Cabo San Lucas – A Winter’s Treat!
Sometimes it just pays to be in the right place at the right time. A few weeks back I was having lunch with my friends Kevin Newell (Total Fisherman Guide Service) and John Boyer of Eat Me Lures. Over lunch the idea was thrown out there for a quick getaway to Cabo to check and John’s house and catch a few fish. Wow, nice to be around when that kind of talk ensues!
Skip forward three weeks and I find myself boarding an Alaska 737 bound for southern Baja. Lucky me! I’m a guy who lived his first 23 years in Southern Texas, so heat is in my blood, and I find as I get older, these cold wet Oregon winters just aren’t to my liking, so when a chance to visit someplace warm like Cabo comes around, I’m one happy camper. It’s gets even better when fishing is involved. (Like how could it not be included in a trip to Mexico?)
It wasn’t supposed to be super hot while we were there, but it was supposed to be high 70’s and low 80’s during our 5-day visit. I could take it a few degree’s warmer, but it was a major improvement on the current 28 degree’s it has been at my house, so when we got off the plane and it was shorts and t-shirt weather I was instantly all smiles.
We cleared customs, got our bags, picked up our rental car and headed for John’s casa. Unfortunately, even though it was John’s idea to take this trip together, work prevented him from coming, but his wife Evelyn and son Jason were going to be meeting us there. We made a quick pit stop on the way to the house to pick up some cerveza’s. Now I was truly in heaven, even without a fishing rod in my hand. Shorts- check, t-shirt- check, flip-flops- check, cold beer- check, life was looking WAY UP!
We poked around the house for a bit and enjoyed the amazing views from the porch and the veranda upstairs. It was nice enough that we relaxed for an hour or so and just enjoyed the sun and view while visiting with Jason and Evelyn.
Both Kevin and I were hungry from our air travel, so after decompressing for a bit we headed into town to walk the Marina and to grab some dinner at The Office on the Beach. If you ever get to Cabo, you have to make sure and have at least one meal at The Office. It’s the kind of spot that gets under your skin. I’ve eaten there many times, and honestly, it was one of the places I was most excited to visit. The Office is located on Medano beach, and it’s right on the sand. During the day they have canopies up so you don’t get a sunburn while eating, and during the evening you’re eating under the stars while wiggling your toes in the sand! It’s a great place with fantastic ambiance, and the food is wonderful as well!
We had a great meal, including a few more cerveza’s, then went and walked around the marina. I always love walking the marina at night when all the lights are on. It’s an amazingly beautiful place. Unfortunately the boats weren’t all lit up with no big tournaments or other big draws to Cabo this weekend, but it’s still a pretty special place to visit, and the amazing view of lots of multi-million dollar yachts all sitting together just adds icing to the cake.
Finally we head back to the house and stay up for a few more hours visiting and just enjoying the nice weather and the stellar views.
The next morning we get up and head back to town to take care of our fishing arrangements for the next couple of days, and to grab some food. The two goals of visiting Cabo where to locate a good location for our clients to be able to come down and fish, as well as check out a couple of different charter operations to see what kind of service they run. Kevin had made arrangements to fish Viviana’s the first day, and Red Rum Sportfishing the next day, so we went by both locations and paid for our fishing days, and to find out what time to meet the following mornings.
After that we spent the rest of the afternoon just goofing around looking at boats, and enjoying walking around the marina. We might have even stopped at a cantina or two and enjoyed a cold libation!
With that all squared away and the afternoon dwindling to evening, it was time to look for some dinner. Wouldn’t you know it? We end up back at the Office. They had a big party going on this evening with all kinds of fun contests and a live band. It was fun to watch, and we even got to watch one poor fellow dance his way right off the stage! He was dancing along with the contest and all the sudden we see him disappear right off the side of the stage. Luckily for him he landed in soft sand and appeared to be no worse for the wear.
After dinner we headed into town to check out the local nightspots. It also wouldn’t be a trip to Cabo without a visit to El Squid Roe, The Giggling Marlin, and Cabo Wabo. Even though a cruise ship was parked out front, none of the bars were packed, but then again, they weren’t slow either! Busy enough to be fun watching all the people dance and drink, but slow enough we could actually find a table. It’s always fun to be in Cabo at night, and this evening was no different. Out of all the places I’ve been in Mexico, Cabo definitely has the most inviting nightlife!
Around midnight we decide we have an early morning ahead of us, and that we should call it an evening. We knew the next morning was going to come very early, and boy did it! It seemed like we had barely fallen asleep when the alarm started going off at 5:00 am.
We manage to shake the sleep off and headed into town to meet Viviana’s Sportfishing for a day on the water in their 31′ Luhrs. We rented a car to get back and forth to the marina, and the only place to park is by the covered parking for the mall, and it’s a big hike to get around to Viviana’s who are moored right in front of Baja Cantina. The day before we took a water taxi, but at 6:15 in the morning, there isn’t a lot of water taxis motoring around in the harbor!
We get to the dock just after 6:30 and meet Pablo and his mate Alberto. We get loaded up on the boat, stow what little gear we brought (primarily my camera equipment) and we push off. We head over and show our fishing licenses to the Federales, and then proceed out of the harbor to get some live bait. We picked up 10 great looking green mackerel from one of the live bait pangas, and then proceeded out past the arch, and then south to the tuna grounds. We had requested to fish for grande atu’n (BIG tuna), but we were told there weren’t many grande’s around, so we would chase the small schoolies, and hopefully get a shot at marlin along the way.
When you pull around lands end and head south, it really feels like you’re heading dead west. As you come around the rocks and take a 90-degree turn to the right, it sure doesn’t seem like your pointed South! I thought we were headed West, until I looked at the GPS on my phone and we were headed almost due south. Kind of a strange feeling, and I’m not one to normally get turned around!
When we were about 3 miles past the rocks, we slowed down and put out a spread of marlin jigs, while the mate sowed up a beautiful looking dead mackerel with 2-ounce chin weight for our shotgun rig. With the trolling rods deployed we settled in for the troll out to the tuna grounds. We had been told there were large numbers of tuna out 20-25 miles under big pods of spinner dolphins, so we would troll for marlin or anything else that would eat our jigs while we headed south looking for the dolphin schools.
About a ½ hour into the troll, our mate Alberto comes scooting off the flying bridge as Pablo slows the boat down. I look in front of the boat and see the welcome site of sickle fins sticking out of the water. Right on, our first marlin sunning himself up top. We pull up pretty close and Alberto makes a nice pitch to the fish with a live mackerel. The big marlin boils like he’s going to eat the bait, but apparently we spooked him instead. Bummer, but in Cabo there are always more just ahead!
We continue our troll south and about an hour later we see another marlin up top. Unfortunately, this opportunity plays itself out almost exactly the same way as the 1st marlin. We get close enough for Alberto to make a great pitch to the fish, and he blows up and spooks. I’ve had the opportunity of pitching live baits to marlin before and I’d never seen them quite so spooky. The ocean was pretty greasy calm, and maybe contributed to their skittishness, but I’ve caught them in these conditions before, so who knows, but this fish disappeared on us as well.
We get back on the troll, and it isn’t long before I hear the motors rev as Pablo picks up speed. It’s obvious he see something as we go from an 8 knot troll, to close to 15-18 knots, with our troll gear bouncing around everywhere. Alberto comes out of the bridge and tells me to start clearing our gear; we’ve spotted the dolphins.
We clear our troll gear, and redeploy the rods with small weighted dusters. Dusters are very similar to a small hootchie, except they have mylar skirts instead of plastic. For this spread we run three lines, a flat line, an outrigger line and a shotgun. Pablo is almost dancing up on the bridge he’s so happy. Alberto says he’s happy because we’ve found the dolphins and he knows we’re getting ready to hook up.
Pablo positions the boat in front of the big group of dolphins, and as they approach us we hook up on our first fish. Kevin grabs the rod and begins the tough job of spinning a decent size tuna up to the boat. After a 5-minute fight, Kevin has the chunky yellowfin along side the boat. Alberto gaffs the fish and we’re all very happy to see the beautiful fish swung aboard. Right on, we’re on the board, and with a nice fish too! Although not excessively large, it close to 30-pounds. Looks like some sashimi’s in our near future!
We lay our spread back out and start the troll again. The ocean is absolutely getting flat and greasy, with just some left over wind wave swells that continue to diminish throughout the day. I also notice the dolphins appear to be playing more than feeding, and the entire fleet appears to have joined us about the time we find the fish. It might not look like Buoy 10, but there are 15 boats in the same area, which feels a bit crowded when we are 20 plus miles offshore.
This time our next hookup doesn’t come so quick. We troll for quite a while without any bites, with Pablo, Alberto and myself actively working the 3 troll rods for nada. After about an hour of trolling Pablo gets bit and the fish takes off to our starboard side just as another boat trolls past us and don’t you know it, our lines fouls on his rudder. Pablo has a really tough time trying to break him off, and it ends up taking both Pablo and Alberto working together to get the 80-pound mono to break. That’s a new experience for me in Mexico, having fishing line that’s in good enough shape to be hard to break!
When we get Pablo’s line back in, we decide to switch to trolling one live bait, and the two dusters. We get the live bait hooked up and set back into our pattern with a 2-ounce egg sinker in front of him to help keep him down. We’re only trolling about 2 miles an hour and we get bit pretty fast. I’m holding the rod when I feel the tuna pick up the bait and begin burning off with the line. I give it a quick 1001, 1002 count and put the reel into gear. Hooked up again!
This fish is a bit smaller and we land him in pretty short order. It’s pretty hard for a 20-pound tuna to stand up to 80-pound monofilament on a 50 wide Shimano Tiagra!
We see what it’s going to take to get these fish to bite, so we put another live bait down and once again I’m bit in short order. This fish is a twin of our first fish, so we have 3 very nice tuna on board. We decide to troll through the dolphins for one more pass and then go marlin hunting.
It seems our decision is serendipitous as we see a marlin feeding along side the dolphins and we pull up close to him and pitch another bait. Even though this fish was actively feeding on top when we spotted him, he sinks out on us when we pitch the bait. It seems we are a bit unlucky on the marlin so far!
Once we are on the other side of the school of spinner dolphins, we clear our tuna spread and redeploy our original marlin jigs and start trolling north, scanning the horizon as we go looking for more sickle fins. There isn’t much life north of the dolphins, so we troll and scan, but nothing seems to be up.
About an hour into the troll I hear the starboard rigger clip pop, and the reel starts to make that wonderful shrill ratcheting sound as line is ripped off against a protesting drag. I look behind the boat in time to catch a 20-pound Dorado leaping skyward. The water was in the low 70’s, so there weren’t as many Dorado around as there can be when the water is in the 80’s or even warmer, so this fish was a very pleasant surprise. I had noticed walking around the marina the two days prior, that there were very few Dorado flags flying as the boats returned to port. Cool, we’ve made a lucky catch.
Kevin lands the fish pretty rapidly, and we have some more great fillets to add to our fish box!
We troll almost all the way back to lands end without any more fish. Bummer for us, yet how can it be a bummer? We’ve seen tons of life, hooked quite a few fish, and have at least 40 pounds of fillets to take home. As I mentioned earlier, I could almost taste the fresh sashimi!
When we got back to the dock we got our fish processed, bought a cooler to transport them home in, and then headed back to the house to have some afternoon refreshments and get our fish in the freezer. We both agreed the day had been pretty darn nice. Our only complaint had been the noise level of the boat. It had to have been the loudest diesel engine either one of us had ever heard on a boat! Beyond that, it was an especially nice day!
After getting our fish packed away in the freezer, an afternoon cocktail, and a warm shower, we decided to head into town to grab some dinner. While the office is a wonderful place to eat, we decided on some variety and ate at one of the restaurants in the marina. For the life of me I don’t remember the name of the place, but it’s just to the north of the big commercial boat launch right next to the Puerto Paradiso Mall. They had wonderful tacos and a salsa that accented everything wonderfully. It was nice sitting in the open air bar staring out at all the yachts while we enjoyed another wonderful Cabo meal.
We headed back to the house early since we were both pretty tired from staying out late the night before, and it made it a lot easier to handle the early 5:00 am alarm the next morning. We were up, with our gear assembled and out the door shortly before 6:00 am. Today, Jason Boyer, John’s son had decided to join us for a day fishing with Red Rum Sportfishing, who’s located right below the street where we could park, so it took us less than 5 minutes to walk down to their office. We were introduced to Ramone our captain, and his mate Julio. They walked us down the dock to our boat, a 28-foot Californian, which looks a lot like a Uniflite to my eyes.
The first thing I noticed as we climbed aboard was the matching gear. We had matching rods with Shimano Tiagra reels with what appeared to be new line. This is one of the first outfits I’ve fished with in Mexico where the gear actually matched! I began looking around and the next wondrous realization was I couldn’t find a rusty hook on anything! And this is Mexico! Matching rods and reels (a mixture of 50, 30 and 16 Tiagra’s), new line and what appeared to be new or well cared for hooks, amazing! For a gear head like me, this was one of the best surprises I could get!
We repeated the routine from the morning before and headed to the mouth of the marina where the Federales check the licenses, then picked up our live baits. We had paid for 10 baits, but Red Rum does things a bit differently than some of the other boats I fished from in Cabo. Instead of taking all the bait as live bait, they supply five ballyhoo for dead trolling and pitching baits, and then they pick up five live baits in the morning. The ballyhoo make for fantastic trolling baits, so this seemed like a good compromise to me, although I always feel a bit more comfortable with more live baits in the well!
After getting our bait we headed around lands end and headed south again to look for the tuna schools. Another difference from the day before is we ran at almost 20 knots the entire way out to the tuna grounds. We didn’t troll at all, and in fact we got to the tuna grounds by 7:45 or so, and were the only boat around. When we arrived where the captain thought the dolphins should be, we put out a spread of marlin lures, and began trolling while waitingfor the dolphins to show. It didn’t take long either, and within 10 minutes of putting out the trolling lures I heard the engines rev as we changed course and sped up considerably. It only took a couple of minutes and we were amidst 1,000’s of dolphins (similar to the day before) except these animals were definitely feeding!
We set out a pattern of three cedar plugs and the one ballyhoo, and continued to troll. The closest cedar plug was on the second wake, and was very visible as it juked and jived in our wake, and it didn’t take long till a tuna, leaving a huge boil, engulfed this tempting plug! Hooked up by 8:00 am. Awesome!
Jason was up first since he hadn’t fished the day before, and he landed his tuna in short order. This tuna was a bit smaller than the ones we landed the day before, but still easily in the 20-pound bracket.
We got the troll gear back in the water and trolled less than 5 minutes and were stopped by a double. This set the stage for an epic troll bite on school tuna. We literally were hooked up on the troll with doubles, triples and one quad almost as soon as we got our gear in the water and started making headway. There were also no other boats around, so we had these snappy tuna all to ourselves. What an awesome treat! In fact this was very reminiscent of a good Albacore troll bite back in Oregon, and was the type of day where we could have easily landed 40-50 fish. In Mexico there is a 5 fish per species per day limit, so in short order we were limited out on tuna, and even had to let a couple extra fish go. What a way to start the day. I have to say the combination of no other boats around along with a set of cedar plugs run close to the boat was a super-winning combo this morning!
Once we got all the tuna packed away and iced in a kill bag (another big surprise for Mexico, they actually had a kill bag!), we set out our marlin trolling spread and began the long troll back towards Cabo. Our game plan was to fish for marlin until the end of our day.
We trolled almost all the way back to lands end without seeing a single marlin, or having any blind strikes on our lures. A bit of a surprise, but today the ocean was much more lumpy making the spotting harder amidst all the sheep grazing along the top of the waves.
The captain got a call on the radio from one of his friends that they were finding some marlin off the Cabo light house which is about 5 miles north of lands end, so we pulled up our spread and ran for the light house. Once we arrived we found quite a few other boats in the area, and several where fighting marlin as we pulled in. Almost as soon as we got our troll spread out, I saw a free jumping marlin a couple hundred yards in front of us. We headed for where we saw the fish grey hounding across the surface and made a couple loops without ever raising him into our pattern. We saw another fish and headed for that area next, but didn’t raise anything here either.
At this point, the captain took the boat out of gear and we cleared our troll spread. Julio said we were going to dead drift live baits and see what we could do. We got a couple of Tiagra 30’s with live bait hooks and started a drift with two baits sunk with 6 ounce torpedo weights, and one bait fly lined on the surface.
It didn’t take long until I was bit. I let the fish start to take line in free-spool as I counted to 5 then slowly engaged the drag and reeled until I came tight. The rod loaded up, and the line started angling toward the surface. We all expected a marlin to come rocketing out of the water, but to our disappointment a giant seal surfaced chewing my no longer lively little mackerel! Bummer! I guess I can dislike seals down south now too!
We set our baits back out and were bit again almost instantly by the same seal. Crap, he’s going to follow us and snack on all our live baits. The captain saw the same thing so we all reeled up and moved up the line about 2-3 miles and redeployed our lines. As we began our drift I felt a bump on my bait, but nothing more. Shortly thereafter I saw the captain start reeling quickly and then set up hard. His rod loaded up and then almost instantly went slack. Then another seal pops up behind the boat. Crap, we’ve found more seals. About the same time, my rod gets bit, and I give the mandatory five-second free-spool, come tight and then instantly I’m off. Oh well, it looks like the seals are clearing our baits for us!
Ryan reels in the free lined bait and to our surprise, he’d been bit by something other than the sea lion. It looked like his bait had been cut clean in half by a very sharp knife…wahoo! We just weren’t pulling it off here.
At this point we only had one live bait left and a couple ballyhoo, so we decided to call it a day. We had 15 fat tuna iced down in our kill bag, so who could complain! It had been another fantastic day of fishing in Cabo!
We headed back into the marina and pulled up to the dock in front of Senior Frogs, where there is a commercial cleaning station. A couple guys where waiting with a garbage can on a dolly for us as we backed in. We unloaded our tuna, and Julio said it would only take them 10-15 minutes to fillet our fish. We walked up on the dock and bought a couple beers and waited for them to process our fish.
This is the only part of the day that wasn’t covered by our charter fees. We opted to pay an additional $3 per fish to have them filleted, which I thought was an excellent option, and they were back with our bagged and filleted fish in very short order.
We pulled back to our slip at Red Rum’s dock and they took our fish and vacuum sealed and froze them for us. This service was covered by our charter fees, and was a super convenient way to have our fish taken care of. How nice!
I walked away from our experience with Red Rum being completely impressed. I thought they ran a first class operation, regardless of being in Mexico. I would have been just as impressed if it had been in the states! Clean, professional service, with top-flight captains, crews, boats and gear. I can’t say enough about how impressed I was with their outfit!
Well, to celebrate a wonderful day on the water, we stopped and had appetizers and beers at another little restaurant in the marina. I saw ceviche on the menu, and asked the waiter if it was good. He said it was very good, so we ordered the fish ceviche, and beef nachos, and washed it all down with ice cold Pacifico’s. The appetizers arrived, and I have to say this was one of the best ceviche’s I’d ever had. Great ending to an already stellar day!
In fact, it was such a fun trip, I’m already planning a return adventure with some friends. It’s hard to beat wintertime trips to warm locales where the fishing is good, the sun is hot, and the beer is cold! If you get the chance, you should make the trip too!
More Pictures from Our Awesome Trip!