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Tales of Baja alter a young man’s life path

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Just like the sailors in Greek poet Homer’s “Odyssey,” who were drawn by the songs of the mythological Sea Nymphs to the Island of the Faiakes, a young Stephen Jansen, then living beyond the curvature of the earth in Amsterdam, was captivated by the fascinating tales written by Erle Stanley Gardner, Ray Cannon, Gene Kira and others, of the extraordinary fishing in Baja’s Tip region nearly 6,000 miles away.

In the early years, the bulk of the fishing by visiting anglers was done from boats and the results were phenomenal for fishermen from around the world. Although there were locals who often fished from shore, that entire fishery was virtually ignored by visitors and by hotels promoting fishing trips until the early 1970s when Mex One was paved from border to tip.

It wasn’t long until some of the transplanted residents realized that the beaches in the Sea of Cortez were a perfect place to try their hand at fishing. A new breed of visitors followed and began exploring the deserted miles and miles of beaches that surrounded the entire Baja Peninsula offering pristine camping opportunities with the added bonus of remarkable sportfishing and challenges from shore.

When Jansen a 6-foot, 3-inch tall gangling Hollander traveled to Los Angeles in 1994, he succumbed to the siren’s call of this brand of fishing that could not be experienced in his homeland. By his own account, he wasn’t disappointed.

“My initial goal was to catch a marlin,” he confessed recently with a boyish grin. “The captain hooked three and let me reel them in,” he added with a chuckle.

“I fell in love with Baja … the ability to fish in shorts for giant fish, something I could never do back home.”

Upon Jansen’s return to Amsterdam, where he worked in a tackle shop, he convinced the owner to allow him to take off during their off-season – November through January – so he could journey to Cabo and fish.

Over the next six years Jansen scrimped and saved his money for nine months, fleeing to Cabo at the beginning of Holland’s frigid winter months where he used the money he had saved all year in Amsterdam to live. He purchased a 16-foot outboard and found that the fishing was “off the charts” and met his expectations. But he soon learned that fuel and boat maintenance costs were too expensive and he couldn’t afford to go out every day.

So he began exploring the local beaches for fishing opportunities. He found that aside from locals, he seldom came across many anglers as he prowled the beaches on either the Sea of Cortez or the Pacific side. But he added to his local knowledge while fine-tuning his techniques and feeding his flame of unbridled passion for sportfishing of any kind.

In 1994, he met Monica Aragon in Cabo. Their relationship that began as a friendship grew into a heated love affair in 1998 and culminated in a trip to Amsterdam in 1999 for their wedding.

Upon their return to Cabo, they started their own tackle store.

Now, 15 years later, Jansen Inshore Tackle, located in a corner of the Mar de Cortez Hotel in downtown Cabo San Lucas, has emerged as the “go to” shop, specifically focusing on the tackle required for Baja beaches.

The excitement Jansen felt when he first visited Cabo has matured into a passion that he can barely contain … and their one shop located in Cabo San Lucas has spawned a second in San Jose del Cabo, BCS, México. [See locations below.] Either well-stocked shop should be a must-visit for anyone interested in exploring and fishing Baja beaches.

Although there is some offshore gear in both shops, his stores are primarily focused on Baja beaches and the fishing adventures they offer. The walls are covered with lures of every shape and description, many personally designed by Jansen – mostly for flinging from the shore.

While Jansen has blended well into the Los Cabos community, earning the respect and friendship of his peers, neighbors and customers, he is easy to spot. His height and blond hair are a dead giveaway as he engages in an animated conversation in his shop with a customer about tackle and techniques.

The walls of the shops are filled with photos of huge fish landed from the beach, attesting to the effectiveness of technical advances in both tackle and techniques in all disciplines – conventional, spinning or flyrod – which have allowed extraordinary catches from Baja beaches that would have been unthinkable in the past.

His enthusiasm is contagious as he points to the lures of every color of the rainbow covering one wall. Many residing on that wall he custom designed. The Cabo Killer is one of those, in a variety of color combinations, and is a local favorite. It is one of his early designs adapted primarily to fish the surf in different conditions. Similar to the popular Ranger born on the East Coast to target striped bass, Jansen’s version sports a weighted keel so it doesn’t flip over and tangle; the arrow shape allows long casts and a rapid retrieve. Available in a variety of colors, the most popular are ballyhoo, blue mackerel, and red and white, according to Jansen. Confirming how effective the Cabo Killer is, Jansen proudly produced a set of photos of several different species of large fish he had fooled with the Cabo Killer.

Another custom-designed lure nicknamed Chingón (loosely translated in Spanish, F’in’ Great) by the locals, a distinctively long and slender lure, was intentionally weighted in the back to accommodate the fast, effective retrieve that has become so popular.

The shop stocks rod choices ranging in sizes from 11- to 13-foot, depending on the height of the angler. As Jansen explains, “If an angler isn’t very tall, the longer rods may be difficult to handle. In some cases we make custom rods with a shorter butt so length is not affected. It can be designed in a 7-piece configuration.”

Don’t have a rod that long? The shop offers a collapsible rod with a high-speed spinning reel reasonably priced. If you are looking for a surf rod that travels well, they also offer a custom 7-piece rod and case.

In addition to a list of several local guides who offer half-day trips at angler-friendly rates, he and his staff are quite willing to share the latest fishing info and which areas are producing if an angler is interested in a DIY trip.

Besides managing the two shops with Monica, Jansen still finds time to contribute to the local sportfishing community in a variety of ways.

This year, he will again be hosting the wildly popular, “6th Annual Sierra Beach Tournament,” the largest event of its kind ever held in Baja. The event held at Playa Migriño and date is determined by current conditions. According to Jansen, “The warmer water will probably force us to move the date to sometime in March.” Once the dates have been determined, they will be announced via social media and of course on BD.

The event is held on a Sunday morning from 6:15 to 9:15am on one of the local beaches. However, many entrants turn the tourney into a family outing beginning on Saturday afternoon, when a stream of cars and trucks arrive at the designated beach with fishing rods poking out of windows or bouncing over the tailgates of the trucks. As the sun sets, the silhouettes of eager anglers can be seen pre-fishing; bonfires begin to appear, glowing up and down the beach as the numbers of campsites grow. Hoots, hollers and laughter will begin to echo above the sounds of the surf until late into the night and family and friends prepare simple-to-elaborate dinners while everyone basks in the camaraderie with other entrants and their families.

Sunday morning comes early as more participants begin arriving in a procession of pick-ups, SUVs, ATVs and dune buggies, with headlights glowing in the gray light of a Baja morning. While the anglers and their families unload fishing gear, beach chairs and canopies, Jansen and his crew of volunteers put the final touches on the stage and weigh station.

Precisely at 6:15am the event begins with lures flung and poppers popped as the anglers – each of whom had plunked down their 250 pesos in hopes of winning the Shimano Stella 14000 for first prize – begin their quest for the winning sierra mackerel.

Cheers and laughter of spectators can be heard over the roaring surf as they shout encouragement to their favorite anglers. Successful fishermen, with catches in hand, sprint for the weigh station, handing over their fish to be weighed and recorded by tournament officials and then racing back to their preferred spot, taking a few minutes to reload both body and tackle before taking their place at the water’s edge, hoping to hook another fish to improve their score.

Seabirds sail above the waves while anglers angle under the watchful eyes of excited spectators on the sandy berm behind them. Every hookup brings shouts of encouragement as the final minutes of the three-hour competition tick by.

Then, Jansen will declare “lines out” and the winners will receive prizes for their catches, accompanied by blaring renditions of Queen’s, “We are the Champions,” and soon followed by James Brown’s, “I Feel Good!”

Last year’s winner, Jose Garcia, caught the largest sierra, 2.66 kilo (6 pounds); plus another sierra weighing 1.4 kilo (3 pounds) which earned him the prestigious Sierra Killer Award. “I’ve fished the event several times and won something twice. I wanted a Shimano Stella for quite a while,” grinned Garcia after the awards. “I caught the winning fish on a small green popper with an orange belly. I found it at Jansen’s Tackle, and told my friend that it would catch the winning fish … and it did!”

This is such a fun event … everyone seems to enjoy it, which is demonstrated by the number of participants and the fact that it’s in its 6th year!

Minerva Saenz of Minerva’s Tackle confided after her first year of sponsorship, “I have never sponsored the Sierra Tournament before, but I do remember the first tournament and I’m aware of how much it’s grown! A few of the boys who work in our store fished the tournament and what a feeling of community it has become. Can you imagine over 250 anglers on these magnificent beaches and the winning angler coming from La Paz to fish? When we opened our store 28 years ago, no one fished from the shore; now, “surf fishing” in Cabo San Lucas has become a draw both locally and internationally. We have Europeans who bring their surf equipment to fish from the shore. I love it!”

What is most remarkable is that this homegrown tournament has plenty of local support and has joined the ranks of the “big boy” boat tournaments. It is providing a land-based opportunity that offers all the same fun, excitement, and enthusiasm, as well as the camaraderie, of its big brothers. It lacks only the roar of the boats and the smell of diesel fumes.

Another community event that the Jansens sponsor and offer their assistance is the annual Kids Day Fishing Tournament, organized by a local Mexican fisherman, Lorenzo Bello. Stephen and Monica provide 50 rod and reel combos and help teach the kids how to bait their hooks, cast, and reel ‘em in. Then the kids take turns fishing and if they catch a fish, they get to keep the outfit. The outfits that are left over are raffled off at the end of the day.

One of the mothers at the kids’ tournament commented, “Super cute! You’re a natural teacher, Stephen. What a great way to pass on your legacy and passion for the sport!”

It’s not the first time in history that the tales of writers fanned the flame in an adventurous young man’s soul that inexorably changed his life forever.

After traveling a quarter of the way around the world, Jansen not only found the spectacular fishing he had read about but it exceeded his wildest fantasies! Unexpectedly, Baja also offered an exciting pathway to the satisfying lifestyle that he now cherishes.

Shop locations:

L. Cárdenas E. V. Guerrero S/N, Interior Mar de Cortez, local 1 Col. Centro, 23410 Cabo San Lucas, BCS, México Telephone (+52) 624 143 58 04

Cabrilla S/N E/Coronado y Gurerrero Col. La Playita, 23450 San Jose del Cabo, BCS, México Telephone

(+52) 624 105 66 88

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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 records and in his first year as a member of the Tuna Club of Avalon, he received more angling awards than any other first-year member in the club's 109-year history. He's been involved with many California angling clubs and is the Baja California Representative for the International Game Fish Association. 
Gary's a conservationist as well as a writer and photographer. In addition to two books on saltwater fly-fishing, hundreds of his articles and photographs have appeared in publications around the world. Graham has devoted his life to finding new fisheries and developing new techniques — all of which he shares through his guiding, speaking, photography and writing.