Back to Baja

20 Nov
Sometime around June or so me and my buddy Corey had a discussion that went something like this Me: “ Dude let’s go down south and hunt some big yellowtail”. Corey: “Alright remind me around Sept and we’ll see if we can put something together”. A few months passed and around September Corey tells me the dates we are shooting for, it fits right in my schedule at work and plus I’ve got 300 hours of vacation burning a hole in my pocket.  “We’re rolling out saturday at 3am, diving sunday and monday and driving home monday night getting back tuesday morning.”   Me: “How long is the drive, I’ve done BOLA and it’s about 11 hour drive or so”. Corey: “I’m not going to tell you because you might back out, it’s a long drive”… Turns out he was right, man that was one long drive!So with visions of getting jacked in TJ or ensenada and getting decapitated I start piecing together my gear. I picked up some stuff from Mori and Vector Marine, repaired my broken floatline and packed as light as possible. Unfortunately there was a hurricane brewing and it looked like trouble, I was also in bad shape because I had gotten sick in the Sierras fishing for trout the week before.   We anxiously watched the hurricane, hoping it would blow by our destination without any problems.   Day by day we watched and it looked like we were clear, the last text I got from Corey was “we’re going”. I hastily got some antibiotics to treat my oncoming bronchitis and we made plans to head out.I was up Friday night until 11:30 at a Halloween event with my friends and after 2 whole hours of sleep, at 1:30 am I rolled out of bed and packed my car to head to Corey’s house. We planned on leaving at 3am sharp.There would be 4 of us, Me, Corey, Ryan and Stephan and we piled our gear high in Corey’s truck and started the long road to Baja. As we passed the boarder and then Ensenada and didn’t get jacked my fears subsided and I began to enjoy the little towns as we rolled through. It had been about eight years since I’ve driven to Baja and I definitely missed it.Somewhere about 14 or so hours later we reached our destination after dodging some gigantic potholes with tires in them to mark them as “problem areas”. This place has been a well guarded secret for years and although you might recognize it, I won’t out the location. We were renting a place to sleep from one of the panga owners, I thought for sure this meant sleeping in some shack with four walls and nothing else and was pleased to see it was a brand new building with a separate room for each of us and two showers and bathrooms and a kitchen. We dragged our gear inside and packed lunches for the next day.

The next day we rolled out of bed to the smell of some delicious fried rice that Corey had prepared and in a few hours we found ourselves bouncing up in the panga headed towards our first spot. Unfortunately for us the warm water had killed ALL the kelp around, there would be no white seabass hiding in kelp beds or yellowtail on the outside of the beds. It would only be reef hunting so we took a look over the side. Visibility was just okay, maybe 20-30’ in spots but far from the super clear water we had hoped for. Still there was a smattering of bait around, it was a mixture of small blacksmith and Spanish mackerel.

I jumped in and kicked towards the bait and was almost immediately greeted by a small 12 pound yellowtail. It swam brazenly in front of me but I held off the shot because this was the land of big fish. Unfortunately half an hour later I was kicking myself because I didn’t even have another sighting so when another small one swam through I quickly strung it with the Mori gun. The fight was fairly uneventful and I just uploaded it to youtube, don’t hold your breath because in the dirty water you can barely make it out and for some reason youtube is stripping color during the transition but at least you can see how long and accurate that 67” gun has been working out.
Here’s the video link:

Ryan shot a small yellow and Corey missed a bigger one and that was pretty much it for that spot. We got tired of seeing the little guys swimming around so we tried some other areas in hope of finding some grouper but there was almost no bait. All I saw were a lot of nice calicos around but we held off hoping for some yellowtail or grouper. After a few hours we decided to go back to the first spot, we could see that the wind was pushing up a lot of dirty water, when we jumped in it was confirmed. Stephen saw the only fish and it was screaming through, the vis turned to shit so we decided to take a chance and go to another far off spot.

Mid way there the motor began to sputter and then died. It would be repeated for the next hour or so, I immediately began to suspect a fuel feed problem because that’s how my whaler acted before I fixed it. The pangero confirmed it muttering “bad fuel pump” and with only a half day hunting we were forced to head back to port.

We made the best of it and had lunch, drank mass quantities of beer and bullshitted while Corey expertly prepared some rib eye steak. We washed it down with even more beer and talked about past trips while we made a big campfire and sat around mesmerized watching the flames dance, what I call “natures tv”. We were tired from the long drive the day before and kicking all day, with vision of big fish we crawled to our bedrooms.

After a round of a snoring contest between me and Ryan we again woke up and ate some of Corey’s breakfast burritos and headed down to the launching area. The panga captain came a bit late but with a different panga, thank god we didn’t have to deal with that broken motor. We headed down to yet a different area, one that I couldn’t even tell you the name of because I don’t know it and probably can’t pronounce it. But it was a deeper area with warm water, it pegged 75 degrees on my watch and I was burning up in my 5mm suit.

The bottom at this spot was between 50-60 feet which is not normally considered deep but the visibility absolutely sucked and as I kicked and then glided my way down I was wondering where the fugging bottom even was. Eventually I landed on a hard reef with some scattered rocks around. There was a bit of blacksmith hovering at the thermocline but I didn’t see a whole lot except some small bass. I did drop after drop, probably 25 drops total and resting well between each drop and never saw a fish. To add insult to injury Corey shot 2 decent broomtails and the panga captain shrug in disgust when he asked me if I saw any and I responded with “nunca”.

Somewhere on the way up a cormorant bird swam down and tried to bite me in the head so I poked at it. It bit towards me again so I pushed it and then it took off. Damn even the birds are mean in baja!

My ears were killing me, my left ear was almost completely useless because it was no longer clearing and I was still spitting up green snot. Stephan shot two more broomtails and then we hit another spot.

We headed to yet another reef, this one shallower and there was no real bait. Corey and I worked our way to the outside edge were the blacksmith were thickest, but after an hour or so of not seeing any I wandered back to the center and bumped into Stephan who had shot one fish. “Dammit!” I kept working to the center and saw Ryan who had also shot two nice yellowtail. “Fuggg, for reals???”. I still had not seen any nor had Corey.

I started making drops and waiting on the bottom, the water was too dirty to see any fish from the surface anyways. One of my drops I saw a large shape lazily saunter close to me, it was what I thought was a decent yellowtail and the damn thing had the nerve to not even care I was there. I slowly extended the Mori gun and lined up a good shot, hopefully a stone shot. The shaft left the gun with a bang and there was a thud as the 11/32” stainless steel collided with flesh. The enertia left the fish stunned and at first I thought I had stoned it, the shaft was clearly hanging from the side of the fish and exiting the gill plate. I started pulling it up and the fish was still stunned, then as the shaft left the body and the slip tip toggled it gained strength and started dogging deep.

It was an odd fight, not a screaming fight because the fish was hurt, in retrospect I’m pretty sure I nicked the backbone. But the fish would not come to the surface it hung near the bottom swimming strongly and pretty much staying in one place. I tried a strategy that has worked on a few different fish. Every time the fish would rest I would pull as strong and quick in short bursts. This caused the fish to move backwards and put the water in the wrong direction of the gills. The fish would revive and I’d keep pumping it backwards, basically I was drowning it and man did it take the fight out of the fish. I slowly gained line. When I got it close to me I grabbed it by the gills and sat on it while I dispatched it with my knife.

It wasn’t until I sat on it that I noticed how FAT this fish was. It was long but man was it fat, it was like sitting on a dog almost. After I brained it I cut it from gill to gill and bled it out and when it was done bleeding I cut the heart out as well. I dragged the fish back to the boat and had a hard time throwing it up to the pangero.

My buddies in the water had said it was a big fish and asked the size, I wasn’t sure but I guessed over 30 since my biggest has been that size. We kept hunting for a while and the wind began to blow harder, somewhere around 20 knots. Corey saw one more and missed the shot so we loaded up the panga, by this time the wind was howling and we were forced once again to return early. The swell had picked up and with the wind blowing straight into us it took us a while to get back.

We dragged the fish bag up to the digital scale the commercial panga guys used and were amazed that most of the yellowtail were going in the 30 range with the biggest going 35 I think. I heaved my fish onto the scale and we gasped when we saw it go to 44.5 pounds, with the fish bled, gills cut and heart cut out we figured it to be 45 pounds, my personal best yellowtail to date!


We had the fish filleted out and even with our meager catch we managed to fill up two big coolers and began packing for the long trip home. I definitely would not recommend this but we left town and drove all night, had to stop by 5 or 6 military stops and made it back home about 9 am.  We even stopped off at a street taco truck and consumed about six carne asada and al pastor tacos without getting sick!


It was a hard trip and it definitely wasn’t as wide open as some of my other buddies trip but I can’t WAIT to go back. Great friends, great eats, and a bunch of big fish, it’s pretty much what I started spearing for…


I did a bacon wrapped recipe that I tweeked and MAN was that grouper good, probably the best fish I’ve eaten this year!



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