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Cabo San Lucas Fish Story

A Cabo Fish Story
by: Capt. Chris Babbidge

Ok - so it was coming up on my wedding anniversary and, like most guys do just prior to their anniversary, I was racking my brain trying to think of something really impressive to surprise my wife with. She knows the drill though (very smart lady here)and beat me to the punch - we were driving to get some plants for the yard and out of the blue she says, "Honey, we’re going to Cabo for our anniversary!" I quizzically looked at her and before I could say anything, she says, "All I want is for you to catch a bunch of fish while I lay out on the beach. We’re leaving in four days." Ok - sign me up! Did I find a keeper or what?

My head was instantly filled with visions of rustic Mexico and a picture of my dad with a sailfish he caught in Cabo sometime in the 60’s. Ever since I was old enough to hold a rod I’ve dreamed about going to Cabo and doing battle with a sailfish of my own so my kid can have something to dream about. Lucky me - I’ve got a wife that looks great in a bikini and likes it when I catch a bunch of fish!
So off to Cabo San Lucas we went, arriving in San Jose del Cabo first (direct flight from Phoenix via America West) and took a shuttle bus to our beach front hotel. For those who haven’t been there, San Jose is about a 45 minute drive along the coast from Cabo, and is the major (only)airport in the region, served by many of the major US airlines. Cabo sits on the very tip of Baja California where the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean meet, with some very deep water only a stones throw from the shore. I had read about all the species of fish that congregate in the waters off Cabo, but like most fishermen, I’ve got to see it to believe it.

After getting settled in the hotel, we took a cab downtown for lunch and a beer and a stroll around the marina to see what came in from the full day charters. We didn’t really see too many fish, but we did see multiple marlin and dolphin flags with the red "T" flags to match (tag & release). There were plenty of boat owners / salesmen along the docks asking if I wanted to fish tomorrow - stupid question for any fisherman, of course I want to fish tomorrow! The question really was, which one of about 25 different charter outfits to choose from. After about two hours of walking around talking to all the fast talking guys making all kinds of promises, I settled on a small shop off the beaten path with plenty of nice mounts on the walls and a very sea worthy fleet of boats. The owner and I set up the meeting time and place for the next morning and off we went to sample the local shopping and dining - which are plentiful in Cabo and very reasonable prices.

Like any big fishing trip, this one started the night prior. Tackle had to be arranged, lines checked and re-checked, leader material sorted and tied up, hooks sharpened, and rods and reels matched for optimum performance. Sleep wasn’t an option this night - the excitement level was just too high - and it was my anniversary….

When the alarm went off the next morning I was already making a cup of coffee and throwing some munchies into a bag for later - standard ops, right guys? Quick snack for breakfast, some beers and Cuban cigars (bought locally) for later, and off I went into the darkness via taxi to the docks to meet up with my guide Carlos for an excellent day in Mexico!

I arrived at the docks and found the owner milling about talking to the other charter guys - he saw me and came over with a big smile on his face. "Are you ready to catch many fishes? There will be many fishes today!" What a great way to start a trip. He pointed out Carlos in his Panga coming across the harbor from the fuel dock - I think the best way to fish the near-shore waters off Cabo is by Panga (Pangas are any small boat, about 18-23 feet in length, mostly center console with bait wells, outriggers, and single 90-150hp motor - very adequate for the task).

Carlos pulled up, we shook hands, tossed my stuff in the boat, and away we went. First stop was the bait boats at the mouth of the harbor. Small groups of fishermen were using handlines and Sabiki rigs to catch 8-12 inch hard tails and sold them to the charter boats for 10 pesos each. We put 10 of them in our bait well and roared off into the Pacific Ocean in search of - well, something. I used my high school spanish to tell Carlos I wanted to catch roosterfish first, then maybe a dorado or two. My thinking was I’d rather spend a bunch of money and catch a bunch of fish vs. just one marlin. He said ok- and we ran up the beach about three miles to the light house.

We were no more than 150 yards off shore, right where the waves were starting to break. He grabbed one of his rods - standard deep sea rig you’d find on a charter boat, heavy rod, level wind reel, 50lb test and large swivel with a 5/0 hook on it. I decided to give it a go - what the hell, he knows what he’s doing, right?

Carlos hooked one of the baits on and tossed it out behind the boat and began to troll through the swells - no more than five minutes later a large rooster fish crashed the bait and took off running. Well, with that heavy rig the fight didn’t last too long and I soon had the fish on board. Don’t get me wrong, those things fight like crazy! We weighed the fish on the de-liar (19lbs) and turned him loose to fight another day. Being the consummate light tackle fanatic I am, I grabbed my medium bass rig with 10lb test, tied on a 28lb steel leader, clipped a Daiichi 5/0 hook on, put on one of those baits and tossed him out. Sure enough, not more than 10 minutes of trolling the same area, another large rooster crashed my bait and took off! What a fight that was! He stripped a bunch of line at the start, then after about 20 minutes I was able to wear him down enough to land. Very tough fishies these roosters!

We played this game for about another hour, then with all the baits either eaten or bitten in half, we decided to run back to the bait fishermen for re-supply. On the way back, I saw all the heavy duty charter boats coming back in with four or five flags flying - even though it was only 10:30! This is a true testament to the amount of fish located close to Cabo.

After restocking our supply of bait (and draining my supply of pesos) we headed back out. I figured I’d fought the roosters, now it was time to fight the dorados. Carlos agreed, and we began our long run to deeper water where they lived. It took less than five minutes at full throttle to reach deep water - and the land of monster dorado.

We rigged the same as for roosters, and began trolling less than two miles off shore! The fish weren’t quite as concentrated off shore, but after trolling about 25 minutes, we saw crashing behind the boat about 75 yards. I had two lines out, the same bass rig as before, and a slightly heavier spinning rod and reel I brought. Guess which one was being attacked! There was a monster attacking the bait on the bass rig, with no sign of relenting. Carlos and I got past the heart attacks, and began to fight the dorado. He put the boat in neutral and reeled in the other line while I tried to figure out which way my fish was taking me.

When the fish hit, it began stripping all the line off the reel, so I jammed my thumb on the spool (putting a nice burn blister there for two weeks) to no avail. The fish stripped all the line down to where it was tied to the reel - I yelled back to Carlos to start backing down as fast as he could, but the tie failed, and the line came off the reel.......but that's not the end of the story.....the gnarled end of the line somehow got caught in the third eye from the tip of the rod and that was all that kept this fish from dragging around 100yds of 10lb test through the Pacific Ocean! This really did happen - I don't think I could make up a story this crazy.

So there we were, backing down on the fish in the tiny panga, waves crashing over the stern, Carlos swearing in spanish, me swearing in english, the fish jumping all over the place, and no end in sight.

I showed Carlos the reel with no line tied to it and he began winding in the slack line by hand while I tried to tie the line back on the reel (hands shaking like crazy from the adrenaline).
Finally, I got the line tied back on the reel and began to fight this fish with a cigar and three Bohemia beers at my side. To make a long story short, the fight lasted an hour and 45min - the fish almost got within gaffing range four times, only to dive and strip off most of the line again.

When I finally got the fish close enough for the fifth time, Carlos expertly gaffed it and drug it aboard - we cheered our teamwork for the victory of a lifetime! 45lbs on the de-liar….not bad for 10lb test! We’d both had enough that day, so he carved up the fish while I finished the beers (re-hydration right?) I couldn’t wait to get back and show my wife the fillets and tell her my version of "Old Man and the Sea". She being the proud wife she is suggested we call my dad and tell him the story - great idea! He couldn’t believe it when I told him, but very envious nonetheless. Now I had the picture I could pass on to my son and he could dream of large Mexican fishies. How’s that for a fish story?

A quick bit of recommendations for those wanting to visit Cabo for a fishing trip of a lifetime. Married guys - take your family. There’s plenty of things for the whole gang to do, ie. beach, shopping, restaurants, water sports, horseback riding.

For planning purposes, try calling a travel agent and booking a package deal (air, hotel, and transfers). You need the transfers part - getting to Cabo from the airport is a chore unless you get picked up by bus at the airport and dropped off again when it’s time to go home.

There are five or six nice hotels in Cabo within walking distance to town - do not waste cash on a rental car. Taxi vans are all over the place if you need them, and very cheap. Food is everywhere and priced from a few bucks for tacos to 100 bucks for a very nice meal. Just remember, the money you spend on nice meals is less money you have to fish! Man CAN live on tacos and beer - remember that.

Overall, the trip to Cabo was fantastic and I’d highly recommend it to anyone. Great hotel (Villa del Palmar), great beaches, great food, beautiful water and unbelievable fishing. I didn’t even get into the other fishing trip two days later where I caught 30lb yellowfins closer in than the dorado. That’s another story…


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