St. Croix


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:

Musicos de la Noche
I don’t get to see many movies. Especially living in Baja and with our lifestyle, we barely ever get to watch TV, let alone catch a movie.

And that’s with a bar that has 13 TVs in it — we’re always running!

However, Jill and I recently got to sit down for a moment and catch the movie, “Yesterday.” It’s a romantic English comedy about this guitar-playing singer who has spent years trying to “make it big.”

He just can’t seem to get it going.

He’s ready to quit and go back to being a teacher. On his way home after a failed gig, there’s a mysterious global blackout and a bus accidentally hits him in the dark. He’s hospitalized.

When he wakes up, he takes to his guitar and plays the Beatles’ iconic song, “YESTERDAY” for some close friends and they are mesmerized. They have been his friends and supporters for many years, as friends do. But none of them were delusional about his talent.

But, now their mouths are dropped open.

Absolutely blown away to be more precise. He protests and keeps insisting it’s one of the greatest songs from the Beatles.

Beatles? Who are they? Some kind of bug?

As it turns out, the whole world has never heard of the Beatles and suddenly this guy starts playing all the Beatles hits…

“I Wanna Hold Your Hand”

“Back in the U.S.S.R”

“She Loves You”

“Hey Jude” (although the record company wants him to change the title to “Hey Dude”)…

… and the whole world goes crazy for him and thinks he’s the biggest singer-songwriter in the history of the world. A fun movie and I won’t kill the ending for you!

But, it reminded me of a story… of hidden talents.

Many, many years ago, I was invited by a bunch of our captains to come over one evening for some beers and tacos. Nothing formal. Just a bunch of the boys.

Sounding like a good idea, I drove out to the remote area where many of the captains and their families lived.

I had left the lights of the city miles behind in the rear view mirror. The night was chilly and clear.

It took a bit of navigation to find the little pueblo nestled in the darkness of the low hills and shrubbed trees a few miles back from the beach.

I followed the stab of my headlights through the dust of the gravel road and found the little clearing behind a group of block houses.

The guys were already there, mostly lit up by propane lights that were hung from trees and surrounding an old brick barbecue. I probably could have found the place just by following the aroma of cooking meat over smoky mesquite and the laughter of beer-driven voices arrayed in plastic chairs around the fire.

An instant welcome with lots of hugs and handshakes. A plastic chair was shoved under my butt near the crackling fire.

A cold can of Tecate thrust into my hand pulled from a tattered scuffed ice chest.

Psssssst! Pop that beer, and even in the dark, watch the icy smoke rise before tipping it back and feel that wonderful icy burn in the back of my throat with the first sip. Nectar of the gods for sure!

It’s the Mexican equivalent of happy hour.

Just like any other workplace. The workday is done, and it’s been a good one. Put your feet up. Loosen the belt. Put on the kick-back clothes and some old flip-flops on the dirt ground.

No boss or employee foolishness. Just one of the guys. And it feels good to be included. And welcomed.

Cracking some beers. Shop talk and jokes. Easy conversation. Knee slapping laughter. Letting fly the occasional unapologetic burp — or worse!

Grilled meat and fresh tortillas with salsa served in mismatched plastic bowls on a makeshift plywood board on concrete blocks. Delicious goodness dripping down chins and wiped with shirt sleeves. Sluiced down with another beer.

The family dogs press noses against pants legs eagerly hoping for something, anything from greasy fingers. The chickens know to keep a low profile in the bushes.

Life is good around the fire.

And you think it can’t get better until someone pulls out a guitar. And starts strumming a few notes. Hmmm… that note buzzed a bit.

A little adjustment on the tuning and a few chords from a familiar rancho song… you wish you could remember the name of it.

But yup, that’s Captain Alfonse pulling chords out’ve a guitar that looks like it’s seen more than a few campfires. Maybe even more beat up than Willy Nelson’s guitar.

A longing tune about a missing love.

Alfonse has worked for us for years and you had no idea. A few sing along. Others stare into the fire with smiles.

The last chord drifts off with the final words to the song. Andale, amigo! Applausa, applausa, as beers are lifted.

Then Captain Mario produces another guitar. His cousin goes back to the house for an accordion. Captain Yonni pulls a fiddle from his rusty pick-up truck and Captain Bujo and his son pull some old maracas and a scratched trumpet they were hiding someplace.

Pickin’ and grinnin’ Baja-style. And here we go! Uno… dos… tres…

A few simple songs at first. More beer and the music and songs get tighter along with the voices!

Who knew about such hidden talents way out past the city lights! Just incredible musicians. My mouth drops open.

Happy songs, sad songs, drinking songs. Anyone not playing is singing or clapping rhythms.

Wives and kids join in. The dogs wag happy and even a few chickens come out. One couple dance a well-practiced rancho two-step in the dirt with neighbors clapping time.

Sheer joy and simple pleasure of songs and companionship with neighbors, compadres and family, in the dusty glow and iconic hiss of the propane lamps and a communal campfire.

I don’t know the words, but can’t help it when maracas are put in one hand and beer in the other. I can sing, “La-La-La” as good as anyone when I’ve had enough beer.

And it feels good to join in and just let go. Loud as you want. As off-key as anyone and laughing your head off about it with good friends.

It’s the best of nights. It’s the kind of nights you too rarely find any more. Neighbors just getting together to sing, drink beer and laugh. Maybe like our grandparents did back in the day.

Before internet. And TV. And everyone behind their own little closed doors not even knowing your neighbors.

Tomorrow is another workday. But today is today, and the music seems as if it’s being carried to the sky by the sparks of the fire. Little pinpoints of light and harmony up to the stars.

Who knew?

Music out where the streetlights end and the dusty road begins. And hidden talents under the desert sky.

* * *

Jonathan can be reached at his Tailhunter Sportfishing Fleet in La Paz at

• • • • •

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.

Family planning
This is the time of year when lots of folks are planning their fishing vacations to Mexico for the coming year. Conversely, this is the time of year when folks like us — who run fishing operations — answer a lot of questions.

With increasing frequency, we get numerous questions about bringing family members in general and kids, in particular. More and more, it’s not Ralph and the buddies coming fishing anymore. Now it’s Ralph and his family, or Ralph and his son(s).

Indeed, with travel increasingly easier and with many more family-friendly facilities, it’s a no-brainer to want to bring the family or introduce them to south-of-the-border fishing.

But, let’s focus on the kids for now.

Ultimately, you know your kids better than anyone. I hope.

You would think.

But, honestly, after 25 years, nothing surprises me. There are some parents that seem to have no clue about their kids. If the outdoors or fishing isn’t of any interest, you can’t drag them kicking and screaming onto the water.

No judgment. But, it’s not for everyone.

I don’t like cherry tomatoes. I don’t like wearing wet socks. I don’t dislike baseball, but I’d rather watch a football game. I get it.

Some little girls we see down here are way more into the outdoors than their brothers. They carry rods. Bait their own hooks. Love getting dirty.

And that’s way cool too. But, the brother might be a math whiz. Also very cool.

But if you are bringing them down and plan to go fishing, remember that it’s all about them... not YOU.

Some folks forget about that. It’s not about you catching the most fish or the biggest fish. It’s not about seeing how much beer you can drink on the boat and letting the captain or deckhand do all the work and babysit.

Remember that a lot of us got interested and love this sport because probably someone older and smarter and more experienced like our own dads, an uncle, an older friend or brother took the time with us.

Take the time with them and make it a positive experience.

First and foremost, see to their safety and comfort.

Make sure they understand about the ocean and water. It’s a bonus if they can swim, but maybe this is their first saltwater experience.

Most operators in Mexico don’t have kid-sized flotation devices (life jackets). It’s impossible. Kids come in all sizes.

If they do have kid-sized flotation devices, they are bulky and uncomfortable. So go out and find a flotation device they can wear comfortably all day.

Also, you would think common sense would prevail, but you’d be surprised.

Don’t forget sun protection like SPF lotion (and it really helps if you put it on regularly). Hats, sunglasses and long-sleeved shirts keep them comfortable. A painful sunburn later on isn’t going to help or enhance anyone’s vacation.

If the boat has shade, encourage them to stay in the shade as much as possible.

Further, gear the trip to what they can reasonably handle and have a good time.

It doesn’t do any good to take a first timer out in rough weather and big seas on a 30-mile boat ride to the fishing grounds. You prove nothing and you might end up with a sick kid who wants nothing more to do with your “idiotic sport.”

Nor does it help to put the youngster into a situation they’re not ready to handle or one that doesn’t lead to positive results.

For example, I know very few adults that can handle 100-pound tuna. Let alone a first-timer. Let alone a youngster who has never caught anything maybe larger than a bluegill or stocked rainbow trout.

Gear the trip to their experience and fun level.

Bring lots of good food and drinks too. No one knows better than you how good food tastes when you’re outdoors. Some of my best memories as a kid fishing wasn’t always the fishing. It was the great lunches my mom and dad always set up for the picnic or on the boat.

Do the same! In between fishing, it’s a great time to share a bite.

Several years ago, we took our 2-year-old grandson out on a panga. He was still in pampers.

But we picked a calm day and took him close to shore. Waters were shallow, clear blue and he could see the fish under the boat.

We held the rod and reel and he turned the handle, but he got the idea pretty quickly and really enjoyed catching fish (and playing with them in the bucket).

We also released fish too. We pointed out birds and dolphin and other boats.

We didn’t stay out long, and then took him to the beach to swim and splash around. All-in-all a good start and a positive day for all of us!

We taught him about “high-fiving” and saying things like “BOO-YAA!”

Encourage, praise and be excited. You’re grooming a new fishing buddy!

And we took lots of photos.

By all means, take lots of photos. You’re only passing through this way one time! Make it special and hold onto those memories of a lifetime.

• • • • •

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.

Yes you can
If you’ve already fished in Baja or Mexico or are an old hand south of the border, my column this week might be pretty elementary. You might want to click or turn to the next page and read something else.

My wife Jill and I are on the trade show tour right now. I’ve been doing these fishing / hunting expositions now going on 30 years.

From just after Christmas until almost Easter, we’re on the road. We criss-cross pretty much all of the western United States in our vehicle and, in our booth, appear at these shows. We just finished shows in Denver and Sacramento.

And, I am writing this from our hotel room where we stopped for the night. Tomorrow, we hope to hit Seattle, where we’ll set up for the next show.

At these expos, of course, we’re promoting our own operation in La Paz, Tailhunter Sportfishing. But, I see us doing more than that.

I hope we are also good ambassadors on behalf of Mexico when we are in the U.S. In the same way, I hope we are good ambassadors for the United States when we are at our home in Mexico.

Sure, it’s great if folks wanna ask us about spending vacation time with us fishing and letting us set it all up. That’s our business.

However, I’m more than happy to chat with anyone about Mexico and Baja. I don’t claim to know everything, but in almost 30 years living in Baja, I’ve picked up a few things and tidbits of knowledge.

Folks have questions about road conditions. I had one lady think she could drive from Cabo San Lucas to Loreto in about an hour because it was only “2 inches distant” on the map! That kind of thing (in reality, it’s an all-day drive).

They’ll have questions about the food. Or lodging. Crossing the border. Passports. Medical care. Living in Mexico. Even about fishing in other parts of Baja.

Happy to do it! For whatever my two-cent opinion is worth. If I don’t know, at least, I hope to point folks in the right direction.

And, of course, there’s the usual question that makes me grit my teeth and try to smile.

For instance, just the other day at the Sacramento show, I had someone ask me when is the best time to fish the “salmon runs” in Baja.

Or the guy who walks up to my wife and I standing in our colorful booth adorned with fish picture and videos playing and asks, “So, is the fishing any good there?”

Uh, no.

We’re just standing in the booth for 10 hours and 4 or 5 days a week because the fishing sucks. That’s right up there with the gent who walked up to the booth and said, “So, uh… you guys fish down there in La Paz?”

Please walk to the next booth sir. They’re from Alaska. Their booth has bear and moose and deer photos, and go ahead and ask them if they have hunting there.

But, one very sincere and genuine question I get asked is about taking fish home. When I tell them they are absolutely allowed to take fish home, I am genuinely surprised at how many are shocked.

Many have fished all over the world, but never in Mexico. In many places, it is all catch-and-release. Or they have very restrictive catch regulations.

I always explain that Mexico also has regulations and yes, there are limits. And limits are meant to be observed.

However, within limits and only taking what you can reasonably eat, you are very welcome to bring fish home. In fact, that’s one of the big draws of fishing in Mexico.

Generally speaking, I tell them they are allowed to take up to 10 fish per-person-per-day, and with some exceptions, up to 5 of any one species.

We encourage catch-and-release, and if possible, releasing juveniles and females as well as roosterfish, billfish and small rockfish.

However, there’s no size limit as it can be a 1-pound fish or a 100-pound fish. All the same.

That usually produces some real smiles.

I have also fished in places where all fish had to be released. Or, I was only allowed to take one fish and it had to be consumed that day. Or, the catch went to the crew of the boat and if I wanted any, the crew would sell some back to me.


I’m all for releasing fish and only keeping what you can reasonably use.

The last time Jilly and I fished for dorado, we caught 99 in three hours! We only kept two small ones for dinner with friends and let all the rest go. Easily done with barbless hooks!

However, in chatting with folks, they tell me they have always wanted to give Mexico a try for fishing.

They know it’s a great value and very close. However, thinking they could not take any fish home was a game-changer.

Now you know, and yes you can!

* * *

Jonathan can be reached at his Tailhunter Sportfishing Fleet in La Paz at

• • • • •

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.

The gift
It was the most fun 6 guys could have in a grocery store in Mexico. And I had fun watching them.

Y’know Christmas lasts beyond Dec. 25th in Mexico. People traditionally exchange gifts and celebrate until Jan. 6th. That’s the feast of the Epiphany when historically the three wise men visited the Christ child in the manger.

It got me thinking about gift giving that I had witnessed over the years in Mexico.

More than 20 years ago, there was a group of guys who all worked together. Some years there would be 10 guys. Other years, as many as 30 who all came down for a few days to fish with us in La Paz.

Over the years, they developed a tradition of gifting the community. Specifically, they would make a donation to the old folks nursing home in La Paz.

As one of them told me, “Everyone donates to the kids or the orphanages or the church, or poor. But everyone forgets the old folks!”

He was right.

In many families, grandparents stay with the nuclear family. Everyone lives together a long as they can. Often 2, 3 or even 4 generations all taking care of each other.

However, for whatever reason, there are many who have no one to care for them. They go to the old folks home.

If you ever have a chance to visit, it’s pretty depressing. No TV. No barbecues on the patio. No “bingo night” or “afternoon crafts.” No “day trips to the shopping mall” or “hair salon.”

Basically, these poor folks sit propped in a chair or leaning against a wall. Waiting. Watching. Last time I was there, no one was even talking. Many just stared blankly with barely any recognition.

It was like an old movie projector. You could hear the slight hum. But the projector light just wasn’t turned on.

Conditions are sparse. This isn’t Senior World by any stretch.

The caretakers seemed to care and did the best they could with limited resources, but there’s only so much that can be done.

In the few times I have visited, I never saw a visitor. The only visitor was permanent loneliness and solitude.

So, these group of guys started to make a point of doing something about it.

Every year, they would decide that one day of their fishing trip, no matter what they caught, all of their catch would be donated to the seniors. Quite a gift when it seemed like mostly all they ate were beans, rice and tortillas!

They would also take a collection up from their other co-workers.

Using the money, they would run through the grocery store. Each of the guys with an empty shopping cart!

In went produce!

In went milk and cheese!

In went whole turkeys and hams!

In went frozen bags of shrimp and fish!

In went big bags of beans and rice!

In went shampoo and soaps… socks… and underwear!

If you’ve ever seen “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and watched how things were literally sucked up by the Grinch with such glee, that’s how it was with these guys! It was fun to watch!

Carts were piled as high as could be and they laughed all the way, running up and down the aisles.

I spied one of the guys down one aisle happily packing cartons of beer and cartons of boxed wine as well as some cakes and pastries!

I looked at him quizzically.

He laughed and said, “Hey, they’re old. They ain’t dead! Might as well enjoy the time!”

Well, amen to that!

It took two vans to pack it all up.

Upon showing up at the senior’s home, it was indeed like Christmas.

Unloading the bags of boxes was better than watching kids unwrap presents! Some of them cried. Many of them hugged and shook our hands as they said “Gracias” over and over. And “Que Dios te bendiga.” (God bless you!)

At least for a moment, the lights came on in this small place in Mexico and in the lives of some forgotten folks.

And then… the first things they cracked open…

The beers and wine of course! And we had one with them then drove away with even bigger smiles. And it wasn’t from the beer.

• • • • •

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.

Running leaner
There’s that old saying, “Better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.”

If you’re a fisherman like me, you’ve got toys. Lots of toys. And we like to play with our toys and surround ourselves with lots of our toys. Deep inside, we’re still little boys.

Just the way we are.

So, when I go on fishing trips, I want to bring all my toys with me. Bring the whole garage full if possible. And use them all too.

And you want back-up gear for your backup gear.

A 3-day fishing trip to Baja?

Well, let’s see.

Eight sticks… 2 trolling rods… 4 bait rods… 2 jig sticks. Check.

Of course, that means 8 reels to match. And 3 extra reels in case there’s a malfunction, like if a handle falls off or you burn out the drags. Check.

Terminal tackle:

— 50 hooks of each size

— 20 jigs in all colors and shapes

— 5 pounds of lead

— 20 trolling feathers

— Squid jigs

— Large, medium and small rod belts / harnesses

— Leader material in all sizes from 10- to 100-pound- test

— … and of course, something to carry it all in. Check.

— 100-quart ice chest? Check.

Over the years, I’ve seen anglers bring some other weird stuff too!

— One guy brought his own anchor.

— Another brought a machete.

— A fish-finder and battery.

— A large, battery-operated bait tank.

— A fish caller that made sounds underwater to “call fish.”

— A harpoon. Yeah… a full-sized harpoon.

C’mon, man!

But, in all honesty, it’s great to have it but for just a few days on the water, how much do you really need? How much will you realistically use?

Especially in these days of airlines increasing the restrictions on the size and weight of luggage and the prohibitive fees for exceeding those restrictions, it’s time to re-evaluate.

If it’s you and a buddy, consider combining your gear, as much as it hurts to share. Put all your rods in one container. Share hooks, jigs and other equipment.

Downsize! There are some great travel rods out there these days that will literally fit in an overhead compartment.

Ask your charter operator what you really need. Maybe they already have some or all of your gear and it’s good stuff. Leave what you don’t need at home.

If you’re chasing dorado, there’s no need to pack a Penn 50W International. Match your reels to what you will realistically be targeting. Or consider bringing lighter gear and use the heavier gear provided.

For taking fish home, consider soft-sided coolers. Hard-side ice-chests weigh a lot with absolutely nothing in them. Soft-coolers weigh only a few pounds and you can put a lot more fish in them and still stay under the airline weight restrictions. Plus, they’re a lot easier to haul around too.

I’m not talking about cold coolers like you bring ice cream home from the market or keep your drinks cold at a tailgate picnic. These are genuine cold bags that are often airline-rated and will keep your fillets frozen for many hours, or even a day or two.

These coolers are also great on a boat. They will keep drinks and ice colder longer than a hard-sided cooler. Plus, again, a lot easier to handle than a hard-sided cooler.

You also want to check your airlines too. Some, like Southwest, allow for free bags. Others might be cheaper, but charge a lot for luggage and especially for being over-weight or over-sized.

One other thing, consider leaving some of your gear behind for your captain or crew. It’s a great goodwill gesture, although it should NOT be done in lieu of a tip.

Gear is expensive in Mexico and would be extremely welcome as a gift. Do you really need to drag home all that lead or 10 jigs? It will help lighten the load home.

Either way, leave the harpoon in the garage!

Jonathan can be reached at his Tailhunter Sportfishing Fleet in La Paz at

• • • • •

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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