Hurricane Season - To Fish Or Not To Fish
As the title may suggest, hurricanes and relaxing Caribbean getaways don't exactly go hand in glove. High winds, low light and lashings of rain are hardly the idyllic combination you picture as you book your trip months beforehand. From a guide's perspective, these are not the conditions we look forward to either, as, if nothing else, we are here to make your vacation memorable and passionately share our environment with you to the fullest extent. Trying conditions can make this a bit more of an uphill battle. However, I am here to tell you to discard everything you just read above, along with anything else you may have read/heard about tackling the flats during hurricane season. Why? Well, because I believe that some of the best fishing of the year can be found during these few months between July/August - October/November. If you read on a little, I will tell you why...
So, the Caribbean hurricane season, when is it? Strictly speaking, the Caribbean hurricane season spans around 6 months, between June and November. Practically, half the year we have chances of incurring hurricanes or tropical storms. This is true for many parts of the Caribbean, and in recent years we have seen several hurricanes do significant damage to parts of the Caribbean, along with Louisiana, Florida and Texas. Over in the western Caribbean, we don't usually see hurricanes as such, or for that matter, any destructive storm systems passing through. This is due to our geographic location more than anything. Most storms tend to curve away from the Yucatan peninsula, as opposed to crossing right over it. In addition to this, being where we are, we don't tend to notice a shift in weather patterns until early September, running through to late November. Essentially, making our hurricane season 3 months, cutting it in half.
How does all this relate to fly fishing and having a great trip?
Well, booking a trip this time of the year is a double-edged sword admittedly, but for those who roll the dice, the rewards can be significant. I often quote "Delboy's"classic line from British sit-com "Only Fools and Horses" at this time of year, "he who dares wins, Rodders". Although comical, the sentiment rings true. Whilst I would caution anyone in booking a trip around this time of year months in advance, if you can hold out and book a trip within a few weeks, to a month of coming down, you should be covered in the weather department. As a result, this time of year is great as a last-minute option.
Lets cut to the chase. What makes the risk worth the reward?
I will start by cautioning that this is part theory and part personal experience; however, the results speak for themselves. It all comes down to the shifting pressure systems that we find this time of year. Whilst we do have the occasional storm and low-pressure band move through in the earlier half of the year, we have an extremely active cycle of different pressure systems passing through during this 3-month window. That, mixed with the increasingly changeable weather patterns, come together to create some intense and hectic fishing windows. I believe this is caused by environmental and meteorological inconsistencies.
Now, It is worth noting before we continue, that fish can sense approaching storms and low-pressure bands. Flats species like Bonefish, Permit and Tarpon are very keyed into their environment and can sense these subtle changes well before a storm is predicted to arrive. I believe that this powerful ability almost to predict the future, or indeed take a very educated guess, is the all-important factor in why we so often get red-letter days this time of year. Fish will sense these changes and invariably get up on the flats in more numbers, possibly stay for longer spells and more often than not, throw caution to the wind when it comes to feeding.
Whilst typing this, I am reminded of a day not so long ago in which I landed 7 Permit in 3 hours, along with the obliging Bonefish and a micro Tarpon to complete my slam. The day itself was rather grey and overcast, with a fastly approaching band of low pressure and the fish were keyed into this. We saw significant numbers of fish, and they were hungry! Lo and behold, a few days later, the band of low pressure released heavy rains and strong winds. We headed out a day or two after the storm on a beautiful bluebird sky morning, avoiding blown out spots and coloured water, in the hopes of another great day. The pressure band had moved north, and things were starting to return to normal. Whilst we weren't able to fish our usual Permit spots due to the water colour; we did have a very memorable afternoon chasing Bonefish on the beach. It seemed at one point that every Bonefish in Mexico was cruising that beach, looking for a post-storm snack. We quickly lost count of numbers and instead, revelled in what a great day we had.
We see this also with the Tarpon in Chetumal Bay. Pressure changes can send these fish into chaotic feeding spells, before going deep, or in some case, closer to Xcalak, send them back over the reef where they can still feed. When pressures equalize and calm returns, the fish are back on the flats within a few days, rolling high and on the feed.
As an angler, the real summary of this comes down to having a week of consistent weather earlier in the year, with good fishing, and consistency in catch rates, whilst also paying a higher lodge or in some cases, guide rate. Conversely, taking the chance on a trip later in the year, booking closer to your dates and paying off-season prices, whilst having fewer tourists or boats on the water, and the chance at one of your most memorable days on the water.
This also rings true from the DIY anglers' perspective. Fewer anglers and more access is only a good thing. You may get a few days of wind or overcast conditions which can make fishing more challenging, however, either side of those days, the fishing can be red hot, with fish appearing everywhere you go. Just last week, we were out with a client, trying to get the best out of a grey and overcast day, days before the arrival of hurricane Eta. Visibility was challenging, and we had to adjust our plans to target fish in locations where we could see them tail. We ended up having a great day, with a number of shots at Permit and Triggers throughout the day. We also had a hectic 2-hour window of Bonefishing, targeting numbers of fish in ankle-deep water. Safe to say we didn't have a dull moment and were rewarded for our efforts.
Ultimately the choice is yours, and there are several different factors that determine when you book a trip and what type of trip you are looking to get out of it. Whilst high season produces great fishing and more guaranteed weather for the non-fishing days or afternoons relaxing by the pool, don't by any means overlook this time of year and those red-letter days. Fewer anglers, cheaper rates, less pressured fish and if you hit it right, an experience that will stay with you a lifetime!