After about 50 weeks of waiting it was time to head back to the Sea of Cortez for the Steve Enright and Friends, a few acquaintances and a few people he just tolerates (they know who the are) annual tour of the Mid-drift Islands, the last month always takes the longest as the excitement builds. It is usually the same core group of people with a few coming and going every year, people you see once a year for a week that goes by way to fast. We met up with some of the crew around noon in Calexico at the Jack in the Box ,for some reason the tacos taste better at 3 am than at noon. We try to travel in a group for safety reasons and so no one gets lost, right as you cross the border we went through the task of getting the required visa for the trip, this is a requirement they check them when you get on the boat so you have to get it, it is free by the way. The process is not fast so if you have a lot of people be ware it takes some time, also if you sign the form in the wrong place you have to start all over, yes I learned that the hard way. Once that was done we hit the road for San Felipe, the trip is about 120 miles from the border and the road is finally completed so it made for a very smooth trip down, about 30 miles outside of San Felipe there is a military checkpoint where you get out of your vehicle and they inspect it, this process takes a few minutes but it is not a big deal. From there we headed to the boat to unloaded all the gear and coolers we had brought, I have never had any problems leaving gear on the boat there is a guy who stays on the boat all night and watches your stuff. I noticed a few changes to the boat right away as far as safety stuff goes, there were life jackets in every room that were easily accessible, additional life rings on the boat, clearly marked evacuation routes and muster areas and in the wheel house some new emergency flares, smoke and dye markers all very good things. The El Caribe had rooms for $50 per night so most of us got rooms there for the night then headed into San Felipe for dinner, one of my panga mates decided he wanted clams for dinner and had us walk to the end of the strip for dinner, he must have been hungry and we ended up with 3 orders, shrimp, quesadillas, ceviche and some other stuff. I am not sure if he was more in love with the food or the waitress, she hailed from TJ and had full sleaves with a few teardrop tats under her eyes and promised us 10% off if we came back for breakfast. The next morning we went back for breakfast but the 10% off never happened, we headed for the boat around 9:30 and found a very low tide and had to wait till about 11 am to board, once we parked our vehicles at Tony's house and were all aboard we had to show our visas and wait for one final inspection by the dudes with machine guns and a nice black lab I call Charlie. Once that was done they threw the lines and we were off, if you ever go on this boat and are sitting on the top deck when you clear the jetty beware that there will be a very loud horn blast right in your ear. Sunday is the travel day and the rigging day, but it is also club sandwich for lunch day and chili rellenos for dinner day. When you gear up for a trip like this be sure to leave your 30 pound mono at home, as well as any flouro carbon, what you need is higher geared reels with 40 pound minimum and 50-60 pound for deep water yo-yo. I used 2 Avet JX reels with 40 pound mono over 100 pound spectra 150-200 yards of mono on each that can be changed out quickly, a TN-40 with 40 pound and 2 Avet HX with 50 and 60 pound mono on them. The jigs the guys on my panga used were Salas 6x (blue/white, dorado and scrambled egg), 6x jr and salas DX in the same colors, in the morning the darker colors work for cabrilla, I used a tady lure as well but I am not sure of the model. Bring extra line and an arrow with 2 tennis balls on it for respooling during the breaks. We spent most of the afternoon winding on line, packing tackle boxes there was some tomfoolery and minor malfeasance but I would never be a part of such juvenile behavior, one juvenile thing that would not be repeated from last year is pouring water on a freshly showered angler, right Alex? The top deck was packed with coolers, tackle, rods reels, dingy motors, dive gear and other crap. Finally most everyone was rigged and it was time for sleep, I never sleep well the day before fishing. Day 1 For the last 5 years we have fished Snake Island the first morning so when the anchor plunked down at Salsupuedes I was a little surprised but was ready to roll you fish where you are not where you were, the crew did their thing pretty quickly getting the pangas launched and ready fish giving us time to do the one thing we forbid guys in our panga from doing which is eating breakfast but an egg and cheese omelet with mushrooms and fresh tortillas made it a good day to bend them a little. The galley always has fresh fruit out in the morning, including bananas, as well as cereal. Once our panga #2 with the best pangero on the boat Marcos was loaded up we jumped on and headed out for our morning session, there was a nice breeze going most of the morning as we started working around a small island, I hooked up a 15 pound yellow pretty quickly on a dorado 6x jr and a few smaller cabrilla were caught and released before we headed for some deeper water on a reef where we managed to boat a few nice cabrilla that were up in the water column, the reef produced a bunch of the pinto bass that got to go back home as well as a nice yellow boated by Marcos. We headed back to the boat around noon with 12 cabrilla and 2 yellowtail in our box curious to see what the 8 other boats did and for the most part it was about the same, one boat managed a 39 pound yellowtail on the troll (yep they count on this trip) and after a cheeseburger for lunch and respooling a few rods it was nap time. The new guy, ( Queso, Cheese, Chuck) on our panga had never iron fished for Cabrilla boated a nice 14ish pounder, to give him a warm welcome. He neglected to put the fish on the scale on the boat which later in the week would cause him some ribbing from the 2 jackals he was fishing with. We were ready to get some yellows in the afternoon, we always get the yellows on the first day but it was not to be, there was still some decent breeze in the afternoon and scrambled egg 6xjr was the hot color for the afternoon, the highlight of the evening was as the sun was just about to sink out Marcos put the panga in a little cove and the cabrilla started eating the Salas DX, just hammering it on every cast they were smaller ones with most of them getting released it was full speed for 20-30 minutes and it was a great way to end the day. We headed back to the Tony Reyes with 5 cabrilla and 2 more yellowtail in the box and had a dinner of chicken cordon and as always fresh salsa and tortillas. Tony pulled the anchor and we headed for parts unknown, a few of us sat around talking on the top deck and I believe that is when the boat suffered its first plastic chair fatality, should you ever fish the Tony Reyes, if you see a blue chair with a black X on it, do not sit on it. You're welcome. Day 2 Not sure what happened but during the night the boat stopped and dropped anchor then after a while it was pulled again and we moved. If you have been on the Reyes for more than a year you know the unwritten rule of never asking where we are going, first of all it doesn't matter as we are fishing no matter where we end up and second if you are told where we are going it will change at some point, sometimes apathy is a good thing. As is always the case my other panga mate, Pat, is up about 4 am every morning, making sure we have all our tackle and any other items we may need, because Pat and I have been fishing together for so long we like to make up arbitrary rules and regulations to govern our panga, they include no eating break fast in the galley, never asking what time we are going back to the boat, never commenting on how many fish you have caught, Queso made the unfortunate mistake of breaking the last one this morning. The last anchor set had found us at San Lorenzo, Marcos made a few drifts close to shore to see if the cabrilla wanted to play but they declined so we went out about a mile to drift over a reef, the current was ripping so the drift was pretty quick and with a depth of 250 feet it was important to fish 50 pound line and a 6x, I went with the blue and white, we started hooking up right away with Chuck landing a nice 24 pounders to start the morning off, our very next drift all 3 of us hooked up deep and it was game on. When you hear the words "pinche perro" when you are on a fish it is never a good thing but with 3 people on I know I had a 66.66666 chance of having the seal not choose my fish for breakfast, Pat was lucky enough to be the one and the seal took his jig and his fish, the other 2 fish were landed and in the box and the seal decided to go chase a different panga, thanks a lot jerk. This type of fishing is not easy, you have to believe there are fish down there and move that heaving jig through the water but we stuck with it and with every drift we would hook a fish or two so we stayed at it for a few hours, Queso said after he landed his third yellow of the morning,"Looks like I have 3 in the box." We took that opportunity to berate him for 10 minutes accusing him of being a narcissist and not a team player, we questioned his character, his upbringing and his basic moral foundation. Speaking of narcissism, I believe I caught 5 that morning with the largest being 33 pounds, one of the early fish I had landed happened after I stuck a jig on the bottom and was fighting to unstick it with my drag locked down, when the jig popped I took 2 cranks and was on, the same thing happened with the big yellow I caught, it was probably 250-300 feet down and as it came unstuck I was on, right away I knew it was a bigger model and that fish made sure I earned it, fishing down that deep you have to have your drag tight so you don't get rocked and it was a 15 minute fight, my back and my arms and the deep tissue bruise developing on my left hip (because of course rule number 32 is no rod belts allowed) were screaming by the time Marcos stuck the fish, this is the biggest yellowtail I have ever caught so I was proud of it. The current started to change and the wind and the temps started to pick up so we finished out the morning looking for some cabrilla, we caught a few small ones and a sheep head before we headed back to the boat, our panga was in the the lead for the daily jackpot going into the afternoon, it was evident we were going to move so when the cook called for lunch I ate my flautas along with some of the pineapple, watermelon and cantaloupe that is available every lunch and headed for my bunk, having an nice cool room and a 2 hour nap is a great thing about these trips. The afternoon found us at San Fransquito where there are always some big yellows so off we went from the bay into some choppy water, right away it was apparent that they yellows were eating squid, 12-20 inch squid and they did not have a lot of interest in our jigs, we yo-yoed the afernoon away and chased a few boils, there was very little bird life and Marcos said, no birds-no fish and that was pretty much it, when a decent boil came up I threw a 9 inch swimbait in and got hooked up and then proceeded to button the drag and snap it off, not really a good technique. During the afternoon the Roger's brothers panga was near us and Gary hooked a big fish down deep, a few minutes later they sunk the gaff into a nice 44 pound grouper that was the jackpot of the day and the big fish of the trip, Congrats to Gary on a job well done, could not have happened to a better guy. We only manage one yellow for the afternoon but the galley had a solid dinner of braised beef made up for us, there were some big fish around but it was just not our day to catch them. Day 3 On these trips you have 9 fishing sessions, 5 mornings and 4 afternoons, this morning was the 5th session and we had stayed at San Fransquito usually if the afternoon is slow the morning will be good but it was not to be, Marcos put in a great effort moving all over the place, throwing iron on shoreline, jigging deep for yellows, we did not break rule number 5 which is no trolling though. Our panga had 2 yellows for the morning and a few pintos. Tony had said if the fishing was slow that we should go back to the boat early but evidently that memo was not well distributed, we got back to the boat early and respooled a bunch of gear that needed it. A few things to remember if you do one of these trips is to change your line every few days, it gets beat up. Even a small backlashed looped that smacks the frame everytime around will cause it to be very weak and you will make a cast and your jig will just keep going. Another is bring extra rods and reels, rods break, and so do reels, there is a lot of storage on the boat so bring it. Lunch was a nice surprise when a nice plate of lasagna was put in front of me, the cooks on this boat have changed up the menu over the last 2 years and are doing very good things, and by good things I mean they put 6 pounds on me. If you have any special dietary needs like a certain gentleman on our trip who was born in Syria, but was raised in Armenia and is a very good mechanic and really likes french fries but I won't mention his name, the kitchen was nice enough to make some adjustments for his food. Like I said these guys do a great job and I can't say enough good things about them. That afternoon we went back to Salsupuedes for another round and it was a good one, there is an island a few miles away that has a million birds that live on it, and when the wind is right you get a nice bouquet of sea smells and that afternoon all the birds were working bait schools, sea gulls, terns, pelicans and boobies, lots of boobies because who doesn't like those. We would drive into the middle of a bird school and start throwing blue and white 6x Jr and it was on, we got a few on the surface and a lot more on the yo-yo, Queso stuck a nice 27 pound yellow during the rush. The bait was small mackerel and sardines, at one point a school of bait started boiling around our boat as the fish and birds decimated them it was awesome. We released 20 smaller yellowtail and a lot of barracuda but had a nice box of 8 20 plus pound yellows for the freezer. Weird catch of the day went to Alex (the crazy dude that has the Xtreme) when he pulled up a Chino Mera not a real common fish for the area but has some very cool colors. For dinner the cooks had filleted up a bunch of the pinto bass that are prevalent and cooked them up for dinner with rice and beans and it was killer. There began to be some scuttlebutt on the boat as to who would win the dreaded hat for doing something less than mensa like and no one came to mind, it is just unfortunate that you get a group of that many people together and someone does not act like an idiot but we had a couple days left so we were hoping someone would screw up. Day 4 Refugio is one of my favorite places, it is beautiful and has a lot of cool things, a fishermans shrine, crystal clear water, a flourishing osprey population and a dead seal that got bit in half by a mako. Refugio is also great for cabrilla and really great if you have bait but we did not, but we had jigs and this morning made my trip, there are lots of rocks and reefs in the area so we started throwing near an island with a huge sea lion population, the bulls yell at you the whole time you are there but we started picking off cabrilla, I chose a lure that I have carried with me for 5 years and have never used and it started producing good cabrilla and continued for a few hours, I has another personal best that morning catching a 15 pound cabrilla on that jig, it is the largest non-bait cabrilla I have caught. We made a few moves around refugio including a small cove with a sea lion that was bit in half by a shark and found a point that started producing fish, cabrilla and small yellows, there were 100's of 5-10 pound yellows chasing jigs, with some bonita mixed in and we worked the point for another few hours catching and releasing yellows everytime and putting the bigger cabrilla in our box they were all eating the salas DX in blue and white. You couldn't reel fast you had to go slow and steady and you got nailed every time. Totals for the morning were 20 cabrilla and 4 yellows with 20 cabrilla released and 30-40 yellows released and 10 bonita released. Rich Rose and his panga had a very good morning and George and Alex got grouper in the high 20 pound range and Rich stuck a nice Cabrilla if you ever get a chance to fish with these guys you are lucky very good fisherman and fish very hard and very cool guys to hang out with. Rich showed me a technique for removing bird crap from a shirt without taking it off. Lunch was BBQ'd chicken followed by a nap. The afternoon bite was not very good and we could only scratch out a few yellowtail but the highlight of the afternoon was Dennis Jacob taking an afternoon off from fishing to cook everyone on the boat dinner, it was country style ribs with beans and peach cobbler and some yellowtail ceviche. Dennis had brought a huge grill, 50 pounds of charcoal, 3 dutch ovens, ribs, beans and the stuff for peach cobbler and hauled it onto a beach in Refugio and cooked for all 46 people who were on the boat, it was no small undertaking and we are lucky to have a guy like Dennis and his wife Ann on our charter. He is also a very good fisherman as he stuck a 26 pound cabrilla during the week I would post a picture of it but Dennis and his go-pro are no longer friends, also, Ann his wife, who can cast better than most of us, had 2 golden grouper in one day. That is impressive The beach dinner was a great success and after all the gear and the people got back to the boat we headed for the enchanted islands for our last day of fishing, the ride over to the Enchanted Islands was, well let's say adventurous, the wind was howling and the boat was leaning slightly to one side, a few pangas took on a lot of water and the crew was up most of the night watching to make sure everything was ok, it was typical Sea of Cortez weather. Day 5 It took us until 8 am to get to the Enchanted Islands due to the weather and there was still some chop and some wind when we go out to fish, I had some tuna bellies and some squid that I had saved for this day and Marcos said they both smelled bad but the trigger fish did not seem to care, there was not much else going on so we played around with the bigger model triggers for a while they pull pretty hard and Marcos said he wanted a bunch for a BBQ he was having the next day so we put a few in the box and called it a trip and headed back to the boat. The crew made short work of loading up the pangas for the ride back to after washing all of our gear and we headed for San Felipe for the adventure that is loading and unloading. The ride back is always bitter sweet, the week goes by so fast and you have to wait another year, on the way in you sign out with Tony and leave a tip for the deck crew, the kitchen and for your pangero. The tip for the kitchen goes in their can, the tip for the crew goes to Tony and you give the pangero his tip directly, if you go on one of these trips and want my opinion on how much to tip I would say this, any guy that fishes is our panga is required to tip the pangero at least $100 and more is strongly encouraged, Marcos has to put up with 3 lunatics for 5 days for about 12 hours a day and he works hard to put us on fish, the crew $50 and the kitchen $40-50 if you make a mistake and over tip no one is going to be angry with you. Tips are how these guys make a living and how they support their families so be sure to take care of them. So I think that pretty much covers my opinion on that. We arrived back at the dock around 7:30 and were created by the Navy, the Marines and a few other branches of law enforcement, they ran the dog through the boat again and did their inspections, again this is in no way a shakedown they were all very professional and courteous and did their jobs quickly. I know you people in California get a little scared when you see an assault weapon but being form Arizona having 25 guys with machine guns walking around is perfectly normal, having all the law enforcement around makes for a much safer unloading. The drivers were bussed over to Tony's secure parking lot that is his home and once we got back to the dock the unloading commenced. We loaded all of our gear and were told to come back in 2 hours to pick up our fish that was being filleted and put into bags, yes this is a very recent change and not one for the better. A few weeks ago the governing agency that regulates the Tony Reyes decided that they were not allowed to fillet fish and vacuum pack them during the trip, one of the great things about this trip had been at the dock you cooler was loaded with the vacuum packed fish you had caught during the week and you throw it in your truck and leave, this year once back at the dock all the pangas had to be unloaded and all the fish had to be taken out of the hold and filleted, instead of vacuum packing the fillets were put into bags and loaded into our cooler. It would take days to vacuum pack all that fish at the dock so it is not even an option, so we came back to the dock at 10:30 pm and had our fish in the coolers by 11pm. I hope they get this part figured out because it sucks for a couple of reasons, the crew gets one day off a week which is Saturday, they did not leave the boat till early Saturday morning , and the second is the fish is in much better shape when packed through out the week instead of the last day. Part of the draw of this trip is having your fish all packaged so that part is missed. I am not blaming anyone for this it is just part of a crap sandwich that everyone has to take a bite out of. The next morning 3 of us got up at 4 am and made a run for the border, only had to wait an hour to cross and had my cooler inspected. Pat was pulled over into secondary where his entire coolers were unloaded and fish was inspected, evidently some asian gentlemen had been crossing the border with Totuava parts, lots and lots of them and the boarder is on high alert. So just fyi be ready to have your stuff gone through. A big Thank You to our charter master Steve Enright for putting this together, even though he could not find anyone to give the dunce hat to this year his efforts are really appreciated keeps our group informed and makes sure everyone stays in line and catches a few fish in the process, Steve is lucky because his stateroom has a flatscreen in it. I look forward to this trip more and more every year, my phone gets shut off and it is balls to the wall fishing, as I always say, if you have never done one of these trips before you should, it will make you a better fisherman, you will see things you have never seen and make some new friends, the boat is big with lots of room, the staterooms are nice and cool, the food is great and there are 6 big bathroom and 4 showers, yes it is Mexico so things are done a little different and at a different pace but you still fish a ton and the value is still exceptional at $1200 for the week and that includes all your meals, your license, all beer(pacifico and corona) sodas and bottled water, your guide and fish cleaning. It does not include live bait as we fish like real fisherman and fisherwomen on this boat, with jigs.