Baja Fishing Report - Winter 2016

By Tom Gatch

Baja Fishing
A happy angler shouts out a hoot of delight while showing off his late November yellowtail, which was caught just off of Punta Banda. Photo: Vonny's Fleet

As we know, there are two sides to every coin; and such is the case with our ongoing El Niño conditions, which have brought us some of the finest offshore fishing that we have seen in over 20 years. As we witnessed in the last few weeks of 2015, however, the flipside of this cycle offers the promise of more frequent and intense winter storms this year. Nonetheless, surface water temperatures along the southern California and northern Baja coasts are still hovering close to 60 degrees and, most importantly, the fish are still biting.

While most of the tuna action has decreased significantly during the past few months, the bite on quality grade yellowtail between 20 and 45 pounds has remained solid. There have also been occasional flurries of bonito and Pacific barracuda from time to time.

Anglers fishing tight to inshore boiler rocks and pinnacles with weedless plastics on fluorocarbon leaders are also finding a fair amount of chunky calico bass willing to greedily inhale their bait, although the cooler water requires a bit more patience. One of the nicest things about fishing the Pacific coast of Baja California Norte during the first few months of the New Year is that you are still legally allowed to fish for the many prolific species of tasty Sebastes rockfish, which are illegal to take in southern California during January and February.

Baja Fishing
Despite some stormy weather during the holidays, the quality grade yellowtail are still hanging in there off of Bahia San Quintin; as shown in this photo taken on the second day of January, 2016. Photo: K&M Sportfishing

One of the best ways to do this is aboard a Baja panga that targets these popular fishes inshore along many sections of the coastline between Marina La Salina and San Quintin. Some of this region’s most reliable operations include Vonny’s Sportfishing in Punta Banda, Castro’s Fishing Place in Ejido Erendira and K&M Sportfishing, Tiburon Pangas, Pedro’s Pangas and Capt. Juan Cook in Bahia San Quintin. In addition to the rockfish and lingcod, Capt. Kelly Catain at K&M Sportfishing indicated that a nice grade of yellowtail is still on the chew.

Cedros Outdoor Adventures off Baja’s central Pacific coast reported banner fishing for big yellowtail, calico bass and periodic runs of yellowfin tuna during 2015 and says that quality forktails and checkerboards are still available going into the New Year.

Down in Los Cabos, Capt. George Landrum at Fly Hooker Sportfishing indicated that there has been some decent striped marlin action locally, “The best concentrations of stripers have been found about 1 to 3 miles off the beach. Many of the fish caught were hooked by casting live bait in front of tailing fish, and by dropping a live bait back into the trolling pattern when a marlin showed up. Most were taken on live bait and about a quarter of them

Cedros Island Calico
Even as water temperatures begin their seasonal decline, the massive kelp forests around Isla Cedros are still generously kicking out chunky calico bass. Photo: Cedros Outdoor Adventures
on plastic swim baits being worked at depths between 80 and 200 feet adjacent to high spots holding bait. A few sailfish were reported as well, but as the water continues to cool it is doubtful they will be around for long. I did not talk to anyone who hooked up a Blue or Black Marlin this week, but heard gossip about several fish in the 200-300 pound class that were hooked up and fought to release.” Landrum added that both the yellowfin tuna and dorado bite has been ‘off and on’, with most of the fish in each species weighing in between 10 and 20 pounds.

Around the corner in San Jose del Cabo, Eric Bricston at Gordo Banks Pangas reports, “Average ocean temperature locally is now 76 degrees, we are seeing this cooling trend, though this is still several degrees warmer than seasonal normal. Along with the unusual weather patterns of this past year, we continue to see abnormal fish migrations as well, even the annual migration of whales has been late to arrive to its peak. This is the time of year when we normally would find schools of sardinas congregating along the shoreline and mackerel mixed with sardineta on the offshore grounds, so far we are not seeing any of this baitfish and are relying on bait sources of caballito, cocinero, slabs of squid and some ballyhoo. Fishing action has been more scattered than we would normally expect, options are limited without the mainstay of sardinas.”

“The most productive grounds this past week was found two to four miles straight out front of Puerto Los Cabos Marina, this is where practically the entire fleets from both San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas were congregating. Striped marlin with a few dorado in the mix were striking on slow trolled baits, or while drifting baits down deeper, occasional feeders on the surface. No huge numbers of fish, heavy pressure. But still the best bet to find action. Most of the stripers were in the 60 to 90 lb. class, with a few reaching 120 lb. There must be some food source now holding in this area, porpoise are being seen cruising through this zone as well. Commercial shrimp trawlers are moving in our area now, and these are the same grounds where they regularly work, often contributing to scatter any action that does start to develop.

Baja Fishing - Yellowfin Tuna
A New Year’s surprise was in store for these visiting anglers, who caught this huge yellowfin tuna in the blue water off of San Jose del Cabo on January 2nd. Photo: Gordo Banks Pangas

Ocean currents pushed in cooler, greenish water from the north and combined with persistent northerly winds, this made it tough to find any action around the Gordo Banks and further north. Some yellowfin tuna were accounted for, one tuna of 143 lb. was weighed in early in the week, others in the 15 to 80 lb. range were taken, but numbers were not significant at all and until conditions stabilize, this will most likely be the same situation. Tuna at times could be seen coming into chum lines or just breezing the surface, but proved to be very skittish. Late in the week anglers found sporadic action for yellowfin closer to shore off of Punta Gorda while drift fishing with strips of squid, these fish weighed up to 20 lb. and some charters landed as many as five tuna. Though this bite would slack off as quickly as it had started and be over just like that. Unusual to not see any of the larger sized needlefish that are typically present this time of year.

Only a handful of wahoo were reported, ranging 20 to 40 lb., though as conditions settle, we expect these fish to become more active. This coming week is forecast to be warmer and less windy, so this combined with a favorable moon phase could trigger improved action, of course these particular fish are very unpredictable. The bottom continues to show signs of more life, as more numbers of snapper and cabrilla were appearing, a couple of amberjack, yellowtail, ever present triggerfish and bonito. Need calmer conditions though to have better chances at these species. Inshore there are now good numbers of smaller sized roosterfish, not always easy to hook on the larger baits which are being used, though still this has been an option for variety, please remember that these fish should always be caught and then released with care, so that they can mature and help maintain the future fishery of these prized gamefish, which are known for their fighting qualities and not as good table fare.”

Baja Mackerel
In addition to some decent billfish action offshore and a few dorado closer in, shore anglers on the East Cape are scoring well on the toothy, tenacious and tasty sierra mackerel. Photo: Rancho Leonoro Resort

Bricston concluded by saying that the combined panga fleets launching out of La Playita, Puerto Los Cabos Marina sent out approximately 80 charters, with anglers reporting a fish count of: 48 striped marlin, 26 yellowfin tuna, 56 dorado, 4 wahoo, 2 yellowtail, 16 cabrilla, 11 huachinango, 20 yellow snapper, 2 amberjack, 8 rainbow runner, 1 dogtooth snapper, 4 white skipjack, 22 bonito, 44 roosterfish and 26 triggerfish.

While, up the Cortez coast in the famed East Cape region, John Ireland at Rancho Leonero Resort indicated that their boats have been working the area from La Ribera to the lighthouse for billfish. Stripers and sailfish have been providing most action, although there are still a few nice sized blues around.

He also said that they had not seen any yellowfin tuna for a few weeks but added, “There have been a few good dorado being taken in the 20 to 30-pound class. Most of these fish have been picked up on the troll off in front of the Lighthouse.” Ireland concluded his report by saying that some of the most spirited action has been taking place just off the beach in front of their hotel and down toward the marina, where onshore anglers continue to pick off a nice grade of sierra mackerel and a few roosterfish under 10 pounds.

It may be winter, but you would never know it by the fish counts being tallied up by anglers fishing around the Baja California peninsula. And, as the months continue to go by, things are bound to get even better.

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