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Jonathan Roldan – BAJA BEAT

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: riplipboy@aol.com.

When fishing isn’t so a-peel-ing
“Life is full of banana skins. You slip, you carry on.”

— Daphne Guinness


It’s been about 15 years since I last wrote about a subject that seems to keep popping up. And lately, I’ve had several folks ask about it.


Most folks say they’re not superstitious.


But, they’ll still wear their raggedy “good luck” basketball socks. They refuse to throw away their best bowling shirt.


Do you still have a pair of “tighty-whitey” underwear in your drawer that you won’t throw away even if it has no more elastic and your wife nags you about it?


Do you refuse to open your eyes when your team’s kicker lines up for the game-winning field goal because it’s “bad luck?” Still have your bloody-splattered fishing t-shirt from when you were in college when you were 100 pounds lighter?


So, what’s the deal about bad luck bananas and fishing?


To some, it’s just something to goof with and talk smack about.


I’ve seen guys “plant” bananas in their buddy’s tackle box or fishing boots. I’ve seen guys tie a banana on hotel room doors or toss a banana onto a buddy’s boat.


To others, it’s deadly serious. It’s grounds for fighting words and coming to blows.


I’ve seen boats catch fire. Bananas were later found in the galley.


I’ve been on boats where everyone is catching fish except the boat with bananas but start catching fish when bananas were tossed overboard.


I was working as a deckhand where a guy broke his leg in a freak accident. Bananas were in an ice chest on deck. Another time a guy had to be airlifted after having a heart attack on a boat that had bananas.


If bananas were found in the galley of any boat that I worked on or had chartered they were quickly discarded or discreetly “disappeared” at night when the boat was underway.


Rumor has it that Fruit of the Loom underwear used to have a banana on their label, but the banana was eliminated.


So, what’s the source of the superstitious myth?


There’s a number of theories.


Bananas Stink


Back in the days of sailing ships, fresh fruit and vegetables were pretty important. Having bananas aboard, the bananas ripen pretty quickly and emit a gas and odor that can quickly ruin the food stores of a crew. Lacking fresh produce on those long voyages could lead to malnourishment at best. At worst, death.


No Slowing Down


The fact that bananas ripen quite quickly could also give credence to the lack of fish caught on board. Speed was essential to cargo ships carrying bananas.


Normal ships could travel at regular speeds. Often crews would fish to supplement their diets and the diets of passengers.


Banana boats did not have that luxury. They had to scoot. No slowing down to troll. It was essential to get from point A to point B.


Word got out that you didn’t want to crew or travel on a ship carrying bananas because those ships “never caught fish!” Seems logical.


Hidden Critters


Bunches of bananas could often hide snakes, spiders and other creepy-crawlers that could get loose aboard a ship. Many areas in Africa also were home to a voracious wood-eating termite that could get loose when bananas were brought about those old wooden sailing ships.


A Dark Chapter


If you remember your history, banana boats were often used as slave ships. If you suddenly woke up manacled, crowded and in a dark place smelling of bananas, life was about to take a turn for the worse.


Davey’s Locker


Similarly, bananas float. When a ship would sink, among other things, floating bananas would often be indicative of the final resting place of a vessel.


Here’s another one…


Good To Be King


From my part of the world where my family originated, in Hawaii, only royalty were permitted to have bananas. A commoner found in possession of bananas could be grounds for execution… the ultimate bad luck!


So, what do you think?


I’m not superstitious, but you’d still better not bring bananas on any boat that I’m on! Why tempt luck?


* * *

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. 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.


One Star
It was my first Christmas in Baja almost 25 years ago.

It wasn’t where I really wanted to be. At least, not at that time of the year. Not really at that particular point in my life either. But there I was.


Sitting on my beat-up plastic ice chest. In the dark. In the moonlight on a chilly desert evening that was doing it’s best to creep through my thin sweatshirt and grungy army surplus pants.


I was in Baja. Kind of in the middle of nowhere. At night just off a lonely stretch of road not far outside a small fishermen’s pueblo.


Pretty much outta gas, outta money and out’ve prospects. And almost outta batteries in my flashlight. Great. Just great.


When morning hit, all I knew was that I’d be headed down the road to somewhere that only tomorrow knew.


Obviously, I also knew that I wasn’t going to be coming home for Christmas. Because well… for the time being my mini-van was home. Right here. Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine that I’d be in Mexico for Christmas.


Pulled off the shoulder on an empty highway.


My Christmas “dinner” that night was a sumptuous feast of canned chicken soup cooked on my single burner camp stove. Washed down with the last warm Coke I had sloshing in the melted ice water of my cooler.


And tonite, like many nights lately, I’d be hunkered in my old mini-van. Living large.


I unrolled my sleeping bag and shook it to make sure no critters had crawled in. The winter nights are cold, windy and clear in the desert.


Sleeping in the van stretched out among my gear wasn’t luxury. It was a necessity.


“Come to sunny Mexico!” say the brochures. “It’ll be fun!” they said. “It’ll be WARM!” they said. Someone screwed that up. Mostly me. Plans had gone catawompus… left of center.


This sure was a different Christmas.


No gifts. No family or friends. No Christmas parades or shopping. I would have been grateful for a cold turkey sandwich let alone a hot plate of mom’s roasted bird covered with gravy.


I used to bitch about hearing Christmas carols for weeks before Christmas. And the endless Christmas TV shows. And now it would be great to hear even one corny Rudolph song. One Frosty. One RUM-Pa-Pum-Pum little drummer boy.


Where are you Charlie Brown? I know how you felt when no one liked your little tree.


No cell phones back then. I couldn’t even call anyone to let them know where I was or how I was doing. Those were my “knucklehead days.” They weren’t talking to me much back then anyway.


I really didn’t need to hear, “I told you so…”


But still…


No gaudy Christmas lights. Nothing except a few lights coming from the hardscrabble little pueblo I had passed about a mile back down the road.


Just another typical dusty cluster of concrete block homes set in the saddle of some low hills. Mini-trucks that probably never had hubcaps and a rider-less kid’s bike left against a fence, probably when someone got called for dinner.


Just like me. Stuck in the middle of nowhere and not really going anywhere either. At least not this Christmas night.


Especially in the dark, a colorless Baja landscape except for the faded wind-scoured Coca Cola and Tecate signs someone painted a generation ago against a wall.


And some tired political graffiti about voting for somesuch guy who promised to change all this.


“I’m YOUR guy! Juntos por el Futuro!” (I’m YOUR guy! Together for the future!)


Right. Politicians and promises never change. No matter the country.


I had passed through the little place earlier, but decided it would be better to pull off the road outside of town. No sense causing a stir with a strange van parked on their road with an even stranger guy sleeping inside.


From my distance, there was surely no sense that it was Christmas. No colored lights. Surely no music or semblance of a holiday. Just me singing the blues in my own head.


No other lights except the stars on a clear dark cold night. The kind of stars you can see when there’s no other lights. And shooting stars too.


And one shooting slowly over that little town.


And a goofy thought.


About another town. Many, many years ago.


In the middle of nowhere. No lights. Maybe some non-descript block houses not unlike these.


Folks inside just going about their lives. Simple dinners over. Maybe going to sleep. Just another day. Snuff out the candle or lamp. Another night. Nothing changes.


Including the night sky. The same sky. The exact same stars.


Yeah. It’s the same night sky. Gotta be. Thousands of years. They don’t change.


Tried to wrap my tired brain around that one.


Maybe the only ones who took notice were some guys on the nightshift watching their animals. Guys like me, trying to fend off the cold.


Who looked up. Just like I was doing. Because there was really no place else to look.


The story says they saw something up there.


And maybe these same stars saw something as well. Down here. In a desert town. Middle of nowhere.


Somehow there was a promise that night. A hope? Maybe not graffiti’d on a wall. But something happened that night.


And these same stars were there. Back then.


And maybe some guys hanging on a windswept desert hill saw something up there too.


So say the stories.


Or maybe they were just tired and ate some cheap chicken soup.


That part wasn’t in the stories.


But it was getting colder and the wind was coming up. I climbed into my van and into my sleeping bag.


And, for some reason, Christmas wasn’t so bad or lonely anymore.


RUM-Pa-Pa-Pum…


* * *

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. 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.


Can’t have too much
In my last column, I had written about the fact that when fishing in Mexico, live bait sometimes just isn’t available. This can be especially true during the winter months due to weather or other variables that can’t be controlled.


So, what do you do? Cancel the trip and go back to your hotel room? Throw or troll lures all day?

Over the years, I’ve often been asked about bringing down frozen bait like squid. Frankly, I never say no. Even if there’s plenty of live bait available, if someone wants to bring some down or buy some, that’s fine by me.


It’s one of those things like being rich… or being too skinny… you can’t be too rich or too skinny — relatively speaking.


And in my book, bait is one of those things that it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. I’d rather have too much than not enough.


To me, the best universal bait in Baja is squid. Pretty much everything eats squid. There are even times when squid works better than live bait. For example, I’ve hooked some of my largest tuna on squid.


Trolled, chunked, cast, jigged… it all works. And it’s better than nothing and sometimes it’s better than anything.


But, you don’t just want any kind of squid.


Leave that frozen stuff they sell at the bait shop home. Fresh-dead squid is the best. Believe me, fish know the difference.


If it’s fresh caught and never been frozen, all the better. That would be my first choice.


Rather than bring it down to your Baja destination, see if one of the local markets has some fresh squid or the fish sellers at the farmer’s market in town. It’s not only fresh, but it’s as cheap as you’ll find it short of catching your own.


Absent that, if you’re bringing some from home, again, hit up the fresh stuff from the seafood market or fish counter at the supermarket. If it has to be frozen stuff, make sure it’s table quality squid that’s for human consumption.


To bring it down, you’ll have to freeze it anyway. If you have a vacuum sealer, great. If not, use small Ziploc-style freezer bags and portion it out, so you use only what you need for the day.


There’s nothing worse than defrosting a 5-pound chunk of frozen squid on a boat in an ice chest, bait tank or… in the sun!


It’s not only going to make a stinky mess, but at the end of the day, you’ll have issues with the unused squid and storing the goopy glop for the next day’s fishing.


Years ago, I had some fishing clients who forgot their defrosted squid in the trunk of their rental car. By the time they remembered it, it was late and after a few dinner margaritas.


They figured it would be okay. It was night.


Well, nights in Baja are still 85 degrees and the plastic bag leaked right into the trunk carpeting… right under the rear seats and into the floorboards.


Come morning, they couldn’t even get into the rental car without gagging. Good thing they bought insurance!


Once you have the squid ready to use, there’s no end to the techniques.


Slow troll a whole squid behind the boat.


Pin a whole squid or strips of squid to a trolling lure for scent and action and drag it behind the boat.


Pin some on a lure and cast or jig with it.


Send some down on a hook with a weight, dropper loop style, and a half-dozen reef beasts will be all over it including, pargo, cabrilla, grouper, snapper and more.


Chunk with it.


Cut it into chunks and toss handfuls into a slow current as you drift. In the middle of the sinking chunks bait up another chunk of whole squid on a hook.


With your line slack and in freespool, let your baited hook drift down with the rest of the chunks. This is a dynamite way to get hooked up.


Keep your line slack and in freespool so it stays with the rest of the chunks. If your line suddenly starts ripping up, remember “dead bait doesn’t swim.” Flip the brake and set the hook!


There’s some fish, like dorado, that specifically like live bait. Dead stuff doesn’t get them too interested unless they are already in a frenzy.


But, you can use the chunked squid as chum. It gets the dorado coming to the boat so you can toss a lure or a whole squid and them and “swim” it back to the boat.


You can also cut up and pulverize a bunch of squid and make a chum bucket using a small mesh bag hung over the side of the boat or weighted down and hung at depth to attract fish.


If you want to supercharge it, add in some commercially bought fish scent to the bag as well. It’ll leave a nice slick of scent in the water and you never know what might show up!


If you have limited live bait, there’s one really nifty trick I learned years ago from one of my captains. You can put a live bait into the body cavity of a squid. It will swim! Just put a hook into it and let it do its thing.


And, as a fallback, if all else fails…


Fresh squid is great deep-fried or made into calamari salad!


* * *

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. 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.


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


forlessthan

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! us.waka-waka.com


2. Safe and Secure


thtravelsafe250

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. pacsafe.com


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. aocoolers.com / norchillcoolers.com


5. FIT RIGHT INTO A STOCKING


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. insuremytrip.com


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. globalrescue.com


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


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. terrafin.com


Jo! Jo! Jo! (Spanish style!)


* * *

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. 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!


Nah.


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.


* * *

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. 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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