SNOOK AND A HUGE YELLOWTAIL AT LA BOCANA AND ESTERO DE COYOTE
Oct. 28, 2006, Doug Pierson, Baja California, Mexico:
My Baja fishing trip began at Los Naranjos, 10 miles south of Mulege and 8 miles into the Bahia Concepción. The 2 days before fishing we delivered 4,000 pounds of food, clothing, water and other relief donations to the churches in Mulege that have a heart for those in need. Donors from America sent along 2 months' salary for the Pastors. The materials were brought in a heavy duty van that followed me from Ensenada. The little church we had built and supplied, out 2 miles past the mission, was still standing and we removed the mud and repainted the inside but it is condemned by the government and can only be used for 6 months. The government is moving many Mexican families off the flood plain and is giving them free land to locate on higher ground.
Water temperatures in Bahia Concepción were at 88 degrees and the Sea of Cortez was 85 degrees. We had calm water every morning with some wind most afternoons. Fishing inside the bay was dominated by very small spotted bay bass and fine sierra. The sierra were taken on black/silver Rebel Spoonbills and blue mackerel Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnows.
The southernmost rock jetty at Los Naranjos was red-hot for beautiful barred pargo which were right off the jetty. It was a pargo per cast right at sundown. Fishing alone in my 14 foot Gregor was fun with the glassy water and I was encouraged to go much farther out into the Cortez than I usually do. Fast trolling chartreuse feathers was productive for dorado. The first dorado was 30 pounds, by far the largest I had taken in the tin boat. This caused me to stop and refine my large fish-small boat landing protocols. I simply could not allow any of the larger fish into the boat if they had as much as a quiver in them. The solution was gaffing, clubbing and then severing of the spine in back of the head. For a few days it was dorado every day with a few other species such as green jack, leopard grouper and bonito. All fish were caught on fast trolled feathers and slow trolled small plugs in blue and silver and black and silver.
I hooked up with my buddy Two Rod Roy and we got local friend Jose Romero to take us out in his panga one morning and we scored 18 dorado from 12-40 pounds. The fish were located by trolling feathers. We would then stop the boat and fly-line live mackerel for constant double hookups. In my tin boat I fished a lot closer in than the other boats with The Big Boys blasting by me every morning for Parts Unknown. I fished 2-4 miles off Punta Conception and the dorado were there every day.
I then moved to Campo Rene on the Baja Pacific coast and more pleasant air temperature was a relief.
Eight more miles of the Punta Abreojos road has been paved in the last few months eliminating Tire Pop Hill and all the worst rocky sections. It was still rough enough to explode my cooling system but Police Officer Lencho came to my rescue, as he has before, and we fashioned a replacement part from copper pipe that was better than the plastic original.
Estero de Coyote water was 78 degrees, tides were perfect and there was no sea weed. Including my Gregor, there were at least 5 Baja boats fishing Campo Rene. One boat fished the very shallow sections every day and came in with lots of halibut and spotted bay bass but they were all very small. I seemed to be the only boat fishing the deep channels as outlined on the Baja Catch map and although I did not catch the most fish I sure did catch all the large ones.
Spotted bay bass to 3-1/2 pounds were at the buoys and taken on cut bait and various lures. The usual broomtail grouper were replaced with gulf grouper of 4-8 pounds and eager to hit gold-and-black and silver-and-black Spoonbills. The halibut from the channels were from a small of 25 inches to the largest at 27 inches. The halibut also hit the Spoonbills.
My joy was complete when on the second morning I scored an 8 pound snook while fishing for grouper, trolling gold-and-black Spoonbills next to the mangroves. Okay, the snook was not a giant but at Campo Rene I figure any snook is a true trophy! I caught the snook exactly where it says “snook” on the Baja Catch map and this is the only place I ever see snook in the estero.
In the evenings a couple guys joined me and we fished the Baja beach from Rene’s to the rocks 8 miles north and it was a fish-a-cast with cut bait. The predominant fish was catfish mixed in with barred sand bass, spotted bay bass and a surprise run of leopard sharks.
I began driving the 22 miles each morning from Campo Rene to La Bocana to fish with my good friend Juanchy Aguilar. I help him fish for fish for him to sell to support his family. He gets free labor from me and I get to fish!
We fished several mornings, twice joined by different parties of 2 from America.
Yellowtail was red hot! The best morning the 2 of us took 58 yellowtail. Every day the yellowtail averaged between 12 and 20 pounds until the Miracle of La Bocana appeared on the end of my line. The Miracle of La Bocana was indeed the highlight of my trip.
I arrived at 6:30 a.m. to fish with Juanchy as he had asked, but 2 Americans had arrived and he had a paying charter with 2 really nice gringos. I told them to go ahead and I would fish the shore but they insisted I join them so I got in too. These 2 guys, I think they were Mike and Dan, were new to yellowtail fishing but soon they caught on and were just having a ball! We were recycling mackerel into yellowtail as fast as we could and then the Miracle of La Bocana occurred.
We saw other pangas catching yellowtail north of the mouth of the lagoon in less than 20 feet of water and we joined their fun. By now it was a stiff wind and rough so Juanchy decided to anchor the boat in the shallow water only a mile from shore. The problem we always have with this spot is that the bottom is covered with kelp and one has to really get after it to keep the fish out of the kelp. After we all caught numerous yellowtail and lost a few to the kelp I got a hit from The Big One.
I was using 40 pound line with my normal 4 foot 80 pound shock leader, 4/0 Owner Super Mutu circle hook and no lead. At this point the anti-backlash on my Torium 30 was obviously breaking, which it always does when used with heavy drag settings. I send the reel in and they fix it and say it won’t break again but it always does. I was hooked up with something way-big and was being spooled, 200 yards or more of line out. I could feel the line rubbing through the kelp and felt my only chance was to hope the fish swam back through the kelp the way it had gone.
Juanchy was confused about what to do. He said it was pulling too hard to be a fish unless a giant sea bass had wondered into the shallows. I told him to get the anchor in and take off after the fish and showed him my almost empty spool. In the high wind and rough conditions it took awhile to get the anchor in and it’s very long rope into the boat. By the time we took off in pursuit my reel was almost empty and the anti-reverse was skipping and grinding but luckily did not blow clear out into free spool. Chasing the fish the old man, me, was reeling like crazy, completely exhausted but not about to quit.
As we closed on the fish Juanchy realized the gaff was lost! Juanchy had Dan and Mike dig through my tackle and find 2 large iron jigs to use for gaffs. Through the years I have been through several of these huge fish adventures with different species and have learned I don’t have anything until the fish is actually in the boat. This is the point where so many things can go wrong. I got control of the fish, still expecting it to be a giant sea bass but when I brought it along side it was El Grande Jurel!
I will say that I did an okay job playing the fish but added to that was a huge amount of good fortune. As I retrieved line I could feel that 100 yards of the line was frayed from the kelp. It did not break and that was good fortune. Also good fortune was the fact that the yellowtail was totally played out and on it’s side. I don’t think this is the norm for yellowtail. It seems like yellowtail brought to the boat have a few runs left in them but this monster was dead tired and just lay there. I loosened my drag in case the fish lurched off again, Juanchy got a hold of the head while Dan and Mike tried to “gaff” the fish with treble-hooked lures. The fish was boated but it still seemed something would go wrong!
Other boats gathered around and offered congratulations. We had no idea what the fish weighed.
One boat had a 50 pound scale but the fish instantly bottomed that out. We went ahead and caught a few more fish and then went to shore, the yellowtail lying in the sun drying a couple hours.
On shore everyone gathered for pictures and congratulations. No one had an adequate scale so we loaded the fish into a car and took it to the fishing co-op’s scale where they weigh in each panguero's catch to determine how much he is owed.
The yellowtail weighed 35 kilos. I asked one of my buddies how much 35 times 2.2 was and he said 72.6 so I told my story of the 72.6 pound yellowtail. According to the old men on the beach, men who had fished here for up to 50 years, this was the largest yellowtail ever taken in the La Bocana area.
Later in my car I pulled out my calculator and saw that 35x2.2 was not 72.6 but actually it was 77 pounds.
Whatever, it was a huge fish, everything went right, and I remain very happy! The next morning Juanchy and I caught 58 yellowtail and I told him I had “had it”.
It was a great Baja October. A snook, a 30 pound dorado alone in my tin boat, a 40 pound dorado with Two Rod Roy in the panga and the 77 pound yellowtail. I am very thankful.
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