One of the main areas is along the East Cape of Baja where, it is said, there are more marlin concentrated in a small area than occurs anywhere else.
The marlin are mainly striped marlin averaging around 150lbs, but some are running up over 200lbs and youíre always in with an outside chance of a 500lb black or blue marlin, though these are rare. Only about 50 black and a few hundred blue marlin are caught each year inside the Cortez. There are also big sailfish running between 50 and 125lbs.
The big advantage with this section of the Baja Peninsula is that the deep-water drop off is just a few miles from the shore. A couple of miles off Punta Arena the water is said to drop away into 100 fathoms or 600-feet, and double that distance just beyond the Pulmo Shoals. Itís much the same northward along the coast above Los Barilles and beyond. At peak marlin time the stripers are just a mile or two offshore, and occasionally working along the deeper beaches.
The boats range from small 20-foot Pangaís with centre consoles that work out to 20 miles or more, 25-foot Sports Cruisers pushing to 40 miles, and then bigger Super Cruisers over 30-feet. The Pangaís cost about $230 US a day, the Sports Cruisers around $280 US and the Super Cruisers $330 US a day. Considering some marlin boats in so-called hotspots around the world will set you back a thousand dollars a day, thatís cheap marlin fishing.
On top of the boat price, youíll need to add a 10% tax charge, plus a tip for the crew, usually 10% to 15%, but if you have a good day you can tip more.
You also buy the bait here in Mexico. It costs $20 for three scoops of sardines. You get loads of sardines, more than enough to last the day, but if youíre going specifically for marlin make sure the skipper also asks for some larger baits like scad or cabrillos.
The boats carry good tackle, usually Penn Senator or Shimano multipliers. If you havenít got your own gear you can hire tackle for $10 a day. The boats carry no light tackle under 50lb class. If you want light gear, then you have to take your own.
BEST TIMES TO GO
The stripers are your best shot at a marlin. Stripers like water temperatures above 70 degrees, ideally 73 degrees to 80 degrees. In the Sea of Cortez this occurs in the spring from early May through to Late June and again from late September to November. These are the peak times. Get it right and youíll see large schools of stripers free jumping. It is literally thick with them. In the summer they are way to the north. Winter sees them drop back to the south corner of Baja, but if the water temperature gets near 68 degrees they head towards Central Americaís warmer seas.
The sailfish are most numerous during the summer months and come a little later than the stripers, though occasional fish are taken outside this time. Sailfish like water temperatures between 75 degrees and 85 degrees. The blue and rare black marlin show in high summer when the sea hits a steady 80 to 90 degrees. Knowing this and checking the world sea temperature ranges for Mexico on the Internet helps you choose the peak times.
In addition to the marlin you also have excellent opportunities for yellowfin tuna running to 70lbs but with 100lbers and much bigger possible, also big bull dorado averaging 50lbs. Shark-wise, there are tiger sharks, blue sharks and mako, though few boats target the sharks.
FISHING FOR MARLIN
There are two ways to fish for marlin. You can either troll skirt lures or deadbaits or fish live baits.
Trolling sees you running at about 6 to 8-knots, sometimes a touch quicker, with artificial lures running from the outriggers (fibreglass poles stretching out from the boat side) at varying distances up to 40-yards away with two flat line rods fished from the rod holders in the boat's gunnel. Some crews, especially those on the bigger Super Cruisers may also fish a centre lure from high up on the flying bridge from where they steer.
They also have a large teaser lure, usually a big skirted lure without a hook placed about 20-yards behind the boat. This is designed to make a stream of bubbles and to pop in and out the water to create noise and commotion. Itís this that brings deep marlin up for a look and to draw them to the lures with hooks hidden in them.
When a marlin is raised, you can see its bill out the water thrashing at the lure. When the lure is taken the angler must grab the rod and strike the fish half a dozen times to fully make sure the hook is set. Now get in the fighting chair and start working that fish.
Fishing with live bait is maybe a touch more exciting though. The crew, up on the fly bridge, will spot marlin sunning themselves on the surface. They gun the boat towards the fish and ease off just before they get too near them. The boat is eased up to the marlin and then a big live bait is thrown towards them. Some marlin sink away and are never seen again. Others wag their tails, disappear under the surface and scoff the live bait. Give them time to eat the bait then hit the fish hard several times to set the hook. The fish will then charge off on the first run.
Playing marlin is a system of attrition. The fish will run, leap, tail walk, go deep and do just about everything it can to get free. Your job is to hang on in there and let the fish have line when it wants it, but the second you think you can get some line back, start pumping the rod and winding line back on as fast as you can. Youíll likely get the fish to the side of the boat a couple of times and sheíll go again, so be prepared for about an hourís fight in decent gear with an average 150lb striper, but much longer than that if you get lucky with a blue. The crews out there also tell me that marlin hooked on live bait fight harder than those hooked on the lures.
The crews are very experienced, so listen to them if you havenít had marlin before. Make sure you tell them you want the fish released. Many of the hotels have the most amazing casts of big marlin caught by their fleet in the bars or restaurants. These are well worth looking at and studying. Youíll appreciate why the marlin is such a revered adversary. These guys are built for speed.
Youíre also likely to hook dorado while trolling the lures, plus they sometimes take a live bait. These are another hard fighter and will leap, surface run and sometimes go deep. There are big bull dorado in Baja waters running to well over 80lbs, but a 50lber is considered a good one.
You frequently find dorado working tight to floating weed masses or around floating debris like fish boxes of polystyrene blocks. School dorado tend to be much the same size, but sizes can vary when weed concentrations are large. The Mexican crews tell me that the big bull dolphin with flat broad heads are often loners, probably the last of the original school.
Research suggests that the highest concentrations of dorado in an area occur when the surface temperature reaches 85 degrees, so be prepared for a hot day at sea.
Though top class fighters, the boats' own 50lb class gear is a bit heavy for the dorado and youíd be wiser to take a decent UK 30lb class for extra fun if youíre hoping for big fish, but a bass type spinning rod and fixed-spool reel holding 350-yards of 15 to 18lb line would be ideal for the smaller ones if you want to try casting lures towards floating weed.
Iíd also take a few Rapala plugs up to 10-inches long and troll these deeper behind the boat. The dorado seems to like a deeper erratic moving plug when the light is very bright. Also, carry Japanese feather lures in yellow and green as these can be deadly.
YELLOWFIN TUNA FISHING
Another scrapper that you think will never give in is the yellowfin tuna. The crews are always looking for birds flocking tighter in the sky and this denotes that school porpoise are herding fish. This feeding frenzy will also hold big schools of yellowfin tuna working the same frenzy.
The boats troll small skirt lures. A boat will ease up to the outside of the feeding area and drag the lures around the edge to get in front of the feeding fish. Yellowfin crash in to the lures and power away. They initially run fast and far, but as they tire slightly expect them to sound and swim in circles under the boat, then take off again. The photo isnít the best, but the estimated 65lber Iím holding in the photo took me 1 hour and 52 minutes on 15lb test, just to give you an idea of what to expect.
The yellowfin can tend to be mostly of the same size in a feeding pod, but thatís not a hard and fast rule. We had numerous small yellowfin to maybe 15lbs. While all this was going on, I switched to a heavier lure to get deep, figuring there might be better fish there and so got lucky with the biggie.
Plastic muppets (squid) in pink or blue work extremely well in Baja waters for yellowfin. Rig them by sliding the muppet up 8-feet of 100lb Fluoro Carbon clear leader, slide on a 1 or 2oz round bullet weight and push the bullet right up in to the head of the muppet. Now finish with a size 3/0 or 4/0 Mustad OíShaughnessy 3406 hook. They take Japanese feather lures and small skirt lures too.
You can tell when porpoise are feeding with yellowfin as the porpoise will swim erratically and constantly change direction to avoid the hundreds of feeding yellowfin below.
If you spend time checking flights, you should be able to fly from London, get a short couple of hours stay in Dallas, then fly on to Los Cabos airport or another airport close to your final destination all in the same 24 hour period. This gains you a days fishing. Some airlines will have you overnight in Dallas and you lose fishing time, plus incur extra costs.
You need a licence to fish Mexican waters and youíd better get one as it can get nasty if youíre caught without one. You can pick these up in the States, or check with the Mexican Embassy. They cost about $20 US for a week.
Make sure your rods are well protected in a KIS Case or plastic drainpipe. Baggage handlers at airports arenít always so careful when loading. Fly rods need folding tighter and tying as this helps protect them further.
Few hotels take credit cards. I suggest paying with US travellerís cheques or US dollars.
Beer costs about a pound a bottle. Corona Beer is good with a slice of fresh lime in it. Food is excellent and most hotels have their own water supply, which is safe to drink. Many hotels have no keys for the apartments. You donít need them, there is no crime.