Los Hermanos Mackereles
My brother and I post this story with the simple reason that we want to share with everyone, our trials and tribulations. We make mistakes, stumble around and sometimes times excel. This will be judged by you our peers. We can only hope that by sharing our experiences, good and bad, while being truthful, that we might all benefit from what we have learned. We sincerely hope that in sharing this with you, that at least you can benefit from our efforts and can enjoy our story.
John and Louis Vallon, El Mackereles.
Saturday, 12/19. Fished 10-12 miles south, southwest of old lighthouse. Two very small Dorado for 10 hours of fishing.
Sunday, 12/20. Left dock at 5:00 AM and headed to the Finger Bank. Nada. 12-hour boat ride. Overheard on VHF that the tuna were thick at the same place we fished yesterday!
Monday, 12/21. Returned to same place fished at first day (45 spot). Bait everywhere, but deep at 200 to 225 feet on the fathometer. Finally located birds and bait on the surface, put on about 4 nice yellowfin. Resumed trolling heading south. 8:24 AM, a blue marlin cuts across the spread from the starboard side and rips into the 14-inch Petrolero on the starboard outrigger. Louis puts on standup harness and begins the fight on the 50SW loaded with 80-lb test. Lance chases the fish at 25 knots to retrieve line from first run. 3 hours later the 521-lb blue marlin is, regrettably, boated.
Tuesday, 12/22 - Friday, 12/25. No luck fishing around the hotel pool either. Turkey dinner at the Latitude 22 on Christmas day was fantastic, as usual.
Saturday, 12/26. Fished with 3 friends from Seattle on the FishCabo, a 43-foot Hatteras. One striped marlin live baited but unbuttons in 5 minutes. Live baited one more, but not interested. Long boat ride, lots of leftover food.
Our trip planning began with several e-mail's to Lance Watkins, whom we met during the Gold Cup Tournament last October. Lance has been fishing in Cabo waters for nearly 17 years now, and since he is but 34 years old, means he started quite young. Lance fishes from a 29' tournament rigged Black Fin, the Aquaholic. We asked Lance back in October if he would take us fishing before the year end. He agreed to three days over the Christmas holidays. Louis and I had high hopes to learn as much as possible from this highly skilled and conscientious sportsman. In fact we learned many new techniques, methods and other tips. In respect to Lance, however, we will only divulge those tips that make for good reading and leave out what we consider Lance's hard earned secrets.
I had been following the long range boat reports on the Internet, and it looked as though the Finger Bank was producing some huge tuna that were reportedly breaking poles and spooling anglers according to what I had read.. I also had long wanted to try a new technique of drifting and using a balloon filled with helium to keep the heavy leader out of the water, a technique reported in last year's Western Outdoors, by David Braid.
Louis located some 36" diameter latex balloons for the trip, and he filled one up at a nearby party shop to see how much lift we could expect. Louis brought the partially filled balloon into our drinking hole, where we had to explain to all our friends the purpose of the balloon. They thought we were nuts. Especially when I tied my car keys to the balloon and let it go. It went right to the ground! Louis promptly took the balloon back to the party shop and put in another $10 of helium. This time the balloon almost didn't make it through the doorway, but it held the car keys suspended above the ground. It was clear from the simple test that the balloons would need to be filled to capacity. One of our friends,
The next step was to locate a source of helium in Cabo. I e-mailed Minerva Smith, of Minerva's Baja Tackle, and asked her to see if it was available anywhere in town. The next day she replied back that a hardware store near the harbor master would set us up. The helium would cost $130 for 8 cubic meters, plus $150 deposit for the tank, she told us.
We arrived in Cabo on Thursday, 12/17/98 and Lance was to arrive late that same night for three days of fishing. Lance told us to bring all the fresh squid we could carry, so we brought almost 40 pounds. After unpacking we went to Minerva's to get the directions to the hardware store.
At the hardware store, we quickly located some large cylinders in the back of the store that had various colors indicating the type of gas inside. Orange indicates helium. As expected, neither the clerk nor his helper spoke any English. All we needed now was a regulator. The store had regulators to sell that are used for welding, but we had no clue what the pressure of the helium would be. Some where between 2000 psi and 20,000 psi Quite a spread. We asked the clerk if we could rent a regulator somewhere else in town. He wrote something down on paper, but we weren't sure if he understood us. We told him we would return tomorrow. One thing was clear - the tank was huge and it weighed well over 100 pounds and they don't deliver!
Friday, 12/18. We had prearranged with Lance, to have his helper meet us at the boat around 2:00 PM so that we could get our fishing equipment set up and stored, since Lance wasn't scheduled to arrive until 8:00 PM. After breakfast, we headed back to Minerva's to tell her what we found at the hardware store, and to restring a couple of our reels. Minerva wasn't in, but Bob, her husband also new about our need for helium, and he explained to us that the name on the piece of paper that the hardware clerk gave us was just another place to get the gas, but maybe they would have a regulator to rent.
We headed off to the C dock to find Lance's helper. We found Jose "Chacho" Bojorquez, busy working on the Curandero III as we walked down the dock to the Aquaholic. The Aquaholic was locked up with no one around so we went back to chat with Chacho. We exchanged some fish stories, then I noticed that someone was washing the Aquaholic. The person washing the boat spoke no English, but he seemed to indicate that he was just there to wash the boat then leave, and that someone else would be down around 4:00 PM. So we headed back to the hotel for a few hours.
We hired a taxi and drove out of town about 1 kilometer to the other store. This time I took along the article that appeared in Western Outdoors, which showed the filled balloon. The clerk understood exactly what we wanted, and led us around to the back of the store. Again, we found many tanks containing various gases. Louis also had brought along a balloon. The clerk pointed out the helium tank and we tried to fill the balloon. Louis attached the balloon over the outlet, and slowly cracked the valve open. The balloon filled quickly and the control of the gas flow by the main valve was adequate for our needs. We each took turns inhaling a little helium, then speaking some words that came out sounding like Donald Duck. The clerk also joined in and he sounded like Senior Donald Pato. The clerk was very eager to help us knowing what our plans were. The clerk said he would deliver the tank to the boat for additional 50 pesos, which was quite a bargain. At the front desk, we found that the helium was much cheaper here, only $90.00, and there was no mention of a deposit. But the clerk kept asking me something that we couldn't understand. We decided to get his business card and go back to the hotel and have the hotel desk clerk straighten it out. Back at the hotel, the clerk called the number on the card and was promptly connected to the person that had been helping us. First, we found out what he was asking us - he wanted to know what the size of the tank was that we would be exchanging! When we told him we didn't have one, the deposit came up again. Fine we said. We will bring $150 in traveler's checks for the deposit. Good thing we had some help, because they would only accept cash in pesos for both the deposit and the helium. We arranged to meet back at the store at 4:00PM to pay up.
We hired a taxi again, loaded up all of our gear and returned to the hardware store. As we were previously told, they would deliver the tank to the boat for 50 pesos. The delivery went like this: the clerk at the front desk, was getting off at 4:00 PM and he was going to make the delivery on his way home in his little Toyota. Louis went along to make sure he didn't get lost, and I went with the taxi. The clerk didn't have a dolly, so he carried the tank all the way from the marina parking lot, out to the slip! We felt so sorry for the poor guy that we each gave him $10 more. It took Louis and I, four trips from the parking lot to the boat to get all of our gear loaded. We noticed that there wasn't much room on the boat for this huge helium tank and wondered how Lance would receive this plan.
While waiting for Lance's helper, we began putting the rods and reels together. By 5:00 PM we wondered where the helper was, as there was no one else on the dock and you need a card to get the gate open. By 6:00 PM it was clear that the helper wasn't going to show up and we were locked in. Even if we could get the gate open, we couldn't leave because there was no way to lock up our gear. It was also to dark to tie up any more rigging. To help fight boredom we filled up another balloon and tied it to the outrigger, and listened to the VHF for awhile. I also took time to note how well the boat was kept, and the impressive array of electronics. Opening bilge access plates revealed spotless compartments and neatly arranged wiring harnesses. The electronics in the main cabin consisted of a long range ICOM single side band (SSB) radio, an ICOM VHF radio, a Raytheon color depth sounder, a Raytheon 24 mile radar, a Northstar 951X GPS system, and an autopilot system. Later, Lance told me that most of these are duplicated in the tuna tower. The fathometer, radar and GPS where all linked together using the NEMA interface protocol. For example, when viewing the fathometer, you also get GPS data from the Northstar with heading and speed, in addition to the standard depth information and water temperature. On the radar, the next waypoint is shown as a small circle on the CRT, along with the course to steer and distance to go. This is the best electronic equipped boat that we have fished on in Cabo and I was eager to see how Lance would use this technology. The swim platform was huge, waiting for a tournament winning fish, I thought, it was certainly large enough. There was a large bait tank built into the transom for easy access, flanked by two tuna tubes on each side of the bait tank. A single fighting chair finished off the cockpit.
Lance shows up at 8:05 PM with his friend Darrin. I couldn't wait to blast Lance for the screw up with his helper not showing. "Well, I just came 800 miles and I'm 5 minutes late. Give me a break". We discuss the plans for the next day, and it was agreed that we wouldn't attempt to put the tank on the boat for safety reasons. Lance had some last minute conflicting fishing reports but suggested heading out south of the old lighthouse to look for stripers. We would depart at 5:30 AM. Lance asked, "where are you guys staying?", I told him, "at the Mar de Cortez, kitty corner to the Mermaids Bar. You and Darrin ever been to Mermaids?". "Never been there, don't know where it is, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it", they announced in unison. Strange, I thought. There was some talk about a place called "Lord Black", but I missed most of the conversation. Probably talking about a new restaurant I thought.
Louis started his "show and tell" by showing Lance the wind-on leaders he makes up. Our first tip from Lance: he pointed out that, on the tag end of the wind-on leader, where a small loop is introduced into the dacron for the loop-to-loop connection to the bimini, results in a loop-to-loop of two different materials - dacron and monofilament. To overcome this, Lance takes a short piece of dacron, about 1.5-inches long and slides it over an appropriately sized splice needle. He then uses the flame from a lighter to singe the ends of the dacron to keep it from unraveling. By quickly cooling the needle each time, the dacron will easily slide off the needle. The dacron "tube" is then slid down the double line before the bimini is started, and then maneuvered to the end of the loop while making the bimini. When the bimini is finished, the dacron tube is held in place by a few wraps of thread on each end. The result is a dacron-to-dacron connection. This is a simple, yet very effective finish. Louis and I both were happy to see that Lance uses wind-on leaders on a regular basis. All of his lures were set up with a short 6' leader rather than a 15' leader that the fleet boats use.
"Did you guys bring any squid?" Lance asks. Louis opens the cooler with the squid. "We brought down forty pounds. The airlines will let you pack 5 pounds of dry ice. They are still frozen solid" Louis tells us. We had two sizes, 2 to 3 feet and 12" to 18" long. Lance looks at the squid and grabs one. "The tuna will go nuts over these guys, and the stripers will swallow them hole. This stuff really works."
Lance won the show and tell, hands down, when he brought out a very rugged looking case. "Take a look at these", he said. He opened the case and brought out what appeared to be night vision binoculars. "Night vision?" I asked. "No, gyro-stabilized", he said. What he showed us was the Stabiscope, S1240D model, made by Fujinon. These are a 12X gyro-stabilized system and cost $4700! We went through a little demo. "Focus on something, then press this lever to engage the gyros", he told me. Then he started to push me back and forth. The image was still frozen. Lance says that he can spot fins and birds nearly 2 miles away, and this was his most important investment in tournament fishing gear, bar none.
We discuss the tactics for tomorrow morning. It was our goal to practice live-baiting striped marlin. Lance said he wanted to do some bait and switch. He says that 7out of 10 fish are caught using this method, compared to 3 out of 10 caught on the lure. The method is simple, but requires a lot of teamwork. Everyone eyes the spread, looking for a marlin. When a marlin approaches a lure, someone must quickly get to the reel and keep the lure just beyond the reach of the marlin, while another person drops back a live bait. This is can be tricky if the marlin first approaches the long lure and as you reel it in, you pass the short lure. In this event, the marlin may go for the short lure and you now need to people reeling. If the marlin takes the dropped back bait, it is important to get the other lures in and out of the way quickly, and for that reason, it is normal to use no more than four lines in the spread.
Saturday, 12/19. Lance and Darrin arrive at our hotel at 5:30 AM and we are on our way. It was a little cool at 68°, and a small breeze was working. Darrin, Louis and I headed over to the smoothie stand, run by Ruben Fuerté and his wife Adriana. Ruben makes the absolute best Machaca burritos in town. We order 12 of them and 5 coffee's. Darrin seemed to know everyone that was in line for coffee. He got some last minute reports of the past day from several mates and captains. Back to the boat, Lance is waiting and with bait already aboard we head out.
Our rod placement put the 130's in the chair attached to the outriggers, the 50SW's on the corners with a 30SW hooked to a pitch bait in the tank, and two more 30SW's rigged with live bait hooks in the rod holders. My tide program indicated a first high of 4.5' at 8:01 AM, first low of -0.7' at 2:58 PM and a second high of 3.0' at 9:15 PM. Lance compared these predictions with the software on his Northstar GPS system. I think Lance began to give a little more credibility to my tools, as the numbers were within one minute of each other.
We turned at the Arch and headed west for Cabo Falso where the lures went out. We trolled towards the 45 spot, a small peak rising to 300 feet about 260° and 6 miles from Cabo Falso. We made a fairly large circle that included the east edge of the Cardonal Canyon, then turned due south and followed the 110° W longitude line. Suddenly a striper appears and is heading for the starboard short corner lure. I reel like hell, keeping the lure just out of reach. Teamwork? No one else sees the event unfolding and the marlin is gone. I yell up to Lance, "What happened?" "You guys need to pay more attention" he replied. When we reached about 22° N, between the 6000 and 7500 foot contours, we changed directions to the Jamie Banks.
It was about 12:42 PM when we reached the edge of the banks, the wind was out of the northwest at about 12 knots, with a moderate ground swell from the same direction. The water temperature was 75.9°F. We trolled well west of the steep canyons, then back again. It was going to be a skunk day. We did manage to get under a few birds that were chasing some bait with a school of dorado's underneath. We put on two but they looked like they weighed less than 6-lbs, so we tossed them back. At 2:45 PM we pulled in the lines and headed home, arriving at the Arch around 3:20 PM. Fast boat.
Back at the slip, we are met by Jose, who would be going with us to the Finger Banks tomorrow morning. Jose looked at the helium tank and the balloons, and remarked that this technique was used many years ago, but no one does it any more. Kites, he said, have replaced the balloons. But I insisted that the purpose of using the balloons was only to lift the heavy leader out of the water and away from the leader shy tunas. We would try the technique, but unlike the Braid rig, we would tie the balloon to a swivel and a rubber band. When the rubber band breaks, instead of the balloon floating away and becoming a hazard to aircraft, the balloon would stay attached to the line and slide back to the pole for easy recapture.
Another great dinner and evening with Nancy and Yole at the Latitude 22+. Since we would be leaving very early in the morning, before Ruben opens up, we decided to buy 3 whole barbecued chickens, a couple of racks of baby back ribs and a dozen corn tortillas for lunches - the bill, a cool 30 gringo bucks! We asked for a wake up call for 4:00 AM and hit the bag.
Sunday, 12/20. It seemed as though I had just fallen asleep when the wake up call arrived at our door. We all made it to the front of the hotel by 4:45 AM to meet Lance. Just as we were to get underway, the balloon hit a hook and exploded. We quickly made up another balloon and were underway with an extra scoop of bait, by 5:00 AM as planned, but no coffee this morning. I hate that. Lance lit off the electronics and it was very impressive watching the radar, as it was pitch dark outside, and a little scary traveling at 18 knots. It was fairly smooth with a light breeze as we rounded the cape and headed north. Ruben had told us the day before, that several boats had unsuccessfully attempted to get to the Finger Banks - turned back due to rough seas. He said even the Reel Danger had turned back several days ago. We had high hopes this morning of being the first to arrive at the banks, since the weather seemed to be cooperating.
With clear skies, the stars reached to the horizon. It was fairly cool again, at about 68°. Just as we turned to head north after passing the old Lighthouse, the last balloon exploded. We were pissed. All that work and no balloons. Dam. Lance said we would hug the coastline, then head over when we paralleled the Golden Gate bank. Later on, because of the still smooth conditions, we headed over when we reached just south of Punta San Cristobol instead. This took us directly over the Golden Gate Bank on a course of 295°M. After a while, I was wondering where Lance was going. On my Fish'n Map, the Finger Banks were located on two spots, 23°05.2'N and 110°47.7'W and 23°09.39'N 110°44.9'W. In fact, my chart showed that there are reported reefs that are exposed at low tide, but Lance previously told me that there were no visible markers at the banks. By now, we were well north of the where my chart showed the banks. "Where are we going?" I asked. "To the Finger Banks", he answered. I pulled out my paper version of the Fish'n Map and showed him where it was located on my chart. Then Lance showed me his chart, which showed the Finger Banks northeast about 14 miles. Also on his chart, two "reported" shallow spots where shown in the vicinity of where the Fish'n Map showed the banks. Lance held the course. I got pissed. I wanted to fish the area that was shown as the Finger Banks on my chart, not the area that he called the Finger Banks. On my chart, his location didn't have the structure that my location showed. I grumbled to Louis that I wanted to change directions, and he said "be diplomatic". About 20 minutes later we saw in the distance what appeared to be a seiner. Lance remarked that it was a good sign. It turned out to be a freighter. Later Lance said he saw a lot of birds up ahead. As we got nearer the birds, all gulls, it seemed as if there was no pattern to where the birds concentrating. I told Lance, this is bullshit, the freighter just dumped it morning breakfast garbage - that's why you see all these birds. Lance said, "hey, its your call" if you want to pull up and go to your spot just say so. Besides there is nothing here anyway". "Let's go I", I barked, then gave him the GPS coordinates.
About 45 minutes later we were on top of the most northerly spot as indicated by my GPS. I am glued to the fathometer. Lance comes down from the tower and we both are looking at it. The fathometer had a strong echo at 200 to 250 feet, but we should have seen a gradual slope as we approached it. Lance said it was a thermocline and not the bottom. It made sense, because the water was very cold on top, 68°F. The next spot on my chart was supposed to be 150-ft to 0-ft at low tide. It was about 1 mile due south. I gave Lance the GPS coordinates, and he keyed them into the Northstar. The radar now showed the distance and bearing. Again, I was glued to the fathometer. Nothing. The bottom doesn't show on the 1000 foot range. I change the range to 2000 feet and still no bottom. Within minutes of passing the waypoint, Lance appears in the cockpit again. "No Finger Banks here" he jabbed at me. "Well, I guess Fish'n Map has mislabeled their chart", I said humbly. "I'll bet Fish'n Map will get a few e-mails next week" Lance remarked. "Yeah", I said in a disappointed voice. "Hey, you guys like hot sauce?" Lance asked. "You bet, I love habaneros, which are the hottest" I told him, just bragging a little I thought. He brings out a little bottle out of the cabin, and puts a little on a tortilla, but doesn't let me see the label. "Here try some of this", he said. No less than 30 seconds later, I am finding it hard to breathe - my throat, tongue, and lips are on fire. With tears in my eyes, I mumble "pretty hot - and pass me the jug of ice water". Jose and Lance are proud of themselves with this. "Maybe that will take your mind off of the Finger Banks for awhile. I've been to the Finger Banks 25 times this year alone, and for awhile, you almost convinced me that I have been going to the wrong place all those times!", Lance remarked. We all laughed as I continued with the water jug.
The wind has picked up quite a bit now and it was getting fairly rough, so we decide to troll down swell towards warmer water. We trolled until 1:00 PM but this only put us about 14 miles northwest of the Jamie Bank. Jose came down and told us to wind'em up that we were going to get in closer. He called up a waypoint and we were underway at 18 knots. I was amazed at how well Jose understood the array of electronics and his ability to actually use them. I just wished we could have gotten into some action to see him work with Lance. Actually, Jose never stopped again. By 2:30 PM we were rounding the arch headed for the marina. Lots of food leftover again. We'll just save it for tomorrow, I thought.
Back at the slip, we discuss the final day. Lance is busy on the radio talking to the local skippers. "A lot of tuna where caught just south of the lighthouse, where we were yesterday. I think we can do well if we hit it again in the morning", Lance tells us.
Monday, 12/21. The wake up call arrives 10 minutes early. Lance arrives on time and we head for the marina. Lance tells us that he was unable to get a mate, so it would be just the three of us. I really think that Lance did this on purpose, knowing how eager we both are to do things ourselves. Even if it is wrong. Louis and I head over to Ruben's place to get coffee and Ice. We tell Ruben about the Finger Bank fiasco and he got quite a laugh out of it. He wished us luck, and we were off. Lance had been on the radio checking reports with his friends. Schools of porpoise mixed with yellow-fin and stripers were in abundance at the 45 spot he told us. So this will be a good time for you guys to practice leadering. No balloons today I thought. We are underway at 6:15 AM.
The skies are clear again this morning, but unlike the other mornings, we were greeted with little or no wind. Lines out at 6:45 AM, 4.2 miles from the light house at 188°M. Here we found a solid layer of bait between 185-ft and 225-ft. Lance said it's tuna time and chopped up some of the squid we brought for chumming. We troll on a heading of 239° for about 5 miles when Lance spots, with his gyro-stabilized glasses, birds working to the north of us. Louis and I quickly change all the lures to feathers except for one cedar plug. As we approach the birds, the fathometer had continuously indicated a decreasing depth of the bait. Soon the bait layer was at the surface. The bait was everywhere accompanied by spinner dolphin and frigate birds. All of a sudden the port corner went off. Lance barked that he would continue to troll and try and get another hook up. In less than a 15 seconds, the starboard rigger popped and we had a double going. Lance jumped down, threw out several scoops of chopped squid, and tossed a pitch bait. Another hook up. I bounce my yellowfin in, quickly remove the hook and slide it into the tuna tube. Lance hands me the rod with the tuna and then gets the fish bag out and positioned on the swim platform. Louis bounces his tuna in and puts it in the bag. Moments later my second tuna goes into the bag. All of this took less than 5 minutes. In our haste, though, we screwed up. Louis brought the port outrigger, with the cedar plug, in too close and it had wrapped around the outrigger and tangled with the cables. Lance scolded us on this - "you guys have got to pay more attention to details. A "mess" like this might put your outrigger out of commission until getting back to the marina. This could cost you big time if it happens during a tournament". Lance had to pull the outrigger back into the boat to get the tangle cleared. We were embarrassed, but it was a good lesson.
Just as suddenly as the tuna appeared, they disappeared. We changed the feathers out and put on the marlin lures and took a southerly course. It wasn't long before we had another strike, this time it was a blind one on the port outrigger. Louis grabbed the rod and I started bringing in the others. The fish came unbuttoned after a few minutes, and we never new what it was. Another screw up, this time by me. As I was bringing in the port outrigger, the wind-on leader got bunched up in the middle and I couldn't get anymore line on. I let the drag loose and pulled on the leader letting the line out to get it wound back on more evenly. In my haste, I got a small backlash, so I had to let even more line out to get it cleared. Lance caught sight, and jumped down and started pulling the line in quickly by hand, but it was too late. The line was caught in the props. He was pissed. "We've got another mess, guys. That lure has caught many tournament winners. Why don't you guys pay more attention?" he yelled, then jumped overboard. I couldn't believe my eyes. This happened to us during the Gold Cup tournament, but we just cut the line and went on. Lance wasn't about to loose his favorite lure. In 30 seconds he was back to the surface with the lure in hand. I was relieved, but again embarrassed. He isn't going to take much more of this I thought.
Lines out again and we resume the troll. Suddenly the starboard outrigger pops. The Petrolero this time. Louis was up, and it was his PENN 50SW, Calstar Grafighter with IZORE 80lb. ,Only Louis saw the strike, which he said was a huge blue marlin, bigger than the one at Gordo Banks earlier this year.
Louis at 7months
Who can imagine that this little whimp would grow up and at 56 years of age catch this monster fish
What ever, it nearly spooled his 50 wide. Lance hit the throttles, the engines came to life, and we chased the fish at nearly 25 knots before regaining the line back. There was a huge belly in the line. Lance and I weren't convinced it was a blue marlin, maybe a wild tuna Lance said. But the fish didn't behave like a tuna, and it was pulling line unlike a dorado or wahoo. The fish never jumped. We finally agreed that it must be a large marlin. Lance asked what we wanted to do. I told him we would tag it, and I readied a tag on the tag pole. Lance agreed and started giving me instructions on how to leader and tag the fish. I knew what was required, but it was reassuring to have Lance go over it again with me.
I had lots of time to mentally go over what was to be done. It was nearly and hour and a half before we would see the leader. What came next was totally unexpected. Just beyond the leader I caught my first glimpse of the fish. I couldn't believe my eyes - this was the biggest fish I have ever seen. It was a huge blue marlin. I could see the Petrolero at the swivel about 6 feet from the mouth of the marlin. The marlin was enormous and swimming as though it didn't even know it was hooked. Louis was straining with the fish and also overwhelmed at its size. Lance couldn't see the fish, as he was running the boat from the cabin. "She's 4 feet tall at the shoulders, I know what a Blue looks like on the take", Louis ejaculated! I added, "it's got to be 800 pounds, no, it's at least a thousand". The fish calmly and steadily peels out line and disappears. Lance backs down, and we recover some line. We get the leader again, this time Louis is able to get the double line on, the fish is down about 30 feet. "Lance this fish is a thousand pounds, what are we going to do?", I asked. Before he can answer, she, with a "flick" of her four foot caudal fin, swims away as before. Another 100 yards are gone in an instant. Lance responds, "yeah, this fish doesn't know she's hooked. We have a battle on our hands here and I have no knowledge of your tackle. Are your knots true? Angler! Keep your line tight." He then picks up the microphone and makes a few announcements to his friends. "We got a big blue marlin on, 12 miles south of the lighthouse. Looks like she may be over 800 pounds" he tells them.
No less than a dozen times, we get the fish up to the double line only to have it just calmly swim off. And each time we see the fish, our estimates of its weight go up. I keep imaging the marlin in the pictures at the Latitude 22. This is got to be a Cabo record. An hour and a half have passed and the fish isn't getting tired. But Louis is. "John, my arms and hands are starting to cramp up, I think we are going to loose the fight", Louis sighs. "I've got to rest, help me into the chair". Lance and I quickly respond and help Louis into the chair. Louis loosens the drag a bit and we regroup. "Lance, we didn't bargain for this. I have no intention of grabbing a hold on the leader and trying to put a tag in this monster" I pleaded with him. Louis says to Lance, "John can run the controls, you can do the tag." Lance disagreed with me running the controls, but offered us some options. "We can try and get the fish as close as possible to the boat and cut it loose, or we can keep it". "The fish has been on for over two hours and cutting it loose without reviving it will probably mean certain death anyway, not to mention the hooks", he added. Both Louis and I have read quite a lot about the survivability of marlin after a long fight, and we both agreed with Lance about its chances (later we would find that the fish was hooked in its eye, causing it to deflate, and possibly explaining why it never jumped). But this option also had its downside. I have gaffed hundreds of yellowtail and albacore in my time, but this was totally different. Besides, I was in great shape in my younger years. Lance is quite athletic and in excellent shape to do this task, I thought. Lance was unrelenting. I was to gaff the fish. So with all in agreement, we would keep her.
Louis, now rested, gets back into his standup harness and we continued with the same pattern. Each time the double came on the reel, the fish would turn and go under the boat, necessitating Lance to hit the throttles momentarily. While Louis continues, Lance tells me to get the flying gaff out. Lance is well prepared. The gaff is a Top Shot Pro-point, with a 12 inch spread, attached to 25 feet of braided 5/8" rope. This thing weighs about 15 pounds! "Grab the fiber glass pole and not the aluminum pole", Lance barks. The pole is about 8 feet long and 1 1/2" inches in diameter. "Put the gaff in the hole at the top of the pole, and string the rope in the grove at the other end and pull it up tight. Now tie the other end of the rope to the chair pedestal. Run the rope down the pole and grasp it with the pole using both hands" he tells me. Having done all of this, I wonder if I will have the strength to hold the fish. "When the fish is in range, try to place the gaff just in front of the dorsal fin, you don't have to jerk the gaff, just apply a steady pressure. If you need to let go of the pole, it floats and we can get it later." I am reassured, but terrified as well.
"Where's the fish, I can't see the line", Lance yells. "What do you want me to do? Am I in the way?" Louis screams back. I tell Louis to move to the other side of the boat, to follow the fish. "God dam it shut up! I can't take orders from both of you" Louis again screams. Nerves are getting short. Again, the fish gets close, and again goes under the boat. "Dam it Lance, you've got to keep the fish parallel with the side of the boat or we are going to lose it" I ordered. Lance takes it in stride. "Settle down guys. Keep the pressure on" he tells us. "Well, at least we know that Louis's wind-on leaders are OK" I remarked. Louis has sixty pounds of drag on now. The fish is close again, Louis is really getting tired. "John, you're going to have to take over, I am exhausted". I immediately thought about the last trip when a small blue marlin almost tired me out. I made myself a commitment to start working out at the gym to get into better shape. Now I really wished I had stuck to it. Lance yells at Louis "You want to tell your friends back home that you lost the fish after 2 ½ hours because you just QUIT?". "Louis, I can't help you, I'm tired just lugging this dam gaff back and forth from each side of the boat" I said. "Hang in there Louis" Lance added. Louis contemplated Lances remark about quitting. It must have given him the additional moral support he needed to get this fish in. I can't imagine what this would have been like with a Mexican crew where we would have had the language barrier.
Finally, Louis gets the double line on, then the 500-lb test wind-on leader comes on. Lance asks: "got the wind-on? "Yes, a couple of wraps" Louis replies. "Then put the drag on full and pull". Louis says "I'm starting to cramp up again John, you've got to get it this time". This time Louis pulls with what little remaining strength he has and gets the fish up to just about 1 to 2 feet below the surface. I can see the dorsal fin on the surface coming alongside the starboard side. It looks good. The dorsal fin is right in front of me now with Louis on my right side. "Do it now", Louis cries out, and I plunge the gaff blindly below the surface and pull with all my strength. I see the tip of the gaff come through the other side and I hold on. The fish is still battling and I disconnect the pole and pull on the rope with both hands. Lance joins in and Louis nearly collapses. Lance tells me to get the rope we had ready and get it around the tail. I have difficulty in doing this and so we trade places. "You're not lassoing a horse you know!" Lance says with a little humor as he expertly gets the rope around the tail. Forty-five minutes later, after 3 hours, the fish is on the swim platform.
Lures back out, Lance says, "hope we don't get into another one like that". Agreed! I take the controls while Lance makes a few measurements. He uses two methods to estimate the weight. One is based upon the diameter of the tailstock just in front of the beginning of the caudal fin, and the other is based upon measurements of the length and girth of the fish. These two methods yielded estimates of 675-lbs and 450-lbs respectively, both considerably lower than just our simple guess. The girth measurement was off because Lance couldn't get the tape around the fish, so he just used an estimate. Lance confirms our days accomplishment over the radio, "600-lb marlin aboard, almost lost my Angler!" and we call it a day and head back to the marina.
Louis was really disappointed with the possibility that this fish may only be 10-lbs larger than our previous record, especially because we chose to keep it. Even if it is 675, it is still a disappointment to have had to kill it. It was a bitter end of a sweet start. I can't tell you how it looked when the club hit home when the beautiful fish turned a brilliant turquoise blue with the simultaneous erection of her dorsal fin. A brief display of the beauty of this magnificent fish mingled with the realization that we had just killed it. This was very sad for all of us.
As we turned the corner at the Arch, I asked Lance if he was going to put a flag up. "I don't fly flags. You can put one up if you want". I took his comment to mean that he doesn't parade dead fish or brag. We went right to the slip and carefully backed in because the fish was hanging out each side of the boat. A crowd had assembled, waiting for our arrival. We decided to pick up Jose and go back to the weigh in station to weigh and clean the fish. First we would take some pictures. Louis handed his camera to Jose and asked him to take some pictures. We all lined up on the transom and posed. Jose yelled he couldn't get the fish in the camera and ordered Lance to hold it up. We all laughed.
With Jose on board we pulled out and headed for the weigh in station. Jose said the scales are known to be off quite a bit and that we should get the Scale Master II, a fully certified electronic scale, from Minerva's. Jose called Bob on the VHF and asked if we could borrow them. Bob agreed so we put Louis ashore and told him to get the scales and take a taxi to the weigh in station.
We arrived at the weigh in station with another crowd gathered. Word travels fast. We had radioed to Mario to be ready for pictures this time, as we didn't want to take any chances. I got off, Lance and Jose stayed on board waiting for Louis. Everyone wanted to talk, and I was a quite proud of our achievements. A lot of the fleet integrators that we had used so many times in the past were all there with their congratulations coming without limit. I told Jamie Gopar, from the Cabo Smokehouse, about our trip and balloon ordeal to the Finger Banks. He asked me where I had learned this technique. I just told him I read a lot. He approved and was very happy for us and to see that we had come so far in our achievements.
When Louis showed up with the scales, I signaled Lance and Jose. We told the weigh master that we wanted to use the certified scales. He obviously has seen these before, as he had it set up in a matter of minutes. It took 7 guys to pull the fish up onto the scales. I guessed that the weight was going to be closer to the 675-lb mark. I heard guesses of in the 500-lb range. As the fish was lowered on the scale, I started calling out the numbers, 475, 510, 530, 525, finally, 521 and a half, I yelled. We signaled for Lance and he came up for the photographs. Mario made sure the fish was centered in the crane and told us where to stand. We took several pictures, then handed Mario Louis's camera and he took some more.
Lance had to be back to his house by 4:00 PM as he was scheduled to fly out at 5:00 PM, so we had to hustle. Louis and I stayed while the fish was filleted and Lance and Jose went back to the slip to start cleaning up. We only had two 48 quart coolers so we wouldn't be able to take a lot of fillets with us. Louis and I told Jamie that we would like him to take what we left behind and make sure it is given out to all of our friends that have helped us in the past. I sure hope he followed our instructions. Back at the slip, I told Jose of this, and he was concerned that the fish may end up being illegally sold. Still, we had no choice. But before we left Cabo, most all of the staff of the Mar de Cortez and the Latitude 22 would receive a portion of our catch. We were especially happy to give a large roast size to Martin and his wife and new child, that represent the Frigate Bird Charter at the hotel.
…..to catch a fish is not all of fishing… Zane Grey. Tails of Fishing Virgin Seas, 1926
Tuesday, December 22. First order of business was to go and buy a large knife for cutting the roasts into manageable fillets. Believe it or not, this took almost 2 hours. We walked from one end of town to the other. We finally found a "Costco warehouse" of Mexico called Prosan. Here we would find all the cutlery we could want. They were out of freezer paper, but we knew another place that carried it. Back at the hotel, we started the task. We finally finished by 4:30PM. Two full coolers, and plenty for the staff. Louis made up something called Polki with the tuna filets. It is a Hawaiian receipt of raw tuna chunks marinated in green onions, ginger root, soy sauce, tie hot peppers, sesame oil and seeds, and a little lime juice. We served some of this up to the staff and our neighbors at the hotel. It was gone in no time. I only got one bite, it was incredible.
We fished around the pool until Friday 12/25, without success, when a business colleague was to arrive for a family vacation. Kevin Rhoads and I work together and we had planned on going fishing at least once with his brother and Louis and I. Louis and I spent the afternoon looking for boats, as Lance was unable to get a flight down in time to take us fishing again. Although Lance recommended a great boat and crew, the boat was too small for the four of us. I ran into a couple of American skippers and told them that we had all our own gear and wanted a boat that would let us run the cockpit. Jeff Hamm, of Offshore Yacht Deliveries, told us about a few boats, most of which we knew about. We wanted to fish on the Reel Danger, but it was out fishing and we were told it was booked tomorrow anyway. Jeff then took us to the 43 foot Hatteras, FishCabo. We were introduced to the mate, Miguel. He spoke excellent English and he agreed to let us do our own thing. I climbed up to the bridge and looked over the electronics. Very well equipped. Radar, color fathometer, and the usual VHF radios. Later the owner, Roberto Castro, arrived and we agreed on $600 for the day. We left the standard deposit and told them we would be back at 4:00 PM to load up all of our gear.
Kevin and his family (all 20 of them) had rented several condos at the Plaza Not Glorias Hotel, so we were unable to leave a message at the front desk not knowing which units they were in. We had looked for them the previous evening without success. This time, as we walked through the lobby, we luckily found Kevin at the front desk trying to find a room because the travel agent screwed up the rooms they had booked. We moved to the bar, Solomon's, and discussed the fishing trip tomorrow. There we met Kevin's brother, Don, and Blair Schmidt, and they all agreed to try their luck. We told them that we would supply all the equipment, food, drinks and ice, and that we would be handling the cockpit and not fishing. For this we suggested that they pay $400 and we would pay the balance of $200 and we would all spit a tip for the crew. We told them where the boat was moored and for them to meet us there at 6:00 AM tomorrow morning. Next we went back to the hotel and gathered up all of our gear and headed, via taxi, to the boat. Miguel was there as agreed and helped us with our gear.
That evening, after eating Turkey at the Latitude 22, Louis and I did the chicken thing again, but this time the place we had gotten the chicken and ribs before was closed because it was Christmas day. So we ended up buying the chicken from a restaurant. We got no deal either. They wanted the full price of 6 dinners, which ended up being about 90 gringo bucks! Oh, well, hope they are big eaters, I thought.
Saturday, 12/26. We arrived at the boat at 6:00 AM as agreed. We yelled to Miguel who promptly let us through the gate. Kevin, Don, and Blair showed up minutes later and we all headed over to the Bonita Plaza for some coffee and Ice. I was proud of my Spanish - tres bolsas heilo por favor, I said. The clerk promptly brought out 3 bags of ice. Kevin picked up the tab for the coffee and ice and we headed back to the boat. Having forgotten to bring the other 2 bags of ice, Kevin ran back to get them. The Captain had not shown up yet, so we were just sitting around when our friend Guillermo Bojorquez walked by. Louis says "John, look who's here". I was really happy to see Guillermo again. He told us he is now Captain of a 42 foot Uniflite Sportfisher called the Rose of Sheldon. We all went down the dock to see his new boat. We told Guillermo that Kevin wanted to fish one more time, but we were going to leave Sunday and wouldn't be able to go along. Guillermo gave Kevin his cell phone number and said to call him to arrange it. Unfortunately, the next day, the owner of the boat got to close to the beach on a scuba diving trip and bent both props. The Rose was out of commission the rest of the week.
Back at the boat, Louis and I started putting out the rods. Those Penn International's sure look good. Kevin mentioned to his brother, Don, "you see why we are fishing with these guys? They lug all of this top notch gear down here when they go fishing". I tried to explain to Kevin's brother, that we have all fresh line on the reels, the rods are all custom, just to mention a few reasons why this is a better setup. You never know who fished the boat rods they day before I explained. It can make a difference. Soon a second mate showed up named Roberto. He was a bit younger than Miguel, most likely in his 20's. He took no time at all examining our gear where he paid special attention to the wind-on leaders and the knots Louis uses. He was impressed. We took a few minutes to tell everyone what the plan was. We would do the bait and switch routine, and only asked that the crew assist with clearing the rods from the cockpit when we got a tailer up. They agreed. Kevin's brother said " I thought you guys were going to tell them were to go?" "No way Jose. The Captain and crew will find the fish. We will catch the fish. That's the deal." I told him.
The Captain finally arrived at 6:20 AM. We had put bait on earlier, so we promptly headed out. The Captain took a different course, heading straight south from the Arch. It was a beautiful morning, the best we had the whole trip. No wind, flat seas and clear skies. Louis and I had put out the same spread as before, only 4 rods with the 130's on the outriggers, two 50's in the corners and a live bait hooked to the 30SW for drop back.
It wasn't long before the action started. At 7:15 AM the Captain spotted a tailer. It was a small striper, around 160-lbs. We circled once with the lures, then I quickly brought in the starboard rigger and corner flat line. As we circled back, I grabbed the pitch bait and tossed it to the hungry striper. I had about 20 yards out when the marlin saw the bait. Everyone was watching - then the marlin struck. I waited for the marlin to turn the bait then set the hook while the Captain gunned the engines and Miguel cleared the cockpit. Although it wasn't really necessary to set the hook, as we were using a circle hook. The marlin took off and we got Kevin set up in the chair since he won the coin toss. I handed the rod to Kevin, buckled him in and he started winding. I asked Kevin "is this your first marlin?" "Yes", he replied. Just then the fish came unbuttoned. Miguel said good job, lets go get another one. I checked my moving map software on the laptop, and found that the Captain was actually following the Vigia Canyon according to our track. It was a beautiful track. I wondered if he had the same software and charts that I had.
About 8:30 AM the Captain spotted another tailer. Same routine. The striper wasn't interested in the lures so I tossed another pitch bait. Louis grabbed the rod from me and said "you did it last time. It's my turn." OK! Unfortunately the striper sounded and we came up empty handed.
The Captain continued south quite a ways, in fact we went off my moving map. I checked the radar and we were about 18 to 20 miles out when he finally turned to the west. We had been trolling west for about 2 hours when we could see a boat behind us coming up fast. I went up to the bridge to see if the Captain had heard anything on the radio, but he hadn't. I asked him if we could switch to channel 65 as this was the channel that most of the American fisherman use. By then the boat had gone by us traveling at full speed. It was a Picante boat. I asked the Captain again where he thought they were going in such a hurry, and if we should pull in the lines and follow them. He said he hadn't heard anything. I asked him if he would call the boat on the VHF and he told me that the Picante fleet doesn't share information. Just then we could see another boat behind us, also traveling at high speed in the same direction. This time the Captain yelled to the crew to bring in the lines, and we hit full throttle. On the radar I saw several boats about 5 miles ahead that appeared to be all stopped. Good sign. As we approached the boats we could now see birds, something that we hadn't seen all morning. When we finally arrived we found 3 boats hooked up and the Picante boat trolling. Soon a few more boats arrived. It was probably what they call breezers. Tuna that are just cruising through. It was disappointing that we didn't get hooked up. I asked the captain why the fathometer wasn't on. He said it's broken. I was pissed. No eyes. If I had known the fathometer was broken before, I would have never chartered the boat. You've got to be able to see below, in my opinion. Most of the fleet boats do not have fathometers and they do well, but adding this technology can really help on a slow day like this. I thought about slow trolling live bait, but we had done so well with the lures while fishing with Lance, that we decided to continue with lures.
Even though we were still off my map, the longitude from my GPS indicated that we were due south of the Jamie bank when we turned north. We trolled to within about 4 miles of the banks, then headed east and paralleled the coast. The Captain certainly has done this scenario before, a text book course along the canyons and seamounts, and a great boat ride. Back at the slip, it was clear that Kevin, his brother and Blair were very disappointed. "Mighty expensive boat ride" one of them remarked while getting off the boat. They had no clue about the effort that went into trying to put them on to a fish. We gave the Captain a $100 tip ($20 from each of us) and thanked them. The Captain, Gil, apologized for not catching anything, but I quickly reminded him that catching fish is not all of fishing, and that we had a great time and appreciated his crew in following our requests, although I think I spoke for myself since not everyone felt the same. As it turned out, we heard latter that day the tuna were thick at the Gorda Banks. If the Captain had turned east instead of west early in the morning, things would have most likely been different. It's a crap shoot anyway you look at it.
Monday, 12/28. We stayed one extra day because it took so long to get the gear broken down and cleaned for the winter. The last thing to do before leaving was to head over to the Bisbee store and get some new hats. Louis went to Minerva's to talk with Minerva about selling his wind-on leaders. He told me to get him a red hat. When Louis got back I told him they only had one hat style and for him to go back and get what he wanted. He returned empty handed but told me how his marlin would have scored in the previous Bisbee last October. At 521 lbs., it would have won first place the first day, the second day, and come in second place over all. A whopping $800,000. Maybe next year.
Last updated on 03/26/2005