Trip Report: Bay Of LA

Bahia de Los Angeles or Bay of LA (BoLA for short) is a small, remote fishing village located on the Sea of Cortez side of Northern Baja Mexico. I had the pleasure of going out there for the first time in September 2019, and just returned from 3 days fishing there (September 6-8) on a guided trip with Baja Fishing Convoys. Early Sunday morning (Sept. 5th) BFC picked up the other 5 anglers at Brown Field in San Diego, and then they scooped me up at my place in Rosarito. We drove all day in one of their big passenger vans and arrived in BoLA at roughly 4pm. We settled into our rooms and then had a group dinner before calling it an early night in preparation for our first fishing day…

Day 1 – Deep Water Yellows

Early Monday morning (Sept. 6th) we departed our motel and met our panga captains with Joel Sportfishing. Orchid Martinez, owner/operator of Baja Fishing Convoys, brings a cook with her and she sent us off with freshly prepared breakfast and lunch burritos and a cold bag of drinks. I was paired up with Alicia and James Darnell of Menifee on one of 2 pangas for our group. Our captain for the day was Joel Prieto Sr. The rest of our group consisted of Mario Garcia (who I fished with here last time), his cousin Danny and daughter Neveah. They went with Joel Jr.

Senior said that he had caught yellows the previous day north of our launch point, in the area by the volcano. Our first task for the day was to make bait, mackerel, in front of the launch ramp. That didn’t go particularly well, so we had to head out to one of the nearby islands and duck into a cove where Senior found the bait.

Once that task was accomplished, we joined the rest of the panga fleet in the yellowtail zone. The surprising thing about this aspect of the fishing here is that the recommended tackle is an 80# setup to fish a deep dropper loop.

80-pounds you say? For yellowtail?

Yes. The reason being is you are fishing deep pinnacles and as soon as you hook one of these fish, it’s going to do everything it can to break you off on that structure. Also, the current is very strong around these pinnacles, but it’s where the upwelling of nutrients attracts the bait. In order to play, the yellowtail become really strong dealing with that current.

I chose to go with a Fishing Syndicate FSC800H (rated 30-60, but fishes heavier), paired with a Penn Fathom LD2. The Penn was spooled with 80# braid, to a longish topshot of 80# mono (for the stretch). I also like the long topshot to avoid having to re-tie over the course of the day. I tied the heavy duty dropper and not the usual rockfish-style dropper. A 2/0 thick-gauge bait hook and a 12-ounce torpedo sinker completed the rig.

The action was immediate. Despite having done this before, I was still shocked when I got bit. I fought that fish all the way to the surface, only to find it was a 15-pound or so fish. I enjoyed watching Alicia’s reaction when she got bit. She had never caught a yellowtail before and her first encounter was with these BoLA models.

I quickly put 4 (average 12-15-lbs.) on the boat before I decided to switch up and see if I could get my last one on the jig. I only got a bonito for the effort using a full size Salas 7x heavy in mint/white. Alicia kept plugging along on bait and got her full limit of five. Nice job Alicia!

The rest of the afternoon, we searched and trolled for dorado, but didn’t have any luck. We did however see a bunch of whale sharks (below) which was really cool. At the end of the day, we ducked into a cove where we met up with Joel Jr. and the rest of the group. Joel Jr cut up a yellowtail and served us up a sashimi snack. Senior did the same with my bonito. While they were cutting up the rest of our fish, I casted from the shore and hooked into a fairly sizable black skipjack (released). Mario did the same with a 60-gram colt sniper and got 2 sierra mackerel. The sierras became a ceviche appetizer at our dinner that night.

Day 2 – Gulf Grouper

I really wanted to target a big gulf grouper on this trip. Last time here in 2019, I got busted off fishing 130# mono that Capt. Joel Jr. would later say was a 100+ pound fish easy. This time around, I came prepared with heavier leaders (200, 300. and 400-pounds) that I had rigged for me at Sav-On Tackle (right).

For this round, Capt. Jose Murillo Romero (aka Nego) was my captain. Orchid and her daughter Mari joined me on the boat for Day 2. Our entire focus would be to try and get that big grouper. We skipped trying to make bait in front of the launch ramp and headed straight to the nearby island cove where we made bait the previous day. Even making bait, our focus was grouper oriented. Instead of a bait size to flyline to a dorado, or dropper-loop to a yellowtail…we wanted the big salami-sized macks. Something that had a larger profile to target a bigger fish. Before we departed our separate ways, we exchanged our smaller fish with Joel Jr. for all his larger mackerel. Then we took off on the long drive to the grouper grounds.

I knew from my previous trip that it was going to take awhile for the drive, so I took the opportunity to nap after getting rigged up. For this round, I used my Fishing Syndicate 76XXH (rated 60-100) and paired it with a Makaira 16II spooled with 100# braid to a 100# mono topshot. My custom leaders were attached to a double swivel rated for 600-pounds. I tied 30# mono down to a 16-ounce weight. I started out with the 300# leader. All of the leaders were terminated with a 9/0 Owner Jobu hook.

Capt. Nego positioned us above 2 submerged pinnacles. The depth was maybe 120-feet. I immediately got whacked. Felt like the right kind, but it didn’t stick. I pinned on another big mack and tried again. Got smashed again, but it didn’t feel right. It was still fighting hard and pulling drag more than halfway up. As suspected, it wasn’t the target grouper, but rather a larger model (20-25#) yellowtail.

I found it ironic I caught a yellow bigger than any of the ones from the previous day…and was disappointed about it.

We ended up catching quite a few yellows. Capt. Nego even grabbed my yo-yo setup from the previous day and was having fun catching some of those smaller class (12-15-pounds) yellows that way. The grouper bites were hard to come by. Part of the problem was that the current got progressively stronger. It got to where we barely had any time over the right spot.

Around say noon or so, the tide changed. For a brief moment, there was a slack tide, and we were able to stay positioned in the right zone for a longer period of time.

Wouldn’t you know it, Mari gets the big bite. I was pretty impressed with how she got down into a crouch and used the side of the boat rail-rod-style to winch the beast to the surface. Nice work Mari! She used the FS 76XH and a Makaira 20II, almost the exact same setup I used.

I would’ve been happy to catch that fish, but it still wasn’t the really big one I was looking for. It was getting late in the day. We were almost out of bait, and the cooler was now really full. We called it a day and went home. At least I’d get one more chance on a big grouper tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Mario’s group went across the channel and fished for bigger yellows and dorado at the big island, Angel de la Guardia. They got into a good snap on the dodos and his 14-year old daughter Neveah got a nicer bull dodo to highlight their day. Great job Neveah!

Day 3 – Last Dance

The plan for Day 3 was to rejoin the Darnells and try for grouper again. Early that morning (2:30am), I was awoken by thunder and the sound of pouring rain. I got up and opened my front door to look outside. I stepped into 2 inches of water on the patio in front of my room. It was a wild rainy scene that I saw, punctuated my flashes of lightning and large booms of thunder.

My immediate thought was…there goes my shot at a big grouper.

Around 5am, Orchid texted to say that fishing was cancelled for the day, but that there was coffee and breakfast at her room. After having breakfast, and returning to my room, Orchid texted again to say that after talking to the captains, we were were back on. I fished with the Darnells as planned, but this time with Capt. Nego. It was too late to make bait, so we went to the volcano area again and tried to catch yellows on jigs. The conditions were sloppy and it didn’t go very well. I couldn’t get down on the 7x, so I switched up to a heavier (300-gram) bluefin knife jig. It got me down, but didn’t get bit. The excitement for the morning was when Alicia got a big bite. From the way it fought…slow, heavy pull…Nego thought it might’ve been a black seabass. We never got to see it though because it came off.

We switched up to fish for leopard grouper. The leopard grouper is one of several species of smaller-sized, shallow-water grouper that are collectively known in Baja as “cabrilla” (kind of like how we refer to the many species of rockfish).

On rare occasions, there are all orange versions of the leopard that are referred to as the golden grouper. Locally, they call them “La Reina” (the Queen). I got one of the orange ones in 2019 using a small, green-sardine pattern Candy Bar surface iron. That was one of the most fun parts of my previous trip here. Despite not getting my shot at a big grouper, there was no disappointment on my end that we focused on doing this kind of grouper fishing for the next several hours.

How this works is we slow drove parallel to the rocky shores of several of the islands.

When we started off there was quite a bit of chop in the water, so I didn’t think a surface iron was the best choice. I opted to throw a Daiwa SP Minnow, a shallow diving lure, to get below that chop, but stay above the rocky structure near shore. I threw it using my Fishing Syndicate FSG900L and a Tranx 400…my bass gear. It was the perfect choice for this application and the conditions of the day. I’d throw at the beach and slow wind back to the boat. On my second cast of the day, I ended up catching my biggest one of the day. Solid fish. Pulled drag and fought hard all the way to the boat.

I caught several more, but only kept a few. They’re considered a vulnerable species because they’re mostly only found here in BoLA, so I didn’t want to overdo it.

Towards the end of the day, the clouds completely disappeared and it got really hot and humid. The strong current of the morning was replaced with mostly slack conditions and the jig fishing got pretty good. The bulk of it was smaller barracuda and good size bonito. I got one smaller yellow that I released. James Darnell got a couple yellows to end our day.

That was the trip. I would’ve really liked to have gotten my big fish, but I’ll get my chance again. I think I’m going to have to make this an annual trek to get that shot. Going with Orchid and Baja Fishing Convoys is a great way to go. For the cost of the trip, not having to think twice about where to stop for gas, eat meals, take bathroom breaks etc. is well worth it. Considering the price of going includes meals, snacks and lodging on top of 3 days of fishing is well worth what she charges to go. Highly recommended. Also, this time around, I didn’t get to fish with Joel Jr. who I really enjoyed fishing with last time. But after fishing with Senior and Nego, I feel confident in recommending their whole operation too. Thanks to both organizations for putting on another great trip.

Bahia de Los Angeles is a very special place. Hopefully, I’ll get back sooner than later. Good luck if you get out there.

Joe Sarmiento is the founder and primary writer of the So Cal Salty blog. The blog covers saltwater fishing, primarily aboard the many sportfishing boats of Southern California. In addition to writing his blog, Joe's writing has appeared in Western Outdoor News, The Log and Griffin Media. Joe is ...