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Jonathan Roldan's Blog

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:

Bent rods big salty hearts
As I write this, we have just completed the first day of the 16th Annual Western Outdoor News Tuna Jackpot Tournament here in Cabo San Lucas. If you’ve never seen or participated in something like this, or any major sportfishing tournament, add it to your bucket list.

It’s an incredible spectacle.

This year, we have 143 fishing teams and almost 600 anglers. Add in non-fishing friends, family, crews, sponsors, celebrities and support staff, this is a 5-day fiesta on a massive scale for about 2000 people! This makes it the largest tournament in Cabo San Lucas. Actually, it’s the largest in Baja.

In terms of prize money, the awesome Bisbee’s Black and Blue Marlin tournament has a bigger payout. But, almost $700 thousand in prize money here right now is nothing to sneeze at and it’s a lot of fun.

This is just one of so many tournaments here in Cabo San Lucas. Bisbees actually hosts two tournaments here in Cabo and another on the East Cape. When international tournaments like this current Western Outdoor News Tuna Jackpot; the Bisbee’s; and others take place, they can pretty much take over a town. From the largest cities to even the smallest fishing pueblos, where it can be the social event of the season.

It’s like that for tournaments in from Loreto, to the East Cape and Ensenada to Mulege naming just a few. The circus comes to town. And the music, clowns and hoopla come with it.

I heard one disgruntled ex-pat grumble under his breath that, “The tournaments bring nothing but noise and traffic and turn town into ‘gringo-landia.’”

I found that rather amusing. Here was an ex-pat gringo living in Cabo San Lucas, a world-wide tourism mecca, complaining that Cabo was too “gringo” during the tournaments.

That’s like saying Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles or East Los Angeles is too “Mexican.”

The grumpy guy had a point. Yes, a lot of gringos come to town for tournaments. I mean, that’s the point.

But, they bring a lot more than just noise, traffic and a lot of whoop-dee-doo at the margaritas bars. All these visitors fill hotel rooms; eat at restaurants; use gas; buy bait; rent boats; use services; buy a lot of t-shirts and souvenirs; etc.

Even our own tournament here right now in Cabo…2000 people have to sleep somewhere. They consume a lot of food and spend a lot of money.

Today 143 boats full of fuel, bait, boxed lunches and cases of beer went out. That’s a lot of economic well-being for the locals. That’s a lot of charter boats and crews, captains and gear.

That’s a lot of tax revenue as well. And, as I write this, they’re going out again tomorrow and still have 2 more days of events.

And this happens with all of these “gringo” events. Wealth gets spread around!

A lot of “wealth” comes back in terms of prize money also. Sure, there’s money and prizes to be won. You hear so much about some of these big-money events.

But, what often isn’t publicized is how much these sports events benefit the local communities in other non-direct ways.

Last year, after devastating Hurricane Odile rampaged through Baja, this current tournament raised enough donation money and sales from t-shirts and other items to build 15 complete homes for families who lost their houses to the storm. Several huge truckloads of clothing and shoes were also brought down as well.

This year, donation are benefitting Cabo Smiles International which provides dental and oral surgery for impoverished kids. As I write this more than $3000 is already in the kitty.

The Bisbee Tournament organizers have been donating to the communities for many many years on many levels. For instance, two weeks ago, they donated marlin provided food for a reported 1,600 people.

Many folks think the popular “Stars and Stripes Tournament” is all about Americans. Actually, the “stars” stand for the kids who benefit from medical supplies and medical equipment and the “stripes” are the striped marlin of the tournament.

Since 1993 in Loreto, the “Fishin’ for the Mission” Yellowtail Tournament has benefited not only the historic Loreto Mission, but also the Loreto orphanage. This tournament is very unique because ALL of the money goes to charity as well as extra funds raised during the tournament through sales and auctions.

The Lynn Rose East Coast Classic Tournament is another prominent example of generosity in Los Barriles on the East Cape. For many years, the money raised has built playgrounds as well as provided school buses and vans for the local kids.

In La Paz, where we live, smaller scale events have raised supplies for school kids; food for the senior citizens homes; scholarships for underprivileged families.

These kinds of things go on weekly at events up and down the Baja peninsula. Without a lot of fanfare or recognition.

I am reminded that as a gringo myself in Baja for 20 years, we are guests of Mexico and American ambassadors to this host country. We are grateful that we are allowed to do what we do and bring down other gringos to share so many things that Baja has to offer.

By the same token, we’re grateful to all the big hearts who take away memories, fish filets and Kodak moments, but also leave something behind because of their generosity. It’s win-win all the way around.

Tackle Box Sticky Notes
Every now and then, I pull out just random bits and pieces that I want to pass onto you in this column. There’s no particular theme or subject, just some things you might find interesting and hopefully useful on your Baja journeys!

Just a little more than a year ago, we were in a much different condition here in Southern Baja. Hurricane Odile, the strongest storm ever to hit Baja with winds over 150 mph, had left a path of destruction unseen in our region.

Although the majority of tourists stranded during the storm were home, a month after the chubasco, many of us were still without electricity, water, and phones. We were the “lucky ones.”

At least most of us had places to sleep in albeit damaged domiciles. The hardest hit, usually the poorest, lost everything they had when their homes were leveled by the winds, rains and floods.

Many of us with businesses, suffered extreme damages. Some irreparably and thus causing many lost jobs.

A year later, many of the scars are still there. Many homes never were repaired and, like many businesses, stand vacant. Broken windows, uprooted trees and damaged roofs and piles of rubble that were merely piled and pushed aside can still be found.

But, Baja and it’s resilient folks rebounded well. The new Cabo Airport that was going to take 6-8 months to repair, started receiving flights in a month, even though, it was still missing walls and a roof.

The military and police quickly restored order and the power companies worked around the clock to get the grids back up. They were still going weeks after Odile had left.

Donations of food, water, clothing, generators, water-makers poured in. And, bit-by-bit, Baja stood up again and got onto its feet.

(Sidebar note: As I’m writing this, the Pacific mainland side of Mexico is bracing for Hurricane Patricia, which forecasters are saying could be the STRONGEST HURRICANE EVER RECORDED ON THE PLANET IN HISTORY. Category 5 with winds of 200-250 mph. As of the time you’re reading this, we’ll know more. Hoping for the best for our amigos to the south.)

Speaking of airports and travel, the new pedestrian Express Bridge from the U.S. to the Tijuana Airport should be opening by December. The 525-foot private bridge, will allow folks to park their cars; check in; and walk to the airport. For a small fee.

But, the popular new Tijauna airport will now be more accessible and should be a win-win for everyone. Southern Californians will no longer have to drive their vehicles across the border to park or take shuttles from the U.S. side.

Currently, a growing number of Americans, especially southern Californians, utilize extremely economic flights from Tijuana to access destinations like La Paz and Cabo San Lucas. Additionally, the airport is a major hub for airlines flying to numerous tourist destinations on the Mexican mainland as well as Central America and South America.

Making it easier will generate more airline business. Certainly, it will make it a lot easier than having to get through the border then navigating the circuitous series of boulevards and sidestreets of Tijuana to get to the airport.

“MANANA!” Similarly, all of southern Baja is waiting for Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to open the new highway…basically cut the ribbon…for the new toll road that will ostensibly reduce the drive from the Los Cabos area to La Paz in half. Currently the drive takes 3-4 hours.

Given that the state capital of La Paz strangely has no direct flights from the United States into the city, everyone must fly into Cabo San Lucas then make the long drive north. Although a pretty drive, it makes for a laborious travel day for Americans wanting to visit the capital. Commercially, as well, it will save time and expenses for commercial traffic between the two areas.

The new highway has been opened for weeks and, tourists and locals alike are anxious for the ribbon cutting which keeps getting postponed. Actually, the better word might be “frustrated” as hotels and businesses are especially left wondering and waiting. All we keep hearing is “next week!”

Lastly, if you’re planning to come down and visit us here in Baja or anywhere else in Mexico, you should strongly consider changing more dollars for pesos than usual. I know a lot of folks are coming for the holidays and also for fishing tournaments.

Everyone down here still loves U.S. presidents on green paper. Don’t get me wrong.

However, with the devaluation of the peso in recent months, you can get anywhere from 13-18 pesos for the dollar. That means, having pesos in hand goes a lot further when you’re here travelling.

For example, a taco plate and beer on a menu costing 100 pesos a few years ago, or a taxi ride of the same price, would be $10 U.S. when the rate was 10:1 (pesos: dollars). Now, with the dollar growing stronger, 100 pesos is really maybe only $6 or $7 dollars U.S.

If you pay in dollars, especially with small vendors like the taxi driver or a street cart, they might not have change or the change will surely be in pesos. You’ll lose a bit on the transaction coming and going.

Many Mexican banks won’t let you change money, even if you have an account. We have found that the best places and the best rates can be found at the airport, money exchange kiosks in cities and interesting, the larger food market chains.

Safe travels all. Bien viajes!

Leaving fish to find fish
In my many years in the fishing industry, sometimes I think I’ve forgotten more fishing information than I will ever need. As I get older, I seem to forget even more and faster!

I had the privilege of learning from some great old-timers back-in-the-day. First I had Japanese, Filipino and Hawaiian uncles and older cousins who were patient enough with a little kid who had the attention span of a sardine. I don’t know how they put up with the kind of kid who would eat the bait and throw rocks in the water!

All having come from the islands, these were all “watermen.” They could not only fish the beejezzus off anyone I have ever known, but knew things like reading water and weather; tides and waves; currents and structure. No GPS. No Internets or FAX reports. Fishing and the ocean weren’t just sport. In many cases, it was food. No fish…no eat! Pretty good guys.

And then, there were the captains I worked with in my years as a deckhand. These were guys who had to make a living of getting customers hooked up and keeping them happy. Fish counts mattered. Happy return customers were the lifeblood.

And then, there have been the 20 years in the Baja working with our own fleet captains here in La Paz. These are brown- weathered men who are a wonderful combination of the others. They fish to feed their families. But similarly, it is also a business…taking sportsmen out to catch fish. You’re good or your family doesn’t eat. You go drive a taxi or harvest chili at a rancho.

And, I’ve picked up a few things over the years. Whether intentionally or not, these guys imparted quite a bit of “water-wisdom” my way.

There were certain “true-isms” that caught on and have always served me well.

You know some yourself:

“No angles no tangles” (keep your lines straight in front of you)

“Big fish. Big Bait” (Bigger the bait, the bigger the fish)

“Twenty percent of the guys catch 80% of the fish.” (the 20-80 rule)

You get the idea.

But one that has really stuck with me was a gem told to me by a skipper I worked for about 20 years ago right here in La Paz. I was working as his deckhand and galleyman on a 65-foot-Hawthorne.

We had some difficult clients aboard. It seemed no matter what was biting or what we were catching, they always wanted to “move the boat” and “go somewhere else.”

The fish were never big enough or a voracious enough. Every time, one of the clients would speak to the skipper, the sentence started out, “ If I were the captain…” or “If I were running the boat…” or “If we really wanted to do some fishing I’d do…”

Well, wanting to keep everyone happy, the skipper would pull lines and spent 45 minutes zigging and zagging around the ocean. Then, we’d hit a spot. We’d stop and he’d tell everyone to toss bait. Everyone would get bit.

Within an hour, the bitching would start again.

So, the captain would pull out. Zig-zag around then stop again and everyone fished. And then an hour into the bite, here come the whining.

And the captain would make another move. And so the cycle went all day.

In the galley, the skipper came up to me and told me, “These knuckleheads will never be happy. I’ve been zigging and zagging and they don’t even know I keep coming back to fish the SAME spot. Just from a different angle.” He grinned and winked.

“Don’t ever leave fish to find fish.”

The skipper is long gone. The boat has moved to the scrap yard somewhere. But, I never forgot.

Several weeks ago, I had a panga client who fished for a number of days. He started out well with some good catches. But, every night, he would come back to the hotel and chat with our other clients.

If someone else did a bit better with a different captain, this client wanted to change to that other captain. Or he wanted to fish at a “different spot.” Every day, a different captain. Every day a different area or many different areas.

Every day, he did worse and worse. And every day, he’s again talk to others at the hotel and find out others did better than him. And he got more and more discouraged. I saw the spiral.

I finally sat him down and told him he was bouncing around too much. And, I also told him the story about “leaving fish to find fish.” It was his vacation and he was certainly welcome to do what I wanted. And, I’d do my best to assist.

However, what he was doing was counter-productive and a waste of time and energy. Even worse, he wasn’t enjoying himself.

I told him to stay the course with one captain for the next few days. Stop worrying about catching more fish than everyone else. Just fish. And fish where the captain wants to fish.

The captain is the expert and wants to catch fish as much as he does. Take it down a notch.

And he did. And he caught fish. And each day was better. And by the end of the week, he was catching more and bigger. And he got that smile back too.

The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. The fish aren’t always biting better at the next fishing hole either.

Don’t be afraid to not catch fish
“How can I be a better fisherman?”

I get asked all the time. What’s the secret? What do I need to do? How can I catch more fish?

The obvious answer of course is, “Go fishing!”

The more the better. You won’t get better watching fishing shows at 6 a.m. sitting on your living room couch with a bear claw, cup of coffee and your bathroom slippers. Like anything else. Put in the time.

Of course, everyone wants to catch fish. I’ve been fishing all my life and probably fish more in a year than most anglers will fish in a lifetime. I’ve run a fishing operation for 20 years.

And I still have so much to learn! There is not a day on the water that I don’t learn something new.

I consider myself more than above-average-for a fishermen. Just a tetch. On a good day. And some days are better than others.

However, the fish has a brain the size of the tip of my finger. With all my fancy gadgets, hi-tech wizardry and supposedly big evolved-brain (my wife laughs!) the fish usually get the better of me.

The day that every cast to every kind of fish,produces a strike,every time. And it happens all the time in any waters or conditions, is the day I will know I’ve mastered the art.

That’s not likely to happen.

But, that’s what makes fishing fun. There are so many variables that go into making that fish open it’s mouth. And there’s a completely different art to getting the fish to the boat once he’s on the hook, too!

It’s actually the guy who tells me he’s “hardcore” and acts like he knows everything that gets me the most nervous. They are usually in for the biggest let-down if the fishing isn’t up-to-par. And also the biggest subsequent meltdown and tantrum-thrower as well.

Obviously, it’s never HIS fault. Plenty of blame. It’s the bad captain. The bad outfitter. Bad boat. Bad moon. Bad bait. Never just “bad luck.”

Look. Everyone wants to catch fish. That’s the whole point. That’s why we go on these vacations. To catch fish.

But, if you want to get better…if you want to take it to the next level…if you really want to be the guy they say, “Man, that dude (or gal) is the hot stick…”

Step outside the box.

Sure, you can do what everyone else is doing. And you’ll catch fish. And you might get better at however it is everyone else is catching fish. But, to get really better, take a chance.

Okay. Catch a fish or two. Then do something different. If the bite is wide open is a perfect time to try something different.

If everyone is using bait…heck…anyone can catch fish on a live bait. Try switching to iron. Or a a rubber swim bait. Or a top-water popper. Something that no one else is using. Or that you have never tried before.

You would be surprised how often the guy trying something different gets the biggest fish. Ask guys who throw iron!

Go to lighter tackle. Or, walk on the wild side and whip out a flyrod or really hit the edge and use fresh water gear like a bass rod, spinning rod, flipping stick or noodle rod.

Or ask your captain or guide to fish for a fish species that no one else is catching. What’s the worse that can happen?

You may NOT get it right the first time. But, you have to take the chance.

Don’t be afraid of NOT catching a fish.

Whatever you’re doing might not work. Throwing iron or a lure for the first time, might feel awkward and dangit, you hate those time-wasting backlashes. You might feel weird being the only one not hooting or hollering like the other amigos who are bent on fish. They might look at you like you’re a kook.

But resist the temptation. Keep at it. If something isn’t working, tie on something else.

If everyone is fishing the surface, go deep. If everyone is deep, try something on top. Work that water column. Different fish feed at different depths! Everyone using blue and white lures? Drop down the pink lure for grins and giggles.

I had a friend who was a dynamite rock guitarist. He played with Sammy Hagar and some big stars at Cabo Wabo in Cabo San Lucas. He was quite the star down here.

But, he told me he never got better until he tried a little country, a little jazz, learned some blue, dabbled in finger-playing on an acoustic guitar.

He said it was hard at first sounding like a cherry newbie. But, it made him a better guitarist and a better musician. It gave him new perspectives and appreciation. It also got him more gigs because he was now more versatile.

Fishing can be like that too.

Don’t be afraid of the sour notes. Don’t be afraid to not get bent. Don’t be afraid to grab something different out’ve your tackle box and open up all kinds of new possibilities.

You’ll get better. Guarantee it.

The sun is not your friend
This is your yearly public service announcement about the sun because the last memo was too long ago. Also, I’m tired of trying to convince fishing clients here this year that they:

Don’t have the flu from some “bug on the airplane.”

Don’t have food poisoning from the “fish tacos” at a street vendor

Drank bad “Mexican water” brushing their teeth at the hotel

It wasn’t the “extra powerful” tequila shot at dinner

Whether you call it “heatstroke,” “heat exhaustion” or “sunstroke,” it’s all the same and it disguises itself well. Especially in a country where there are so many other stereotypical culprits to be blamed from the food, to water, to contaminated dust to bad tequila, it’s an easy and common mistake. (Not to be confused with “too much tequila.” Big difference but same effect. )

More hangovers, headaches, chills, sweats, bad tummies, Montezuma’s revenges, muscle cramps and other maladies have been blamed on “Mexico being Mexico” than the real bad guy.

And he’s one of the reasons so many flock to Baja!

It’s Senor Sol. Mr. Sunshine. Yes, that yellow orb and object of worship in the sky. The focus of suntans and daydreams. Afterall, what would Mexico be without it’s sun as a giant magnet of tourism?

But, when not respected, the sun is not your friend.

At the minimum many folks are at least conscious of using sunscreen to protect their skin. That much is ingrained in our social psyche.

But, if you don’t use it correctly by re-applying it during the day, it won’t work. If you don’t put it on the tops of your ears…the tops of your feet…the tops or your exposed thighs…you’ll pay in pain later. Your back, arms and face are just a start and you probably shouldn’t be out there fishing without a shirt anyway. That blazing red skin is a very real burn just like if you had been touched by a flame.

I see long-time residents here in La Paz who have had too much sun. I’ve seen their leathery skin that looks like my old baseball glove or seen the skin lesions where melanoma has popped up. It’s not pretty.

But beyond the obvious burn factor, there’s the heat. And to so many coming down to enjoy the Baja, that heat is a the sneaky bad guy. Even during recent months when the sun hasn’t always been shining because of overcast, the heat is still capable of doing damage.

And it’s not so obvious as simply turning red like a sunburn.

Even on the overcast days, the sun is beating behind those clouds. It’s producing humidity from those clouds as well as huge amounts of evaporation from the ocean.

For example a few weeks ago, we had a day that was a “manageable” 101 degrees here in La Paz. Seemingly no big whoop.

But, with the actual heat index measured with the humidity, it was 127 degrees…in the shade! It’s similar to cold and adding in the wind chill. There’s temperature. And there’s the REAL temperature!

Maybe because it has been an El Nino year and we haven’t seen as much sun as normal, I’m seeing more anglers not wearing hats. Not wearing sunscreen. Taking off their shirts. Not drinking enough water.

We encourage water intake constantly. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty. Don’t measure water intake by how much you pee.

The heat is drawing moisture from your body with every breath. You’re sweating out a lot too. Losing salt and electrolytes. If you’re fighting fish or involved in other activities from snorkeling to kayaking and zip-lining to camel rides, you’re losing fluids.

Hate to break it to you, but alcohol does not count as “hydration.” If you are drinking, take it easy. Drink water in between the cervezas or margaritas.

On top of it, the food in Mexico is high in sodium (salt). Hey…that’s one reason it tastes so good! But, from salsa to chips, everything is salty. Carne asada, shrimp, guacamole…it’s all laden with salt let alone that delicious rim of your margarita! Push that through with more water.

Obviously, stay as cool as possible. Stay in the shade as much as possible. Don’t be a knucklehead and ruin your vacation.

We had one client this week who insisted he didn’t need a hat and only drank alcohol for two days. We ended up sending him to the doctor for dehydration when he got the shakes and turned stone-white and clammy and started throwing up. He missed a day of fishing too. That wasn’t worth it.

It’s not the first time, someone didn’t listen to us or their bodies or common sense. The problem is that most folks don’t realize it until AFTER the FACT.

It’s when they’re done with fishing or swimming. It hits when they are sitting down to dinner or relaxing by the pool (and still drinking cocktails and sitting in the sun) that their body starts reacting. This delayed reaction is a big reason folks blame bad food or a bug or bad water. “Must be that ceviche I ate.”

If it does start happening. . . Get cool. Stay cool. Stop exerting yourself. Drink liquids. Replenish potassium and nutrients with Gatorade or Pedilite or similar. The gentler the better. I like Pedilite myself. It’s the stuff they give kids and babies who have the runs. Less sugar in it.

If you can eat, be gentle. Most restaurants have a consommé (chicken broth) or some such that you can add some rice or crackers to. If you’ve got a charter master or someone handling you there and in charge, let them know.

Take it easy and you’ll be up and about again in no time, ready jump back into it!

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