Friday, March 26, 2010

El Niño…quién sabe?

This chart reflects the warmer water caused by the El Niño.

Over the years the usual response to almost anything unusual occurring on or in the waters off Baja and southern California has been to blame it on El Niño…so it’s easy to understand why some of our eyes glaze over when El Niño is mentioned.

The name El Niño comes from the Spanish name for "the little boy”, but it can also refer to the Christ Child. It is so named because when the phenomenon of an El Niño happens, it is normally around Christmas time. Its full name is El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) but it is more commonly referred to as just El Niño. This global ocean-atmosphere phenomenon usually happens in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of South America when warm water spreads from the west Pacific and the Indian Ocean to the east Pacific.

At the recent, well-attended Long Beach Fred Hall show, the crowded aisles left some attendees feeling like a single sardine in a tightly formed bait ball. The entire Baja peninsula was well represented providing an ideal opportunity to review the waning winter and the expectations for the upcoming season as I visited with old and new friends.

Optimism and glowing reports of extraordinary fishing were a common theme in most booths and areas of the show where display tables were covered with photos and piled high with brochures and the ever-present televisions playing endlessly. Baja sunlight with fish of every imaginable description leaped about on the screen providing a barrier that protected the booths’ occupants.

Last summer it was predicted that El Niño would return for the winter season of 2009-2010. Of course last year's weather with eighteen named storms could not be ignored. Baja's mid-section suffered the brunt of their fury and is still struggling to return to normalcy. But the resiliency and courage to recover by both American and Mexican locals alike was reflected on my last few trips through that area in late 2009.

On the west coast of Baja, beginning just below the border and continuing all the way to Abreojos, the stories of mossback yellows was confirmed by Pat McDonell, WON Editor on his trip to the Coronado Islands. Farther down the Baja coast near Colonet, a few of the San Diego fleet boats reported good catches of reds and yellows, and the yellows were found by locals and trailer boaters still farther down the peninsula at San Quintin and Bahia Asuncion.

A constant stream of emails from Mulege about the great yellowtail, roosterfish and snook fishing continued throughout the winter but was overshadowed by the catch of a marlin putting an exclamation point on their unusual winter season.
Brandon Hayward, Saltwater Editor in the Western Outdoor News’ booth, was selling the third printing of his successful book, The Southern California Angler. Brandon was very excited about the yellowtail action that John Mestrin of Bluewater Tours had introduced him to down Loreto way. Another marlin landed at Loreto seems to confirm the sea temperatures are unseasonably warm.

Farther down the coast at La Paz, Jonathan and Jill Roldan's weekly Tailhunter Reports have confirmed that many of the fish usually associated with warmer water have remained in the area. Recently he commented, "the variety (of fish) we have had makes us wonder about the El Niño everyone says is upon us."
Not to be outdone, the inshore and beach fishing at East Cape has produced quality-sized jacks and roosterfish throughout the winter, while the larger grade of yellowfin tuna were still being caught offshore in early January at San Jose del Cabo.

According to Tim Barnett, Scripps Research Marine Physicist, the higher water temps are due to El Niño. During these events whole populations are shifted northward to keep up with their favorite temps. Scripps computer model which has done a great job predicting this event predicts that the effects should be completely gone by June.

The two fisheries that under-performed this winter was the striped marlin bite at the Golden Gate Bank and the dismal blue marlin bite which had occurred for the past few years.

However, the consensus of the Baja exhibitors at Fred Hall was that the excellent fishing enjoyed throughout the winter would continue through the upcoming spring and summer season and would be memorable, but quién sabe? To follow the progress of the El Niño go to this link:

Sunday, March 14, 2010

February Frenzy

This rounded off A February frenzy in Baja that went unnoticed by many but was thoroughly enjoyed by some.

Wind, rain and cold are usually the common denominators in Baja fishing reports during the month of February. My emails plus Google search reflects an entirely different story this year. Like a seismograph reporting unfelt tremblers, there is a whole lot of fishing going on.

Last year in April's column ‘Snook Stirring’, I reported that the Santa Rosalia River, which runs through the middle of Mulegé, was producing some phenomenal snook catches after thirty years of MIA according to local resident Mike Reichner.

Eyebrows rose, “a fluke” some snorted, and others who were more mean spirited suggested that it was an outright lie. On February 8th this year Mike's email practically vibrated in my inbox: “They're back! Roz and I were fishing with jerk baits and catching pargo when we were busted off by a toad and lost another in the rocks. Then standing on a rock looking at my Rapala in the water, a huge snook appears and ALMOST engulfs my lure but he saw my high profile and spooked. I kept casting around me...a dozen or so more casts and I saw a huge wake coming toward my bait from about 50 feet away....a snook at least four feet long crashed into it and took off, rapidly emptying my reel, as luck would have it, he came unbuttoned after 50 yards or so.”

By the time you hear about snook they are usually is your chance. Since I couldn't get there myself I emailed this to a friend who was fishing at La Bocana.

He was there the following day trying to catch one on the fly.
His next email confirmed Mike's report. "In Mulege, no snook yet on fly, but Mike and Roz are doing well on spinning gear." For the rest of the month Mike’s emails kept coming. All had a similar theme, "catching the smaller variety”,” the big robalo have been thumping me daily, amigo. They're here!”....”hooked three monsters this morning and was busted off twice and came unbuttoned I EVER gonna land of these toads?”

Farther south, Lance Peterson, well known East Cape fly-fishing guide, emailed, “I need to know the IGFA record for roosterfish. I may have caught a new world record on four pound.” By the end of the month, he had one rooster and one broomtail grouper, both potential world records! The paperwork is on its way to headquarters for review.

Mid-month, Lance and Brad Ellis took a quickie fishing trip to Magdalena Bay. "Our Magdalena trip was great. We really killed it on both days. Numerous species plus we brought fourteen snook to hand in two days and was broke off by a really good one.

The fishing was pretty impressive. Most were smaller fish but still cool as hell, I had never caught a snook on fly so I was stoked."

February Frenzy continued: Stacy Corbin fishing the beach with Grant Hartman, Baja Anglers in Cabo San Lucas, reported the results of his beach trip on the Pacific side. "I went up north with Grant Hartman on a snook hunting adventure to one of his secret snook spots. The place holds snook and snapper that exceed 50 pounds. Grant is convinced that it holds a world record, which is probably why I was blindfolded on the way in (grin). We went down arroyos, through Cardón Cactus forests, and loose beach sand and I was sure we would get stuck several times. But Grant is a long time beach bum and knew what his rig would do in certain situations. It was sandblast-your-legs windy, and believe it or not, really cold in the morning with the north winds blowing, but I did get my elusive first snook on the fly. I can now check snook on the fly off the bucket list!"

Late in the month, Steve Cushing, along with a couple of buddies from the Northwest, also reported on the February Frenzy at East Cape.
"We caught small dorado, two five to six-pound roosters, bonito, skip jacks, and one nice sierra. We also found a mako slowly swimming on the surface. We couldn't get him to take a fly.... but a dead mackerel worked. We also caught a few ladyfish from the beach, saw tons of whales breaching everywhere, along with huge schools of dolphin. We had calm seas and great weather. Fun trip and we'll be back in late June.”

Finally up north off of Colonet there was a serious whack on some quality yellows.
This rounded off the February frenzy in Baja that went unnoticed by many but was thoroughly enjoyed by some.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Baja's baddest bill collector

Martha Macnab, with five of the nine qualifying bills.

Martha Macnab, an outstanding angler, received official notification this week that she had qualified to become a member of one of International Game Fish Association's most prestigious clubs, the Royal Billfish Slam Club . The species required to become a member are Atlantic blue marlin, pacific blue marlin, Atlantic sail fish, pacific sail fish, white marlin, striped marlin, black marlin, swordfish and spearfish. Of the previous 89 members of the club who have managed to accomplish the catches, only six were women; Martha is now the seventh!

She literally traveled thousands of miles and fished two oceans to accomplish what many would consider an impossible feat…landing the nine (9) different species of billfish! Rebecca Wright, IGFA Records Coordinator, acknowledged receipt of the catches and assured Martha that she would be receiving a certificate attesting to her achievement shortly.

Martha, a friend and a resident of Buena Vista in Baja Sur, Mexico, began her journey many years ago with her first catch in the series, striped marlin. She has released well over 400 of them with her best single day's catch of 23 on the Finger Bank above Cabo San Lucas.

In 2007, she traveled all the way to Isla Mujeres to fish in one of the International Women Fishing Association’s Tournaments. Fishing on the yacht, Havin' a Ball, she landed several Atlantic sailfish.
Her white marlin was landed aboard her 58' boat, the Retriever, between Aruba and Cartagena, Columbia, on a voyage from Florida to the West Coast.

The Pacific sails she landed were in three different countries…Panama (Tropic Star), Guatemala (Fins 'N Feathers and Casa Viejo) and her home waters in Mexico. Her skipper in Guatemala was Mike Sheeder, younger brother of Captain Chris Sheeder, with whom she had fished in Midway Islands.
The waters off of Baja continued to live up to Martha's expectations as she landed a 645-pound black marlin on the Gordo Bank, and two more of the nine bills needed, a 530-pound Pacific blue marlin and a swordfish weighing in at a respectable 260 pounds near the Cabrillo Seamount. These were also taken aboard her own boat, the Retriever.

Ironically the smallest of the billfish is considered the rarest, and it was the most difficult for her to add to the list. Last year she travelled all the way to Kona, Hawaii, to catch a short billed spearfish (Tetrapturus angustirostiris). Locals call them 'Chuckers'. Six days on the water at the height of season produced six blue marlin and eight striped marlin, but disappointingly, Martha lost a 'Chucker' at the last moment right at the boat.

This year she returned to Hawaii to fish once again on the Northern Lights with Captain Kevin Nakamaru and crew Tracey Epstein. Hoping to get that 9th notch in her rod, she suffered five days through what could only be described as slow fishing. Until the last ten minutes of the trip, all that had occurred was a blue bite that broke off and one ahi (yellowfin tuna) which she caught!

Before the fat lady could sing, however, a pair of ‘Chuckers’ appeared in the wake and both struck the lures violently! Only one was hooked, but with that short-billed spearfish, Martha achieved the goal that had eluded her for a number of years!

Martha and her husband, Larry Warlaumont, who also maintain a home on Balboa Island, are well-known world-wide for their sport fishing exploits.
"I am pretty excited and proud to become the 90th member of IGFA's Royal Grand Slam Club and the seventh woman to achieve this goal and I am very thankful to Kevin Nakamaru and the other great Captains and crew members who found the fish." Martha Macnab.