I’ve lived in Southern California now for about 2 decades. I’ve been to different parts of Mexico, both via water and on land. But for my various land-based fishing trips…Acapulco, Cabo/East Cape, Puerto Vallarta…I’ve always flown in.
I’ve heard all about various fishing destinations in Northern and Central Baja, but have always been afraid to drive in…at least on my own.
So when my friend, Orchid Martinez (above) invited me on one of her convoy trips to Bahia de Los Angeles, I was very excited to go. Orchid is the owner/operator of Baja Fishing Convoys. She organizes various trips into Baja Mexico, but Bay of LA or “BoLA” is her personal favorite. BoLA is located on the Sea of Cortez side of Northern Baja, about 450 miles southeast from San Diego. Orchid arranged for me and the others in our tour group to meet up with her at Brown Airport in Otay Mesa (San Diego) early Tuesday morning (Sept. 24th). We parked our cars there and then loaded into the 2 vans for the day’s drive to our destination.
It was great to have someone else handle all the logistics of the drive…navigating the route, where to stop to eat/gas up/take bathroom breaks, load up on supplies, etc. It left me free to just enjoy the ride and take in the whole experience. Once we got to our hotel, we got settled in, ate dinner prepared by Orchid’s cook, Yoli, and then prepared for our first of 3 days fishing.
Day 1 – Deep Drop Yellowtail
The next morning, Yoli cooked us all breakfast and we headed over to the boat launch area to meet our respective boats and captains for the day. My group consisted of myself and a couple from Ontario, CA – Mario and Renee. Our captain for 3 days of fishing was Joel Prieto Jr. of Joel Sportfishing ([email protected]).
Joel Jr. and his dad, Joel Sr., operate 2 modern pangas in BoLA that do both fishing trips and eco-tours…BoLA is a popular diving destination to view the majestic whale shark (more on them later) resident to the area.
Our boat, the Joel Jr., is a 26-foot center console that boasted a live bait tank, modern electronics, padded seating, and an elevated bow area perfect for throwing jigs. It proved to be easy for our group of 3 to fish with plenty of elbow room.
Joel Jr. told me he’s been running trips since he was 14!
He’s now 32. He learned a ton from his dad, but he’s also put in time in working and fishing on boats from Cabo to Catalina Island. He’s fluent in English and Spanish, and I could tell he was fishy. It was easy for him to relate to me what we’d be doing in BoLA, as compared to the kind of fishing that I’m used to doing back home in SoCal. In short, he was the perfect guide for our trip.
First up for the day was to make bait. The primary bait is green mackerel. We all set up a sabiki rod and started into it almost immediately upon launching the boat. The recommended size on the sabiki hooks was 6.
The mackerel was mostly of the larger variety, so be sure to check the line test on the sabikis and bring a minimum of one per day of fishing.
The kind I brought was the right hook size, but only 12# on the line. I wrecked one in our first bait making session! Once we were done making bait, we proceeded to head out about 20 miles south. Our destination spot was some offshore pinnacles.
I was told to bring 80# test and 1-pound weights for this part of the program.
Turns out Joel wanted us to fish 100#. I had the 80#, so I rigged myself up. I really wanted to catch a big grouper on this trip, so I figured whatever. I’ll be way overkill on the yellows, but I’ll be ready if I got the big bite. Turns out, I was wrong…
For an 80# rig, I brought a Seeker 775 (rated 40#-100#) and paired it with an Okuma Makaira 16 – 2 speed. The Mak is rigged with 100# braid to about 100-yards of 100# mono top shot. I brought 150# rated swivels that I tied the mainline to. I tied 80# fluoro to the leader with a 4/0, heavy-duty J-hook. I tied 30# down to the weight, to make it easier to break off if it got stuck in the structure.
We maneuvered over a spot about 280-feet deep. Joel pinned on a bait for me and I dropped in. Upon hitting bottom, I cranked up 5 turns. Almost immediately, I got whacked. It surprised me how hard it hit, and I wasn’t ready for it.
The fish ran me into the rocks and broke off the 100# main line. No kidding.
Next drop, I cranked up 10 cranks. The extra height off the bottom, and being mentally prepared for the fight that was about to ensue, I better handled the next bite. I figured these things would be 20-30-pound fish or larger based on the fight. I was shocked to see maybe a 15-16-pounder.
We might have gotten one or 2 over 20-pounds between the 3 of us, but most were in the say 12-17-pound range. Joel said the current below on the pinnacles was very strong. These fish are fighting that strong current all day/every day. We jokingly called them prison fish. It’s like they are down there pumping iron every day. When we didn’t catch a yellowtail, we’d catch “pintos” or golden spotted bass. Joel just called those ones fish tacos.
Once I got my personal limit, I gave it a go with my yo-yo setup to see if I could do it. I fished a mint/white Salas 6X heavy, with a 50# tip of mono to 65 pound braid. I went 1 for 3. After boat limits (5 apiece), we ducked into a cove on one of the islands so Joel could cut our fish. When he was done we set off to head back to the launch ramp. On our way out, we saw some birds working and went to check it out. As we got closer, we could see fish boiling on bait on the surface. Joel thought they might be jack crevalle. I aimed to find out.
I had a small, green sardine Candy Bar surface iron already rigged on my 9-foot, Turner’s Californian Tri-Flex inshore rod. I got up on the raised platform in the bow and fired a shot at the boiling fish. I put my jig about 10-feet past the spot and wound through.
Turns out they were rat-sized yellows (3-4-pounds?), but it was great fun. I hooked, landed and released four in quick succession before the school moved on. It was the perfect capper to a great first day of fishing.
To be continued…