Winter Delights: Cruising and Fishing the Baja Coast

By: Tom Gatch

While residents of Midwestern and Northeastern states are already shivering through an icy-cold winter, those lucky enough to live in Southern California have easy access to a sportfishing paradise where the weather is always warm and the fishing is always hot: Baja California, Mexico. Winter marks a peak period of activity for a wide variety of Baja California’s most popular game fish species.

The axiom “hot weather equals hot fishing” is probably no truer anywhere else in the world than it is in Baja California Sur. With air temperatures often in the mid-90s and coastal waters regularly topping 85 degrees Fahrenheit during summer, an explosive combination of dynamics are created when schools of bait, hungry game fish and resolute anglers collide in an exciting melee that generally continues through fall.

On the other hand, the eastern coast of the Sea of Cortez, with daytime temperatures occasionally reaching the triple digits, offers some of the best summer fishing in the region. Everything from white seabass and yellowtail to cabrilla, grouper and a plethora of other species can be found between Islas Encantadas and the islands off Bahia de Los Angeles.

Those seeking an easily accessible summertime angling adventure within a few hundred miles of the international border should not overlook the state of Baja California Norte. As the final southern hurricanes near the tip of the peninsula push water up along Baja California’s northern Pacific coast, the offshore surface bite gets into full swing and schools of exotic pelagic species such as yellowfin tuna and dorado can often be found around northbound kelp paddies that drift just offshore.

For those cruising south from Southern California, the newest and closest marina is situated between Rosarito Beach and Ensenada, just north of the Bajamar golf course. La Salina Marina offers an excellent place to regroup before heading out in the morning to fish the rich, virtually untapped inshore fishing nearby.

Just before reaching the port of Ensenada, Hotel Coral and its well-conceived marina will remind many stateside cruisers of full-service facilities in Southern California. When boating along the coast south of Ensenada in larger sailboats and cruisers, however, don’t expect to encounter such luxury until you reach Cabo San Lucas. But for most cartop and trailerboats 18 feet in length or smaller, there remain a number of options. One of them is the launch ramp at Estero Beach Resort, which can be used for a nominal charge by those who are not hotel guests.

There are also numerous charter boats and sportfishers, both here and near the city’s main malecon, that are available to take passengers partial-day and full-day fishing trips in the outer bay, around nearby Islas Todos Santos and to points beyond. Summer is the best time in this region to catch one of the tastiest members of the tuna family, the long-finned albacore, as well as other popular gamesters such as yellowtail, calico bass, bonito and barracuda.

Great summertime fishing is also on tap for anglers who charter a boat and guide from any of the three more southerly panga operations at Punta Banda, Puerto Santo Tomas or Erendira’s Castro’s Camp. These types of trips usually visit areas that are more remote, and generally yield more prolific and varied catches than many of the larger, commercial sportfishers in the area.

Many miles farther down the road, Bahia San Quintín is Baja Norte’s southernmost area offering a conventional launch ramp along with commercial sportfishing services. During the summer months, migrating yellowfin tuna and dorado join large yellowtail and a host of other offshore species to delight the many anglers who visit from Southern California.

San Quintín has a decent cement launch ramp capable of handling pangas, skiffs and small cruisers, but the narrow, winding channels inside the entrada can be challenging to those mariners who are unfamiliar with the area.

Once you drive south of Bahia San Quintín, the only way to launch from shore is by way of various sandy beaches — a practice that is best undertaken only by those who are extremely experienced.

For decades, Baja California’s central Pacific coast was considered a remote region most successfully traversed in four-wheel-drive vehicles. Even now, some areas can still be challenging to regular passenger cars. Luckily, continued improvements to the roadways, combined with a much higher percentage of visitors traveling in SUVs or beefy pickup trucks, has opened up out of the way destinations such as Bahia Asuncion. Here, gasoline is readily available, and there are decent accommodations — as well as fishing guides to help visiting anglers ply the local waters.

Not far offshore, Isla Cedros stretches some 24 miles in length. Sixteen miles west of Isla Cedros is the San Benitos island group. This rich archipelago represents one of the most prolific havens for terrestrial wildlife and marine species this side of the Galapagos Islands. The inshore yellowtail and calico bass fishing around Isla Cedros is some of the finest in the region.

By the time you reach the Punta Abreojos region, Campo Rene has a hard-packed dirt ramp in a protected venue that also offers rental palapas and cottages, kayaks and hot showers. The fishing in this region has become legendary over the past few decades.

Farther south, near Bahia Magdalena, there is a launch ramp in the town of San Carlos. But boaters, particularly those with larger craft, should be advised that it is quite narrow by most standards, and at times it can be in very poor condition.

Once you arrive in Los Cabos, at the tip of the peninsula, a huge marina with a sophisticated network of launching and repair facilities once again becomes available. This area is also often referred to as the “marlin capital of the world,” since more marlin are reportedly caught here than any other place on the globe.

This is, indeed, the place to resupply yourself with anything that you might need before moving on. Because, no sooner than you begin to head north along the Sea of Cortez past San Jose del Cabo, the coastline once again becomes sparse and arid, with only beach launching available on the East Cape until you reach the beautiful city of La Paz, the jewel of Baja California Sur’s eastern coast.

This capital city is replete with colorful local history involving missionaries, pirates and a once-thriving pearl industry, in addition to having a reputation for offering some of the finest sportfishing on the entire peninsula. Here, there are several private and public boat launch facilities to choose from.

This is a perfect place to enjoy world-class fishing for wahoo, tuna, dorado, marlin, pargo, cabrilla and more. Visitors can also snorkel with playful sea lions or scuba dive with hammerhead sharks and giant manta rays.

There are several qualified outfitters who work out of the area, and they can provide access to several islands that are situated just offshore.

To the north, there are also several usable launch ramps in the towns of Loreto, Mulege, Punta Chivato and Santa Rosalia. These are extremely productive areas to fish during summer, although they can be a bit more difficult to access.

This is an ideal realm for trailerboat enthusiasts who enjoy striking out on their own, fishing off remote coasts and around small islands for a variety of species ranging from dorado and yellowtail to cabrilla and grouper. Many of these same areas also have small, commercial pangas operations that provide service to anglers who come without boats.

By the time you reach the Midriff Islands and Bahia de Los Angeles, more primitive conditions once again prevail, but they seem to be improving each year.

An even more northerly congregation of islands can be found at the upper end of Bahia Gonzaga near Puertecitos, which also has a small launch that allows access to the area. Las Islas Encantadas is a regular stopping place for the panga motherships out of San Felipe that offer multi-day fishing trips in the upper Sea of Cortez.

Up the paved road just 50 miles beyond, the town of San Felipe awaits shrimp lovers, who flock there for an annual festival honoring the popular crustacean. Once known for catches of giant totuava, which were practically made extinct by overfishing during the middle of the last century, San Felipe is still a highly regarded as a point of departure for long-range sportfishing operations.

A well-made municipal ramp provides access for boats of practically any size. The construction of nearby inshore artificial reefs over the past few decades has greatly enhanced local fishing opportunities for orangemouth corvina, spotted bay bass, smaller croakers and even white seabass.

But no matter where you plan to fish around this magical peninsula, one thing is certain: You are bound to encounter a plethora of diverse, rod-bending opportunities that would be hard, if not impossible, to duplicate anywhere else in the world.

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