FISHING TRIP REPORT: Mexico / US, January
By Steve Starling
I’ve recently returned from an interesting trip to Mexico and the US,
where I fished and visited a large Sportsman’s Exposition. I travelled
with Capt. Greg Bethune, owner of the Carpentaria Seafaris live-aboard
charter operation out of Seisia, on the northern tip of Cape York
Peninsula in Queensland.
In Mexico, Greg and I linked up with
Kate Van Gytenbeek and her new husband, Randall Bryett. Kate works for her
dad, who owns "Fly Fishing in Salt Waters" magazine, based in Seattle,
Washington. Randall is an Aussie and had skippered and decked on game
boats out of Mooloolooba, QLD, for several years before marrying Kate and
moving State-side. The two of them have now set up a fishing travel
business, advising American anglers on angling opportunities ‘down under’.
In Mexico, we stayed at Cabo San Lucas, which most people shorten simply
to Cabo (pronounced "car-bo" by the way, not "cay-bo"). Located at the
south western corner of the 800-mile long Baja Peninsula, Cabo San Lucas
is a highly commercialised tourist town with plenty of hotels, bars,
restaurants, etc. The waterfront area is somewhat reminiscent of
Australian ports like Cairns, but the marinas are larger and more crowded.
There is a resident fleet of between 300 and 400 sport and game fishing
boats (from six metre ‘pangas’ to 30 metre gin-palaces) and this number
more than doubles during the high season, as American anglers bring their
boats south… It’s a VERY busy port!
We stayed in a small self-contained villa about six kilometres out of town
in a walled estate with its own security guards. However, crime didn’t
appear to be especially rife, and the streets of Cabo are probably safer
than many of those in Sydney or Melbourne. Our villa was a little
run-down, but nonetheless very comfortable. It was built in the
late 1970s or early 80s for Keith Richards from "The Rolling Stones", but
he has since sold it and several new bits have been added on… It’s
doubtful if any of these new additions would satisfy Australian building
standards! All the same, our digs were comfortable and homely.
Each morning we drove our hire car
to the marina, had a hearty breakfast at a waterside snack bar called
"Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger" and boarded our 26 foot (8 metre) fibreglass
Glacier Bay cat for the day’s fishing.
These US-made twin hulled vessels (owned and operated by Baja Anglers) are
powered by dual 150 or 200hp outboards, so they really get along! Before
leaving the harbour, we’d stop at the floating bait pens and purchase our
day’s bait and berley (chum) requirements. Fish almost identical to our
yellowtail or yakkas cost US$2 each, while a generous scoop of lively
sardines was US$10. Most mornings we spent US$30 or so on bait. When we
asked about catching our own bait, we were informed that this wasn’t
allowed — a rule enforced by the local bait-catching ‘union’!
From Cabo, it’s possible to fish south and west into the Pacific, or east
into the beautiful Sea of Cortez. During our visit, water temperatures
were at their very lowest for the year, and this resulted in below-average
fishing results. The water on the beaches was a chilly 19 or 20 degrees C
(68F), while offshore, the best we found was 23 degrees C (just over 73F).
Air temperatures ranged from night-time lows of perhaps 14 or 16C up to
afternoon highs in the mid to upper 20s, although it often felt warmer
under the clear, blue skies.
This region is widely regarded as one of the most fertile patches of ocean
on earth, due to its dramatic underwater topography and nutrient-rich
currents. Whales (mostly greys in the 10 to 20 metre range) were present
in staggering numbers during our visit, and I’d guess that we averaged
well over 100 grey whale sighting each day — many at close range. Pilot
whales, dolphins and sea birds were also extremely abundant.
The fishery off southern Baja has been hammered hard for many years, yet
continues to produce outstanding returns. Game boats here average 1.7
marlin per day throughout the year, with really good boats landing as many
as a dozen fish a day during the best months. The vast majority of these
striped marlin in the 40 to 70 kg range (90 to 150 lb),
although some blues and blacks are also encountered in summer, and a
handful of ‘granders’ have been caught.
Broadbill swordfish are also
reasonably common, and are sometimes found ‘finning’ on the surface during
At times, marlin are hooked within a kilometre or so of land (in water
that may be as much as 250 fathoms deep!), but for much of the year, they
are more abundant on the various sea-mounts and plateaux 20 to 60
kilometres out, where they swim in schools, along with
(dorado), wahoo, sharks and acres of small to medium
Unfortunately, this action was shut-down during our stay due to the cool
water, and although marlin were being hooked by some boats, our only day
spent out on one of the banks attempting to tease up a
striped marlin for
a fly rod shot resulted in a blank. We raised a wahoo and three
and caught a small
blue shark on fly, but didn’t see a
The remainder of our days were spent working the inshore waters along the
Pacific side of the Baja Peninsula. Here, we typically began our day by
anchoring on a reef patch just 100 metres offshore and berleying or
‘chumming’ with live, dead and cut sardines, then fishing small streamers,
Clousers and other flies on sinking lines in the chum trail.
This produced Sierra mackerel to 4 kg or so, thicklip and bluefin
trevally, African pompano (pennant fish), green jacks, trigger fish and
flute or trumpet fish.
Sierra mackerel are very similar to spotted or Queensland mackerel, but
have attractive gold spots. They are at least as fast and strong as our
school mackerels and have very sharp eyesight. Short shock tippets or bite
leaders of very fine single-strand wire were all we could get away with,
and even then, many Sierras chased the fly without striking.
Discarding the wire resulted in more strikes, but two out of three Sierras
would bite the fly off within seconds of the hook-up on straight mono.
After an hour or two of chumming, the action would slow, so we’d pull the
anchor and begin hunting roosterfish right behind the surf break. To do
this, we motored slowly along just 30 to 50 metres off the beach, trolling
a live, hookless teaser bait and casting a hookless popper on spinning
tackle into the turbulent surf line. When one of these teasers
attracted roosterfish, we’d cut the motors and begin casting flies.
Roosterfish are an extremely attractive, alert and
challenging target species. A member of the trevally or ‘jack’ family,
they are somewhat reminiscent of a cross between a
queenfish and an
yellowtail kingfish. They have high, backward curving soft
rays extending from the top of their first dorsal fin, like a rooster’s
‘comb’. These are black, as are the striking markings on their silver,
green and mauve bodies. Their eyes are large and they swim fast, often
carving the surface with their erect dorsal rays as they hunt bait fish.
Roosters have been recorded to weights of almost 40 kg, but are rare over
Teased-up roosterfish remained ‘hot’ and catchable for just a few seconds
before losing interest and returning to the protection of the white-water
in the surf break. They were also choosy about flies and extremely leader
and boat shy. So, although we raised several dozen fish each day, our
results on fly were modest, and we regarded five or six successful
captures and releases of roosters as a very good session. Similarly,
although we raised roosterfish well in excess of 10 or 12 kg, the largest
we landed was a specimen of around 6 kg taken by Greg Bethune. The rest
were mostly in the 1 to 3 kg range. Although relatively small, they pulled
hard and erratically, and occasionally jumped or thrashed wildly on the
surface. We were extremely impressed by these tough, wily fish, and all
agreed that we’d like to tangle with a 10 kg-plus specimen on fly!
Fishing hours ran from roughly 8AM to 3.30PM each day, giving us plenty of
time to check out Cabo in the late afternoon and evening. Not
surprisingly, the night life there is lively, with bars and clubs such as
"El Squid Roe" and "The Giggling Marlin" packing them in every night. The
whole town jumps with music, colour and action until the early hours of
the morning, and tequila consumption could probably be measured in
megalitres, rather than bottles! High point for us Aussies was working out
the beer trade-in system… Mexico must be unique as the only place in the
world where the beer costs less than the bottles! Our first carton (20
bottles of Corona) cost about US$25. However, if you return the carton and
empty bottles, the next carton of 20 cost just US$8. Can you imagine… Ice
cold Coronas for 40 cents a bottle! Oi chihuahua!
All too soon, our week in Cabo San Lucas came to an end, and we winged our
way north to San Francisco, where we would spend the next five days
attending the San Mateo Sportsmans Exposition.
This show — which covers fishing, hunting, camping and boating — has
roughly three times the total floor area of the big Melbourne Fishing &
4WD Show and attracts an amazing number of visitors. Interestingly, the
fly fishing sections (salt and fresh) at San Mateo were as large as the
hunting, camping and general sportfishing portions combined, clearly
reflecting the massive growth of fly fishing in the United States over the
past decade or two, and its continuing popularity.
Each day at the show, I presented one hour seminars, backed by slides,
giving an overview of fly fishing in Australia. These pulled reasonable
crowds and generated a good deal of interest. Greg and I also helped Kate
and Randall out on their combined "Fly Fishing in Salt Waters" and
"Australian/American Fishing Connection" booths.
The emphasis at the show was very much on conservation, which is becoming
increasingly important in America, as elsewhere in the world, due to
declining fish stocks. Catch-and-release is strongly espoused, as is
habitat protection and restoration.
On the tackle front, there doesn’t appear to be a great deal of really
radical or cutting edge stuff headed our way this year or next — certainly
nothing in the league of, say, gel-spun fishing lines a few years back. It
appears, instead, that we are now in an era of consolidation and
Things that really excited me included the newly re-born Powell Rods
company. This firm has been making fly rods for years, but they have
recently undertaken a major overhaul and revamp (along with a change of
ownership and a massive injection of capital) and are now doing some very
innovative stuff. One of their fly rods — a three-piece 14 weight capable
of throwing lines from 9 to 15 weight and really putting the hurt on
strong fish — was especially exciting. They also have 18 and 20 weight
rods on the way, which will certainly be interesting!
The Abel Reel company has also expanded, adding a range of high class fly
and conventional rods to its existing line-up of premium fly reels. These
rods also attracted plenty of interest at the show.
All-in-all, it was a fascinating and memorable trip, made all the more
enjoyable by the great people I shared it with… I’ll certainly be trying
hard to get back over there in January 2000!
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