Fishing the Cortez from a Panga
While staying a week in Baja, we decided to go ahead and book an inshore trip for two days. Rancho Leonero has its own fleet and the four of us made reservations for our first day. We got the same skipper my partner had had the previous year, an older man by the name of Indio.
When fishing on the Pangas you typically board at 7 a.m. The first day we got up early and had breakfast, went back to the room and gathered our gear and walked down to the beach in front of the resort.
A beehive of activity was occurring on the beach.
Our two Pangas were already there and the surf was calm enough for them to back the boat onto the beach where we climbed aboard.
The other two in our party boarded their boat and met their young skipper, Jorge, and we were off and running south, where the fishing was the best at that time because that is where the bait had been concentrated. Obviously, where there is bait there are bigger fish feeding.
I found that when fishing from a Panga you always want to buy some bait. We had to run several miles south to meet up with the bait boat, where we purchased a good amount for our live well. This bait is used to bring or keep fish close while you attempt to catch them casting from the boat. If you are trolling, it also helps to keep them in the area as well. Once you hook up, you toss some bait out. It makes things much easier throwing a fly if the fish are eating the bait.
The bait we purchased were sardines (sardinas). Looking at the fish in the live well, I was pleased that the flies that I had tied would imitate the bait quite well in size, shape and color. After getting our bait we began to experience some difficulty with the motor on our Panga. As a result, we lost contact with our other party’s boat and our captain indicated that they would be sending out another boat for my partner and me. After about 15 minutes or so, Indio was able to get the motor functioning so we could proceed. After making the call back to the resort that we were proceeding on, we ran another several miles to an area just offshore and south of the little town of Barracas.
At this point Indio mentioned to me something about some “grande suelos” (big swells). I looked at the water and while the swells were large, I did not get the true meaning of his statement until about an hour later when the north wind kicked in and the seas became very rough.
I should point out here that a north wind is very bad for the fishing because it apparently sends the fish into deeper water. On an inshore trip where fly fishing was our main goal and my partner had some light spinning tackle, we were not prepared to fish deep.
The first hour was not too rough. But casting a fly would be difficult on the pitching deck, so my partner suggested trolling, a tactic that had worked for them the previous year. I pulled out my heaviest rod for this venture, a 12-weight fly rod with a 500-grain fast-sinking line. We let out our lines and began trolling.
About a half hour into this endeavor, I hooked up with a large fish. Just as I did, and Indio cut the motor, my partner hooked up as well.
My 12-weight, which felt like a broomstick, was bent double and I gained about half of my fly line back. All of a sudden, the fish decided it wanted to run and it began peeling off line at an amazing clip. My fly line disappeared and 200 of my 400 yards backing went along with it. In the meantime, my partner had broken off his fish and was giving me encouragement.
On about the third run after gaining some of my backing back and then watching it disappear, my tippet broke. We learned a valuable lesson. We were apparently underlined with 20-pound tippet. According to Indio, 30 and even 40 pounds would have been better. I actually broke 20-pound tippet from the beach on two large fish during the week as well.
You never know what you are going to catch while you are in the ocean. I asked Indio what kind of fish he thought I had hooked. His speculation was a “muy grande toro,” or a Jack Crevalle. We found out that afternoon that a guided angler that day had landed a 35-pound Jack Crevalle on conventional tackle a little north of where we were at. Whatever it was, that fish was extremely strong!
We did catch other fish that day, including a skipjack tuna and Sierra. It was a very rough ride home, but my partner caught a number of small Sierra while trolling a sardine pattern Rapala X-Rap.
Our choice of days to fish the Pangas was terrible.
The second day we chose was almost a mirror image of the first because of another north wind. Boy, do we know how to pick them.
Our fishing partners on the other Panga ran farther south both days and got into some terrific Sierra fishing, landing a number both spin and fly fishing. Bob McClintock of Tahoe City landed a very large Sierra estimated to be in the double digits. It was a very nice one because they typically weigh 2 to 5 pounds, and a 15-pounder is considered to be a trophy.
As it turns out, even though we picked tough days to go out, it gave me a sense of what potential the Sea of Cortez has in the way of a great saltwater fishery.
There is a huge sportfishing industry in these waters and the one concern that I would have is if the bait will continue to be plentiful. The number of Sardines harvested each year for bait seems to be pretty significant. The one positive thing about it is that the locals are using hand nets and not large seines, so the harvest is on a much smaller scale than, say, the Sardine harvest during the Monterey Bay collapse. However, we did hear some concern about the absence of bait, particularly around the resort, from the locals.
Fishing from a Panga is a terrific way to catch a variety of species. Depending on the season, you may catch just about anything that swims in the Sea of Cortez within a couple miles of shore. During our trip the inshore boats were catching Bonito, Cabrilla, Jack Crevalle, Ladyfish, Needlefish, Roosterfish, Sierra, Snapper and my partner even hooked a Grouper that dove into the rocks and planted itself until his line eventually broke.
While not inexpensive, it is worth saving your money to take a trip, particularly with a friend so you can split the fee. While I did not catch as many fish as my friends because I did not switch to spinning gear, I still had a great time.
Everyone told me that typically the seas were much calmer during the time period we were there. The previous year my fishing partner told me that every day was calm, and as a result the fishing was astounding.
Go figure. I should have been there last year!
Bruce Ajari is a Truckee resident and regular fishing columnist for the Sierra Sun and other area newspapers.
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