By Gene Kira, February 19, 2002, as published in Western Outdoor News:
Like most tourist destinations, Baja California's sportfishing world took a big hit from the September 11th attacks, but as spring weather approaches this year, there are strong signs of renewed tourist traffic south of the border, and one of the best ways to find out what's happening, and perhaps score a great travel bargain at your favorite Baja resort, is to "visit the Fred Hall show."
Typically, there will be several rows of booths devoted to Baja fishing and travel, and many resort owners and travel agents will be standing there to answer questions. Many will be offering rock-bottom "Show Special" deals that are not advertised ahead of time, and many are ready and willing to wheel and deal in the carnival-like atmosphere.
If you're an old Baja hand, it's a chance to renew friendships and catch up on the latest doings at all your favorite places, and if you're new to Baja fishing, the Fred Hall Fishing and Boat Shows allow you to browse and ask questions until your feet give out and your plastic bag of brochures explodes.
Besides the resorts, hotels, and sport fishing fleets always represented at Fred Hall, there are the huge armies of boat and tackle manufacturers, reps, and retailers, all anxious to demonstrate their latest products. It's a unique, hands-on opportunity found nowhere else to see, feel, play with, and get the real dope on virtually every piece of gear made, all in one place.
If you're in a buying mood, a little dickering may get you the deal of the year on that coveted boat, piece of fishing tackle, or travel package that you've been thinking about.
Although the Fred Hall spectacle will have representatives from such exotic places as Alaska, Midway Island, Hawaii, and even Europe and Australia, Baja puts on the biggest show each year, and visitors will need to devote an entire day in order to do justice to our Mexican neighbors.
Here are some general Baja travel tips, and some tips on how to get the best prices and make best use of the Fred Hall Show in planning your next fishing trip south of the border:
--Give it plenty of time. Plan to arrive early and stay late. The mid-afternoon and early evening hours can get so crowded that it becomes difficult to move around and meet people, especially in the Baja section, where popular booths will be mobbed during peak periods. Many people spend two or even three days to make sure they see everything.
--First, visit the two main Baja travel clubs, Discover Baja and Vagabundos del Mar. They can answer your general questions about driving, insurance, discounts, safety, legal requirements, special trips, and best places to visit. In these booths, you will often meet Baja authors, experienced club members, and other insiders who can answer tough, detailed questions. Plan on joining at least one of these two clubs, if you aren't already a member. The membership fees are very modest, and they will pay for themselves many, many times over in assistance, information, news, low-priced Mexican insurance, and the discounts you will receive for services and goods all over Baja.
--Among the important services offered by these two clubs is the selling of required Mexican vehicle insurance, and required Mexican fishing licenses and boat permits. Discover Baja also sells the Mexican Tourist Permit required for stays longer than 72 hours anywhere in Mexico. This permit normally must be obtained when crossing the border. The only other known U.S. agency selling these permits ahead of time is the Automobile Club of Southern California (AAA).
--This year, ask special questions about travel recommendations for the post-September 11 world. For Baja, return border crossing times may stretch to about 3 hours during peak periods (late afternoon and early evening), although at other times you will breeze through in a few minutes. Mexican airport security procedures are more thorough than in the U.S., but efficient procedures make check-in times brief. Usually, lines are very short, and it takes only a couple of minutes. It is more important than ever that documentation is complete and proper. A passport is recommended, and you should be sure to have your tourist permit, unless you know it is being provided by the airline. Expect to check your fishing tackle as baggage, even your precious reels. Sometimes, reels with no line on them may be permitted as carry-on baggage, but this is not consistent. Along Mex 1, expect about 7-8 military checkpoints between the border and Cabo San Lucas. These are quick and courteous, and you should have no problems, especially with the Mexican Army. Of course, if you are carrying illegal drugs or guns, you may definitely have a problem.
--When you arrive at the Fred Hall Show, grab a Baja map and study it, so you know what you are looking at. Mike Bales' Vagabundos del Mar booth is a standard stop for picking up maps and the best selection of Baja books at the show. Mike is the big, friendly guy running the booth, and he's a perennial feature of the Fred Hall Show. Tell Mike what you're looking for, and he'll set you up with the best reference information, whether it's a map, a guidebook, or an out-of-print treatise on Baja history.
--Next, seek out the resort booths and the travel agent booths. They are both of interest. The resort booths can give you the best local information in their areas, and they can fill you in on special features, local fishing information, seasons, best airlines, fleets, what tackle to bring, etc. The travel agents allow you to compare areas, sign up for super-discount package deals, and get the big picture. Give the travel agent booths plenty of time. The package deals they offer are some of the best travel bargains you will ever find. Be sure to ask about Show Specials at both the resort and travel agent booths.
--Here's a hot tip, for example: John Ireland of East Cape's well-known Rancho Leonero will be offering a half-price Show Special for rooms this summer from August 19 through September 19, at the show only, direct bookings only. There will be many unadvertised offers of this kind at the show, but you need to seek them out and ask for them.
--When discussing prices with resorts and agents, ask for your total price, including all taxes and fees. Recently, Mexico increased taxes about 5 percent for hotel rooms, boats, restaurant meals, and several other categories of services that may be part of your package. At this time, most Baja providers are paying for these tax increases themselves, but it would be wise to make sure what's included and what isn't. Other things to ask about include ground transfers and tips, airport taxes, tourist permits, park entry fees, and fishing licenses.
Note especially that in some Baja areas, Mexican fishing licenses have not been available for over a year. Some fleets have still been charging customers for a "fishing license," even though it is never obtained, and they simply pocket the money. Fishing licenses and boat permits are very difficult to obtain in Baja. It is best to obtain them ahead of time. Although enforcement is rare in Baja, it is highly recommended to have all necessary permits and licenses for your planned activities.
--Take a big stack of your business cards, and leave them at the booths that interest you the most. Get on people's email and regular mail lists to receive notification of special programs and prices. A significant number of Baja travel providers do very little advertising except at the Fred Hall Show and to their private mailing lists.
--Seek out the four panga mothership booths advertising trips out of San Felipe to Baja's fantastic Midriff Islands. These are unique adventures worthy of special mention. The four boats are: Jose Andres, Celia Angelina, Capitan Villegas, and Erik. Each mothership has its own atmosphere, and by visiting their booths you'll be able to pick the one that's best for you.
--Also visit the booths of the San Diego long range fleets. These are all well-represented, and you'll quickly become an expert on their famous boats, schedules, specialized tackle requirements, services, and in many cases, the actual crews that you'll be fishing with.
--Stop at the Western Outdoor News booth for a subscription. No kidding. This gives you year-round access to the ads and special deals offered by the Baja people you are talking to, and it gives you up-to-date Baja fishing information each week of the year. Also, if you subscribe at the show, you usually get some kind of special premiums, discounts, or whatever, not available at any other time. Many people make it an annual ritual to renew their WON subscriptions at the Fred Hall Show.
--As you talk to people, ask what airlines they recommend for flights to Loreto, La Paz, and Los Cabos. Later, check out the airline's individual websites for super discount tickets that are not advertised. By snooping around, you can often score a trip to Los Cabos, for instance for about $220, or sometimes, Loreto in the $180 range.
--In addition to the hotels and travel agents, there will be many independent charter fishing services represented at the show. Ask for specific Baja tackle recommendations and keep notes. Then, begin visiting the tackle manufacturers' booths. Virtually everything mentioned will be available for demonstration, and often you will be offered Show Specials at prices too low to advertise.
--Check the WON Special Show Issue (handed out free at the door) for special seminars given by Baja presenters. These no-cost teaching sessions give you valuable information and allow you to talk directly to recognized experts.
--Finally, save that big bag of brochures, business cards, and flyers for later use. Contact information for Baja sport fishing travel providers can be hard to obtain. Your bag of Fred Hall Show "goodies" will prove valuable, again and again, for planning your adventures during the coming year.
(Related Baja California, Mexico, articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main Baja California information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Baja California area in "Mexico Fishing News.")