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Postby bhorsley » Sat Apr 11, 2009 9:49 am

It is October and it’s hot and the sun has not even cracked the horizon yet. Eight anglers packed in a van nod and sweat as they rumble down a dusty desert road lined with huge Cordon cactus. The only conversation is between the driver and the passenger in the front seat as they look out for the cattle who are wandering along and across the side of the road in a predawn desert landscape. As the first light of dawn shines, in the distance we make out the mountains rising above the cactus forest in the west. This is the east coast of Baja. The van’s ride ends at Punta Arena, where meet our captains and will spend the week fishing the waters of the Sea of Cortez around Cerralvo Island.

Gary, the driver, turns the van off the paved road onto a long, straight, washboard-like dirt road, the effects of which have everyone awake and ready for action. Mercifully the road turns off into the beach at Punta Arena. Punta Arena is full of life — more than 50 pangas and their crews are busy with their morning duties. Pangas are the tough simple fiberglass almost flat bottom boats so common in Central America. Both sport and commercial crews use this beach. No matter what marina or beach you fish from here, the morning action is the same. The hurried activity of the crews readying their boats and anglers sorting gear fills the air with excitement and anticipation — the things that drive all fishermen to get up early.

As our captains push their pangas to the water’s edge, we pair up for the day’s fishing. Two anglers per boat and each angler takes three to four fly rods plus lunch and drinks. Gear is loaded into our prospective boats and then we help with the launching. After we leave the beach, bait is the first order of business. Bait? Hard to believe that fly fishermen need more bait than bait fisherman, but without bait, the fishing would be tough. Live chum makes the fishing come alive at Cerralvo Island.

Most mornings bait is made (cast netted) or bought or both. Today we buy a load of live flat-iron herrings or sardines from a family member of the captain. Twenty dollars is the going rate and it is fine with us. As we get the bait in our “live well” we are off to the shoreline in search of roosters, lady fish, pargo, green jack, jack Crevelle and other inshore jewels.

Our captain, Efren, tosses handfuls of live sardines overboard, and the results are soon apparent. As predators chase the sardines to the top, the angler’s job is to put his fly in the area of the explosions and strip. Seven to nine weights with tropical intermediates are perfect choices for this inshore fishing.

Ladyfish are super aggressive and readily eat flies and jump – making these fish a fantastic game fish in any angler’s book. Roosterfish (pez gallo) are very aggressive and eat their prey with gusto. They will put their comb up in the air and race around like a Pacman on amphetamines. Most roosters in October are smaller than in the summer but no less aggressive. Roosters suffer from tunnel vision, so to score with them we must place the fly accurately in front of them. Anglers with a good quick cast have the most success. Hot flies for inshore fishing are flash-tail Clousers tied in olive and white, black and white, and tan and white. Gary Bulla’s Fly the Tuna Tux in olive over white, tan over white, or black and white are also very effective and are easy to cast. 20-pound tippet is perfect along with a 25-pound bite shock.

By mid-morning Efren has gone through most of our bait — it is time to make bait again. Usually it only takes a few throws along the beaches to replenish the live well with chum. In normal years bait is easy to come by , so why did we buy it this morning? It boils down to the way things are done – everyone gets to work and earn a little money.

When the boat is moving, particularly if it is a long ride, Efren stops the boat and adds fresh water to the live well. Good clients should offer to pitch in and help with dipping fresh water for the live well. Things like that help the day go easier.

After the mid-day bait is made, we’re off to deeper water looking for a bigger pull. Today we are fishing off the “Castle,” which is what the local captains call the lighthouse on Punta Arena. Lots of live chum is thrown in the water, hoping to coax a yellowfin tuna or black skipjack along with dolphin. The rods of choice here are 10 to 12 weights with fast-sinking lines like 500 grain or even 600 grain heads. It is also prudent to have another 10 or 11-weight rigged with intermediate fly line for the dolphin or surface-feeding fish.

We make short casts so we can dump the rest of the line and really get our flies deep, just like winter striper fishing back home on the East Coast. After two slow strips, my line comes tight and my 10 weight bends deep. A short, hard tug of war ensues and finally we see color – gold — and it yields an 18-pound yellowfin!

The next cast my line comes tight again, the rod bends even deeper and I feel my 10 weight bottom out. Christ! What has this gringo gone and hooked? Hard pumping and after a near heat stroke, I finally make progress. At then end of the battle we see color again — blue silver. Captain Efren says “barrilete” (a skipjack). I am a veteran of tuna, skippies and little tunnies on the East Coast but nothing prepared me for these guys. Efren lands my first skipjack — a mere 10 pounds. These black skipjacks are some of the toughest fish on the planet. I quickly learn that if there were more skipjack in the chum than yellowfins, a 12 weight rod is a much better choice. My partner hooks a nice dolphin that follows in the sardines. To me dolphin is almost the perfect game fish — they eat flies readily, jump when hooked, are some of the most beautiful fish and are really tasty on the plate.

Effective flies for tuna, skippies, and dolphin are Tuna Tux in black and white, olive and white, or tan and white. Last year we found bigger 3.5 inch Gummy Minnows, sudden death on yellowfin when they were dead sticked. Almost all of the bites were on the drift down. Fluorocarbon leaders were more effective than regular mono. With sinking lines a straight 6-foot shot of 20 pound tippet was all that was needed. Some anglers chose to use 25 or 30 pound fluorocarbon bite leader.

We continue the dance — move back to the ledge and chum and cast, repeating this several times. Not every drift is successful, but many are productive. By 1:30 pm our panga day ends and we are ready for the beach. When I first heard this I felt like it was too short of session, but with the heat and the action it is actually perfect. It is nice to have the afternoon off to nap and wander the beach looking for fish.

Gear for Baja-Tackle Review
With the wide variety of fish around Cerralvo Island, anglers need to be prepared. Six to 9 weight are perfect for inshore ladyfish, small roosters, Toro (jack Crevelle), pargo and others. An 8 weight, fast-action rod and a tropical intermediate fly line are a perfect set up. You can fish both sub-surface and surface flies. For bigger Dorado, roosters, Toro and smaller yellowfin tuna, a 10 or 11 weight is perfect. It would be nice to have two spools, or even better, two set ups, one with a fast-sink tip and the other with an intermediate line. It is a good idea to carry a rod from 12 to 13 weight with a good big game reel and a 500 to 700 grain sink-tip line or a shooting head system. This outfit is good to battle the big tuna, possible striped marlin or sailfish and the spirit-breaking black skipjacks.

The water is as clear as I have fished anywhere, and fluorocarbon seems to be more effective than regular mono. The leaders on sinking lines can be very simple 6 to 8 feet of straight 20 pound fluorocarbon with a30 to 40 pound fluorocarbon bite guard. Some angler prefers to use straight 25 pound tippet. Casting is much more important inshore, so you need a leader that casts well and will turn over a fly. Standard 10 foot tapered leader in 20 pound tippet is fine, but fluorocarbon is better. Ladyfish have very abrasive mouths so 25 pound shock bite guard is not a bad idea. You can get away without it, but you’ll need to check your leader after each fish.

A wide range of flies work well. Gary’s Tuna Tux in olive over white and black over white are effective for almost every fish, particularly the tuna family. Black and white, olive and white, tan and white Clouser Deep Minnows work very well. Ken Hanley and Jay Murakoshi really like the Sea Habit pattern and carry them in several colors.

Hosted Trips and Do It Yourself
Sound like fun? This is one of my favorite fishing expeditions. The best way to get the most out of a trip is to join a hosted trip. Hosts like Gary Bulla have been to the location numerous times and have the situation planned out, from the lodging, food and transportation to the list of things to bring and effective flies and tackle. Their experience will let you make the most of your fishing time, and their knowledge will surely jump start your fishing success. Nothing is quite as bad as showing your fly box to your captain and he gives them a hard look and then asks — “is this all you have?”

There are many other advantages to joining a hosted trip, including meeting new anglers and getting to exchange new ideas, flies, etc. after a day’s fishing. Our host knew little local spots for local ice cream and food. Every afternoon we stopped at a neighborhood store or ice cream stand to cool of and to hydrate. It is nice getting a peek of the real side of Baja. Hosted trips seldom cost more than doing it on your own. To me it is the only way to travel. Ken Hanley is another long-time host to Baja. Ken and his partner Jay Murakoshi base their operation out of La Paz and the La Concha Hotel. In my opinion, it is plain foolish not to take advantage of the expertise of a hosted trip.

To fish the Punta Arena and Cerralvo Island, most anglers and hosted trips are based in La Paz. The beach is about a 50-minute drive from the hotels. Gary Bulla bases his operation out of La Ventana, about 40 minutes south of La Paz. La Ventana is about a 30-minute drive from the beach.

If you prefer to do it alone, you can book lodging in La Paz at the La Concha Hotel, Los Arcos or the Hotel Perla. There is also a RV park, Oasis Los Aripez. The drive from La Paz to Isla Cerralvo is about 50 minutes on a paved road. Car rentals are available at the La Paz Airport. Pangas are available either by booking them through the hotels or having them secured by a travel agent such as Fish About. Lodging in La Ventana can be made at Baja Joe’s. Baja Joe’s is a kite-boarding lodge in the winter months, but the summer is their off-time so they have lodging for anglers and tourists.

Getting There

Getting to La Paz from the East Coast can be interesting. There are several options. The first is to fly into LAX and over night then take the morning flight in to La Paz. This is the route that many West Coast anglers use. East Coast anglers who want to avoid LAX can fly directly to La Paz, though you will probably have to fly through Mexico City. The other option is to fly into Cabo and take a long van ride to La Paz. Last year we fly into Cabo and took the van ride to La Ventana. This year I plan on doing the same. This is another advantage of using a host — they have all the ground transportation arranged.

This trip is a must for any fly angler who wants to expand his or her fishing horizons and add many hard-pulling fish to their “life list.” The Baja season starts in May and runs through November. While there is great fishing year round, the wind that makes this a famous kite-board destination starts in December and runs until the spring —making fly fishing interesting in those months.

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