Travel & Outdoors | July 2007
|Big Fish and Few Tourists, All Fun|
Harry Harju - Wyoming Tribune-Eagle
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A lot of people think I'm crazy to go fishing in Mexico in June, but I fish in the Sea of Cortez and that's when the fishing gets best.
|Folks fond of Cancun, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta might not like the half-dozen hotels on the East Cape of the Baja Peninsula, because you don't have much night life.|
Many of the fish are migratory and leave the Sea of Cortez for warmer water in winter, then return in April and May. Some end up near Cabo San Lucas in winter, but from the time I first visited it over 20 years ago that town has become the kind of tourist trap I don't care to visit. I don't go to foreign countries to see the usual American fast-food places, it costs more to fish there, and the hotels are more expensive.
Every trip to Mexico is an adventure, and the adventure always begins at the airport, where the rules of travel just seem to get weirder. Since 9-11 some rules make sense and others are just stupid, but they all must be endured. On June 23 the check-in line at Frontier Airlines went around two corners and down two halls. For fear you might threaten someone with a treble hook, your tackle has to be in a check-in bag, along with any liquids of more than 3 ounces and anything that might be remotely suspicious.
This year a death in the family kept one of us from going to Mexico, and another wasn't allowed on the plane because she didn't have the birth certificate she had to send with her passport application.
I spent a couple of hours on the plane rearranging rooms and boats, and was feeling pretty good right up to the $40 bribe I had to pay to pass the wild meat I took to Alejandro, the boat manager at Hotel Punta Colorada. The supposed concern about mad cow disease disappeared as soon as money changed hands. Actually, I had checked the airport website and knew the meat was legal, but the two guys who took me to the side room where they couldn't be seen squeezing the bribe out of me didn't read the rules. Oh well, as Alejandro often says, "Is Mexico, no?"
We jumped into several taxis, loaded in all of the coolers, rod cases, and clothes, and sped off to the nearest store for some liquid refreshment cheaper than that sold at the airport. For many the liquid is needed to feel more comfortable careening along a narrow road with a one foot shoulder, crossing sand washes and careening around curves above canyons past signs that read "curvas peligrosas (dangerous curves)." No kidding. Several shrines to previous accidents dot the sides of the road.
It's always a delight to get to the hotel, an air-conditioned oasis between the desert and the beach. This is a fishing resort, with no spa, little shopping, and no tennis courts. But, there are several miles of sandy beaches both north and south of the hotel, and the sunsets are showy both morning and evening.
After everyone is settled in, they usually go to the bar for one of Manuel's libations or a cervesa (beer), and those who have been to the hotel before always ask for ceviche. Ceviche is the afternoon snack at the hotel, cubed fish marinated in lime juice and mixed with fresh vegetables, served with crackers. Then everyone who is fishing the next day has to tell me whether they want the American or Mexican lunch and what kind of liquids they want on the boat the next day. I always include some for the crew.
Alejandro is in his office by 6:30 waiting to hear how many boats of what kind are needed, along with the lunch and drink orders for the coolers. I always request certain boats, and those who have been to the hotel have their favorites, but this year a hurricane trashed some boats, and a couple of others just wore out. As a result, we were on some different boats with different captains, but nearly all of them caught fish, some better, or luckier, than others. One boat, the only one skunked the first day, was changed, then caught fish for other people every day the rest of the week.
Every morning everyone walks or rides down to the dock by 7 to get on the boats, where the lunches and a cooler with the boat's name are waiting. The captains and mates are shuttled out to the boats, and it's a wonder the overloaded shuttle boat doesn't capsize. There were 14 people in the boat one morning, with about 3 inches of boat above the water. On a day when there are large swells and loading people from the dock might be dangerous, we load the old-fashioned way, with pangas(open boats) backing in to shore and fishermen hopping into the boats before another wave can wet them down.
The fleet at the Hotel Punta Colorada consists of super pangas, 23 or 25 foot open boats with Bimini tops and a captain but no mate, or cruisers 28 or 32 feet long, both with inboard engines and a crew of two. These have indoor bathrooms(heads), so I usually put the women anglers on them.
Both kinds of boats head right for the bait dealers as soon as the anglers are aboard. Enough bait for a day of trolling offshore costs about $20. It is easier to fish for a variety of species when there are sardinas for bait, a kind of herring, but the abundant sardinas of two weeks before had headed for the Cabo Pulmo Marine Park and could no longer be netted. Luckily, marlin do not seem to care that the baits tossed in front of them are shallow water species they never see out in deeper water.
I long ago decided that I prefer to catch fish, so I encourage everyone to ask the captains what's biting as soon as they get on the boats, then fish for what's biting. While the fishing had been slow the previous week, striped marlin and dorado were being taken, and most of us were soon trolling artificial squid. The boats troll at about 10 mph, and sometimes the marlin hit the teaser lures, as do big dorado. Most times the marlin comes up behind the lures and someone throws a live bait to it, or the marlin is seen on the surface and a live bait is tossed to it.
Some days lots of marlin are seen but only one or two bite. The fight is spectacular, with several jumps, and the average time of the struggle is 45 minutes on 50 or 60 pound line. Most of the marlin are released, but they are very good to eat, and I am smoking some as you read this. Often we share a marlin with the crew, and since fish is served as an appetizer with meals when they have it, we give some to the hotel.
Dorado are also spectacular fighters, and often they are in pairs or schools, so the first person to catch one leaves it in the water while other people on the boat try to catch its companions. A person with a 40 pound fish on the line is not very comfortable leaving it in the water, I can assure you.
Tuna, large and abundant last trip, were smaller and hard to find this trip. Tuna and porpoise(actually dolphin, but all of the captains call them porpoise)) travel together, so when a school of dolphin are spotted the boats skim the edge of the schools trying to get tuna to hit artificial squid or cedar plugs. Only a few were caught while we were at the hotel, although some big ones were seen that would not bite.
Several roosterfish delighted anglers trolling live baits on the surface in shallow water. The rooster's comb, its dorsal fin, appears behind the bait, the bait becomes extremely nervous, and a spectacular splash is followed by a spirited fight of 10-40 minutes. Some boats tired of trolling and caught snapper, grouper, triggerfish, pargo, eels, needlefish and other species fishing on the bottom with light tackle. Nearly everyone came home with fish in their coolers, after sorting through the crates in the walk-in freezer looking for plastic bags with their room numbers. The folks checking coolers at the airport got very tired of looking through frozen fish, and began confiscating our duct tape as they were running out of tape to reseal coolers. Only one cooler went to Denver by way of Los Angeles, to be retrieved the next morning, still frozen.
Folks fond of Cancun, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta might not like the half-dozen hotels on the East Cape of the Baja Peninsula, because you don't have much night life, but all of the folks with me had a very good time. For those with stressful jobs, it was a welcome relief, and the food, drinks, sunsets and hospitality were excellent. Besides, you can't beat the price. I think I'll have to go back, again.
Harry Harju, a wildlife biologist, hunter, and angler, has advised hunters and outdoor writers on Wyoming hunting for 27 years. He can be reached by mail care of Outdoors Editor, Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, 702 W. Lincolnway, Cheyenne, WY, 82001, by email, firstname.lastname@example.org.