“Marlin and a Variety of Gamefish Put on a Show Here”
You know it’s going to be a good day when your normally staid skipper gets excited after seeing the bait you just purchased from the commercial pangas. “Baracuta!” exclaimed Captain Edgar Castro in a low voice intended to mask his enthusiasm from his workmanlike buddies. “We can catch anything you want with these. Marlin, roosters, anything. They’re hard to get and I’ve always caught fish with them”, said Castro. It was like hitting the jackpot first thing in the morning. The baracuta (no relation to the “barracuda”) is a deep water fish usually caught at night over reefs with small, baited hooks. They resemble a cross between a rainbow runner and “Spanish” jack mackerel. In the Los Cabos region they are called chihuil (“chew-willy”) and are, indeed, considered a top bait when you can get them.
Armed with a few baracuta we headed offshore to look for striped marlin with more confidence than the previous day when we were “skunked” casting live mullet to finicky feeders that had been dining on large concentrations of squid during this late-May period. The plan was to troll lures at a fast pace and if we saw a marlin on the surface we would slow down and cast a live bait to it from the bow of the super panga. If a marlin came into the lures or teaser chain we would drop a bait back to it. Of course, if a lure was taken that wouldn’t be bad either. The fleet boats were scattering in several directions which left us plenty of room to start searching an area just four miles offshore of our headquarters at Hotel Punta Colorada. Within the hour we spotted three stripers in a “sleeping” mode which tends to be the most difficult time to entice them with bait or lures.
Lobbing a relatively large baracuta towards the group it fell painfully short of the target. It didn’t make any difference. One look at the bait and they all charged it. The spool on my Trinidad 20 blurred with the spinning rush and I quickly set the hook on a now-leaping marlin. After a violent but brief surface display it dove deep and I worked It methodically, enjoying each run and fighting tactic. Within 30 minutes Castro was grabbing the short fluorocarbon leader and releasing the fish with an “I told you so” look. With the three baracuta we hooked three marlin, releasing two with one throwing a misplaced hook. What was most impressive is that few marlin were being caught by the fleets, although many were seen on the surface ostensibly digesting meals of squid. If you ever see baracuta mixed in with other baitfish on an East Cape bait boat make sure you obtain a few even if you have to pay a little more. It’s worth the investment.
Billfishing is a world-class fishery with over 10,000 released annually along the “ Billfish Coast ”, or East Cape . Striped marlin are by far the most prolific species and are reliable between late April and October. Averaging 80 to 160 pounds, they offer a supreme light tackle opportunity since they often allow their whereabouts to be known by free-jumping, feeding, tailing or just “sleeping” on the surface. This is a visual sport. East Cape skippers practice several methods to take advantage of the striped marlins surface shows. Once spotted, the boat is maneuvered into position and the angler lobs a live baracuta, mackerel, caballito (bigeye scad), mullet, or other bait in front of the fish resulting in, hopefully, a quick hookup. Dropping back a live bait when a marlin comes up to inspect the trolled lures is highly effective as well. At times, marlin become satiated with deep-water forage such as squid and will refuse even the best live bait on the surface. Striped marlin usually peak in May or June on the East Cape . They can be caught throughout the summer and fall but when the sea temperature climbs into the mid-80-degree range they can become sluggish feeders and anglers will start seeing more than hooking. Overall, trolled lures still account for about 50 percent of the catch. During this trip to the East Cape in late May 2002, we caught striped marlin with both live bait and artificials on an equal basis, however, when the fishing got tough live bait, especially baracuta, got the majority of hookups.
Blue marlin, averaging 200 to 450 pounds, appear in good numbers by July and feed in these prolific waters through October. There are seasonal variations, however, as blue marlin started appearing in May of this year harbinging an early start for this species. As in most of its tropical range, blues usually roam the 1000-fathom curve where fast-trolling lures is a proven method of finding them. In these waters, however, it is not unusual to also encounter blue marlin at coastal locations such the 88-Fathom Bank and Los Frailes Canyon .
Black marlin are not as common on the East Cape as stripers or blues but can be found near banks and seamounts during late summer and fall. Larger bait such as bonito, black skipjack and yellowfin tuna are the baits of choice. Local skippers use good sonar equipment to locate the deep schools of bait that attract and hold marlin. The East Cape has produced some big fish exceeding 900 pounds. The Los Frailes Canyon is a top location and the black marlin are taken with trolled lures as well as live bait there.
Sailfish peak from August to October. They can be found in large concentrations at times as they feed on sardinas near the surface. Frigate birds, or “tijeretas” sweeping down to feed will often give away their location. Sailfish will enter relatively shallow water and have surprised many inshore anglers. In fact, there have been documented sailfish catches by local shore anglers using handlines from rocky promontories. Other blue water pelagics include yellowfin tuna, dorado and wahoo. Collectively, these middleweights attract a high percentage of anglers yet billfishing, especially for striped marlin, put this region on the map and remains the top draw.
Hotel Punta Colorada bills itself as the “Roosterfish Capital of the World” which is often an accurate assessment. The long, white beaches stretching south of the Punta Arena lighthouse is classic rooster territory while many fish are also encountered to the north at La Ribera, Tuna Canyon, El Cardonal and other famous places. Although lures will occasionally take roosterfish, this is primarily a live bait fishery especially for trophy-size fish exceeding 40 pounds. Mullet, sardinas, ladyfish, grunts, rayadillo, frigate mackerel, goatfish, cocinero, and when available, baracuta, have all taken roosters along this coast. Slow trolling baits from a panga close to shore is a favored technique.
Roosters will often show themselves as they rush a bait and it takes patience to not set the hook too quickly after a large bait is taken. With smaller bait such as sardinas a quick hook-set is in order. Big roosters are strong fighters and will usually make a long run parallel to the beach before slugging it out in deeper water. Roosters will totally exhaust themselves, especially when taken on light tackle, and will often come to the boat on their sides and may be unable to dive or swim. They need to be revived by holding their mouth open while the boat is moving ahead slowly to pass water through their gills. This may take up to five or ten minutes to get a fish going but it is worth the effort. Some fish just need to be pushed back and forth while holding the tail caudal fin for a quicker release. I recommend a minimum of 30-pound class tackle when pursuing larger roosters to reduce the fighting time and subsequent recovery period for these great gamefish.
In addition to good roosterfish action from May to October, anglers will find a variety of inshore fish on the East Cape at anytime during the year. During the winter, California yellowtail, pargo and sierra mackerel are the mainstays. During the warm water months from late spring to fall, amberjack, jack crevalle, wahoo, pargo, grouper and cabrilla add to the possibilities. Although billfish may be the big draw today, the inshore gamefish were important during the early days of development on the East Cape . Bob Van Wormer, who owns Hotels Punta Colorada, Palmas de Cortez and Playa del Sol with his wife Cha Cha as well as the largest charter boat fleet in Mexico , recalls his first impression of these Sea of Cortez waters. “During the summer of 1957, I came down for a two week vacation at Rancho Buena Vista and wound up staying for over three months working odd jobs for owner Herb Tansey. I got goose bumps looking at the steep desert mountains and deep blue sea,” says Van Wormer recently. “I caught my first marlin and ate “wild” food every night – fish, lobster, quail, whitewing doves, everything was so abundant. Every shallow reef was like marineland packed with tropical fish, pargo (snapper), huge grouper, and roosterfish. That’s how it used to be,” adds Van Wormer. The fish resource may not be as pristine today as 40 years ago but it has been surprisingly stable and continues to be productive. Van Wormer emphasizes the need to stay vigilant against nearshore commercial gillnetting and to practice catch and release as much as possible to maintain the East Cape as a favorite sportfishing venue for future generations.
EAST CAPE RESORTS
There are nine oceanfront fishing resorts with charter fleets spread along this scenic 45-mile coastline from Los Frailes in the south to Las Arenas near Cerralvo Island. At press time, Las Arenas Resort on the northern extreme of the East Cape near Cerralvo Island was closed. All of the resorts are constructed on either rocky promontories with majestic views, or beach-level sites. They are self-contained and equipped with fast super pangas and a mix of cruisers run by savvy local crews. Competition between these independent resorts has led to improvements in amenities such as more deluxe rooms, great food and a broader range of activities while maintaining the East Capes reputation as a bargain destination. It is common to find ATV’s, kayaks, windsurfing, canoeing, skiing, horseback riding, satellite TV, sports bars and private luxury homes sharing the shoreline with traditional resorts.
It’s relatively easy to get to the East Cape . There are international airports at La Paz and San José del Cabo that are served by Alaska , American, Continental, Aero California, Aero Mexico, Mexicana and United from San Diego , Los Angeles , Phoenix and other U.S. cities. Fishing packages can be made through several U.S. – based Baja travel outfitters such as Cass Tours (800-593-6510), or directly with independent charter fleets and resorts. Professional outfitters are highly recommended especially for first time Baja travelers since they can provide you with an overview of what’s available to best suit your individual or group needs. East Cape resorts provide their own boats, crews, accommodations, food and a variety of optional things to do in a “package” format. The East Cape offers true billfish bargains: offshore cruisers can be chartered for $300; super pangas for $220 and comfortable accommodations available at $50 per person double occupancy including all meals.
For specific resort and fishing information and reservations, contact the following:
EAST CAPE :
Hotels Punta Colorada,
Palmas de Cortez and Playa del Sol at (800) 368-4334, or www.bajaresorts.com
Hotel Bahía Los Frailes (800) 934-0295, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rancho Leonero Resort (800) 334-2252, www.rancholeonero.com
Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort (800) 752-3555, www.hotelbuenavista.com
Rancho Buena Vista (800) 258-8200, www.ranchobuenavista.com
Hotel Punta Pescadero (800) 426-2252, www.puntapescadero.com
Las Arenas Resort (800) 644-7376, www.lasarenas.com (Note: closed)
Entering Mexico requires proof-of- citizen documents. Either a valid passport, birth certificate or a notarized affidavit of citizenship (along with a photo driver’s license) will satisfy requirements for U.S. citizens. If you are a citizen of another country, check with the Mexican Consulate for details of entry. A Mexican Tourist Card (not a visa) is also needed for U.S. citizens and can be supplied by your travel outfitter or airline. Upon your arrival in either La Paz or San José del Cabo airports, an airport taxi or shuttle van will transfer you or your group to your destination. Most visitors find that San José del Cabo is more convenient for most of the East Cape resorts.
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The Roving Angler