By Tom Gatch
Although the very beginning of 2016 was ushered in by chilly rain and thunder storms, it was not long before warmer weather once again prevailed over southern California and the Baja California peninsula, bringing with it better fishing for those venturing offshore.
Over the past few months, the yellowtail bite off the Pacific coast of northern Baja has continued to improve, as local and visiting anglers also take advantage of the region’s excellent fishing for popular bottom species like lingcod and Pacific red snapper.
Capt. Louie Prieto at Its 4 Reels Sportfishing in Ensenada has been hooking his clients up with quality grade yellowtail in the 20 to 35 pound class. Many of these fish have been showing just outside Bahia de Todos Santos, and have been taken while trolling.
At the southern end of the bay, Ivan Villarino reports that Vonny’s Fleet pangas fishing near the tip of the Punta Banda peninsula have been catching a variety of bottom fish and calico bass, as well as an occasional yellowtail in the 15 to 25 pound class. Because of the season, however, the overall surface bite has been spotty if not totally non-existent along most of Baja’s northern and central Pacific coast. But with the coming of spring, that situation is rapidly changing.
Busses carrying hordes of whale petting visitors to Baja Sur’s famed lagoons, as well as the whales themselves, have all headed north and the water is already beginning to warm. The year after an El Niño event generally offers even better fishing than the previous one, and judging by the signs that are notable so far, this year seems to be following that tradition.
The water temperature in Bahia Magdalena is a degree or two higher than it was at the same time last year, which bodes well for the coming season possibly developing into a banner year for popular gamesters like yellowfin tuna, dorado and wahoo. The waters inside Mag Bay’s estero are already producing an increasingly good bite for corvina, small halibut, cabrilla and even a few snook.
Further south, Pisces Sportfishing in Cabo San Lucas indicated that the action for striped marlin has been getting better each week, adding that their 42’ cruiser, yahoo, just caught and released one with an estimated weight of 130 pounds that was taken on a live mackerel. Most of the stripers being caught by their clients have averaged between 100 and 140 pounds.
One of their most productive catches recently was accomplished by the 35’ cruiser, Valerie, which had a great day that resulted in the catch and release of a 140 pound striped marlin, as well as 12 ladyfish, 12 babosas and 4 grouper weighing between 6 and 8 pounds.
Just around the corner in San Jose del Cabo on the eastern side of land’s end, Eric Bricston at Gordo Banks Pangas says that this year’s Spring Break has brought an increasing number of families to the Los Cabos area, many of them interested in doing a little fishing while they are there.
Bricston indicated, “The majority of our charters are now concentrating on the fishing grounds north of Punta Gorda; namely, La Fortuna, Iman and San Luis Banks. This is where the best opportunities for a variety of species has been found. Drift fishing over rocky structure has been the favored technique, using various baits and yo-yo jigs. Snapper, pargo, amberjack, cabrilla, triggerfish have been most common catches. No huge numbers, but some quality eating fish are being accounted for. We did see one 70 lb. class amberjack, the majority of the bottom species are in the 5 to 15 lb. class.”
“The action for dorado, wahoo or yellowfin tuna has been very limited, only an occasional wahoo or dorado being reported. Tuna are still being found on the Iman Banks and towards Vinorama, drift fishing with strips of squid. This action was very hit or miss, though a handful of yellowfin have been landed each day, including fish to over 70 lb., most common sized tuna was more in the 15 to 25 lb. range, anglers were fortunate to land one tuna in their combined catch. Best bet to catch fish was to try off the bottom.”
Bricston concluded by saying, “There has been some inshore action on jack crevalle and roosterfish, limited as it was, and we did hear of a couple of larger sized roosterfish hooked into off of the San Jose del Cabo hotel zone; but it is still quite early in the season for these popular gamefish.
Quite a few whales still being sighted, though this is usually now the tail end of the annual migration for these mammals. Last week’s total fish count included 6 striped marlin, 2 wahoo, 3 dorado, 29 yellowfin tuna, 5 pompano, 17 amberjack, 23 leopard grouper, 32 huachinango, 45 yellow snapper, 16 barred pargo, 9 island jack, 18 sierra, 16 jack crevalle, 8 roosterfish, 8 bonito, 18 black skipjack and 95 triggerfish.”
Up the Cortez coast a bit at Rancho Leonero, Owner John Ireland says that there are not a lot of boats going out right now because of the changing seasons, but he expects a steady influx of anglers over the next few months. The water temperature is now gradually inching up from its present 73F degrees, and the local bait boats are now producing plenty of quality live bait, including caballitos and small mackerel.
In recent billfish action, visiting angler Dean Stella and his son, Nino, boasted a catch of 3 striped marlin that they took from a panga while leisurely soaking baits off of La Ribera.
Ireland reports, “We are still picking up a few yellowtail and amberjacks on the bottom off La Ribera. Don't be surprised if you latch onto a marlin while doing this. There has also been talk of some tuna up on the 88 this week, but none of our boats ranged that far north. Hopefully, we'll have an update on this soon. And if you happen to be in need to stretching a few muscles, there have been some big thresher sharks and Mako sharks around.”
He concluded by saying, “Sierra mackerel are also on the bite for the early risers. Best bet is around Rancho Leonero and the marina …followed by perfect ceviche.” Further north in La Paz, Jonathan Roldan of Tailhunter International reports, “Spring and Easter week combined for an OK week of fishing. The winds largely left us alone. The sun was out and it was a good week for all the tourists in town for Spring Break although La Paz doesn’t come close to being like many other Mexican destinations. Comparatively speaking it’s still a sleepy city. However, our Holy Week, Semana Santa, is one of the busiest times for Mexican locals to travel especially to visit families and La Paz is a great destination to get some beach time away from the bigger cities in the mainland and the beaches can be quite crowded much moreso than usual with campers and picnickers.”
“This is the first real week or two that we’ve had our Tailhunter La Paz Fleet out since late October. It’s just been too windy so we’ve kept everyone fishing from Las Arenas. However, winds are down and folks don’t want to take the 1 hour drive with us to Las Arenas so we put out the boats. It started slowly and still hasn’t gotten a full head of steam. Plus, some days it’s still pretty bumpy with winds.” “However, inshore, we’re finding some decent-sized pargo and cabrilla along with sierra and off the drop-offs there’s some big yellowtail starting to poke up. But, finding the spot is still hit-or-miss. Somedays we find ‘em or one boat finds them. Other days it’s a miss.”
Roldan added, “The surprising bite is that we’re getting some nice schools of firecracker-sized dorado. With all the families and kids in town, this has been a hoot. The fish are 5-10 pounds max and can be very voracious if you hit the spot. Some days, there’s limits to be caught with the best spot being off Espirito Santo Island.”
In regard to the fishing nearby Las Arenas, Roldan reports, “No doubt, there’s still wahoo in the area with some decent 20-30 pound fish falling to the darker Rapalas and Yo-Zuri lures. As well, the big red pargo liso are schooling in spawn mode off several spots near Cerralvo Island like Los Pilis and then also near Punta Perrico. Bonito, jack crevalle and sierra have rounded out the catch along with plenty of cabrilla.”
Up in the northern portion of the Cortez, northerly winds have periodically made for rough fishing. One of the exceptions has been on the lee side of the islands within the Midriff zone and Islas Encantadas, where stellar opportunities to catch big cabrilla and pargo still exist.
The fishing in Baja California may be good now, but it will only get better in the months to come. Bait up …and hang on!