Travel & Outdoors
|Sportfishing: Best Places to Get Reel in Mexico|
Christine Delsol - SFGate
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August 11, 2010
Even tourists who don't know a rod from a reel are well aware whenever they come within 20 miles of the ocean that the country's fecund waters are teeming with sport fish. U.S. travelers and the Mexico tourism industry have anglers to thank for turning places like Baja Sur, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta into tourist magnets — fishing lodges were the original all-inclusive resorts. Even the lower reaches of the Mexican Caribbean coast, recently dubbed the Costa Maya and just beginning to draw significant numbers of tourists, have been known to fishermen for decades.
More than 500 species of fish, from such dinner candidates as red snapper to the big prize, black marlin, populate Mexican fishing grounds. Some of the country's destinations (below) are among the top sport-fishing spots in the world, but casual anglers will find fleets of fishing boats at the ready along almost every one of Mexico's roughly 6,000 miles of coastline.
Mexico imposes strict licensing requirements and limits how many fish can be caught and kept. Except for mollusks and crustaceans, which are off-limits, you can catch and photograph to your heart's content if you promptly set your quarry free to fight another day. Mexican law allows unlimited catch-and-release fishing, "as long as the fish that exceed the bag limit be returned to their environment in good survival condition."
Los Cabos, Baja
In Mexico's largest and most popular sports fishing destination, the piscine triumvirate of Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo and La Paz hold a panoply of world records. More important, the collision of the Sea of Cortés and the Pacific Ocean churn up a cornucopia of sport fish. Some estimates claim as many as 50,000 marlin and sailfish, the most prized species, are pulled out of these waters each year; even the most conservative estimate, around 15,000, puts you in an excellent position to bolster your fishing reputation.
The months of June to December are the best bets for snagging blue and black marlin, while sailfish are most plentiful between April and October. The rest of the year, striped marlin and various other species are worthy stand-ins for the stars, while wahoo, dorado and yellowtail, snapper, corvina and roosterfish abound.
Even with newer beach resort areas capturing the spotlight in recent decades, sports fishers join Mexican travelers to keep Mazatlán at the top of the country's coastal destinations. It remains one of Mexico's top fishing spots, earning the title of "Billfish Capital of the World."
Like Los Cabos, Mazatlán is a year-round fishing destination. If you're after marlin, come between December and April; for sailfish, it's May to November. Tuna, dorado and grouper are also abundant, and Mazatlán has no equal for bass fishing. Plenty of packaged excursions will take you from Mazatlán to nearby Comedero and El Salto lakes, which are stocked with bass, are plentiful.
Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco
A glance at a fish chart for Puerto Vallarta shows why the area is renowned for its deep-sea fishing: No matter what time of year you come, all of the area's 14 most sought-after species will be waiting, though numbers vary from month to month. Perched on the Bay of Banderas, Mexico's largest natural bay, Vallarta is also home to great numbers of whales, rays, sea turtles and dolphins.
Just south of Vallarta, the Costalegre — known mostly for its ultra-luxurious hideaways — is also home to the prime fishing villages of Barra de Navidad and Isla Navidad. This is the place for cushy fishing excursions with indulgent touches. Renowned for its deep-sea fishing, the Costalegre is becoming known as the sailfish capital of the world.
Marlin and sailfish are most plentiful in the Bay of Banderas from August to December. Giant tuna, another important species here, peaks from May to September. Red snapper, bonito, dorado and roosterfish are also in plentiful supply year round.
Halfway between Manzanillo and Acapulco, the ancient fishing village of Zihuatanejo remains one of Mexico's best fishing spots today. Some fishing devotees maintain it is the best. Though it first lured experienced anglers decades before its alter-ego, Ixtapa, was dreamed up, Zihuatanejo appeared on the global radar only in recent years.
Follow in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway and Zane Grey in pursuit of enormous sailfish, the primary game, from March through February. Black and blue marlin grow to as much as 500 pounds here; peak time is December through May. Large schools of yellowfin tuna and dorado (a.k.a. mahi-mahi) await 5 to 10 miles offshore year round, while roosterfish, grouper, mackerel, wahoo, bonito and barracuda prepare for battle closer to shore.
England's Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward VIII, launched Acapulco's life as a vacation destination with his fishing excursion to the Bay of Acapulco in 1920. Fishing is good year round, and the docks across from the main square hosts numerous fishing fleets that will take you out into the same waters where John Wayne — who had his own place overlooking the bay — was fond of pulling big game out of the water.
Striped marlin, pompano, bonito, red snapper and tuna make up the main catches. Marlin and sailfish are present year round; sailfish are most plentiful from October through March and sailfish from April through June. April and May are peak times for tuna and white marlin, while the ever-reliable dorado/mahi-mahi are at their height from October through March.
Cancún, Cozumel and the Riviera Maya
Approximately 500 fish species, including more than a dozen game fish, live in the waters around Mexico's most popular resort area, practically guaranteeing a successful fishing trip. You can charter deep-sea fishing boats at almost any travel agency, in most large hotels and at many piers; lagoon fishing is also good. Deep-sea trips are less expensive if you depart from Cozumel or Isla Mujeres; veterans also head to the Puerto Juárez ferry dock north of downtown Cancún to try to negotiate an even better deal with local fishermen.
Like the Pacific fishing meccas, this is a year-round sport. You can catch sailfish from March to June; look for blue marlin from June through August, white marlin and blue fin tuna April to June. Other frequent species are grouper, wahoo, amberjack, dolphin fish, bonita, barracuda and kingfish.
Test your mettle
For those ready to show off their fishing chops, Mexico is rife with tournaments, from local contests to large international events. Here are some major tournaments scheduled in coming months; for a more complete list, check sportfishermen.com.
• Aug. 12-14: Riviera Nayarit International Marlin and Tuna Tournament
• Oct. 12-16: Los Cabos Billfish Tournament
• Oct. 27-30: Puerto Los Cabos World Cup
• Nov. 11-14: Mazatlán Billfish Classic
• Nov. 20-22: Puerto Vallarta Tuna and Billfish Classic.
Former Chronicle travel editor Christine Delsol is the author of "Pauline Frommer's Cancún & the Yucatán" and contributor to "Frommer's Mexico 2011" and "Frommer's Cancún & the Yucatán 2011."