I was supposed to go fishing out of Ensenada on Wednesday last week, but I ended up canceling over concerns about the weather. I was looking for an alternative to fill that void, but so many boats are out of the water right now doing their annual maintenance. I was thinking about doing a year-in-review type of post for this week when my buddy Dennis Leung hit me up to head down to San Quintin.
I’ve fished San Quintin before, but it’s always been on a boat originating out of San Diego. Dennis has a seafood business with a processing plant in Tijuana. A lot of the sportfishing operations in Baja California are also commercial fishermen. Consequently, Dennis has a great network of contacts and I knew he’d be dialed in terms of a good outfit to take us out. I accepted without further detail.
I was convinced I made a good choice starting with our accommodations. We stayed at Hotel Jardines which had beautiful grounds and a nice restaurant. The rooms were a notch above what I’ve come to expect at these fishing locales too. I especially appreciated the nice, hot shower! We had a great steak dinner at the restaurant and turned in early before our day of fishing.
Trip Report – Garcia’s Pangas Sportfishing Full Day
The next morning we met up with Capt. Bertoldo “Gordo” Garcia of Garcia’s Pangas Sportfishing.
We loaded up our gear into his Defiance cruiser, the Moonshine, instead of a panga. It was a big upgrade from the typical panga boats I’m used to riding in Baja. His boat was outfitted with current electronics, integrated baitwell, ample engine power, plenty of storage for gear and rods, and even a stereo system! It all made for a very comfortable ride.
It was pretty cold that day. I really appreciated having the wheelhouse (seating for all of us) to hide in from the cold in between spots.
Our plan for the day was to try for yellowtail early, then rockfish for the rest of the day. We launched at the public ramp in front of Old Mill and made our way into San Quintin Bay. Our first task of the day was to make bait. Bait-making went surprisingly well. Other than a bunch of lizardfish in the mix, we were able to quickly put together a mix of mackerel and sardines that was more than enough for our day.
From there we proceeded outside to look for yellowtail. I try to keep the rods I bring for Baja trips to a minimum because of the lack of space on the boats. I brought 3 rods and several reels to have flexibility on setups based on the target fish. On the way to the spot, I rigged up a yoyo setup using the Fishing Syndicate FSC 800H (30-60) and a Shimano Trinidad 20A reel, fishing 40# with a mint/white iron 7x heavy. I set up a standard double-dropper rockfish rig using the FSC 800M (20-50) and a Tranx 500. I tied the 65# braid to a swivel, and rigged up the leader with 30# mono. I put a lingcodjigs Superfly on the top hook and a 2/0 light circle hook on the bottom to take advantage of our live bait. I switched over my light setup FSC Inshore 900M (20-40) with a Tranx 400 reel, from the sabiki to a 160-gram flat fall as a changeup to my double dropper.
We started fishing in about 200 feet of water. Gordo said we were over a reef that rose up from deeper water. I looked at his screen and saw a tight grouping of what appeared to be yellowtail. A little troubling though was what appeared to be a bunch of bait surrounding the school. We gave it a good effort for a little over an hour, but they didn’t want to go. Gordo said we’d take a look again later in the day. We moved on to rockfishing.
We proceeded to do several drifts over various rocky bottom “high” spots ranging from about 300-360 feet of water. During the course of that time, it went pretty well, but I had to make some adjustments.
The reel I was using for my rockfish rig happened to be the reel I was using for a lighter (60#) sinker rig on my T-Bird trip in November. I was in a really bad tangle (above). A lot of that white braid was mine. My spool was maybe 2/3 full. I used it at San Nicolas on the Eldorado trip last week without issue, but we were fishing deeper here. At around 340 feet, I was seeing the spool. I wasn’t worried about a fish spooling me, but it did make a negative difference in terms of line per turn on the retrieve. I felt like there were a couple of bites I missed because of it.
At one point, I got snagged up (the bottom was very catchy) and lost my weight and leader. I used that opportunity to switch out the Tranx to a Penn Fathom 40SDP with ample line capacity and a low gear ratio to manage the depths we were fishing.
The other adjustment I made was switching my hook on my rockfish rig. Gordo didn’t like the hook I was using for my bottom hook. He knew I wanted lingcod. He recommended I switch up bigger and use a J-hook (instead of a circle). I put on a 6/0 Aki when I re-rigged. Shortly after I switched that up, this happened…
While I was keeping things simple fishing the dropper and bait, Dennis was on a mission to put together a day without using bait. His preferred methodology is slow pitch jigging. I have other friends who have gotten into this fishing style, and I was interested in learning more about it. His primary tools were the Shimano Ocea Jigger set up and given the depth, an array of knife and stubbier-shaped (but not flat fall-style) jigs. Capt. Gordo was initially leery about Dennis’ fishing style, but after seeing him catch a big white seabass and halibut on previous trips this year, he no longer questions it. Dennis managed to keep pace and even did better than Gordo and me in one of the spots.
We kept at it, drifting a bunch of spots over the course of the middle part of our day. I ended up getting a couple smaller lings, but that first one was the best one.
I had a couple that I thought were for sure lings. Most of the rockfish were larger grade, but Dennis got one that was a palm-sized version. He asked me if I wanted to use it for a bait and I told him to throw it in the baitwell. After I had exhausted all the larger macks in there, I gave it a go and sent it down.
I got whacked pretty well and thought for sure it was going to be a bigger ling on that bigger bait. As it turned out, it was a nice bull sheephead that bit the Superfly in 340 feet of water! Kind of unusual to get one that deep.
Around 2-2:30, the cooler was full, and we went back toward that first stop of the day to see if the yellows might be ready to play. Unfortunately, they were still lockjawed. Capt. Gordo managed to catch a big bonito, but that was the only action. We called it a day.
When we got back to the launch ramp, we still had a few pieces of bait left. While we waited for the truck and trailer to take us back to Garcia’s, Gordo said to throw one out on the flyline. I got picked up and enjoyed a brief fight before it got me wound up in some weeds.
What was that? Gordo smiled and said, “Broomtail grouper!”
Oooh, I might have to spend more time on that fish next time around. When we got back to Garcia’s, Dennis and I hung out while Gordo prepared us an amazing dinner.
He made a ceviche appetizer with sea urchin that was a first for me. It was delicious. We put it on crackers or tortilla chips. While we snacked on that, he used a big whitefish I caught and one of the bigger reds to make some fish tacos. The fish was cut into larger chunks after fileting them. He then proceeded to do a wet marinade in a preparation called “zarandeado.” I looked it up later and Gordo’s version is different than other preparations I found. Notable in his version were some ingredients atypical of what I am used to in Mexican cuisine. It included mustard, oyster sauce, mayonnaise, and beer among more typical ingredients of onions, cilantro, tomato sauce, and serrano chiles. Also, the versions I found online were grilled. Gordo put it all in a deep pan, covered it, and braised it on top of the grill. We spooned the final result over warm tortillas and it was very tasty. I’ll definitely be doing this again at home.
Our second day of fishing didn’t end up working out because we had to go home early. I got home to some very inclement weather, so it’s probably just as well.
Thanks so much to Capt. Gordo. I really enjoyed fishing with you and the hospitality made me feel like family. I’ll be back. Thanks also to Dennis for the invite. It was great to fish with you again and I’m hoping we do more in 2022.
Good luck if you get out there.