Fishing Baja (Norte) On Uncrowded Beaches

Baja surf fishing

Recently I received this email that read in part:

I’ve never taken a boat.  Basically, I know nothing about fishing in the ocean.  Your columns might benefit people who have an interest in what a beginning step would be to fish without a boat.  Your column is great for experts in the fishing industry.  One person, like myself, wonders how and what to do. Would you consider writing a second column for beginning or intermediate folks who would like to fish without a fishing boat?

PS.  I’m not interested in a once-a-year expensive charter trip.  I’d like to have a reason to get out more to the beach and water and catch small fish.

He made a valid point. There are many folks who devote a large amount of time prowling California and Baja beaches for a variety of reasons, alone; and often, they prefer to keep the location to themselves.

Baja Beach Campsite

One of the most notable cases of that was Southern California angler Del Marsh, who was drawn to a prolific deserted beach on the rugged Baja Peninsula many years ago. He invited some of his close buddies, by invitation only, to caravan down the newly completed Mex 1 to this secret spot, which he dubbed “Variety.”

I began fishing from the beaches of San Diego Bay in the 1950s, and by the ’70s, I was exploring the West Coast beaches of Baja down to Punta Baja, west of El Baja spotfin croakerRosario. Fishing the beaches was a trial-and-error experience for me, and I spent many, many happy hours exploring and learning.

So, in response to the email mentioned above, I decided to take those 50-plus years of education, add the knowledge of some of my beach-fishing friends, and write a two-part column, beginning with some basics for a beginner.

Beach fishing, like sportfishing of any kind, is a journey that begins with preparation, followed by execution, that might ultimately lead to catching – first sporadically, and as time goes by, more consistently.

The first step: Preparation prior to your trip.

Be prepared.  Do some research before choosing the area you plan to fish. See if Ensenada Tackleyou can find a fish report on the area. Go to the local tackle shop or go online to find the types of fish you might find there and the lures that have been successful.

Google is your friend.

Tackle Stores

Costco Tijuana
TIJUANA, Baja California Norte
SteelShad Elite Fishing Kit       $65.99

EL Anzuelo
Bld Diaz Ordaz 1665 m 6 Loc 66, Anahuac,
22105 Tijuana, B.C., Mexico

Blvd. Costero S, La Marina 7, Zona Centro, 22800 Ensenada, B.C., Mexico
Phone+52 646 178 299

A spinning outfit is undoubtedly the best choice for the beginning beach fisherman. For convenience, a two- or three-piece, 6- to 9-foot rod combo filled with 20# monofilament line, will allow the newcomer to experiment with either artificials (aka lures) or bait.

  1. Assemble the individual sections of the rod.
  2. Open the bail of the spinning reel, and
  3. Thread the line through the guides on the rod.
  4. Attach a small (1-oz.) sinker.
  5. Choose an open area of grass in a park or on the sand at the beach.

     Practice Casting: How to Cast a Spinning Rod

Dress for the occasion. Use sun protection, hat, and shoes (or sandals), that are comfortable when wet. Don’t forget items like a good pair of polarized sunglasses, sunscreen, rain gear, and a first aid kit.  Take a backpack with extra tackle (hooks, sinkers, lures), a sand spike (a 3-foot piece of PVC with a sharpened end that you stick in the sand) to hold your rod while waiting for a bite if fishing with bait, along with pliers and a knife.  Non-fishing essentials such as food, clothing, bathing suit, beach towel, or at least a hand towel, duct tape, extra sunglasses, and a camera in a waterproof plastic bag along with your paperwork in a Ziplock baggie are also necessities; and don’t forget drinking water! Staying healthy and hydrated is critical to an enjoyable day of fishing.

Although there are books and online YouTube videos dedicated to a variety of knots for different applications, let’s begin with the basics.  What is needed is a strong, easily-tied, uncomplicated fishing knot that doesn’t break when setting the hook – a Uni Knot will do.

How To Tie The Uni Knot For Fishing

Baja fish lures

Using artificial lures of all types demands concentration. Observe the bait that is in the area – how it moves naturally through the water.  Then picture the lure and try to mimic the action of the bait with your rod tip and reel speed. Pull up on your rod tip and reel down to gather the slack while keeping in contact with your lure. If you only cast and reel as fast as you can, the lure will not look natural, and you’ll be lucky if you get a strike.

The choice of lures is limited only by your imagination. A surface or popper lure will create a commotion on the surface and will attract many species of different surface or sub-surface feeders with an erratic or fast retrieve.

For beginners, topwater feeders are a blast, as anglers can see both the lure or bait and the bite. But if it’s not happening, a vital fishing tip for beginners is to know when to change tactics.

Plastic or rubber artificials are designed for sub-surface or near to the bottomBaja surf lures species.  Use a slower retrieve, which allows the lure to appear more like feeding or fleeing baitfish; this can be very useful when done correctly. Again, practice makes perfect as you gain a sense of pace with the different styles of imitation baits.

Vary the presentation: If the surface lures aren’t working, try a slower or erratic retrieve deeper in the water column until you discover where the fish are, and you search for the right presentation. Add or subtract weight when bait fishing.  Go to a jig or a spoon, or a metal-lipped jerk bait. If varying lures and depths don’t improve your results, your other tactical choice is to change locations. Move around to find the fish.

Cover the water with a fan cast. Make a few casts in the area to your left; make some out front and then turn to your right to make more. If you’ve covered the area at different depths and used a variety of lures and different retrieves, and you haven’t had any action, keep moving until something happens. When it does, remember, don’t leave fish to find fish unless you have caught all you want of a single species.

Baja feeding pelicansFish where the fish are! Sounds obvious, right? It is, but finding out “where the fish are” may require more than merely casting a baited hook near structure or kelp. Always try to maintain an awareness of your surroundings. Watch for signs of bait being chased to the surface, or seabirds diving, or current swirling near drop-offs, or even underwater reefs that may provide cover for fish.

Catch and release fishing (C&R) is a practical solution that allows an angler to cull through their catch for a few for dinner.

  • The purpose of catch and release angling is so that an angler can enjoy the thrill of the catch without diminishing the resource.
  • Planning ahead and understanding techniques of how C&R fishing the right way can ensure a positive survival rate.
  • When you are C&R fishing, fish mortality is typically caused by two factors – WOUNDING or STRESS!
  • Although some wounding may be unavoidable, using proper equipment and handling the fish carefully can keep mortality to a minimum.
  • Use appropriate hooks. Single hooks are easier to remove than double or treble
  • Barbless hooks are even better because they cause smaller puncture wounds.
  • Small hooks can be easily modified by crushing the barb with a pair of pliers.
  • You can remove barbs from larger hooks with either a file or side-cutters.
  • If you hook a fish in the lip, jaw, roof of the mouth, or cheek, it can be more easily released than if it is hooked more deeply.
  • Using artificial lures are safer because they generally hook fish more superficially.
  • If live bait is used, the fish may swallow it immediately, which can lead to gut- or gill-hooking.
  • If the fish has swallowed a hook completely, odds are the fish may not survive, and if you are planning on keeping a few, this might be one for dinner.
  • Remove the hook quickly; needle-nose pliers will allow for the release of the fish with minimal
  • Some fish can be easily handled by the lips, however, toothy fish like sierra mackerel, corvina, barracuda, and halibut can puncture your thumb if you try to grasp them by the mouth.
  • To remove, grasp the hook with the pliers, hold the fish in or over the water, and twist the hook.
  • Use care when handling fish for photos. Wet your hands before touching or picking up a fish to prevent the removal of its protective mucus.
  • Be sure you support the fish properly while holding it; don’t hold it by the gills and don’t squeeze the fish or allow it to batter itself on a sandy or rocky beach.
  • Understand stress to the fish is caused by a variety of factors, including taking too long to land a fiBaja Beach releasesh. When releasing a fish, slide it gently back into the water. If the fish appears stressed, hold it in the water and gently move it back and forth to force water through the gills.
  • In some cases, if a fish is badly hooked (for instance, in the gills) or it is stressed, it may not be a candidate for a successful release.

A partial list of the species that you might encounter along Baja’s beaches includes stingray, bat ray, corbina, halibut, opal eye, sheepshead, leopard shark, orange mouth corvina, sand bass, bonito, mackerel, grunt, spotted bay bass, white seabass, yellowfin and croaker, and others.

A fishing license is not required to fish from shore in Baja, but it is highly recommended. Having the license will usually help if a local official happens to show up. Licenses can be purchased online at

When I write about Baja beaches, I’m referring to what was once the state of Baja Norte but is now named Baja.  Once you pass Guerrero Negro, you enter the state of Baja Sur, the catch list expands dramatically and that will be in part 2

There are many more beach fishing tips, and you may have questions.  If so, I’ll be happy to respond.  You may even encourage me to make this a three-part column.

Be careful:  Your first grab may hook you for life!

Gary Graham
That Baja Guy
[email protected]


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Baja Beach Guide Ensenada

Captain Brad Schnair

Below are a few videos to get you started. Just search on google from Tijuana down the coast to see all the beaches that are accessible to check out; Playas de Tijuana, Rosarito Beach, La Gringa, La Salina to name a few that dot the coast highway all the way to Ensenada. Below Ensenada Estero Beach and so on all the way to Punta Baja below San Quintin.

YouTube Videos

Beach Fishing Ensenada


Lots of Corvina and Halibut While Fishing Estero Bay in Ensenada

How-to YouTube videos

Surf Fishing with Soft Plastics

Best Soft Plastic Retrieval Styles for Inshore Fishing (Tips)

That Baja Guy-Gary Graham, the BD Outdoors Baja Editor, has more than five decades fishing experience off of Southern California and the Baja Peninsula. From light tackle and fly up to offshore marlin fishing, Gary has experienced all facets of this fishery. He's set several fly-fishing world record...