Several of my friends have accused me of flying low when I drive back and forth on Mex 1. Over Labor Day weekend I had the opportunity to do just that. I was invited to fly to La Bocana, Baja Sur, in a Cessna 402 with the organizers of the Torneo Internacional de Pesca.
We departed from Ensenada Military airport at midday and flying at low altitude down the west coast of Baja, gazing down on the sprawling Baja countryside punctuated by small fish camps, villages and towns on miles of deserted beaches and wide open spaces, it was a fascinating revelation of how much of Baja is still undeveloped.
The entire trip to Abreojos, including the brief landing at San Quintin to pick up the remainder of the tournament staff, was slightly less than three hours. (Note to self: Find sponsor to cover flying cost!). As the plane taxied to a stop on the dirt airstrip and the door flew open, a group of Cooperativa Progresso members led by President Enrique Espinoza greeted us. After introductions, handshakes and abrazos, everyone entered the waiting pickups and headed north for ten miles to La Bocana leaving a cloud of dust; then straight to the beach where bright orange canopies provided shade from the blazing afternoon sun for the growing crowd of eager fishermen.
Business was brisk at the tables of local and visiting entrepreneurs that were covered with both new and used tackle as would-be anglers tested the bend of the rods and the smoothness of the reel drags. Of course there was a coffin-sized cooler filled with soft drinks and cerveza covered with ice that attracted its own crowd.
Throughout the afternoon, sponsors and organizers Pedro Sors, owner of Caña & Carrete, and Julio Meza, owner of Fishco, the largest Shimano dealer in Baja, renewed old friendships while making new ones. The big swell and large surf that had pounded the beaches all week was a major topic of conversation that at times was nearly drowned out by blaring Mexican music. By six o’clock, 121 anglers fishing on 35 boats had registered and paid their $25 entry fee which included their boat fee.
The music was silenced and the Captains’ meeting was called to order. Tournament officials covered the tournament rules, based on I.G.F.A. rules, in detail, as well as the Mexican Sportfishing regulations and the qualifying species which included yellowfin tuna, dorado, marlin, yellowtail and halibut. Noticeably missing from the list were grouper and black seabass.
Late last year the members of Cooperativa Progresso voted to implement several changes in the regulations in their area. Grouper and black seabass would no longer be fished commercially; furthermore only one of either species may be caught per day with sportfishing tackle and it MUST be released. Another significant change was that the entire esteros is now off limits for gillnets of any kind. Both rule changes were effective January 1, 2011. Hopefully other Cooperativa's will follow Progresso's lead in the future. Imagine Magdalena Bay without nets?
When the meeting was finished, the music resumed and the party continued into the night. Early Saturday morning the beach was a beehive of activity as anglers found their assigned boats and loaded their gear. At exactly 7:00 a.m., Julio Meza fired the flare signaling the beginning of the tournament. As the boats sped out of the boca, it was clear that the favored direction was to the north toward San Hipolito.
By the time the weigh-in began a 3:00 p.m., the beach was packed with family and friends. While some children played in the water, others were fishing for the prizes reserved just for them. Meanwhile a Mexican band played as fish were brought to the scale. An animated volleyball game entertained others. Closer to the beach a small traditional Mexican combo drew its own crowd. Carne de Puerco tacos with all the trimmings was served for anyone who was hungry. Of course the huge cooler had been refilled and people crowded around for just one more drink.
As the fish were weighed, the seven largest were hung up for display only to be replaced as a larger one came in. By the end of the day it was clear that though the fishing was good, the yellowtail had dominated the catch and the event had become a "yellowtail shootout" though there were a few small dorado and halibut. The largest fish was a 31+ pound yellow and prizes were awarded through the 7th largest plus special awards for fish caught from the shore by young anglers.
The event was sponsored by Cooperativa Progresso, Julio Meza, Fishco, Shimano and Pedro Sors of Caña y Carrete.