By Tom Gatch
The final weeks of December brought a spell of stormy, inclement weather to the southern California and Baja coasts, which also included high tides and crashing waves that caused occasional flooding to several areas.
Shortly thereafter, temperatures plummeted down into the low 40’s, causing many to bundle themselves up in heavy garb while wondering how cold the winter weather in the New Year was actually going to get. Fortunately, milder weather eventually prevailed with midday temperatures back in the mid to high 60’s along with mostly sunny days between storm systems.
While this type of reaction may seem a bit laughable to those who have become accustomed to the bitter winter weather that is typical in the northeast or Midwest, the residents of SoCal and Baja California tend to have much thinner blood that makes even the moderately low temps we have experienced this season somewhat difficult for us to adjust to.
Winter is also the time of year when many of the owners of Baja’s most prominent sportfishing companies go on the road to be exhibitors at numerous outdoor-oriented trade shows that generally take place across the U.S. during these months.
These promotional tours are vital to the cause of exposing more and more people to the fantastic fishing opportunities that are available just south of the International border.
Of course, it must be said all of these far flung promotional activities belie the fact that, although winter may not be considered the prime season for fishing in Baja, there are still a lot of fish species that are biting...and just waiting to be caught.
One of the prime examples of this situation is the exceptional bottom fishing opportunities that exist along Baja’s northern Pacific coast. This is particularly attractive to the many ‘rock-cod’ anglers in California who have been frustrated by the ever-growing restrictions on this style of deep water fishing, which have been established by State and Federal fisheries regulators. But, no matter how attractive this particular option is, there are certainly a lot more species of fish that are now biting around the Baja peninsula in addition to all of those tasty rockfish.
While chilly water temps have reduced the appearance of many surface species, there are still some nice-sized bonito and a few yellowtail showing up in the fish counts. Vonny’s Fleet pangas reports that they have been consistently filling the coolers for their clients with a variety of inshore fishes like red rockfish, lingcod, sheephead, calico bass, and an occasional halibut from the waters of the southern Bahia near Punta Banda.
On the other hand, the local offshore panga fleet, with nary a tuna, yellowtail, or dorado to be found, is now focusing their attention on the highly productive Banda Bank, which is situated only about 15 miles or so offshore. This year, they have really hit the jack pot with astounding catches of big reds, salmon grouper, lings, and other sizable rockfish that are no longer prolific in shallower waters.
Further south, the fishing action has been much the same in places such as Castro’s Camp in Erendira and San Quintin, with the possible exception of a few yellowtail in the 12 to 17-pound class being taken on bottom iron.
Bahia San Quintin
Although occasional yellowtail are being caught by visiting anglers, most of the action off San Quintin has been provided by the massive numbers of bottom fish that abound in the local depths. Fat Pacific red snapper and big, toothy lingcod have been most prevalent, with a variety of smaller species such as olive rockfish, chuckleheads, and tree fish rounding out the catch.
Capt. Juan Cook was on the road again out of his home base in Bahia San Quintin; this time fishing with his clients much further down Baja’s Pacific coast in Magdalena Bay.
Cook reported, “We did well offshore. On our best day, it was flat calm with sunny, blue skies and many cooperating fish. There were several hook ups with some feisty wahoo, most of which were in the 30 pound class. We also hooked and landed a few yellowfin tuna, as well as a couple of dorado.
We stayed with the Arragon family at their Happy Shrimp Hotel and we fished with Capitán Saúl Arragon, “Rigo” of Salvaje Sportfishing. He runs 3 boats and was born and raised in the Mag Bay area. They are hands down among the best sports fishermen in the region, and I highly recommend that visiting anglers look them up if they are ever in the area.”
Cook also said that the fishing was also good in the Estero, with many anglers scoring well on cabrilla, small grouper, corvina, halibut, and even an errant snook or two.
Cabo San Lucas
Pisces Sportfishing in Cabo San Lucas reports that the New Year started out on a high note with an unusually plentiful number of dorado being taken for this time of year. However, there has also been some excellent fishing for striped marlin as well.
The Carr family, who were visiting from Houston, Texas, ended up having such a trip aboard one of their boats, Tiburon, a 31-foot Bertram cruiser that was skippered by Captain Rosendo Gomez, and his Mate, Carlos Santos. The group had caught and released two striped marlin that were estimated to weigh between 80 and 100 pounds by mid-morning.
Shortly thereafter, they paid a visit to one of the spots where the dorado had been showing and cashed in on the opportunity in grand style. One after the other brightly flashing golden dorado hit the deck of the Tiburon as the entire family battled the hungry Mahi for well over an hour. After releasing several of the smaller fish, they returned to port with 10 quality dorado in the cooler and broad smiles on their faces.
San Jose del Cabo
Just around the corner in San Jose del Cabo, Brian Brictson from Gordo Banks Pangas reports. “We continue to have really nice weather with colder mornings than usual. There have been perfect temperatures throughout the day for fishing and beach activities.
The main target species the past few weeks have been yellowfin tuna, dorado, and marlin.
Our fleet continues to catch nice sized tuna at Iman and Punta Gorda, though not as many as compared to about a month ago. Most of these fish are in the 20 to 30 pound range, with some nicer ones in the mix of up to 60-70 pounds.
The best action for these fish has been later in the day, usually closer to noon. The tuna bite seems to be slowing down quite a bit as we have not seen great numbers in the last few days. We are using live sardines for these tuna, though the sardine supply was limited this week.
Fortunately, however, the bait guys continue to net sardines towards Cabo Real and then head back towards the marina to supply our boats before they go out.
Dorado action continues to be consistent. We are finding best action while drifting and trolling live sardines. These dorado tend to swim in big schools, so there is a good chance of hooking more than one at a time. Most of these dorado are nice sized and we continue to see big bulls in the mix of up to 40 pounds.”
He continued, “We did not see many wahoo this week. The few that were caught were on the smaller size. The boats that put in the time were lucky to get one or two bites all day. These wahoo strikes were on Rapalas, Nomads, and ballyhoo. The best action was between La Fortuna and Cardón. We also got word of a couple 50+ pounders that were lost near the boat.
The main highlight the past few weeks has been the striped marlin bite. Most of the boats targeting marlin are starting 4 to 5 miles out from our marina and covering the grounds towards Chileno and Cerro Colorado. We have been able to flip live bait at them as we are seeing many of them on the surface. Most of these marlin have been hitting ballyhoo and lures.”
Bricston concluded his report by saying, “The Sierra bite was also good this week throughout most of our shoreline. Most of these Sierra are caught with live sardines, shiny jigs, or small Rapalas. We have also been picking up a few smaller groupers and snapper throughout the shore.”
Reporting on the road from the seasonal trade show circuit, Jonathan Roldan of Tailhunter International in La Paz offers, “Jill and I just finished our first show of the season at the Dallas Safari Club Convention held at the Dallas Convention Center and it was 4 incredible days in the booth. Maybe one of the best shows we have had in the more than 30 years of shows we have done.”
In regard to the current fishing conditions in La Paz, Roldan reports, “It’s been pretty typical winter stuff this past week. We had a few folks ask to go out and, after showing them the weather forecast, they wisely decided to sit it out. Occasionally, we have had a few of them that decided to give it a try and, unfortunately, had to have their trips cancelled because of the winds. Unfortunately, that’s just the way it is sometimes during the winter months.”
Roldan added, “But that doesn’t mean that there are no fish around. What it means is that you need to carefully pick and choose the dates you go out on the water. Check with several days in advance or up to a week in advance to I can check the extended forecast and you can make an informed decision.
We have had several folks that have actually been able to get out on the water. They picked their day well and ended up catching dorado, tuna, and even marlin! That’s crazy fishing, because none of these fish are typical winter-time fish. Some of these catches are even more remarkable since many of these successful anglers had very little fishing experience in our region, with a few of them even coming all the way down from Canada!
We also know there are fish around because we have friends that are commercial fishermen. They don’t have a choice. They need to make a living no matter the weather, and they inform us that there are yellowtail up to about 25 pounds around the high spots of the island right now.
Roldan ended his report by saying, “There have also been a few wahoo, tuna and regular inshore fish like pargo, cabrilla and snapper mixed in with sierra. But, really, there are just not that many folks out on the water down in La Paz during the winter months.”
The fact of the matter is that despite the occasional winds and winter storms, there are still a lot of fish that are actively ‘on the chew’ in Baja right now. The good news is that things will only continue to get better as we begin to enjoy the warming weather as we approach spring.
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