Thursday, September 30, 2010


Hook and line seemed to offer a viable alternative to gillnetting with the potential result of eliminating the turtle by-catch entirely.

Several years ago I wrote about my friend, Hoyt Peckham, PhD and Director of International Relations for the La Paz –based Grupo Tortuguero de Las Californias, AC. Hoyt and his energetic and ambitious team of ten or so full-time year-round and seasonal staff plus a dozen or so interns (students from Latin America), have been seeking ways to improve the efficiency and reduce the by-catch of gillnets.

A recent email from Hoyt contained some exciting news. “Not sure you’ve heard about our initiative to train, equip and finance commercial fishermen from the local gillnet fleet to try hook-and-line fishing? The plan is to get them up to speed, cover their initial costs, and generate enough volume to attract some of the various buyers interested in exporting hook-and-line, fresh caught grouper and sand bass,” he wrote.

Proyecto Caguama was initiated in 2004 to engage local fishermen in mitigating and eliminating their by-catch. Through workshops conducted each fishing season, fishermen proposed modifications to their traditional gillnet techniques that could maintain or increase the profitability of the commercially viable target species while reducing or eliminating loggerhead by-catch.

Between the years of 2004 and 2008, controlled experiments to test the variety of modifications were explored, and while offering some encouragement, they were not enough to decrease the current by-catch of the 700 to 800 turtles significantly. The conclusion was that encouraging different net techniques which failed to reduce the by-catch kill-rate dramatically would be foolish.

The group’s focus then turned to ways of finding methods which would increase value-to-catch ratio…simply stated, earning more money with fewer fish.

For five seasons, participatory research, funded in part by NFWF, was conducted under the leadership of local fishermen. Hook-and-line seemed to offer a viable alternative to gillnetting with the potential result of eliminating the turtle by-catch entirely.

During the summer of 2009, seed funding was acquired to equip three crews with gear for bottom trolling and jigging. They received two weeks of onboard training from master hook fishermen. Onboard observations of 35 hook and 29 gillnet trips were conducted to record the results. Both methods were fished primarily over rocky bottoms for grouper. Catch rate and value-per-trip results were hook-catch by species (grouper) 79% ,while gillnet-catch composition was much less selective at 13% (also grouper).

Semi-structured interviews with local grouper fishing captains suggested that 58% would be willing to switch to hook-fishing under current market and fishery conditions. The principal concern of all fishermen regarding switching was the viability of a preferential market for hook-caught fish.

The most encouraging result was that switching the fleet from gillnet to hook-fishing could result in the sparing of hundreds of loggerheads per year because hook-fishing catches zero turtles. In addition to sparing turtles, hook-and-line fishing is also far more selective of target fish, therefore resulting in substantially lower numbers of by-catch, which in turn encourages greater sustainability of fisheries and ecosystems.

During the past year, Hoyt and his team devoted much of their time painstakingly working with the majority of local fishing co-ops. After numerous trips to Mexico City and Mazatlan, plus a well-attended ‘first of its kind’ Inter Institutional meeting in Lopez Mateos, PROFEPA, SEMARNAT, SAGARPA, CONAPESCA, SEPESCA, CONANP, and CRIP agreed to endorse the experimental initiative.

Demonstrating the government’s support of this project, the local Presidente Municipal recently confirmed the program was permitted by all relevant agencies for the benefit of the commercial fishermen of the area. He also commented that the program was an unusual opportunity for the gillnetters to be compensated for learning new techniques and opening a new market. Wholesale fish buyers from the United States have indicated that there is a strong demand for and clear added-value to be had with hook-caught fish.

Armed with the funding and science, along with the acceptance of many gillnetters willing to make the switch to hook-and-line fishing, Hoyt and his team are moving forward to implement the program.

Its ultimate success will be the introduction of a fishing method that is more selective and more profitable, while reducing turtle mortality dramatically. This is a lofty goal and I am sure that there will be a few bumps along the way. However, Hoyt Peckham and his Grupo Tortuguero team have demonstrated remarkable success in the past and many of us in Baja will be following the progress of this ambitious program with intense interest.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hello…it’s tuna, tuna, tuna time!

During check-in the first night, every angler will be a winner.

August 25, 2010

In rapid succession, East Cape's Mark Rayor IM'd me that it was WFO for tuna and the hotels were nearly empty with only a few boats going out each day; simultaneously, Eric Brictson, Gordo Banks Pangas’ report arrived declaring, "On Wednesday the season’s second super-cow yellowfin tuna was landed off of the Gordo Banks from a 22’ panga. Local La Playita skipper, Jose Gonzalez, and angler, Josh Evans, from Oakland, CA, were trolling a live Pacific moonfish rigged on 200-pound leader attached to 80-pound main line when the cow hit. It took three hours to bring the monster to gaff and the fish officially weighed in at a whopping 342 pounds.”

The following day, Pat McDonnell called to discuss my assignment for this year and to confirm Yvonne's flight for the 2010 WON/Yamaha 12th Annual Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot that begins November 3rd…just a day or two short of two months away.

Everyone assumed that last year's 383-pound yellowfin caught by Oscar Daccerett's team on the FIsher Man…the fifth largest yellowfin ever caught on rod and reel, the largest ever in Cabo and the largest ever in a tournament setting…would be impossible to beat. However, recent reports seem to suggest that there are already some huge tuna swimming around the tip of Baja that could top that remarkable catch.

This year Hotel Tesoro and National Car Rental are offering a special package allowing two people to share a room and car for only $100 per day. You can book this special by going directly to their official tuna jackpot website Another bonus this year for anyone choosing to bring their own boats down is that theMarina is offering two free nights’ slip fees for every five nights’ stay.

The expanded and redesigned Hotel Tesoro's new marina entrance will be the location for the weigh-in sponsored by Cabo Marina and Gray's Taxidermy. The new Western Outdoor News Tuna Jackpot weigh-scale is being built by Dale Cote of Dreammaker Charters and funded by Gray's Taxidermy. There will be no more long walks to and from the scale by teams, plus there will be more docking room for sportfishers.

With its bars and restaurants close by, Hotel Tesoro is the perfect central marina-side venue for viewing the weigh-ins, and is easily the most convenient hotel for the event and the marina itself.

During check-in the first night, every angler will be a winner. Each participant will receive a variety of Mustad hook packs, an embroidered tee-shirt, an embroidered carry bag, event visor or hat (your choice of colors), a free Mustad contest photo (e-mailed ), plus a wristband allowing the wearer to attend three parties, two sit-down dinners, a new Friday-night-free Fiesta and the Ruth's Chris’ catered awards dinner.

Check in will be at Hotel Tesoro’s second floor pool patio, a great party spot for swimming, having a drink or sitting by the pool and listening to live music by local band Dos Huevos; there you can also buy Tuna Jackpot clothing and compete in the Avet/Seeker Casting Contest for a $600 rod/reel outfit and $400 cash.

Throughout the event, there will be drawings for prizes totaling $150,000, i.e., trips to Alaska, Mexico, Seeker custom Tuna Jackpot rods, Avet reels, tackle bags, Eat Me Lures, Terrafin satellite map memberships, Reactor watches, Costa sunglasses, Mustad hooks, Seaguar fluorocarbon packs, Eat Me Lures, and more.

As with any tournament, the fine-tuning to improve the event continues, but one thing that will never change is the Tournament’s motto…Fish Hard, Party Harder! Party with your buddies at the check-In at the Tesoro pool area, the Yo-Zuri Captain's Meeting, the parties, weigh-ins, shotgun starts, the Mustad Photo Contest (held in cooperation with Gray's, Costa and Reactor), and top it all off by getting your award at the Yamaha/Ruth's Chris’ Awards Dinner at the mall area on Saturday night.

If this year is anything like last year’s event, registration will fill up fast with anglers looking for their 2010 tuna fix. Registration was closed at 104 teams...the maximum number the tournament could accommodate. Last year

Don’t miss out on the camaraderie of this fun event. Enter your team early so you aren’t one of the teams that are turned away!

To paraphrase a Vietnam-era song, "And It's One, Two, Three, What Are You Waiting For?"

sign up at

Lopez Mateos abuzz…

I made a cast… and you guessed it, to my chagrin a snook flashed out of the submerged mangroves and grabbed my fly…not one of the clients'.

August 11, 2010

Earlier in the year, I had planned a trip with a few clients to coincide with the most favorable August tides. Last week, I arrived at Lopez Mateos anticipating some exciting Estero action without even considering there might be some excellent offshore prospects. In spite of the fact that the 11th Annual Bisbee’s East Cape Offshore Tournament the week before had remarkable offshore fishing and had set three new tournament records among the 56-boat fleet,

You can imagine my astonishment when shortly after my arrival, Bob Hoyt of Mag Bay Outfitters, excitedly rushed into the compound asking me to follow him and take pictures of a swordfish that had just been brought in on his boat the Mar Gato.

Sure enough when I arrived at his storage yard, there hung an estimated 170 pound fresh-caught swordfish with quite a bit of its color still remaining, and alongside the swordfish stood the Captain, Sergio Garcia, and the crew consisting of Mitch Perkins, the angler, Steve Harwell from Santa Barbara and Jeff Lee from San Diego, all displaying proud grins. According to Mitch, it was one of two swordfish they had spotted finning on the surface near shore in off-color green water. The first one sunk out before a bait could be presented, but the second one remained on the surface long enough for several presentations of a trolled dead mackerel before pouncing on it.

Rod and reel swordfish are not common in Lopez Mateos. In this case, however, the real oddity was that the fish was hooked and fought on 30-pound test tackle by the surprised angler, a feat usually left to light tackle trophy addicts.

The following day, before my Estero anglers arrived, another boat came in with more encouraging offshore news. Fishing in an area twelve miles off Boca Soledad where the water only a few weeks ago had been 63° and at that time was producing only small bluefin tuna, now there were limits of dorado and yellowfin tuna being caught in the same water reaching the high 70°s.

The following morning, my Estero fishermen (mostly fly fishing) loaded up in two boats and headed north for a favorite spot near Boca Santo Domingo. Good conditions and mild currents only provided moderate action for grouper, pargo, corvina and some serious mystery bites that were not landed. Throughout that day and the remainder of the trip, the Estero fishing remained mediocre. The only bright spot (sort of) was while having the boat set up at Devil's Curve to accommodate a left and right hand caster in stiff winds, I made a cast… and you guessed it, to my chagrin a snook flashed out of the submerged mangroves and grabbed my fly…not one of the clients'. All I can say is that the catch probably answered the question of what some of the lost mystery bites had been during the clients' trip.

In early December of 2008, in a column titled "Proyecto Caguama", I introduced my readers to Hoyt Peckham, a man who has had remarkable success working to find effective ways to lower the by-catch of Loggerhead turtles with the local fishing Ejidios in the Lopez area.

Peckham is currently embarking on a new initiative to train, equip and finance fishermen from the local gillnet fleet to try hook and line fishing. The idea is to get them up to speed, cover their initial costs, and hopefully generate enough volume to attract some of the various buyers interested in exporting hook-and-line-caught fresh or live grouper and sand bass.

Last year there were several boats involved in the program, and with additional funding he anticipates expanding the program tremendously this year.

The day before I began my journey home, additional clients and I made a quick trip offshore, finding a sleeper only a few mile out and still farther out at the twelve-mile drop off, we found ourselves fishing in the middle of four tuna seiners wrapping tuna where we found plenty of quality dorado to twenty-five pounds. On our way back inside, in an area loaded with large breezing schools of sardines, though we spent only a few minutes looking, we found a few marlin feeders in the mix.

The much anticipated outstanding spring fishing season expected to follow the "El Nino" has been a long-time coming. However, judging from the recent reports Baja Sur is finally "game on".

Tie one on….

July 27, 2010

On July 14th, the following notice (in part) was posted in the Bisbee's 2010 Tournament News: "In this 30th anniversary year, with valuable input from our Advisory Council, we are proud to set a new milestone by joining the growing ranks of conservation-minded tournaments everywhere that have adopted a "circle hooks only" policy when fishing with natural bait."

Before the ink was dry on the posting, irate emails protesting Bisbee's decision began appearing in my inbox from several participants of the annual Bisbee Tournament series. The litany was nothing new; “Can’t trust ‘em,” “I’ve tried but can’t hook the fish,” “I keep losing fish…it’s just too hard to get a good hook set…the fish are too large,” and finally, “we will never fish in their tournaments again!” You could almost see them rolling their eyes back and growling their disproval.

My, my! You would think that some of these folks have been on another planet or at least way out of touch with the mainstream of sportfishing and conservation.

The lists which have endorsed the use of circle hooks includes almost every major sportfishing conservation organization around. International Game Fish Association, The Billfish Foundation and many others conducted their own studies on the circle hook and based on the scientific evidence concluded that circles were much more practical from a conservation and catch perspective.

Regular J-hooks will imbed themselves on the first irregular surface they touch in the fish’s mouth, whereas, with a circle, the line comes tight and if the fish turns even slightly the circle hook travels through and slips until it catches on the corner of the mouth. Because of the unusual shape, the fish is seldom hooked anywhere other than in the corner of the mouth, which allows for a released fish that is virtually undamaged.

Are circle hooks a new technology? Hardly. Native fishermen hundreds of years ago began fabricating bone, deer or elk antler hooks by hand that looked suspiciously like today’s circle hooks. You only have to visit your local Natural History Museum to find displays of bone hooks that are virtually identical to today’s circle design. By the early-1900s, anglers in Southern California had discovered the merits of circles and were catching some impressive-sized billfish and tuna using them. About the same time, commercial fishermen discovered that they worked perfectly to catch tuna as well as bottom fish. Pretty soon saltwater anglers everywhere began to sing the praises of circles.

Captain Ron Hamlin in Guatemala, who has released thousands of billfish during his career, states that hook-up ratios are higher and lost fish are very, very uncommon. Ron continues that the old-fashioned J-hooks lose more marlin and sailfish unless you have no clue on how to effectively fish the circles. Just like always, people hate change and these “new” hooks require a big change in technique.

"Like any new technique, to master hooking marlin with a circle hook takes practice. Big marlin bites are few and far between, so it is virtually impossible for a team to tune up before tournament time. Their first chance to try it may very well come with a million bucks on the line." according to Rod Halperin, Tournament Director, California Billfish Series whose events changed to an all circle format several years back.

Instead of a standard hook set, when using circles, allow the fish to take the bait and swim away. Slowly increase drag pressure until the line comes tight. As simple as the circle hook set sounds, old habits die hard and it may take a few attempts to make the adjustments.

When comparisons are drawn between the more popular J-hook and the circle, the enthusiastic comments include “more user friendly,” “safer,” “higher hook-up ratio,” and “more attractive from a conservation perspective.”

Looking back at the history of sportfishing, anglers have repeatedly displayed the very human characteristic of resistance to change. Remember how long it took to convince the angling community to accept release and reduce the number fish brought to the scales? When fluorocarbon was introduced there was controversy. Need more? How about chemically sharpened hooks, or braided line. If you look at your tackle box you will find your own examples.

I should admit that I have been a member of the Avalon Tuna Club for two decades and it still expects its members to fish with only linen and Dacron line to receive recognition.

It is important to distinguish the difference between change and innovation. Forget the controversy over circles; just tie one on…they work.

The "Morning After" season

About the same time, the bubba-sized roosters arrived early along the East Cape beaches in quantity, impervious to the north wind.
July 13, 2010

Unless you watch the reports every week, it’s easy to overlook the subtle nuances of fishing, as days become weeks and weeks become months that ultimately become the season.

In January, 2010, in my column, "The Endless Season", I recounted the great catches of 2009, most of which could be attributed to the El Nino. Because the 2009 season was extraordinarily good, everyone was optimistic about the 2010 prospects.

The new year began normally enough, with the tin-boaters daily putt-putting along the shores of East Cape before the north wind cranked up mid-morning…scoring enough sierra and small dorado to keep the cerviche bowl full for the weekend football games.

Locals and visitors alike commented on the pleasant weather and water temperatures that remained in the mid-seventies. There were weeks, bookended by north winds, when a few boats found not only quality dorado to 35 pounds, but sailfish and marlin as well. But the expected striped marlin bite off Cabo that had occurred for the past several years just never happened.

In February, the windy weeks overshadowed the good ones; a few anglers traveled to Magdalena Bay in search of better conditions. Most weren’t disappointed with the results. There were limits of snook and Lance Peterson had the good fortune to land a broomtail grouper on a fly. (This was recently approved as a new IGFA world record).

By March, it became clear that the Baja season had veered from the normal path to one distinctly colored yellow, as in yellowtail. Mossback-sized yellowtail became common in the reports from East Cape, past Loreto and up into the Bay of Los Angeles. On the Pacific side, from Magdalena Bay to the Viscaino Peninsula, yellowtail were everywhere and quality white sea bass was found at Magdalena. About the same time, the bubba-sized roosters arrived early along the East Cape beaches in quantity, impervious to the north wind.

By April, the sardina, a fundamental part of Baja's food chain, disappeared and offshore fishing remained tough. On the Pacific side at Magdalena Bay, the yellowtail and white seabass snap gained momentum, producing fish in the 20 to 30 pound class. But in spite of ideal conditions at Cabo, the striped marlin were still not showing and the yellowfin tuna were few and far between.

In May, a month that is normally considered the heart of the season, the turnaround that locals swore would materialize, failed to materialize. Offshore action was practically non-existent forcing many boats in the fleet to focus on the inshore where an incredible show of large roosterfish was waiting. Black snook were also featured in back-to-back weekly reports. One 27-pounder was caught in a landlocked lagoon at East Cape.

The lack of sardine, coupled with the cooler water temperatures, had a severe negative impact on the annual dorado season in Loreto. After several false starts, literally overnight during a full moon in June, the Sea of Cortez yielded large tuna schools with fish up to 200 pounds offshore beneath the breezing porpoise. Billfish began to show and at Gordo Bank a few swordfish were found. Though not a bonanza, enough dorado were being caught. And at Magdalena Bay, striped marlin, along with schools of dorado and tuna, arrived early.

Over the 4th of July, the Sea of Cortez erupted! The delayed season the locals insisted would arrive…finally did. There were few sardina, lots of tuna…big tuna, (as well as some football sized) with some as close as the green water line a few hundred yards off the East Cape shore. Dorado action increased; a huge 104-pound wahoo was caught off La Ribera and enough billfish showed to give the Bisbee Tournament gang hope later this month. Oh, and one more oddity…currently there are bluefin tuna being caught within a few miles of the beach at Magdalena Bay.

So the season following the 2009 El Nino that some had dubbed the ‘odd season’ arrived a few months late with an unusual cast of characters as a prelude to what is now being hailed as the ‘Morning After’ season.

As in football the game is made up of two halves; it will be fun to watch and see if we have another strong post half-time finish rivaling the one in 2009.