Sunday, January 16, 2011

It is what it is…

Bob McEniry struggles to hold up one of the roosters that prompted Rancho Leonero owner John Ireland to declare 2011 the best roosterfish season he had ever witnessed at East Cape!

As 2010 comes to a close and 2011 begins, I'm reminded of sitting on the tailgate of my parents' station wagon many years ago with a childhood friend whose name has long been forgotten. As we bounced along a dusty country road, legs dangling over the edge, my friend posed the question, "Wouldn't you rather see where you're going than where you've been?"  

El Nino, the mantra of 2009, was replaced by La Nina in 2010, producing enough surprises to leave old timers either shaking their heads in dismay or rolling their eyes in wonder.
The bubbles in the leftover champagne from new year's celebration had barely gone flat before hints indicated that 2010 would be a different kind of year. Pleasant weather, an early snook snap at Magdalena Bay followed by a white seabass run, huge yellowtail just outside of casting range in front of East Cape hotels, and Humboldt squid within tin boat range were all clues.

As the mild winter faded into early spring, the weirdness continued. The traditional offshore fishing season got off to a slow start, which disappointed many.  Along the beaches of East Cape the sardina failed to appear, yet schools of hungry roosterfish with a disproportionate number of larger fish mixed in became common and were the spring highlight that remarkably continued into late October. This prompted Rancho Leonero owner John Ireland to comment that it had been the best roosterfish season he had ever witnessed at East Cape!

Late in June, offshore conditions began a transformation. Mysteriously,  the missing sardina suddenly returned, signaling the late arrival of the much awaited 'spring' offshore season in the first week in July.
"All in all, this week will be remembered as one of those weeks at East Cape when you should have been here!" proclaimed local resident, Mark Rayor, Vista Sea Sport.    

Suddenly the La Nina condition produced what would become one of the most memorable tuna seasons with catches of 100-plus pound tuna as the norm, with a few exceeding the two hundred pound mark.  The tuna season stretched all the way into October.
Later in July, the 11th Annual Bisbee's East Cape Offshore Tournament 'road show' arrived and La Nina was definitely their friend, producing near-record catches plus three new tournament records set by the 56-boat field for the three day event.
Adding an exclamation point to what has been referred to as the "Morning After" season was the extraordinary number of black marlin landed from October through December at Cabo San Lucas.

So what can we expect in 2011? Sampling the answers I have received to that question has left plenty of wiggle-room…

Mark Rayor, Jen Wren Sportfishing, was cautiously optimistic.  "This should be a great season.  Several weeks ago while fishing off of Cabo, we witnessed the Mexican Navy chasing a tuna seiner out.  There is more vigilance to protect our great resource, plus there has been less sport fishing pressure for the last couple of years with the down U.S. economy.  It all equates to more fish for the anglers who are here."

Tim Barnett, Marine physicist emeritus at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography:   "What happens next?  Most of the forecast models show the La Nina ramping down to 'normal' conditions by summer.  From a probability point of view, this is also the most likely forecast.  However, a few of the models predict a continuation of cold conditions through 2011...a second consecutive cold year.  Historically, a strong La Nina event is followed by a continuation of cold conditions into the next year about half the time."

"All things considered, I think the ocean will return to normal conditions by next summer...however, I sure wouldn't bet the farm on that forecast coming true.  I am sure by spring we will have a clearer idea of how the event will play out."

After 60 years, I'm still contemplating my friends question.  But looking back over my many years in Baja, my guess is that while the season may take a few unusual twists and turns along the way, it will be another exciting Baja season. After all 'it is what it is'