Not too many things get me more excited than the prospect of hooking and landing big fish. The mere thought of setting the hook on a 300 pound marlin, hearing the scream of the drag as the fish pulls …
Not too many things get me more excited than the prospect of hooking and landing big fish. The mere thought of setting the hook on a 300 pound marlin, hearing the scream of the drag as the fish pulls off line and watching the acrobatic leaps that follow really gets my heart pumping. Fortunately for me, a two and a half hour flight and a 30-minute drive is all it takes to find myself in the “billfish capital of the world”. What more can a sport fisherman ask for?
Well, for starters, variety. Just like biting into a randomly selected piece of chocolate, when you set out the trolling lures here in Los Cabos in search of the next big one, you just don’t know what it will be. Different seasons bring different possibilities as does different sides of the Baja peninsula. The diversity of game fish here never ceases to amaze me and even a slow day on the water offers the opportunity to see some of the oceans greatest creatures. Whales, porpoise, sea turtles and bat rays that often school by the hundreds and perform what almost appears to be a choreographed routine of synchronized jumps. On a spring trip to Cabo in late march of this year, my partner Dolores Peralta and I had another opportunity to experience the diversity of life in these nutrient rich waters.
Jacqueline “Jacquie” Lee, owner of Guerita II, set us up for two days of fishing with Captain Efren Beron Zamora and crewman Jesus Alfredo Espinoza. Efren has a lifetime of experience as an angler, guide and captain and has a love of the ocean that rubs off on crew and passenger alike. The Guerita II is a tournament rigged 34-foot Crystaliner equipped with everything the avid angler could need or ask for _ Shimano Tiagra 50 wide LRS & Penn International reels, Shimano Black Steel IGFA rods and an outstanding selection of lures, this wide-beamed fishing machine boasts top-of-the-line electronics to help get you on the bite fast.
We arrived at the docks at 6:30 in the morning, a little late for Captain Efren’s liking as he planned on running out about 30-40 miles in search of warm, blue water where he hoped to put us on striped marlin and tuna. While waiting on our arrival Efren had already loaded up on live bait from the pangeros that supply the fleets and with no delay, we were on our way. Winds this time of the year can be unpredictable and on this day, the winds helped build a fairly large swell. We motored our way out to sea on a bumpy but dry ride to the fishing grounds. Once he found the water conditions that best provided the chance for large billfish, he switched driving positions to the tall tuna tower while Alfredo began to set out our spread of lures. Purple and orange Zukers set out at the fifth wake behind the boat, trolling feathers in pink and white and Mexican flag patterns on the third wake and a dark colored Marauder set close to the boat.
A few hours passed as we crisscrossed areas where colder water met warmer, Efren’s eyes trained on the surface scanning for signs that fish were near – circling and diving birds, the tail of a marlin cruising for its next meal, a pod of porpoise balling bait. None of the usual signs appeared until Efren’s eagle eyes spotted a feeder, a marlin actively working the ocean surface. A quick turn of the boat and a punch of the throttle controls placed us in the perfect position to present our spread of lures to the fish. The marlin took notice and struck one of the lures back at the fifth wake. The jigstrike started our adrenalin flowing and we scrambled to the deck to ready for a battle. The marlin let loose the lure just as Alfredo cast a live bait back to entice a bite. After a few tense moments, the marlin took the bait, the reel left in free spool in order to give it time to fully take the bait. Flipping the reel into locked position followed by three to four strong and sharp lifts of the rod tip set the hook on a good sized striped marlin.
Dolores took her position in one of the two fighting chairs mounted on the stern and within seconds the marlin was giving us a show. Several vertical leaps and violent shakes of its broad head and the fight began. The key to landing marlin is the hook set. Everything depends on whether or not the hook was in the right position when the hook set is made. Many times, the marlin takes the bait only partially and the hook never pierces the mouth fully when the set is made. Unfortunately, this was one of those times. Shortly after the first series of jumps was made, a second series began and on this series the hook was thrown and the fish was lost. Spooked by the encounter, the marlin sounded and was soon nowhere to be found.
We continued on in search of another marlin, my turn in the chair coming next. A short while later, a starboard reel started to scream. Nothing was visible on the surface so the likelihood of it being a marlin was slim. From the strong pull and speed of the fish, we thought it would be a tuna and sure enough it was. The fight lasted only 5-10 minutes and soon we had a twenty-pound yellowfin on deck.
The trolling continued and for several hours and we had nothing to do but occasionally switch out lures and scan the horizon for signs of life. Efren spotted a true prize in the form of a swordfish. While these great eating game fish can be found here most of the year, they prefer colder water so spring is generally the best time of year for this sought after species. Although the sword made a turn towards our spread and a live bait was cast directly in front of it, this fish was apparently well fed and no matter how appealing the presentation, it would not take the bait or strike a lure. As they say, that’s why they call it fishing and not catching. The balance of the day produced only suntans and relaxation.
On our second day on the Guerita II, we arrived at 5:30, determined to beat Efren and Alfredo to the boat. Once again, Efren had made it to the boat well before us and once again, he had already baited up. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he must have slept on the boat just to make sure we wouldn’t arrive before him! We headed out, stopping off to check in with the port authorities to present our manifest and fishing licenses. A recent change in fiscal policies keeps the revenues from fishing licenses within the state where the activity is taking place. This restructuring has apparently heightened the diligence of officials responsible for ensuring that everyone on a boat possesses a valid license, even those not fishing. Makes sense that if you get to keep the money, you’re more likely to make sure everyone is playing by the rules and buying their licenses. Those that did not have licenses in hand were sent back to the docks to get them or there would be no fishing that day.
This day we decided to switch to the Sea of Cortez side of the cape and concentrate our efforts on some of the in-shore species that Los Cabos waters offer up. One of the benefits of a pre-dawn start is the experience of viewing some of the most spectacular sunrises you’re likely to find anywhere in the world. The skies here light up with all the colors of an artists canvas with the endless reflection of the ocean surface. Everything is bathed in reds, oranges and yellows and the sky appears to be on fire. The sight alone makes the trip worthwhile.
The Guerita II cut through the calmer waters of the Sea of Cortez with ease by benefit of the natural windbreak that the East Cape coast provides. We set out a mix of CD 4 Rapalas in a sardine pattern and started to work the underwater ledges and rock piles in search of sierra or Spanish mackerel, dorado or tuna. We ran across pods of porpoise working bait schools to the surface. These working pods often hold schools of tuna just below that pick off bait from the edges of the bait ball but today, we found just the porpoise. Off in the distance, Captain Efren spotted surface activity and turned the Guerita towards it.
Within minutes we were surrounded by thousands of Humboldt squid. Denizens of the northern most portion of the Sea of Cortez, these alien looking creatures have slowly made their way down to the southern tip of the Baja in recent years. With tentacles reaching up out of the water like some kind of extra terrestrial meat eating flower, we watched in awe as they fed on floating red crab. Just about anything we tossed into the water was immediately engulfed by the toothy tentacles of the squid and with constant pressure and slow pumps and reeling, we brought them to the gaff.
Legends abound about the ferocity and strength of the Humboldt squid and while many of these tales are true “fish stories”, there is ample credible evidence of the potential for injury and even death from these marine cephalopods. Recently, a Discovery program featured an in-depth study of the Humboldt squid in the Sea of Cortez. During times of agitation, such as when these animals are being fished by fleets of pangeros who make a significant share of their income from the sale of the tasty beasts, they can and do become very aggressive. One pangero spoke of his encounter with the squid with fear and respect. While working a large school, he lost his balance and fell into the water. Within seconds, several five to six footers locked onto him and began to pull him under, all the while biting into his flesh with their impressive and powerful beaks. He managed to free himself and make his way back to the surface and into his panga, scared and exhausted. The scars that he showed tell the tale all to well. He also told of others that did not fair so well, never making back to the surface.
While events like those have occurred, the squid are usually no more than curious about visitors to their domain. It is the frenzied activity caused by fishing these creatures that creates the aggressive and often cannibalistic behavior. Divers have been able to get up close and personal with the Humboldt squid when no fishing pressure was present, all without being attacked or harmed in any way. The aggressive behavior and flashing of colors associated with a feeding frenzy brought on by fishing pressure is simply not a normal occurrence, but more a reaction to the situation at hand. You need not fear the squid but make sure to stay away from the business end. Tentacles with hundreds of toothed suction cups lead to a bird-like beak with incredible power. Ink on the other hand can reach you from astonishing distances as my partner, Dolores, can testify.
While fighting a squid estimated at about fifty pounds, she experienced the jet blast of a Humboldt squid firsthand. As the squid was gaffed, Alfredo jumped off to the side leaving Dolores directly in the path of what seemed to be gallons of ink shooting from out of the squid. In a split second she was covered head to toe in the slimy, dark liquid. Being the trooper that she is, she laughed it off, wiped herself clean and tossed her line back out to catch another one. By that time we had been joined by over a dozen other charter boats and pangas and everywhere you looked, people were battling these impressive animals. Great fun, an awesome sight and great table fare was the end result. We left the spot having boated 3 squid and cleaning the ink from the deck of the boat.
Our next area of focus was just a few hundred feet from shore working the reef structures that line the coast. Catching eight to ten pound sierra on light tackle is an experience I recommend highly. We picked off a few sierra and even landed a small mako shark before we called it a day and headed back in, all the while amazed at the beauty of the azure blue and turquoise green waters of the Sea of Cortez.
So if you are one to enjoy the ocean and the surprises that such a aquatic paradise promises, fishing the waters of the Pacific ocean and the Sea of Cortez in Los Cabos is a dream come true. Finding the right boat and crew is of the utmost importance in ensuring a successful and memorable charter. When it comes to making that choice, we can’t recommend Jacqueline Lee’s Guerita II and the knowledge and hospitality of Captain Efren Beron Zamora and crewman Jesus Alfredo Espinoza enough.