Eighty miles due north of Progreso, a small port city on the Yucatan Peninsula, a remote and mysterious reef rises out of the Gulf of Mexico. Made up of five small islands and an intricately connected complex of reefs, this atoll claims more shipwrecks than inhabitants, more sea turtles than human footprints.
Welcome to the wild unknown.
Welcome to Scorpion Reef.
In November 2012, a group of adventurous anglers descended upon Scorpion Reef for an angling exploration unlike any other. Orvis CEO Perk Perkins joined WorldCast Anglers president Mike Dawes; guides Bear Holeman, Ryan Buccola, Alejandro “Sand Flea” Vega, and Jose Briceno; and filmmaker R.A. Beattie on a whirlwind expedition to this enchanting and completely unknown fishery.
“We really didn’t know what to expect at all,” said Dawes. “That was kind of the thrill of it.”
Aside from whispered stories of bonefish and unconfirmed hints of permit, the crew set sail for the reef with little, if any, realistic basis on which to set their expectations.
“When we arrived there, the clarity of the water was shocking,” Dawes said. “It was like someone dropped the Seychelles in the Gulf of Mexico. Everyone just shut up and stared at the water. We’d heard that there were bonefish there, but we had no idea. Within the first half hour, everyone on the exploration had hooked into bonefish anywhere from 8 to 12 pounds. The first fish I cast at was a 10-pound tailing fish, right off the beach. Right then, everyone was gleaming.”
What followed were five days of unabashed awesomeness, including double-digit bonefish, lucha libre wrestling masks, liberal amounts of rum, and wakeboarding with a stand-up paddleboard behind a panga. Oh, and permit. Don’t forget the permit.
“In a place that has virtually no pressure at all, the permit were still being permit,” said Dawes. “They were hard to figure out, in terms of where and when they were going to show up.”
On an expedition to such a remote area, where the nearest hospital is a long boat ride away and everyone slept on jungle hammocks, the dangers were real, in a number of ways.
“We were so fortunate on so many different levels to experience such a unique area together. How well everyone got along was very special,” Dawes said. “The fishing was definitely the bonus. For the place to coincide with the dream, it just doesn’t happen a lot when you’re exploring. It was 100 percent worth it.”