Fishing Small for Giant Rewards
Panga Fishing, Cabo San Lucas, Los Cabos, Baja California Sur Mexico
Cabo San Lucas is the home to one of the world’s largest fleet of chartered fishing boats and the perfect place to put a “check” next to anyone’s bucket list that includes “catch a marlin”. I get it. I’ve been there and done that. I’ve caught my share of marlin from the waters within fishing distance of the southernmost tip of Baja California Sur, Mexico. And there is no denying the rush of adrenaline that fills you when that marlin at the end of your line breaks the water’s surface, and launches itself high into the air. But the truth is that for most days trolling offshore for the fish of your dreams the majority of your time is spent sitting, watching your baits bounce across the top of the water and waiting. That waiting drives me crazy. I can’t stand it. I get so bored that I sometimes fall asleep. Lucky for me, the waters around Cabo San Lucas also offer Panga fishing, an exciting alternative to the larger fishing cruisers.
Panga fishing from Cabo San Lucas can provide fisherman to access to both the pelagic species of fish that often swim by as well as on overwhelming number of seasonal, inshore species that call Cabo home. A panga is a small to mid- sized, narrow, center console boat usually less than 25 feet. It “comfortably” fishes 2 people along with the captain. Pangas do not have the range or speed of the larger boats that leave from Cabo so they tend to fish within a 45 minute ride of the Cabo San Lucas marina. Fishing from a panga has its advantages (they’re less expensive to charter and because of their size they can fish much closer to the rocks and beaches along the shoreline) and disadvantages (many times the “bite” of a specific species is further away than pangas travel, the ride can be bouncy and they’re not as “nice” as larger boats with no bathroom on board). If your ultimate goal is catching a marlin or one of the larger pelagic species then I would recommend you spend the extra few hundred dollars on a larger boat with a longer range that will increase your chances. But if you are someone like me, who is more interested in having your rod consistently bent over than caring what species is doing the pulling then panga fishing is the way to go.
Because the majority of people who charter a boat from Cabo San Lucas, even those who choose a panga, tend to target the pelagic species (marlin, tuna and dorado) this is the type of fishing that the boat captains will usually plan on doing for your trip. If you spend a few minutes communicating with the captain when you first get on the boat, to find out what’s biting best, close by (yes, the language barrier can make this difficult sometimes) and that you’re open to catching any species rather than just Marlin, then chances are that your day will be much more productive. If you use a booking agent for your charter I would also recommend letting them know your preferences. I have used the same booking agent, Cabo Magic Sportfishing, for the last 15 years mostly booking trips for myself but sometimes for my friends who are vacationing with us. And I’m clear with the agent what type of fishing we want to do: offshore, inshore or a combination of both. This way the captain can bring the appropriate tackle for my trip.
You do not always need a larger boat to target pelagic species. Sometimes those species are close by. I’ve caught marlin as they were balled up less than a mile off the beach right in front of my resort. I’ve caught dorado (mahi mahi) and wahoo within seconds after dropping our lines as we pass the arch that separates the Sea of Cortez from the Pacific ocean. And I’ve caught football sized (12 to 15lb) yellowfin tuna on light tackle 100 yards from shore as they ripped through schools of sardines. But in the almost 15 years I have been panga fishing from Cabo and as fantastic as the fishing around there is, days like those are more the exception than the rule.
If you are willing to expand your options, there are so many species of inshore fish that you can target that offer even more action than trolling offshore. While catching a marlin may be on many people’s life bucket list, ask anyone who fishes often about their “fishing” bucket list and roosterfish will top their inshore list. An exotic member of the jack family it’s known for the unique, rooster like, combing dorsal fin which gives it its name. Growing up to 90 lbs. few fish can match its pound for pound power or replicate the speed of its initial run. While roosterfish are most often caught from pangas by trolling live baits just outside the waves breaking against the beach, the time “waiting” is much more hands on. The time is spent with your finger on the line actually feeling the bait at the end of your line getting nervous when it sees a predator. The fish strike is often explosive, almost always yanking the line from your fingers and stripping it from the spool before you set the hook and hold on.
Fighting a stubborn amberjack or large jack cravelle on light tackle can take as long to land as any tuna on offshore gear. My last fight with a 25lb jack took 45 minutes. The locals don’t call it “el Toro” (the Bull) for nothing. Red Snapper (pargo) are also abundant in the cropping of rocks and cliffs around Cabo. Casting into these crevices as your panga rides up and down the swells before they crash into the cliffs requires your full attention as you have to watch closely for the subtle movement of your line that would indicate a fish has picked up your bait. And in my opinion, no fish you catch will ever taste better. Captain Tony’s on the marina will score, spice and deep fry the snapper whole just minutes after you get off the boat. Delicious!
There are some tips that I would give anyone interested in panga fishing from Cabo. First, don’t skimp on bait. While trolling offshore for pelagic fish the captains will usually pull lures. Live baits are used to throw at marlin seen on top of the water or drifted in an area where the marlin are schooling. You will go through a lot more bait fishing inshore, especially on days when the fishing is good. I always buy at least 20 baits for a 6 hour trip. I understand that at $3 a piece that sounds expensive, but there is nothing worse than running out of bait when the fish are biting, especially when your opportunities to fish in such an amazing place are usually so limited. Second, spend a little money at your local tackle store before you come down. Fishing tackle in Cabo San Lucas is very limited and very expensive. The captains do the best that they can with what’s available and what they can afford. I always bring a few different weights of fluorocarbon leader, a few different size hooks, and a few different weights of egg sinkers with me every time that I visit. Trust me, some days fluorocarbon can make all the difference.. My last trip I loaded up on snapper while my wife and friends (fishing on another boat right next to me) were shut out. Hey, I love my wife but this is fishing. Also, leave what you don’t use with the captain when you’re done. He’ll put it to good use rather than it sitting in your closet at home. Lastly, tip generously. I realize that tips are often based on a percentage of the cost of the trip. Since pangas are the least expensive boats to charter, their tips are the smallest. Panga captains work just as hard, if not harder than those on larger boats. If you take the time to talk with them you’d know that they are wonderful, hardworking people just trying to provide for their families. They do EVERYTHING themselves and deserve as much if not more than any other captain, no matter the size of the boat.
So, if you are open minded about the species, you are willing to fish for and are more interested in hands on fishing rather than sitting, waiting around for something to happen, then fishing from a panga may be for you. Good luck!
Los Cabos Sportfishing article and photos by Bee Linzey.