Fish Like a Pro in Los Cabos, Los Cabos Magazine, Issue 10, 2006
Cabo San Lucas, Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, Mexico.
“Nine yellow fin tuna, four over 150 pounds and the others around one hundred pounds, in one day, for two anglers fishing within two miles of the shore. Repeat that for three days and you have a fishery unequaled anywhere.” Zane Grey
Los Cabos Magazine article – Fish Like a Pro in Los Cabos, Issue #10 – January 2006 – By Captain George Landrum
Zane Grey was writing about the fishing at Cape San Lucas over 80 years ago in the book, Fishing Virgin Seas. But like everywhere else in the world, things change. Back in Zane Grey’s day, there was only one way to get to Cabo San Lucas, and that was by boat. You faced an 800-mile trip down the Pacific coast and carried everything with you. At Cape San Lucas, there were no hotels, no roads… nada. Since 1974, a highway has run down the Baja California peninsula from Tijuana all the way to Cabo San Lucas—now an easy three-day drive across some spectacular desert country. The International Airport in San José del Cabo, 27 miles north of Cabo San Lucas, brings over a million visitors a year while accommodations ranging from small hostels to world class resorts provide for all tastes and pocketbooks. Some of the best golf courses in the world, and of course, the fishing, add up to a very attractive vacation package. Rich Fishing Grounds Like real estate, the key to fishing is always location, location, location. Cabo San Lucas is at the southernmost tip of the Baja California Peninsula, which separated from the Mexican mainland, forming what Spanish explorers called the Vermillion Sea, now known as the Gulf of California or Sea of Cortés. The Sea of Cortés, 800 miles long and an average of 100 miles wide, opens to the Pacific Ocean at Cabo San Lucas. The slow moving, cool waters of the California current run down the Pacific coast at about two knots, bringing nutrient-filled waters to the area. Warm tropical waters coming up the Mexican coast are delivered by the northern equatorial current. This warm water meets the cool California current at Cabo San Lucas. The Sea of Cortés “breathes” twice a day, pushing and pulling the warm and cool water, mixing the nutrients and forming large eddies and gyres that form temperature breaks that hold the baitfish. In much the same way that the Gulf Stream concentrates bait and forms a highway for pelagic fish, these eddies and gyres concentrate and focus the pelagic fish in the area. When you combine the underwater banks—some rising to within 100 feet of the surface—with the currents and eddies, you have a recipe for great fishing!
Where the Fish Are
Most of the fishing in Cabo is within 40 miles of the port. Six miles to the west of the arch is the 45 spot. Two miles off the old lighthouse, it is a rise at the end of a 600-foot-deep ledge, coming up to 45 fathoms. Just to the west of the 45 spot at the Cardonal Canyon, the bottom drops to 3,000 feet in less than a mile. The Tinaje Trough, a 3,500-foot-deep underwater canyon, is also on the Pacific side of the cape, 10 miles from the arch. Less than two miles west from the trough’s deepest spot is the San Jaime Bank, with three seamounts rising to within 150 feet of the surface on top of a 600-foot-deep plateau. And twelve miles to the north of San Jaime is the Golden Gate Bank, rising to within 300 feet of the surface. Between the two banks, the edge of the canyon forms a pathway for underwater currents. During the summer, this area holds massive schools of skipjack tuna, bonita, and yellow fin tuna, and is one of the top areas for blue marlin. Fifteen miles to the south of the cape is the 1,000-fathom edge, and it runs almost due east to west. Amazing current lines form along this drop and it almost guarantees fish.
The bottom contour on the Sea of Cortés side of the cape is a continuation of the Pacific contours. Nine miles to the east is the area known as the 95 spot, where the bottom comes to within 95 fathoms of the surface off a 1,200-foot-deep plateau. Continue to the east for a distance of 40 miles and you reach the Cabrillo Seamount. With the peak at 3,000 feet beneath the surface, it is surrounded by 6,000 feet of water and holds marlin and tuna year round. Twenty-two miles northeast up the coast from Cabo are the Inner and Outer Gordo Banks. Fished for decades by commercial tuna boats out of San Diego, they are now the focus for sportfishing activity on the Sea of Cortés side of the cape. The Inner Gordo comes within diving distance of the surface while the Outer Gordo Bank is 220-feet at its shallowest. Combine these deep canyons and shallow rises with the mixing currents, and you’ll see why Cabo has become known as a prime fishing destination.
While tuna were the subject of Zane Grey’s comments about the Cabo area in his book, he also mentioned commercial boats catching 600-foot black marlin, and his own crew enjoying the striped marlin fishing. Perhaps due to commercial pressure, the tuna are no longer as numerous nor as large as they were back in the 1920s. That is not to say there are not still large fish out there, after all, the Los Cabo Tuna Tournament of 2002 saw 25 tuna over 100 pounds, with three over 200 pounds. And 20 tuna over 100 pounds were not weighed because they were not contenders.
The Marlin Capital of the World
But tuna is not what has put Cabo San Lucas on the angling map. The consistent year-round black, blue, and striped marlin action has earned Cabo San Lucas the nickname of “The Marlin Capital of the World.” A yearly migration of striped marlin, starting when the water warms to 69 degrees F. in the late winter and lasting until it is a consistent 79 degrees F. in mid-summer, has made Cabo a “go to” destination for marlin anglers. And when the fishing is really good, it can be awesome. In spring 2005, there were days when we released double-digit numbers of 80 to 200-pound striped marlin. On occasion, the fish were so thick that you could see a dozen feeders, tailers and jumpers at any one time. They showed up on the depth sounder like schools of tuna. During the first two days of the IGFA Rolex Championship Tournament in May 2005, the top team released seven striped marlin the first day. On day two, the top team released 11 fish; the second top release was seven fish! On an average day in season, you will see at least a dozen fish and hopefully get shots at several that are hungry.
Cabo is one of the few places in the world where a first time angler might actually catch several marlin on his first trip out! Now, striped marlin are nice, and they are pretty when they jump, but for pure excitement and power they don’t hold a candle to blue marlin. Beginning in June during a normal year, or when the water temperature has risen to a 78 degree F. average, blue and black marlin begin to make their presence known in a big way. The normal tackle for striped marlin is in the 30-pound class. When a blue marlin in the 300-pound-plus category suddenly shows up in the pattern and takes a lure, hearts start to pound loud enough to hear over the noise of the engines and the adrenaline really cuts in. As soon as a few boats have hooked up to a big bruiser, everyone brings out the big guns, and all you see is 50-pound and larger tackle being set out.
Yet, even 50-pound gear can be on the light side if you are fortunate to hook into one of the 1,000-pound fish in the area. The blue marlin are usually found along the drop offs at the banks, out along the 1,000-fathom line, and along the edge of ledges at the points. Trolling lures is the most common way to cover the ground and search the fish out, but drifting with a live bonito set deep in the water garners more than its share of the larger fish. Using the same technique up on the 300-foot flats on the banks and the ledges is the way to get a black marlin hooked up. Not as acrobatic as a blue—at least on average—the black marlin tend to bulldog during a fight, more similar to a big tuna. But when the fish is 600-pounds, you definitely know the difference! When the blue and black marlin show up there are fewer striped marlin around, mainly due to a difference in preferred water temperature, but there are always a few. With striped marlin in the winter and spring, and blue and black marlin in the summer and fall, there isn’t any time when you don’t have a chance at a billfish!
Top Tournament Destination
The number of annual tournaments in Cabo San Lucas confirms its status as a major fishing destination. In 2005, the roster included the Rolex/IGFA Offshore Championship in May, with the Lucas Billfish Challenge in June, and then the Mercury Light Line Fly Fishing World Championships in July. October brings the Fifth Annual Los Cabo Billfish Tournament, the Pete Lopiccola Charity Tournament for cancer research, the Bisbee Offshore Challenge, and the world’s richest purse, the Bisbee Black and Blue Marlin Tournament. And Western Outdoor News’ Mercury Tuna Jackpot falls in early November.
These big name, big gun tournaments are scattered through the year, with most in the months of October and November. So why is that?
Well, we are 22 degrees above the equator, and if you remember, we get the effects of the northern equatorial current bringing up warm water from the south. When a hurricane develops, it follows warmer water and continues to develop. Our hurricane season runs from sometime in July to the end of September. It can get nasty with strong winds, heavy rains, and big seas. That said, it can also be the best fishing of the year! If you are willing to take the chance of being blown out, you can get into some of the most fantastic fishing in the world. Everything is around then, from roosterfish inshore to blue marlin offshore. Shots at roosterfish, cabrilla, pargo, grouper, yellow fin tuna, striped, blue and black marlin, wahoo, dorado and sailfish are numerous, and the chances of getting a multiple-species day are excellent!
Planning your Charter
There are many fishing opportunities in Cabo, depending on the amount of ‘ka-ching’ in your pocket and the type of fishing you want to do. With over 350 charter boats operating out of the marina, you have a choice between a 21’ open center consol panga that will fish three anglers for five hours inshore, to 100-plus-foot luxury yachts that will do multi-day trips. Most anglers are happy with a twin-engine diesel inboard in the 31 to 38’ range at $500-900 U.S. per day for between four to eight people. As is the case everywhere, before booking a boat, try to get a reference from someone who has been here before. An on-line search will turn up many businesses operating full time out of Los Cabos. Try to stay with those who actually live here. Why? Questions, problems, and resolutions are easier to take care of when the proprietor is in port. There are multi-boat operations and single owner operations, whatever and whomever you feel comfortable with, make sure you get the deposit requirements, a list of what is and what is not included, directions to the boat for your day of fishing, and what the company’s refund policy is, in writing. Also, make sure that fishing licenses are available from your charter operator the morning of your trip.
One thing that you don’t want is to end up searching the dock the morning you want to go fishing, trying to get a “deal” on a boat. If you absolutely have to, go to the marina around two p.m. the day before you want to fish, and ask anglers how their day went, the condition of the boat and equipment, and how they were treated by the captain and crew. Then, find out who they booked with and try to arrange a charter for the next day. In high season, from October to May, the better boats may be booked far in advance, and in October it is almost impossible to get one at less than a month’s notice due to the tournament schedules.
Releasing your Catch
Most of the boats in Cabo now release billfish that may have a chance at survival, and some use circle hooks to improve the marlin’s chances—as well as the chance of hooking up! It is nice to be on a boat and have the crew tell you that any marlin caught are going to be released, as opposed to what used to be the usual, “Well, I need the fish to feed my family,” story.
There are several international release programs, one of the better known is the AFTCO tag and release program. The company recognizes and rewards captains and anglers with the most releases every year. Cabo San Lucas is recognized almost every year with the top captain and angler positions for striped marlin releases. Both the Billfish Foundation (www.billfish.org) and AFTCO (www.aftco.com) issue release certificates to anglers who release marlin. It makes a nice trophy on the wall, double matted with a picture of the marlin along the side of the boat. It is also a lot less expensive than a skin mount.
Speaking of trophy mounts, you can tag and release your fish and still have a trophy mount made. You don’t have to kill the fish anymore! These days, almost every mount is a fiberglass replica, from the tip of the bill to the end of the tail. Many companies make these trophies, most charge about $10 U.S. an inch plus crating and shipping. A picture of the fish along the side of the boat to document any unique markings or deformities, along with a “best guess” on length will get you a mount delivered to your home, normally within six months.
Los Cabos Magazine article – Issue #10 – January 2006 – By Captain George Landrum