Mike Red Letter Day In Mexico Report recently returned from his first Sportquest Holidays Trip, fishing the waters of Mexico, Mike sent us a cracking report and some snaps from his action packed trip.
For many years I have said “some day, I want to experience some really good marlin fishing!”
I have plenty to do in the summer as I have my own sport fishing boat, moored at my holiday home in the West Highlands of Scotland, but it is the winters that rather drag. Last year I arranged a winter trip to Grenada in the Caribbean, it was a great holiday but the fishing was only mediocre, with only small white1 marlin and a few secondary species to show for 4 rather rough days at sea and almost $2500 spent on fishing.
Through the year I asked friends, read magazines and searched the Internet for ideas as to the best time and place to go for good quality winter marlin fishing that would not cost a fortune. The advice seemed to point towards the Pacific side of Mexico, friends had enjoyed good fishing out of Cabo San Lucas but the resort sounded rather rowdy for me. After a conversation with Peter at Sportquest, a specialist fishing holiday travel agent, I chose the Van Wormer resort at Los Barriles and November as still being good fishing but avoiding the extreme heat of the summer. I booked 3 weeks starting in early November with 5 days fishing, 2 days on a panga and 3 days on a larger cruiser.
After a rather iffy start, British Airways being difficult over baggage allowance then spending a day in Dallas (extremely well looked after by American Airlines) due to failed flight connections, I eventually arrived at the hotel, almost 48 hours after leaving home. From then on things just got better and better. The hotel was ideal for me, a good 3 star, large, comfortable rooms with air con and sea views, open-air infinity pool with its own bar, hot tubs and two restaurants. All the staff were friendly and helpful, most spoke fairly good English – certainly better than my Spanish! My package included all meals so the only extras were occasional drinks. The food was good and plentiful, a proper English / American breakfast with lunch and dinner being mainly Mexican as you would expect. The weather was my ideal, a comfortable 25 to 28 day temperature, cooling to a pleasant 18 to 20 in the evening with low humidity.
A typical fishing day actually starts the previous evening with a brief meeting with the fishing manager to arrange a fishing licence, be allocated a boat and order your packed lunch and drinks, to be provided on the boat. I was up and dressed by 5.30 then sat out on the veranda, with a mug of tea, watching the stars disappear, the sky change from black through red to blue as it broke light and the sun rose out of the sea. Breakfast was available by 6.00 then a short walk to the pontoon to meet my boat at 6.30.
My first outing was on a panga named Rosa Maria, a boat purpose built locally for fishing. It’s a centre console type, powered by a 150HP Honda outboard, and has a fixed fishing chair shaded by a very necessary Bimini top. As soon as we had introduced ourselves, Israel, my skipper for the day, asked “what do you want to do Mike?” Without hesitating, I replied, “Catch a billfish, preferably a marlin please!” He said “no problem” and called the bait boat over to buy $20 worth of live baitfish. As we set off for the horizon, I mentioned that I owned a similar boat in the UK, “great” said Israel, “you steer a course of 60 degrees at about 3500 rpm and I will set up the rods and lures. All the tackle is provided on the boat and is of reasonable quality if rather basic. After about 30 mins he took over the helm, slowing the boat to about 6 knots and running the lines out. We had an artificial lure either side of the boat wake with a baited line in the centre; a second rod was baited up ready. Within 30 mins a fish struck the baited line, hooked itself and set off for Costa Rica! I took the rod from the holder as the boat slowed to a halt, then with the ratchet screaming and line disappearing at an alarming rate, settled into the chair. With calm clear advice from Israel, I started to pump and wind, as tension came onto the line, the fish jumped clear of the water about 150 yards behind the boat. It was a nice sailfish and YES they really do tail-walk! I slowly gained some line and brought the fish to the boat but as soon as it saw the boat it set off again, after two more runs and several tail-walks, Israel was able to take hold of the leader and the fish’s bill in heavily gloved hands, remove the hook and lift the fish into the boat for a quick photograph. We then carefully returned my fish and watched it swim away for another day accompanied by much hand shacking and backslapping!
It was time for an early lunch and a can of Coke to celebrate, then more trolling. The afternoon produced another nice sailfish, safely returned and a medium sized dorado which we kept, some to be cooked at the hotel for my evening meal, the rest for Israel’s’ family meal that night. Around three we ran up the catch pennants to announce our success and headed home. On arrival at the landing stage, the fishing manager met us to check our success and deal with any catch that we had retained. Their policy is to encourage CPR (catch, photograph and release) for all billfish, but if you want to retain dorado, wahoo, tuna etc. they offer a clean, joint, smoke, vacume-pack, freeze and store until your departure service. Alternatively you can have you catch prepared in the method of your choice for you and your friends that evening, dinner for me that evening was dorado in garlic and butter, truly excellent! Most of my new American friends took a large cooler full of frozen fish home with them. I need to check the UK import rules before my next visit.
The heat of the day and the fishing made a shower, a swim in the infinity pool and a soak in the hot tub with a beer, welcome pre dinner luxuries. By 6pm it was dark again so a drink with friends and dinner outdoors in the cooler evening air with bed by 10 seemed to suit most people, so not a good choice if you like a rowdy or boozy nightlife.
I had heard what great sport rooster fish could be so next morning when Israel said “what do you want to do today Mike”, I asked if we could try for them with some lighter tackle that I had brought with me. “Yes no problem” was the reply, we needed slightly different bait, bonito for live bait plus a good quantity of sardines to make a bait trail, so we had a short run to a different bait sellers boat giving me time to set up my tackle. I had brought a favourite 9ft tarpon spinning rod with a large fixed spool reel, loaded with 25 pound mono, a 7ft 6in 20 to 30 pound class boat rod with a small lever drag multiplier loaded with 30 pound braid and a 12# salt water fly rod. We started trolling quite close into the shore, more slowly than the previous day around 4 knots, smaller lures were set up on the outer rods with a live bait on my boat rod and a sardine on my spinning rod. At regular intervals a handful of sardines were thrown into the boat wake. Before long the ratchet on my boat rod started its alarm call! “Take your time while the rooster eats the bait, count slowly to 7, then set the drag and start to wind” were the instructions, which I duly followed. The hooked rooster set off at a pace, jumping and head shaking as it went, their reputation as fighters is well deserved! Similar to the previous day, as soon as the fish got close to the boat it set off on another run. Two runs then Israel was able to hold the leader, unhook the fish and lift it in for a very quick photo, he was keen to return it quickly with minimum stress and estimated it at 25 to 30 pounds. It was interesting to feel how light these professional fishermen set the reel drags, a lesson for me to take home, I am probably losing some better fish through being to firm with them. The next fish to take was a needlefish, a bit like a 3-foot long garfish. Israel was not impressed and muttered “rubbish” as he shook it off of the hook! A 40 pound rooster then ran off with the sardine on my spinning rod putting the best bend that I have ever seen into a favourite rod and proving the wisdom of buying a new, good quality, high capacity, fixed spool reel for it just before I departed. The last fish of the day took the bait rather gently but went faster and faster as I counted to 7, then when I pushed the drag forward it just light the afterburners and kept going. Until it jumped we thought that I had hooked a billfish but no, it was a huge 60ish pound rooster and he was not happy! It seemed to take ages, well over half an hour to get it to the boat but my light boat rod coped well with the fight. It was the first time ever that I have felt the drag on a Shimano reel get hot, and the only time that I have seen the backing line on one of my reels while playing a fish! I quietly put the fly rod away; it may be capable of handling fish of this size, but not with my level of skill!
I then had a few quiet days planned into my program, a chance to see a bit of the area, spend some time with my new friends from Salt Patrol, do a bit of snorkelling in the clear warm water, we hired some quad bikes and dune buggies to explore the coast and the edge of the desert and tried fishing from the beach. Others did OK from the beach catching small jacks, ladyfish and roosters, I had no luck but have caught nothing in far worse places that this!
After this interval, I was introduced to Alberto and Daniel the crew of J & B, the cruiser I was to fish from for the next 3 days. They were proud to show me round their immaculate, locally built, 30 foot fishing cruiser powered by a single large Cummings diesel. It was fitted with outriggers to enable the fishing gear to cover more water, two fishing chairs, a Bimini for shade and a high level fly bridge to enable a better view into the water. I have seen sports gear shops with a smaller range of tackle than they had on this boat! All of it of good quality and well cared for. I chose to spend all of my 3 days concentrating on billfish, learning as much as I could from this very knowledgeable pair. We stuck to the well-tried practice of trolling a wide spread of 3 artificial lures with a baited lure in the centre, often as much as 20 miles offshore. As soon as a fish was seen following our baits, I retrieved 2 of the artificial lures. Daniel the crewman cast a fresh bait into the wake and Alberto controlled the boat, adjusting the speed to draw the fish in then as Daniel struck, surging the boat forward to set the hooks. I then took over to play the fish and bring it to the boat. As my skill built up, I was able to mount the bait, cast it out and set the hook myself, just leaving Daniel to unhook the fish and help me get it into the boat for a photograph. Alberto proved a very capable photographer with my cameras; he even took some excellent video clips, priceless memories to share with friends at home. Over the 3 days I caught 5 more sailfish, 2 striped marlin, 3 blue marlin and 2 more dorado.
I will just describe the last marlin. It was mid afternoon on my last fishing day, I was sat scanning the wake, and for no real reason had my hand resting on the butt of outer lure rod. Without any prior warning, the head of a marlin, twice the size of anything that I had seen previously, broke through the surface and grabbed the lure. Instantly the line was sprung out of the outrigger clip, the heavy rod bent double and the ratchet started to scream as line disappeared at an alarming pace. Without needing to be told, I grabbed the rod and settled into the chair as Alberto knocked the boat out of gear, when the fish surfaced and we saw it properly for the first time it was well over 200 yards behind the boat. “Blue marlin – bigun –maybe 250 at least, maybe 300 pounds!” said Alberto “you’ve got some work to do”. I managed to slow and turn the fish but it was still taking line and the spool was starting to look worryingly thin, Daniel called to Alberto “follow the fish or we were going to get spooled!” Slowly I recovered line, it took over half an hour just to get the main line back onto the reel, although this fish did jump several times, it seemed to prefer to dive deep and as I got it close to the boat it dived really deep. I had almost got it to the surface and Daniel had taken hold of the leader when the fight stopped, sadly the fish had died, this is a rare occurrence, less than 1 in 200 I was told. We lashed the fish to the stern of the boat and decided to set off for home and the traditional (if now rather out step with modern ideals) photographs, I bought the lure off of the crew, to mount with my picture. The fish weighed in at 264 pounds and was not wasted; I donated half to the hotel to use for a special meal the next evening and half to the crew to boost a generous tip.
Well there you go, “some day….” finally came and I experienced some great marlin fishing. I had really hit the fishing jackpot and it was a roll over week! Just how good was it? Even by local standards, which are pretty high, this November was exceptional, my new friends from Salt Patrol fished their tournament over 3 days, from 20 boats, they caught and released a total of 337 billfish plus dorado, wahoo and tuna for their coolers!! No one went home without having caught a billfish and most nights the strings of pennants on the returning boats looked more like bunting!
What will I do next year? I had planned to try another region of Central America but a combination of the weather, the fishing, the great hotel and the friendship of the guests means that I intend to return and take part in next years tournament, so if anyone wants to make up a team……….
To view where in Mexico Mike travelled to simply Click Here