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Fish Tales


Christmastime In Cabo


Lured by the prospects of hooking a lingering blue marlin or a returning striper, John and Louis Vallon decided to spend Christmas in Cabo San Lucas. Here is a report of their exploits ...

Day 1, Christmas Eve

We arrived at San Jose, December 24th at 2:20PM, about 20 minutes early due to strong tail winds. We waited until 3:15, but our friend Jaime Gopar didn't show, so we took the shuttle to our hotel for about $10 each, a good deal. After the 30 minute drive, we checked into to the Calinda Beach Hotel and were told that the extra night was no problem (we were only able to book 3 nights with the travel agent). About this time, Jaime shows up and wonders why he missed us at the airport. He was told that we were not on any of the two Alaska flights!

After securing our room we promptly headed for the pool. By 4:20, Margarita, our favorite waitress, was serving us the usual Piña Coladas Loso rockos (on the rocks). Jaime orders a bottle of beer, which came in a Café Combate Surpremo can in place of an ice bucket. Louis gives Jaime the Christmas presents for him and his wife that we brought with us. Jaime is now probably the only broker at the marina with an Eddie Bauer shirt.

Jaime tells us that the blue marlin have all but vanished from the area, but sailfish, stripers and dorado were showing in decent numbers. Jaime said he had a boat for us on the 26th, called the GRACIELITA, one of 4 boats owned by an American woman living in Cabo.

We decide to head to town for food and water supplies and dinner. Jaime drops us off at the Super Plaza Aramburo (super market) located in the middle of town. Before leaving, he agrees to pick us up at our hotel and drive us to the marina on Thursday morning to go fishing.

The super market was pretty much cleaned out due to the holidays. No fresh bread, green onions, or celery for our tuna sandwiches that we make for our lunches. Plenty of rum and Piña Colada mix, so all is not lost.

Finished with shopping, we walk to the Latitude 22+, at the north end of town, for dinner. The sign on the door says they are closed, but will reopen Christmas day for their famous $14 turkey dinner (served 364 dinners last year on Christmas day). We decide to go to our alternate, the Cool Hippos, for tacos. This is where you can order 4 tacos and a beer for $5, but the bar tab always ends up over $60 (many shots of tequila). The waiter and bartender remember us from our many previous visits.

We are back to the hotel by 9:00 PM to finish unpacking.

Day 2, Christmas

Christmas day is spent at the pool side. We observe passing boats with our new binoculars, and listen to the skippers chatter on our hand held marine radio on channels 70 and 71. Since we don't understand much Spanish, the radio wasn't much help in gaining any insight as to the fishing results. In fact, one of our pool side neighbors asked me to turn the volume down. No problem I said. Later he came back and apologized and we chatted about fishing in Cabo.

Around 3:00 PM we pack up and head to the marina to check the day's fishing results. The first thing we notice is the fish cleaning area and traditional "gut pile" is under going some major changes. The area is now surrounded with a 8 foot high chain link fence, enclosing a new concrete deck with built in drainage canals, and equipped with about 8 stainless steel tables for cleaning fish. It isn't completely finished yet, as someone was working on bolting the tables to the concrete floor. The old wooden tables were just outside of the fenced off area. I suppose it is a change for the better. The wooden tables certainly give rise to a lot of breeding bacteria. In theory, the stainless steel surfaces can be sanitized on a daily basis, which is good, but it's certainly going to cost more to have your catch cleaned.

The 'gut pile' had the remnants of 8 dorado, 2 sailfish, and 2 stripers, all completely picked clean by the pelicans and gulls. We were told that only about 10 boats went out, so it wasn't too discouraging. We watched as a local fisherman with his young son picked through the carcasses for some bait. They were only able to scavenge enough to fill a styrofoam coffee cup half full.

Getting a little hungry by this time, we decide to walk the 2 miles to the Latitude 22+ for that turkey dinner. Surprise. The place is packed and there is a line to get in. After waiting more than 45 minutes to get seated at a table, we take the offered spot at the bar. The waitress promptly comes over to take our order. I look at the plate just brought to the guy sitting next to me and I respond, "We'll have two orders of what he is has!" Midway through the cold beer, the plates arrive. These are not ordinary plates. They measured at least 14" by 8" - more like a serving plate. Very generous portions of white and dark turkey meat, dressing, fresh corn, real mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh green vegetable salad, and cranberry covered the plates, rounded out with a basket of freshly baked bread. One of the best turkey dinners I've ever had.

After catching the 7:00 shuttle we get back to our hotel and schedule a wake up call for 4:30AM. The girl at the front desk said that she will enter the call into the computer which will automatically dial our room at the scheduled time. I explained to her that the last time we were here, the girl entered the wrong room number and we missed our boat and forfeited our deposit. So I asked her to test it. Guess what? Our phone didn't work. We had a new phone installed in about 30 minutes. While waiting for the new phone, Louis readied the fishing tackle and I made the lunches. Best bet for lunch is to make your own. Tuna sandwiches are the easiest to make, everything can be bought at the super market: freshly baked bread, Star-Kist Tuna, Best Foods mayonnaise, green onions etc. Use one 12-ounce can of tuna per person. Make it up into a Tupperware bowel with a tight fitting lid and build the sandwiches as you need them. We keep the tuna in the cooler along with the water jugs.

Day 3

Jaime picks us up at our hotel at 6:00AM to take us to the marina. After stopping for some coffee at the donut shop, we arrive at the marina by 6:30 and find the GRACIELITA waiting for us. The captain is Victor Hugo Montaño, and the deck hand is Ciro Gutierrez Gonzalez.

I asked Jaime to tell the captain that I would like to hook my GPS into the boats 12 volt system. An American male overhearing this, who was obviously involved with the owners, promptly told me that we can't fool with any of their electronics. It was too dark anyway (later, Victor helped me connect it to a deck light that wasn't being used).

We take on 10 caballitos from the bait vendor waiting in the harbor and head out by 6:45AM. Victor asks what we want to go after and we tell him billfish off of Punta San Cristobol (this is where the action had been reported the past couple of days). A quick check of the GPs indicates we are making about 18 knots.

Just after we passed Cabo Falso heading north, Victor stops the boat and shuts down the engine for no apparent reason. When asked why, he pointed to the temperature gauge which was reading about 125 degrees C. After letting the engine cool down for 10 minutes, we resume our trip up the pacific side. Lines are out at 7:30AM and tuna sandwiches are served by 7:45AM.

The first action was at 8:26AM, as a boat trolling near us fights a small striper.

Next, at 9:10 a dorado hits the starboard outrigger (Hot Pink Head Knocker). Louis grabs the pole while I throw out a pitch bait and get hooked the second it hits the water. Ten minutes later my fish is on board and Louis did an involuntary catch and release about twenty feet from the boat.

No less than ten minutes later another dorado strike on the Head Knocker. This time Louis brings it aboard while I run the video. We continue the drive north to about 2 miles off of Pozo de Cota. At this point Victor turns around heading south west and we have a few more tuna sandwiches.

At 10:21 we spot the first billfish, a striper on the surface, and quickly maneuver the boat to offer the trolled lures. Nothing happens so we pitch a few baits. He's not interested. We repeat this scenario on not less than 4 more spotted fins with no luck.

Activity heightens at 12:15 as 2 dorados hit both outriggers at the same time, we boat a 15- and 35-pounder at this stop and devour more tuna sandwiches. We resume the troll, but 15 minutes later the engine overheats again. This time, Victor is going to look into the over heating problem. He climbs down from the bridge and opens the engine compartment cover and proceeds to remove and inspect the raw water pump.

Meanwhile, Louis looks over the side and suddenly yells, "dorado". I could hardly believe this, but here, dead in the water, there are 5 or 6 dorado schooling under the boat. Two pitch baits and two dorado on board. Both over 25 pounds.

Victor has no clue as to why the engine is overheating. "The raw water pump is working fine" he says. We resume the troll at 1:30PM.

15 minutes into the troll, while I'm back at the stern realigning the lures, the port rod bends over.. No one hears the alarm, and for a second, I wonder if its all a dream: it's my rod, my reel, and my turn! I grab the pole, set the hook, and the striper starts his dance. Something is wrong with the drag on the 30SW, as this fish pulls off some 250 yards before I can make any adjustments. Victor laughs at the sight. Twenty minutes later the fish is along side. Ciro asks what we want to do with the fish. I tell him we take a quick picture and then release it, but to drag him for a several minutes to revive him. Ciro says the fish is OK because his tail is still waging. I tell him that the fish is exhausted and needs to have water forced over his gills to get re-oxygenated. I motion to Victor to put it in gear and move forward. After several minutes, the fish regains its colors and I tell Ciro its OK to release the fish now.

At 2:20 we decide to call it a day and begin the trip back. Ciro fillets the days catch dorado while en route to the marina. Just as we get to Cabo Falso, the engine over heats again, so its stop and find something to do. We are about 300 yards from the beach and a great time to try for some roosterfish. Victor calls the office on the marine radio for instructions...they will send a boat to tow us in. While waiting, Victor fires up the engine long enough to move us from the dangerous surf out to a safer distance. We repeat this until 4:30. Now the engine has cooled enough to continue on to the marina. We made it to about the Arch, but hit a huge wave that launched the boat, causing the raw water pickup to suck air. Dead in the water again.

The other boat from the fleet that was dispatched to tow us in was there to tow us in the last few miles to the marina. As we approach the dock, Louis and I ready our things to disembark. We discuss the amount of tip for the crew. Louis and I agree that $40 would be appropriate, based on the fact that they knew the raw water pump was bad from the day before, and we lost several hours of fishing, not to mention the time we sat waiting for a tow boat. I hand Victor 280 pesos and he asks "is this for both of us?" I fork over another 200 pesos thinking that we were misinformed about the typical amount of tip. Is it 10% for the boat? Or 10% for each of the crew. I learn later it's 10% for the boat. I'm still sore about this. Next time we will clear this up before leaving the dock in the morning.

Day 4

The morning starts out similar to yesterday, with Jaime picking us up at our hotel. We arrive at the marina at 6:00AM for a scheduled trip on the EDITH I. We haven't fished this particular boat before but have gone out on the EDITH III which fished very well. The captain is Jesus Romaro and the mate is Gregorio Miranda. This time when I asked to connect my GPs, Jesus knew exactly what to do, and without any hesitance connected my cable into the boats 12 volt system. This sure saves on throwaway batteries.

This time, something new. We took on live bait while still at the dock! The bait vendor just walks along the dock filling everyone's bait tanks. I've never seen this before, or have just never noticed. This saves a lot of time. So we are off at 6:20AM. We tell Jesus that we want to fish the same area that we did yesterday with the hopes of baiting more stripers. This boat cruises at 16 knots according to my GPs The sunrise this morning was beautiful.

No two consecutive trips are alike I guess, with these two being no exceptions. Unlike yesterday, only two events occurred by 1:00PM. At 8:00AM we miss a dorado strike just south of San Cristobol point, but 20 minutes later Louis hooks, boats and releases an 85-lb sailfish that hit the Headknocker. We never knew what it was until the fish was brought alongside - it never jumped, and put up no battle.

Then came the prize event: we are trolling as usual, about a mile off San Cristobol point, with one of the Gaviota boats about 100 yards off our starboard beam, both of us heading in a westerly direction. It's also quite windy now with 2-3 foot wind chop from the west and 4 to 5 foot rollers from the north. All of a sudden the VHF radio goes wild with chatter - seconds later Jesus yells to hurry and wind in the lines. The Gaviota boat is at full throttle, literally leaping out of the water as it heads west. Jesus explains that someone located some debris about 4 miles further west with a huge school of dorado under it, and we are on our way at full speed. Jesus occasionally throttles back to prevent launching the boat, and for a moment I think I'm in an offshore power boat race. Things are getting banged up, my video camera jumps 3 feet off the cushion, lands on the deck and breaks into pieces.

After about 15 minutes we arrive to find about 5 to 6 boats circled around a huge piece of drift wood that was shaped like a wish bone. The opening was facing upstream and had 3 large sea turtles going for a free ride on it. There was a lot of bait swimming all around the drift wood - they had a dark purple color and I have no idea what they were. Every one on the other boats were hooked up. During the frantic ride out we had prepared live bait rods and wasted no time getting the lines out. Within seconds of the bait hitting the water the bait was picked up by a dorado. Louis and Jesus got tangled with two fish on. I was working on my first run which resulted in a 40-pounder going into the fish box. Louis lands his, another nice 40-pounder.

There was really no reason to cast the bait, just dropping it over the side was equally productive. In fact it was more fun, since you could watch the dorado suddenly appear and take the bait.

This was nonstop action for at least 30 minutes when we ran out of bait. We had 8 baits to start with, lost two and landed a total of 6 with the remaining. One of my losses was bizarre to say the least. The big bull peeled off about 50 yards of line and was jumping like mad, when all of a sudden the line broke, snapping back and almost hitting me in the face. I grabbed another pole and casted the last bait, which resulted in another 30-pounder going into the fish box, but not before Jesus said that both of us had hooked the fish! The fish actually had two lines coming out of its mouth, but the second line didn't lead to Louis's pole, it was dead ended about 3 yards from the leader. This was the same fish I had broke off just seconds earlier! We even compared the two ends of the broken lines and they matched perfectly.

Out of bait and enough fillets, we decide to call it a day and head in. Not a bad stop: one 30-, 2 40- and 3 20-pounders.

One note about the EDITH I. Both Louis and myself agreed that this boat doesn't fish well and we probably won't use it again unless they add more rod holders. There were only two rod holders in each of the two corners of the transom. At each corner the holders were separated by about 3 inches from each other with the outboard holder for the outrigger and the inboard holder for the flat line. There was a line of rocket launchers up and behind the two crew chairs for unused rods, but it was very difficult to put a rod in or remove one because the tarp was in the way.

It is very important to reel in all lines when there is a hookup and move the rods out of the way of the lucky dog fighting the fish, and then get a pitch bait out. This is not possible with this setup. There is no place to put the rods, other than to lay them on the deck. Then you have to wrestle the bait rod out of the rocket launcher. A second thing that I disliked was the safety lines for the outrigger poles did not have any snaps. They tied the safety line to the reel by tying a knot in it. You can't set the hook with the safety line attached and trying to untie a knot when you are really excited can be very difficult.

Since I'm well known as a complainer, my last gripe is the railing on the transom. Both Louis and I prefer to fish standing up. The low height of the railing results in very colorful black and blue spots on the groin of both legs!

We arrive back at the marina at 3:15PM and as usual, Jaime greets us and helps carry our things to his car and take us back to the Calinda Beach Hotel. When we arrive at the hotel, Louis takes the cooler of fillets down to the freezer to add to yesterdays catch. He comes back reporting that the freezer isn't working and yesterdays catch is spoiled. On our previous trip, we noticed that it took a long time to get the fish frozen, and that there was a very bad smell inside. Now, this thing has so many leaks from being rusted out, it is useless. This will be our last trip to this hotel until they replace the freezer.

We will make one more trip to Cabo in the spring, then we should be ready for The Tropic Star Lodge in Panama.

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