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Jonathan Roldan – BAJA BEAT

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Friday, January 19, 2018
Kings of the Wild Frontier
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
No bad questions?

Better or worse?
We’re on the road doing our annual fishing / hunting show circuit these days. We just finished shows in Denver and Sacramento and, as I write this, my laptop is bouncing on my lap as we rumble down up the highway towards our next show in Seattle.

God bless her. Jilly is driving our rig through the rain so I can tap away on the computer and make my deadline!

We’ve been at this now over two decades and I field a lot of questions at these shows while we meet-and-greet in our booth. At the last show, I got into a little round-robin with some old-timers and Baja rats.

A lot of the “opinions” started with…

“Back in the day…”

“I remember this time when…”

“You should have seen…”

“You would not have believed what we saw…”

Most were of the opinion that Baja fishing is not what it used to be or that it’s been ruined. Most of these guys were fishermen that used to come down a lot and had great memories and stories of “the way it used to be.” Most of them don’t come down much or at all these days.

Either their travel days are behind them or they just don’t think it was worth it any more.

Some incredible stories to listen to though.

I had to agree with them…somewhat.

The days of Ray Cannon and John Steinbeck are long gone. I’ll agree with that. It’s not the same “frontera” of crystal waters, dirt roads and remote fishing villages. But what is the same these days? Everything changes. Some for better. Some for worse.

I’ve seen a lot of changes in my own time. My first Baja experiences took place 40 years ago. I’ve been running a fishing operation for almost 25 years. I think I have a pretty unique perspective.

I’m not a visitor or a tourist. I don’t come fishing for three or four days a year every other year during the summer.

I’m at ground zero every single day. I don’t get my reports reading the Internet or fishing magazines. My hands smell fishy every day and it’s my reports that others read!

So, yes, I do remember the days when there were so many dorado and the roosterfish were thick. I remember those hal­cyon days of catching a dozen marlin before breakfast.

I remember having to siphon gas into the outboard every morning with my mouth before fishing. I remember chasing burros off the dusty airstrip so the plane could land. I remember commercial flights for $69 and how pissed I was when it was raised to $89! Robbery!

I remember days when ice was a luxury and gasoline was hand-pumped out’ve 55-gallon drums and filtered through a t-shirt. And the gas was green! Toilet paper and fan belt hoses were equally valuable if you were travelling in Baja.

And, I’ve straddled the “new age” when convenience stores dot the highway. Any hotel without a foo-foo day spa isn’t worth staying at. Cruisers with more electronics than a moon shuttle ply the ocean. Fisher­men travel with nannies, and instead of Volkswagen mini-vans, Hummers and Mercedes now pull up next to me at traffic signals.

And then there’s the fishing.

I don’t think it’s bad. It’s just different. And it’s still spectacular. And there’s no place else like it in the world. This giant finger called the Sea of Cortez is still a giant fish trap ripe for exploration and discovery.

What I tell folks is, all of it is cyclical.

If you based all your fishing opinions solely on your experiences fishing only occasionally or fishing just the last few seasons, it was honestly very, very scratchy here. Those were El Niño years — atmospheric and meteorological phenomenon subjected the Baja to crazy ocean temperatures, tides, currents and other anomalies. It surely affected the fishing.

If you just used that alone as your criterion, then Baja fishing was in the dumpster.

But, like so many things on the planet, it’s all part of a cycle. This latest El Niño wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last. Mother Earth has been doing this long before T-Rex trod the dirt and will continue doing it long after you and I are gone.

But during those same years, areas in northern Baja and Southern California experienced and continue to experience some of the best tuna, wahoo and dorado catches in decades. It’s still going on in record numbers.

Eventually, it will also end… and something new will start. Right?

Last year, down in Baja, water conditions were more normalized. El Niño went its way. The bait came back. The water temperatures were more conducive to the deep-water nutrients returning to the waters.

And sure enough, last year was largely a great year for much of Baja. Fish were bigger and more plentiful. Tuna, wahoo and giant roosterfish came on strong. Billfish moved back in. It wasn’t like the “old, old days” but by golly, it was like the “good, new days.”

The other side of the equation is that I think fishermen and locals alike are taking better care of the ocean than they used to. There’s a stronger awareness that this is a finite resource.

Seawatch groups have sprung up to monitor illegal poaching and activities. Marine parks have flourished. There are restricted areas where fishing is prohibited to allow species to proliferate. There’s much more catch-and-release by sportsmen as well as locals. Efforts are being made to keep and maintain the pristine nature of the ocean.

It’s a constant vigilance and awareness and there’s still so much to be done, and there’s still a lot of bad stuff going on. There’s a constant battle with legal and illegal commercial fishing and the political-economic battles in a country that struggles to feed its people.

There’s the push-pull of development and the ecology. There’s still pollution. Just like every other country.

I don’t have my head in the sand and I’m not saying this because it’s my business bringing fishermen down. Battles are being won and lost every day. There are some incredible problems to be faced.

But, overall, fishing in the Baja is still an experience unlike any other.

There are more species than anywhere else. You can still catch your dream fish and you can bend a rod until your arms are sore. There’s still so much to see and discover.

I’ve seen a lot in my time here in Baja. And there’s still not a day on the water that I’m amazed. And blessed.

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