Baja Fishing Report - Winter 2018
By Tom Gatch
As water temps cool, the California sheephead, big Pacific red snapper and hungry bonito go on the chew. Photo: Vonny’s Fleet
Most of the past fall season in Baja California Norte was defined by warm and windy Santa Ana conditions that contributed to an extended Indian Summer and continued into December. January is now upon us, and the nights continue to get chillier as we progress into the New Year.
Nonetheless, Baja California still offers anglers a plethora of opportunities to catch a wide range of popular gamefish. From fat lings and reds along the northern Pacific coast to big marlin, wahoo and schools of hungry sierra at the tip of the peninsula, Baja is one place where you can tighten your line virtually year round.
Southern California rockfish anglers have been frustrated for many years, due to the fact that state and federal regulations have made it illegal to fish for a variety of bottom fish species during the very months that they are biting best. This is not a problem in Baja California, where no such restrictions exist.
As you read this, panga operations from La Salina to Bahía San Quintín are putting visiting anglers on top of quality bottom fish. Species like lingcod, Pacific red snapper and even huge cowcod; a species that has been protected north of the border for decades.
At the south end of the bay, Vonny’s Fleet pangas have been nailing big calico bass weighing up to 7 pounds on plastics tossed into the frothing waters around boiler rocks and other outcroppings out near the tip of Punta Banda.
In Punta Banda, Vonny’s Fleet pangas have been taking solid catches of rockfish and California sheephead on the bottom and decent size Pacific bonito near the surface. There have also been a few homeguard yellowtail in the 17 to 25 pound class taken on the troll.
There’s nothing like a beautiful winter dorado off of Isla Cedros to close out the season.
Photo: Cedros Outdoor Adventures
Down the coast at Castro’s Fishing Place in Ejido Erendira, anglers have been catching limits of rockfish, lings and the occasional mako shark. Recently, a fisherman visiting with a group from Long Beach took a couple of cowcod, which weighed in at over 15 pounds each.
The red crabs have been thick further south, and boats out of Bahía San Quintín have been taking a modest mix of bottom fish, calico bass, bonito, a few smaller white seabass and yellowtail under 10 pounds.
Jose Angel at Cedros Outdoor Adventures says that they have just about wound down their season until spring on Isla Cedros, but added that they took a couple of nice dorado back in late November and are still pulling fat calicos out of the weeds.
Down in Los Cabos near the southern tip of the peninsula, the Pisces Fleet reports that their recent marlin counts have been higher than they have seen in years. Anglers have also been treated to a bevy of hungry inshore species like roosterfish, wahoo, jack crevalle and a couple of big sharks.
Two of their clients from Europe caught and released 7 striped marlin and landed 3 yellowfin tuna in the 15 to 20 pound class after a few days on the water. A couple visiting from Washington also took a 210 pound yellowfin tuna along with five more weighing between 10 and 20 pounds on a one day fishing adventure.
Wahoo fishing out of San Jose del Cabo is off the charts.
Photo: Gordo Banks Pangas
Just to the east in San Jose del Cabo, Eric Brickson at Gordo Banks Pangas reports, “Winter is finally here, and fewer tourists were seen this past week now that the holidays have concluded. Supplies of sardinas continue to be sufficient for anglers, these small baitfish are now schooling off the rocky beach stretches from Palmilla to Cabo Real. Other bait options include slabs of squid or trying to find and catch your own chihuil, as well as using chunks of skipjack. Sardinas proved to be the most productive all around bait.
The most common catches have been yellowfin tuna in the 10 to 30 pound range; we only saw a handful of tuna up in the 50 to 70 lb. range this past week. Even the smaller grade tuna were finicky much of the time, anglers could see the yellowfin jumping out of the water and feeding freely on the chummed sardinas, but they often would not readily take the baits with hooks in them.
Very clear water, boat pressure, coming full moon; all can be factors. With patience, most charters were able to accountant for tuna catches averaging 4 to 8 fish per boat. The Palmilla Point, Santa Maria, Los Arcos, Iman Bank all produced fish, the larger grade of tuna were coming off of the Iman and San Luis Banks.”
Brickson concluded, “As water temperatures are slowly cooling, we are seeing some more sierra show up closer to shore, a few nicer fish to over 5 lb. Also some of the more elusive island jacks were found. Off the bottom structure we saw a little more production of amberjack, barred pargo, triggerfish, leopard grouper (cabrilla) and at least one nice 28 lb. yellowtail was landed. Quite a few white skipjack were mixed in with the schools of yellowfin tuna and a few of the Eastern Pacific bonito.”
Veteran Baja angler, Kevin Shiotani, shows off three quality grade dorado that he took with Tailhunter International while fishing in Bahia de los Muertos. Photo: Tailhunter International
Up the Cortez coast in La Paz, Jonathan Roldan at Tailhunter International offers, “Not many fisher-folk in town right now, but it has been sunny, relatively warm and good beach weather. Although it is not always great to be on the water fishing because it can still be windy and rough.
But, onshore it’s really pleasant and compared to other places in the world where winter is already hitting, La Paz is a great place to be. There are already a few snowbirds around, but the boulevards and streets are empty sometimes and it’s just the ocean and palm trees and a good time to hang out in a restaurant or read a book!
As far as fishing, in between bouts of winds, this past week wasn’t too very bad, but like I said, not many folks are fishing. This coming week, the forecasts call for some very strong double-digit winds.
However, for the folks that did go out, the best fishing was from Muertos Bay where it’s a bit more protected and fish are closer to shore. Given the time of year and increasing winter conditions, the fishing is surprisingly good.
In fact, there are still some nice dorado hanging out and, remarkably, some of them are larger than the ones that we were getting during the regular season. There’s also some billfish hanging out and scattered tuna here and there. Inshore, there are jack crevalle, small cabrilla, sierra, bonito and snapper for the light tackle folks which are a lot of fun.”
There is still some fantastic cabrilla and leopard grouper fishing to be had in the upper Cortez around Islas Encantadas. This fat boy inhaled a Deadhead Lure that was being jigged over the bottom.
Photo: Denis Quesnel Deadhead Lures
Roldan finished up his report by saying, “Besides the winds, the biggest issue is getting live bait as the waters get colder and waves batter the areas where we catch the schools of sardines. So, we’re relying on lures and dead bait like calamari which will become more prevalent as we head into winter. Still, it’s nice to get warm-water species this late in the season.”
In the upper Sea of Cortez, just south of Puertecitos, the waters around Islas Encantadas continue to offer some excellent late season opportunities to catch a few quality grade cabrilla and leopard grouper.
This rocky and volcanic region is extremely popular and productive during the panga mothership season because it is one of the prime areas in Baja California Norte that still holds prolific populations of these exotic fish. One of the most reliable ways to catch them is by yo-yo jigging iron near the bottom right in front of their face. However, it is important to be selective and conscientious in choosing the ones that you plan to keep; these fish are even slower growing than they are delicious.
Just remember, as we pass the winter solstice each day will be a little longer than the one before, and will offer more and more time for you to fish and relax under the warm Baja sun.