Sunday, June 20, 2010

Baja Reboot

The Sebile Magic swimmer were roosterfish candy.

Recently I shared time in Baja with friends, outdoor writers from California, some of whom were experiencing Baja for their first time. Their enthusiasm and excitement was infectious as they experienced one adventure after another. This awakened memories of my own and allowed me to consider my 40+ years of Baja experiences through fresh eyes.

Baja's main attraction is and always has been the fishing. But if you drill down a little further, you realize that it is the catching that counts. As in baseball, it is the play-by-play single base hits that keep you entertained as you hope for that home run.

To put this in perspective, Ray Cannon, first Baja Editor of Western Outdoor News, opened the floodgates of anglers to Baja. First a trickle that soon grew into a steady torrent of fishermen flocked to the area, thus feeding the growth of tourism.

I knew Ray and I can tell you that he was all about catching…not about riding around all day looking for that one trophy catch. He devoted a whole chapter of his book, Sea of Cortez, to catching what my friend, Jonathan Roldan of Tailhunter International, describes as "scaly snakes" or giant needlefish.

In a week that most of the fishing reports were marginal, my Baja ‘newbie’ friends rocked! When they boarded their respective boats in La Paz, they lacked any preconceived notions or expectations. Simply stated, they just wanted to catch fish. The odds were pretty good that whatever they caught would probably be a ‘first’ of a species for them.

Each evening when we gathered for dinner, they had a fish story to tell. The species list was everything from exotic to “you caught what”? To them, every fish was a trophy. They marveled over the strength, speed and acrobatics of their catches. Photos proved that none of their catches were huge, but size didn't seem to matter.
Over the next few days the species list grew; dorado, roosterfish, jack cravelle, bonito, pargo, cabrilla, triggerfish, trumpet fish and one angler even brought out his fly rod and said he had a great time landing, (yep you guessed it), six needlefish on the fly!

At the Fred Hall Show this year, Patrick Sebile, the innovative lure designer had given me some of his latest creation, the magic swimmer, to test-drive. I gave a couple of them to the gang to try. They worked successfully on the roosterfish and there are photos to prove it.

Like Ray Cannon the ‘newbie's’ focused their trip on catching and not intentionally seeking a catch of a lifetime or even worrying about a trophy sized fish. But this is not the end of the story.

Harry Morse, Public Information Officer with CDFG from Sacramento, fished out of Playa del Sol aboard the Maria II with Captain Martin and landed a swordfish weighing between 172 and 176 kilos. The huge fish was caught on a mackerel cast to it while it was finning on the surface.

The battle that ensued for nearly four hours almost ended at the mid-point when the monofilament line began to fray. When Captain Martin realized the fraying line might part, he asked the mate to bring out a second outfit to attach to the swivel on the 20 ft. leader. Between the second and third hour, Morse managed to bring the fish close to the boat but not close enough to attach to the second rod. Finally, on the third attempt, the second line was snapped to the swivel. With Bruce Ajari manning the second rod the seesaw battle continued for almost two more hours. Then, after untangling the flying gaff rope from the propeller, they landed the beast.

As I retold my story to some old gray-bearded Baja veterans, their smug expression reflected their disapproval. I saw the disdain they had over the needlefish and miscellaneous species the first-timers had been so excited over. Maybe the Baja veterans should do a Baja reboot and remember it’s the catching that counts not the fishing. It is easy to overlook an angler’s first trip but it may set the stage for a lifetime of Baja adventures.

In the end, the swordfish became one part of the newbie Baja stories that will be told and retold by all about their first Baja visit. Morse said this ends his desire to fight big bill fish. Every muscle in his body hurt and Ajari decided to go back to fly-fishing! But both are eager to return to Baja.