Fishing Sportfishing in Cabo … What to Expect
You never know what to expect when fishing in the rich waters off the coast of Baja California Sur.
You just never know what you might catch in the rich waters surrounding Los Cabos as I was finding out. It was the third hour of fighting the biggest fish of my life and victory was anything but assured. What made this more of a challenge was the fact that I was in a small panga and battling an estimated 300-pound blue marlin. I had been out for a couple of hours in the late afternoon targeting the abundant Dorado that inhabit these waters when the monster marlin engulfed my miniscule offering. Finally after one of the most exciting and exhausting encounters that I have ever had we parted company at the boat. I started the lonely trip to port reflecting on how unbelievable fishing can be in these fertile waters.
In the early times when the oceans of the world were still being formed and the world was racked with volcanic eruptions and monstrous earthquakes, the Baja California Peninsula and Sea of Cortez were created. At the southern tip of Baja the rich Sea of Cortez meets the mighty Pacific Ocean. While deep canyons plummet to depths of over a mile, towering seamounts create upwellings that result in nutrient rich waters. This attracts the wide variety of sea life that makes this one of the richest fishing grounds in the world.
It all started in the 1950’s when celebrities and wealthy anglers discovered Baja and the great fishing available in this tropical paradise. Back in those days you had to be rich in order to get to Los Cabos. There were no roads and only private planes ventured down the 1000 miles of the Baja California peninsula, landing on dirt strips cut out of the desert. Fortunately, that has changed and over the years the secret has gotten out and with access by highway and a new modern airport, it is now not only affordable but also accessible to millions of fishermen.
Every year thousands of anglers travel to Los Cabos in pursuit of the highly prized marlin. Los Cabos is blessed with three species of marlin; the black marlin, the blue marlin, and the striped marlin. Blue and black marlin are similar in size and feeding habits and are present in greatest numbers from June through November. The average size for both these species is around 250 pounds, but there are some monsters out there, and you never know when one will appear. Fish in excess of 900 pounds are hooked and sometimes even caught with plenty of stories about the one that got away circulating around the docks at the end of the day. Challenging a fish that can be many times larger than you is not just fishing but is an adventure that tests the skills and determination of those who pursue them.
A smaller cousin of the blue marlin and black marlin is the striped marlin. They abound in the waters off Baja California Sur and provide consistent action for anglers, novices and experienced alike. Weighing an average of 100 to 150 pounds and sometimes hitting that magic 200 pound mark, Striped Marlin provide lots of big game fishing action. The usual method of fishing for striped marlin is trolling jigs waiting for a strike, while scrutinizing the surrounding waters for the fins of cruising marlin. This is where the fun begins as the yell of “marlin” ignites activity on the boat as the skipper positions the boat for the angler to cast live bait at the fish.
When the marlin takes the bait, line is fed to the fish giving it time to swallow the bait. Setting the hook is the most exciting part and the angler will throw the reel in gear and repeatedly set the hook while the captain guns the engines using the boat to facilitate the hook set. Immediately line begins to melt off the reel and out in the distance the marlin skyrockets into the air trying to throw the hook. Excitement and challenge is what the striped marlin offers anglers as these fish are plentiful most of the year. More Striped Marlin are caught in the water off the Baja coast than nearly anywhere else in the world. The best time of year to have possible multiple hookup days are in the winter months from December to June but they can be caught in good numbers at anytime of the year.
The acrobatic sailfish also adds a special touch for the light tackle anglers and can be taken in good numbers from June to November. Both live bait and artificial presentations will take these great fighters, with 20 lb tackle the most challenging way to enjoy the experience. Averaging from 50 to 90 pounds, sailfish will occasionally be taken over the100-pound mark.
The most rare and prized billfish is not marlin or sailfish; it is the elusive swordfish. Swordfish feed in the depths of the ocean at night and during the day can sometimes be found sleeping on the surface. Though not actively feeding, these bulldozers of the deep can sometimes be teased into swallowing live bait. The fight of a Swordfish will test the mettle of any angler. They have been known to fight long hours for its freedom. The best times to encounter these denizens of the deep are February through June.
If you plan to release your billfish it helps prevent confusion by making that intention clear to the captain and mate when you start you day of fishing. For those who want their trophy to grace a wall at home, you can accomplish this without killing a majestic fish.
New techniques have enabled taxidermists to produce high quality replica mounts, which are taken from molds of actual fish. Unlike skin mounts that tend to deteriorate after a few years, replicas will stand the test of time.
Cabo San Lucas has become the home of world class fishing tournaments and these are growing in popularity every year. The biggest and richest of these is the Bisbee’s Black and Blue Marlin Tournament. This is the richest billfish tournament in the world and anglers from around the world invade Cabo San Lucas in late October every year. There is over $2,000,000 in prize money on the line and with it the prestige of winning this tournament. Over two hundred boats take part in this extravaganza and it is quite a show. Following closely after the Bisbee’s Tournament is the Pete Lopiccola Memorial Marlin Tourna-ment to benefit the Cancer Research Center at the University of California, San Diego and the medical needs of children in Cabo San Lucas. This is a fun tournament that is inexpensive to enter compared to the other tournaments and last year raised over $200,000, making it a great way for anglers to compete and help out.
Around the middle of October, Western Outdoor Publications sponsors the Los Cabos Tuna Tournament, a two-day event where anglers go after the big bucks. The 2000 tournament awarded the winning team $143,100 in prize money. Tuna are the undisputed bruisers of the deep, challenging the endurance of the most experienced anglers. The tournament season ends with the Annual Los Cabos Billfish Tournament, which takes place at the end of November.
There are many other options in these rich warm waters and a great number of anglers prefer to chase these instead of the billfish. Topping this list is the brilliantly colored and hard fighting Dorado. Found in great numbers during the months of July through October. Dorado are pursued not only for a spectacular aerial battle but also for their great table fare. The usual method of fishing for Dorado is to troll medium to small jigs while keeping your eyes open for signs of feeding fish. Birds diving on bait or circling a certain area are always good places to concentrate on. Quite often, an area of floating debris, which attracts Dorado like a magnet, becomes an angler’s heaven and can result in wide-open mayhem. Once a fish is hooked on an artificial, live bait should be offered before the first fish is landed. The school will follow a hooked fish to the boat and multiple hook-ups can result. There are some big bull Dorado taken in this fashion and fish in excess of 60 pounds are frequently caught with the average fish in the 10 to 30 pound range.
Yellow Fin Tuna is one of the hardest fighting fish that swims and can attain weights over 300 pounds. Again, trolling until fish are located and then offering bait are proven methods, as is drifting and slow trolling with live bait. Chunking, chumming with chunks of fish, is also a very productive way to tempt these battlers of the deep. Another popular technique is to travel out 25 to 40 miles and chase the vast schools of dolphin that can be found. Tuna love to follow dolphin and this is a great way to catch that big one. Once hooked, tuna head for the bottom and refuse to give any ground. Quality tackle and a strong back is highly recommended for the torturous battle when a big fish is hooked.
Another highly sought-after fish for both a great fight and unsurpassed eating is the lightening fast Wahoo. Fish of 50 pounds and larger are taken every year and your best odds are fishing the months of August and September. Trolling at high speeds is the most productive method of finding success but most Wahoo are caught while fishing for other species. Caution is advised when landing this speedster, they have a mouth filled with razor sharp teeth, which can cause injury if not handled properly. What is so great about all of these species is that the techniques for catching each fish is similar and as stated before you just do not know what may hit next.
If battling these bruisers is not to your taste do not despair as inshore fishing opportunities are exceptional along the sandy beaches and rocky shorelines of Baja and is a lot of fun. Fishing from a panga or casting off the beach can result in great action and good eating. Rooster Fish leads the inshore game fish list and can attain weights in excess of 50 pounds and are fast, hard fighting fish. Casting surface lures from the beach to feeding Roosters is an exciting and, at times, fast-paced sport. Other species that are available inshore are pargo, cabrilla, sierra mackerel, grouper, yellowtail and amberjack, to name a few of the many species taken on a regular basis. All that is required to enjoy fishing here is to charter a boat and go.
Fly-fishing for billfish and other species is growing in popularity by leaps and bounds. There are some quality charters that specialize in fly-fishing and can provide top of the line equipment as well as the experience to connect you with huge fish on a fly.
It is important to know what to expect when you charter one of the many boats available for hire. You can rent a panga, which is a small open boat about 22 feet long. These are great for fishing inshore and offshore on calm days. Do not make the mistake and think that because you are in a small boat you will only catch small fish. Marlin over 500 pounds and tuna in the 200 to 300 pound range are taken every year on pangas. The normal cost for a day of fishing is approximately $150.00 for six hours fishing and an additional $20 for bait. You will have to provide food and drinks. Three anglers can share a panga making this the most affordable way to experience fishing in Cabo. The other option is to charter boats from 28 footers to boats in excess of 40 feet. Prices will range from the low $300s to over a $1000 per day for the big private charters. Fishing licenses are usually included but make sure you check when you book your trip. There are many fleets operating safe boats with experienced crews but caution should be taken. Checking the many Internet sites before your visit will give you the chance to check what the different fleets offer. Also you can book charters after you arrive at one of the many fleet offices in town or through your hotel. I recommend that you check out the boat you will be fishing on for the quality of the equipment and the condition of the boat a day prior to your trip. A little effort in advance will insure you a quality trip and an experience to treasure for years to come.
Boats usually depart around 7:00 a.m. and the first stop is to get bait. Ten live baits will cost you a 20-dollar bill and are essential for a days fishing. Anglers must make sure they tell the Captain if they want to hook fish on the troll or let the deck hand set the hook and then hand the angler the rod. Unless you are experienced it is advisable that you let the deck hand handle this part. After a successful day on the water, your catch will be cleaned (for a fee of $2.00 to $10.00 per fish depending upon the size) at the fish cleaning station at the sportfishing dock. A tip for the Captain and crew for a great day of fishing is also standard but not an obligation. The normal amount would be ten to fifteen percent of the charter price and should be based upon the effort put forth and not the number of fish caught. It should be given to the Captain to be shared with the crew just prior to leaving the boat.
After your catch is cleaned and bagged for you, there are facilities to freeze your catch. Some of the larger fleets have freezing facilities or you can check with your hotel. Just before leaving and heading home you can pack the fillets in an ice chest and duct tape it closed. These fillets will still be frozen upon arriving home and will offer many fabulous meals.
The fishing grounds range from Boca De Las Matancitas to Punta Gorda and include the Golden Gate Bank, San Jaime Bank, 45 Spot, 95 Spot and the Inner and Outer Gorda Banks. Boats will head for the most productive spot and being on the water daily, Captains stay well informed on where the best fishing is taking place. Private boaters should ask around and find out where the action is before venturing out. If you are fishing in your own boat, make sure you have essential safety gear on board and that your boat is in good mechanical condition. Spending the night drifting at sea is unpleasant and potentially dangerous. There are two launch ramps at the marina in Cabo San Lucas and a small fee is charged to launch and to pull your boat out. Make sure you have a fishing license and your boat has the required paperwork to avoid problems with the authorities.
Los Cabos is truly a fishing paradise but that is not all it offers to those of you who venture out to sea. The marine life is plentiful and watching dolphins, whales, turtles and manta rays are just a few of the sights that await you on your fishing adventure.
Article by Randy Turner, Los Cabos Magazine, Issue #7 – Originally published December 15, 2000.