Bill Matyi with a Pesca Maya bonefish taken on a fly.
Panga – a popular boat design used to fish in tropical waters.
Photos courtesy of Capt. Gus 

Bill Mayti, good friend and fishing partner, suggested that we take a break from January’s cold and go bonefishing in sunny Mexico. We stayed on a barrier island about ninety miles south of Cancun in the Sian Ka’an (Mayan for “where the sky is born”) Biosphere Reserve. The park was alive with tropical wildlife, including monkeys, toucans, flamingos, crocodiles and ocelots. Better yet, the shallow lagoons were heavily populated with bonefish, tarpon, permit, snook and a host of other warm saltwater fish.

The flight to Cancun, Mexico was the easy part, which took a little over two hours. The next two hours, we traveled by car past the fabulous Caribbean Sea beach resorts of Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum. When we left Tulum, the pavement ended and what had been a six lane highway quickly became a sandy rut-filled trail that led to a boat landing. There we boarded a panga, a twenty- three foot narrow flat bottom boat, powered by a fifty-horse power engine. Forty-five minutes later, we arrived at the Pesca Maya Fishing Lodge (

Ascension Bay’s flats encompass hundreds of square miles, which makes it one of the most likely places to encounter all three “grand slam” species – bonefish, tarpon and permit. In fact, there are so many bonefish roaming the flats, that they are the “go-to” fish when others aren’t hitting. That’s exactly what happened to us on our first day. The morning began with multiple hook-ups and hundreds of bonefish sightings. After lunch, Bill waded toward a pair of tailing permit, estimated to be between ten or fifteen pounds.  After several presentations with a crab pattern fly, the disinterested duo slid off the flat. Later that afternoon, we made several presentations to juvenile tarpon in a brackish lagoon. Happily, the day ended when Bill hooked a thirty-pounder, which threw his tarpon fly after four breathtaking, head shaking leaps.

Day-two found us in a mangrove bay surrounded by bonefish. But, as is generally the case when they’re tailing, the water is shallower than the draft of the boat, and the bottom was too soft for wading. We had to make difficult long casts. The biggest fish, about seven pounds, ignored our “got-cha” flies, even after changing colors and sizes several times. Over the next hour, a few swam within range. We enjoyed playing and boating several in the three to four pound range.

One might wonder why anglers travel such distances to catch a fish that averages less than five pounds and is not even edible. Some say it’s the ultimate game fish because of its leeriness and the patience required to tempt one into biting. If that’s not enough, when they hit, the fight is mind-blowing! A seven pounder can tear a hundred yards of line off a reel in a matter of seconds. First timers are dumbfounded when they see the line zipping through the water at twenty plus miles per hour, Think about it.  A largemouth bass can swim in short spurts up to twelve mph. A bonefish can outrun any fish on the flats, including the speedy barracuda.

One doesn’t have to go to Mexico to catch bonefish. In Florida, they can be caught from Biscayne Bay south to Key West and the Marquesas Keys. They also live in the waters of the Bahamas, Bermuda, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the British West Indies.

Free Fishing Seminar – “Getting Ready for Spring” – Jake Bussolini will discuss the how’s and where’s of catching pre-spawn and early spring bass, hybrids, crappie and white perch. This ninety minute session will begin at 6:30 p.m. on February 17th at Gander Mountain, Exit 36, in Mooresville, NC. For additional information, call 704 658 0822.

Tips from Capt. Gus: Small minnows not only tempt crappie, but are also great for taking white perch on a small hook and a light split shot weight. It’s hard to wait, but when a fish begins to nibble, give it plenty of time to swallow the bait before setting the hook.

Hot Spots of the Week: Suspended hybrids, stripers, bass and white perch are along the edges of the main river channel and major creek runs on both sides of the Highway 150 Bridge. Best bets are from marker 17A south to marker 13 and from marker 7 to marker 2A. White perch fishing has been exceptional, with some reporting catches exceeding one hundred fish per boat. The bigger perch are suspended in deep water, so when in doubt, fish deeper. Anglers fishing for hybrids and stripers are trolling Alabama/Umbrella rigs, deep jigging with spoons or slow trolling live baits.

The surface water temperature varies by location, but is mainly in the forties in open waters not affected by power generation. The lake level is about 2.5′ below full pond on Lake Norman and 2.8′ below full on Mountain Island Lake.

Capt. Gus Gustafson of Lake Norman Ventures, Inc. is an Outdoor Columnist and a full time Professional Fishing Guide on Lake Norman, NC. Visit his website, or call 704-617-6812.  For additional information, e-mail