John Ireland, owner of Rancho Leonero in East Cape, joined hosts Pete Gray and Rick Maxa on the “Let’s Talk Hookup” radio show recently. His voice was saturated with emotion as he described his first visit to the magnificent undeveloped stretch of Baja landscape which would become the “Ranch” more than 35 years ago. After that very first visit, when he explored every corner of the immense property – even snorkeling the shallow reef teeming with sea life – Ireland knew that somehow, some way, ultimately this corner of East Cape would be his.
“The view from the bluff over the deserted beach and the glimmering Sea of Cortez was incredible,” he recalled. After a two-year struggle to purchase the property, Ireland became the owner and began construction on what was to become Rancho Leonero, his small, intimate fishing resort located on Baja’s East Cape.
In 1986, the “Ranch” opened with five rooms for its first guests.
From this inauspicious birth, five rooms and one cruiser with an oar-powered shore boat, the resort has grown to 34 rooms, 14 pangas and an upgraded cruiser fleet. It has become arguably the best facility on the East Cape. Ireland’s frequently returning guests seem to underline his success.
Located on Punta Soledad, one of the stunning beaches in Baja, the hotel offers paddle boards, a great way to view the marine life and work out at the same time. Most mornings the water is smooth as glass, allowing for many sightings of different fish species as well as mantas, turtles and porpoise. Speaking of workout, the “Ranch” now offers a completely remodeled, air-conditioned ocean view gym, including an elliptical machine, treadmill, and other fitness equipment.
The kayaks – both pedal and paddle – are also a great way to be up close and personal with the marine life.
Fishing from kayaks is a popular, exciting and inexpensive way to get out on the water … a good way to fish for both the fly and conventional angler.
If you want to give beach fishing a try, the front desk at the hotel will arrange to rent an ATV for you.
Whether beach, inshore or offshore fly-fishing, Rancho Leonero is one of the most popular destinations in Baja.
A recent innovation at the “Ranch” is the increased panga fleet. This year, anglers will have the largest fleet of “Super Pangas” in the area at their disposal.
For the uninitiated, a little background on the Mexican Panga (pan-ga). Pangas are a common sight anywhere one travels in Baja.
The original pangas – small commercial fishing boats – were nothing more than homemade 16 to 20-foot, hollowed-out logs, equipped with crude sails. The commercial fishermen along the coast fished the local waters in these plank-on-frame, double-enders, introduced from the coastal town of Guaymas on the Mexican mainland in the 1950s, or little plywood variations of the boats, which had a transom and could carry a small outboard.
La Paz resident Mac Shroyer, considered the father of the modern Baja panga, built the first plywood-hull outboard panga for the large fishing co-op at Rancho Buena Vista on the East Cape in the early ’70s. The 18-footers were hard-chined and had the typical V-bottoms, common with plywood construction.
Later, he lengthened the mold in order to build 20 and 22-foot models. Shroyer’s first 22-foot all-fiberglass panga was delivered on July 26, 1972.
By 1982, Shroyer’s factory had produced over 3,000 of his innovative-designed pangas in addition to other boats, including various sport fishing craft for the local resorts and the Mexican Government. Soon, U.S. boaters were lining up to purchase one.
While most hotel fleets continue to upgrade to larger and more expensive cruisers, John Ireland announced recently that he had and would continue to expand the Rancho Leonero “panga fleet” to satisfy his clients’ requests and needs.
The 14 super pangas are all powered with Yamaha 90 to 150-hp engines, depending on size, offering the ideal platform for fishing the bountiful waters surrounding the “Ranch” in all seasons.
“It’s all about getting back to basics,” Bart Hall, owner of the Fred Hall shows, observed when calling in. “As an insider’s perspective, while fishing for all of the species that made East Cape famous in the first place, pangas can go anywhere the cruisers go and it’s an opportunity to get back to the basics. They allow a much closer interaction with your captain and you really become part of the crew.”
In some cases, unlike the cruiser, the panga can literally be so close to shore that an angler can cast lures up on the sand and retrieve them as fast as possible, while reeling them back to the boat.
Experiencing the take as a rooster or dorado follows the lure or fly and inhales it is a visual that will bring you back time after time.
Farther offshore, “bigger fish equals bigger thrills” doesn’t necessarily demand larger boats. Imagine the thrill of finding a feeding frenzy before anyone else from a fast, easily maneuverable panga.
Picture in your mind’s eye high-flying frigate birds circling as you race for the spot. The closer you get, the more seabirds you see darting to and fro chasing the fleeing baitfish as predators gorge themselves barely beneath the boiling surface.
The boat slows to a troll as two lures are let out behind the boat. A porpoise leaps so high both captain and angler are looking upward as the mammal loses altitude crashing into the water and drenching the boat with its splash.
Then, an Accurate reel clicker howls as one of the trolled lures disappears beneath the bubbling wake and a huge marlin tail-walks toward the stern. The captain deftly maneuvers the panga out of the charging billfish’s path and retrieves the second line as the angler lets the fish run.
With the angler on the bow of the panga, line is recovered quickly and the amped fisherman begins to gain line; as soon as the fish tires, the angler returns to the stern where the two can quickly leader the fish, putting a Gray Tag in it before releasing it.
Of course, if your group is larger than a couple of people, a cruiser is a better option. While the panga fleet has grown, the cruiser fleet has been upgraded as well – again underscoring Ireland’s philosophy that first and foremost “Rancho Leonero” is all about fishing.
From March 1 through November 31, this intimate palm-thatched (palapa) roofed compound – perched on Punta Soledad – shaped like a ship’s bow jutting toward the fertile Palmas Bay awaits travelers seeking the ultimate Baja fishing experience.
Gary Barnes-Webb, originally from South Africa, has been the hotel’s general manager for 15 years. He oversees the daily operation with his well-trained staff of employees who have an average tenure of 23 years, many of whom have grown into their jobs over several decades. However, after breakfast when the roosterfish are around, it is not uncommon to find Barnes-Webb cruising the beach in his side-by-side searching for them.
With an extensive list of equipment for sportfishing from beach or boat, kayaking (both pedal and paddle), and snorkeling, the “Ranch” is a place where you can show up in shorts and flip-flops with a couple of changes of clothes in your backpack and be good to go for your vacation according to Pete Gray; adding, “Spend a day fishing, the next day on an incredible dive at Cabo Pulmo and then the third day rent a quad and fish the beach for roosters, jacks and who knows what else – it’s the perfect ‘quickie’ trip for me!”
The “Ranch” experience, as many frequent visitors know, is a priceless glimpse of a Baja thought lost.
Drenched in vivid memories of incredible catches, old Baja stories, long naps in the hammocks on the porch and don’t forget the killer margaritas, blended with a simple (but secret) recipe!
Rancho Leonero is a small oasis hidden in plain sight is a delightful hideaway less than an hour’s drive from Los Cabos airport that will satisfy anglers and their families … after all, it is said the best things come in small packages.