Monday, February 1, 2010

Mag Bay's Secret Weapon

The operative word is live. Don't bother using the dead ones; they won't work.

Why didn't I think of that? We have all had those moments. Several years ago at the beginning of a fishing trip inside the bay out of Lopez Mateos, Captain Sergio Garcia idled the Mar Gato alongside an odd-looking commercially rigged panga to purchase a scoop of live shrimp.

When I had fished inside Magdalena Bay, the focus had always been on using artificials including a variety of flies and lures. My friend, Captain Gene Grimes, often told me, however, that he had great success with live bait. He would jug the bait tanks on the Legend with mackerel and sardines and head up the uncharted channels in search of snook. He had also discovered that several lures, including white pencil poppers, were nearly as effective as the live bait.
But for years none of the local pangas were equipped with bait tanks, so live bait wasn't an option.

We fished mostly fly, but when we had anglers who wanted to fish conventional tackle, they were limited to artificials including surface poppers and swimming lures. By the time some of the boats that we fished with added bait tanks we had become comfortable with the artificials, and gradually included bait (shrimp) in our arsenal. Mag Bay provides the ideal habitat for the little critters that seem to be quite comfortable with the ebb and flow of the big tide swings in the bay.
When purchasing the bait, after a few minutes of negotiation, the price is agreed on and the panguero passes over several scoops of the squirming medium-sized shrimp that are quickly placed in the bait tank. The operative word is live. Don't bother using the dead ones; they won't work. Save them in the cooler for later to serve during cocktail hour.

Be aware, possession of a Mexican sport fishing license does not entitle you to catch your own shrimp. There are two varieties…blue or brown; the blues are generally caught during the day and the browns at night. Ideally medium sized in either color are equally effective. The season in Magdalena Bay takes place from October through January and may only be caught by licensed Mexican commercial fishermen.

Rigging is not complicated. A selection of sinkers from one to four ounces should get the shrimp down to the bottom, depending on the current. Tie the sinker directly to the main line of an outfit with a minimum of 40-pound line. Use a three-foot section of 40 to 60 pound fluorocarbon attached to the sinker. Try using a strong 'Owner Gorilla' light live bait hook; size should match the shrimp size usually 1/0 - 4/0.

There are two ways to put the shrimp on the hook. The easiest method is to place the hook laterally in the back. There is a black spot directly behind the head to use as a reference point. The second method is directly through the mouth with the hook point up, exiting slightly off center behind the antennas. In a strong current this method allows a more natural presentation and when done right, prevents the shrimp from spinning in the current.

Often the fishing will require drifting along the mangroves but seldom will it be deeper than thirty feet. Drop the rig down to the bottom and then reel up a couple of cranks. The bottom depth is usually erratic and covered with roots and stuff. The trick is to recognize the difference between a snag and a bite. When you feel something, raise the rod tip before setting the hook to avoid snags.
Of all the techniques that we have tried, live shrimp have been the most productive in terms of both quantity and quality. Pargo, snapper, grouper, cabrilla, pompano, halibut and other species that I don't even have names for are up for grabs, eager for the shrimp.

Will I use shrimp all the time? Probably not. While there is no doubt it works, it has simply confirmed Magdalena Bay's potential. With that knowledge, the challenges of both fly and artificials are more intriguing than ever.