Peninsula Fly Fishers
  

Baja With Alex, 2004
Lost at Sea

by Igor Doncov

September 2004


Baja road casualty

Our summer baja trip this year started out ominously. We were driving on an open highway north of Guerrero Negro without a vehicle in sight when there came a bang from the rear and the camper shuddered. A gargantuan motorhome passed me and as I peered, our rear view mirror showed an outsized mirror bouncing on the pavement behind us. We eventually caught up to the driver who claimed I had drifted into his lane. After several tense moments we parted company feeling grateful for our fortune and angry at our misfortune.

We reached San Lucas Cove RV park in record time and Alex proceded to renew his acquaintance with all the locals. He gravitated to Larry's motorhome where the owner had established a veritable zoo by leaving seeds, fruits, and water at strategic locations for the resident wildlife.


A very trusting Oriole chick
White winged doves would eat from the hand and cottontail rabbits would nibble your toes. Alex befriended an oriole chick which he fed for a few days.

Alex was impatient to start fishing. We loaded the boat next to our palapa and headed for the mouth of the cove. Alex made a remarkable catch of a fish that I have never seen before in Baja. The Australians call it 'Queenfish' and it occurs primarily in the Central Pacific. I had caught them at the Gilbert Islands while stalking bonefish. It put up a great battle on light tackle.

Rumor had it that dorado were abundant 'outside' the island of San Marcos. We searched far and wide for them, but, with the exception of a longliner whose baited hooks ensnared our motor, we saw scant evidence of anything. The mornings at sea, however, were particularly enjoyable. The channel was full of manta rays, each the size of a dining room table. It was delightful watching these creatures flipping through the air in the morning light, ending with a loud splat.


Alex discovers Humbolt squid at doorstep

It was our habit to take a siesta each afternoon after the fishing. Alex never enjoyed this quite as much as I. One afternoon he heard a loud squishing noise just outside the camper and ran out to investigate. A lot of shouting ensued. Well, it turned out to be a large humbolt squid that was attempting to beach itself next to the palapa. I picked it up and marveled at its beauty as it kept changing colors, from pale white to deep purple and back again. I couldn't help but feel that it was undergoing emotional changes - most likely fear and anger. Eventually my interest waned and I got out the fillet knife. The mollusk turn out to be excellent table fare, but a bit tougher than our local species.

The following morning I packed the boat with the intention of moving to more fertile waters. Plans were being made when our neighbor, Boyd, pulled up to our left and proceded to display, clean, and freeze about 15 good sized dorados. He was even kind enough to share his GPS coordinates of the schools he encountered. "Finally! Success", I thought.

Meanwhile, the weather had changed and the next day we encountered a stiff wind at the island on the way to the newly acquired locations. We turned back and started a slow troll across the Craig Channel when the rod doubled over from a dorado bite. Alex celebrated our good fortune.


Properly held before a camera, heh heh,
a dorado can be made to look large indeed
I subdued the fish and tried to start the motor. It wouldn't budge. I freed it and spent the next 20 minutes trying to restart it without success. I started to feel a mild form of panic overcoming me. I took a long look at the horizon. The sea glistened with an oily calmness and there wasn't a soul in sight. I felt a shudder run up my back. Alex was still excited about the catch: "But dad, we caught a DORADO!". I got out the oars and started rowing towards Haystack. A blue whale appeared next to us out of nowhere, sighed deeply, and sank into the abyss. After a while we started to see the outline of a panga fishing at Haystack. We stood up on the seats and waved shirts and oars to get their attention. There was no response. The boat remained stationary. I rowed on. At first I rowed vigorously, but the sun was so strong I started to feel an intense heat in my head followed by a nauseating headache. I slowed down and stopped frequently to douse my hat in sea water. As I rowed and got closer the panga morphed into a commercial fishing boat and Alex waved and shouted still louder, again without response. Two hours later, hot, thirsty, and exhausted I pulled up to the vessel. A man appeared at the rail and threw a rope over the side of the squid fishing boat. Three young men lay dozing on deck under the awning while the remainder slept in the cabins below. "Didn't you see us?", I stammered between gulps of drinking water. "Yes, of course we heard you but we can't weigh anchor until the Capitano wakes up". I just couldn't believe it, but was so exhausted that I, too, slumped on deck amid the squid slime of last night's catch and kept drinking. Alex, on the other hand, was full of energy. The crew took a liking to him and, to his pleasure, taught him how to fish with a handline. We had the motor examined by a deckhand who concluded that we had blown a head gasket. By late afternoon the capitan awoke and towed us back to the cove. We thanked him profusely and I gave him our prized catch in gratitude (over Alex's protests). Our friends at the campground were relieved to see us and called off next day's search party that was being organized.

A Dorado Bonanza


Leaping dorado caught near Sargasso beds.
Note weeds on line.

We never did find out what ailed that motor. Our mechanically gifted neighbor took apart all the components, found nothing, reassembled them, and the outboard fired up, not giving further trouble for the remainder of the trip. Meanwhile, Alex researched the dorado problem in his own way. He found an old green/yellow Zucker in our tacke box that matched Larry's successfull patern. "This is what I'm fishing with tomorrow", he announced boldly.

The morning seemed to herald a great day from the earliest light. Halfbeaks skipped along the surface with dorado greyhounding in pursuit. We could not have trolled more than 200 yds. before Alex caught his first dorado on the Zucker. By the time we reached the island he had landed ten fish to my single. The north end of the island had sargasso weed lines that were teeming with dorado. Each one brought in was followed by groups of twenty or thirty fish. We were in dorado heaven. Alex was outfishing me by a factor of ten to one (and reminding me along the way). His arms actually grew tired of pulling on fish. He even managed to hook a kawakawa at the tip of the island, a fish he prized because of its beauty and rarity. We speculated about the origin of it name ("Akipumba eat kawakawa").


A very happy young fisherman

It was the perfect day. I asked Alex if this was the best day of fishing that he ever had and he agreed it was. We motored into the channel off the west lighthouse and encountered sargasso with even greater concentrations of fish. Alex probably hooked, landed, and released another 10 fish before it happened. We got a double hookup, each fish weighing about 20 lbs. Our lines crossed but we seemed to untangle them. Suddenly the two fish ran in oposite directions with crossed lines. I shouted a warning about the danger but continued to fight my fish instead of free-spooling the reel. There was a snap and suddenly it was all over. Alex reeled in the slack line. He just stood there in silent disbelief. I encouraged him to continue but the wind had been taken out of his sails. We gunned the boat and headed for Larry's RV. Larry was leaving that day and, if we could just reach him in time, might sell us a couple of lures. Alas, upon arrival we saw that his truck was gone and knew what that meant.

Fortunately our neighbor, Boyd, was leaving that evening and my 8 year old son negotiated the sale of two green/yellow feathers from the most successfull fisherman in camp. All was well again. The following day Alex was back in action as long as I found fertile sargasso beds.


Not another dorado, please.

Bye early noon we were heading back to the campground satiated from the day's fishing. Alex was dozing in the bow when the fish struck my lure and ran about half of the line off the reel. Alex woke up in time to shout "Papa, it's a huge bull dorado!" after seeing it jump. I tightened the drag as far as I dared in an attempt to prevent being spooled but realized that I just wasn't going to stop that run. The mighty fish had stitched it's way through the weeds and was pulling entire weed beds in its run for freedom. It seemed hopeless at first. I ran the boat towards the fish while Alex stood on the bow and removed clumps of sargasso from the line. Miraculously we got a direct line to the fish and a long battle ensued. At times it felt as though my struggle wasn't tiring him one bit. A wind came up about a half hour into the battle causing waves to lap over the transom. The taught line made an eerie whining sound in the wind. An hour into the fight he showed color off the back of the boat. To my amazement he appeared to be as long as the transom, somewhere in the 50lb-70lb range. After more work than you can imagine I got the bite tippet into Alex's hands and laid the rod to rest. I had no idea what I was going to do with that huge fish thrashing in the 14 foot boat. I had no club to dispatch him. I was, frankly, too tired to think clearly or care. I grabbed the base of the tail and felt no movement from the animal - he was equally spent. His peduncle was so broad I couldn't get my fingers around it. I slid about 1/2 of the fish over the side when it started to slip. Back it went, as it had come in. Alex let go of the swivel, the rod tip doubled over and the 20lb test line parted. He looked at me a bit guiltily, but it really wasn't his fault. My only regret was not having a picture of the beast. It had been the biggest fish I had ever caught other than the billfish. I felt a curious sense of power and invicibility as we motored back through the whitecaps.


Skippies are the bull terriers of the Cortez

We no longer fished for dorado - we expected our limit every day (which we released). One day we spotted birds wheeling over the water in the distant sky. When we arrived a group of about 200 gulls sat in a tight circle on the surface, pecking at the water below. We circled the area slowly with rapalas excited with anticipation. Five to ten pound skipjack tuna would shoot up from the depths and nail our offerings. Alex was delighted. He just couldn't believe the power of these fish on a spinning rod. A freshly caught skipjack, wet and glistening in the morning sun is a fish of great beauty. I just don't understand why fishermen tend to denigrate these marvelous fish.

Calicos at San Roque


Blooming elephant trees in the Vizcaino desert
After a while, despite the excellent fishing, we felt a need for a change in order to maintain that spirit of adventure that all vacations need. I had wanted to visit Bahia Asuncion for years and this seemed to be the perfect opportunity. We bounced and lurched along the washboard road at a snail's pace marveling at the scenic buttes of the Vizcaino desert. The elephant trees were in bloom lending the landscape a pink quality. The people of Asuncion were curious, warm, and hospitable - far more so than those we had met along the highway. Another 12 miles of bad road brought us to Punta San Roque, a collection of commercial pangas and not much else.


The calico bass were large

I took an immediate liking to this place. The air was pleasantly warm and dry. The clear, green Pacific combers roared upon the endless white sandy beach. The rocky point was laced with thick beds of kelp. We rigged our rods and followed the winding road along the shoreline searching for rocky promontories. The full moon guaranteed a very low tide giving us the opportunity to stand at the very end and cast our plastic offerings to the very edge of the kelp beds. These were inhaled by calico bass that dwarfed anything in the states. Hokking them was one thing, landing them through the surf was another matter entirely. It took quickness and all the power my rod possessed to pull the 8 lb. fish out of the kelp and up into the tidepools at our feet. Some required a slack line to encourage them to swim out of the foliage. Alex's 8 year old body was not up to the task and he went through a lot of lures. We prepared sushi from the bass and it was excellent.

Some of the Mexicans in the area harvest a subtidal species of algae which is sold overseas. A group of these pangeros, hearing of Alex's kelp bass difficulties, invited us to join them and fish alongside during the harvest, We climbed aboard and headed for the vast beds to the north. The three pangeros worked as a team. The compressor was started and one Mexican went over the side, a trail of bubbles following him. The second was at the oars steadying the panga just outside the breakers. The third gathered and stored the bundles of algae the diver brought up. I later examined my school books and determined they were getting Gelidium sp., a short purple algae used in making ice cream, agar, and other products.


Edgar the boatman helps net a calico at Las Roques

Alex and I sat at the bow and worked the bigger kelp beds, where we caught a number of good calicos. The water was so clear below that we could see fish attacking our baits. Eventually a huge sheephead showed up and tentatively mouthed our plastics. I was fiddling with the pliers when suddenly Alex's rod tip bent to the water and I saw him pumping the 10 lb fish for all he was worth. The Mexicans let out a holler and started to shout encouragement. The fish came up fast, laid broadside on the surface, displaying those vibrant red and black markings. Then it dove awkwardly and the hook came out. "It wasn't that big anyway", was Alex's only remark.

I told him there would be more opportunities. But they wouldn't come until our next trip.





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