"Some days you stomp the grapes, some days you drink the
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
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
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
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
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
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
Saturday Dec 21 -- Stomping the grapes ... all
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.
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
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.