By Tom Gatch
It may be fall, but those swirling hurricanes and tropical storms from central and southern Mexico continue to push warm water along the coast of Baja California, and along with it, a plethora of exotic gamefish such as yellowfin tuna, bluefin tuna and dorado. There have even been reports of a wahoo being hooked near the Coronado Islands just south of San Diego. And, although this migration of pelagic species has recently extended up into U.S. waters, it can ultimately be far more relaxing and less expensive to target these fish from the coast of Baja than out of a jam packed sportfishing landing in southern California.
In addition to the great offshore and inshore fishing off of Ensenada, there is now a new glimmer of hope in regard to a resurrection of the once popular Ensenada live bait receiver, which has not been in operation for several years. Many veteran anglers who are longtime visitors to this area remember Mike Richardson and his numerous canine companions, who used to regularly manage the operation. The word on the street is that Mike and Julio, who was the one who actually corralled the baitfish for the receiver, are now in the process of putting together a revitalized operation to handle the live bait needs of both local and visiting sportfishing craft. We are all keeping our fingers crossed.
Down the coast at Bahia San Quintin, offshore action for small to mid-grade bluefin and yellowfin tuna are keeping cruiser passengers busy, while inshore panga fishing for yellowtail, calico bass rockfish and an occasional halibut are filling the ice chests. Unfortunately, except for a few early fish in July, the anticipated arrival of a large number of big white sea bass that usually occurs in late August and early September never really happened this year. Some have ascribed this situation to the unusually warm water currents that have been pushed up toward Baja and southern California during the ongoing El Nino conditions.
Further south in Bahia Asuncion, the water temperature is over 80 degrees with air temps in the low 90’s and the seas are flat and calm. In addition to the typically good fishing for calico bass and yellowtail, the action on yellowfin tuna has been stellar and, luckily, the fish are close at hand. Recently, Capt. Juan Arce Marrons fishing partner, Martin, and his son got into a good bite only 4 miles off the beach; both anglers ending up with limits for the day.
The tuna fishing off of Bahia Magdalena has also been quite good, and is periodically spiced up with an occasional wahoo. Those fishing with chunk bait near the bottom have also hooked a few nice grouper, although not all of these tasty and tough fighting bruisers ultimately end up making it over the rail.
At the tip of the peninsula near Los Cabos, the lack of dorado that are usually present this time of year has been made up for by the availability of quality grade yellowfin tuna in the 130 to 160 pound class. Most of these fish are showing up about 20 to 30 miles out of Cabo and are inhaling trolled cedar plugs and lures of similar design. Some wahoo are being caught as well; fast trolled deep diving Rapala style lures in purple and black are presently catching most of the fish. Erik Bricston at Gordo Banks Pangas in San Jose del Cabo reports, “Water temperature are now ranging from 85 to 87 degrees, clarity is clean and blue in most areas, still a bit off colored inshore north of Punta Gorda.”
He indicated that the supply of sardinas remains plentiful near the marina entrance and are now being found along beach stretches close to Cabo San Lucas, where they had not had these schooling baitfish available until recently. Most consistent action now has been for various sized yellowfin tuna, action was centered from Santa Maria to the Iman Bank and most of the yellowfin being accounted for are fish in the 10 to 20 lb. class, though other areas produced decent numbers of tuna 50 to 70 lb., with several fish up to 150 lb. landed. On the Gordo Banks a variety of sizes of yellowfin tuna were seen breezing on the surface, some of these were cow sized fish, though these fish proved finicky, with all of the natural food source and strong currents sweeping through, the fish are not always in the feeding mood. Best action for numbers of fish recently has been either near shipwreck of the Santa Maria area or around the Iman Bank, though the Gordo Banks also produced some quality action mid-week, before slower days later in the week.
Dorado and Wahoo action slowed back down, though there were some of these fish being found, just not a consistent bite. Strong current also limited bottom action to sporadic numbers dogtooth snapper, various pargo and snapper species. The warm water continues to attract rainbow runners into the fish counts.
“Several black marlin were also landed this week, largest weighed in was a 335 lb. specimen, all of these were hooked into near the Gordo Banks, while trolling with chihuil, caballito or skipjack. This is the time when billfish grand slams are possible, as striped, blue marlin and sailfish are also now being found on local fishing grounds.”
Bricston concluded by saying that the inshore bite has been slow, with exception of a handful of nice corbina to 10 pounds that were taken off the beach and a few of the elusive local snook.
Just up the Cortez coast at the Baja Sur’s famed East Cape, Owner John Ireland reports, “The marlin and sailfish bite continues much the same as it has all year with perhaps a few more sails than normal. Not a lot of anglers targeting billfish right now; most are working the tuna.”
The tuna bite continues close to the Ranch, right off La Ribera. No big fish; the best yellowfin are mostly in the 18 to 20 pound class. Fish are still being taken on both live and dead sardinas. Fair numbers of dorado were around as well, but not many of the fish were schooled up.
Ireland indicated that the wahoo bite remained fairly good as well. “The fish seem to prefer Rapalas rigged with a fluorocarbon leader. If you are planning to target them, it would be a good idea to bring a roll of 60/80-pound Fluoro for wahoo and 30/40 pound for the tuna. Most wahoo are being taken from around La Ribera down to the Lighthouse.”
Further north near La Paz, Jonathan Roldan at Tailhunter International indicates that the fishing around Las Arenas and Bahia de Los Muertos has fluctuated from day to day and from panga to panga. Most of this situation has been blamed on abruptly shifting weather conditions. “One day, we would get marlin and sailfish, dorado, pargo, cabrilla and roosters as well as other species. All of our clients would want to fish there the next day. That next day…it was like someone turned off the spigot. Guys would work hard to get 2 or 3 fish. Some skunked. No real change in conditions. Just the fish changed their attitudes. The following day, the fish would blow up great again.”
Roldan continued, “Overall, if you wanted to put fish in the cooler and get bent, the La Paz side of the bay is where you wanted to fish this was the side to fish. The fish are not big, but there are a lot of them. And they are close; you can literally find fish right in La Paz Bay.”
Up near the Midriff Islands, anglers fishing out of Bahia de Los Angeles are catching a few yellowtail up to 25 pounds or so along with some skipjack and plenty of triggerfish for tacos. But as the season progresses, expect to see more brief spells of inclement weather this year because of El Nino. The waters of L.A. Bay are best fished under sunny skies when the seas are calm.
Overall, we should be looking at several more months of productive fishing around the Baja California peninsula. Just be sure to bring along a rod and reel when you pay us a visit.