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Going Down

The trip down the coast to Cabo San Lucas should be experienced by everyone before they die. After making the trip several times I can say that each experience is different and memorable in its own way. I had the privilege of making the journey a few years ago with one of the top captains on the southern California coast and I can still recall many of the escapades encountered along the way. The late Captain Steve “P-bod” Reschke was not only well known up and down the Baja coast, but he had secret spots that to this day still produce for me on my trips and I have yet to see another boat on them.

I would recommend leaving late in the evening with a full tank of fuel and bait so your trip can begin with trolling and paddy hopping in the zone at grey light. On a side note about fuel, I just completed this trip one week ago and found out that fuel in Ensenada, Mexico is not as plentiful as it once was. Due to shortages, most boats are limited to 200 gallons, so make sure you’re full when you leave. Once grey light was upon us it was only a short time before we found ourselves in and amongst the day boats of San Diego trolling for tuna while looking for kelps to put a few dorado on board for dinner. The first realization that this trip will be different is after you have managed a great day’s catch, you continue south towards warmer waters for even better fishing. Sliding down the coast is not a race and every minute should be enjoyed. There are a few stops before Cedros Island but I find myself taking the most direct route in order to enjoy what this island has to offer.

Once you arrive at Cedros Island, Benitos Island can be seen to the west and you soon realize that the air temperature has just risen by ten degrees and you will not be wearing long pants again until you return to this point when heading back north. Cedros is a magical place for yellowtail and calico bass as the kelp beds are thick and the rocks below wait to break your line. We pulled up to the southwest corner of the island and it was game on immediately with calico bass to seven pounds and yellowtail dragging your surface into the kelp to be lost forever. Note to self; bring plenty of tackle, as these fish are not near as polite as their northern cousins. We anchored for the evening at spot called “Black Rock” near a small fishing village where you soon learn that all of these local fisherman are happy to see you and not only enjoy conversation but love to receive T-shirts and fresh water. A few things to remember before leaving for Cabo is a grill with plenty of fuel and the will power to push yourself away from the table because there are only three things to do on these trips, drive, fish, and eat like a king. Sure I have done the microwave trips but nothing beats a meal of steaks, fresh fish, baked potatoes, and grilled corn on the cob while planning the next days fishing adventure.

The next stop for most boats is Bahia De Tortuga (Turtle Bay) for fuel. Turtle Bay marks the halfway point and is a great anchorage to hold up in should the weather come up while transiting the coast. Turtle Bay is the site of a now closed cannery and houses a few people and an old steel pier, which supplies fuel. In order to fuel at Turtle you need to drop your anchor and tie stern to the dock (i.e. Mediterranean Moor). The process of fueling can be an adventure in a stiff southern breeze since you are beam to the wind and should there be large tide swings, make sure you schedule your time to coincide with the high tide as I have kicked up mud on more than a few occasions. The people at the pier are quick to receive a line and after securing your vessel are soon tossing you another line attached to the fuel nozzle. Once you have fueled, the nozzle is passed back and a can on a string comes flying your way with the bill. You simply place the money for the fuel in the can and they pull it back and untie your lines and it is off to parts further south known as “hoo” country. At the right time of year you can expect to catch the most amazing mixed bag of fish you will probably ever encounter.

Once again, I can’t stress enough the importance of planning your trip on arriving at the fishing spots at the right time of day. On this trip we anchored in Turtle Bay for a few hours to make another spectacular dinner and prepare the tackle for the next days fishing. We pulled anchor at 7:00pm for a nice slow cruise so as to arrive at the top of the ridge in the morning. What ensued that morning has yet to be matched on any trips before or since. Captain P-bod ordered the wahoo jigs in the water and we trolled for a good twenty minutes before our first bite. After a mere two hours, we had no room for anymore wahoo and the grade of fish ranged to upwards of 60 pounds. Another note to self; make sure to have plenty of freezer space available because you’re going to need it. After some insane wahoo fishing with heavy metal head banging music blaring, it was off to our next stop to catch bait and ready the gear for tomorrow’s antics. The next stop would be Santa Maria located north of the entrance to Magdalena Bay.

Santa Maria is known for an easy anchorage with plenty of bait and apparently a great surf spot according those in the know. On my most recent trip, there were two surf nuts in the boat that had brought their boards with them. These guys paddled out into large south swell that providing endless hours of glassy, uncrowded, overhead surf that you see in the movies. When I say there wasn’t a crowd, I mean it was these two guys for hours all alone. When they returned to the boat they just had that glassy stare you get when everything is perfect. Heading out the next morning with plenty of mackerel, it was for an amazing Mag Bay striped marlin bite. If you’ve ever thought of learning to fish marlin, this I the place to practice as you will have plenty of chances to screw up. It so easy in fact that you can convince yourself that you are much better than you really are. Over the horizon you begin to see the Frigates in the gyro’s and you know it’s only a matter of time before the first striped marlin of many is to be hooked and released. If you like to keep track of how many you catch, you had better designate someone to count because there is no way you can keep up with it while fishing.

After a long day of pulling on marlin, it is time to enter Magdalena Bay to take on more fuel. The fuel dock is actually located in San Carlos, which is on the upper end of the bay. The zigzag channel is not one to be taken lightly as shallow water abounds on both sides. Once you reach San Carlos, you will notice all of the steel commercial boats that appear to licking their chops for a fiberglass meal. You need to be very careful in here, as these captains are use to side tying up to three deep and big truck tires are the fenders of choice. If you find yourself side tied to one of these guys, make sure you leave someone on board capable of driving the boat or you could become a gel coat sandwich. You will need to clear your paperwork with the proper authorities while docked and remember; cash is king. Once fueled, Mag Bay is a great anchorage as long as you take into account the ripping tide swings. This is the place to launch your dinghy and go exploring. There are mangroves located throughout which provide for great sight seeing as well as fishing. There are halibut, snook, spotted bay bass, pompano and more that don’t get fished with the heavy pressure so often associated with southern California. If you choose to go into town, be sure to find the tortilla factory, you won’t regret it.

Once you’ve rested up it’s time for more marlin fishing on the outside. If the fishing is good, you will probably choose to fish into the evening and I would recommend anchoring at Tosca which is located to the south of the Mag Bay entrance. This anchorage is kind of small but will suffice as long as there isn’t a large south swell rolling in. Leaving Tosca in the early morning, you can’t help but dream of big blue marlin tearing the drags on your reel to pieces while watching a 400 plus pound fish do a complete 180 degree shift in the blink of an eye. There is nothing in this world that can compare to blue marlin fishing and there is certainly no way it can be described with enough realism to justify my enthusiasm for these magnificent fish. When making the trip south, I look forward to the moment when the Finger Bank and the Morgan Bank start coming into my sights because it is then that I know I am getting near my destination. Last year, in 2007, the Finger Bank saw some of the finest striped marlin fishing ever recorded and to this day I can not remember ever seeing that volume of fish in one spot for that many days in a row.

Working further south, Cabo San Lucas is now on the horizon and the Cabo charter fleet can be seen in every direction. If you have never fished around the Cabo charter fleet, let me tell you it can be an interesting experience. I am not suggesting that anyone be a jerk but you will learn to stand your ground or you will have to learn to find fish where no one else is. The charter fleet is very aggressive when it comes to performing for their customers and there is enough ocean for everyone when you realize that on a private boat you can leave earlier, stay later, and travel farther which translates into less pressured fishing areas which is what you left southern California for in the first place.

Cabo San Lucus, Mexico, Bisbee's Black & Blue Marlin Tournament,  Baja California

For those of you that have made this trip before, you know what a wonderful time it can be. For those of you that are contemplating the trip, beware, southern Baja can be addicting with it’s less than three dollar a gallon fuel and fishing that can easily be described as world class. Cow tuna, Wahoo, Striped Marlin, Sailfish, Blue Marlin, Black Marlin, Swordfish, and Big Bull Dorado are all within a few hours of Cabo San Lucas. Some of the best advice I can give for the trip down is to check your ego on the dock before you leave as I can’t tell you how small even a 100 foot yacht can get if you have the wrong guys on board. With a little forward planning and weather checking you can have the trip of your life with less hassle than a tax return. I will leave you with one last thought, if you can’t tell who the jerk is on the trip, it is probably you.

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