by John Vallon
Weather: sunny, mid 80's afternoon, 60's evenings, rough on Pacific, breezy in Cortez. Water temperature: 75 at 95 spot, 77 at Outer Gorda Bank.
Preparation for this trip took a bit longer than usual. Having read the Western Outdoors, January edition, we were excited about the prospects of enticing an early blue marlin with the helium balloon and squid trick at Jamie Bank that David Braid did with the Solmar fleet. We also wanted to try using down riggers with the squid. While on a business trip to Nepcon in Long Beach, I was able to sneak over the Fred Hall Fishing Exposition to look into standup belts and harnesses that we needed. I actually met David Braid there, he had a very informative presentation on standup tackle including his new harnesses. David put his new "Brute Buster" belt and harness on me, tugged on the rod and the sale was completed. To complete our pattern we ordered two new Penn 50 SW's to add to the three 30 SW's that we already had. Only thing remaining was to schedule the boats. We contacted most of the fleets via e-mail, Pisces, Solmar, and Edith, looking for tuna tubes and down riggers. No one had everything we wanted, so we booked the Edith III from Juan Garcia with the understanding that we were to get two down riggers, but no tubes. We had fished the Edith III previously and knew the layout of the boat and the experience of the crew. We would look at the other boats when we arrived and decide then. We went to a Japanese grocery store in Seattle and bought 6 fresh squid and rigged them as detailed in the Western Outdoors article - took two days to get the smell off of our hands. Seems two of them weren't as fresh as advertised.
Wednesday, May 6th.
Arrived on time, 2:20PM. While waiting to get our visas, I started to video record the visa process and was abruptly stopped by an immigration official that told me this was off limits to cameras and videos and to rewind the video! After unpacking at the Hotel Calinda Beach, we head to the marina to look at the boats that we were interested in. The first stop was the C-dock. We looked at a boat that was advertised on the Internet, but after seeing it, we new it the boat was not for us, since we were looking for a boat with a high tuna tower and tuna tubes.
Louis and I really had our I sites on the Honeybea, also on the C dock, since it had the two things we were looking for; a tuna tower, and two tuna tubes. We were told that the Honeybea was run by two brothers, Guillermo and Jose Bojorquez. Guillermo shows up and we all start talking about fishing. I showed Guillermo our GPS, fathometer, charts, sea surface temperatures of the area, and the wind on leaders Louis tied up. He looks at the chart and points out where he has been locating the marlin lately. This is our first clue. None of the other captains that we have fished previously with could understand our charts or where uninterested in discussing them. Then Guillermo does his dog and pony show. He starts by taking us down into the cabin and shows us no less than 300 or more lures. Louis and I figure that he has twice this many at home, but only keeps his favorites on board. The lures were neatly arranged by colors and sizes, and all had various riggings. Most of the lures we were familiar with, but some of the different ways they were rigged we had never seen before. We told Guillermo that we wanted to fish with live tuna, so he promptly presents us with his live tuna rig, one that I have only occasionally seen in magazines:
Live tuna rig
The rig, which was magnificent in its simplicity, consisted of a 14/0 stainless big game hook, plaited with about 1" of dacron to an 8/0 live bait hook, tied with a perfection knot to a 15 foot 300 lb. test leader which terminated with a perfection knot loop (the rig, pictured above, was actually one of two that we retrieved from the blue marlin we caught).
After reviewing the lures and terminal tackle we took a closer look at the layout of the boat, a 29' twin engine Topaz. This is the best rigged charter boat for the price. In the very adequate height of the tuna tower, Guillermo fired up his Magellan GPS to show me his marks on recently caught marlin. Clue number two, this is the first boat we have considered that had GPS and a skipper that had the common sense to mark locations of productivity. We spent a few minutes going over marks and looking on my charts showing the bottom contours of those locations. Clue number three, Guillermo understands how tuna and billfish roam the canyons and sea mounts.
Climbing down the tuna tower, I notice a rescue pod with a 6 man inflatable life boat inside, attached to the top of the cabin. In fact, the boat is equipped with a life ring, and there were 4 life jackets in the main cabin. We have never seen this kind of safety equipment on the other fleet boats.
Guillermo tells us that he is available on Saturday and Monday, but we decide to wait before booking until we have seen the other boats that we were scheduled to review.
Next stop was the Reel Danger. Louis had spoke with the owner before we left Seattle, and there had also been a post on the Amigos newsgroup by a Florida fishing captain that had booked the boat and was looking for someone to share it with. Normally, Louis and I wouldn't consider a boat this large (46' Bertram) because we don't need a boat this size, but we were offered the boat at a considerable discount so it was worth the look. When we arrived we were greeted by Rodrico Arce, the captain. The boat was as you would expect from a Bertram; very well laid out, and very well equipped, including air conditioning. Rodrico showed us the main cabin with all the electronics and an array of Penn International two speeds, including a few Fin-nor's. This boat would be great to share with the friends we came down with. We would need to get in touch with them before committing any farther, so we thanked Rodrico for his time and left. After a short walk we were sitting at the Latitude savoring some cold beers. Pork chops was the special, and they were great! So were the tequila's and the bar maids - Nancy and Yole always have a great smile and make us feel like long time friends. The best way to get in the mood for big billfish is to look at all the pictures on the walls, and for a gaming perspective, go into the far back room and contemplate the mounts Mike Grzanich has hanging from the rafters. A few moments in this room and you will be checking all of your knots and terminal tackle!
Thursday, May 7th.
This is to be our final preparation day. First thing, I call the broker of the Honeybea, from our hotel to tell her that we have decided to fish the Honeybea on Saturday and Monday if it is still available. It is and she agrees to come to our hotel for the usual deposit. Having the boat booked, all that was left was to find Jamie Gopar and pay him our deposit on the Edith III for our Friday trip. We find Jamie at his usual post, the Cabo Smoke House stand at the main marina. Jamie tells us that he was only able to get one down rigger. It was a Cannon Uni-trol. He explained that we would have to cough up some money for borrowing it. He was very disappointed at our change in plans - we had planned on fishing the Edith III three days, but now were only going for one day. We gave him the deposit and headed to the market to gather things for lunches and then on to the Latitude 22+ for dinner (roast pork). We actually ate dinner there every night except once when we ate at the hotel. As usual the daily special was excellent and the beer was ice cold. Mike Grzanich has installed air conditioning since we were there last December.
Friday, May 8th.
We arrive at the marina early, 5:45 AM, to install my bracket on the swim platform of the Edith III to hold the fathometer transducer. On the previous trip last December, attempts to install the transducer using suction cups attached to the side of the boat didn't work, so I was eager to see if this new method would work. It was a three piece jig consisting of a 24" x 3 1/2" piece of 3/8" aluminum plate stock that was sandwiched to the swim platform with two 3 1/2" wide angle brackets, also made out of 3/8" aluminum plate stock. The long bracket would be bolted to the angle brackets then the angle brackets would be c-clamped to the swim platform. It was constructed with this heavy material because of the strong forces exerted by the water on the transducer. By making the bracket 24" it could be raised and lowered depending upon the height of the swim platform from the water level. Installation didn't go as planned.
The first thing I found out was the swim platform was hollow and made of a thin shell of fiberglass, so the bottom bracket couldn't be installed. I was really disappointed at this. I jumped up from the swim platform and told the dispatcher that we wanted a different boat. He said we could switch boats and crews with the other Edith which had the required solid swim platform. However, the boat was the Edith I, one that we fished on before with good success, but we ended up with black and blue marks because of the absence of a high transom that is needed when you use standup gear. So sticking with our original crew, I looked at Hector, the captain, and told him we would just stick his head under water periodically to get a reading, and we took off to the fuel dock.
With all the shrimp boats in Cabo, the fuel dock runs out of fuel early in the afternoon so fueling sometimes is done the morning of the trip. Jamie meets us at the fuel dock with the down rigger in tow. Javiar and Jamie set the down rigger into the port rod holder and checks it out. We show Jamie the tied up squid we plan to use, and he remarks that we should eat them instead!
At 6:43 AM we are heading 072 from the arch at 15.6 knots heading for the Gorda Banks. 7:55AM we slow to put out the lines. Javiar asks how we plan to fish with the down riggers. Louis and I, stunned, just look at each other. We forgot to discuss a game plan!. We ask Javiar "what do you suggest?" He just laughs at our lack of planning, then says "lets put out lures on all lines including the down rigger, and when we raise a billfish, switch to two flat lines with squid and a squid on the down rigger". Sounded simple enough to us. We soon discovered, however, that the lead weight was too small for the speed that we were trolling, so the down rigger was removed and stored away until later.
It wasn't long, perhaps about 20 minutes, when a pair of stripers came up our spread. To our amazement, we all watched the two stripers cruise right up to the squid, take a sniff, and disappear into the depths (more on this later). Things went very slow from then on, no birds, no bait, and few boats. My GPS showed that we were way too far out from the bank perhaps about 3 to 4 miles south.. Javiar had often ask me in previous trips, "how far we are from the shore?" Without GPS, it is clear that they have some difficulty triangulating this far out, especially when they are trying to locate a grid the size of half a football field, as the outer Gorda bank is. We just let them do the driving and said nothing, other than how far we were from shore as they had asked.
If you are trying to learn the tactics to fish these waters and want to do your own thing (bait and hook your own fish), make it clear that you don't want the crew doing any fishing or using the boats equipment. I have told Javiar this, yet being the fisherman he is, he still would grab a boat rod and pitch a bait before I could even get my bait on. I thought "if they hook the fish and hand off the rod to you what can be learned?" Even if you do it wrong, at least you learn from it.
On future trips we will add a pair of release clips to our tackle box. Attaching these to the transom then back to the two flatlines, will greatly facilitate pitching baits with the flatlines now out of the way. Javiar was an expert at maneuvering the pitch bait over the lines, but I found it very difficult. Our cyber fishing buddy, Bill Hilton, agrees and also suggests taking an additional pair in case the outrigger release clips are worn. The only other excitement was a greyhounding loose striper about 200 yards out. About this time I wondered if I could just stick the lifeless fathometer transducer in the bait tank. At least we could get water temperature data. Javiar really got a kick out of this, but I made him guess the temperature before telling him what the transducer was actually measuring. He was only off about 1.5 degrees, the water being 77.5.
Flag-less, we head back to the marina around 2:30 PM, recording water temperature along the way. The water temperature dropped about 1 degree every 10 miles, reaching 75 at the arch.
Overall, the crew did a fine job, the fish just weren't where we were, or should I say: we weren't where the fish where. It's a crap shoot at best. Without fresh fish in the cooler, it was dinner at the Latitude 22 + again. Chicken fried steak. It was lousy! Mike makes no beef about his food. It's lousy his says. He has the best lousy food in Cabo. Maybe the fishing will be better tomorrow I thought. Besides, no one gets skunked two days in a row!
Saturday, May 9th.
It was very windy this morning when we arrived at the marina. This is the first time we departed from the north marina and not from the main marina at the weigh in scales with the other fleet boats. The absence of the future young skippers was a relief at first, then we thought how nice it would have been for the help with the long haul to the boat from the Hard Rock Cafe, carrying 2 large coolers, 5 rods/reels, lure bags, etc. At the boat we were greeted by Guillermo, at which time a sense of well being drifted into my mind from his demeanor. Skilled, confident, and eager, this captain was what we have been searching for.
My job was to hook up our electronics. First came the fathometer bracket. Solid swim platform this time. I crawl out on it and begin the installation. This was a lot of fun especially with the water coming out of the tuna tube directly on to me. No big deal, the installation was a breeze despite being drenched, and I welcomed the tuna tubes. I thought of it as the tubes were blessing me! Next Guillermo helped with the power for the fathometer and GPS. I had special fittings for this, and they clipped onto the battery terminals in a flash. Within a few minutes, I was calling out depth readings and marks to Guillermo, who probably was wondering why I was doing this. Well, its the first time that the dam thing has worked!
We were underway directly and Louis and Mario begin putting the rods out. We stopped briefly at the harbor exit to take on some live baits, then headed south east from the arch. I am still screwing around with my new functioning fathometer, when I notice that there is no more bottom indication. I am going to the moon at this point. Is it a bad connection? or a malfunction in the main unit? I switch cables, clean contacts (with a 14/0 hook) over and over again. I even had Guillermo stop the boat so that I could lower the transducer all the way into the water. No change. An hour later, I decide the unit isn't going to work, but we have speed indication and water temperature. I was very disappointed, even though I was very proud of the bracket that I designed, since it was still attached to the swim platform and we were doing about 18 knots.
Within a few minutes from the arch, Guillermo slows the boat and orders feathers to the pattern to make bait (tunas). We spent about 30 minutes with no luck, then the radio fires off that tunas are being caught at the 95 spot. We are there in 20 minutes, joining about 20 other boats. All boats are hooked up using live bait. Guillermo orders marlin lures in the pattern, explaining that if we don't raise a billfish after a few circles, we'll switch to feathers again to put tunas in the tubes, saving the baits for later. No strikes, the tuna seem to be feeding on local bait in the water, so we move on. This was impressive to Louis and I. Guillermo knew we were not interested in tuna, and unlike the fleet boats, he doesn't hang around. I looked at his pattern around the fleet boats later on the GPS, and it was a text book case of how to do it right. Two concentric circles and we were out of there. I think Guillermo knew there were no billfish around. We had 5 rods working, the 5th being run from the shotgun position. Mario threw out a teaser about 8 feet back into the prop wash. Guillermo is in the tuna tower, and once in a while, we make a lazy eight figure in our trolling pattern, I wonder what he sees? Soon Guillermo barks at Mario, and lures are changed - from dark colors to brighter colors. Lures are constantly being repositioned in the waves. As we change trolling directions, Guillermo changes the speed either up or down to compensate for the currents. We have read about this, but have never experienced it in Cabo on fleet boats. As I look around the boat, I notice how well it is laid out. The bait tank is well back from the transom, out of the way next to the cabin. The rod holder holds the pitch rod which is already rigged to a live bait in the tank. The outriggers have a tag line running to a cleat on the bow to facilitate a crisp release, and another tag line that is used when trolling tunas that we would see later in the day. Nothing is out of place. We are just waiting. The two flat lines have long since been tied to Aftco release clips back to the transom. Everything is ready. I am keeping track of our course on my chart with the GPS.
Coarse for the day
We are within a 1/2 mile of the outer Gorda bank. The sun is high, and the wind has died down a bit. Water temperature has hit 77+ degrees and we are getting anxious. All of a sudden the water turns flat as a pancake. I happen to take a look at the busted fathometer and the dam thing starts showing the most magnificent readings of the bank below us rising out of the depths. You "numbskull" I thought. The fathometer has been working all the time but only goes to 960 feet! With no bottom, the fathometer electronics turns the gain up so high searching for the bottom that the display goes nuts, indicating 5 feet one minute, and 900 the next. The minute we left the arch the water was too deep to read. When we hit the Gorda bank, the contours looked like art!
"WE HAVE EYES", I rejoiced! Guillermo approves and occasionally glances at the large LCD screen from his position high in the tuna tower. Louis and Mario quickly come over to observe our new eyes. Everyone clapped and passed high fives.
The fathometer showed the bank rising steeply from 900 feet to about 255 feet then becoming very flat. The water surface was very smooth over the bank, with the exception of a few boils from tunas. No birds, and only one other boat was here, a panga probably from San Jose.
We quickly pulled in all lines and switched to two light rods with feathers. I asked Guillermo "should we put out the squid in the pattern"? He responds by pinching his nose with his fingers... "the squid didn't smell good and wouldn't be good bait" he signals us. I notice that the panga that was out here was hooked into a small striper or a large tuna. Guillermo circles the reef, and within a few moments several blips about 10 feet deep showed up on the fathometer, then Louis is hooked into a small 10-12 lb. yellowfin tuna. We thought it was the elusive mackerel that we have taken our names to be in Cabo. No sooner than Louis gets his tuna into the tuna tube, I hook a skipjack, which also went directly into the other waiting tuna tube.
For those of you who are not familiar with a "tuna tube", it is a cylindrical device about 5 to 7 inches in diameter and about 20 to 30 inches long. The bottom of the tube has a cap with a water inlet to force sea water from the bottom of the tube to the top at a very high velocity. A live tuna is placed head first into the tube. The sea water flowing from the bottom to the top past the tuna forces water through the mouth and gills, keeping it alive. The small confines of the tube helps to keep the normally aggressive tuna calm. Why not put the tuna in the bait tank? The tuna would suffocate from lack of oxygen (reduced water flow), and would also beat the smaller live baits to death. Some tuna tubes are painted on the inside with black paint to help keep the tuna calm. Boats can be equipped with anywhere from two to four tuna tubes. The bottom line is, big baits catch big prey!
Skipjack heading for the tuna tube
We continue the troll, when Guillermo sees tunas jumping - being chased by a blue marlin! With no words being said, we reel in the bait rods and reposition the heavy stuff and switch the leaders with the live tuna rigs. Guillermo moves the boat about 100 yards to the jumping tunas and then fine positions us in the path of the marlin. One bark from Guillermo and the tunas are let out. I am on the port side with the yellowfin, Louis is on the starboard with the skipjack. I thought the dam tunas were going to jump back in the boat for a second, but they finally made a bee line for the horizon and were gone. Next Guillermo barked something in Spanish that I didn't understand, but within a second, I heard the clicker go off, and I understood that. I reached for the new 50 SW, released the safety line and positioned the rod in the Braid standup harness. I quickly thought, how long to wait? This is all new to us with the live tuna and all, so I counted to 10, 3 times, but quickly. The fish had come from my left toward my tuna and in the direction of Louis's tuna. By the time I had set the hook, the fish had already swiped Louis's tuna, not knowing it had been hooked. For a few moments we all thought that it was a double hook up with two different marlin. When I set the hook, she rose from the sea to display her size to us. She was so large that only the bill to the gills was exposed in her first leap, swinging her bill back and forth trying to shake the hook. In a split second she rose again about 50 yards away, thus leading us to think we had two different fish. When we realized that we were into the same fish, problems started to happen. The fish switched directions faster than we could move the rods, and it wasn't long before the lines were wrapped over each other 10 times, it looked like a bimini twist on our lines. It was fast moving and thinking to keep the lines apart.
As it turned out, my line was frayed some 100 yards into the spool. Despite the fact that my Braid harness was upside down, we managed to bring the marlin to the boat in just under 23 minutes. How well did the Braid harnesses work? Try letting your arms drop from the rod while the fish is pulling line off. This is a time to rest and can only be done with a harness.
During our brief fight, Mario was running the video. But when the fish was alongside the tone quickly changed. The marlin was still very bright and correspondingly very alive! We all took a few moments to decide the fate of the fish. With the first tuna well into the stomach, and the last tuna tangled in the fishes gills and bleeding heavily, we decided to keep her. Guillermo was down from the tuna tower to help Mario with the fish. Guillermo got the flying gaff out and tied it off while Mario positioned the fish for the gaff.
When the gaff hit home the fish came alive and I thought it was going to tow us all over the ocean. Guillermo inserted another gaff and handed it to Louis. Louis is still black and blue from the pole hitting his shoulders. Guillermo then broke out a braided cable about 3/8 to a 1/2 inch in diameter and about 4 feet long. He formed the cable into a loop and slid it over the bill, then back towards the tail.
Locking the cable down on the fishes tail, Guillermo and Mario slowly maneuvered the fish to the stern and the swim platform. After about a total of 70 minutes, the fish was secured to the swim platform. Mario asks me to remove my fathometer bracket from the swim platform to make room for the fish. Guess what I told him!
We arrive back at the marina around 3:10 and stop at the weigh-in station. Louis and I were not sure what the procedure was in this case, leaving from the north marina, but new we had to get the fish weighed-in and cleaned. As we tied up at the dock, and as usual, the young future captains were there to help us carry our tackle. Some very aggressive young lads even jumped onto the boat to capture a tackle box, but Guillermo quickly chased the kids off. It wasn't long before the lady was hanging from the scales. We heard a guess from one of the brokers of 440 lbs. The young boy attached the loop to the scales, then let the fish hang - 440 lbs he cried out. We all rejoiced and commenced to take pictures:
Guillermo, Louis, Blue Marlin, Mario, John, and Pelican
Mario and Guillermo
On the way back to the slip, Louis and I discussed the tip for the crew. A normal tip is 10% to 15%, but this wasn't a normal trip. Mario worked hard trying to get the marlin tied to the swim platform and had a lot of difficulty since he wasn't familiar with the Honeybea, and so deserved a bigger tip, even though he ate all our pickles! It was also the largest blue marlin that we have caught, and only one other was caught that day, so we thought, even a higher tip. We finally agreed that $95 should be plenty enough. I handed the tip to Guillermo, since he is the captain, to decide how to split this with his mate (note: spelling in picture is incorrect, it should be "Bojorquez").
Back at the hotel, we spend the next 2 hours cleaning and repackaging the fillets in our room. Then, with two coolers full, we check at the front desk. We ask if they can be placed in the freezer until we are ready to go home. No problem they say. They would not let us into the kitchen, however, so we trusted them to carry out the task.
Sunday, May 10th.
We awake Sunday, a little tired over the celebration the night before, and are keenly aware that we have been sunburned pretty bad from the previous day. Even though both of us hit the tanning booth before coming down, the sun is not to be taken for granted. Mostly it was are shoulders that got the brunt of it. Later in the day, around the pool, we met some guests from Michigan that had fished the same day without any luck. We told them to try the Honeybea the next day instead of the same boat they were skunked on. We wanted to join them but that's too much in a row for us. We exchanged e-mail addresses and they promised to let us know how they did. Haven't heard directly from them yet, but the word is that Guillermo took them to the same spot at the Gorda bank, only this time they reportedly managed to catch and release an estimated 500+ lb. blue marlin!
Update: We have received e-mail from our friends:
"Your friends, The Michigan fisherman- Thanks for the Mamu Honeybee lead. Mamu went to work at Gordo Banks. We caught a 350 pound blue marlin. We used nice fat tuna to fill the tuna tubes and put three live tuna out of the back of the boat. Then we had another blue marlin steel all three baits. We also caught 6 large Mahi Mahi(aka-Dolphin.) The day was great. Found that Mamu would barter fishing gear for fishing trips. If you decide to go back give him a call and take some gear to trade. Give me a line back and let me know what it is like with the big fish in Washington. Thanks again, Jeff Erskine "... received 5/26/98.
I watched the boats in front of our hotel all day. This area is known as Cabeza Ballena, and is marked by a rock that resembles a whale head, thus its name, and also has a prominent navigational aid light. There were about 50 to 60 boats at any one time trolling the area. By 2:00 PM the boats started heading in, and we were able to see the flags with binoculars. Most all boats going past our vantage point had billfish flags - some with 3 to 4 flags in addition to dorado flags.
Monday, May 11th.
Pool time again, and watch the boats. Same deal, many boats in front of the hotel. From less than a mile to 2 to 3 miles offshore. Many more dorado were caught this day, and again, most all boats returning from the Gorda banks had multiple billfish flags with occasional dorado and tuna mixed in.
Tuesday, May 12th.
Time to check out. We go to the kitchen and ask for our coolers of fish. Guess what: THEY WERE NOT FROZEN! It seems that there was a misunderstanding between placing the coolers in the freezer or simply the refrigerator. So we have two coolers of fish that almost spoiled. This would be our last trip to this hotel. Next time it will be the Mar de Cortez, which has a huge walk in freezer.
Muy fuerte sedals
Last updated: 03/26/05