By Tom Gatch
The brutal winter storms, which battered the west coast of North America at the beginning of the New Year, stretched from the Gulf of Alaska all the way down to southern California and a bit beyond. Luckily, the majority of the Baja California peninsula was spared from the overall impact of that massive deluge.
This is not to say, however, that Baja has been a bastion of balmy weather. Night time temperatures have been dipping into the mid-40’s, while most of the days between storm systems have produced sunny days that can occasionally reach temperatures of 70 degrees or more.
While it has been relatively warm near the southern tip of the peninsula, the much colder waters off of northern Baja’s Pacific coast have been hovering in the mid-50’s. This has set the stage for one of the most popular seasonal angling activities in the region; fishing for tasty bottom species like lingcod, reds, and the many other rockfish that live at similar depths.
There may not be many schools of yellowtail, bonito, and other surface fish biting this time of year, but the rock fishing has been excellent for those who have been willing to brave the occasional chilly winds and rougher ocean conditions that must be dealt with in order to achieve success this time of year.
Passenger loads have been light at Sergio’s Sportfishing working out of the Malecon in downtown Ensenada, but their boats have still been scoring solid rockfish counts out near Islas Santo Tomas.
The pangas at Vonny’s Fleet Sportfishing in Punta Banda have also been doing well fishing the deep water pockets off of the tip of the peninsula, producing good catches of quality-grade reds and toothy lingcod.
This is also the time of year when Castro’s Fishing Place truly comes into its own. It is situated on Baja’s picturesque Pacific coast in Ejido Erendira, which is located halfway between Ensenada and Bahia San Quintin. This somewhat obscure fish camp can still offer bottom fishing that is virtually as good as it was half a century ago.
This is one place where ‘catching’ regularly surpasses simply ‘fishing’, and offers a bountiful array of quality grade red rock cod, cow cod, lingcod along with a spectrum of other tasty bottom species. This winter is no exception, and visiting anglers are already beginning to bring some of those trophy-grade reds over the rails of Castro’s pangas.
Despite occasionally stormy weather, a few anglers continue to visit Bahia San Quintin in the hopes of hooking up with a feisty yellowtail. While some are successful in their quest, more often than not they will ultimately drop down to the bottom to try to fill their coolers with limits of the chunky red rockcod and lingcod that are far more prevalent this time of year.
One of the exceptions was a recent client of Capt. Juan Cook, who also came to San Quintin to hunt some of the wintertime Black Brant geese that the region has become renowned for. Cook reported, “The weather has been great after the rains were over. Crispy and cold in the mornings with nice, warm afternoons later in the day. My friend, Greg Wong, was goose hunting in San Quintin bay with a couple of his friends, Wendell Nagao, and Dave Kaihara.
I waited for them to finish off their hunt, which resulted in easy limits of geese. In the meantime, I made bait in the bay and once they were done, out into the breakers we went. The yellowtail fishing was slow, but Greg still managed to boat a nice one that weighed around 20 pounds.”
Capt. Cook concluded his report by saying, “After that, we dropped down and found some good lingcod and reds. We couldn’t have asked for much more, it was a flat, blue, and beautiful winter day and the catching was good.”
The billfish action has been exploding off Cabo San Lucas, according to the Pisces Sportfishing fishing fleet, who reported, “The last week of 2022 was hectic here in Cabo, with the town packed with tourists and anglers alike and boats in great demand. The docks were busy morning and afternoon, and catches were good.
However, we did see the marlin move further from Cabo, so the easy multiple marlin days at Golden Gate and off of the Old Lighthouse became less frequent. However, the real, double-digit, make-your-arms fall-off numbers were at the Finger Banks.
Fishing closer to home at the Golden Gate Bank, La Brisa, a 31 ft Bertram, released an out-of-season sailfish, which was around 70 lb. Likewise, they released a striped marlin and a couple of yellowfin tuna for the Darwins from Crystal Beach, Texas.”
They concluded their report by adding, “This same day, Ruthless, another one of our trusty 31 ft Bertrams, traveled to the Finger Bank and released 25 striped marlin in the 80 to 120 pound class and also landed a total of 7 dorado for a group of visiting Brits from Hertfordshire, England.”
On the other side of the peninsula's tip, Eric Bricston, of Gordo’s Panga’s in San Jose del Cabo, reported, ”Well, another year is in the books. This past week we saw larger crowds of families arriving, many of them deciding to make late notice fishing reservations. As weather was very ideal compared to much of North America, where freezing temperatures were being endured.
Local conditions were mostly clear with warm sunny skies, high temperatures to 80 degrees, slight ocean swells, variable winds, predominantly from the north and usually picking up later in the day. Overall, very nice winter time conditions.
Most of the fishing action has centered on the grounds from Punta Gorda, Cardon, La Fortuna, Iman and the Gordo Banks. Water temperatures continued to be on a cooling trend, now averaging in the 72 to 75 degree range, also as can happen this time of year, swift currents are pushing in some more off colored greenish waters. Bait sources have had heavy pressure, limited supplies of live caballito, ballyhoo and slabs of squid remained the mainstay for anglers.
The ocean water temperatures continue to be on a cooling trend, now in the 72 to 74 degree range. With the cooler currents we are seeing more greenish off colored areas, especially closer to shore. But the bait situation has remained much the same, not many caballito being found at all, ballyhoo and slabs of squid are always available. Also, schools of mackerel and sardines are now congregating off of the San Jose del Cabo Hotel Zone.”
He also added, “For local fleets, the main grounds now being targeted have been straight off of the Puerto Los Cabos Marina region, where mackerel schools are now congregated and north to the Gordo Banks, Iman, San Luis, La Fortuna and Cardon. Dorado have been the most common game fish being found, many charters able to fill their limits on fish up to 20 lb., average of 5 to 15 lb. Striking best on trolled ballyhoo. The wahoo action has faded out, only a few of these seen all week, as with the cooler water temperature these pelagic fish are now migrating south to preferred temperate water temperatures.
Early in the week there was some quality yellowfin tuna action encountered near the Iman Bank, fish to 60 lb. taken while drift fishing with squid. Also, off of San Luis Bank some nice tuna were hooked on yo-yo jigs where anglers were also catching some nice white bonito up to 12 lb. Later in the week the tuna were harder to entice, also winds were up some days and made these further grounds less accessible.
Bricston concluded his comments by saying, “Still not much going off the bottom rock piles besides the bonito, triggerfish and a few pargo and leopard grouper. With lack of sardines not much sierra action or shallow water inshore action being targeted. Hopefully these cooling waters will bring in some new schools of sardines, because they are always a valued bait resource for the coming winter season.
Further up the Cortez coast, Jonathan Roldan, at Tailhunter International, reports, “Turning the page on a new year in La Paz and grateful to everyone for the year that was and wishing blessings to all for the year just arrived. Not much happening right now on the waters except for all the winds exacerbated by storms north of the border.
There is still barely anyone fishing because of the winds and rough seas, but there were some windows of opportunity here and there in between the gusts that produced an interesting mix of fish and more action than might have been expected!
A mostly sunny week with nice temps between the mid-50’s and mid-60’s, but still not many folks on the water because of northern winds roughing up the waters. We had to cancel several trips because of it.
However, here and there, some folks got out and found some windows of opportunity to get out in between gusts. Many of the folks we do get out are locals who have the opportunity to have flexible schedules to find the better days or else tourists who have wiggle-room in their vacation agendas to avoid the windier times.
Surprisingly, there’s still some dorado around which are usually gone by October or November. That leads me to believe there’s still some warm water patches here and there. However, most catches were colder water fish like small yellowtail and numerous sierra as well as bonito, jacks and cabrilla.
Roldan finished his report by adding, ”There’s lots of live sardines around although yo-yo jigs have also been productive …if you can keep them out of the rocks.”
And there you have it! The fact that it is now winter seems to have had little effect on the fish that are actively on the chew around the Baja peninsula. As the days slowly begin to get longer and the sunny days in Baja continue to get warmer, now is the time to start taking advantage of the light crowds and hungry fish that await you just south of the border.