A column written by Ray Cannon appeared in Western Outdoor News in the early 1960s describing Baja and its Sea of Cortez that was teeming with a seemingly unending supply of exotic fish. One of Ray’s favorite places was located on the Sea’s western shore, 700 miles from the U.S. border in a village named Loreto … Ed Tabor’s Flying Sportsman Lodge.
After the column appeared, a trickle of adventurous souls began arriving by road and private planes. The trickle became a flood when Mex One was completed in 1973, extending some 1,000 miles from the border to the tip of Baja and allowing visitors to explore the peninsula by car.
Over 46 years ago, my son Greg and I were two of those eager visitors who arrived in Loreto. Our destination? One of Ray Cannon’s favorite places: Ed Tabor’s Flying Sportsman Lodge.
That first trip in a DC-3 from Tijuana to La Paz, followed by wild ride in a taxi lacking air conditioning to Loreto, became the foundation of nearly a half-century of exploring and enjoying the wonders of the Baja Peninsula with my family and friends.
Today, Loreto has grown to a population of more than 15,000, still small by comparison to Cabo San Lucas or La Paz. The Loreto International Airport offers flights from the United States and beyond. It also has a bus depot and excellent tourism services: hotels up to five stars, bed and breakfast inns, restaurants, colorful markets, RV parks and campgrounds, car rentals, recreational services, developments and even its own golf course. Whether kayaking in the shadow of the rocky coastline, snorkeling or scuba diving in the largest marine park in Mexico,
Loreto is an experience cloaked in its long and rich history – a place of unspoiled, deserted beaches, famous for its small town charm.
Doug Olander, Editor in Chief of Sport Fishing Magazine, first contacted me in June of 2014, inquiring about the possibility of a week-long, joint expedition to Loreto with the Hobie fishing team sometime in 2015.
Countless memorable trips to the area flashed through my mind as we discussed the logistics involved – arranging accommodations for six, shipping six fully-equipped kayaks and finding an acceptable week that fit into the busy schedule of the participants. Enthusiastically, we agreed to explore the idea further. Olander would coordinate with Morgan Promnitz, Fishing Product Manager at the Hobie Cat Company.
I reached out to my good friend, Ana Gloria Benziger, owner of the Oasis Hotel located up the beach from where the long-defunct Flying Sportsman Lodge once stood.
Days turned to weeks – then months – and over a year later we all arrived at Loreto Airport on June 30.
The Hobie team consisted of Promnitz; Chris Holmes, field reporter for the Louisiana Sportsman magazine; Jeffrey Fortuna, Digital Asset Manager at Hobie Cat Company; Rob Sherman, Sherman Marketing; Olander and myself. Most of the group arrived on a commercial flight from California; I arrived from Los Cabos aboard a friend’s private charter and met them at Loreto International Airport.
Our home for the week was established in 1963. Hotel Oasis is family-owned affair that fulfilled two essentials: it is on the beach facing east toward the Mexican mainland’s west coast at the south end of the malecón; and second, but equally important, the hotel is steeped in Mexican tradition offering a glimpse of a Baja nearly lost by many of the larger tourist destinations farther down Mex One.
Four 12-foot Outbacks and two 13-foot Mirage Revolutions had been delivered to Joe Depillo’s house located behind the hotel. His captain, Rigoberto Martinez, met our group as we entered the courtyard. The six kayaks were all still wrapped in Styrofoam shipping cloth.
It didn’t take long for the six of us to unpack, assemble the adjustable seats and unique propulsion drives and attach them to the kayaks. Soon, we were wheeling the six, fully rigged, state-of-the-art kayaks on Hobie Trax 2-wheel carts to the patio in front of our three rooms overlooking the beach and sea beyond it.
For visitors seeking more than nightlife, Loreto is a real town with authentic Mexican charm attracting travelers to its gracious hotels and slow-going lifestyle.
Loreto has made a concentrated effort to accommodate anglers and trailer boaters alike, providing a well maintained, easily accessible launch ramp in the heart of town.
The surrounding islands offer remarkable sportfishing with an abundance of yellowtail, sailfish, dorado, marlin, wahoo and roosterfish. Likewise, great schools of frolicking dolphin can be observed and, with any luck, one might see the largest animal on earth, the blue whale.
Many companies provide daily trips on everything from open pangas to elaborate, “tricked out” cruisers at very reasonable prices. In the afternoon, one can wander down to the malecón and watch the boats unload their catches.
A large part of the Sea of Cortez in front of Loreto was declared a National Marine Park by the Mexican Government, thus preserving the pristine waters. The Loreto Marine Park, created on July 19, 1996, covers more than 1,200 square miles, consisting of waters surrounding five Islands: Isla de Carmen, Isla Catalina, Isla Coronado, Isla Danzante, and Isla Montserrat.
The Marine Park has preserved the incredible fishing opportunities in Loreto.
The following morning, our group was up early heading for the dining room for breakfast, marveling at the dazzling Baja sunrise, which was bathing the Sea of Cortez in shades of flaming reds and oranges.
Soon, we were moving the six ‘yaks down to the water’s edge to load on the awaiting pangas, (Mexican version of a center console 23-foot boat.). Francisco and Sebando, our pangueros for the week, introduced themselves while looking suspiciously at the kayaks piled high with our gear – two on each bow and one in each cockpit along with all the gear.
Next stop was the marina, a hotbed of early morning activity, where a variety of live bait could be purchased – green mackerel, caballito and sardina (flat-iron herring) – netted right in the marina. Then, we were off to fish at Isla Carmen. We headed straight for Balandra Bay, a serene bay with white sand beaches only ten miles from Loreto over flat calm water near the eastern end of the island.
As we unloaded the boats, dorsal fins of roosterfish slashed through the oily slick surface of the Bay, snatching the small sardina thrown by one of the pangueros. Promnitz reached for his light tackle rod and flung a small Ranger lure into the fray, whooping as the first rooster of the trip was hooked.
Soon, everyone mounted up and made a fast lap to prime the electric bait tanks before loading up with a few baits.
Most headed out toward open water in search of dorado, considered the poster fish for Loreto.
Meanwhile, spotting a small estuary opening, I couldn’t quell my explorer instinct. With the sounds of “hookup” and “hold’ em up for a photo” echoing behind me, I pedaled my Outback silently into a quiet place where the silence was only broken by feeding fish and wild birds chirping to one another. No trophy fish here … just the immense satisfaction of coaxing them to bite in a super special place.
The rest of the day, hoots and hollers could be heard above the sounds of the sea as dorado, cabrilla grouper and roosterfish were caught, photographed and in most cases released.
One dorado was kept to be the special guest at dinner back at the hotel.
Thursday morning, Francisco and Sebando were on station before the group began rolling the loaded craft down to the shore. Falling into a daily routine, we sought advice from our captains. The list of choices seemed dizzying as species and destinations were suggested.
Before long, the live wells in both pangas were filled with bait and we sped toward the lee side of Isla de Carmen on the flat calm sea and slid into another secluded bay to unload and begin another day of exploration and adventure.
Soon, hand-held radios crackled as one and then another angler breathlessly called in a hookup. A pargo here, a dorado there and even a few triggerfish as the group pedaled their way east toward the island’s tip, pausing occasionally to take a photograph or two of the magnificent scenery.
By mid-morning, most of our little fleet was a few miles beyond the island’s eastern tip toward the center of the Sea of Cortez. While to the west, the rugged Baja coastline shimmered in the late morning sun. Morgan, slow trolling a live caballito, was the first to score a billfish. Those close to him stared in awe as a glistening cobalt blue sailfish repeatedly leaped trying to throw the hook.
By early afternoon, Sherman had bested a striped marlin as Olander and Jeffrey closed in for photos both above and below the still calm waters. Rounding out the day’s billfish trifecta, I hooked my first-ever striper from a kayak while trolling a live bait.
Trolling with a Penn Spinfisher V in the rod holder behind me, I had neglected to set the clicker and was startled by the sound of the striped marlin landing with a thunderous splash behind me as it attempted to shake the circle hook out of the corner of its jaw.
Hard rudder and rapid short pedal strokes spun the Outback in its own length – then I tightened the loose drag just enough to force the fleeing fish to drag the ’yak as I adjusted the rudder with a lever. Worked like a charm. The fish tired and the smooth acceleration and high retrieve ratio of the spinning reel recovered the line quickly. Before I could get close enough to remove the circle hook, it came out on its own and the now-free marlin slowly swam away.
While billfish are not uncommon off Loreto, adding them to the growing species list was a bonus, as was the hammerhead shark Olander caught earlier.
The next three days brought some breezes with some wind chop in the afternoons, though the fishing remained consistent and productive and the species list continued to lengthen.
Saturday evening, Hotel Oasis, crowded with locals, visitors and guests, enjoyed a traditional, remarkable feast with Loreto’s famous chocolata striped brown-shell clams as the central part of an elaborate, scrumptious buffet.
As the evening wound down, the group concluded that the one missing fish on the impressive catch list thus far was the bubba-sized roosterfish. At the advice of some of the local fishermen, we decided to island hop to Isla Monserrate, more than an hour’s panga run south of the hotel on Sunday – the final fishing day.
The expedition paid off in spite of a freshening breeze. Morgan and Rob both found cooperative roosters to round out the count and provide the desired photo ops.
Loreto, Hotel Oasis and the Loreto Marine Park, all rose to the occasion and the trip exceeded all our expectations.
“Trip of a lifetime for me,” Sherman observed a few weeks after his return home, summing up the entire group’s delight with the adventure.
Over the years, Loreto built its reputation on an extraordinary dorado fishery in the summer and yellowtail fishery in the early spring, but the past few years those fisheries have fallen off. Theories abound as to what’s caused the drop off.
Hobie Fishing Team
However, extraordinary sportfishing was the attraction for Cannon and I was pleased to find that it hasn’t lost its allure. It still beckons visitors from around the world with its incredible inshore and offshore fishing.
*A special thanks to Jeffrey Fortuna, Digital Asset Manager at Hobie Cat Company and Doug Olander, Editor in Chief of Sport Fishing Magazine for the images contributed for this story.