Gary Graham – ROAD TREKKER

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020
Baja’s Gray Whales…an offseason adventure
Thursday, February 6, 2020
Ever-changing field of dreams

Catching vs. wishing
When a Baja regular is asked about fishing in the area, it’s almost a given the response will include an enthusiastic inventory of the exotics — possibly six species of billfish, several types of tuna, dorado, and wahoo.

However, locals and regular Baja fishermen understand that the fishing for “exotics” can go sideways for one reason or another, and the bite will shut off.

YOU ‘WANNA GOTTA be careful to keep everyone happy. There’s always something biting.

When that happens, anglers and crews will attempt to do whatever they can to generate a bite. Occasionally, the endless hours of trolling can pay off, but more often, that process ends up in frustration for a boatload of people who are ready to play the blame game.

While chatting over a beer on our porch one evening many years ago, Captain Jesus Araiza observed (and I have quoted him many times since), “You wanna gotta be careful to keep everyone happy. There’s always something biting.”

At a San Diego Rod and Reel Club meeting recently, Tony Belandres, husband of the club’s President, Mary Rogers Belandres, volunteered that some of their best Baja family trips were when triggerfish were the only fish biting. They discovered schools of these aggressive, good-eating fish close to shore, and like a perch on steroids, they usually found them in schools near shallow reefs out about a couple of hundred feet. Small lures, flies, live or dead bait, all work with these accommodating critters that bite almost anything on any tackle. Trust me, they can be real kid pleasers!

Like crab meat, the triggerfish has a sweet flavor, and because of their clean, white meat, when cooked, they are ideal for almost any standard fish recipe, including ceviche.

The giant needlefish derisively referred to as houndfish on the East Coast gained a certain amount of notoriety on the West Coast decades ago when author Ray Cannon declared them to be one of his favorite targets in Baja. I met Ray, and I assure you that he was all about catching — he was not about riding around all day looking for that one trophy fish! He was so taken with watching huge needlefish leap in pursuit of the slab bait he trolled behind the boat, that he dedicated an entire chapter of his book, Sea of Cortez, to catching the “scaly snakes.”

Jonathan Roldan of Tail­hunter International referred to the giant needlefish during a week when fishing was marginal; his report was about newbie clients who lacked any pre­conceived notions or expectations of local fishing — they just wanted to have fun and catch fish, which they did.

The Cortez grunt — that name doesn’t do them justice — is also caught from shore. Gene Kira, former WON columnist, and I once discussed dreaming up a sexier name, but it was not one of our most creative efforts. Our best shot was to add Cortez to grunt.

Many of the fish listed share a toughness that comes from living in a neighborhood where they are either predators or prey, they eat or are eaten! Ladyfish, often called sabalo by the locals, live up to their namesake “tarpon” in English. They are airborne at the first jab of a sharp hook and continue leaping until the hook is thrown or they are caught. They’re also the preferred food for giant roosterfish.

Known in Baja as “pargo,” there are nine varieties of snapper to target — blue and gold, Colorado, dog, golden, Jordan’s, mullet, red, spotted rose, and the yellow snapper. While technically not a snapper, the Mexican barred pargo is an­other bruiser that will save the day. Every one of these fish will rock you in a heartbeat until you learn to react to their lightning-fast bite and instant retreat into the rocks. The smaller fish pull hard, and as they grow larger, they are nearly unstoppable, combining stealth, strength, and speed.

Several years ago, I fished with a couple of friends from the East Coast who had snapper on their bucket list. They pleaded with me to take them to one of my snapper holes.

As they stood rigged and ready, I tossed out a couple of sardina. The calm water exploded as several double-digit-sized fish rose to the bait. There was whitewater everywhere as I hand-fed the hungry snapper.

I hollered, “Cast!” But both anglers had laid their flyrods down and watched, too intimidated by the feeding frenzy and the size of the fish to follow through.

Expanding your repertoire to include these often overlooked species will help sharpen your angling skills and improve your chances when that trophy-sized fish comes along. While none of the above will likely land you in an angling hall of fame, they might put you back on track where you are doing more catching than wishing.

• • • • •

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