Baja’s best can sometimes be obscured by expectations set too high. Planned trips are often timed to take advantage of an anticipated hot bite for “blank at blank“…you fill in the blanks. The species and locations are nearly endless and grow even more so when one begins mixing and matching the two.
For example, billfish broken down into categories would include black, blue, striped, sailfish and swordfish – all caught in waters surrounding Baja. In the location column a short list of places where epic bites are reasonably predictable would include Los Cabos, Magdalena Bay and Las Palmas Bay. Now, factor in all of the other aspects that might influence the predicted bite, such as weather, tides, sea-temps, moon phase and any other of your personal favorites.
Suddenly, your best guess for deciding when to be where to fish for a certain species becomes a daunting proposition at best. Add to that the long list of other species that are also often targeted such as yellowfin tuna, wahoo, dorado, roosterfish and snook, just to name a few, and your odds are now diminished enough that a Las Vegas odds-maker would be quite willing to gamble against the likelihood of your success.
With that in mind, we headed down Mex 1 early last summer for a trip in search of large roosterfish from shore in what is usually peak season. As luck would have it, the predictable was influenced by cold currents that had swept in prior to our arrival, reducing that part of my trip to a struggle that lasted for several weeks as we searched for the right fish at the right time. Ultimately, we managed to catch a few roosters but neither as many nor as large as we had hoped.
However, having completed that portion of the trip, we moved on to the remainder of the excursion shifting into a “no expectations, let’s just poke around the Sea of Cortez and see what happens” mode.
One of our first surprises happened when we were fishing a small bay above San Jose. We spotted some nice marks on the meter in only 70 feet of water. Using a 12-weight outfit with a full fly line and shooting head (a total of 100 feet) stripped from the reel, we cast as far out as we could, letting the fly line sink while shaking the remaining line out through the guides. When it was fully extended, sweeping strips were used to retrieve the fly. During the next hour we had three follows and two bites landing one good-sized amberjack. We used the technique in several anchorages during the trip with similar results.
I was reminded of a trip many years ago 200 miles south at Socorro Island. While on anchor at the south end of the island, I repeatedly hooked up to a mystery fish that defied catching. Slowly, others in the group headed to their bunks, tired of being dusted by these hard-fighting fish that kept getting away, but I continued to fish. Finally early the next morning I managed to bring one to the surface. Lo and behold, it was an amberjack, the largest one I had ever caught!
Leaving East Cape and traveling up around the corner past Las Arenas, we passed a few miles outside of Las Cruces … close enough to see the three crosses on the hill. Countless bird schools were feeding on sardina with huge schools of porpoise joining in the melee. Football-sized yellowfin and large skipjack boiled on the surface as they gorged themselves on the fleeing bait. What they lacked in size was made up for in their eagerness to bite anything that hit the water. We kept enough to have sashimi with cocktails before dinner at Rancho Las Cruces.
Through the centuries, the shores of Las Cruces and the islands of Cerralvo and Espirito Santo were renowned for their fabulous pearls, but the decline in the pearl oysters began in 1900 and by 1929 they had disappeared.
In 1948, Abelardo L. Rodriguez Montijo, son of the President of Mexico and his lovely bride, Lucille Bremer, decided to turn Las Cruces into a small luxury resort … basically a fly-in site that at one time attracted many Hollywood stars including John Wayne, Lucille Ball and Bing Crosby among others as well as Princes, Presidents and other Mexican dignitaries. Bing Crosby subsequently had a home built on the property.
Considered by many as the place where tourism began in the state of Baja California Sur, the success of Las Cruces prompted Abelardo (Rod) to build other world-class-resorts in Baja. Hotel Palmilla, a 15-room luxury hideaway, opened in 1956. Accessible only by yacht or private plane at that time, its earliest guests included Hollywood celebrities like Wayne and Crosby. United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower was also among the early guests. Today, the resort is named One & Only Palmilla. Abelardo built the Hotel Hacienda in Cabo San Lucas as well. His resorts gained notoriety and were visited by people whose wish it was to simply experience the adventure of a land that until then had been inaccessible to most.
Las Cruces, however, was the place that Abelardo and his family always called home. Here, he built his home as well as others for his dear friends and partners, Robert Fisher, Crosby, Charles Jones, and Roger Bacon. Casa Fisher is now Hacienda Santa Cruz and Las Cruces offers discriminating guests the same natural beauty, tranquility and charm that attracted and continues to attract distinguished guests.
Our East Cape neighbor, Carl Lund, a pilot who often flew in and out of Baja to his home next door ours, Rancho Deluxe, told us a story of landing at Rancho Las Cruces on Christmas Eve to have dinner. Throughout his meal he enjoyed what he assumed was a recording of Crosby singing White Christmas and other carols. After dinner he wandered into the bar and much to his surprise, there sat Bing himself at the piano, singing some of his Christmas songs.
Going farther up into the Sea of Cortez past Isla Espíritu Santo approximately 50 miles north of La Paz, we headed to Isla San José, an island that had caught my eye on Google maps … the sixth largest in the Sea of Cortez. We anchored near what appeared to be the entrance to a mangroved-lined estero at the south end of the island.
The following morning, our hopes were high as we loaded up to explore the secluded but small estero. My imagination and excitement were off the charts as it always is when entering an estero I have never seen before. We navigated our way through the shallow, narrow channel inside and it quickly widened, then narrowed for roughly a mile. The local fishermen claimed that there were snook, grouper and corvina inside the esteros. We did see plenty of bait and many birds, but we only found a few smaller fish to catch. In spite of the locals’ reports, we really came up short on finding anything of any size.
Our time was limited. We would have spent several more days investigating the Isla if we would have had time and I suspect that the outcome would have been a little bit different. Based on what we did see, I am planning on a return trip later this spring, allowing more time for exploration.
On the ride back down to La Paz, we found a few spots of sargasso loaded with dorado that wanted to play, allowing us a final, final fresh fish dinner before my drive up Mex 1 toward home.
Because of poor conditions, the trip didn’t turn out exactly the way I had planned. Deciding when or where to fish for the large roosterfish made no difference; We found only a few bubba-sized gallo. But, by moving around and taking advantage of the opportunities we did find, we had an interesting trip with good fishing and plenty of memories. Plus we came away with a few new locations to explore on another trip soon.