By Gene Kira, June 11, 2002, as published in Western Outdoor News:
Tighten your butt belts! It looks like an El Niño is coming in 2002. And, if it does, Baja anglers can expect some wild times this summer and fall, as warmer than usual water temperatures push migrating billfish, tuna, wahoo, dorado, and most tropical species farther north than usual.
The El Niño effect should be felt most strongly along the Pacific coasts of Baja and Southern California where these migrators will put on a show for anglers who don't often see them in big numbers. During past El Niños, dorado have been caught off San Francisco, albacore off Oregon, and marlin off Northern California. In addition to a big pulse of these fish, we should also get a sneak visit from an interesting corps of "near shore weirdos"--species abundant only south of Punta Abreojos--such as bonefish, corvinas, and triggerfish.
For the fall season at Los Cabos--host to such big tournaments such as the Bisbee's Black and Blue and the W.O.N. Tuna Jackpot--the El Niño may bring an unusual richness of big blue and black marlin pushing the 1,000-pound mark, lots of giant yellowfin tuna over 200 pounds, and a generous run of wahoo as well, all coming up from southern waters as the normal "footprint" of these fish populations is shifted several hundred miles farther north than in normal years.
But, it should be noted, an El Niño does not actually create more fish, it merely moves them around in a different, more northerly, distribution pattern. At the El Niño's birthplace, off the coast of Peru, warming waters and dropping nutrient levels actually cause a drastic drop--up to 80 percent--in forage fish populations, and it is this effect, as much as the actual change in water temperature, that causes game fish to move northwards.
Off the Pacific coasts of Baja and Southern California the effects of El Niño on sport fishing action are mostly quite positive, but in the Sea of Cortez, El Niño can cause a serious disruption of normal bait populations, migration patterns, and temperature gradients that can make both resident and migrating fish unpredictable and hard-to-find.
Here's a preview of Baja waters an fishing opportunities as they look at the beginning of this El Niño summer of 2002:
The fantastic bottom fishing action of the past winter at Ensenada shows no signs of backing off, even as the first flurries of surface yellowtail and albacore are now making their appearance. Lingcod are still being caught in the best numbers and sizes in recent memory, and there is no end in sight as water temperatures rise. Look for an earlier than normal, strong pulse of yellowtail, followed by strong but possibly brief runs of albacore, yellowfin tuna, bluefin tuna, and bigeye tuna, and a good showing of striped marlin, and especially, dorado.
Boating activity around Bahía de Todos Santos centers on bottom fishing during the cooler months and surface action from about May through November. In winter, boats stay close to home and drop bait and iron jigs for abundant rockcod, sheephead, ocean whitefish, and for the past season, a bonanza of lingcod that most old timers called the best in at least 25 years. Occasional runs of halibut and white seabass are also encountered from about April through about the end of September. Favorite bottom fishing spots include the shore just north of town, around the Islas Todos Santos, and around Punta Banda.
In summer, boats can add yellowtail, bonita, calico bass, and barracuda to the near shore catch, or they can run offshore for early shots at albacore, yellowfin tuna, big eye tuna, bluefin tuna, dorado and marlin. Sometimes at Ensenada the offshore fish come in practically to the rocks, as happened last year when boats as close as two miles off Punta Banda scored on three species of tuna, yellowtail, and dorado all on the same day.
Ensenada is a full-service city with accommodations of all types and price ranges. The headquarters for trailer boaters and many who leave their boats in the water is the Marina Coral (800-862-9020) at the north end of town. This place has a good launch ramp, secure parking, and a full-service marina. For campers and car toppers, there's La Jolla Camp (011-52-646-154-2005) and Campo Villarino on the Punta Banda road, and Estero Beach Resort (011-52-646-176-6225) a little closer to town at the mouth of the river.
For party boats and six-packs, the main services are Sammy Susarrey's Lily Fleet (011-52-646-186-7485), cousin Sergio's Sportfishing Center & Marina (011-52-646-178-2185), and Gordo's Sportfishing (011-52-646-178-3515). Lily Fleet is located at Marina Coral, and Sergio's and Gordo's can be found on the main harbor marina boardwalk just behind the old fish market and taco stand complex as you enter town.
If you're looking for an individual panguero to take you fishing, Ivan Villarino operates two boats from across the road from his family's RV Park on the way out to Punta Banda. Villarino's Vonny Fleet (011-52-646-154-2046) also has rooms for rent, tackle, and a relaxed, friendly, personalized atmosphere. Ivan speaks better English than many Americans, and this is one place where you might have part of your own catch cooked up super fresh for lunch or dinner.
The normally-depleted waters from San Felipe to Puerto Peñasco are experiencing a huge bulge in the shortfin corvina population that has suddenly materialized for no apparent reason. This spring, over 100 tons of this species was commercially landed at El Golfo de Santa Clara on one "tide," i.e., over a period of about 4 days. Look for a strong run of corvina to last until water temperatures rise above 85 degrees in a few weeks, then back to the normal summer doldrums, with very slow fishing south to about Puertecitos, and improving south from there.
This pleasant and happy-feeling town is located 125 easy miles south of the border from Calexico on Mex 5, not Mex 1. Unlike most Baja towns, San Felipe is relatively new. It was established in the 1920s as a fish camp for the totuaba, a giant relative of the white seabass that grew to over 200 pounds in weight and once spawned by the millions in the shallow estuaries of the Colorado River.
Today the totuaba are endangered, and the rest of the fishing around San Felipe has been pretty much obliterated by gill nets and shrimp trawling. You can still catch a few croakers or corvina from the pangas that can be rented on the beach front malecon, but 90 percent of the time it isn't worth the trouble unless you are entertaining small kids.
Modern San Felipe is a resort town that specializes in frantic action around Easter and spring break for college students, when the weather is just about perfect for beach frolicking and general carousing of all kinds, and perhaps because of its small size and proximity to the border, it's one of the friendliest places in Baja California.
Sport fishing at San Felipe today centers around the voyages of four boats from 85 feet long to 115 feet long that are known as panga motherships. These load either six or nine pangas on deck and travel down to the Midriff Islands a few hundred miles south. There, the pangas are unloaded, and clients fish three per skiff for yellowtail, cabrilla, snapper, and a host of bottom fish. The action is very good at the islands, and catches are usually heavy. These mothership trips run from April to about October, and sometimes they go as far south as La Paz, around the tip of Baja to Magdalena Bay, or even 200 miles south of Cabo San Lucas to the Revillagigedo Islands (this fishery was recently closed by the Mexican government).
Accommodations in San Felipe range from nice resort-style beach front hotels, to a number of modest but excellent motels in town. The four panga motherships are: the Jose Andres, Tony Reyes Fishing Tours (714-538-8010); the Celia Angelina, Sea of Cortez Sport Fishing (626-333-9012); the Erik, Baja Sportfishing, Inc. (800-770-2341); and the Captain Villegas (949-496-3555).
PUERTO SANTO TOMAS
Relatively shallow water bottom fishing--featuring this year's big lingcod bite--should continue strong at Puerto Santo Tomas through the early summer, but it may be overshadowed by tuna, yellowtail, and dorado if they come into panga range in the next few weeks. Surface fishing for barracuda, bonito should be excellent into the fall.
About 25 miles south of Ensenada on Mex 1 you come to a signed turn-off at the bottom of a big grade, just before you cross the riverbed leading to the town of Santo Tomas. The turn-off takes you down a 12-mile dirt washboard road to the beach at La Bocana, and a few more miles north along the shore gets you to the pretty bay and cluster of commercial fishermen's homes known as Puerto Santo Tomas. Here, behind the striking, big arch is Sam Saenz's Puerto Santo Tomas Resort (714-256-2577) with camp spots, cabins, excellent food, and a launch ramp that faces directly onto the open Pacific Ocean, and is therefore usable only part of the time. The best way to fish here is to take a guided panga, and the fishing is about the same as at Ensenada, perhaps a little shallower for most bottom species, including sheephead and lingcod that have been caught by small boys casting from the launch ramp.
Same as Puerto Santo Tomas.
About 15 miles south of Santo Tomas is the paved turn-off going out to the old Baja fishing operation of Castro's Camp (011-52-646-176-2897) owned and operated by Fernando Castro. This unassuming place has been around since Cortez landed, and it too offers excellent bottom fishing and summer surface action similar to Ensenada's. There are eight pangas and eight cabins available, and reservations are recommended for weekends. This place has many repeat customers, and it's a well-known spot for filling the ice chest with good-tasting bottom fish. There's a launching slot here too, but it's just as exposed as the one at Puerto Santo Tomas. Hire a panga.
In a few weeks, San Quintin should be jumping with anglers, as the albacore, other tunas, and dorado come into range offshore, and the yellowtail bite improves inshore. This is the first opportunity south of Ensenada to charter a cruiser for offshore fishing, which looks to be good to excellent through the summer. Look for striped marlin to show up in targetable numbers. Local bottom fishing will continue excellent for those interested.
A shockwave ran through the small cluster of businesses on the shore of Bahia San Quintin last year when its flagship establishment, the well-known Old Mill Bar & Restaurant, was unceremoniously shut down in a real estate dispute.
The Old Mill Bar & Restaurant remains closed to the present day, but the other businesses in the area are taking up the slack quite nicely, thank you, and San Quintin remains a great place to launch or hire a boat, camp, hunt winter black brant, pig out on oysters from the 18 oyster farms on the bay, or just fool around and relax. It's a quiet, laid back spot, only 200 miles south of the border, and the great bottom fishing and seasonal shots at offshore migrators keep something happening all year long.
Leading the pack around the concrete launch ramp is Eddie Marquez' nearby Don Eddie's Landing (011-52-616-162-3143), which has nice rooms, a super restaurant, bar, and a stately view overlooking the bay. The food here is some of the best in Baja. The oysters Rockefeller and linguini with clam sauce are truly outstanding, and you're not going to get fresher sea food ingredients anywhere.
Right beside Don Eddie's is Jim and Nancy Harer's charming Old Mill Hotel (800-877-4081), with no restaurant, but very comfortable rooms, and a real, real "old Baja" feel. Scattered about the property are remnants of the English wheat milling operation from the 1800s and the tuna cannery operation from the 1930s. This is a very quite place, popular with bird hunters in the winter, including one of Ernest Hemingway's sons.
On the south side of the bay is the Cielito Lindo (619-593-2252) RV park, motel, and campground, established by the now-retired Juanita and Dave Peterman, and recently renovated and reopened under new management. The restaurant actually is world famous for its unforgettable paprika steamed crab dinners, and the open feel of the beaches going out to the over-the-sand boat launching area is worth the trip.
Fishing at San Quintin is almost always good for something. The offshore runs are a little earlier than at Ensenada, and yellowtail tend to hang out more regularly than farther north. The bottom fishing rarely gets any worse than "good." Most of the time it's "great," and it often climbs into the "ludicrous" range. This is one place where you can catch plenty of fish whether you're paying attention or not.
If you launch your own boat at the Old Mill concrete ramp, plan on taking a guide with you the first few times that you exit the bay. A GPS unit helps. The channel is very tricky, and if you run aground on the extensive eel grass flats that lurk on either side, you're going to feel pretty dumb until the tide floats you off.
All the aforementioned accommodations at San Quintin can hook you up with a panga or larger boats, and some of the top local operations include:
Pedro's Pangas, Pete Hillis, 888-568-2252; Tiburon's Pangas, Alberto Flores Galindo, 011-52-646-170-0821; San Quintin Sport Fishing, Gene Allshouse, 011-52-616-165-9229; and El Capitan Sportfishing, Kelly Catian, 011-52-616-162-1716.
BAHIA DE LOS ANGELES
With air temperatures regularly topping the 100-degree mark in a few weeks, only true desert rats will be making the tire-blistering run to Bahia de los Angeles (L.A. Bay) over the summer. So far, it has not been an outstanding yellowtail year, but fishing action in and around the bay should remain steady for cabrilla, resident yellowtail, and other reef-dwellers. Outside the bay itself, the offshore waters of the entire Midriff Area should see a very strong dorado run this summer, including some trophy-sized fish. Expect plenty of cabrilla and grouper, and a better than average showing of sailfish toward late summer and early fall, but continued slow on yellowtail.
"L.A. Bay," as it's usually called, got Mex 1's first paved side road back in 1976, and you would think that development would have happened very quickly after that. But nope, for a variety of reasons, this breathtakingly beautiful bay seems like a relic of Baja's early days, preserved in some kind of time warp.
In summer, L.A. Bay can be insufferably hot. It can be pretty dang cold in winter. And look out when the wind decides to blow. Because of the topography of the mountains surrounding the bay, the west wind, especially, can go from zero to over 50 knots in a matter of minutes.
But when it's on good behavior, this is one of the most beautiful places in Baja, with it's many islands and stark desert rock mountains, and it grows on you.
The fishing at L.A. Bay was just about wiped out in the 1970s by a netting colony at Punta la Gringa on the north side of the bay, but since then it has made a modest comeback, and there were so many yellowtail here anyway, you can still catch them up to about 45 pounds when things are right in the spring, summer, and fall. The rest of the time, there's decent bottom fishing (between wind storms), with occasional flurries of resident yellowtail to about 20 pounds.
There are no fishing fleets at L.A. Bay, but it is home to perhaps a dozen pangueros who fish both commercially and with sport fishing clients. In addition to the classic Casa Diaz, there are a number of other lodging accommodations, and boats can always be arranged through them. Here's the entire phone book for L.A. Bay:
Camp Gecko, 011-52-555-151-9454; Guillermo's Restaurant, 011-52-664-650-3209; Villa Vitta, 011-52-664-650-3208; Hotel Costa del Sol, 011-52-555-151-4195; phone booth, 011-52-664-650-3206 (fax for whole town) and 011-52-664-650-3207.
SANTA ROSALIA & SAN LUCAS COVE
The advance guard of the anticipated strong dorado run up the Sea of Cortez this year has already arrived at Mulege and it will probably bring large numbers of sailfish with it. Look for amazing dorado and sailfish action, early in the summer around Punta Concepcion, later around Isla Tortuga, and into the fall around the north end of Isla San Marcos, where the highest concentrations will be found during August and September. In addition to dorado "too thick to fish through," these conditions bring the highest concentrations of sailfish usually seen in Baja Calfornia waters.
When driving south on Mex 1, your first view of the Sea of Cortez is at the town of Santa Rosalia, and as you come down the final grade to the beach, you get a good look at Isla Tortuga, Isla San Marcos, and some of Baja's best fishing waters.
The beach right in Santa Rosalia is a black hole for fishing, perhaps because of the many tons of copper ore slag dumped there in prior decades, but north and south of town, and offshore from it, the action is excellent for a multitude of resident species, and "too many" dorado, sailfish, and various tuna types in season. The high spots a couple of miles north of Isla San Marcos are one of Baja's most reliable year-round yellowtail holes, and for small boaters, there is no better place than famed San Lucas Cove about 10 miles south of town.
Contrary to popular belief, there is a paved launch ramp at Santa Rosalia, and quite a good one too. It's right in the middle of town, in the artificial harbor, almost directly across from the antique train display that marks the main turn-off. Take the narrow driveway down to the water, and there's your ramp. No fee, and usable at just about any tide. In the water around the ramp, watch out for submerged debris that may hit your prop. Since it's inside the protective marina, you can bring your boat in here even after the wind has come up.
Although there are is the fairly mainstream El Morro motel, and the charming and historic Hotel Frances, plus a number of other local accommodations, most visitors to the Santa Rosalia area end up camping and launching at San Lucas Cove, ten miles south on Mex 1, then a short dirt drive to the beach.
This place is old Baja to the max, with modest toilets and showers, and a nice hard launching beach where you may camp an arm's length from your car topper or small trailer boat. Just outside the cove, north, south, out around Isla San Marcos, and down near the village of San Bruno, is some of Baja's most productive fishing water for a vast range of species. This almost unchanged place is covered in depth in the book The Baja Catch, and it was a favorite of legendary Baja angler-author, Neil Kelly.
Same as Santa Rosalia-San Lucas Cove.
Unfortunately, the new management of the hotel doesn't cater to anglers, and in fact has gone so far as to ask them to leave, so we'll let it go at that.
The campground is still operated by the local ejido ($10 per day), and it is practically unchanged from the old days. The showers usually work and the trash barrels get emptied, and other than that, it's just you and the beach.
Although there are a number of large American-style houses now surrounding the campground, located on its own little point north of the hotel, the development does not intrude, and you can still have a great camping trip here. Launching a small boat is relatively easy, on the north or south sides of a convenient little sand spit, and the fishing is good around the nearby Islas Santa Inez, north to Isla San Marcos, or south to the area around Punta Concepcion. One of the best things about this campground is that there are no bugs at all here. Weird, but very welcome.
During the winter months, fishing here is for deep yellowtail, and beginning from May through October and sometimes much later in the year, waves of dorado, tuna, and sailfish arrive. Sometimes the offshore fishing here gets so good it's silly.
The new hotel owners have nothing to do with the old launch ramp near the hotel, so it's still available and free for boats too large to launch over the sand. Watch out for a sharp drop at the lower end.
Same as Santa Rosalia-San Lucas Cove.
The classic, old time Hotel Serenidad (011-52-615-153-0111) is still the headquarters for tourist activity at this very relaxed little town, with its quiet river, canopy of tall palm trees, and rich tropical landscape busy with colorful flowers and birds. The delightful, small but accommodating town of Mulege is as close to a South Seas paradise as you will find in Baja. The Serenidad launch ramp can handle a 25-foot boat with a decent tide, and it has one of Baja's last remaining private airstrips, a vestige of the pre-Mex 1 era when most resorts catered mainly to a fly-in clientele. At the Serenidad today, you can still fly in for the famous Saturday Night Pig Roast, cool off in the pool, and stay in a room, or you can bring your RV or even camp. Fishing boats at Mulege are arranged casually, as regular fleets are not organized at this time. Your best bet is to check at the hotel for the type of boat you're after.
If you bring your own boat, the offshore fishing around Mulege is focused on the summer months for tuna, billfish, and dorado in a wide, fan-shaped area from San Nicolas to the south, outside of Punta Concepcion, and out toward distant Isla Tortuga. A long run to the high spots north of Isla San Marcos produces yellowtail all year round, but is a tough drive when the winter winds are blowing.
Loreto's "July" dorado season has already begun, with the arrival of schools, including some larger fish, from East Cape. July looks to be a wild month for dorado this year, and because of unusually heavy bait concentrations, the fish may hang around into fall. Look for one of the best dorado years in memory for Loreto this year, including many truly large fish. For unknown reasons, the yellowtail are refusing to backoff as waters warm. Perhaps they, too, will stick around through the summer. We'll find out in a few weeks.
California's first mission town (1697) boasts two major seasons, dorado in summer and yellowtail in winter, and several organized fishing operations help to make them accessible. In addition, Loreto has paid more attention than any other Baja locale to the emerging ecotourism and back-country sightseeing business, and here it's easy to go snorkeling, diving, kayaking, bicycling, or take a motor tour up into the mountains to visit remote villages and ranchos.
Among Loreto's top lodging choices that cater to anglers are the historic Hotel Oasis (800-497-3923) at the south end of the malecon, the Hotel La Pinta (800-800-9632) at the opposite end, and the charming Villas de Loreto (011-52-613-135-0586) at the south end of town. All three places are on the beach and have been around for a long time. In fact, the Villas de Loreto is a refurbished version of Loreto's historic Flying Sportsmen Lodge.
Conventional panga fishing operations in Loreto are led by Arturo's Sportfishing (011-52-613-135-0766), which also offers a variety of whale watching and other activities, and Alfredo's Sportfishing (011-52-613-135-0165), which is now being operated by Linda Ramirez after the death of her very well-known father, Alfredo, earlier this year.
Loreto even has its own fly fishing operation, Pam Bolles' Baja Big Fish Company (011-52-613-135-1603), which specializes in fly, but will take you out for a day of conventional fishing too, if you ask nicely.
Besides its "downtown" facilities, which include a small marina and a paved launch ramp, Loreto offers a couple of interesting nearby opportunities. Thirty miles to the north is the very remote San Nicolas yellowtail camp operated by Blue Water Tours (800-799-8475). This place is reached by van and panga, and offers excellent yellowtail action around Punta Pulpito and nearby Isla Ildefonso. And 15 miles to the south is the Tripui RV Park and nearby paved launch ramp at Puerto Escondido, home port to Ty and Juanita Miller's El Fuerte Sportfishing (760-732-3144), which offers cruiser fishing around Loreto's southern waters and out to Isla Catalan.
Offshore summer fishing outside the boca of San Carlos should see plenty of tuna, wahoo, billfish, and dorado. In November and early December, the fall fish pile-up at the Thetis Bank may be a bit late, and it should be nothing short of spectacular as north migrating fish return en masse to feed on the upwellings over The Ridge high spots. Inshore, yellowtail may be scarce, having moved up to the Abreojos-Turtle Bay corridor. In the mangrove channels, there should be very little effect from El Niño. Fishing should be "business as usual," i.e., very-good on a wide range of species.
Interest in fishing at Magdalena Bay has exploded in the last five years, and there are now several options in addition to taking your own boat.
Most fishing activity here centers on the cannery town of San Carlos, accessed by a short paved road off Mex 1 at Ciudad Constitucion. Here you will find a few small hotels, a couple of modest restaurants, some taco stands, and a basic Mexican cannery town. No real tourist facilities of any kind. At one end of town is the old Flying Sportsmen Lodge facility, now a research station for college students, and the remains of Ed Tabor's old launch ramp. This is the strangest launch ramp in Baja. At low tide, it's high and dry, and at high tide, the whole ramp and the surrounding area are underwater. Obviously, timing is important when launching at San Carlos.
Fishing here is usually good in the mangroves for all but the coolest months, centered on March, and a growing number of anglers fish strictly inside the bay.
But interest really explodes for offshore fishing in the fall between October and early December, when the Thetis Bank fish pile-up occurs 20 miles outside on the Pacific. At that time, the action on striped marlin is the most intense in the world, and there can also be heavy catches of tuna, wahoo and dorado.
The fishing at Magdalena Bay is not easy to access. It's a long drive from the border and the closest airports are at Loreto and La Paz. It takes an effort to get here. At present, the two companies with the best service and information on accommodations and fishing here are Baja On The Fly (800-919-2252), which offers both mangrove fishing and trips to the Thetis Bank on live-aboard yachts based in Bahia Santa Maria just outside the entrance to Magdalena Bay proper; and Mag Bay Tours (800-599-8676), which operates four fishing and surfing camps both inside the bay and out on Bahia Santa Maria.
Beyond these contacts, you are pretty much on your own all along Magdalena Bay's entire 140-mile length of open water, desert shore, and winding mangrove channels, where the main quarries are black snook, pompano, palometa amarilla, corvina, grouper, halibut, and a whole zoo full of jacks and snappers. If you camp and can launch a small boat over the beach, this entire world opens up for you, and you could spend a lifetime exploring the subtle ins and outs of mangrove fishing in this little known paradise.
Rapidly warming waters may shorten the season for resident surface fish, but will bring steady action on the usual summer migrators, possibly including more sailfish and larger blue and black marlin than normal. Dorado may pulse quickly and fade to a steady pick. Overall, August may be a slow month.
This charming capital city of the state of Baja California Sur is large enough so tourists can really "get lost" and mingle with the friendly Mexican population. Most activities are centered around the beautiful waterfront malecon that is lighted at night, and during the summer months this boulevard offers strollers a pleasant place to meet friends and enjoy a taco or an ice cream cone from the famous La Fuente shop near the municipal pier.
La Paz was once Baja's leading sport fishing destination. Two of Baja's original fishing resorts, the downtown Hotel Los Arcos (011-52-612-122-2744), and the remote and private Rancho Las Cruces, still operate here, and local fishing operations do a wide-open business during the warmer months when migrating dorado, tuna, roosterfish, and billfish come up the channel between the Baja mainland and nearby Isla Cerralvo to mingle with the resident pargo, leopard grouper, and other reef species. On the "south side of the hill" at Punta Arenas is the semi-isolated Hotel Las Arenas (619-299-7602), which looks directly out at Isla Cerralvo and sits right on top of one of the world's best roosterfish holes. This hotel operates its own fleet of pangas.
Any hotel in La Paz can get you a boat and guide, but for those who wish to book directly, here are some of the more active charter fishing operations: David Jones' Fishermen's Fleet (011-52-612-122-1313); Mino Shiba's Mosquito Fleet (011-52-612-123-4192); Francisco Aquilar's Pirate Fleet (011-52-612-125-7353); Jonathan Roldan's Tail Hunter International (626-333-3355); and Jack Velez Sport Fishing Charters at the Hotel Los Arcos (011-52-612-122-2744).
Besides fishing, La Paz offers Old World charm, and a stately yet vibrant Mexican lifestyle found nowhere else in Baja. It's a great place to walk the cobblestone streets, sit on a bench, or cruise the narrow alleys looking for bargains in the multitude of shops where few tourists go.
With its unique combination of warm Sea of Cortez water and close access to the Pacific Ocean, strange things are always happening at East Cape. During an El Niño year, expect to see some unusual near shore species, such as jacks that cannot be identified, and snappers that you have to look up in a book. Offshore fishing should be close to normal, i.e., very good, but with more blue and black marlin than in most years. The long dorado run extending back to last winter may go straight through into next winter. Fishing over structure, such as off La Ribera and around Punta Colorada, should be excellent on a wide range of species all through the summer.
During the warmer months, East Cape offers a blast of fishing action on so many species it's not worth listing them all here. Suffice it to say that just about any significant resident or offshore fish you've ever heard of can usually be caught at one time or another between April and November.
This area is centered on Bahia de Palmas, about 70 miles up the Cortez coast from Cabo San Lucas, and its headquarters is the twin-village of Los Barriles-Buena Vista. Even though it's right on Mex 1, most people fly into Los Cabos International Airport and get a ride to East Cape in a taxi or hotel van.
Historically, you can't any more authentic than East Cape's Rancho Buena Vista (800-258-8200), which was one of Baja's first four fishing resorts when it opened in 1952. Today, Rancho Buena Vista is almost unchanged from the way it looked when Ray Cannon stayed in his famous "Round House" on the hotel grounds, and "RBV" still serves what might be the best food in the entire area, especially the breakfasts.
Other mainline Baja establishments catering to anglers either in the village or around the shore of the bay include the Van Wormer resorts (800-368-4334) of Palmas de Cortez (large), Playa del Sol (medium), and Punta Colorada (semi-remote fisherman's lodge); the beautifully landscaped and appointed Buena Vista Beach Resort (800-752-3555) belonging to the Chuy Valdez family; and John Ireland's semi-isolated, South Seas-style Hotel Rancho Leonero (800-646-2252), perched on a low bluff on the south side of the bay.
The "newcomer" to this group is Martin Verdugo's Beach Resort (011-52-624-141-0054), which has actually been on its prime beach front property in the middle of town since the last Ice Age, but which has until fairly recently been mainly an RV park. The Verdugo family is one of East Cape's oldest, and year-by-year they have built a charming resort with comfortable rooms, pool, palapa bar, and a small rooftop breakfast room. Verdugo's still maintains its RV spots, and even some tent camping spots for its old, old-time customers, but the main thrust of the business today is as a full-blown resort. Verdugo's is also the East Cape headquarters for beach launching of cartop and trailer boats, which is accomplished by the use of a large skip loader. This is a quiet, comfortable, very secure, family-style place, unique in Baja, and it is the favorite of many old-timers. One of the best features of this place is recently-married daughter, Marisol Verdugo George, who keeps an eagle eye on everything. The whole Verdugo family speaks fluent English.
Another fixture in the East Cape area is Gary Graham's Baja On The Fly (800-919-2252) guide service, which specializes in offshore, inshore, and beach fly fishing, every week of the year. The fact that this successful operation even exists is a testimony to the fantastic quality and variety of East Cape waters.
Unlike any other area of Baja, all the major East Cape resort hotels operate their own fleets of cruisers and pangas. East Cape has remained faithful to the sport fishing business that was the original foundation of Baja tourism half a century ago. With no golf courses or night clubs, East Cape is a comfortable, up-to-date fishing town that still lives very close to the sea.
THE LOS CABOS CORRIDOR
The very strange absence of yellowfin tuna during the last few months should end soon as waters warm, and larger and larger fish will appear as the fall season approaches. Striped marlin, never very numerous this year anyway, should fade away even more, but should be replaced by a good run blues and blacks. Blue marlin may outnumber stripers this summer for a couple of months. In some weeks toward the end of summer, even blacks may be caught in good numbers. Both large tuna and large marlin should be putting on a show during the October-November big tournament season.
More than any other part of Baja California, the Los Cabos Corridor from San Jose del Cabo to Cabo San Lucas itself has experienced a breathtaking growth rate that has all but obliterated the "old Baja." Here, multi-story hotels and golf courses pop up between visits, and unless you have a very good sense of direction, you may not even be able to find the street you're looking for because it's buried inside a large, new neighborhood.
But, the fishing remains, and very good it is. Off San Jose del Cabo is Baja's most reliable, year-round offshore fishing hole, the world famous double Gordo Banks. Within easy panga range at about six miles off shore, these high spots are simply plugged with resident bottom fish and are attractive to hordes of migratory tuna, dorado, wahoo, and marlin ranging into the 1,000-pound range. The Gordo Banks is an especially good area for the winter months because it lies in the wind shadow of the Sierra de la Laguna mountain range that forms the tip of Baja. In fact, that's how the first Los Cabos hotel came to be built. The Hotel Palmilla owes its existence to the fact that its builder, Rod Rodriguez, got tired of facing the winter winds at his other resort, Rancho las Cruces near La Paz.
At the very tip of Baja California, the former cannery town of Cabo San Lucas has a good-sized marina; a fantastic concentration of night life, hotels and restaurants; cruise ships arriving daily; an enormous fleet of independent cruisers and pangas; and fishing good enough to send out an incredible 50,000+ charter boats per year. For sport fishing, there is simply no other place in the world that even approaches Cabo, or "San Lucas," as the natives call it.
The reason for all this fishing activity is that Cabo San Lucas sits right on the meeting place of the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean, and there is almost always good fishing on one side or the other, often both, for tuna, wahoo, dorado, and several kinds of billfish. While these are all worthy quarries, and the inshore fishery here isn't bad either, the engine that makes Cabo's sport fishing industry go is without a doubt the striped marlin. This fish's home ground is the famous "Striped Marlin Core Zone" that lies just off the southern tip of Baja California, and there are so many striped marlin caught-and-released here that at times it approaches a rather comical assembly-line situation. Does the client want to release ten marlin today? Well, why not, amigo? At Cabo, it just might happen!
The number of awesome resort hotels in the Los Cabos Corridor is too great to do justice to in a single article, but here are a few that have special qualities:
Hotel Solmar (800-344-3349), at the very tip of Baja with Cabo's largest cruiser fleet; Hotel Hacienda (866-733-2226), on Cabo's best swimming beach; Hotel Finisterra, with Cabo's grandest views overlooking two oceans; Hotel Plaza las Glorias, right on the marina (800-342-2644 ); Hotel Palmilla (800-637-2226), golf courses, cruisers and pangas, on a beautiful beach at San Jose del Cabo; La Playita Hotel (011-52-624-142-4166), intimate village inn on a quiet beach near San Jose del Cabo.
Fishing boats can be arranged at any hotel, or even on the marina dock (not recommended); but almost always you will be fishing with one independent fleet or another. Here are some good ones that send reports regularly to Western Outdoor News:
Fly Hooker Sport Fishing (011-52-624-143-8271); Picante Fleet (011-52-624-143-2474); Pisces Fleet (011-52-624-143-1288); Solmar Fleet (011-52-624-143-0646); Gaviota Fleet, Cortez Yacht Charters (619-469-4255); Cabo Magic (888-475-5337); and for pangas at San Jose del Cabo, Gordo Banks Pangas (800-408-1199).
(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.")