By Tom Gatch
We are learning that, as weather patterns change, strange things can happen. And while this winter’s ‘Polar Vortex’ may have played havoc through several northerly states in the east and mid-west, Mother Nature has been kind enough to simultaneously bathe the southwest and Baja California in an abundance of sunshine accompanied by unseasonably warm temperatures. These changes have also impacted the activity patterns of numerous species of popular gamefish that have been fooled into thinking it is later in the year than it actually is.
Off the Pacific coast of Baja California Norte the rockfish action is at its seasonal peak, with good catches of reds and lingcod being reported by pangueros and private boaters. But this year things are a bit different. The further south you go, the more that yellowtail, bonito and barracuda are beginning to show up in the fish counts; a phenomenon that generally begins in late April or May. As this season progresses you have got to wonder how summer’s offshore surface bite will develop. Early yellowfin and bluefin action? Perhaps albacore or bigeye? Big bull dorado under floating kelp paddies just outside Isla Todos Santos? It is really anybody’s guess, so we’ll just have to wait and see.
The waters off of Ensenada are producing solid action for local captains like Louie Prieto of It’s4Reels Sportfishing, who indicated that his clients are already enjoying a good mix of species, some of which are definitely showing up a bit early.
This is also a great time of year to consider bringing your own boat south for a few days of fishing. One of the best private launching facilities on the western coast of Baja is conveniently situated just north of downtown Ensenada at the Hotel Coral & Marina. In addition to offering upscale overnight accommodations, the sizable cove adjacent to the hotel is equipped with both slips for larger craft and a modern concrete launch ramp to accommodate trailer boaters. There are even showers and a fish cleaning area available, which are included in the nominal launching fee. And, unlike marinas north of the border, the dockside PEMEX gas is reasonably priced and sold at the same rate as vehicular stations on the streets and highways.
However, if you would like to get away from the city and enjoy a more rural and traditional Baja fishing trip, there is nothing quite like launching right off the beach in a local panga. One of the best venues in this area to do that is in Punta Banda, not far from the famous La Bufadora blowhole. Passengers on pangas out of Vonny’s Fleet have been delighted to find that they also have a shot at some of the big homeguard yellowtail that tend to congregate near the end of the rocky point.
Down the coast in San Quintin, Capt. Kelly Catian at K&M Sportfishing says that the yellowtail bite is off to a fantastic start. “Fishing was even great in late February, with lots of yellowtail and great rockcod fishing too. The water temperature has stayed up between 58 to 60 degrees. The best yellowtail action has been at the 240 and the 15 fathom spot. The fish have been taking all kinds of lures from metal jigs to iron and even plastics. Yep, someone even caught a smaller one on a big Scampi twin tail. As usual, the old school colors of iron worked the best. You know, like a Tady 9 or Salas 6x in blue & white or scrambled egg.”
At Isla Cedros, Jose Angel of Cedros Outdoor Adventures reports that the fishing for quality grade calico bass is wide open, and that the bite for big yellowtail continues to improve as if it were late spring. A little further south, the sandy beaches of Bahia Asuncion are already beginning to produce halibut for those who enjoy fishing the suds with plastic or Krocodiles in their pursuit of a tasty lunch.
And this season, whale watchers are in for a real treat according to Jonathan Roldan at Tailhunter International. “This is turning into one of the best seasons in recent years! The whales are solid at Lopez Mateos near Bahia Magdalena and, as a result, we are now running daily trips out to see these magnificent animals.”
The striped marlin bite is really taking off at the Golden Gate, just off the southern tip of the peninsula. In fact, they are already beginning to move around past San Jose del Cabo and into the Sea of Cortez. In the same area, off the Iman and Gordo Banks, smaller yellowfin tuna were even beginning to show up in late February. Eric Bricston at Gordo Banks Pangas indicated, “Considering the time of year, anglers have been enjoying quality action for dorado, some wahoo and even yellowfin tuna. Despite the lack of bait, we are still seeing schooling skipjack, striped marlin and even a couple of sailfish anywhere from one or two miles from shore and on out about 20 miles.”
A few miles up the Cortez coast at Rancho Leonero, Owner John Ireland says that the 2014 fishing season has gotten off to a great start. “We have very light fishing pressure here in the East Cape with maybe two or three sport boats a day fishing, but that is likely to change quickly as word gets out. The anglers making it out right now are enjoying some phenomenal fishing. And the action is very close to shore; the La Ribera bank is cooking. There is also a wide open Dorado bite, with fish up to 30+ pounds and limits for all anglers.”
Ireland continued on to say, “The drop-offs are also holding lots of striped marlin, and white bonito are plentiful both inside and outside. To top it off, Anglers fishing off the beach have been enjoying a wide open roosterfish bite. Our hotel Manager, Gary Barnes Webb, has been releasing at least two of them a day off the beach, all taken on iron! The Sierra are also biting well, especially in the early morning and late evening.”
The same situation is the case further north in La Paz, where Jonathan Roldan indicated, “The Tailhunter fleet has been in winter mode, when our catches are generally inshore and consist of species that bite in cooler water. Well, the bite has certainly been inshore, but the actual catch has been rather extraordinary. We have indeed been catching the usual sea bass, sierra, pargo and jack crevalle close to the beach, but are now being occasionally surprised by fish like dorado or even wahoo, which are usually caught offshore during summer and fall.”
Fishing the Midriff of the Cortez between Loreto and Islas Encantadas this time of year can be particularly rewarding to those who have a passion for catching grouper and cabrilla, most of whom lie skulking in their rocky grottos until a likely candidate for ambush swims by. They are most prolific around the rugged volcanic islands scattered throughout these waters, and can be quite challenging to actually bring onboard before they have a chance to wedge their way back into the rocks. When filleted, they also provide some of the finest table fare of just about any species that swims around the Baja California peninsula; and this makes targeting them well worth the effort.
One of the best ways to do this is from a Mothership panga operation that takes passengers from San Felipe down to these coveted islands on multi-day fishing adventures. One of the most respected in the region is Tony Reyes Sportfishing, a multi-generational outfitter that has put many a smile on the faces of the anglers that have enjoyed one of the many successful voyages that have taken place over the past four decades. These 6-day trips include your Mexican fishing license, fish filleting, meals, bottled water, beers and sodas, cocktail ice and ice for your return trip home. You are welcome to bring your own additional drinks or snacks. The boats generally depart at approximately 10:00 A.M. on Sunday and return the following Friday evening. They also offer secure parking in San Felipe.
Without a doubt, if you have been waiting for the right time to visit Baja for a shot at enjoying the fishing trip of a lifetime ...this is it!