Baja is known primarily for one thing to fly fishermen: roosterfish. Wild looking, aggressive, and sight-fished from the beach. Images of anglers running down the beach or chasing schools on ATVs are common. Sounds like a perfect combination to me. Unfortunately, beach fishing wasn’t on the docket. Instead we fished from a 33′ cruiser in a style I hadn’t done in quite some time: offshore trolling. Using sinking lines, we dragged minnow patterns of a variety of sizes and colors behind the boat. This put us at the mercy of not only the guides, which is to be expected, but also the roving schools of pelagics. Nevertheless, the concept of being at the mercy of the fish is certainly not a foreign one for any angler (except maybe snaggers, they’re usually just at the mercy of their own stupidity). We watched as our lines sliced through the boat’s wake while our captain Ramón systematically worked lines up and down the coast like a stadium grounds crew mowing patterns into a field. At times it was boring; fish were rarely seen until they had taken the fly. Other times there were bursts of excitement. One fish would eat, only for schoolmates to take surrounding flies. Had I not reflexively stripped the fly out of a dorado’s mouth, we would have been embroiled in a quadruple hook-up at one point. This likely would have resulted in chaos, and would have limited me from performing my primary task on the trip, that of cameraman. Many times on the trip I tucked the rod under my arm, with a fly still dragging, to take photos of the picturesque shoreline or my boat mates. At least once, this resulted in a fish on, as I inadvertently gave the fish more than enough time to hook itself.
The best interruption may have been a lunch of skipjack ceviche with fresh Mexican jalapeños and avocados, as well as sliced cucumbers and onions. In fact, when I had to choose between photographing the ceviche or a passing double-digit hammerhead, my stomach decided for me. As a Florida native, a scuba diver, and possessing a notoriously bottomless stomach, the lunch took priority over the shark. Had I been on the deck with a rod in my hands, that would have been a different story, as there is a marked difference in my book between simply seeing a shark and feeding it a fly. This absolutely applies to a ten-footer, which would have certainly leapt to the top of my “longest fish hooked” list, one currently topped by tarpon. The first day saw us land around a dozen fish, mostly skipjack with some mahi. If you’ve never had the opportunity to tie into one, skipjack pull fast and hard. If you’ve ever wanted to be very confused at the discrepancy between the size of fish and the fight, these are the fish for you. It helps that they are fairly voracious eaters and do a solid job of hooking themselves as they smack the fly like a freight train. The style of their fight does change considerably when they are given the Robespierre treatment by a sea lion. Seems to take the life right out of it.*
I wonder if he was the one who had procured half my first skipjack on the first day. Something tells me if he’s into recounting them, he comes out with the best stories.
It’s also entertaining when they decide one fly is not enough. At one point Jim hooked a skipjack which chose to eat my fly as well mid-fight. Jim was confused as the style of the fish’s run changed noticeably, while I thought we had simply tangled lines. I was shown I clearly had a fish on, however, as it took off on another run. The fish came to the boat with two flies buried firmly in its jaws. Dorado, on the other hand, while no slouches, possess a definitively different style. They are much more apt to nibble at the fly, not committing in the all-or-nothing manner of the skipjack. You’re much better off allowing these fish to finally decide to eat, and then take their first run with the fly before you attempt any hook-set. I learned this the hard way, while Mike and Jim had no such problems. Mike hooked a monster dorado at one point, and we all quickly knew it. It showed itself with a couple dazzling acrobatic jumps, the vibrant blues and greens of its flank flashing beautifully in the desert sun. If one was able to not be fully distracted by the combination of its size and beauty, they would have seen its speed too. The difference between where the line entered the water and where the fish left the water was easily fifteen or twenty lateral yards. It goes without saying that the fish had run the angler well into his backing. Unfortunately, the dogging fight ultimately turned into a strange lack of pressure, as if the fish was running straight at the boat. As Mike quickly picked up line to try and reconnect, the reason became painfully clear. The fish hadn’t thrown the hook, nor had it shook the line. The 50-pound braid being used as backing had failed well away from the knot. What would have been the catch of the trip made off with the top fly of the trip** and an entire fly line. No user error, no bent hooks, no failed knots. We think the braid had been nicked or otherwise compromised at some point, as the dorado was likely under the half-century mark. But not by much.
The trip’s other source of excitement came from marlin sightings. These often began as complete mysteries to those of us on the deck not benefitting from the sight advantage of the conning tower. We quickly knew what was up, however, when the motor spooled up and the boat quickly changed direction. Over the engines we would hear Ramón: “Mar-leeen! Mar-leeen!!” None of those sighted chose to stick around and play, much to our chagrin. We were ready for them, but evidently we weren’t enticing enough, even with teasers set and spread. The other boat said they attempted to feed flies to a trio of marlin as well as a hammerhead, even chasing the hammerhead around to try and trick it with feather and fur. Of course for the rest of the day our boat maintained we would have been more successful at that pursuit given the opportunity, but that’s wild supposition.
I’ll have to save casting at roosters for the next trip. I blindly threw some casts from the boat on the way in just on principle alone: it’d be strange to say you went fly fishing without throwing a single cast. That’s a situation usually accompanied by stories of broken rods or forgotten reels, and the broken rods were at least limited to the other boat. Either way, the day ended with higher numbers to the boats, and some better stories. Poncho joined us for a bit for the ride in as well. I wonder if he was the one who had procured half my first skipjack on the first day. Something tells me if he’s into recounting them, he comes out with the best stories.
*Quite literally in fact. You’re just fighting the water pushing against the severed head.
**There’s likely an article coming as a result of this fly choice.