By Tom Gatch
Now that the Labor Day weekend has come and gone, we can take stock of some of the fantastic offshore action that has been taking place along the coast of southern California and Baja during the past summer fishing season.
Water temperatures soared; at times nearly a dozen degrees higher than what was normal just a few decades ago. Although the underlying reasons for this phenomenon may be disturbing from a climatic perspective, it cannot be denied that it also gave an early start to the awakening and arrival of a variety of popular gamefish.
Most of the offshore activity has focused upon bluefin and yellowfin tuna, although there have also been a fair number of small to medium sized dorado in the mix.
The waters around the Coronado Islands, just south of San Diego and the International Border have produced a steady bite of hungry bonito, barracuda and yellowtail, the latter of which tend to get larger the further south that you travel.
Ensenada may no longer qualify as ‘the yellowtail capital of the world’, as it was once referred to back in the 1940’ and 50’s; but you could have fooled many of the visiting anglers fishing with local captains working out of the malecón. Counts of yellowtail have been significantly higher with a better grade of fish than has been seen in many past years. Anglers aboard boats from Sergio’s Sportfishing have also had a shot at some nice reds, lings and calico bass.
The rocky pinnacles off the tip of the peninsula at the southern end of Bahía de Todos Santos have yielded a number of quality yellowtail in the 17 to 28 pounds class, most of which have been taken by panga anglers fishing with Vonny’s Fleet Sportfishing operating out of Punta Banda.
Down the coast a bit, the pangas at Castro’s Fishing Place at Ejido Erendira have been filling up their coolers with fat reds, lings and yellowtail along with an occasional dorado, which are rarely taken from pangas along northern Baja’s Pacific coast.
Further south in Bahía San Quintín, visiting inshore anglers fishing with Capt. Juan Cook have been treated to a healthy helping of tasty local bottom fish and small to medium yellowtail. Offshore, Capt. Kelly Catian from K&M Sportfishing reports that his cruisers have been enjoying a stellar bite on feisty yellowfin tuna and occasional dorado.
Just off the central Pacific coast of Baja, Cedros Outdoor Adventures anglers indicated that their visiting anglers have been cleaning up on trophy grade yellowtail up to nearly 50 pounds.
They have also been taking brute calicos up to 10 pounds, but it is occasionally frustrating getting down to them through the massive schools of ravenous bonito. Luckily however, a few of the larger specimens of this tiny tuna usually make it back to the dock, where they often end up as fresh sashimi at the dinner table.
Back on the mainland, anglers out of Bahía Magdalena fishing near Isla Santa Margarita have been hooking up with a few bull dorado and football sized yellowfin tuna, but the most prolific species reported in the area have been striped marlin breaking the surface. Although they have been a bit lure shy, a few nice billfish have been taken in the late afternoon on live bait. Inside the Mag Bay estero, anglers have found a steady bite on cabrilla, corvina, halibut, small grouper and an occasional snook.
Down in Los Cabos, Pisces Sportfishing reports, “We have been catching and releasing lot of billfish lately as well as a good number of yellowfin tuna, with a few bigger fish up to 250 pounds in the mix.
One of our boats also hooked a rarely seen short billed spearfish, along with a few big black marlin. We have also had a run on a few extremely large bull dorado. However, our most spectacular billfish that was caught and released was a beautiful, big sailfish of a size that is rarely encountered anywhere else in the world.”
Just around the tip of the Baja peninsula in San Jose del Cabo, Eric Bricston at Gordo Banks Pangas reports, “We have been seeing lighter crowds down here since Labor Day, and most of the local families are now busy preparing for the start of the new school semesters, while waiting for cooler weather and for the tropical storm season to pass. More moisture is needed, and for the next several weeks we will be focused on the upcoming tropical weather forecasts.
Anglers are finding sardinas a bit harder to find, but schooling baitfish have been found off the northern shoreline near Vinorama, off of the San Jose del Cabo Estuary and off of Chileno.
The primary species being caught have been yellowfin tuna, which are hitting on the strips of squid and sardinas. Most of these fish have been ranging in size from footballs, up to 80 pounds. Catches have varied between one or two yellowfin, up to ten. In most cases it is simply a matter of being at the right spot, at the right time with a sufficient supply of bait.
This is normally the time of year where we see the largest of cow sized yellowfin tuna start to lurk around the local high spots. There were a couple of reports in recent days of large fish being lost after extended battles on the grounds near the Gordo Banks, presumably these were thought to be big tuna.
The Banks are now also producing some action for larger marlin, including one fish landed from a 22 ft. panga that was an estimated 500 lb. black marlin. The best way to fish for one of these huge marlin is to slow troll larger sized baits. A lot of patience is required, but the rewards can be high.”
Bricston continued, “Only an occasional dorado is being caught, and most of those are weighing in under 15 pounds. But the water is still clear and blue within a mile of shore, the ocean currents are warming and the water temperature is now averaging between 82 to 86 degrees; so anything could happen.
There has been limited bottom action inshore with only a few snapper, bonito, cabrilla, amberjack being taken. Most charters are targeting the finicky tuna, which have proved to be the best bet for getting a nice amount of fresh fillets.”
He concluded by saying, “One of our most recent combined weekly fish counts from pangas launching out of La Playita, Puerto Los Cabos Marina included 1 dogtooth snapper, 1 black marlin, 3 sailfish, 2 striped marlin, 18 dorado, 108 yellowfin tuna, 12 bonito, 6 yellow snapper, 5 barred pargo, 3 amberjack, 8 red snapper, 11 cabrilla (leopard grouper), 6 roosterfish and 32 triggerfish.”
Up the Cortez coast in La Paz, an ecstatic Jonathan Roldan at Tailhunter International proclaimed, “Wow! Forget the full moon or big moon, I think we just had our best week of the 2018 season. I don’t know how long it will last, but it sure was good! Maybe it’s shaping up to be the kind of fall we had last year when we had a full two months of fishing like this.
More tuna, bigger dorado, wahoo, billfish…and everyone who wanted a roosterfish got at least one! On top of that, maybe the best weather of the year; sunny days, cool nights and flat blue waters!
For our Tailhunter La Paz fleet, everyone got limits or near limits of dorado ranging from 10 to 25 pounds. Add to that some pargo, cabrilla, some billfish and roosterfish hookups and even some unusual yellowfin tuna up to 40 pounds and, despite the occasional slower day or boat, most of our clients were releasing fish or coming back early.
For our Tailhunter Las Arenas fleet…it was nothing short of spectacular most days! Yellowfin tuna in the 10 to 20 pound class were just outside of Bahía Muertos. Most of the time…all you wanted! Limits by 9 or 10 a.m. then go find some other species or come in back to the beach! It was THAT good.”
Roldan concluded by saying, “We sure hope that this great bite continues, but we also have our eye on the weather. It looks like we’re possibly going to have some occasional tropical thunder and lightning storms coming through.”
When all is said and done, summer may be coming to an end …but there are still many months of great fishing that can be enjoyed around the entire Baja California peninsula. And now is the time to take advantage of the opportunity.