By Tom Gatch
Looking back at 2014, most Baja anglers would have to agree that it was indeed an epic year for fishing south of the border. The El Niño driven spike in offshore water temperatures arrived just as predicted and, along with unseasonably warm weather patterns in the fall, gave a boost to offshore action that has continued on into the New Year.
At this writing, quality grade yellowtail are still on tap around the Coronado Islands off Playas Rosarito. Fish in the 12 to 20 pound class continue to make their way over the rails, with water temps hovering in the low 60’s; several degrees higher than normal.
Nonetheless, with rockfish closures affecting California waters for the next few months, Baja still allows anglers to catch and keep a full array of these popular and tasty bottom dwellers on a year-round basis. And now that the toll road between Playas Tijuana and Ensenada has recently been reopened, coastal panga camps, launch ramps and sportfishing services can easily be reached within a couple of hours after crossing the border.
Capt. Louie Prieto, of It’s 4 Reels Sportfishing out of Ensenada, confirms that the surface action remains productive, “We recently had a good day catching yellowtail and big bonito, and ended up 8 for 10 on 12 to 22 pounds. yellowtail, 15 bonito up to 10 pounds and a couple of rockfish thrown in for good measure. 2 of the yellows were caught on small X-Raps, and the rest of the fish were caught using blue and white 6x jr. size lures. On this particular day, blue and white was the only color combination working. The trolled fish were caught in the southern end of Bahia Todos Santos.” Prieto concluded, “The rest of our fish were caught NW of San Miguel Reef with depths ranging from 170 to 210 feet. The yellows and bonito were hooked from just off the bottom to 20-30 feet from the surface. Water temps range from 63 to 64.5 degrees. We also saw a couple of California Grey Whales inside Bahia de Todos Santos off of El Sauzal.”
Just south of Ensenada, Vonny’s Fleet in Punta Banda continues to report a few yellowtail in the 20 pound class, along with plenty of rockfish and lingcod for anglers fishing off their pangas.
Down the coast in Bahia San Quintin, Capt. Kelly Catian of K&M Sportfishing said that his boats had one of their best years for tuna and dorado in 2014, and that the offshore bite continued into early December. He added that, as the water begins to cool off, more and more of his customers are picking up California sheephead along with the large reds and lings that have made this area a longtime favorite of anglers in search of an exceptional offseason bottom fishing destination.
Isla Cedros continues to live up to its reputation as a great fishery for big yellowtail and fat calico bass. Cedros Outdoor Adventures reports another banner year in 2014, and indicated that big calicos and yellowtail are still being brought in by their clients.
Back on the peninsula, the change in weather patterns that occurred in 2014 were not totally beneficial to everyone; particularly along Baja’s Pacific coast between Bahia Asuncion and Bahia Magdalena. Giant swells and pounding surf along the sandy beaches near the end of summer played havoc with the local Pismo clam population, as thousands of the coveted mollusks were unceremoniously cast up onto the beach where they eventually expired. Local fishermen predict that it may take a few years for the population to recover. Despite this onslaught, Shari Bondi at Blowhole Bed & Breakfast in Bahia Asuncion says that fishing before and after the episode has been good throughout the year, with recent catches of trophy sized yellowtail in the 30 to 40 pound class.
Anglers fishing out of Cabo San Lucas are still pulling in the dorado, even though it is not the time of year when catches of this species are particularly common. Pisces Sportfishing in Los Cabos reports, “We saw an impressive amount of dorado caught this week! Even with fewer boats out we saw almost double the number of fish caught compared to last week. The fish have been found in the same locations, even though water temperatures have risen a few degrees, making the water amazingly warm for the season.”
Just around the corner in San Jose del Cabo, Eric Bricston at Gordo Banks Pangas indicated, “The bite has been more finicky in recent days, some areas would be very good one day and then very tough the next. The best action shifted further towards Vinorama, and most charters were catching a combination of species. There continue to be the larger grade of yellowfin hanging around the Gordo Banks, we know of at least one yellowfin tuna in the 250 pound class that was caught earlier this week from a private center console, they hooked up with the cow while trolling a live skipjack. Other big tuna were lost after extending battles and a handful of 50 to 90 pound tuna were accounted for as well. But overall the numbers on these larger yellowfin were very few.”
Bricston went on to say, “The best chances at hooking into a wahoo recently was while using live chihuil baitfish, slowed trolled over the inshore structure and ledges north of Punta Gorda. Though chihuil baitfish were not easy to obtain, only found seasonally in certain spots, special chum and small bait techniques required. Wahoo to over forty pound were landed, several charters were more fortunate, landing three or four wahoo, while losing at least as many strikes. Most anglers were doing very well to account for an all-around catch of, one wahoo, maybe two or three quality tuna, handful of skipjack and a dorado or two, as a bonus. Dorado were scattered, some charters were finding two or three, while others never reported seeing one, no particular place, hit or miss, luck of the draw, most dorado were weighing in the 8 to 20 lb. range.”
Although many East Cape fishing resorts are on hiatus for a month or so, great fishing opportunities remain a bit further up the Cortez coast off of La Paz. The sun is shining brightly, but seasonal winds from the north can unexpectedly impact the fishing conditions from time to time. The primary catch for anglers recently has been medium sized snapper and pargo with an occasional fat grouper thrown into the mix.
Jonathan Roldan at Tailhunter International reports, “We did get out a few times this week. All of our fishing during the winter months are out of the Las Arenas and Bahia de Los Muertos areas. Because of the winds, waters are pretty turned over and green and dirty in some of our hot spots. However, we did get into some decent sierra along the beach drop-offs. Some were hefty 4 to 5 pound chunkers, which are always delicious eating. There were a few small pargo, snapper and cabrilla caught. We had some school-sized rooster fish caught and released and the bonito helped provide some action as well. As a side note, many folks don’t know that La Paz has become quite a mecca for whale sharks which have been increasing in numbers the last few season in La Paz Bay where they’re protected. At times there are 1/2 dozen to several dozen “juveniles” up to 15 feet long or more all in shallow water and fantastic for snorkeling!” Snorkeling in January? Leave it to Baja; a place where great fishing and outdoor adventure is available every month of the year.