Unfolding, from a backdrop of hostile lunar landscapes and tropical swaying palm groves to where rainbows flicker and dance in the salty mist, floating above the relentless surf, creating an aura of mystery sure to rouse the spirit of adventure.
Squadrons of patrolling pelicans glide the contours of the foaming surf and wheeling seabirds wait to dine out in one of the world's finest wilderness seafood restaurants for free. These are the haunts of pez gallo known to hunters of this mighty warrior as - the Roosterfish.
This exotic cousin of the jacks has all of their legendary power, and more tricks in store than Charlie Fox. They will jump, make long searing runs, fight deep and generally lead you a merry dance. Line spoolin', drag cookin', rod breakin' are all terms which spring to mind if you are lucky enough to cross swords with this master of illusion. It's a magnificent sight with it's seven tendrilled comb erect, lit up with iridescent hues of green, shimmering silver, black inaz stripes across the body and the mask of a highwayman, which more than befits the disposition of this raging bull.
Roosterfish move in pods, plundering the schools of bait found in the warm shallow waters of these regions. They will suddenly arrive from who knows where, balling up the bait to gorge with merciless abandon and then to move on to pastures new. They are nomadic raiders of the shorelines from Baja to Costa Rica and only here are they found.
Now this fish is cute with more than its fair share of guile. Only a chosen few species appeal to the specialist hunters and the roosterfish reigns supreme to those who know of it's prowess and who seek to duel with such a wily adversary.
They are line shy so; too heavy no eat! They are boat shy, so smaller craft are more suitable to stalk 'Papagallo'. A watchful eye has to be kept on the surf or the rogue one may test your nerve. It would appear all is in favour of the roosterfish and much of the time, it is.
They can be taken on a variety of plugs, softbaits and with the long wand on a fly, after teasing with a surface popper or the like; but the key to the rooster's soul is livebait. A species of striped mullet, "Lisa" in Spanish are the favourites, among other secret weapons like the lesser known bonefish (Sabalo or Quijo) which are not like the Atlantic bonefish and goatfish (Chivato). These baits are powerful offerings to this predator but are not always easy to come by. Many anglers, depending on the location, will use more easily obtainable mackerel (Macarela) or small cabalito (Jacks).
This is just the beginning of the quest. I remember well on arriving dockside with two clients who were to fish with the 'master' in a wonderful place called Zihuatanejo. The Captain asked the question "Are you any good at hooka? Because papagallo cute feeeeeesh".
The more humble of the two anglers replied "Erso so". The other jumped right in "Yeah I can do that".
Captain Adolpho's piercing blue eyes peered from under his sombrero at the angler momentarily and he said mockingly "Okay,we only take three dozen baits".
I was on camera duty and they had used all the baits by lunchtime and "Yeah I can do that" was a shattered man reduced to a water lashing dervish.
Roosterfish are rare and elusive. You must hunt them to the exclusion of all other bycatch species or it is unlikely you will claim your prize. You must bear in mind they can attain big weights when considering the tackle you can use to catch them. Forty pounders are not unusual and they come much much bigger. I have seen them up to eighty five pounds. Tackle should be in the 15-20 pound class and have good quality reels to match. I have seen some well known brands give out under the pressure and drags reduced to a snatching trap, which ends with the inevitable 'crack!' and limp line blowing in the wind. The new gelspuns come into their own here but use any more than the necessary 30lb mono leader and they will refuse even the most vigorous livie. I use a Shimano Calcutta 700s or the biggest baitrunner, but this is my choice, there are others which will do the job and a lot too which will fail you.
Roosterfish are regularly taken from the shore by adventurous land based gamefishers, especially at first light and dusk; but by far the most successful method is by stalking them. To reach the often remote inaccessible land locations use a traditional Mexican panga style craft. This permits freedom of movement around the boat for casting and playing a fish - which will go places and perform stunts you did not know a mere fish could dream of. Often livebaits will be trolled slowly a fair way behind the boat in the known haunts and if you happen upon a visual pod of skirmishers you can cast a livebait into the fray, and then just hang onto your sombrero! On hook-up, many first timers liken the roosterfish to a runaway train as it screams toward the beach where you dare not follow for fear of capsizing in the surf. They will then power along the gulley hewn by the waves, comb erect, and often showering baitfish everywhere, all in fear of the impending doom they associate with this slayer of the unwary. This is the most dangerous time, as in the shallows can be volcanic rubble piles and reefs which will cut you off in an instant. If lady luck is with you, eventually the roosterfish will head for deeper water to decide the outcome, which is by no means predictable but at least you have some depth to play with.
February 2001: Under the wing of Captain Adolpho, just offshore of this amazing place called Petatlan, a huge roosterfish followed up a pencil popper cast from the foredeck of our panga. I could not believe my eyes as I beheld this massive comb slicing through the water and right there I stared 'Dick Turpin' in the eye. As the roosterfish peeled away from the boat, like lightning Adolpho intercepted him with a live bait and this wild, lit-up fish charged through the surf in hot pursuit of the, by now, walking-on-water baitfish. A scenario which could only have one outcome. Our Captain set the hook and thrust the bucking rod into the hands of Lord Tim from Weymouth, Dorset. He grabbed the helm and steered us to comparative safety as the roosterfish powered to the shoreline. An awesome, never-to-be-forgotten sight. This was a big fish and Adolpho gradually and expertly worked it out into the deeper water. Suddenly the tactics changed and the fish headed out to sea at breakneck speed with roostertails (excuse the pun) flying off the line and the baitrunner howling. There was a momentary pause, some violent head shaking, then off again. Could Clarion Island be the next stop, I wondered? Then the line went slack and all fell silent, except the popping of the Yamaha. Despairing eyes looked out to sea. It was over - the fish was gone.
Adolpho was crestfallen, to put it mildly, as it was on his gear and the end of the line was like a pig tail. Not a good sign. He looked at the crew but gave no public admonishment. I respect him for his control.
We lost another well into the fight due to a pulled hook then late in the day, almost at the last knockings, a cracking fish of over 60 lbs was tamed after a monumental battle. Adolpho reached down and affectionately patted the fish as it lay alongside and said "Thankyou feeeeeeesh. You save my arse". A wonderful moment in fishing milestones. On Adolpho's T-shirt it says "Adolpho is my name and big fish is the game" and he certainly proved the point this day.
Sometimes when pods of roosterfish invade an area you can reach new heights by teasing them up with pencil poppers then casting a fly of good choice with the long wand. This is amazing, as many times a 50lb roosterfish will explode from the surf and inhale the popper. This happened to a young first-timer not so long ago. He had the fight of his life and the memory for ever. Usually you will take the smaller fish on the fly but it is enough, believe me. A roosterfish of 15 to 20lbs on a 9 weight fly outfit is enough for any angler just watch out for your fingers on the reel handles!
In search mode it often pays to run imitation soft baits on the riggers, if you have them, and two plugs on the flat lines until you locate the roosterfish which will show behind the lure even if they do not strike. Where there is one there are surely more. Drop back your livebaits and look out for fireworks.
Hooking up is a technique all of its own when using livies. It takes a lot of self control not to strike in that manner in which many anglers feel compelled. As the roosterfish takes the bait the reel must be in freespool, just thumbed, and only just, to avoid overun. They must feel no resistance as they will be running fast. Give the fish a drop back to turn the bait, then point the rod at the fish, engage the spool and wind fast. Whatever happens, do not strike! When line is coming off the spool against a preset drag, set the hook with a couple of sharp jabs - no 'Zorros' or you will be in trouble. It seems an eternity for all this to fall into place but once you grasp it you are on your way. I have lost count of the times I have watched an angler feel the initial knock as the roosterfish kills the bait and then strike like a long range carp angler. This will not work. I know it is very difficult to break the habit of a lifetime but to succeed in this arena you must follow the piper.
There are some magical places to court the attentions of Papagallo, from the hostile arid beauty of Baja's East Capes on the Sea of Cortez, to the rain-forest clad shorelines of Costa Rica. There is also a witching time off Petatlan in Zihuatanejo, when rains create mountain rivers which flow down in the run off over the beaches and into the sea. Big pods of roosterfish and Jacks, joined by snook from the lagoons where the crocodiles live, all join forces to slay the vast schools of anchovies which gather here at this time. If you are lucky enough to be there, caution is thrown to the winds as the banquet becomes more intense and the fishing will be as good as it gets.
The rewards for pursuit of this magnificent fish are quite simple. You use your whole experience in a hunt and chase which will hopefully result in an exhilarating, intoxicating experience in some of the most awsome surroundings on the planet. You could also become one of the world's angling elite as you will have succeeded where many have failed to tame the world class mystical lord of the thundering surf - Pez Gallo.
Lures: Plugs. Most 5" to 7" variations will do the job for trolling. Use your imagination or ask the skipper. Greens/blues/mullet/sardine patterns are all good and, I fancy, the Elton John colour of some of the Australian barra baits would serve you well, as would some of the others from this range.
Flies: Red & white deceiver patterns are good, also a Peter Wildash sardine is a likely killer. Peter owns Mayo Flycraft and is a wonderful innovator of anglers visions. His range of custom saltwater flies are a rarity in England.
Should you, after reading this, be inspired to visit the 'henhouse' best you contact Jon Petterssen of Island Sportfishing Adventures.