” he asks. His English was better than the drivers. “Captain Salas” was my reply. “I will tell him you are here” and he disappeared into the darkness, walking down the sandy beach and carefully stepping over mooring lines coming out of the water and stretching up towards the beach.
Tony and I looked at each other again and moved off to the side. The men started working and talking again. After a few minutes our friend came back. “He will come and get you in a few minutes”.
Twilight was breaking across the water as a new figure appeared walking along the beach. As he came closer he angled up towards us. All he said was “Jon” in a way that wasn’t really a question, nor was it a statement. I held out my hand, “Yes, nice to meet you.” I stuck my thumb out towards Tony, “This is Tony.” He shook our hands and asked us to follow him down to the boat.
The boat was bobbing in the surf about 10 feet off shore. A stern line attached to a concrete block on the beach. The bow line dipping into the water and attached to a buoy about 75 feet off shore. Captain Salas stood in the surf and pulled the boat towards shore as his First Mate played out slack on the bow line. As the boat was nearly grounded in the sand, the mate scampers to the stern and holds out a hand as Captain Salas hands up our bag and then holds onto the motor to fight against the surf and helps us climb aboard. We move forward past the console and take a seat on the side bench near the bow. Captain and his Mate quickly pull us out, fire up the 60hp outboard and soon we are threading our way out past boats and buoys, heading onto the Caribbean Sea.
It doesn’t take us long and they put the motor into idle and start grabbing jig poles. Heavy rods with large open face reels wound with thick line. The First Mate shows us the colors on the line and explain that we will drop the jig about 300’ then jig up to 200’ and repeat. He plays out the line and demonstrates then hands the rod to Tony and grabs another one for me. Before we can get all the lines in the water Captain Salas yells out, “Fish on!” I grab the rod from Tony and send him back to reel in the fish.
Deep sea fishing is a lot of work. To reel in the fish, you lift the tip of the rod up about as high as you can then reel in line as you drop the tip towards the water. Then you do it again, and again, and again. Slowly you reel in the line, foot by foot. It doesn’t take long and the fish goes on a run, the drag squealing and line furiously peeling off the reel. If we made any progress reeling in the fish, we just lost it, and then some! It probably takes 10-15 minutes to land one of these large fish. You don’t know what is on the end of the line until most of the line is in. As the fish approaches the boat you can typically see the white belly showing up like a cloud deep beneath the surface.
Our first two fish with Captain Salas
After about 90 minutes of fishing we have five fish in the boat. They are a mixture of Grouper and Amber Jack. Tony and I are tired and sore. The crew is still jigging with a rhythmic pace that seems amazing to us. We book a 6-hour trip and realize there is no way we can keep jigging for that amount of time. I asked if we could troll for a while and they explained that the trolling isn’t that good at this time of year. I mentioned that Tony has never trolled before and we could use a break. The crew stowed the jig poles and set up for trolling with some large sardine looking chubs. We trolled for about an hour with no success then returned to jigging.
When we returned to shore, Captain Salas had us haul the fish up to the wooden archway at the end of the alley. There are a number of hotels along the beach so tourists are checking out our catch. I am sure that it is great advertising to have the Gringo’s show off their catch! We snapped a few pictures while they cleaned the fish. The owner of a restaurant on the beach came out of the door with a platter and took a huge fillet into his kitchen where they prepared sashimi, ceviche, fish fingers, and grilled fish for us. It was delicious!
Sashimi de la captura del día
A year later we repeated the trip, this time booking a 4-hour trip and adding Matt to the mix. It was a bit more comforting being dropped off at the dark alley the second time after having a successful trip the year before. We had another good haul with six fish, all Amber Jack. At one time we had three fish on at the same time and the crew did a great job unbraiding the lines and landing all three.
Tony and I recently fished with Captain Salas again for the third time in as many years. He moved his boat to a different location on the beach where you don’t have to find your way down a long dark alley. It is still a bit uneasy being dropped off at a nondescript location on a dark beach! When Captain Salas greeted me this time, he held out his hand and said, “Nice to see you again my friend!” We only caught two fish this year but one was a Barracuda, so that was a fun twist.
Captain Salas holds the barracuda while Tony keeps his fingers away from those teeth!
There are many charter boats in the Riviera Maya that are larger and do mostly trolling. Some of them will hold up to a dozen guests. You can walk down a pier and board the boat without getting your feet wet. The seats are padded and you can stay in the cabin until a fish is on the line. They send a van out to your resort and provide the transportation as well as the fishing experience. If you prefer a bit more adventure and don’t mind some sand between your toes, try out Captain Salas. I think it is a great option and he will show you a good time with an authentic and more intimate fishing experience. He and his crew love to fish and enjoy sharing the experience with their guests.