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Gary Graham – ROAD TREKKER

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Thursday, May 2, 2019
Don’t know Jack?

Rooster Fever
As Baja 2019 has unfolded, the roosterfish action has become more and more impressive. For the past month and a half, both size and quantity have been extraordinary. Anglers using both fly and conventional tackle from the beaches as well as fishing aboard pangas, from Muertos Bay and East Cape to Cabo and up on the Pacific side, have been bringing in some trophy-sized fish.

In the early ’70s on my first road trip to Baja, after camping with my friends on different beaches along the way, when we reached Rancho Buena Vista Hotel, we pooled our cash and rented a room for the night. Although there was a lot to like about the iconic hotel made famous by Ray Cannon in his Western Outdoor News column, on that night, the hot showers were the most welcome and memorable.

WHOEVER SAID DIAMONDS are a girl’s best friend... “I’ve never been fishing for roosters…” - Cortney Brown

The next morning, we sat at the long tables in the dining room that were built to accommodate family-style meals. As luck would have it, Chuck Walters, one of the owners, sat at our table. After introductions were over and we described our trip thus far, we asked the obvious question. “How’s fishing?”

Walters excitedly described the wide-open sierra bite that the guests were enjoying on the boats.

We explained that we were more interested in fishing from shore. At that point, he abruptly arose, picked up a spinning rod I hadn’t noticed, and purposefully headed out the door, across the porch to the beach, where he energetically flung the chrome lure at the end of his line into the Sea of Cortez. Of course, the three of us had trailed along after him, chatting as he made cast after cast.

Halfway through the retrieve on one cast, a strange-looking dorsal fin appeared. Walters set the hook on the first roosterfish I had ever seen! While it wasn’t huge, the pugnacious rooster fought as Walters muscled it to the shore and then released it.

Thus, began my fascination with the roosterfish that prowled the Baja beaches in search of food.

For those of you who have roosters on your bucket list, now is the time to consider a quick trip to Baja to tick that box!

“Roosters are so unpredictable, whether you are trying from a boat or shore. Everything has to come together. They bust the surface and most often disappear. Is it a wonder that fishing for them is so addictive? -Gary Bulla, Flyfishing Adventures

Bulla’s groups fishing large anchovy-like flies have scored on trophy-sized roosters at Muertos Bay since mid-April and his reports are filled with consistent catches of roosters, as well as a few other surprises – like a wahoo on the fly.

“This is the first time we have landed wahoo on the fly here that I have witnessed, and I am looking forward to it happening again,” Bulla grinned.

Farther down the coast at East Cape, there seems to be a similar number of roosters cruising the beaches. While there have been glowing reports of “personal best” roosters for several dedicated anglers, there are also reports of beaches crowded with competing anglers.

The 30 miles of rugged beach stretching along Baja's East Cape down the Sea of Cortez are deceptively beautiful until you realize this beach is an insurmountable barrier with unthinkable obstacles that are seemingly designed to protect, or at least level, the playing field for its most sought-after quarry – the roosterfish.

Large roosterfish, or in Spanish, pez gallo, is the prime beach target on any tackle. They are often oblivious to any offering, which makes even the refusals memorable. Their “takes” demand a checklist of do's and don'ts. Even for the most seasoned anglers, let alone for a novice, this is daunting.

At times, roosters will be well beyond casting distance, feeding on a bait school which will charge the shoreline providing the angler the opportunity for a good presentation. When roosters are in full-feeding mode, they are far more apt to make aggressive moves on the presentation.

With the bright Baja sun overhead, East Cape beaches seem almost like flats fishing for permit or giant trevally. Many believe the best time to fish roosters is from mid-morning until mid-afternoon. Spotting “grandes” betrayed by their shadows on the bottom is sight casting at its finest with any tackle.

Techniques vary. Finding schools of bait along the shoreline, then sitting high on the berm, is an easy way to spot incoming roosters.

For the more athletic, racing up and down the beach to crashing fish can be productive and great fun, but it is also exhausting and can be frustrating! Like hunting, it is important to be in position and ready when the opportunity arises. But getting on the fish and hooked up is worth it.

Blind casting is a low-percentage effort. Big roosters are on the move all the time. So blind casting is hit or miss at best. Can it happen? Of course it can. It's just not the wisest way to spend your time.

Catching the large roosters requires reacting to each fish as an individual experience. Some come in hot and fast, others slow and deliberate, and still others change their energy level mid-retrieve. Anglers must adapt their retrieve speed to keep a fish hot and focused on the fly or lure. Remember: take your time — don't rush the fish!

If your “Rooster Fever” is an itch that needs to be scratched, the 2019 Baja season is more than likely your opportunity for lots of chances at larger-than-usual roosterfish.

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