By Tom Gatch
The wickedly chilly fingers of a frigid Canadian cold front helped to ring in our New Year by reaching down the Pacific coast and bringing bone-chilling temperatures to points as far south as central Baja California.
Nonetheless, the slightly warmer water temps that prevailed during November and December made for an extended yellowtail bite that has lasting into January. For optimistic Baja anglers, this situation teasingly suggests the possibility of an early surface season for 2019.
Of course, for the next few months a majority of those fishing the west coast of northern Baja will be focusing their attention on the world class bottom fishing opportunities that have become well known for yielding limits of tasty species such as Pacific red snapper and lingcod.
Visiting stateside based sportfishers out of San Diego have been doing well at the rock pile south of Islas Coronados as well as at Bahía Descanso and the Finger Bank. Sergio’s Sportfishing in Ensenada reports seasonally light loads and good fishing around Islas de Todos Santos for salmon grouper, lingcod and a wide variety of rockfish.
Panga Fleets such as Vonny’s Fleet in Punta Banda and Castro’s Fishing Place in Ejido Erendira are still taking mixed catches of yellowtail and bottom fish. Further south in Bahía San Quintín, Capt. Kelly Catian of K&M Sportfishing has been taking his clients out to Isla San Miguel and beyond for a chance to cash in on some of the bigger yellowtail swimming offshore.
Off the coast of central Baja, Cedros Outdoor Adventures is on winter break, but is already starting to take reservations for their spring opener in early May. Bahía Asunción has been quiet, but can still accommodate visiting anglers with panga fishing services when the weather permits until things pick up again in a few months.
Further south, unstable weather systems have also made the fishing conditions offshore near Bahía Magdalena a bit unpredictable. However, visiting anglers fishing inside the protected estero are still on tap for catching a variety of smaller cabrilla, corvina, halibut and an occasional grouper.
Down in Los Cabos, Pisces Sportfishing reports, “Dorado numbers have continued to rise at the Finger Bank, which never disappoints our clients this time of year. Although we have seen marlin and tuna catches down a few percentage points for a few weeks, some of the tuna caught recently have been impressive. While most have been in the 20 to 30 pound class, we have seen a few big yellowfin well over 100 pounds hitting the dock.
Two of our boats, the Pisces 52 and the Free 2 Play, have been fishing the Finger Bank and have been hooking and releasing a lot of striped marlin; sometimes up to 18 a day, with most boats catching 10 to 15 per trip.
One of our families that was visiting from Winnipeg Canada fished two days aboard the Free 2 Play. On December 24th, Christmas Eve day, they released 18 striped marlin between 100 and 120 pounds each, using live mackerel bait. Then, two days later, they released 15 striped marlin around the same size, this time using ballyhoo bait and also landed 3 yellowfin tuna weighing around 15 pounds each on cedar plugs just before actually arriving at the Finger itself.
But the Free 2 Play didn't only fish the Finger Bank that week, they occasionally stuck closer to home and also did well on striped marlin and tuna. The Todd and Roth families visiting Cabo from Missouri caught and released a nice striped marlin at Golden Gate on live mackerel, and also landed 8 yellowfin tuna on feathers and cedar plugs that weighed in at between 15 and 22 pounds. So far, we have really seen a strong beginning for the 2019 fishing season.”
From the other side of Los Cabos at San Jose del Cabo, Eric Bricston at Gordo Banks Pangas says, “The last week of 2018 we saw a fair number of families visiting for their holiday vacation, although the continued north winds have hurt the surface action on the local fishing grounds, as well a number of reservations on charter boats that usually visit those areas.
To be honest, the winds have been relentless since November, which caused conditions to turn over with greenish water, swift currents and water temperatures down near 73 degrees.
Anglers are using a combination of caballito, slabs of squid and some ballyhoo for bait. There are now reports of mackerel showing up on bait grounds off of San Jose del Cabo, if things settle down it could open up some new options that will bring in gamefish species such as striped marlin and some bigger tuna to our area.”
Bricston continued, “The majority of our local charters are fishing the grounds from Red Hill and Gordo Banks to the Iman Banks. Air temperatures have been moderate, lows down to 55 degrees early morning, with mid-day highs near 80 degrees. Mainly sunny skies, with the morning cloud cover burning off as the sun rises.
Yellowfin tuna, dorado and wahoo have all been scarce so far, with the best chances of catching a tuna or two being near the Iman Bank. The problem is, only a handful of tuna are being landed, and most of them have only been 15 to 20 pound fish. However, there have been a couple of bigger yellowfin tuna in the 60 to 80 pound class.
Most of the billfish are currently being found on the Pacific side of the peninsula, but some striped marlin have also been encountered on the 95 and 1150 spots; which should mean that more numbers of striped marlin will be not too far behind.
Inshore action has been comprised of small sized roosterfish and some sierra that provided some back up action on the days that proved too rough offshore. The most productive action recently has been for a variety of structure species like red snapper (huachinango), glass eye snapper, baqueta, triggerfish, ocean whitefish, yellow snapper, flag cabrilla and tijareta.”
For the week after New Year’s Day, the combined sportfishing fleet out of the panga area from Puerto Los Cabos Marina reported an estimated 66 charters for the week, and anglers reported an approximate fish count of: 6 striped marlin, 8 dorado, 29 yellowfin tuna, 145 bonito, 1 amberjack, 12 glass eye snapper, 16 red snapper, 8 cabrilla (leopard grouper), 14 baqueta, 6 ocean whitefish, 12 yellow snapper, 25 tijareta, 12 flag cabrilla, 22 sierra, 16 roosterfish and 80 triggerfish.
Up the Cortez coast a bit, in the capital city of La Paz, Jonathan Roldan at Tailhunter International says that it has been mostly sunny with daytime temperatures hovering in the mid 70’s and the seasonal fishing has been good. While the water has gotten a bit cooler and cloudier, there are still some warm patches holding a few tuna and dorado.
Roldan reports, “Windier weather at the beginning of the New Year put fishing on the slow side, but as the week went on, conditions improved and a nice variety of fish showed up especially for our anglers fishing in and around Muertos Bay. In fact, the bite was surprising for the incredible mixed bag of both warm and cold water species such as dorado and smaller roosterfish, in addition to some bonito and jack crevalle.
The colder water fish, which are more common to this type of year, included our first yellowtail of the season plus cabrilla, snapper, pargo, and sierra. Live bait has been a bit difficult to get, but the fish showed no hesitation in biting jigs, lures and trolled Rapalas. None of the fish were far offshore…often within casting distance of the beach or rocks.
Nothing really big, but many folks were just down to find some sunshine and not really caring too much about what was biting, yet we still had great action. Often you just never know what is going to bite; and at times the bite was on full-speed. Anglers working light tackle really had a hoot.”
Roldan concluded by saying, “Gray whales are starting to show up, and the vanguard of the migration are moving in. Whale watching season should be good and we’ll start running trips in about 2 weeks.”
Winter or not, who cares? Now is a great time to pack up your gear and head south to escape the chill and enjoy all of the warm weather and the hot fishing that Baja California has to offer.