By Tom Gatch
Despite the torrential rains that descended upon us during the holiday season, they have now departed and we are once again basking under the warm Baja sun.
For rock cod lovers north of the border, however, the months of January and February mark the U.S. Federal rockfish closure off of southern California; but if you can afford the price of a ticket, there are still several boats out of San Diego making full-day trips down to the Coronado Islands in Mexican waters. For those seeking a longer voyage, The Pacific Queen just kicked off their seasonal trips down to Punta Colonet north of San Quintín in search of a hot bite. Anglers on a recent trip ended up with 21 yellowtail, 9 lingcod, and limits of rockcod.
The fact remains, however, that one of the very best ways to experience an exciting fishing adventure in Baja California is to personally pay us a visit yourself. And, along with a productive day on the water, you can also enjoy an array of beautiful coastal vistas, a friendly culture, gourmet seafoods, and the fine wines that have made Baja famous around the globe.
Just below the International Border in Ensenada, the end of 2019 marked the conclusion of the sportfishing season for El Cazador out of Sergio’s landing. They are now focusing upon giving visitors a close-up view of the numerous pods of California gray whales headed south toward their nursery in San Ignacio Lagoon.
On the other hand, the yellowtail bite has been on fire along Baja’s northern Pacific coast so far this year. Panga anglers at the southern end of Bahía de Todos Santos have been regularly hooking up with large Pacific bonito and quality yellowtail off Punta Banda, with some of the forktails weighing more than 20 pounds.
A bit off the beaten path from the highway heading toward San Quintín, Castro’s Fishing Place in Ejido Erendira reports the usual world-class bottom fishing that they have built their reputation on, but this year their captains are also hooking visiting anglers up with some trophy sized yellowtail as well.
Down the coast at Bahía San Quintín the story remains the same. Capt. Kelly Catian at K&M Sportfishing says that all of his boats have been limiting out on big yellowtail, most of which have been hooked while jigging heavier yo-yo iron just off the bottom. Meanwhile, Capt. Juan Cook at San Quintín Sportfishing has been treating his clients to a steady smorgasbord of local species including ocean whitefish, ling cod, and a variety of tasty rockfish.
Off the central Baja coast, Cedros Outdoor Adventures remains in winter mode as they prepare for what appears to be an even more productive fishing season in the year to come. Their staff has already begun their annual promotional trek with an appearance at the International Sportsman’s Exposition in Sacramento in mid-January.
The fishing off Bahía Magdalena has been unseasonably good lately despite occasionally inclement weather. Boats have been reporting catches of dorado and wahoo, along with a smattering of billfish. Inside the protected estero, there are also opportunities to catch small grouper, corvina, halibut, and if you are very fortunate, maybe even a nice snook.
At the southern tip of the peninsula in Los Cabos, Pisces Sportfishing reports, “We had close to a 100% catch success rate the first week of the New Year, with dorado being the top producing species. Pisces 28’ Andrea recently had a great day with limits of dorado being caught by 9:30 in the morning. The tuna fishing also remains good, with average fish ranging from 20 to 50 pounds, and others weighing well over 100 pounds.”
They added, “Billfish have been a little trickier to find, but when we have been successful, we’ve been releasing striped marlin weighing between 100 and 160 pounds, and our 35’ boat, Bill Collector, managed to hook and release a beautiful blue marlin weighing over 400 pounds.”
Just around the corner in San Jose del Cabo, Erik Bricston of Gordo Banks Pangas offers, “We had crowds of vacationers ringing in the New Year while visiting Los Cabos, but this year our temperatures proved to be a little cooler by local standards, lows were in the 50s and highs in the lower 70s, though still very pleasant compared to most areas north of the border.
Ocean temperatures have been down in the 72 to 74-degree range. Caballito have been the main bait, but actual schools of baitfish are inconsistent. Before a recent cold front swept through, we were enjoying good all-around action for a mix of dorado, wahoo and some yellowfin tuna, as well as roosterfish and some billfish that have been migrating into our local waters.
Dorado, which had been one of the more common catches, all of a sudden became very limited and scattered, same for wahoo, they had been elusive, but were showing signs of becoming more active just before the weather turned over. Also, the first week of the New Year saw the yellowfin tuna action start to rebound for some of the larger cow-sized fish in the vicinity of the Gordo Banks. No big numbers, although a handful of large yellowfin were brought in weighing over 300 pounds.
The tuna bite has since slowed a little bit, but things should rebound soon. We have been encountering rapidly moving pods of porpoise anywhere from 4 to 8 miles offshore with schools of yellowfin tuna beginning to move in among them. So far, we have been landing fish between 10 and 30 pounds by drifting strips of squid under the porpoise.”
In conclusion, Bricston added, “Inshore the roosterfish action slowed way down when the dirty, cooler water pushed in. Bottom action has been limited to various species; mostly smaller sized, jacks, pargo, bonito, and triggerfish. The exception was that we saw a couple of bigger amberjack and cabrilla.”
Jonathan Roldan at Tailhunter International in La Paz reports “It pays to watch the weather. On the first week of the New Year we experienced some incredibly windy and cold days. Normally, these are days we would recommend not going fishing. We even had some rain this past week. It happens. It’s winter. It’s off-season.
Yet, some folks decided they still wanted to go fishing. So, off they went despite my warnings. Didn’t catch much of anything and it was so rough they had to come back early. We had others booked but had to cancel them because of the rough weather. Honestly, only about 2 days this week would have been fishable at all. However, we also had clients who were flexible on their fishing days and allowed me to tell them when they should go fishing. And, sure enough, they found fish. Surprisingly, some pretty decent fishing as a matter of fact.
Most amazing was the mixture of fish. Cold-water fish like big sierra typical of this time of year were running 5-8 pounds; but mixed right in with them were some school-sized dorado. The strange thing is that dorado are warm water fish that we usually catch during the warmer summer and fall months. So, they’re normally not running this time of year!
Along with those species, there were jags of bonito and scattered jack crevalle as well as snapper and cabrilla along the shorelines where there was structure such as reefs, rocks and drop offs.
Roldan concluded his report with a simple fact, “It’s true, sometimes the weather alone can make all the difference.”
Up the Cortez coast near Mulegé, anglers fishing out of San Bruno have had to deal with northerly winds that have kept them off the water. One recent group visited the region for 11 days, but were only able to fish for 2 of those days because of the gusty weather.
Nonetheless, they went out on the few days that they were given and scored well on a variety of cabrillas and quality grouper. The same held true further north at the Midriff Islands off of Bahía de los Ángeles, the only exception was the added possibility of getting a shot at catching a fat yellowtail.
Winter is a perfect time to visit Baja California. There is plenty of sunshine, and the occasional winds and rain give way to sprouting green meadows and festively colored wildflowers that generally disappear during the dryer, warmer months.
The good news is that no matter what time of year you plan to visit Baja, there will always be plenty of fish waiting for you.