Baja Fly Fishing Trip 2015
June 19, 2015
For some reason I had a humorous, but negative stigma associated with fishing Baja that involved a mental picture of the typical Baja fisherman. I call him Mr. Big Time Billy Baja. A semi-fictitious character. I pictured a leathery over-tanned dude talking way too loud, moderately inappropriate language, wearing a 13 year old Senor Frogs tank top, Tequila bottle ever present, bragging about all the fish he caught each day. While bragging though he always starts out with, "now I'm not bragging... but I have to tell ya about my..." yadayadayada. You've met him before. Mr. Big Time Billy Baja fishes all over the place. How do I know? He told me! Four times. A Vegan, Cross-Fitter, and Mr. Big Time Billy Baja walk into a bar. How do you know? Because they all told you in the first 2 minutes hahahah!
Anyway, he isn't shy about sharing advice either. Fishing, finances, cars, big boats, marriage, or whatever you might need help with. There is almost nothing he isn't an expert on. Mr. Big Time Billy Baja is so great that even if you don't need help, you're sure to get it anyway. What a nice guy. I honestly have no idea where this all started, but I just couldn't get that stereotype out of my head. I think for a lot of "quiet anglers" we have avoided Baja because of this stereotype. Who wants to sit next to that guy at dinner every night? As I boarded the plane I was still unsure about this. At this point I was just hoping the hotel was as good as it looked online. It took from the time I landed in Loreto, MX to the hotel check-in, a total of about 20 minutes, for that false stereotype about Baja fishing to get squashed. I figured out that the reason for my stereotype pretty quickly, but it isn't what you think. The place is so awesome that all of the humble quiet folk want to keep it that way, quiet. Nobody told me how breathtaking the scenery was, about the incredible mix of wildlife, how amazing the mountain ranges are, and how much there is to do. Its not nearly as much about the big game fishing as it is just about being there. Previously all I had ever heard about was was the late nights, wild times, and big Marlin.
We landed at a tiny airport and customs was a breeze. The driver was there waiting since we had already prearranged for a pick up. A nice way to start the trip. There was four of us in the group. Me, Steve Joyce, and our wives Kelly and Natalie. Steve and I have been on LOTS of fly fishing excursions to warm places but this was my wife's first trip. Most of the places I go aren't exactly "wife friendly" for non angling spouses. Don't get me wrong, Ascension Bay and Christmas Island are fabulous fishing, clean, safe, and my wife would be ok with all that that but it wouldn't be her first choice if she is getting on a plane. She doesn't care to fish all week so those places don't make much sense for her. On this particular outing, our goal was to find the perfect combination of fly fishing, pool with bar, shopping, spa service, eco tours, and deluxe accommodations. Total girl stuff. Not an easy combo! Steve did the research, so he gets credit for knocking this one out of the park. This trip was outstanding and very well planned out.
Upon arrival it was tempting to string up rods and start casting flies in front of the hotel, but Steve and I did the good guy thing and lounged by the pool with the ladies. Morning comes early on these trip with fishing starting at 6:00 am. I can wait, barely.
We had arranged to meet our guide at the nearby marina, about 200 yards from the hotel. It only took about 3 minutes to walk to the boat. It would have been faster, but oh man it was exciting to watch the fish work! Directly in front of the hotel along the street front, Jack Crevale were smashing bait-fish against the rocks! We soaked it in as the sun began to rise we knew at that instant it was going to be a great fishing trip. We got our fishing licenses at the bait shop and hooked up with our guide minutes later. Boats of all sorts were the picking up anglers and heading for the big water. There were old guys, young guys, gear fisherman, fly fisherman, and you couldn't help but get amped-up watching everyone gearing up and getting ready to go out.
We got in the boat, bought some sardines for the live well (more on that later), and our very professional guide gunned the engine out of the marina and took off across the Sea of Cortez in search of anything that swims. Wind and waves were non existent and the water being like glass was as beautiful of a scene as I have ever seen.
After a quick discussion the guide said that we would start out "cruising" which is basically just prospecting and looking for opportunity. There is a delicate balance on these types of trips on how you manage your own day. As an angler you need to take some initiative regarding how you spend your time. Online research and getting advice from guys that have been there before are paramount "pre trip" operations. At times you will need to be very direct with your guide and lay out your goals and expectations, but at other times you need to completely yield to the guide's discretion. A good tip is to ask questions without giving specific direction. Sometimes due to a slight language barrier (our guide spoke great English by the way), it is best to ask what species the tides, weather, or time of day might be best for. Be careful you aren't too assertive because if the tidal patterns aren't good for what you want to do, in order to simply please the customer, these guides will often follow your directions and simply give it their best effort rather than explain WHY it isn't a good idea. Case in point here, the Roosterfish had been very tough to find due to weather and recent conditions. We asked the guide a handful of questions and despite both Steve and I really wanting a Roosterfish we completely avoided pursuing them after listening to his explanation. If we would have said... "we would like to target Roosterfish", the guide would have done just that without debate and it would have most likely taken us out of the game. Being only a 3 day trip we didn't want to invest much too much time on Roosterfish. I'll be back though.
Anyhow, I got a good vibe from our guide and we set out cruising the open water with no direct plan. Guide's choice. First fish spotted that day.... a laid up Marlin the size of a small truck!!!!! The fish laying in the above picture was estimated at around 300+ pounds. Let me be honest here about my start to the trip. We brought 12 weight rods and 100 pound leader but we didn't expect to be casting at Marlin. It was a friggin' fire drill getting that Sage ONE 12 Weight set up and ready to cast while a snoozing Marlin that weighed about 300 pounds was sitting on the calm surface 100' away! My knees were shaking and head was spinning. This was all in the first 30 minutes of the trip. Normally every stick I have is lined up with fresh leaders and sharpened hooks, but I wouldn't have dreamed in a thousand years that we would be site casting to Marlin in the first half hour!
Finally I got rigged up, which was tough to do while shaking like a spazz, and then I put what I thought was a perfect cast in front of the beast and it moved towards the fly and refused it! After about 5 more casts the leviathan slunk into the deep black water. Now after asking a couple of different guides their opinions on casting at laid up Marlin I have come to realize that it is fairly rare to get shots like this... and extremely rare to get them to eat. However it does happen so the flip side to this.... I only need one! Uno. One giant Marlin would do it for me. To get a fish that is 9' long to eat while site casting a fly (not trolling) would be the ultimate. It would be a lifelong memory and to be damn frank with you, I don't fly fish because the odds are good. I fly fish because it turns my crank and that was as good as it gets right there. It might take numerous trips but I'll get one someday. I'll take poor odds and a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart any time.
Steve and I wound up casting to laid up Marlin 3 mornings in a row. The above shot was a Striped Marlin that we took shots at Day 2. I also think that we weren't using the correct fly line. A RIO Leviathan 550 grain sinking line would be better than a floating line. To get your fly down 18-24" during a fast strip takes fast sinking line. Even though the fish are on the surface, which is why it made sense to use floating and intermediate lines, I believe you need your fly to be eye-level with the Marlin. I brought a floating line and an intermediate line with me because it was left over on my big Nautilus reels from Christmas Island a few weeks ago, but next time I would have a fast sinker on my 12 weight. I have never in my life felt a greater anticipation and adrenaline rush while casting at a fish. It was indescribable.
Shortly after we got dissed by the Marlin, we found some Dorado "free cruising" out in the open water. We were able to spot them in the low morning light because they were pushing nervous water right across the surface. The pair was visible from 200 yards away! We pulled the boat up near them and the guide chucked a live sardine in the water. Normally I wouldn't be too stoked about this but seems to be the only way to keep them in the area otherwise they don't tolerate the boat. It isn't like flats fishing where you can quietly approach the fish. The first Dorado enialated Steve's fly on the first cast, jumped 5 times in about 20 seconds and Steve let it play near the boat while I handed off the video camera to the guide. I jumped up with the other 10 weight and one cast later hooked up on the other Dorado! All in the first hour of the trip, double trouble! Both of us landed our first Dorado at the same time on the first morning. I love this place! The pictures that Steve took of my Dorado after he released his are simply incredible.
I was out of my mind from having so much fun. After a little more cruising the guide said that we should go check out a reef for other types of fish. Steve and I are up for anything, any fish, at any time so we said heck yea. When you have a positive spirit I believe that guides feed off of that and suggest things that may be high risk/high reward which I love. I mean we just had a double on Dorado and already we were changing up? It was several miles to the reef and as soon as we got there we spotted the birds working a bait ball and good fish crashing on the surface. The game was Bonita and the players were Joe, Steve, several thousand Bonita, and about a dozen sharks. The Bonita are fast, vicious, and strong fighting little buggers that range 5-15 pounds. They are shaped like torpedoes and it would be tough to find a more worthy game fish. They love to attack and they pull really really hard. After going back through the photos, apparently despite catching a dozen of them Steve and I didn't take any still photos. Just lots of video. Here is a stock image of a Bonita.
It usually only takes about 5 minutes to bring one in and then you get to start over again with more casting and a hard take. Good fun. We used both floating lines and sinking lines but found our best success on a 375 Grain RIO Leviathan. Combined with a weighted minnow pattern it would get down 5-6' on a fast strip retreive which was about right. Since the water is perfectly clear you still see the fish and get to see the fish eat the fly! Just because you are on a sinking line doesn't mean you aren't sight casting. We also caught them on floating lines and poppers too.
The fishing was going great until some sharks starting engulfing the Bonita off the end of our lines. They were snatching them up but we got some good fights out of them on the 10 weights. The 40 pound test line however was no match for their teeth. After we lost some of our best flies, which we didn't bring nearly enough of, I took out my 12 weight Winston Boron III-SX and tied up some 100 pound RIO leader for revenge. The very next time that toothy critter down there tried to take my Bonita I taught him a lesson. Which involved me nearly breaking my back and rod in a 30 minute battle that ended with me landing a shark that probably weighed maybe 300 pounds! Who taught who a lesson? The guide wasn't prepared for this so after bringing it up alongside the boat and him pretending he was going to club it and bring it aboard, haha international guide humor,
Steve and I didn't like the idea of being on the same boat as that critter so I snapped it off. That is the biggest fish I have ever beat so I was pretty psyched... and pretty beat up. It was a brawl and I am very impressed that rod survived after what I did to it. I had a Nautilus Monster Reel with the drag maxxed out on 100 pound test line and gave that rod everything I had. It was so much fun it was ridiculous. We decided to finally wave the white flag at the sharks, but not before the guide tethered a Bonita we caught to the boat with 4' parachute cord. We video taped a 10' shark devouring it next to the outboard for fun. It was intense, needless to say neither of us were interested in snorkeling the reef after that. On these trips, try not to take yourself too serious. It is ok to fool around a little bit.
It was not even 11 am yet, oh man a lot happened that first morning, so we decided to cruise quite a bit and look for more Dorado. The primary strategy here is to search likely current lines for floating debris, scum lines, or look for crashing bait-fish. The Doradao will congregate around suspended material searching for bait-fish wishing to take refuge in the shadows. The guides will also spot schools of Dorado smashing bait-fish as well, or even spot the fish in the water even while cruising. That is when a live well full of sardines comes in handy. A good guide is very quick at getting the boat into position without spooking the fish and hitting them with a good sardine throw as the boat glides up. You need a guide with a decent throwing arm. Our guide was wearing an Atlanta Braves hat and plays on a local baseball team. He hit the mark every time! We caught 3 more Dorado that day and got some good shots at a couple others. We were really satisfied with Day 1. Baja was exceeding our expectations by many times over.
That afternoon we met up with the gals that had a busy day of swimming, massage, cocktails, and spa service. Since our wives work full time, each manage 3 kids, and are married to fishing guides, they deserved this vacation. We had an unbelievable dinner that night and it was fun having some company outside of just "the guys" on one of these trips for once.
It started out much the same. We pulled up on a snoozing Blue Marlin and Steve put a bulls-eye shot with the 12 weight and an intermediate line right off his bill. I thought for sure he was eating the fly but he pushed past it, gave us a couple more casts and then went for the abyss. Gotta try it. All we need is one eater and the fight will fill up the remainder of our day. We cruised for HOURS without any shots at fish. We did see Dolphins, Bighorn Rams on the mountain side, wild goats, a napping Sea Lion, and all sorts of other stuff.
Steve and I have done so much fishing that a few hours with no casting is ok with us. We get it. We cruised a total of maybe 10 miles that day with spotting anything, but we know how fast things can change so morale for us is always high. Things changed fast! Finally we spotted something floating in the water. As we curiously approached the debris, we couldn't figure out what in the world it was. As it it turned out, it was a dead Dolphin of all things.
It didn't smell great but since there were 3 big Dorado orbiting around it we tolerated that stench. These fish were picky though and despite them devouring some of the live sardines the guide pitched out there they wouldn't take our flies. We tried everything! The best interest and nearest eats were on a huge popper and the follows and swipes they took at it were breathtaking. After messing with them for about 45 minutes we waived the white surrender flag at them and took off in an attempt to find more aggressive fish. That was a very difficult decision to make.
After that we were blasting along a shallow area, maybe 10' deep or so, and I spotted a Dorado and it was much larger than anything we had caught. The guided whipped a 180 degree turn, chucked a sardine, it devoured that little bugger, and then I put my fly on top of it. Did I mention this fish was much larger? The Dorado ate my fly like a bolt of lighting and I panicked and busted it off on 30 pound test in about 2 seconds after hooking it. What a dork. I am usually better than that. The fish swam out, made a turn at around 70' and Steve was on the job instantly with the other 10 weight and hooked the same fish! It took off on him on a hard run into the backing and came unpinned! That is just heartbreaking luck right there. It was a big one. The fish circled around shaking my hook out for a minute and then swam off. Dorado are insanely aggressive at times!
The action was picking up and things were getting more upbeat. We still hadn't landed a single fish and we only had about another hour before the guide would be ready to head in. Again were were "cruising" and we spotted a scum line where a lot of bubbles and small surface litter, mostly foam had accumulated. The guide ran down the scum line for about 1/2 mile and we spotted 2 Dorados. Almost instantly we had two fish hooked! We went from high to low, to super high, to super low, back to super high all in just a few minutes time. Welcome to saltwater fly fishing! Highs and lows come in pairs. We landed both of those fish and ran the scum line a bit longer until we had to peel off and head more towards port.
We then spotted another item in the water. This time rather than a dead Dolphin it was a dead Pelican. With about 30 Dorado orbiting around it! The above picture is what we like to call a "target rich environment"!!!!!!! The fishing was absolutely sick. We had several triples where I handed my hooked fish off to the guide and hooked another while he fought the first one. INSANE fishing.
We landed perhaps 15 Dorado out of that school and the videos are absurd they are so cool. The water is crystal clear and the fish attack with a vicious attitude. None were very big, but the fight like mad, jump like crazy, and are as pretty as any fish I have ever caught. They are an electric blue and green which looks surreal in the water. It was absolute mayhem. After that we cracked our first and only beer of the day and enjoyed the ride in. The evening activities were more of the same. We both took a nap, dip in the pool, and then took our ladies out for a nice dinner and a 4-Wheeler ride. Which was totally the ladies idea, in fact, they had already rented it and had been riding around town without us before we got back from fishing!
On the last day we took the ladies out on the boat with us. We paid an up-charge to get the gals on the same boat and all 4 of us went out together. Now some of you may think that the women married to fly fishing guides/owners of a fly ship somehow get to fish all the time. Ha! That couldn't be further from the truth. Because of the nature of our jobs we spend long hours on the water, around the river, and on the job. The family is pretty happy having us right at home when they can. Our wives have had a sever overdose of fly fishing and somebody has to take care of the kids right? With that said, even a single day fly fishing on saltwater is exciting for wives. They like to fish but don't get to do it nearly as much as they would like. This was my wife's first time casting at fish that can literally rip a 10 weight rod out of your hands. This is gonna be fun! On our way out to the reef we saw a pod of Dolphins, about 40 Pilot whales, a Sea Lion, several Seat Turtles, flying fish, a laid up Marlin (which I put another perfect cast on!), and a bunch of other awesome stuff. In the first hour our day was already a success.
Once on the reef we looked for schools of Bonita and Jack Crevale for the women to get a shot at. I can't remember who hooked up first but I remember that about an 8 pound Bonita ate Kelly's fly mid-strip and nearly got the rod from her it took off so fast! That rod happened to be my new 10 weight Sage SALT so without being a jerk I was right there to "help". That first fish beat her up so bad it was hilarious.
I have a video of her fighting that thing that is so funny I can't wait to post it. She is sweating beads and finally knelt down on the floor of the boat to rest while reeling it in. It was only about 8-10 pounds if even! Did I mention those little buggers are strong?
Kelly and Natalie both hooked several Bonita and had 4 "shark attacks" as they named them where the sharks ate the fish off the end of the line. They had a double one time and both were lost to sharks. I got a funny picture of them holding their imaginary fish after they lost them.
Neither of them were interested in using the 12 weight and trying to catch the sharks. At one point Natalie actually had a shark eating her fly but she took the fly away from it twice because it was so big and she didn't want to be hooked into it. Mental terror. My wife was so scared of the fish pulling her in that she refused to stand next to the edge of the boat to fight the fish. A few of the sharks were over 10' long so I guess I can understand that. The girls were hilarious. We also got to watch a huge bull Sea Lion bite a Bonita in half in one chomp off the line of a fly fisherman in another boat. It was epic! The big boy just grabbed onto the fish, bit the entire body off, the angler drug in the head of the fish and the Sea Lion wasn't bashful about throwing the fish around in the air and showing off for us. It was a bloody mess and certainly something we won't ever forget.
The girls had so much fun it was truly a day to remember. For my wife one full day of fishing was perfect. She is debating fishing two days next year but also wants to paddle board, ride 4-wheelers, and read more books. Decisions decisions. I was a good boy and didn't over coach her or tell her what to do too much while we were fishing. Just the right amount of encouragement, rather than instruction, is key when fishing with your wife. Even when you are a famous pro fly fishing guide your wife still hates being told what to do while fly fishing. Weird. Just saying. We capped the day off with a special trip to a spectacular beach that Steve and I had prearranged. We stayed out a bit later than normal and we got to relax after fishing on a remote island. We had saved a few cold drinks for the occasion, got in the water, looked for sea-shells and had a great afternoon. Does it get any better than that?
On our departure day we didn't fly out until 2 pm so we had a ton of time to fool around town. I naturally wake up super early so I went out on my own to fish in front of the hotel. Every morning thus far there had been fish smashing bait against the rocks. Another guest from the hotel also told me he had been tackle fishing with his guide right in front of the marina the day before and caught a 30 pound Jack Crevale. For those that don't know this, Jack Crevale are said to be one of the hardest fighting fish in the world pound for pound. At least that's what Lefty Kreh says but what does he know? Other than pretty much everything there is to know about saltwater fly fishing. I would LOVE to catch a Jack that big.
I went out in front of the hotel right at daylight, walked 100' and took a look out off the rock jedi where I had planned to fish. There were already Jacks crushing bait-fish everywhere! Steve decided to sleep in so there I was alone, frantically rigging up my 10 weight and a Popper as fast as I could. I scurried down the rocks and tossed my Pearly Popper into a fresh boil, pop, pop, pop and BAM! Fish on the very first cast! It was a little Jack Crevale about 3-4 pounds. Now that may not sound like much on paper, but when it hammers a popper and puts a deep bend in your 10 weight it holds a lot more value. I wound up landing 4 jacks and stung about 8 fish in 30 minutes but the instant the sun came over the horizon it was DEAD. Nothing. I walked about a mile of shoreline that last day after the sun broke the horizon and couldn't find another group of fish. I will tell you though that the fishing at dawn and dusk is worth thinking about. On your first morning and night just keep your eyes peeled and if there are fish crashing bait fish near the shore don't be afraid to try some DIY fishing the following day. It was so satisfying to go out, totally unguided, and have success all by myself in Mexico. Next year I will spend a lot more time fishing on my own before and after my guided trips. I think you could fish for 45 minutes in the morning without a guide and have a great little pre-funk before you get in the boat at 6 am.
The biggest shockers on this trip for me were how pretty the water is there. There is almost no trash, amazing mountains, friendly locals, and the small game fishing is great fun! We didn't land the big trophy sized fish that Big Time Billy Baja does, but we were in the game and had tons of action and lots of laughs in the process. We'll bump into some big Bull Dorado next time, maybe hook a Marlin, and hopefully the Roosterfish action is better next time.
The last day was capped off by Steve and I having coffee at the restaurant, planning next years trip, and then treating our wives to one last lunch at the restaurant. Totally amazing trip. We arranged for a nice shuttle to the airport and since there is only one flight a day, the airport was a breeze. It was so efficient and relaxing its laughable. Everything was perfect except that it was too short of a short trip. Stay tuned to our website for more information on trips that Red's will be offering to fish the Baja area in the Sea of Cortez. We'll have some hosted and un-hosted options that capture a good balance of fly fishing and vacation.