April 28, 2020
By Ross Purnell
This article was originally titled Fly-Fishing Love Story: How a transcontinental romance ended up creating Mexico’s newest fly-fishing lodge.
Dane Emerson is a trout bum from Traverse City, Michigan who moved to Colorado, became a guide, and opened the fly shop Crested Butte Anglers. Nothing new there. Many have heeded the call: “Go west, young man!”
But Emerson never stopped exploring, and his quest for adventure also took him south to little-known Paradise Lodge in Mexico on the thin strip of land between the Caribbean and Espiritu Santo Bay. An Argentinian man owned the lodge, and he had a beautiful daughter who happened to be visiting.
The two fell in love, and Emerson soon traveled to Australia to visit Chiara de Tomaso where she was working as an industrial engineer. She visited him in Colorado, and eventually the two met in Ushuaia, her hometown in Argentina.
They were soon discussing how they could make a life together in the outdoors. Paradise Lodge was destroyed by a hurricane, but Chiara’s father still owned the only outfitting permits to run six boats in the southernmost bay in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere. In comparison, there are more than nine fly-fishing lodges on Ascension Bay to the north, permits for more than 180 charter boats, and more than 6,000 residents.
Emerson and de Tomaso decided to go into business themselves, and built the new Espiritu Santo Lodge. He personally drove the tractor trailer filled with building supplies from Texas to their newly acquired property south of the tiny fishing village of Punta Herrero. They opened for business in April, 2017 and have quickly gained a reputation as one of the world’s best permit destinations. I visited in October 2018 and with mostly calm seas and blue skies, landed five permit and had three grand slams. Our group of six fly fishers landed 12 permit for the week, a number that seemed quite unremarkable to our guides—196 guests had landed 262 permit already that season.
The tarpon fishing is dependable, and because permit and tarpon are so accessible, no one really targets bonefish unless it’s grand slam time. The big secret here is sight fishing for big snook, both on the flats and in downed woody structure along the shoreline. A quality snook fishery with big, old fish demonstrates what low fishing pressure can do for a fishery.
What really struck me about this young couple’s new lodge is their passion, and the personal attention they give every guest and every detail. Yes, they love each other, but they also clearly love this place they’ve created, and it shows with every meal and every after-fishing cocktail hour where they both revel in the successes of their guests.