Few places on earth can boast of a higher catch rate on billfish than Baja's East Cape region, and red-hot action during last week's Penn Fishing University excursion to the legendary Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort saw numerous anglers catch their first billfish.
Species caught included striped marlin, sailfish, and blue marlin, along with plenty of yellowfin tuna, amberjack, dorado, skipjack tuna, pargo [snapper], and even a stray wahoo kept everybody on their toes.
The most numerous billfish were striped marlin, and every boat that went after them got from 2 to 6-plus opportunities per day. The stripers ran from some 75-pound "pups" on up to 140-pound bruisers; with the average probably right around 100 to 110-pounds.
Next most abundant were the sailfish [pez vela]. Although they appear large due to their oversize dorsal fins, due to their general lack of "thickness", this species was running from around 50 to 100 pounds.
Blue marlin are the big boys of the clan. Since more than 85-percent of all billfish are released in East Cape waters, getting reliable estimates on the larger fish can be difficult. One big blue died during a long and brutal fight with Anthony Wong of Sacramento, and that fish weighed 225 pounds.
An even bigger one estimated at well over 300 pounds was fought and lost by Cliff Cook of Sacramento aboard the Tres Hermanos. "The big one hit a dorado-colored jig on 80-popund tackle," related Cook. "He just smoked about 300 yards of line off the reel, then jumped and ran ahead of the boat. The skipper gunned the boat and we finally caught up with him. He came up under the boat shaking his head, and the hook finally pulled."
On average, the boats going after billfish during our stay got as many as 10 shots per day at the various billfish species, averaging from 2 to 5 fish landed. Some marlin were found as little as 1 mile from the hotel dock, but the majority of the billfish action took place from 3 to 5 miles off the Las Arenas lighthouse.
We even observed a presumably sane kayaker slow-trolling live mackerel in the marlin area. Truly world-class fishing!
The hottest trolling lure was a petrolero-color Williamson Coyote jig fished long on the port-side outrigger. An interesting new lure that also got plenty of interest from both marlin and sailfish was the blue or black Williamson Live Ballyhoo [which is actually plastic]. The Ballyhoo did well fished short off the starboard flatline clip, or very long down the middle.
Both of the above lures were rigged on 10-foot leaders with 8/0 Owner Jobu big-game hooks. The Coyote jigs were trolled on the standard 200-pound mono leader material. The Ballyhoo were fished a little more like natural bait, and were presented on 130-pound fluorocarbon leader.
Trolling gear was usually a Penn International 16VSX 2-speed reel with a 100-yard topshot of 50-pound mono over 400 yards of 80-pound braid. This combo made the smaller sailfish a sporting proposition, but could easily handle blue marlin to 300-plus pounds.
Quite often the marlin and sailfish would simply play with the trolling lures. The trick was to quickly slide a live mackerel or dead ballyhoo back among the jigs, which was virtually always inhaled immediately.
The baits were rigged on 10-foot leaders of 100-pound fluorocarbon, with an 8/0 Owner Gorilla hook attached via a perfection loop knot. Standard bait reels were Penn TRQ200 and TRQ300 reels filled with 30 or 40-pound topshots, although I did manage to land a nice striped marlin using the tiny new Torque TRQ100 with just a 20-pound topshot.
Some anglers took a break in the billfish action to fish yo-yo jigs along the outer edge of the dropoff near La Ribera in about 200 feet of water. The mixed species bite was fantastic at times on amberjack [pez fuerte] to 25 pounds, yellowfin tuna to 30 pounds, skipjack tuna and red pargo to 15 pounds and even a few odd-looking popeye catalufa.
This writer did especially well using a blue/prism 4-ounce Crippled Herring jig or a 3 ½ ounce Williamson Benthos Speed jig in the same color. The fish were not interested in the more popular [and larger] 5 to 8-ounce jigs.
The hot setup was again a Torque TRQ100, this time filled with 50-pound braid. A short 4-foot leader of 50-pound fluorocarbon attached with a 90-pound test black barrel swivel completes the terminal setup.
Just inside the yo-yo fishing area off La Ribera saw the collection of more than 3 dozen boats every morning to soak live sardinas for yellowfin tuna. The yellowfin ranged from 10 to 30 pounds, and generally went for a lively bait soaked on 30-pound mono with a 2/0 Owner Ringed Flyliner hook.
When things got slow, tricks like adding a #2 splitshot, dropping down to 20-pound line or using 3-feet of fluorocarbon leader helped entice reluctant tuna. A handful of dorado were also caught among the tuna, and every day at least 1 or 2 marlin grabbed sardinas intended for tuna on light line and tailwalked wildly between the boats before breaking off.
Anthony Wong, owner of IWE Sports in Sacramento, had caught a rare longbill spearfish the previous year here, and was able to add the 225-pound blue marlin to his lifetime list this year. Wong's 11-year old son Jared was able to notch a pair of striped marlin [including a 140-pounder], several very strong skipjack tuna, and got to "tag-team" a 185-pound blue marlin. Young Jared even caught a nice pompano while surfcasting by the hotel.
Before arriving at Hotel Buena Vista, Chris Painter of Syre Technologies was just an occasional trout angler who was the major IT software supplier to Sacramento County. Along with his 18-year old son Nick, the pair became big-game anglers who caught striped marlin, sailfish and even blue marlin.
The elder Painter had a remarkable incident while catching his first marlin. The 100-pound billfish broke the leader right at the boat during the landing process, and then proceeded to swim up-current while sulking at the surface for several minutes. Veteran skipper Jesus Cota of the Dusty B II was able to chase the fish down, and deckhand Sadoc Agundez grabbed the free-swimming fish by the bill and wrestled it aboard.
Al Limas of Sacramento also fished aboard the Tres Hermanos, and managed to catch several marlin on 30-pound tackle. Little 13-year old Rebecca Maher of Corpus Cristi caught here first marlin at 100-pounds, and 3 more before the session was over.
Robert and Oscar Loya of Sacramento both caught a marlin as well as tuna, dorado and a 50-pound pargo. Louis Perez of Sacramento had given up fishing for over 15 years, but made up for it by catching a sailfish and a marlin on his first day out aboard the Nueva Era.
The Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort is in Baja's East Cape region, about an hour's drive north of the Los Cabos airport, or about an hour's drive south of La Paz. Most of the old "Baja Rats" who gave up going to Cabo San Lucas now find the fishing and pace of life more amenable here.
The hotel itself is run by the Valdez family, with Felipe efficiently running the day to day hotel and fishing fleet operations, and oldest son Esaul in charge of construction of the new condos on their adjacent property. Middle son Axel oversees the US operations, and you will occasionally see the founder and patriarch Jesus "Chuy" Valdez doing a little power-walking around the grounds.
Direct flights to Los Cabos are available from Sacramento, as well as San Jose and SFO. In a little over 2 hours you are in big-game fishing country. Just about everyone knows that a US Passport is now required for air travel, but a persistent rumor is that fishing reels filled with line are not allowed in your carry-on baggage.
Immediately after 9/11, there was indeed such a restriction against line, along with a restriction on just about everything including fingernail clippers. Although the rule has been rescinded for several years by US, Mexican and Canadian airline security agencies, every once in a while you may run into an airline employee who is not up to date. Gently asking to speak with a supervisor solves the problem every time.
The Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort operates year round, and can be reached at 800-752-3555.