By Tom Gatch
Most of the fall season of 2017 in Baja California Norte was defined by warm and windy Santa Ana conditions. It was an extended Indian summer that continued through December and into the New Year. And, although the nights may be getting chillier, Baja California still offers anglers a plethora of opportunities to catch a wide range of popular gamefish.
From fat lings and reds along the northern Pacific coast to big marlin, wahoo and schools of hungry sierra at the tip of the peninsula, Baja is one place where you can tighten your line virtually year round.
Southern California rockfish anglers have been frustrated for many years, due to the fact that state and federal regulations have made it illegal to fish for a variety of bottom fish species during the very months that they are biting best. This is not a problem in Baja California, where no such restrictions exist.
As you read this, panga operations from La Salina to Bahía San Quintín are putting visiting anglers on top of quality bottom fish. Species like lingcod, Pacific red snapper and even huge cowcod; a species that has been protected north of the border for decades.
In Punta Banda, Vonny’s Fleet pangas have been taking solid catches of rockfish and California sheephead on the bottom and decent size Pacific bonito near the surface. There have also been a few homeguard yellowtail in the 17 to 25 pound class taken on the troll.
Down the coast at Castro’s Fishing Place in Ejido Erendira, anglers have been catching limits of rockfish, lings and the occasional mako shark. Recently, a fisherman visiting with a group from Long Beach took a couple of cowcod, which weighed in at over 15 pounds each.
The red crabs have been thick further south, and boats out of Bahía San Quintín have been taking a modest mix of bottom fish, calico bass, bonito, a few smaller white seabass and yellowtail under 10 pounds.
Jose Angel at Cedros Outdoor Adventures says that they have just about wound down their season until spring on Isla Cedros, but added that they took a couple of nice dorado back in late November and are still pulling fat calicos out of the weeds.
Down in Los Cabos near the southern tip of the peninsula, the Pisces Fleet reports that their recent marlin counts have been higher than they have seen in years. Anglers have also been treated to a bevy of hungry inshore species like roosterfish, wahoo, jack crevalle and a couple of big sharks.
Two of their clients from Europe caught and released 7 striped marlin and landed 3 yellowfin tuna in the 15 to 20 pound class after a few days on the water. A couple visiting from Washington also took a 210 pound yellowfin tuna along with five more weighing between 10 and 20 pounds on a one day fishing adventure.
Just to the east in San Jose del Cabo, Eric Brickson at Gordo Banks Pangas reports, “Through December and the first half of January the weather patterns in the Los Cabos area was very ideal, warmer than usual, with the normally very persistent north winds being much lighter and not even much of a factor, this in turn also contributed to the ocean water temperatures holding several degrees warmer than normal, all this was good news for keeping the pelagic gamefish such as dorado, yellowfin tuna and wahoo on local fishing grounds.
The bait supply remained steady for sardinas, with the main concentrations of these preferred baits now centered near Cabo Real, other options being used are caballito, mackerel and strips of squid. The highlight for action recently has been on the Gordo Banks for quality sized yellowfin tuna, with fish in the 50 to 150 lb. range being hooked into while drift fishing. Finicky action, where with the wind made it even much tougher, but fish were still being hooked into, some lost and a percentage landed, basically if you did account for one or two of these tuna you were fortunate.
Other tuna action for a smaller grade of fish was found off of Santa Maria, but there were no big numbers there either and that bite was on one day and then off the other, very hit or miss, but was a decent option since it was close to shore in more protected waters.
Dorado action is tapering off as well, which would be normal for this time of year, some fish were found on the same grounds as were the tuna and other found close to shore, best chances were on various baits and sizes ranged up to 15 lb. Average catches for dorado were now less than one per charter. No wahoo to report, though chances are, there are still a few of them hanging around.
Not a whole lot of bottom action going on, particularly with the stiffer winds creating choppy seas and swift currents. Closer to shore, off of shallow rock piles, there were some pargo, red snapper, amberjack, leopard grouper, bonito and triggerfish found, but this action was limited. Close to shore there were smaller sized roosterfish off of the San Jose del Cabo hotel zone and around on the Pacific there was better action reported for sierra, hopefully this is a favorable sign that these fish are heading in the direction of the Sea of Cortez as well.
Billfish activity increased some out of San Jose del Cabo;l no big numbers, but everyday anglers are reportedly spotting a few striped marlin on the local grounds and some have been hooked on trolled lures as well as on various larger baitfish. There was also a black marlin, estimated close to 50 lb. brought in to Puerto Los Cabos Marina off of a cruiser, definitely out of season, but just proves that you really never know what can happen on a given day.”
Up the Cortez coast in La Paz, Jonathan Roldan at Tailhunter International offers, “Not many fisher-folk in town right now, but it has been sunny, relatively warm and good beach weather. Although it is not always great to be on the water fishing because it can still be windy and rough.
But, onshore it’s really pleasant and compared to other places in the world where winter is already hitting, La Paz is a great place to be. There are already a few snowbirds around, but the boulevards and streets are empty sometimes and it’s just the ocean and palm trees and a good time to hang out in a restaurant or read a book!
As far as fishing, in between bouts of winds, this past week wasn’t too very bad, but like I said, not many folks are fishing. This coming week, the forecasts call for some very strong double-digit winds.
All of our fishing is being done right now out of Bahía de los Muertos, where it’s more protected and the fishing is closer to shore. Waters seemed to get a little cooler and that reflected in the type of species that showed up this past week.”
Roldan concluded by saying, “There are a lot more sierra around than we’ve seen in a while, with some nice-sized fish up to about 5 pounds on the chew over the drop-offs and reefs. Additionally, some good sized pargo, cabrilla and snapper were taken in those same areas, and there have been some smaller, school-sized firecracker yellowtail running up to about 10 pounds.”
Further north in the upper Sea of Cortez just south of Puertecitos, the waters around Islas Encantadas continue to offer some excellent late season opportunities to catch a few quality grade cabrilla and leopard grouper.
This rocky and volcanic region is extremely popular and productive during the panga mothership season because it is one of the prime areas in Baja California Norte that still holds prolific populations of these exotic fish. One of the most reliable ways to catch them is by yo-yo jigging iron near the bottom right in front of their face. However, it is important to be selective and conscientious in choosing the ones that you plan to keep; these fish are even slower growing than they are delicious.
Just remember, as we pass the winter solstice each day will be a little longer than the one before, and will offer more and more time for you to fish and relax under the warm Baja sun.