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Ensenada a fishing town with a party problem
WON writer makes the run south in his skiff and recaptures some of the former glory, fishing and fun of the town and the Hotel Coral and Marina facility

ENSENADA — The throngs of trailerboaters making the run to Ensenada have slowed to a trickle over the past several years, brought about by additional paperwork for boaters and anglers, long lines at the border and a general decline in tourism due to the cartel wars.


Which is too bad because Ensenada has always had a great deal to offer private boaters who pounced on the availability of a launch ramp and quality hotel and marina at the Hotel Coral. WON held several tournaments for yellowtail, tuna and bass and drew well over 100 teams to the hotel. After a two or three-year hiatus in tourney events, this writer attempted to bring them back to the hotel. That was in 2012 and 2013, but despite the best efforts of the hotel and sponsors and WON to draw folks to a great fishing and party town, the tournament turnout was low the first year, and was worse the second.


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ENSENADA IS HEATING up with yellowtail action just off the marinas, as well as other species mixed in like this white seabass, an estimated 60 pounder caught on a blue and white jig yo-yo’d off the bottom by the private boat Pedros Pato on Saturday morning. In the photo of the three anglers, Pat McDonell, right, Bill Regan of Vista in middle, and Wes Price of the Marina Coral marine store and owner of the Sea Adventure with three of the yellows caught Saturday right outside the marina on trolled Rapalas. And, Louie Prieto of It’s 4 Reels charter sportfishing with a 20-pound sheephead he caught this past week.

It wasn’t the fishing, it was the border wait, up to four hours on a Sunday after a tourney. And, to further put a crimp in the fun factor, Mexican customs authorities clamped down on the paperwork for American anglers and their boats. All new arrivals had to check in at the offices. Long lines, short tempers after making the drive. Despite the Coral Marina staff’s best efforts to streamline the procedure — they will transport you to the customs office a five-minute ride away — there is still a laundry list of legal requirements to fish in Mexican waters, whether you run south from San Diego by water, or drive your rig down Mex. 1 from TJ to Ensenada.


The old days of pulling into the marina, getting your slip and checking into an ocean view room and sipping a margarita by the pool are over. You can get your pool time in eventually, but first there is the trip to town to let the authorities know you are legal, and that your boat is too. FMMs, licenses, insurance, registration, passports, and a fancy import tax certificate good for 10 years you must already have or must buy for $100. It’s a lot of documents and they don’t take credit cards. I’m used to it, but for some looking for a shot glass and a lime, it’s a rude awakening.


On this trip I personally had a Mexican license, an import tax certificate linking my boat to my engine, a $5 biosphere wristband (for the Coronados) bought at Fisherman’s Landing before launching (you can get an annual online for $20), a $37 FMM, a visitors visa for those fishing on a vessel within 12 miles of land or island) and I also had to produce my boat registration, proof of boat insurance, and a passport at the marina. Most of all that red tape you can pre-purchase online through links available on the Sportfishing Association of California (SAC) website.


This reporter made the familiar run south and downswell to Ensenada last weekend, Bill Regan and I launching at Shelter Island on Friday, and running home at dawn Sunday morning before the winds kicked up. Short trip, yes. But here’s the deal: You can fish on the way down, fish while down there, and fish on the way home. My friend Bill and I shared the helm duties for the 65-mile run and it was a great weekend. It was a short trip, but I could not leave earlier than Friday and he had to be back Sunday morning. I would recommend four to five days for such a commitment.


We did not connect on yellowtail at the Coronados the first morning after buying cured dines from Everingham Bros that Friday morning so we headed south after working the middle grounds and then trolled to the Rockpile six miles below South Island. We endured 20-knot winds and arrived with a few kinks in the neck at the marina at about 2:30 p.m. and got a slip at the Coral. There are three Ensenada marinas but the Coral has great security, and peace of mind and a great hotel with amenities are worth it to me. A word about the Coral. Although we stayed on Wes’ boat and did not get a room, the hotel and marina are kept up to snuff and the ocean view suites and rooms are beautifully updated.


Our slip D50 was next to the Reel Adventure, where Wes Price and his longtime friends Rich, Mike and Elvin awaited. While the trio of Mike, Rich and Elvin live in Ensenada, Price owns the Coral Marine store and is at the Coral most weekends, fishing most days. I had not been down in three years, perhaps four. I’ve lost count, but Ensenada is always a great place to fish, dine and bar hop in town.


The fishing was just beginning to pop, as the tuna pen bait seiners had departed several days earlier, and the next morning our group trolled Rapalas in search of yellowtail just a few miles — if that — off the marina at a high spot called “Frietas.” Or something like that. The spot used to have kelp but El Nino warm water (and likely a proliferation of sea urchins) weakened the connections to structure and storms stripped it bare. Now a few strands leading the fight to reestablish a kelp forest are visible on the surface. While little kelp remains, the rock structure is still there.


Several charterboats and a few PBers like us on Wes’s sportfisher were on it Saturday, some scoring yellows on bait or surface iron. One boater, an American named Paul who keeps his triple-engine Grady-White Pedro’s Pato at the Coral, nailed a 60-pound white seabass on a blue-white jig yo-yo’d off the bottom. An impressive fish. One of his crew actually caught it. I suggested to Wes he should anchor on that spot on a calm night or two and target the big coastal tankers.


We were on a weird schedule due to paperwork and it being Easter weekend. Wes had to take Bill and I back to the marina just before 10 a.m. as we had to “sign in” at the customs office which was closed early Friday by the time we arrived and would be open only from 10 to noon on Saturday, all shortened hours due to Easter week. Juan from the marina took us and some sailboaters in a van to the customs office. Start to finish, it took about two hours, and we were back fishing after Wes figured out the pattern and worked the bird schools. We were hooking small barracuda and yellows by noon at Frietas, but eventually we moved in even closer to shore.


The 15 to 18 pounders were in just 30 feet of water just outside Ensenada harbor, and no one among us had seen the forkies that close in before. But they were indeed there. Actually, the owner/operator of the charterboat Gamefisher had tipped Wes off by radio that yellows were on the surface a few hundred yards off the breakwater as he was heading in for the day. We had several stops and three double hookups. We couldn’t get them to eat the iron or the live bait but they sure liked those deep diving Rapalas.


Rich and Ken carefully filleted them the yellows, while I bagged them, and we brought two of the fillet bags to the Coral marina patio for dinner, and the staff cooked them for our group three ways. Mike’s wife Dorothy joined us for a group of seven. It was a fantastic dinner enjoyed by this writer, who knocked down a few shots of Cazadores tequila… For medicinal purposes. Bill and Rich stayed back at the boat with Elvin. Wes and I headed into town, and we made two stops. One was the bar Tequila’s, owned by a friend Louie Prieto who also runs a charterboat It’s 4 Reels.


Louie knows the fisheries of Ensenada as well as anyone, and while I watched NBA playoff action and boxing he showed me some pictures of monster 20-pound sheephead he scored at his Punta Banda secret hotspot. He also showed off some 5-pound bonefish that he targets with 10-pound line and light tackle and bits of squid in the cruise ship harbor. These are a bigger grade bonefish than the ones in San Diego Bay. “They fight so hard for their size,” he said. “It’s crazy.” I showed him the picture of the 60-pound white seabass by Pedro’s Pato.


We made a second and final stop at “real Mexican bar” Elvin knew of, and it was just that, old, small, authentic and loud, Karoke going off, horribly in most cases, and eight young women were having a baby shower, and a nut job was dancing to every song like a drunk Michael Jackson. While we were drinking a beer, Elvin had his F250 truck washed for $3.50. Wes and I were pretty sure it’s why he suggested that stop. By 10:30 were back at Wes’ boat and I was getting to sleep for the 4 a.m. alarm and our run north in my skiff. By 8 a.m. after running 21 mph and trading off the helm duties for some snooze time in the bean bag (a must have), we were in San Diego Bay, dry, rested, with plenty of yellowtail fillets and soon were headed home for some family Easter festivities.


Ensenada is not for everyone, and for fewer folks these days, but for me it’s great fishing town with a party problem.


In other Baja action:


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PISCES FLEET CABO action was hampered by wind and swell this week, but when it was decent, small yellowfin and marlin were targeted with success.

CABO SAN LUCAS — The Pisces Fleet’s Rebecca Ehrenberg reported in with fleet stats: Overall catch rate success was — all species combined — 85 percent, billfish was at 17 percent, tuna had a 45 percent success rate and other species produced fish 33 percent of the trips. Most action was at the Jaime Bank, the 22 spot and the Golden Gate Bank, she said. Weather conditions saw strong wind on most days, with seas up to 4 feet. The average water temp was still just 72 degrees.


“April tends to have more inconsistencies in the fishing, compared to other seasons, and these past weeks have been hard to peg,” said Ehrenberg, “The fish have been moving quite rapidly and the bottom fishing and small game have gotten quite some pressure from all Cabo fleets because of it. The tuna on the other hand, have turned up again, even if far out and even if not the largest specimens. There still have been a few marlin releases, with 1 marlin released per boat on average, and a great day with 5 striped marlin released at Golden Gate. A few dorado sprinkled in to the catches of sierra, roosterfish, ladyfish, jack crevalle and yellowtail.”


The Bill Collector 2 went in search of marlin and released five total. The marlin ranged in size from 80 to 120 pounds each and hit on mackerel at the Golden Gate Bank. The C Rod also had a great day later in the week, releasing 1 striped marlin at Golden Gate along with 20 yellowfin tuna, all weighing between 10 and 20 pounds each on mackerel bait.


The Rebecca got on the tuna also, landing 16 yellowfin on April 16, although all were about football size, just outside of San Jaime, hitting on cedar plugs. Later in the week the Rebecca would land 2 of the only 3 dorado caught this week. Anglers Hilary Andrews and Naeem Khalid caught both dorado, about 15 and 20 pounds, outside of San Jaime on caballito bait. The Tracy Ann really hit the jackpot with tuna on their outing, landing 26 yellowfin about 42 miles out, close to San Jaime. Similarly, the Pisces 32-foot Bill Collector caught 20 yellowfin between 10 and 20 pounds each on cedar plugs and the 220 Spot and the same day, the 31-foot La Brisa boated 26 yellowfin, found at the 230 Spot, about 40 miles out, again on cedar plugs and feathers.


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A HEFTY MEXICAN Cabrilla wascaught over the shallow rocks by Paul Nagata from San Francisco who fishes with the Tailhunter Fleet every year. The big cabbie was taken on a slow-trolled Rapala.

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PAUL NAGATA FROM San Francisco makes at least one trip a year with Tailhunter in La Paz. He was fishing off the south end of Cerralvo Island with Captain Pancho of the Tailhunter Fleet in an area that had been producing some yellowtail in the shallow bank at South Point. Not having much luck on live bait, they decided to make one more drift over the spot although it was already late in the afternoon. The big tuna bit and towed the panga for two hours on 50-pound test but a very light rod. Paul and Captain Pancho handed the rod back and forth every 20 minutes. They had a scale and it weighed 108 pounds.

LA PAZ — Jonathan Roldan at Tailhunter International said, they had a “schizophrenic” Easter week of weather and fishing. Although the sun was out, they had four days of windy rough conditions and three other days that were reasonably fishable.


“Consequently, the fishing reports reflected the conditions,” he said. “The days when the weather smiled, we had some banner fishing with lots of variety that included some fantastic inshore fishing including trophy-sized cabrilla and pargo (big mullet snapper and barred pargo) as well as yellowtail, yellow snapper, several species of bonito and jack crevalle. Most caught either with live bait or slow trolling Rapalas over the rocky shallow areas close to shore.


“Additionally, blue water species like dorado and wahoo also bit and one of our anglers (Paul Nagata of San Francisco) nailed a big 108-pound yellowfin tuna (he had a scale) on a caballito that he fought for two hours. On the days when the winds slammed, we were reduced to trolling because bait was impossible to obtain. Winds also prevented us from getting to some of the hotter fishing spots. This coming week looks a little more promising.”


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THE EAST CAPE is still not producing in big numbers, but operations like Scorpion Sportfishing and the hotel boats are eager to get on the kind of fish they found last year, big roosters, tuna, and plenty of marlin and some delightful dorado.


EAST CAPE — Matthew Clifton of ScorpionSportfishing.com which runs boatsScorpion and El Regalo, reported Sunday, As I sit here writing this report, it is now around 80 degrees and a beautiful calm day. This, after another week of windy days. While this north wind has continued to blow much later this year than last, it looks like next week is going to get more into the spring/summer mode with hotter temps and less wind. That is just what the East Cape needs to get going.


“As far as fishing goes, with the wind and colder than normal water, there has not been much to hang your hat on. Sure, there have been a couple tuna caught. Some wahoo and yellowtail up around Isla Cerralvo. A marlin here and there. But, besides the roosterfish, the East Cape has yet to wake up. That is not necessarily a bad thing. When the water heats up too quickly it can bring fishing to a standstill by late summer. Personally, I think the 2019 season is going to be a great one.”


Clifton added, “I looked back on catches from last April and saw that we were well on our way with nice sized yellowfin tuna, striped marlin and big model roosters already on the chew. That should all be on the way soon. All it takes is a couple of warm calm days and the fishing could bust out any day. In fact, if you look back to the last El Nino year (which 2019 is), 2014 was an epic season on the East Cape with big dorado, big tuna, big roosterfish and plenty of marlin. We expect more of the same this summer and into the fall.”


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FIRST PLACE IN the Loreto La Mision Yellowtail Tourney was a $50,000 pesos for Los Compadres DelDorado III with a total weight of 69.300 kilograms.


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LORETO WAS PRODUCTIVE for WON reader Garrett Callahan of Newport Beach, seen here, who was joined by friends Gary Nordyke (also a WON reader) and Billy Case. They were fishing Loreto with the Mojito Fleet and caught six yellows to 34 pounds and this snapper.


LORETO — Rick Hill from pinchysportfishing.com said two big shifts have put the squeeze on fishing and fish catching this week. He said the yellowtail have for the most part shifted into the spawning mode making catching any a tough possibility.


“On top of that it looks like 9 out of 10 boats are hauling Semana Santa tourists out the Coronado Island's beaches for picnics and bikini parades. It's been a tough week on the water in Loreto! The next few weeks should see the end of the ‘nature activities’ and a return to chasing hungry fish.”



A fishing report came over the transom Sunday night to Baja@wonews.com from Garrett Callahan who said that on April 18 while fishing with Mojito Sportfishing out of Loreto Marina their group landed 6 yellowtail with the biggest one being 34 pounds and one dogtooth pargo.


“The day was zero wind and enormous amount of bait in the water,” reported Callahan. “Fish were caught on iron and live mackerel. A great trip!“


Pictured with the fish is WON reader Garrett Callahan of Newport Beach, also joined by friends Gary Nordyke (also a WON reader) and Billy Case.

In other Loreto news, lan Cesena with the La Mision Classic Yellowtail tournament reported the results of the third annual tourney that was held over the weekend with two days of fishing yellows, with the weights accumulated to decide the top teams.


First place worth $50,000 pesos went to Los Compadres delDorado III with a total weight of 69.300 kilograms, while second place was $30,000 pesos for fishing syndicate with a total weight of 63.400 kilograms. Third place was $20,000 pesos for team Blue Anchor with a total weight of 61.800 kilograms.

Chris Wheaton sent in a reminder that the Los Rancheros Yellowtail Tournament is slated May 2-5 at the La Mision Hotel, and he is directing the Annual Dorado Tournament, the Fishin’ For The Mission on July 11-14, also to be held out of the recently expanded La Mision Hotel.


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COREY AND KATE with a typical catch of good tasting but small bottomfish while fishing with Gordo Banks pangas.


SAN JOSE DEL CABO — Eric Brictson of Gordo Banks Pangas and Marina Puerto Los Cabos said for an Easter week the crowds are down, but weather is back on a warming trend with highs of about 85 degrees.


“We we felt unpredictable winds early in the week, coming from various directions, ocean water temperatures cooled down to 68 degrees, also greenish current pushed in. That time of year ocean conditions can vary greatly from week to week. It should settle down in coming weeks as warm calmer weather prevails.”


Brictson said quality sized sardinas showed up in the local marina channel area, the “nicest we have seen in a long time, also some moonfish and caballito.” Best action was found from Palmilla Point north to La Fortuna, Iman and San Luis banks with anglers mainly working the bottom structure with yo-yo jigs and various baits.


“We had good numbers of the Eastern Pacific bonito, some red snapper, cabrilla, pargo and amberjack rounding out catches. Catches of course varied day to day as to where the better action was found and at times wind was a factor as well,” he said, adding, “early week we did see a few yellowfin tuna in the 30- to 50-pound range brought in, but since we have not seen any more, neither did we see dorado, wahoo or marlin. As conditions rebound these species should start to appear more regularly in the daily fish counts.”


They also saw more numbers of sierra in recent days, the sardinas were the reason for this, sizes were also impressive, many fish over 5 pounds were accounted for. The Palmilla, Red Hill area was one of the better locations to find the schooling sierra. With the cooler water it was hard to find any roosterfish, he said, but this should change in the coming weeks.


The combined sportfishing fleet out of the panga area from Puerto Los Cabos Marina reported an estimated 62 charters for the week and anglers reported an approximate fish count of: 3 yellowfin tuna, 16 leopard grouper, 3 broomtail grouper, 155 bonito, 46 red snapper, 2 barred pargo, 4 African pompano, 12 yellow snapper, 8 amberjack, 72 sierra and 80 triggerfish.


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Contribute to the Baja report here and at wonews.com each week by sending any information during or right after the trip to baja@wonews.com or patm@wonews.com.


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