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You just never know what you might catch in the rich waters surrounding Cabo San Lucas as I was finding out. It was the third hour of fighting the biggest fish of my life and victory was anything but assured. What made this more of a challenge was the fact that I was in a small panga and battling an estimated 300-pound blue marlin. I had been out for a couple of hours in the late afternoon targeting the abundant Dorado that inhabit these waters when the monster marlin engulfed my miniscule offering. Finally after one of the most exciting and exhausting encounters that I have ever had we parted company at the boat. I started the lonely trip to port reflecting on how unbelievable fishing can be in these fertile waters.
In the early times when the oceans
of the world were still being formed and the world was racked with volcanic
eruptions and monstrous earthquakes, the Baja California Peninsula and Sea of
Cortez were created. At the southern tip of Baja the rich Sea of Cortez meets
the mighty Pacific Ocean. While deep canyons plummet to depths of over a mile,
towering seamounts create upwellings that result in nutrient rich waters. This
attracts the wide variety of sea life that makes this one of the richest fishing
grounds in the world.
It all started in the 1950s’ when celebrities and wealthy anglers discovered Baja and the great fishing available in this tropical paradise. Back in those days you had to be rich in order to get to Cabo San Lucas. There were no roads and only private planes ventured down the 1000 miles of the Baja California peninsula, landing on dirt strips cut out of the desert. Fortunately, that has changed and over the years the secret has gotten out and with access by highway and a new modern airport, it is now not only affordable but also accessible to millions of fishermen.
Every year thousands of anglers travel to Cabo San Lucas in pursuit of the highly prized marlin. Cabo San Lucas is blessed with three species of marlin; the black marlin, the blue marlin, and the striped marlin. Blue and black marlin are similar in size and feeding habits and are present in greatest numbers from June through November. The average size for both these species is around 250 pounds, but there are some monsters out there, and you never know when one will appear. Fish in excess of 900 pounds are hooked and sometimes even caught with plenty of stories about the one that got away circulating around the docks at the end of the day. Challenging a fish that can be many times larger than you is not just fishing but is an adventure that tests the skills and determination of those who pursue them.
A smaller cousin of the blue marlin
and black marlin is the striped marlin. They abound in the waters off Baja
California Sur and provide consistent action for anglers, novices and
experienced alike. Weighing an average of 100 to 150 pounds and sometimes
hitting that magic 200 pound mark, Striped Marlin provide lots of big game
fishing action. The usual method of fishing for striped marlin is trolling jigs
waiting for a strike, while scrutinizing the surrounding waters for the fins of
cruising marlin. This is where the fun begins as the yell of "marlin" ignites
activity on the boat as the skipper positions the boat for the angler to cast
live bait at the fish.
When the marlin takes the bait, line is fed to the fish giving it time to swallow the bait. Setting the hook is the most exciting part and the angler will throw the reel in gear and repeatedly set the hook while the captain guns the engines using the boat to facilitate the hook set. Immediately line begins to melt off the reel and out in the distance the marlin skyrockets into the air trying to throw the hook. Excitement and challenge is what the striped marlin offers anglers as these fish are plentiful most of the year. More Striped Marlin are caught in the water off the Baja coast than nearly anywhere else in the world. The best time of year to have possible multiple hookup days are in the winter months from December to June but they can be caught in good numbers at anytime of the year.
The acrobatic sailfish also adds a special touch for the light tackle anglers and can be taken in good numbers from June to November. Both live bait and artificial presentations will take these great fighters, with 20 lb tackle the most challenging way to enjoy the experience. Averaging from 50 to 90 pounds, sailfish will occasionally be taken over the100-pound mark.
The most rare and prized billfish is not marlin or sailfish; it is the elusive swordfish. Swordfish feed in the depths of the ocean at night and during the day can sometimes be found sleeping on the surface. Though not actively feeding, these bulldozers of the deep can sometimes be teased into swallowing live bait. The fight of a Swordfish will test the mettle of any angler. They have been known to fight long hours for its freedom. The best times to encounter these denizens of the deep are February through June.
If you plan to release your billfish it helps prevent confusion by making that intention clear to the captain and mate when you start you day of fishing. For those who want their trophy to grace a wall at home, you can accomplish this without killing a majestic fish. New techniques have enabled taxidermists to produce high quality replica mounts, which are taken from molds of actual fish. Unlike skin mounts that tend to deteriorate after a few years, replicas will stand the test of time.
Cabo San Lucas has become the home of world class fishing tournaments and these are growing in popularity every year. The biggest and richest of these is the Bisbees’s Black and Blue Marlin Tournament. This is the richest billfish tournament in the world and anglers from around the world invade Cabo San Lucas in late October every year. There is over $2,000,000 in prize money on the line and with it the prestige of winning this tournament. Over two hundred boats take part in this extravaganza and it is quite a show. Following closely after the Bisbees’s Tournament is the Pete Lopiccola Memorial Marlin Tourna-ment to benefit the Cancer Research Center at the University of California, San Diego and the medical needs of children in Cabo San Lucas. This is a fun tournament that is inexpensive to enter compared to the other tournaments and last year raised over $200,000, making it a great way for anglers to compete and help out.
Around the middle of October, Western Outdoor Publications sponsors the Cabo San Lucas Tuna Tournament, a two-day event where anglers go after the big bucks. The 2000 tournament awarded the winning team $143,100 in prize money. Tuna are the undisputed bruisers of the deep, challenging the endurance of the most experienced anglers. The tournament season ends with the Annual Cabo San Lucas Billfish Tournament, which takes place at the end of November.
There are many other options in these rich warm waters and a great number of anglers prefer to chase these instead of the billfish. Topping this list is the brilliantly colored and hard fighting Dorado. Found in great numbers during the months of July through October. Dorado are pursued not only for a spectacular aerial battle but also for their great table fare. The usual method of fishing for Dorado is to troll medium to small jigs while keeping your eyes open for signs of feeding fish. Birds diving on bait or circling a certain area are always good places to concentrate on. Quite often, an area of floating debris, which attracts Dorado like a magnet, becomes an anglers’s heaven and can result in wide-open mayhem. Once a fish is hooked on an artificial, live bait should be offered before the first fish is landed. The school will follow a hooked fish to the boat and multiple hook-ups can result. There are some big bull Dorado taken in this fashion and fish in excess of 60 pounds are frequently caught with the average fish in the 10 to 30 pound range.
Yellow Fin Tuna is one of the hardest fighting fish that swims and can attain weights over 300 pounds. Again, trolling until fish are located and then offering bait are proven methods, as is drifting and slow trolling with live bait. Chunking, chumming with chunks of fish, is also a very productive way to tempt these battlers of the deep. Another popular technique is to travel out 25 to 40 miles and chase the vast schools of dolphin that can be found. Tuna love to follow dolphin and this is a great way to catch that big one. Once hooked, tuna head for the bottom and refuse to give any ground. Quality tackle and a strong back is highly recommended for the torturous battle when a big fish is hooked.
Another highly sought-after fish for both a great fight and unsurpassed eating is the lightening fast Wahoo. Fish of 50 pounds and larger are taken every year and your best odds are fishing the months of August and September. Trolling at high speeds is the most productive method of finding success but most Wahoo are caught while fishing for other species. Caution is advised when landing this speedster, they have a mouth filled with razor sharp teeth, which can cause injury if not handled properly. What is so great about all of these species is that the techniques for catching each fish is similar and as stated before you just do not know what may hit next.
If battling these bruisers is not to your taste do not despair as inshore fishing opportunities are exceptional along the sandy beaches and rocky shorelines of Baja and is a lot of fun. Fishing from a panga or casting off the beach can result in great action and good eating. Rooster Fish leads the inshore game fish list and can attain weights in excess of 50 pounds and are fast, hard fighting fish. Casting surface lures from the beach to feeding Roosters is an exciting and, at times, fast-paced sport. Other species that are available inshore are pargo, cabrilla, sierra mackerel, grouper, yellowtail and amberjack, to name a few of the many species taken on a regular basis. All that is required to enjoy fishing here is to charter a boat and go.
Fly-fishing for billfish and other species is growing in popularity by leaps and bounds. There are some quality charters that specialize in fly-fishing and can provide top of the line equipment as well as the experience to connect you with huge fish on a fly.
It is important to know what to expect when you charter one of the many boats available for hire. You can rent a panga, which is a small open boat about 22 feet long. These are great for fishing inshore and offshore on calm days. Do not make the mistake and think that because you are in a small boat you will only catch small fish. Marlin over 500 pounds and tuna in the 200 to 300 pound range are taken every year on pangas. The normal cost for a day of fishing is approximately $150.00 for six hours fishing and an additional $20 for bait. You will have to provide food and drinks. Three anglers can share a panga making this the most affordable way to experience fishing in Cabo. The other option is to charter boats from 28 footers to boats in excess of 40 feet. Prices will range from the low $300s to over a $1000 per day for the big private charters. Fishing licenses are usually included but make sure you check when you book your trip. There are many fleets operating safe boats with experienced crews but caution should be taken. Checking the many Internet sites before your visit will give you the chance to check what the different fleets offer. Also you can book charters after you arrive at one of the many fleet offices in town or through your hotel. I recommend that you check out the boat you will be fishing on for the quality of the equipment and the condition of the boat a day prior to your trip. A little effort in advance will insure you a quality trip and an experience to treasure for years to come.
Boats usually depart around 7:00 a.m. and the first stop is to get bait. Ten live baits will cost you a 20-dollar bill and are essential for a days fishing. Anglers must make sure they tell the Captain if they want to hook fish on the troll or let the deck hand set the hook and then hand the angler the rod. Unless you are experienced it is advisable that you let the deck hand handle this part. After a successful day on the water, your catch will be cleaned (for a fee of $2.00 to $10.00 per fish depending upon the size) at the fish cleaning station at the sportfishing dock. A tip for the Captain and crew for a great day of fishing is also standard but not an obligation. The normal amount would be ten to fifteen percent of the charter price and should be based upon the effort put forth and not the number of fish caught. It should be given to the Captain to be shared with the crew just prior to leaving the boat.
After your catch is cleaned and bagged for you, there are facilities to freeze your catch. Some of the larger fleets have freezing facilities or you can check with your hotel. Just before leaving and heading home you can pack the fillets in an ice chest and duct tape it closed. These fillets will still be frozen upon arriving home and will offer many fabulous meals.
The fishing grounds range from Boca De Las Matancitas to Punta Gorda and include the Golden Gate Bank, San Jaime Bank, 45 Spot, 95 Spot and the Inner and Outer Gorda Banks. Boats will head for the most productive spot and being on the water daily, Captains stay well informed on where the best fishing is taking place. Private boaters should ask around and find out where the action is before venturing out. If you are fishing in your own boat, make sure you have essential safety gear on board and that your boat is in good mechanical condition. Spending the night drifting at sea is unpleasant and potentially dangerous. There are two launch ramps at the marina in Cabo San Lucas and a small fee is charged to launch and to pull your boat out. Make sure you have a fishing license and your boat has the required paperwork to avoid problems with the authorities.
Cabo San Lucas is truly a fishing paradise but that is not all it offers to those of you who venture out to sea. The marine life is plentiful and watching dolphins, whales, turtles and manta rays are just a few of the sights that await you on your fishing adventure.
Sport Fishing in Cabo San Lucas - 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 the Pacific 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 650 different 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 sport fishing 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. 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 clsoe 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 fleets policy in regard to catch and release. Boats in Cabo San Lucas 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. Most day trip (8 hours) charters normally include tax, fishing licenses, tackle, crew and ice. Be sure to verify any extra charges. Some fleets will include beer and soda, and cleaning and freezing of your catch. 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 sunglasses 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.
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 Cabo San Lucas your chances of success are improved.
The artificial bait, or lures being pulled behind the boat attract fish who, 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.
You might also like to see our information on surfing in Cabo San Lucas. And if surfing is your bag, you might also want to see more information on parasailing in Cabo San Lucas. Another very popular activity in Cabo is riding horses on the beach, in the local desert and on the mountains.