Sport fishing and dating had never worked for me. I wasn’t opposed to the idea; I even knew a few couples who fished together frequently and seemed to enjoy sharing their common interest in the sport, but I had never met someone that I was interested enough to invite.
My first few Baja trips with Yvonne were more about sun and fun than fishing. We had ventured on several camping trips on various Baja beaches with our five kids which happened to include fishing. These trips were filled with enthusiasm by all.
Our first serious offshore fishing trip together wound up being a memorable one. It’s best told as a “He said — She said” tale.
Forty years ago, I was a single mother of three when I met Gary, a single father of two. It didn’t take more than a couple of dates before I learned that Gary was passionate about Baja and fishing … and while I thought fishing was a great sport for him, I had no desire to become an angler. However, the Baja he described intrigued me, and I was eager to see the beautiful blue water and white sandy beaches first-hand.
We began our early Baja trips by packing up our families and camping along the then-deserted beaches. Gary had a small Bayliner which was perfect for towing to Nopolo Cove, south of Loreto, and Bay of L.A. where we could literally drop a line in the water time after time and bring up something. The kids were young and were entertained for hours. While it was fun to watch them, I soon tired of reeling in the small fish.
Eventually, Gary invited me to Cabo San Lucas for weekend with another couple. It sounded like a lot of fun; little did I know this would be my introduction to a lifetime of fishing, the real Baja, and Gary.
By that time, Gary had a larger boat built – a 23-foot custom center console Blackman skiff – and stored it in Cabo, traveling there several times a month to fish offshore. When he suggested the four of us go out one morning, promising a Baja sunrise on the water, I imagined watching the sun rise before returning for a romantic breakfast at a quaint beachside cafe. When he asked if we minded him putting out a couple of fishing lures just in case there was a fish lurking about, we all agreed. I watched as he put the lines in the water with brightly psychedelic colored lures attached – beautiful black and pink plastic ones, larger than most of the fish we had caught when camping with the kids.
Sure enough, after about 30 minutes on the water, one of the reels screamed as the line went racing through the guides at an unbelievable speed. Gary flew out of the tower and began reeling. I soon saw flashes of gold in the water as more and more line was recaptured on the reel. “A bull dorado,” Gary shouted. The dorado exploded through the surface of the water making great acrobatic leaps, a spectacular sight with the iridescent colors sparkling in the early morning sunlight. This magnificent creature with his blunt head, golden sides with splashes of gold, blue and green, was undoubtedly the most beautiful fish I had ever seen! I watched in wonder, in awe of the beauty of the fish as well as the beauty of this perfect morning. Gary quickly brought the fish to the boat side. This was one of the largest I had ever seen. Within ten minutes the fish was caught and released.
What a morning! I forgot about breakfast as I eagerly watched Gary put the rigs back out. We had barely begun to move when a school of porpoise began racing and leaping alongside the boat, rolling on their sides to get a better look at us as we leaned over the side of the boat to get a better look at them. Up and down they leaped and danced through the water, seemingly racing the boat. It was as though they were performing for our benefit and were enjoying the beauty of the day as well.
The next time the reel howled, Gary told me to take it. I went through a couple of “I don’t know how, I can’t fish,” protestations before Gary stated, “Of course you can! Just pick the rod up and reel!”
Reluctantly, I conceded.
Not only was the rod even heavier and harder to hold than I had expected, but it was twisting and turning from side to side and cutting into my stomach.
“What do I do?” I asked. “Follow the fish with the tip of the rod,” was his advice, and before I knew what was happening, I was now on the bow of the boat and he was in the tuna tower.
“Reel!” he yelled. So I reeled.
The rod wobbled from one side to the other, I wasn’t getting any line; not only that, with bare and wet feet, I was being pulled closer and closer to the edge of the pulpit.
“Gary, I can’t swim!” I yelled in a panic as I pictured disaster looming.
This time he came down to my side and explained, “You won’t have to if you do what I say.” Little comfort …
Gary managed to put a butt plate around my waist and the rod stopped wobbling. I finally learned the art of pumping and managed to get some line back on the reel, watching the water anxiously for the golden color, when a beautiful dark blue fish jumped far off in the distance.
“Did you see that?” I asked, “What was it?” “That is a sailfish,” Gary said, “and it’s attached to your line.”
I knew I was in big trouble. Even from this distance, I could tell it was unbelievably huge. My heart sank and yet there was an adrenalin rush like you wouldn’t believe.
My sailfish (I already thought I owned him) and I began a tug-of-war; I was doubled over now, and I was holding on for dear life. I had been in a battle all along with what I thought was a dorado, but now I knew I was in for a real battle! And I fought the only way I knew how, by using my weight against his – nothing pretty like “finessing the fish.”
I began focusing on getting the fish in, and I shut out everything else. I desperately wanted to prove that I could catch the sail. All I could think of was the next turn of the reel — the next lift of the rod. The sail leaped, shook his head, and tail-walked on the water. And I hung on.
His aerobatics were even more impressive than those of the dorado. I was triumphant as I took line on the reel, and in turn, was distraught as the sail would take even more line off!
“Don’t reel, let him run.” Gary would say as the fish took off. And then his familiar war cry of “Reel!” would soon follow as the fish raced back to the boat and the line began going slack. “Faster!” He would then shout while my weary muscles throbbed. My right hand had blisters, and my left elbow and left hand were locking in place.
Even if I got the fish, had I won?
By now, the sail was close enough that I could see his enormous eyes, and his bill was slashing back and forth in the water. I had a very angry fish on my line, and even though I could see he was tired, he was still determined to win this tug of war, using his last bag of tricks to shake me loose. It took an eternity for me to get him close enough to the boat for Gary to get the leader. Gary claimed it took only 45 minutes; I was certain it had been hours. With shouts of triumph, I did get him to the side of the boat and Gary released him back into the water. (Not only did we disagree on the time it took, but we also disagreed on his size. I swore the sail must have weighed over 200-pounds – Gary said maybe 125).
Did I say the dorado was the most magnificent fish I had ever seen? Well, the sailfish topped the dorado! It is one of the most exotic fish in the world, with its awesome sail and dark iridescent colors. Though exhausted, I was bursting with pride. I knew that I had accomplished something pretty spectacular when our battle was done.
We never did get breakfast that day. I suggested we stay out and see what additional excitement Gary’s magic “lures” could troll up.
I chose Baja, sport fishing, and Gary that day and our story is still unfolding.
We share our first cup of coffee most mornings, even if it’s during a phone call, knowing that whatever the day brings, we will be sharing it.
We still recall our first trip to Cabo as vividly as though it were yesterday. What neither of us knew then was that “sport fishing” would be one of many things that we would share for the rest of our lives.
Remarkable successes, crushing defeats, enduring friendships with so many who shared our passion, along with thousands of fading photographs of each, are a reminder of adventures shared