Jonathan Roldan – BAJA BEAT

WON News Column by Jonathan Roldan

WON’s weekly Baja columnist as WESTERN OUTDOORS magazine’s Baja

Backbeat, Jonathan Roldan came to Western Outdoors Publications after writing for numerous national and international publications and has been writing for over 30 years.

He worked in radio, TV and print publications for many years and then attended law school and practiced as a courtroom litigator in the the ‘80s and ‘90s. However, having been raised fishing, diving, hiking and camping all his life, the draw of Baja and writing lured him away. He moved to Baja Mexico in 1996 where he operates a Tailhunter International fishing tours in La Paz.

Jonathan Roldan can be reached at:

My hundred buck Christmas
These days, it’s kinda hard to stuff a stocking for under a hundred bucks. At least, to buy something meaningful and practical that isn’t a gag gift or gets re-gifted or donated to the church’s white elephant sale.

So, here’s my list. All under a hundred dollars and hovering around fifty bucks. So, all good, right?

1. Waka Waka Power Lights


FOR LESS THAN $100, the solar-powered Waka Waka Power Light will light your night and juice your phone.

No, this has nothing to do with Shakira’s hips. But, it’s pretty hip, nonetheless. About the size of a cellphone, you charge it from the sun. Leave it on the dashboard like I do, or the window. Always ready to go.

Once it’s charged, you can use it to charge your other devices when a plug isn’t handy. But wait… it’s also an adjustable reading light, table light or flashlight that can be used in a number of configurations. They gave these to kids in impoverished neighborhoods in third world countries that had no electricity so kids could read and families could function!

2. Safe and Secure


THE TRAVELSAFE pacsafe anti-theft portable safe pouch beats hiding things under your hotel room sink or under the mattress.

It’s a crazy world out there. And all it takes is one idiot. One moment of carelessness. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of pain and nothing truer than when you’re on vacation and vulnerable.

A number of companies make security backpacks that not only have secret compartments, but also have secure zippers and closures to thwart pickpockets and sticky fingers. Moreso, many are slash-proof so they cannot be ripped open by a knife or sharp object.

And for rooms, something like the TravelSafe anti-theft portable safe pouch beats hiding things under your hotel room sink or under the mattress. It’s not only slash-proof, but you can lock it to something like the clothes rack in the closet or other handy attachment.

3. Zip-lock Style Bags Are OK but…

Time to get a big-boy bag to keep your stuff dry. They come in all shapes and sizes. Custom fit for things like your smartphone or computer pad, but also just general sizes for just about anything else you want to stuff. And you can buy them just about anywhere these days including Walmart, Target or sporting goods stores. And, of course, online.

4. The Cold Bag Revolution

YETI and a couple of great companies started the soft-sided cold bags as an alternative to their popular ice chests. And, they are darned good. Like a Mercedes or Land Rover.

But, I can’t afford 300 bucks for a cold bag and this article is about keeping it under $100. I’ve been a fan of American Outdoors and Norchill for years. They make a variety of bags, but I especially like their soft-duffle bag styles. They’re not rigid and I’ve kept things frozen for up to 3 days in them. And they’re relatively cheap, under 100 dollars.

Leakproof and airline rated too. Great on a boat. My newest is the AO backpack version, but everyone borrows it from me. /


Pieces of paper under the Christmas tree are a bit like getting underwear for a present, but whoever gets these will surely be grateful.

On vacation, you never can tell what might happen. Getting refunds, especially in Mexico, can be pretty difficult if not impossible.

Trip insurance is cheap and a great safeguard in the event of something as big as your whole trip getting ruined because of bad weather or a cancelled flight or as small as getting sick and missing a day of fishing, a bad room or, heaven forbid a medical emergency.

In the event of a big catastrophe… serious medical… insurrection… volcano… tsunami… and you need the cavalry. Global Rescue comes to get you. And gets you out. Seriously. We’ve had a running policy for years, but you can purchase it economically for a single trip.

This is not insurance. No claim to file. Blow the bugle and they evacuate you with the best medical, military resource and get you home. (Yes, military!) Not just the nearest safe place. Home. No other charge.

And while you’re at it… a Mexican Fishing License! Don’t be looking over your shoulder. Online:

6. Something for the Library

Still one of my favorite Baja authors and my predecessor columnist at Western Outdoor News is Gene Kira.

His book The Baja Catch is always on my desk as an incredible reference to pretty much anything in Baja.

Kira’s other book is called King of the Moon. Trust me, for a fictional Baja book, it’s fine enjoyable reading and is based on folks you probably know. Check Amazon.

And don’t forget Tom Gatch’s great book, Hooked on Baja.

7. Buy ’Em a Satellite… or a Personal Spotter Plane!

Well, not quite the actual satellite or plane, but the usefulness of one.

Terrafin SST has been around for years. Utilizing hi-tech, your fisherman will now be able to pull up current sea-temperatures in any area in detailed satellite imaging graphics. Handy as heck and a true time-saver they’ll appreciate.

Jo! Jo! Jo! (Spanish style!)

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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

As it should be
This is my favorite time of year. Late September to mid-December is what I call down time here in Baja.

Most of the crowds are gone. Kids are back in school. Families have other things in mind and nothing on the calendar until Thanksgiving.

Recognizing that, there are some great bargains to be had if you work around that holiday. Airlines consider this “off- season” and have some great rates. Hotels are often well below capacity, so they offer great discounts or can be negotiable if you dial direct.

Free breakfast? Sure.

Spa time? We’ll add that in too.

Tickets to the buffet? Not a problem.

How about we throw in a discount for the booze cruise? Done deal! And an ocean-facing room too!

It’s also a pretty time to be down here.

Lots of sunshine, but 20 degrees cooler than the summer with much less humidity. How­ever, waters still retain much of the summer warmth. It can be breezy or even windy, but most times it’s postcard perfect.

In fact, we call it “non-weather.” It’s so agreeable, you never even think about the weather.

And many oft-crowded places are often empty. Beaches pretty much all to yourself. Restaurant staff falling all over you with service. No reservations needed. Stores willing to “listen to your best offer.”

For fishing, it can be spectacular. If you can avoid some of the major tournaments going on (or join in and have some fun!), often the waters are uncrowded with sportfishing traffic.

In fact, if you check out some of the lessor-visited destinations in Baja and Mexico, there’s very little fishing going on except for you! However, keep an eye out for the winds and try to pick your fishing days when the forecast calls for diminished winds.

Personally, especially as you get into late October and November, there’s just less hustle and bustle. Things slow down. There are fewer tourists around, so I think the whole place collectively just takes it down a notch.

You take slow walks. You ride a bike. You linger over your meals. You sip instead of gulp. You watch sunsets. You stop to chat instead of a quick, “Comos estas?” and then keep going to the next thing.

There’s no place you have to be right now.

The shadows are longer. The palm trees rustle in the breeze. There’s a sparkle on the ocean.

Someone is barbecuing carne asada down the street. Some­where there’s the lone mariachi trumpet wafting a familiar old Spanish tune you can’t quite place.

A young couple walks by in the distance. Barefoot in the sand. She giggles. He affectionately punches her in the shoulder. She giggles, tries to kick him back. They hold hands.

That was you so many years ago.

You put your feet up. You hold your cold bottle of beer up to the setting sun and let it shine through the amber glass. A sip of the icy golden effervescence refreshingly burns the back of your throat. Ahhhhh…

You wonder what the rest of the world is doing — or not.

You start to take a selfie — to send to the folks back at the office or post on Facebook. Look where I am!


That takes too much energy. Phone off and slipped back into the pocket of your cargo shorts. Another long draw off the long-neck. Living the dream.

No reason to move. At some point, you might have to explore where someone is cooking up that yummy carne asada. But not just yet.

There’s more important things to attend to. Like ordering another cold cerveza.

For just a little while, it feels like old Mexico again. And the world is as it should be.

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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

When bigger isn’t better
It’s always open for discussion, but personally, I don’t think any fish down here pulls harder than a tuna. It’s basically an explosive muscle with some fins on it.

Built for speed and shaped like a bullet, they have no swim bladders and can dive fast, swim fast, and empty a spool faster than any fish I’ve ever experienced.

Sure, wahoo have that flat-out greyhound speed of 60 to 70 mph bursts. But once that short burst is over, it’s not gonna rip off several hundred yards yards of line.

A yellowtail, amberjack, huge grouper or snapper might bull rush back to its structure or layer, but once you work the fish away from the protection, the big part of the battle is won.

And think about this. Folks catch 100-, 200-, 300-pound marlin quite frequently. You don’t hear of many tuna of that size being caught.

Hooked? Yes. Caught? Not so much!

Most anglers I know could bring a 150-pound billfish to the boat in 15 or 20 minutes. Even a rookie. A tuna of equal size could take an hour or two on the same tackle.

They are a special sportfish.

But, they are picky sportfish too. And when the big boys start boiling, your first inclination is to grab your big guns too! Big fish… big baits… big line… big rods.

And that all works fine when the fish go on the chew with abandon. When all hell is breaking loose and they’re hammering everything tossed in the water and fighting each other to grab lines, then by all means reach into your heavy arsenal.

But, often the frustration with tuna is they boil… but will have nothing to do with your offerings. Or they stay just outside of casting distance and get nervous whenever something approaches like a boat, a jig or a tossed sardine.

That’s when you have to make a choice. Stay with the heavy gear and be ready for the big hit… that may never come.

Or do something different.

Tuna are a persnickity fish.

Think about this. They never stop swimming. They must eat. All they do is eat to keep up that pulsing swimming physiology and high metabolism. But, how do you get them to eat YOUR stuff?

Go lighter. Go smaller. Be stealthy.

Discard the heavy gear and the prospects of having limp line all day and go to your “small game.”

I’ve seen tuna go off when all the angler did was change from 50- to 40-pound test. Or drop from 40- to 30-pound test. Same fish. Same area. That’s the only difference.

That puts more of the odds in the fish’s favor, but at least you stand a better chance of getting bent. At least you have that opportunity.

The other thing is to go for smaller baits. Dorado don’t care about your bait size. Wahoo and yellowtail could care less.

For some reason, tuna like the smaller baits. Live bait is great. Often, dead works just as well.

But that also involves other factors. Smaller baits mean using smaller hooks! Again, advantage to the fish.

Match your hook to the size of your bait. Don’t match your hook to the size of the fish you want to catch!

If your hook is too big, it kills your bait. If your hook is too big your bait won’t swim correctly.

And by the same token, if your line is too heavy, your bait won’t swim correctly either. Just another reason to go to lighter line. But again, you’re stacking the odds in favor of the fish.

One other big advantage involves the eyesight of the tuna. They can see lines. They can see the reflection of light on that mono as it lies in the water and that can make the fish wary.

We found down here in La Paz that fluorocarbon leaders can make all the difference in the world in getting bit. Virtually invisible, the line invites more strikes. But even a few feet of fluro leader gives you a better shot.

But again, fluro is more brittle than mono. Older fluro tends to also be more rigid and hinders the “swimability” of your bait. And it can break! There goes your gorilla tuna.

Choices… choices.

Heavy gear for that big fish, but maybe never get bit?

Or lighter gear and having some fun?

If your rod is never bent, then you’ll never have a chance at all. I’d rather get bit. It’s a lot less boring!

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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

Please steal my car!
So, this morning, I was checking out my “new car” here in La Paz. Proudly too, I might add.

You see, unlike back in the states, where everyone has several vehicles in their driveway, in Mexico where most people either do NOT own even a bicycle or depend on two legs or public transportation, we have a car. One car.

It’s a privilege. It’s independence.

In the times when we were without a car or our car was “in the shop,” it puts a real crimp in the lifestyle. Try running several businesses from several locations without transportation.

Imagine your own lifestyle if you had no car. It’s a pain in the rumble seat that we often take for granted.

Anyway, our new ride is a dandy.

It’s ONLY 16-years-old.

It’s a Honda CRV. The sun has taken most of its paint. The tires look like they still have a bit of tread on it. Three hubcaps. One blinker light broken.

The after-market radio doesn’t fit. It is held into the dashboard with two metal shims wedged into the sides of the radio to keep it from falling into the dark void behind the dashboard.

The A/C barely whispers and it tries hard to lower the ambient temperature. But, the windows do roll down. Not always a given.

And the car runs. Sort of. It over-heats on hills and long drives. Might need a new radiator. Or not. We just won’t take long drives over hills!

In 23 years here, I’ve had four cars. I’ve never had a new one. No 4WD desert beast. No fancy SUV. Just basic Baja transportation.

New cars are expensive. New cars get beat up by the desert, sand, salt and water. Baja roads take their toll. It carries fishing gear, ice chests, groceries for the restaurant and so much more. Every day.

So, we keep it simple.

We got the car from a guy who knows a guy. Who knows a local police officer. Who knows a guy that imports old cars from the U.S. Cash only. It may or may not have papers.

If you ever want to know where old American cars and trucks go when even the used-car dealer doesn’t want them, look to Mexico. Or cars that get written off by insurance companies after disasters like Hurricane Katrina where all the vehicle get submerged…well…they’re all down here!

So, we buy our car from wherever. Whomever.

One of my cars only had three seats in it. And two windows didn’t work. Another only two doors that worked and had two different colored carpets in it.

Our last “new” vehicle was 12 years ago.

It was purchased from a guy who desperately needed to leave town! Like RIGHT NOW! He already had a ticket for the ferry boat to mainland Mexico and said ultimately he needed to get to Guatemala.

So, he had to sell the car TODAY! Young kid who looked like someone might be after him. He wanted eight grand.

The car was an ancient Range Rover.

It actually had papers, but without time to inspect it and only time to test drive it around the block, I told him no way I’d pay eight grand. He pleaded. He had no choice. The ferry boat was leaving in a few hours.

We went back and forth. I got him down to $1,500! From $8,000! At that point, my wife said not to take further advantage of the situation. He gratefully took the money…and ran!

And that’s how we get our cars.

We take them to “Fernando the Mechanic,” who Jerry-rigs all the taxi drivers in town and can get cars running with duct tape and baling wire. He can make anything run for pesos and a case of beer.

He works out’ve his house. Little dead-end road near the arroyo. His wife runs a beauty salon in their living room. Fernando has the rest of the house. All the dogs in the neighborhood hang out there and the taxi drivers drink beer while they all visit and Fernando fixes their cars.

And off we go. Bouncing, creaking and rambling along.

And whenever something happens, Fernando can usually fix it.

Hehehehe…Sometimes we register it. Sometimes not.

You see the DMV down here is sometimes open. Sometimes not. You can wait for days. Sometimes you can wait months for registrations or license plates. So, lots of people drive illegally.

The cops know it’s tough to go through the DMV. So they’re pretty lenient most of the time. Live and let live.

So, we take our cars and use them! No coddling. Our cars are true Baja Burros.

When something, breaks, we call Fernando.

When the time comes and there’s simply no fixing our car any longer or not worth it, we literally ask someone to steal it!

We sometime just leave it where it had its last gasp or we get it to some back street corner somewhere.

We leave the keys in it. Doors unlocked. Windows down.

And it’s always gone the next day! SURPRISE! Hehehehe…

Some poor schmuck found a way to make it run or towed it. Or he used donkeys to haul it away! And now it’s HIS problem! Someone else thought they could make it run again. God bless ‘em.

I don’t have to haul it. I don’t have to junk it!

We never report it. Sometimes it’s not registered, so no big deal.

I’ve seen one or two of our cars from time to time around town.

One old minivan we'd had was in someone’s yard up on blocks being used as a dog house. Another was stopped on the side of the road with the hood up and the guy was pouring water into the radiator.

And I just smile. Glad someone was able to use it.

We find another car and start over.

Life in Mexico!

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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

A time when nothing was everything
Back in the day, I used to teach fishing seminars and give fishing classes at the venerable old Hotel Las Arenas east of La Paz and about 30 miles north of the East Cape. Sitting on a small hill on about 9 miles of beach, it looked right across at Cerralvo Island.

It’s been closed for many years now, but it was a gem.

Some sprocket guys from Europe in skinny, tight, black pants and “Flock of Seagulls” bleached-gel haircuts bought it to turn into a Club Med or something — “We don’t want ‘stinky fishermen’ in our hotel!” they told me — but it never got off the ground. LOL.

I’m glad it didn’t. The old girl was too good for that indignity.

The last 10 miles were on a dirt road. As the hotel was built on the reverse slope of a hill facing the sea, you never saw the hotel until you came over that last rise.

And suddenly you were there!

What a place. Old Mexico.

An oasis of two long, white two-story buildings nestled in the palm trees with curved tile roofs. An administrative building where Patricia, the manager, checked you in, assigned rooms and gave you the fishing schedule. (She loved getting a bottle of red wine!) And a dining hall, bar and the swimming pool.

Carry your own bags, Señor.

You know how hotels have marquee signs that tell you all the amenities they offer (pool… cable TV… etc.)?

The wooden sign for the Hotel Las Arenas would have been funny.

“Welcome to the Hotel!”

No designer beds. No laundry. No in-room coffee maker or hair dryer. No TV. No ice machine. No phones. No room service. No spa. No air.

What else did you need?

You kept the windows open and let the breeze blow through.

The hotel had thick old walls that held out the Baja heat and cool tile floors you could lie on after a long day of hot fishing. The tiles would simply pull the heat out’ve your body while a tired overhead ceiling fan bumped and whirred.

But, the hotel had the three most important things in a hotel back then. It had a bar.

It had a great bartender who had a mighty arsenal of all the drinks he could concoct. And Gabriel had a great memory. He not only knew everyone’s name, he could remember your favorite drinks.

And it had ice.

No craft beer. They had Corona, Pacifico and Modelo. They were cold and that’s all that mattered.

It had an old tile pool that was just deep enough to reach your shoulders. Any deeper and your beer would get wet. No one swam. That would have been bad form.

Everyone just sort of bobbed with a beer bottle in hand. It wasn’t a swimming pool. It was a bobbing pool. A dozen fishermen with a Corona-buzz going would have laughed you out’ve the pool if you started actually swimming.

No menu. It was whatever the great kitchen staff cooked. But it was always fresh and no one complained and always centered around homemade Mexican dishes the Mexican moms in the back whipped up.

Tacos… enchiladas… bistec ranchero… ceviché… guaca­mole… fresh fish and salsas… You have not eaten until you’ve had a Mexican mom cook for you!

You could always smell the fresh tortillas, chorizo and other spices across the compound.

Three hearty meals a day. If you missed one, you waited until the next one. It was always communal and a great social event. No one missed!

Breakfast was early because everyone wanted to get going fishing. Lunch was a bag carried down to the waiting pangas on the beach along with ice and your fishing gear. Those were exciting mornings.

Dinners were always fun and lively after a long, fun day of fishing.

You definitely did not skip dinner, which was always followed by bull-sessions around the pool, or back on your room balcony to watch the sunset over the ocean.

The lights of the hotel would wink on while the setting sun painted the Baja twilight.

With no TVs and in the halcyon days before laptops, iPads and smartphones, people actually talked. After a day of fishing, a full, happy tummy and some sipping tequila, there’s nothing better than fun conversation among fishing friends.

No one retreated to isolation unless it was to sleep or read a good book.

With nothing else around, darkness would come quickly.

But the ambience always held the congeniality of a campground as ambient laughter or the sweet smell of someone’s cigar wafted through the evening.

Like all fishing trips, mornings would come early — sometimes too early.

With no alarm clocks in the rooms or cell phones to set a wake-up, one of the staff would knock on your door about 4:30 a.m. to tell you to come down for breakfast.

One evening, I had just gone to bed. Having about 20 anglers there at the hotel taking one of my seminars, I was beat.

When you’re tired, the nights go quickly. It seemed like I had just gone into deep sleep when I got the wake-up knock on my door.

I opened the door and Salvador, the night manager, told me it was time to get up. It was still dark. Of course.

So, I sleepily went around from room to room and woke everyone up as was my habit when I had a group. I then went back to my own room to get ready for the day and get down to breakfast so we could get to the boats.

It was then that Salvador came running frantically up to my room — in a panic. It wasn’t 4:30 in the morning. It was only 2 a.m.!!!

Salvador’s battery-operated clock in his office had stopped.

Guys were already coming down with fishing gear… bleary eyes… and looking for the coffee pot. If anyone had actually looked at their wrist watches, they’d have figured something was wrong. But no one questioned the wake-up!

He and I crazily had to run around to all the rooms to tell everyone they could go back to bed! We also had to tell the hotel staff as well, as they had already started cooking breakfast! Turn off the ovens and stoves! Put the eggs back in the fridge!

There was a little grumbling and a few choice words were thrown my way, but everyone was more than happy to go back to bed — myself included.

I can’t imagine that happening these days at a Hilton or a Wyndham Hotel.

Old Baja, back in the day. You really had nothing, but you also had everything.

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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

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