Baja. Where do I start? Always a special place to visit and fly fish with the Sea of Cortez and its abundant life and the big Roosterfish that prowl its beaches. Turn away from the sea and there is heat, and sand dunes and then the beautiful austere desert terrain that runs inland to the impressive Sierra de la Laguna mountains: the spine of the south end of this unique peninsula. Also special are the small authentic, quiet east cape beach towns and the colonial villages on the interior where chickens, cattle, goats, and numerous Mexican dogs share the streets with locals.
I hadn’t been back to this world in four years after having fly fished the region for several consecutive springs. I was so excited about my return that I woke up at 4:30 am every morning, no alarm required, feeling “ready to go” even after spending long days on foot in the sand and in the heat searching for roosters. My enthusiasm never waned.
In past seasons I’ve managed at least one good Roosterfish (Pez Gallo) or Jack (Toro) every trip. Unfortunately, none this year.
I did managed to tease several large roosters to the beach but in the end, no connection. Roosters can be incredibly challenging to dupe. It seemed I only averaged two or three good chances everyday, which for me, is not enough. I’ve had more opportunity on past trips. I wished I got more shots. Of course we always want more time and chances in angling and elsewhere…but we get what we get and I am grateful for my time there, for the experience and for witnessing what I did, and for having some opportunities. As with past trips this was a successful one.
The last couple of days proved best in terms of seeing fish and having opportunities. The wind kicked in, the surf came up, and baitfish started being pushed against the beach. I sensed opportunity based on past experience. It was like predicting and preparing for a hatch in trout fishing. I watched and waited, and knew there was the potential for things to “bust loose”. And it finally did. With the baitfish came the large predators and chances. I felt I came close to a hook up, however, “close is only good in horseshoes and hand grenades”. Funny how silly childhood sayings stay with you.
One afternoon a sizable rooster chased bait from a great distance in tight to the beach. I was waiting for it as it had done the same thing thirty minutes earlier. I had to run for it as it zigzagged through the water, grabbing and gobbling bait which were frantic and going airborne in order to escape. I got my six inch fly on the rooster’s nose at least two times while it gorged. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem interested in my offering. The mullet it was slashing at were chunky and close to two feet long. An angler quading down the beach caught part of the action and said: “It was like a National Geographic special…it was like watching Shamu toss seals in the air… those mullet were huge…no way was he interested in your itty bitty fly”. That evening at the vise I tied a one foot and a half long fly. It looked like a gym sock. In the wind it was like trying to cast a fully loaded submarine sandwich.
I met some great people on the beach. Jason from Rochester shared angling reports twice a day. He’d drive (quad) miles of sand from mid morning until late in the afternoon, everyday. He’s been rooster fishing the East Cape for 13 seasons. On his second week angling he said he felt he might get “skunked” as he, like me, was not getting a lot of opportunities. Well that didn’t happen. Before the end of his trip he managed to land a four and one half foot rooster. He told me his fly was lodged deep and he had to put his hand and arm into the rooster’s bowling ball sized mouth to dislodge it. His forearm was all raked and cut. I don’t know if I would have done that.
On my last day there I met a fellow named Martin on my favorite angling beach where I’ve landed my best fish in past seasons. He was fly fishing. He informed he was in the area representing a group that was trying to purchase a large tract of land so that it couldn’t be developed. He had once been the head of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for Mexico and now was onto other preservation projects, one being the beach we were standing on and the thousands of desert acres running from the sea westward to the interior mountains. As we talked I learned he had played a role (and still does) in preserving the Cabo Pulmo park/reef just south of where we were fishing. In the 14 years of protection reef biomass has increased over 400%. That’s a good thing. Every once in awhile, often through chance encounter, I’m reminded that there are some very special people out there doing amazing, selfless things.
One moment that especially stands out for me occurred when I drove north one day to explore a fishing beach in a nothing of a coastal town called El Cardonal. On the sandy main street I spotted a young boy riding a beat up dusty quad. As he went by the Catholic church he throttled down, paused and did the Sign of the Cross before proceeding.
So no rooster this trip. More reason to return. I’d like another chance. You book a flight, a car rental and then a couple of hours after arrival you are on foot, on a beach, hunting roosters with your eyes; rooster fish that can weigh 25, 30, 35, 40, 45lbs or more. Best of all you are pursuing these large demanding fish with a silly fly rod and a gym sock of a fly that you’ve tied …incredible!
I asked Jason, “Where else in the world can you do this”? His answer, “no where…this is it”.
Here are some black and white images of the East Cape, Baja