Surf Fishing, A Shore Thing, It’s time to think outside the boat.
Cabo San Lucas, Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, Mexico.
The “motion of the ocean” can be tough on even the most experienced angler. Fortunately those who prefer to stay on solid ground will find an abundance of options in Los Cabos. And while beach-bound anglers aren’t likely to reel in any tuna or marlin, there are still plenty of big fish in the sea. And, yet another plus: México doesn’t require surf casters to have a license.
One of the most common surf casting targets is the Roosterfish (pez gallo), which average 15 to 30 pounds but can grow to more than 100 pounds. This is one of the most sought after and the largest of our surf species, and they can put up quite a fight. Roosterfish range the Pacific shoreline from Cabo Blanco, Peru, to halfway up the Baja coastline to Turtle bay, with occasional reports of sightings in Southern California.
Feeding on small fish, like mullet, in the surf and cruising the shoreline in small packs, they are mainly a sight casting fish: You don’t cast unless you know they are there. They are decent as table fare, but most anglers release Roosterfish so they can fight another day. A member of the Jack family, they have a deep body and powerful tail, and get their name from their roosterlike dorsal fin.
These fish are beach cruisers, traveling up and down the beach areas searching for small bait fish to intercept. Surface popper or subsurface swimming plugs are good choices. Watch the inside of the swells; Roosterfish often can be seen back lighted in the swells. Retrieve lures quickly—there’s no such thing as too fast. A hungry Roosterfish will chase a lure into water so shallow that only his belly remains wet! Of course, few are that hungry, but you never know. (Jack Crevalle fish, also part of the Jack family, tend to cruise the beach. Not as common as the Roosterfish, they nevertheless fight just as hard and respond to the same lures.)
Sierra mackerel are one of the most common of our surf species. They don’t get too big, but they do show up in big numbers. All the fly-fishing records are from Cabo San Lucas or Todos Santos. These slim, streamlined fish have golden spots along their sides, along with very sharp teeth. Sierra are the beach angler’s staple in the winter, when the water cools down. (They are great eating, either freshly fried or in ceviche.) These fish stick to the shoreline, looking for hapless schools of sardines and other small fish to feed on. Once they have found their meal, they slash into the school of bait, causing an oil slick on the surface, and can often be spotted because of the number of small bait trying to jump out of the way.
Spoons are an effective surf lure for these toothy guys, as long as a short bit of wire is attached between the line and the lure. Sierra are often called “Mexican wahoo” because of their extremely sharp teeth, so don’t try and fish for them without a wire bite leader. Also, never try to grab them with your bare hand.
Assorted lures for Surf Fishing in Cabo San LucasThere is a variety of snapper in our area, including red, Dogtooth, Cubera, and Hogfish. Most of these max out around 20 pounds, but they are deceptively strong. They are all found in rocky areas, from which they ambush their prey. Due to their habitat, heavy line and leader is a must in order to prevent being cut off on the rocks. I recommend blind casting when you suspect they’re nearby. Many locals fish right off the rocks for snappers that can get up to 30 pounds. They’ll often spend a predawn hour catching sand crabs for bait, then climb for another hour to get to the right spot, from which they throw out their line—a few hundred yards of castoff 80-pound line scrounged up at the docks—with spark plugs as sinkers. Some days they catch nothing; other days it’s enough to feed their family for a week, so you know they know the best spots. While I don’t suggest you climb the wet rocks to cast, working the areas in front of these rocks and casting from the beach will give you the best shot at some big red snappers.
Using a top water plug with a pair of single hooks, try to get as close into the white water as you can cast, then work the popper with vigor, creating as large a disturbance on the surface as possible. Once you hook up, lock the drag down as tight as you can without breaking the line and try to keep the snapper from getting back into the rocks. When you have turned its head and worked it away from the rocks, keep the line tight and wear it out. The prize is worth the fight. Sometimes other fish will surprise you when you’re expecting a snapper bite.
Grouper live and feed in the same areas, and people often reel in ten-pounders. While Jack Crevalle and Roosterfish are normally found cruising outside the sandy beaches, but they occasionally dart into the rock for a bit of opportunistic feeding.
Photo on right, © 2010, Joseph A. Tyson, From top: Big Mouth Popper (popper), Bally-Hoo (high-speed top-water plug), Sardine (jigging spoon), Cabo Killer (fast-retrieve top-water plug), Swim bait.
A real rarity in our waters, and only available in the spring for about a week, are Pacific Black Snook (robalo), which weigh up to 30 pounds. A surface popper or subsurface swimmer thrown into the surf fronting the rocks can sometimes get one of these to bite.
Dorado, which are generally offshore fish, sometimes follow schools of bait into the shallows. If you manage to hook one, be prepared for some fun; they’re airborne until they begin to tire.
Spinning gear is the most common tackle for shore casting, although you’ll still see locals using hand lines baited with freshly caught sand crabs or small pieces of cut bait. Spinning gear allows you to cast past the breakers, and your rod should be between 10 and 13 feet in length to get the leverage and distance needed. A spinning reel that will hold 200 yards of 30-pound monofilament fishing line, or preferably spectra line, will have plenty of capacity for all but the largest of fish. Top water poppers, subsurface swimming lures, and a variety of spoons will cover almost all your needs. Upon arriving at the beach, scan the area for signs of bait busting the water. The best indicator of course is seeing other fishermen hooked up!
The most important thing to remember when surf fishing is to never turn your back to the water! Walk forward as far as is safe, make your cast, then back up while watching the waves. We lose at least one angler every year because of this
If you’re looking for more information on surf fishing, or need tackle or terminal gear, check out Stephen Jansen at Jansen Inshore Tackle, next to the Hotel Mar De Cortez in downtown Cabo. Jansen has guided many surf fishermen in the past, holds several world records, is an amazing artist, and has a great line of handmade surf lures. Friendly and always willing to give advice, he can be contacted at his store most afternoons.
Jansen Inshore Tackle – For more information, call (624) 143-5804 or
e-mail Jansen at firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit www.jansen.mx.
Article by Captain George Landrum – Photos © 2011 Stephen Jansen
Los Cabos Magazine Issue #24, January 2011.