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Fish Tales


The Good, The Bad, And The Wahoo


Bill Hilton is from Phoenix but, as he has pointed out to me in the past, he's closer to Cabo San Lucas than we are in Los Angeles. Bill was kind enough to give us this report on a December trip to Los Cabos ...

"Some days you stomp the grapes, some days you drink the wine"

We just spent 10 days in Baja, fishing two days on pangas at San Jose del Cabo and five days on cruisers at Cabo San Lucas. Hoped to catch wahoo at San Jose and expected many striped marlin in Cabo, but of course things rarely go according to plans. Here's a report ... it's a little long but a lot went on as we took six different species of gamefish (dorado, wahoo, tuna, striped marlin, blue marlin, black marlin). What a place ...

Saturday Dec 14 -- A grape stomping day :(

Fished on a 23 ft super-panga at San Jose, booked with Victor's Sportfishing for $180. (A regular 22 ft panga goes for $150). Victor has 20 boats but only 3-4 a day were fishing in this lull between Thanksgiving and Christmas. You can book Victor's boats with Jig Stop Tours, 1-800-521-2281.

On many occasions we've fished at Cabo (20 miles west) and spent the first half hour running to the Gorda Banks, just off-shore of San Jose, so we hoped to save some time by starting from San Jose. So the first thing we did (at 6 AM) was run all the way to Cabo to get bait, then run back to San Jose to fish! Sometimes you can't win.

We had no bait tank, the skipper just scooped a foot of water in the forward compartment of the panga and dumped the baits in. If you want luxury boats you won't be happy with pangas.

We were eager to catch a wahoo (had never caught one, and only seen a couple in many trips to Cabo and East Cape). The skipper, Augustin, told us we could concentrate on either dorado or tuna or wahoo, or stay close to shore and fish for amberjacks. "No marlin now," he said apologetically. Man, what a place to fish! He took our two 30 lb outfits used for marlin live-bait fishing and tied on 60 lb wire leaders with two 4/0 hooks. We slow trolled mackerel close behind the boat with stiff drag settings.

This was exciting fishing as the macks would often come to the surface when a predator fish would appear and you could see the big fish swirl as he attacked. We lost all 10 baits by 11 AM with only one small dorado caught. Twice we had very large 'hoos strike on the surface (Augustin said maybe 50 lbs) but no hook-ups. Also had two nice dorados strike (under 20 lbs) and several blind strikes, but "malo suerte." Also a lack of skill on my part, I'm sure. Augustin assured me it was hard to hook the wahoo but I'd guess part of it was just me learning how to strike them.

Got three more macks from another boat which had bought 20 instead of 10, but we quickly lost these too. The other boat had a 40 lb 'hoo and two dorados, which didn't make me feel any better about our sorry performance.

Saw several whales, including one that breached a few hundred yards away. Awesome.

All told 13 boats went out from the three fleets. One 75 lb 'hoo was caught and one striped marlin. Top boats got 4-5 fish, and a couple got skunked, losing all 10 baits without a fish. Most of the fish were wahoo and dorado, with one boat getting tuna. We were probably in the bottom 25% with our single fish, which I gave to the guide for dinner.

Sunday Dec 15 -- A glass of chardonay :)

We bought 15 baits this day. After losing 4 baits we finally stuck one of the 'hoos and landed it fairly quickly. These guys are fast, but no match for tackle used to land 150 lb marlin. Next time I hope to bring some 20 lb gear.

Augie said it ran 35 lbs. Then a double strike, Carol landed one and it was an 18 lb yellowfin tuna instead of a wahoo. Then another hook-up, Carol took this one also, a 15-20 lb dorado. I reeled the other bait in half-way and left it in hopes of a double; it thrashed at the surface and a nice wahoo jumped 3-4 feet clear out of the water, landing on the bait and hooking himself. "This is exciting fishing", I thought. Landed the wahoo (~30 lbs) but lost the dorado. On the 11th bait we even had a nice striped marlin strike, to my amazement (we were less than a mile offshore in front of the Westin Regina hotel). Ended with three nice fish (2 'hoos and the tuna), gave 1/2 a wahoo to Augie and kept the rest for the cooler.

One of the other boats was using sardines and was constantly over a school of small tuna; they had two fish on every time we saw them. Another of Victor's boats caught 3 wahoos and a small blue marlin (~180 lbs) on the Gorda Banks. I was highly impressed with the skill of the guides and the variety and quality of the fishing. And it wasn't even a peak period, everyone said. Will try to get back to San Jose for a little panga action every time I re-visit Baja from now on!

I had read you have to be fishing at dawn to catch wahoo but these struck steadily until at least noon each day (when we were usually out of baits). I guess the wahoo didn't read the same articles I did?

Monday Dec 16 -- Changed hotels, moving to Cabo.

Tuesday Dec 17 -- A Cabernet Sauvignon kind of day :)

We fished with Pisces fleet on the 31 ft Bertram, "La Brisa". Our top choice of captains was on vacation and our 2nd choice didn't show so we fished with two deckhands. This boat costs $425 and was equipped with 30 TW Internationals and 40 lb line (the best equipped boat we fished on down there).

Big news in Cabo was the striped marlin had not yet arrived in massive numbers, but there were still a few of the larger blue marlin around, which was great news for me. We brought our 50 TW's for trolling in hopes of snagging a blue. Most boats headed north up the coast to the Jaime and Golden Gate banks, where action was hot for dorado and luke-warm for striped marlin, but we asked for a shot at big fish and were taken directly south of Cabo. I don't think we saw three other boats all day.

By 7:25 AM we spotted a marlin, before we'd even put the lures in the water, and hooked up on the 30 lb live bait rig. Landed it in about 25 minutes and released, a striped marlin of maybe 130 lb. I remember thinking "Maybe this will be one of those 5 or 6 marlin days!". Little did I know this was the only striped marlin we'd hook in five days of cruiser fishing ...

Nothing for a few hours, then about noon a massive school of skipjack tuna, maybe 3 football fields in area. Then a blind strike on a lure ... a blue marlin. But he was a little guy and was landed and released in about 30 minutes. Probably 180-190 lbs, the smallest blue I've ever caught.

And that was that, two marlin, one a blue, and that's a great day for me any time.

Wednesday Dec 18 ... We took a day off, rented a car and drove the 5 hour loop from Cabo to San Jose to East Cape to La Paz to Todos Santos to Cabo. Stopped in San Jose to check out the hotels near town, looking for a nice one that's a lot cheaper than the Westin for our next visit. Stopped by Victor's, report was lots of fish but no fishermen.

On to East Cape ... weather was terrible with high winds and whitecaps. Stopped by Palmas de Cortez and Rancho Buena Vista (2 of our 3 usual fishing spots), no one was able to fish because of the winds and few people were at the hotels. Lots of windsurfers in the bay, so the high winds were good for someone.

On to La Paz ... first visit, wanted to see what the buzz was all about. Stopped at Los Arcos hotel, a decent looking place but located too close to town for me. Jack Velez runs a fishing service from the lobby and told me fishing was great when you could get out, but right now it was too windy. Also said it was a 45 minute drive to the spot where the boats were launched, which was a revelation to me ... wouldn't mind trying this spot sometime but my wife didn't like it as the air pollution from all the cars made her eyes sting and tear up.

Then to Todos Santos and back to Cabo at sunset. An interesting and relaxing drive ...

Thursday Dec 19 -- A magnum of Pinot Noir? :)

Fished on Pisces 28 ft boat "Andrea" with Capt. Martin Sandez and another captain, Ricardo Agundez, as mate. $335. Tackle was Senators, the only cruiser we fished on that didn't have International reels, and the boat was pretty slow.

Offered a choice ... head up to Golden Gate banks and try for dorado and striped marlin (good odds), or head out from Cabo Falso and try for a larger marlin (much longer odds). No contest for me ... Cabo Falso, where I'd taken my largest blue marlin with Ricardo during Thanksgiving week 1995 on his boat "Adriana".

Never used a live bait all day. About noon we had one tiny tap on a lure, just enough to click twice, not enough to pull the line from the outrigger. I jumped on it and reeled quickly anyway (I figured it was a small dorado). If it was a marlin this short, quick retrieve will often entice them to take a second look. Ricardo grabbed the 30 # live bait outfit, but before he could hook a mackerel for drop-back we got a rousing strike on a short line. It looked like a nice blue marlin (turned out to be a black when we got it to the boat), over 300 lbs. Took about 40 minutes to subdue it and release. The guides said it was probably over 150 kilos (330 lbs) and later told their boss it was maybe 350. I'm sure it was over 300 ... my first black marlin. Last year Pisces fleet caught 1,907 billfish and only 6 were black marlin, so I was proud of this fish.

About 2/3's the boats flew marlin flags in the harbor, and there were a couple of boats with blues over 400 lbs so it was pretty good quality even if the numbers were not up to the expected norms. Many years the boats average 2 stripes a day in December, but of course the blue marlin bite falls off dramatically when the stripes are thickest.

Friday Dec 20 -- Another wine drinking day, this one a rare vintage.

Fished on a 28 ft. independent boat "Roselita" with Capt. Pepe and mate Juan. Both spoke good English. Boat goes for $275 if you find the owner, $310 if you book from someone else (which is what I did, unfortunately). International reels and a very fast boat. Pepe was very skilled, Juan had troubles with some of the knots and ruined about 50 yards of line on one of my reels. Overall I'd fish with this boat again.

We requested dorados, hopefully enough to fill our cooler. Headed to Jaime banks, losing one bait on the way out to a striped marlin that struck but wasn't hooked. Also saw a shark on the surface, but passed since the first boats to the buoys usually have the easiest time of it if the dorados are in.

We located the shark fishing floats and immediately found a large school of 15-22 lb dorados. Bang, a double, then another double for Carol and me.

The limit on dorado is 2 per person but this is universally ignored by the charter fleets. However I didn't want to overdo it, so we agreed to catch two more for the guides to keep and quit. By this time we had four more boats in the mix, and all were landing dorados as fast as they could get baits in the water. It was about as challenging as fishing for hatchery trout in a hatchery and I longed for a fly rod to spice it up.

We got dorado # 6 and left with only two baits. Later we heard one of the anglers left behind hooked a 700 + blue marlin at the buoy, which scattered the dorado and left the fisherman shell-shocked. The blue got away.

Found another float and cast one bait to see what was lurking ... and hooked dorado # 7, a little bigger. Now down to one bait and it was still only 8:45 AM. I remember thinking "If we get a marlin this will be a perfect day".

Then to my amazement we saw a broadbill swordfish on the surface.

This was only the second one I'd seen in the water, and third overall (someone caught a 93 lb'er at Rancho when I was there once). Wasn't too big, maybe 100 lbs. Pepe tried to bait it with the last bait, which was about dead. I was thinking I would release the sword and give him a $100 tip if we hooked it ... then he tied on a 4 oz sinker and a 12/0 treble hook and tried to snag it! No luck for us, for which I was glad as I don't think it's sporting to snag a fish (even if, as I learned later, it's legal for swordfish). Pepe told me he caught a 340 lb swordfish earlier in the year. I wondered if he snagged it or not.

We still had 6 hours of fishing left but without bait we were severely handicapped and caught nothing else. We took enough dorado fillets to fill our cooler and gave the rest to the guides. Man, what a great day to be on the water.

Saturday Dec 21 -- Stomping the grapes ... all day long.

Fished on Gaviota fleet's 28 ft "La Cucharita" with Capt Luis and mate Miguel. Another fast boat with International and Senator reels intermixed. Usual cost is $330 but due to lack of business it was offered to us for $275. Both guys smoked and it was pretty grim in the cockpit with smoke and ash raining down on us, probably made more miserable by our lack of luck. We only saw two marlin all day and neither struck. (I consider the Gaviota fleet one of the top Mexican fleets in Cabo by the way, we just didn't find the fish but not from lack of effort).

Usually have one skunk day each 8 days of fishing in Baja (based on records I've kept since 1985). This was the skunk day for this trip.

It seemed like about 1/2 the boats had marlin flags flying back in the harbor and many others had dorado flags so we were atypical.

Sunday Dec 22 -- Stomping them grapes again ... two skunks in a row!

Fished on Pisces fleet's "Andrea" again and only saw one marlin all day, didn't even get a chance to bait it. Nada ...

Again, many boats, probably 60-70%, caught stripes and all who went after dorado appeared to catch them. I was after another big fish and this time we came up empty. Smart move called for going after the smaller fish but anytime there are big blues around I'm willing to chance a skunk for a shot at the big boys, especially since our cooler was already full of wahoo, tuna and dorado fillets.

This was our last day fishing before returning home for Christmas.

Final thoughts ... seeing the swordfish was very special. Catching a 300 lb plus black marlin was great. Two skunks hurt, though that's part of the game. And fishing for the wahoos from a panga ... now that's what it's all about.

Already planning the next trip to East Cape in May.

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