J. GOERG PHOTOS
I snatched the rod out of the holder and held on tight as the fish spun the line off the reel. The drag was set heavy, but that didn’t stop this whopper from taking line at an alarming pace; alarming, at least to me. “Wahoo! Nice one,” announced our cruiser’s captain. The reel continued to buzz and the heavy mono line crackled as it continued to jet out from the spool.
Here I was again in fishing paradise: On the Sea of Cortez at Van Wormer Resorts’ Hotel Palmas de Cortes, aboard the cruiser Mahi Mahi, with fishing partners Jim Goerg, Terry Sheely, and my wife, Susan. The sky was blue, the sea was blue, the Wahoo was blue, and I think my hands were turning blue from the pressure of the tug-o-war I was having with the Wahoo.
It’s not that I’m an expert of fishing the fish-laden waters of the Sea of Cortez, because I don’t have to be. The captain and the deckhand aboard the cruiser provide all the knowledge and the expertise that you might need. All I had to do was play the Wahoo and land it – which I had failed to do for several years with previous Wahoo. This time, however, was different. I was prepared thanks to my Hotel Palmas de Cortez fishing professionals.
On my previous failures with Mr. Wahoo, I had hooked the toothy critters while using my own salmon gear in pursuit of other species, so it was generally a lesson in excitement/disappointment due to the inevitability of the Wahoo’s knife-like teeth slicing through the monofilament line. Salmon gear isn’t well suited for Wahoo – too light. Those hook-ups, though exciting and memorable, never lasted more than a fistful of seconds. But not this time! The deckhand had attached a big purple diving plug with a steel cable leader to the rod’s monofilament mainline. (Don’t ask me what kind of plug! We don’t use that big of a plug here in the Northwest. Big, purple, and with a triangular bill that bit the water so well, that we trolled it really fast.) Apparently Wahoo like it.
AMIGOS & HEROES sponsors Eda Koot (R – Manager - Pacific Gateway Hotel, Richmond, BC)) and Donald Pinkney (Dir. Sales & Marketing) celebrate their first marlins ever with this double-header, both fish landed and released within five hectic and crazy minutes. Twenty minutes later they co-landed a third one! (Note: Eda caught the first fish of her life on this glorious day.)
I don’t recall exactly if I injured Jim, Terry or Susan, as I elbowed my way to the Wahoo-on-the-purple-plug strike. I was “First Up” by circumstance on our first fish of the first fishing day, having arrived the previous afternoon. “Wahoo fishing has been good,” Eddie Dalmau, the hotel manager and host of THE REEL NEWS AMIGOS (and Heroes) annual trip to East Cape and the wonderful fishing provided by Hotel Palmas de Cortez.
I was elated when the deckhand stuck the gaff into one of the most exciting fish that I ever landed. Playing the Wahoo, even on heavy tackle, was a workout, but a rewarding one. I guessed it to weigh about 60 pounds, but I was humbled by my so-called friends when they said it was more like a 40-pounder. Wahoo are long and slender like a torpedo. It looked a lot bigger than 40 pounds to me. (Size doesn’t matter, does it?) Susan patted me on the shoulder and assured me that size doesn’t matter, then rolled her eyes.
It was a fabulous fish and another catch of a lifetime as are so many first-of-a-kind fish species that I’ve landed here at the East Cape on the Baja peninsula. I was so pleased with this catch that it didn’t really matter what I caught the rest of the day. So, my fishing partners enjoyed themselves with the rest of the catch of the day without my knocking them aside in another fit of greed as I did on the Wahoo hook-up.
It’s a common practice for the participants of THE REEL NEWS trips to Palmas de Cortez to meet at the open air bar after fishing to share tales of their fishing day while enjoying a cold beverage. I couldn’t wait to brag about my success with my first Wahoo ever landed. I was particularly pleased when I saw my good friends and neighbors, Bob and Margie Erickson. Bob had made the Amigos trip once a few years prior, with his son Mike, but this was Margie’s first time fishing here, and in fact, this was also her first day, the same as most of us Amigos.
Susan with a tough fighting Rooster fish.
“I caught a really nice Wahoo,” I announced to my good friends, trying not to get my chest too expanded and my ego somewhat in control. I was just so pleased about my first Wahoo landed in ten years of fishing. “Margie caught three Wahoo today,” Bob said matter-of-factly. “Huh?” I think I said as my chest and ego deflated simultaneously. “Really? Three?” Margie assured me that she had indeed landed three Wahoo, adding “I lost a couple more.” (There ain’t no fairness in fishing – only joy.)
One of the principles that have been reinforced to me when fishing with guides over the years is to listen to them. That sounds too basic, doesn’t it? But time after time people choose to ignore what their guide tells them. A good example of this is my desire to go after Roosterfish when I’m at Palmas. I just love trolling along the beach in shallow water, waiting for the salmon-size roosters to chase my live bait fish. The strikes are often violent and a Roosterfish of any size is a hoot on good salmon tackle, but not light salmon tackle. It’s similar to fishing for Chinook at Sekiu 40 years ago, right along the beach, but totally different in that the Baja weather is so grand. (Note: Roosterfish are much feistier pound for pound than a Chinook salmon.) Also, when trolling the beaches for roosters, you catch other fish – like Pargo. If Roosterfish are sprinters, Pargos are shot putters! They are so strong that you must turn them right away before they have the opportunity to return to their rocky lair or they will take you right down into the jumbled bottom where they live and break off your fishing gear. And that happens quickly. You absolutely must horse them right now if you want to land them. You might also hook a Jack Crevalle, locally called “Toro,” or “The Bull,” translated into English. The name says it all, doesn’t it?
But back to my point of listening to your fishing guide: Several years ago, Jim, Terry and I couldn’t wait to go chasing roosters on our first day of fishing here. Our captain, “Nacho”, mentioned several times that Marlin fishing had been very good for several days. It had been our custom to fish for roosters and the others for the first day or two and then move up to the larger and harder to catch species like Sailfish and Marlin. Finally, we relented to the advice of our captain and said “What the heck, let’s give Marlin a try this first day.” Guess what? We landed five billfish during the first three and a half hours of the day including the one hour boat ride out to the offshore fishing grounds! We had a double-header on Sailfish and Marlin that lasted a while. People dream of a fishing day like that their entire lives.
Then there was Amigo Mel Terry who caught five Marlin by himself one day. Then Amigas Tylar Stephenson and Pam Meredith who also landed five Marlin and lost several others before pleading with their captain to take them back to the hotel, hours before the normal fishing day ended. In their case “no mas,” was a smiling plea. Tired, with arms and backs talking to them, Pam and Tylar were sure smiling over their Margaritas when we talked to them at the swim-up bar later that memorable day. Of course, fishing that incredible doesn’t happen every day, but it does happen. Listen to your captain. Susan and I have been talked out of a Roosterfish quest and into the very best Dorado fishing of our lives. Different lures, different locations, and fabulous results.
The world famous fishing available at Hotel Palmas de Cortez speaks for itself, but I continue to brag about it because it’s the favorite fishing of my life. Fishing, however, is not all the hotel has to offer. THE REEL NEWS trips are advertised as an all-inclusive package deal, but are easily customized to suit guests, even at the last moment. For instance, when your bill is broken down, the fishing, accommodations and meals are broken down separately on your statement. So, if one day you wanted to just lay by the pool, enjoy the sun, and take an afternoon siesta, you are not charged for the fishing. The same is said for your meals. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are delineated from one another, so there is an easy adjustment to charges made to your statement.
6:00 AM the next day found me with fresh coffee in hand, staring to the east, across the Sea of Cortez. The sunrise sky began to glow its sherbet orange. Gulls, pelicans and frigates patrolled the just-offshore waters. Fishing boat captains huddled in small skiffs, delivered to their respective vessels moored on buoys in front of the hotel. The sea was its characteristic flat as could be. Within and hour Susan and I would begin the second day of our annual fishing adventure with friends Jim and Terry.
As we left our waterfront hotel rooms (Yes, our rooms are right on the beach) to walk through the nearly white sand to the pier where the boats pick up their guests, I wondered what the day would bring. There is such a variety of fish to catch here. It’s just like Forest Gump said: “You never know what you’re gonna get”, and that’s an understatement.
The captain of the Mahi Mahi turned her south to some of my favorite Roosterfish locations. Sandy shores with palm festooned beaches indicate a perfect place for Mr. Roosterfish to patrol the sandy bottom off Baja. Our deckhand baited the bare hooks with a live bait each, clicked the level wind into free-spool and let out about 25 yards of line. All four baits were visible to one degree or another. One of the rods was handed to the captain on the fly bridge of the vessel who had an eagle’s eye view of the live baits in the clear water.
Typical offshore trolling lures (NOT for salmon!).
It didn’t take long for the first hook-up of the day. Susan took the rod and played the sporty silvery striped prize for several minutes before it came unbuttoned. Of course she was disappointed in losing the Rooster, but it didn’t really matter. She had caught many Roosterfish in our years fishing here, and one more fish to the boat to be released only deprived her of taking a picture of the morning’s first catch. The playing of the fish took several enjoyable minutes. Roosterfish, no matter what size, never come in without a surprising fight. I’ve been fortunate to hook a few that weighed more than 40 pounds that would have stripped my Penn reel of all of its 30 pound line had not the captain turned the boat to chase it. One year Susan landed a 60 pounder. I think Jim Goerg landed one even larger, although I will never give him the pleasure of my acknowledging how big it likely was.
Jim was up next, and he managed to hook, play and land a rooster of about ten pounds. I loudly announced his catch at four pounds remembering how he shrunk my Wahoo from my estimate of 60 pounds down to 40. Paybacks are hell, and I was only getting warmed up. Terry’s turn was next, and as we trolled over an area where the 20-foot deep bottom turned from a light blue to black, one of the fishing rods bent over double. “Pargo” stated the captain. Unfortunately, the Pargo won and Terry lost. Not surprising in the shallow water with “las rocas” merely a few fathoms under the surface. Pargo grab what you’ve offered them and then head for their rocky home. Who knows how big it was. Ten pounds? Twenty? Bigger, maybe?
We repeated the hook and lose/catch and release on several more small roosters before heading farther south to explore the area near Punta Colorada, another of my favorite beaches. Loosely translated, Punta Colorada means “Colorful Point”, and is the sight of the first hotel of the Van Wormer Resorts, that now sits idle awaiting some rebuilding. It was the site of the first several years of THE REEL NEWS Baja Amigos trips and a place full of memories for everyone on our boat. We’ve caught lots of roosters here.
On the hill above the point is a half-finished relic of a mansion, sans windows, doors and landscaping. All the Amigos who have seen it, have asked the same questions: Who, what, when, why, etc.? The legend, accurate or not, is that it started being built by an international drug lord, and wasn’t yet completed when he was captured. Who knows? But what I also heard from one of the local residents is that since it provides good shade and is fairly cool due to its thick-walled concrete construction, it is a haven for rattlesnakes! I’ve NEVER had a desire to explore that place!
The open air bar back at the hotel was half full when we got off the Mahi Mahi, and lugged a fillet of Dorado across the hot sandy beach. A mere few paces away from the stairs to the bar is a snack bar where you can order good stuff. Handing the proprietor the fillet, I asked him to prepare the fish for ceviche. “About one hour”, he said. “Perfect”, I thought. It is nearly impossible for me to pass this wonderful palm frond shaded Shangri-La of a bar without washing down my day’s experiences with something ice cold and wet. I generally choose a Pacifico. Sometimes I’ll get wild and crazy and have a Modelo. I think Mexico has some of the best beer. Next a shower, perhaps a quick siesta, and then the tall tales of fellow Amigos around a large table, chomping down hefty spoonfuls of fresh Dorado ceviche stacked upon a cracker at the open air bar, or at its swim up section. When it is time for the evening meal, it’s a short stroll down a sidewalk to hotel dinner.
Terry was successful bringing this shark to the boat for release.
The restaurant at Palmas is excellent. Excellent view, excellent service, excellent cuisine, and specializes in fresh seafood (Surprise!). I can’t seem to get enough of the extra-large garlic shrimp served Mexican style. However, the first day of the Amigos arrival to the hotel, we all gather for a group dinner, introductions and explanations of how things are done about boats, lunches, dinner etc. I look forward to meeting the newest members of our group, but also to our dinner. While the main course of last year’s dinner was Mahi, we were also treated to some fresh Mako shark, as I remember. Shark? Yes, shark. The right ones are delicacies, and this was no exception. I always take some of the most prized fish that I catch back to the hotel’s restaurant to have them prepare it for the next night. That was the case with my Wahoo that turned out to be some of the best eating fish ever.
Fishing day number three started just like the first two with an orange ball emerging out of the Sea of Cortez to the east, workers busying themselves to take guests fishing, and me staring at the horizon wondering what the day would bring. After a breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon, fresh fruit juice and a generous serving of good natured baloney from Jim and Terry, I went back to our room and readied our fishing rods for the day.
Today was offshore day. Have you ever seen a flying fish? I never had until I visited here on my first trip. I remember, and am annually reminded, of an immediate misconception that I suffer (now quietly) about the “birds” that emerge from the wake of the boat and fly surprising distances (up to 50 yards?) before diving back into the sea. It took me several moments that first year to realize that these were my first sightings of flying fish. It seems there were more that first year than any year since, but still I see quite a few on our offshore days looking for Marlin, Sailfish , Dorado or Yellowfin Tuna. Amazing freaks of nature.
Terry hooked the first Dorado, not a very large one, but we kept it to have it made into sashimi back at the hotel that afternoon. It wasn’t our day to hook a Marlin or Sailfish, but we did manage to land several of the surprisingly strong Skipjack. A six pound Skipjack might be the hardest fighting fish pound for pound in the ocean, so they are a blast to reel in, although in a way, it’s disappointing that it’s not another tuna species. Although they are a beautiful bullet shaped fish, I’m told that they are not good to eat. A reference book that I looked into had this to say: “Even your cat won’t eat them.” Too bad, because we caught a lot of them, mixed with several Dorado. The Marlin that we spotted just couldn’t be seduced to taking our Ballyhoo bait on this day, no matter how hard our skipper tried. Some days are like that. Such is fishing. Seeing an eight foot long Marlin “Light up” when following your bait is a reward in itself.
Fishing the East Cape region is an experience like no other. Some of the greatest thrills for guests at Hotel Palmas de Cortez are the sightings of here-to-for never seen animals. Several types of dolphins are commonly seen. Manta rays jumping and flip-flopping back into the sea are part of a “normal” fishing day. I’ve seen sea turtles the size of pool tables lollygagging on the surface right next to the boat, and one year I marveled at the size of the only Blue Whale I’ve viewed in my life – the largest animal ever to inhabit the earth. Frigate birds often glide overhead in Osprey style swoops, and Pelicans can be pesky sometimes when you troll a surface bait. This area is a fish and wildlife paradise, as yet unspoiled, but civilized.
Day four dawned much like the others. Fishing was even better. Susan, Jim, Terry and I relished everything about it. Sierra, Pargo, Roosterfish, Dorado, Ladyfish, and even a couple Needlefish. Don’t grab the Needlefish by their long toothy snouts or risk having your palm shredded into hamburger. Our day on the Mahi Mahi ended in a high light as we were served the freshest sashimi possible when one of our Dorado was immediately thinly sliced and treated with the necessary lime juice and other seasonings. Quite a treat on our trip back to the dock.
Our BAJA AMIGOS trip always begins on Monday, the day after Mother’s Day, and ends whenever our Amigos want to. Jim Goerg has sculptured the trip into two phases, adding the BAJA HEROES segment to the latter segment of the AMIGOS. Susan and I extend our trip to a full week to overlap the HEROES trip for a day. So, if you would like to join us, book as many days as you like, but don’t wait too long. AMIGOS and HEROES trips often book up many guests at the Sportsmen’s Show in Puyallup in late January.
See you at Hotel Palmas de Cortez, I hope, for some of the best fishing of your life. May 2017 will be here sooner than you think.
For more information contact:
Van Wormer Resorts
Reservations 877-777-TUNA (8862)
THE REEL NEWS