Sportfishing in Cabo, what to expect as a novice.
Between 10 and 15 million years ago, a violent earthquake occurred, due to the San Andreas Fault in the region of Mexico, causing a huge rift of the land mass and leaving a slender finger of land stretching almost 1,000 miles.
Today, this peninsula is known as Baja California. The Pacific Ocean quickly rushed into the gaping chasm left by the savage quake, creating one of our youngest seas, and a unique fish trap, the Sea of Cortez. At the southern most tip of this extraordinary peninsula, where the Sea of Cortez meets thePacific Ocean is Cabo San Lucas, referred to as Land’s End. Here the nutrient rich waters create an incredible food chain, reaching depths of over a mile and supporting marine life of more that 650different species.
What was it that “made” Cabo San Lucas? Sure the beaches are fantastic, the weather perfect and the people friendly, but above all these and without a doubt the fishing is what put Cabo “on the map”. A stroll around the marina will substantiate this. Hundreds or sportfishing boats, ranging from humble “pangas” to sleek yachts, fill every inch of available dock space. The reason they’re here….the fishing. No other destination in the world can rival Cabo San Lucas for the number and variety of fish caught
year round. Nowadays many world class resorts, enjoyable activities and modern services are available in the area. Even if you are a novice and don’t know anything about fishing, Cabo is a great place to start.
Cabo San Lucas is known as the “Marlin Capital of the World” and deservedly so, as there are more marlin caught here than any other place on earth. Unlike other well known fishing destinations, where days and many dollars can be spent in pursuit of this most prized sport fish, it is not unusual to capture one or even more on your very first trip, whether you are a beginner or an expert. Once reserved for the wealthy, fishing in Cabo is now within reach of almost all visitors and an encounter not to be missed. Not
only will you experience the thrill of battling a creature of incredible beauty and size, or landing smaller species and eating them, your fishing excursion gives you an opportunity to view the Cape and its landmarks from a unique perspective and often allows you to get a close up look at whales, dolphins and seals.
There are some guidelines that can help to make your fishing trip successful and enjoyable. If possible decide ahead of time when you plan to fish, as advance reservations assure you that you will get the type of boat you want on the dates to fit in with your travel plans. Most major fleets have stateside booking agents with 800 numbers, or you can call directly to the fleet office in México. However, at most times of the year there is no problem in chartering a fishing boat with a day or two’s notice at various fleet offices around town or through your hotel. Another good idea is to do some research ahead of time on the Internet. October and November are the busiest months of the year, so it is best to book with about a month’s notice. You will generally get more complete and accurate information from the fishing fleet offices.
A visit to the fishing dock ahead of time is often a good idea to see for yourself what is being caught. These days, many anglers choose to release their catch rather than kill them, so a lack of fish on the back of the boat doesn’t necessarily mean nothing was caught. A more accurate indicator is to look at the flags hanging from the boat’s outriggers which announce the type and amount of fish caught. You also get a chance to look at the different kinds of boats close up and talk to disembarking anglers asking
them such questions as “was your crew courteous and friendly?”, “Was the boat clean?”, or “Was the bathroom in working order?”. All of these factors are important to the success of your day. At the dock and around town, you will often be approached by people that want to rent you a boat and offer a selection of “deals”. Many times the “deals” offered by street vendors turn out to be costly by day’s end and the boat or trip not as promised. It is generally better to rent your boats through an established office
or hotel, giving you a place to go back to if anything goes wrong.
The best way of deciding on a fleet is by recommendations from friends or just talking with different fleet operators to see what each has to offer. If conservation is important to you, make sure you check out the fleet’s policy in regard to catch and release. Boats in Los Cabos are chartered to individuals; therefore the price of the boat, determined by size, is the same whether your party is one person or the maximum capacity of the boat. A 28 foot boat holds up to 4 passengers, but if there are only two of you, just your party plus the crew will be on board. The fleet operator will explain the difference in size and performance of the craft they have in inventory. Some companies do offer “share charters”, where you can go out with other anglers and cut down on costs, but you need to look into this ahead of time, or as soon as you arrive, to improve your chances of sharing a boat.
One of the fastest changing features of the Cabo San Lucas fishing industry is the recent availability of luxury vessels, for both Sportfishing and cruising. Nowhere else in the world has such an array of state of the art fishing machines available. These high end vessels offer a variety of styles of equipment, ranging from cherry wood interiors , granite countertops and the finest in leather furnishings, to on board p.c’s satellite t.v, radar, sonar and built in vacuum packers, private chefs and hostess’s. The larger yachts offer regular day charters from 6.30 am to 4.00 pm and many also offer live aboard charters where a personalized itinery can be arranged for fishing, whale-watching and some incredible trips to secluded areas, that offer virgin fishing that few people get to experience.
Cabo has changed a lot over the past few years and pricing varies from operator to operator. Day trips are normally 8 hours, from 6.45 am to 2.00-3.00 pm. Besides the basic cost of the boat, which includes, crew, tackle and ice, you need to inquire as to whether tax is included and if fishing licenses, dock fees, drinks and filleting and freezing of your catch is included. Live bait and lunches are a separate charge on nearly all Cabot charters. Be sure to verify any extra charges, such as if a surcharge is added, when paying with a credit card. Live bait is normally available year round and at least 10 should be purchased for your trip. The cost of live bait has been $2.00 each for the last 10 years and is paid to the bait supplier on the morning of your trip.
Box lunches are extra and can be ordered from the fleet office, hotel, local deli or restaurant, or you can pack your own by a visit to the supermarket. The booking agent will advise what time (normally 7AM) and where to meet your boat in the morning. If you have a tendency towards seasickness, Dramamine is sold at various pharmacies in town. It is non prescription and an inexpensive insurance policy for feeling good on the ocean. For maximum effect, one pill should be taken at least one hour before boarding your boat. Sunscreen, hat and sun-glasses are a must as is a light jacket for the early morning. It is wise to bring along a towel or two, as you can sometimes get quite wet when the boat is backing down on a fish. Of course your camera should not be left behind, as the fish are normally quite willing to put on amazing acrobatic performances which can be captured on film even if you release your catch.
There are several docks where boats depart from these days, so make sure you know which one to meet at. On arrival at the dock in the morning you will see an array of booths lining the wharf which announce different fleet names. The dispatcher will greet you, walk you down to your boat and introduce you to the captain and mate. Most crews speak some English and will be happy to coach complete novices in the techniques of big game fishing. Once underway the deckhand will bring out rods and reels from inside the cabin and set them in rod holders. The captain decides on which direction to head depending on where fish are likely to be biting. He may run straight for the fishing grounds without lines in the water or start trolling lures soon after leaving the harbor.
All Cabo charter boats have a selection of artificial lures on board. These look like bait to the fish, and normally have fairly heavy resin heads, metallic in color with large eyes and a plastic skirt (fringe) representing the body, which can be any color combination. Upon reaching the fishing grounds the deckhand will attach lures to the lines of the rods and position the lures at various distances behind the boat as it slows to trolling speed. The captain will then systematically cover an area of the ocean
where he believes the fish to be. The type and size of the lure does not necessarily dictate what kind of fish will be caught as most smaller game fish will be attracted to lures intended for marlin. Although it is not always perceptible, the crew are on a constant lookout for fish, spotting birds, bubbles or fins that are indicators of activity in the area.
Getting a hook into a fish’s mouth and getting it to stay there, is known as setting the hook. If you are an experienced angler, you should let the crew know in advance of any action, that you prefer to handle your own rod completely. If you are not totally sure, unfamiliar with the kinds of species you will be targeting, or not used to the different tackle, it is probably best to let the deckhand set the hook on the first fish while you observe. If you are a complete novice don’t worry, the crew will help you through every
step of the fight; by day’s end you’ll be feeling like a seasoned professional. Depending on the season and the hunger of the fish, you can spend minutes or several hours trolling and looking for fish. Occasionally you will not catch anything, but that is why this sport is called fishing and not catching, but, by fishing the waters of Los Cabos your chances of success are improved.
The artificial bait or lures being pulled behind the boat attract fish that, when hungry, will attack with the intention of devouring them, only to be surprised when a sharp hook catches in their mouth. Your crew will nearly always be aware when fish are about to bite on lures and will accelerate the boat, catching most first time anglers by surprise as frenzied activity begins. When a fish strikes, the reel announces it by a loud zinging noise as the fish takes line, thrilling even the uninitiated by the palatable excitement that this causes. Once the deckhand is sure that the hook is well set, he will get you to sit in the fighting chair, placing the rod in the holder attached to the seat. A crew member will stay at your side until the battle is finished, teaching you to pull up on the rod, crank the reel handle rapidly as you lower the rod tip, and rest and wait patiently when the fish takes more line. Depending on the size and
strength of the fish and your determination, the fight can last a matter of minutes or an hour or more, before you have your prize along side the boat. If your catch is a marlin, and you plan to release it, the deckhand assisted by the captain, will gently wiggle the hook free before letting the fish go. Sometimes a fish may be so exhausted by the fight that it is in danger of dying; the crew will spend some time reviving it, by holding it by the bill and slowly moving the boat forward so oxygen circulates through its gills.
Occasionally a marlin will die during the fight in which case it will be brought aboard. If you don’t want to keep the fillets they will be shared by the locals.
Once the captain has spotted fish, but the trolled lures fail to attract them, he will race the boat to a favorable position in front of the fish, while the deckhand quickly readies a live bait rig. Once in position, the live bait will be tossed out to the fish who hopefully is tempted to eat it. The deckhand will wait several seconds to allow the fish to swallow the bait before setting the hook then setting the drag on the reel and handing it to you as you are positioned in the fighting chair. If your fish turns out to be a smaller game
specimen such as dorado, tuna or wahoo, you will want to keep it to eat, or take home. Once the catch is up to the boat, the deckhand will reach over with a gaff, (a large hook on the end of a pole), pierce the fish’s body, lift it out of the water, and then hit the fish on the head with a club to kill it. If you caught a marlin on live bait, it is still not a problem to release it, even if it has totally swallowed the bait, hook and all. The deckhand will simply cut the line as close to the fish as possible and release the marlin. No permanent damage is done as the acids in the fish’s stomach will disintegrate the hook in a short time.
Depending on your particular crew and if it is not too rough, most deckhands will be happy to clean your smaller fish on the way back to the docks. The crew will at this time bring out the flags corresponding to your catch, announcing to the world the success of your day. Back at the dock you will be met by the dispatcher who saw you off in the morning. Just before leaving the boat you should tip your crew. This is customary though not obligatory and should be based on the effort made, not by the number of fish caught. The normal percentage is 10 to 15 percent of the charter cost and should be handed to the captain who will split it with the mate. Once you are off the boat there are several options available as to what to do with your catch. Most people will want to have their photo taken with their fish if of notable size. The fleet operator will have your catch taken over to the scale and have it hoisted up and weighed, at which time photos can be taken by a professional photographer, who will fill out a board with all pertinent details and deliver good quality 8 x 10 prints with negatives to your hotel the next day for between $15 and $20 dollars. If your fish needs to be cleaned it will be taken to the filleting tables at the dock, skinned and cut into manageable size fillets. You
can expect to pay between $2 and $10 dollars, depending on size, per fish cleaned. Once cleaned it will be handed to you, or taken by the fleet operator to be frozen and collected at a later date by the angler. There is nothing better than really fresh fish, so it is a good idea to keep a couple of fillets to be cooked by a local restaurant, who charge a few dollars for preparation. Smoking your fish is another option and can be arranged by your dispatcher. The cost is $5 dollars per pound for the finished product, which is vacuum packed.
To take your catch home you will require a cooler. If you did not bring one with you they can be purchased at most supermarkets around town, but are quite expensive. Less costly Styrofoam coolers are widely available, but not accepted by all airlines. Check on their regulations first. On the day of departure collect your fish from where it is being stored, pack it in the cooler and tape the lid securely with duct tape. If the fish is frozen solid there is no need for ice. There is no problem passing your cooler through as luggage at customs on either end of your journey and once home your catch will provide you with plenty of tasty
meals as memories of your fishing adventure.
Tracy Ehrenberg is the owner and manager of Pisces Fishing Fleet. Tracy supplies fishing information to the L. A. Times, and is regularly featured on radio sports shows.
For more information look at www.piscessportfishing.com