Along Mexico’s Caribbean coast, fly fishing is only one prize attraction in The Xflats’ serene unspoilt surroundings
For saltwater fly fishers, there is no greater prize in the sea than the permit. Catching this smart, elusive fish is so challenging that success is marked with a traditional celebration – a scorpion in a glass of tequila. At The Xflats at Tierra Maya, a beautiful, isolated saltwater fly-fishing destination on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, there is space on the wall for a successful angler to leave their signature should they catch a permit – plus a small supply of scorpions behind the bar, just in case.
“This fishery is now known as one of the richest in the world for permit,” says The Xflats owner Jesse Colten. “Everyone is here to catch lots of species but almost always the real goal is to catch the permit, which some people have been seeking for a decade. It’s the hole-in-one of saltwater fly fishing and our guides are ridiculously successful at helping guests achieve it.”
The Xflats is located inside the Yucatan Peninsula’s Xcalak National Reef Park, in Xcalak, a sleepy coastal village near the border with Belize. Jesse began his long journey south working as a fly-fishing guide at home in Colorado. As it became busier, he took clients further afield, seeking out unique fishing opportunities around the world.
The search brought Jesse to Xcalak, where the sea is rich in natural resources – not just permits, but also sought-after bonefish and tarpon. “Saltwater fly fishing in the flats attracts a certain sportsperson, one with a high degree of patience who is prepared to stalk in clear shallow water, fishing by sight,” he says. “This place is for people who want to seek something – and maybe catch something – they never have before.”
Jesse found a small hotel to convert into a beachfront lodge of seven Mayan-style suites and an unrivalled experience: guests spend eight hours fishing with guides each day, then talk through the highlights in the lodge restaurant, enjoying authentic Mexican seafood meals prepared by locals. “It’s an intimate, remote experience. Our goal has always been to bring luxury and comfort here in an authentic way,” he says. “It’s often a long way from home, but you feel the benefit of being away from normal life without sacrificing comfort. You are in an amazing air-conditioned room, enjoying a lovely vacation with great food and incredible fishing.”
Before opening The Xflats in 2018, Jesse immersed himself in the local culture and language and remains committed to ensuring the lodge has a positive impact on the small community. He has initiated projects including weekly beach clean-ups and English lessons at the local primary school. The Xflats employs only locals, investing in the community to ensure it remains sustainable. “It’s good for the village and for the environment, as locals don’t feel compelled to turn to illegal fishing to make a living.”
This delicate balance between comfort, community and sustainability is essential to The Xflats experience. With the lodge already popular all year round among dedicated anglers, Jesse has acquired adjacent land and has plans to build villas to accommodate snorkelling and scuba diving – in moderation. “We want to protect what we have, so we prize sustainability over growth,” says Jesse. “Marine environments are sensitive and the Caribbean is one of the smallest and most sensitive of them all. We will expand at a sustainable rate, always putting the community and the fishery first.”