There are few places along Mexico’s Baja Peninsula that can compare to the prolific waters of Magdalena Bay. Known by most as just Mag Bay, this 132-mile-long stretch of water is home to the largest volume and variety of offshore game fish found in Mexico.
My first introduction to the area was aboard the 85-foot Qualifier, with Capt. Bruce Barnes at the helm. As San Diego’s long-range fleet ventured farther and farther down the Baja coast in search of more and bigger fish, Mag Bay became more accessible.
One of the most exhilarating and memorable fishing experiences of my young fishing career took place on one of the Qualifier‘s arduous seven-day trips in the 1960s. In an area Barnes referred to as Uncle Sam’s Bank, I caught one black sea bass after another throughout the night, each weighing more than 100 pounds. I hardly left the rail during the 24-hour period we were on that spot.
Many years later on a return trip from Cabo San Lucas, my wife Yvonne and I were bringing a 48-foot Santa Barbara back to San Diego along with a deckhand and a Mexican engineer. Traveling at hull speed we put out a couple of trolling rigs to pass the time. As we traveled off Magdalena Bay, above Thetis Bank, both rods doubled over with clickers clattering, as striped marlin snatched the lures bubbling behind us in the wake.
Yvonne took one rod, while Craig, the mate, took the other and as I slowed the boat I looked around and realized that we were surrounded by marlin! Throughout the day, Craig and Yvonne challenged each other to fight “just one more” as they hooked and released one marlin after another. It was mid-afternoon before the marlin sunk out of sight.
During that time, we released about 17 or 18 marlin with Yvonne catching her personal best — seven.
All of us were sure we had witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime phenomena. Since then, we have learned that this extraordinary event happens far more frequently than one might imagine.
According to marine biologists, the waters off Mag Bay are a confluence for the two most dominant currents of the Eastern Pacific — the cooler California current system from the north, an extension of the Alaska current, and the warmer Equatorial Countercurrent from the southern Pacific. This meeting of currents, which is best in the fourth quarter of the year, creates an astonishing biodiversity and one of the richest bodies of water in the world — the perfect nursery for a diverse fishery including marlin, dorado, tuna and wahoo. Perfect conditions for trolling for striped marlin in Mag Bay.
Magdalena Bay’s offshore waters have more fish per square mile than any other body of water surrounding the Baja Peninsula. The bite is usually best during the last three months of the year. Any angler who has been there to witness the bite when it goes off will eagerly attest to this fact. Double-digit marlin days are not unusual from late October through early December.
While lack of accessibility is considered a disadvantage by many, it is that very trait that separates this area from Los Cabos and Southern California. Fewer boats and more fish is an attractive formula for those fishermen with the means to fish here.
A number of large sportfishing yachts travel all the way from the East Coast to fish the fall and early winter at Mag Bay. Of course some of the yachts traveling down the coast to Los Cabos and beyond can’t resist a stopover for a few days to enjoy the wide-open action. These crews will base out of either Santa Maria Bay, Belchers near the Entrada or Punta Tosca to the south.
Several six-pack charters have begun offering trips out of Puerto San Carlos and Lopez Mateos as well. Add to that the growing number of trailer boaters that venture down, and it’s safe to say the cat’s out of the bag. Magdalena Bay is not a secret anymore.
Magdalena Bay is a great proving grounds for entry-level anglers looking to improve their fishing techniques. Mistakes and miscues are tolerated because the opportunities are nearly endless. New ideas, tackle, lures, boat handling and fish-finding techniques can be finely tuned in the midst of a wide-open bite without consequence or penalty.
All those ideas that you thought were so great when you read about them in the forums or magazines can be put to the test in real time. How to locate bait, what it looks like on your meter, what depth, how to catch it, even adjusting the flow on your bait tanks correctly are all questions that can be solved during a trip to Mag Bay waters.
Mag Bay is also a great place for locating bird schools, learning to interpret bird behavior and what it means. Finding slow moving, almost stationary birds close to the water means they’re probably on a well-formed baitball. High-flying ones are searching for bait and suddenly swoop down when fish are spotted beneath the surface.
Low-flying birds moving fast in one direction are usually following predatory fish that are attempting to surround and contain the sardines or mackerel into a seething mass which will allow them to feed at their leisure. Attacked from above and below the bait ball will whittle down one bait at a time until the few remaining baitfish instinctively sense their schooling behavior has failed.
Suddenly they flee in every direction with their attackers in hot pursuit. Seen from a distance, the bird school breaking up signals that the fish have already decimated the bait ball and it’s not worth running to.
This is a great spot to learn and understand the behavioral characteristic differences between billfish and tuna.
Want to determine which side of the mouth the hook is in? Try maneuvering the boat so the fish is in one corner or the other of the cockpit — the side that the fish comes up the highest in the water column will indicate which side of the mouth the hook is in.
Practice your boat-handling skills. Big tuna dogging it? Instead of remaining stationary over the fish, idle slowly ahead to lead the fish, preventing it from swimming in circles under the boat.
The Trailer Option
If you are planning to trailer your own rig down, facilities and services have improved over the past few years. Both Puerto San Carlos and Lopez Mateos have cement ramps. The Puerto San Carlos ramp is located on the southeast side of town (24°47’4.73″N / 112° 5’34.65″W). While it is cement, at low tide it only extends a few feet into the water.
If you do decide to base out of Puerto San Carlos, a word of caution: The distance to reach the open Pacific is approximately 20 miles.
There are safe anchorages at Magdalena City and Belchers Point, including a small fish camp nearest to the Entrada. Usually there is plenty of mackerel here to catch for bait. This area is your best choice if the action is either out in front of the Entrada or down below Punta Tasca. There is room for a few boats to anchor at Tasca, but bait is hard to come by there. Boats with large bait tanks usually run up to Belchers to replenish their supply.
One more consideration is fuel, which may be purchased at Magdalena City as well as Puerto San Carlos.
If the action is north, (Thetis Bank and the ridge) the preferred anchorage is Santa Maria Bay, roughly 20 miles north of the Entrada. There are usually ample mackerel here in the anchorage.
Four companies offer some services here — Mag Bay Outfitters, Mag Bay Tours, The Fisherman’s Fleet and Adventures South of the Border. Services on the island are sparse and range from tents to cabins.
There is a launch ramp and pier on the southwest side of Lopez Mateos (25°11’23.61″N / 112° 7’3.92″W). This ramp extends an ample distance into the water to accommodate trailer boats of any size at any tide. A word of caution — there are curbs on each side of the ramp extending into the water that can damage a prop.
The distance to reach the Pacific from this ramp is only six miles through Boca Soledad. If you have never been out the entrance, it can be tricky going through the surf. The best route is to head north across the entrance until you can see a parallel line to your left across the face of the swell without white water. Once clear of the entrance, a 225-degree course for 32 miles will lead you to the Thetis Bank area.
The outstanding offshore fishing in front of Magdalena Bay has taken on almost mythical proportions over the years. From October through December the schools of marlin, wahoo, tuna and dorado are consistently the largest found anywhere in Baja.
Conversely, the number of boats fishing here is minimal compared to other Baja destinations, creating the perfect proving grounds for beginning and veteran fishermen to fine-tune their angling skills while enjoying sportfishing of epic proportions. While improved, facilities are still primitive when compared to other popular Baja destinations, but that’s part of the equation that keeps the crowd away.
Adventures South of the Border: www.asobonline.com
Brennan Hotel Puerto San Carlos: www.hotelbrennan.com.mx
Mag Bay Outfitters: www.magbayoutfitters.com
Mag Bay Tours: www.magbaytours.com
The Fisherman’s Fleet: www.thefishermansfleet.com/the-mag-bay-experience