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:

Super baby on the way?
I waited for awhile to write something about this. I’m no expert and even the experts had differing opinions. But, the more I read and the more I see reported from fishing around here and in other areas of Mexico, I guess it better be addressed.

Plus, everyone is asking me as well.

Things are looking like we might have an “El Niño” on the way. In fact, it might be a Baby-Huey-sized “Super Niño,” if things continue to shape up.


Everyone talks about it but few understand what it is and what really happens. Mostly, absent all the scientific-speak, most of us just want to know how that’s going to affect the fishing, right?

Originally, it was recognized by fishermen in South America when anomalies in the water temperatures started showing up around Christmas time. Hence, “
El Niño” means the “little boy” or Christ child.

According to the folks at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), in a normal year (whatever that is) trade winds blow westerly across the Pacific. That means waters around Indonesia are warmer and as much as a half-meter higher than say, Ecuador.

In an
El Niño year, it’s just the opposite.

For those of us geographically challenged, that means the Eastern Pacific, including the western U.S. and Mexico, get much warmer water temperatures. Among other things.

Whether that’s good or bad depends on your perspective.

On the bad side, it dries out places like Australia and can lead to heavy brushfires. On our side of the Pacific, rain follows the warmth. Accordingly, the likelihood of hurricanes and destructive rainstorms increases as do heatwaves in the same areas.

For those in drought-stricken western U.S. states, I guess you have to watch what you ask for.

But, what does this mean for fishing, besides maybe some having to break out the rain ponchos?

In real terms, the warmer water usually means the presence of warm water fish, much to the thrill of anglers in the western U.S. In past years, this meant “exotic” fish like marlin and dorado showing up occasionally in Seattle catches.

It means that California anglers, especially those in Southern California might not have to venture to Mexico to catch these same species. Weekend warriors on half-day boats could be taking home dorado fillets!

For us in Baja, we’re still wondering.

There’s no doubt that we’ve been experiencing much warmer than normal waters. Since last season here in La Paz, water temperatures never did drop that much near the end of the season. To wit, we never really had “winter fishing” per se.

In fact, as in many places around Baja, the warm water species, like dorado and tuna stuck around or showed up much earlier than normal. Here in La Paz, we encountered water surface temperatures into the 80’s several months earlier than normal.

Great for swimming. But, in terms of how this will affect the fishing season, vamos a ver…we’ll have to see.

Here’s the rub with
El Niño.

With the warmer waters, the nutrient-rich cooler waters that come up from the deep-water upwellings don’t show up either Those nutrients support the bait stocks. Bait dies or moves off. That doesn’t bode well.

One other issue.

The science folks speculate that this might be the “big baby”…the super nino! The last big
El Niños was the one that bridged the 1982-1983 and the 1997-98 seasons. With the latter being the strongest recorded.

This April, water temperature increases along the equatorial Pacific are already even higher than those previous
El Niño years. So, this could be a record-buster if it happens.

So, brace yourself one way or the other. Nothing is completely definitive at the moment, but all signs are pointing that way. Me? I’m still going fishing! It still beats working.

Just ask
The pangas had all returned to the beach with happy fishermen. Fish had been cleaned and were either getting icy in the hotel freezers or were in the kitchens getting prepped for the grill and tonight’s dinner.

Most of the guys had headed to their rooms for siestas and shower.

Others, had dragged themselves directly to the pool and the margarita bar foregoing the showers…and the siestas. But, I knew that for most, one drink and they’d be passed out contentedly in a lounge chair…dreaming of the fish they caught and the ones that got away.

TAILHUNTER TALE OF THE TAPE — Gary Graham and Jonathan Roldan, WON’s Baja columnists and editors, Jill Roldan and WON Editor Pat McDonell were at the Hall show opening day. The group will all be in La Paz for the WON La Paz Summer Slam Jackpot tournament June 17-20. One part of the 40-person tournament will be setting IGFA records. They are holding the IGFA release tape to be used. Any records set will earn the team a future return trip to La Paz.

I was already in the office, putting away gear and breaking down the days’ events. I had to get ready for another group of anglers coming in that evening on the next flight.

A brisk knock on the office door turned out to be one of the dads who had been fishing that day.

“Jonathan, I can’t find my son, Joey. He helped me carry gear back to the room and I went in to take a quick shower before dinner. I came out and can’t find him anywhere. I hate to be a bother. But, I looked everywhere.”

I told him not to worry. Ten-year-olds don’t usually stray too far and many of the other anglers knew or were familiar with the youngster.

We checked the restaurant and the pool. We hit the Jacuzzi. We walked to the kid’s playground. We asked a number of other anglers. No one had seen Joey.

“Let’s walk back to the beach,” I suggested to dad. And we took a short little hike to the little cove next to the hotel where our pangas drop off the anglers.
Sure enough, there was Joey sitting in the panga with our Captain Lorenzo. We could see both of them had their heads down and were concentrating on something.

As we got closer, Dad said, “Joey, we’ve been looking all over for you. What are you doing here with Lorenzo?

Both the captains and Joey looked up with big smiles. Joey held up a hook and some line!

“I came walking back to the beach and found my friend, Lorenzo. And I asked him to show me how to tie a fishing knot! Look dad!”

He held up the hook and proudly showed off his knot.

“I did this one all by myself!”

“Wow!,” said dad with raised eyebrows. “Even I don’t know how to tie a fishing knot.”

Captain Lorenzo looked just as pleased.

In broken “Spanglish” he explained that Joey had just walked up and asked how to tie a knot. It reminded him of his own boys and how he had shown them many years ago how to tie a fishing knot.

“They are grown men now, but I remember those good days,” he said wistfully.

“You are lucky to fish with your father,” he said to young Joey.

“Captain Lorenzo, will you show me how to tie a knot also?” asked dad.

“Claro que si…of course, mi amigo. Es un placer…it is a pleasure!” replied the Captain. “Here take a hook and some line…”

And with that, I backed away smiling down the beach. The lost had been found. And perhaps some other things had been found along the way.

An hour later, I went back down to the beach and half dozen guys were surrounding the panga, all intently learning to tie knots. Captain Lorenzo and Joey were “holding court.”

One thing I learned long ago was one of the fastest way to get a “group session” going was to tie a knot in front of a bunch of fishermen.

Whether it’s a “San Diego jam,” a “Palomar”, an “Albright Special,” a “Cat’s Paw”…whatever-you-want-to-name-it…tie a knot.

And someone will say “Hey, can you show me that again?” Or, “But, I tie it differently, like this…”

And there you go! Instant…constructive debate discussion and discovery!

It also occurred to me that one of the least utilized sources of fishing education are the Mexican captains and deckhands who take us all out fishing.

These guys fish more days in a year than most sportfishermen and women will fish in our lives. Most of them started as commercial fishermen and have been doing nothing else their entire lives.

You get pretty good when catching a fish puts food on the table and buys clothes for the family. Often, without all the fancy technology available to the rest of us, they have to be better than the fish as well as their competitor captains and crews. Proudly so.

I talked to Captain Lorenzo a few days after the knot-tying beach party.

“Everyday, there are new gringo clients. And they all want to catch fish. They come. They go.”

“To many, I am just the Mexican captain and the guide. And that is fine. We have a good time and I have been doing this more than 40 years and I am proud of what I do. But, sometimes the clients get angry because they want to do everything. That is fine, too. But, then I watch them and they have many problems. And they get angry and do not catch fish. Angry clients are not happy.”

He continued. “It is okay if they know how to fish, but many make mistakes. And they do not want help. I wish they would ask. I like it. I am happy to teach. Then everyone has a good time.”

“No one ever asks.” He said with a shrug. “Except one little boy.”

But will they eat a yo-yo jig?
While at the Long Beach Fred Hall Fishing Show recently, I was directed to an interesting article by a friend who is a commercial fisherman and sportfisherman. The title kinda piqued my interest:


According to the article published in Seafood on March 7, 2014 (, these forkies are being formed right in Baja outta Bahia Magdalena. Yes, real yellowtail ranches!

Here’s the article:

“California-based seafood distributor Catalina Offshore Products, and Baja Seas have partnered to bring a new farmed yellowtail to the U.S. market.
Baja Seas will officially introduce its Baja farmed yellowtail, also known as Baja hiramasa, at Seafood Expo North America in Boston on 16 to 18 March. Catalina Offshore Products has been test marketing the fish and it has already appeared on menus in from San Diego and Chicago.
The original stock was bred for Baja Seas from fingerlings produced at Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute. The fingerlings were transferred to Baja Seas’ grow out facility on Bahia Magdalena, a bay in southern Baja California. Future seed will be sourced from Baja Seas’ own hatchery, Ocean Baja Labs.

Baja Seas uses Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS) to create a small water footprint by diminishing pollution and disease; fish are fed sustainable protein- and omega-rich meal derived from sardines in a low Fish In-Fish Out (FIFO) ratio; the fish are raised without antibiotics or paraciticides; and semi-automated feeders and feed cameras prevent overfeeding.

“With consumers demanding more seafood and pressures on wild harvests increasing, we believe aquaculture is the one true sustainable model,” said Luis Astiazarán, Baja Seas’ director general. “Because of their growth rate when compared to other species, marine finfish are the future of aquaculture.”

“The debut of this Baja hiramasa is very exciting for us as it marks a major milestone for Mexico and for the U.S.,” said Dave Rudie, Catalina Offshore CEO. “It is not only a great, local alternative to Japanese or Hawaiian yellowtail, its presence in the domestic market will increase people’s access to a highly valued food source while decreasing pressure on our wild populations.”

It sounds like a good deal. I like eating yellowtail. I like catching yellowtail. I don’t know about the taste, but I have a feeling that the wild fresh stuff is gonna taste a lot better. I know wild salmon blows away farmed salmon.

But, I’m pickier than most because I grew up on Pacific coast fish. But, most folks I know wouldn’t know the difference.

I doubt that 90 percent of those ordering yellowtail in say, Red Lobster in the mid-west, would know the difference between wild or farmed yellowtail either. It’s probably going to taste just dandy to them.

Just like my friends from Montana and Idaho and Wyoming who are hunters. They can tell the difference between wild elk and ranch-raised elk meat. To me, it’s just good eating!

However, if there’s a viable way to take the pressure off the wild stocks so us sportsfishers can still throw an iron or dropper loop a bait yet help meet the demand of the market, I’m all for it. Win-win!

I’m especially interested in the aspect of this “farmed” yellowtail (no pun intended) if they’re raised with a small ecological footprint. Not using additives and antibiotics in their food means the “fish poo” (excuse my Spanish), isn’t polluting the water.

That has been an issue in other aquaculture situations. Especially, since fish eat a tremendous amount of food to grow. What goes in…has to come out!

Additionally, if they’ve found a new way to feed these fish and NOT deplete the local bait situation, that’s a major plus for anglers. No bait…no fish! No fish…no fishing!

I talked to an amigo of mine, Scott McKenzie, Director of Quality Assurance at the huge American Seafoods in Seattle, WA. Scott is also an avid Baja angler.

Here’s his take:

“The vast majority of Yellowtail consumed globally is farmed. Most of the farmed yellowtail comes out of Japan, with some small production in Australia and New Zealand. From what I’ve heard it is typically a 5:1 feed fish, meaning 5 pounds of feed to return 1l pounds of fish weight. Not the most ideal species to farm with regard to feed conversion rates as those are typically down around 3:1, some are even down close to 1:1 these days.

One of the unsavory part of a lot of these farmed fish operations is they are often using low trophic species as the feed (sardines, mackerel, menhaden, anchoveta,...). The feed coming out of global fisheries that are nothing more than rendering fisheries ( primary products being fish oil, meal) rather than a by-product of a food fishery. In a nut shell, the ocean gets stripped of bait fish to be converted into feed for a farmed fish somewhere around the world.

The amount of antibiotics and crap that can go into them I will leave for another day…

Sad thing, most consumers get all warm and fuzzy thinking they are making green decisions when they opt for a farmed fish to eat- in so many ways, it is more environmentally detrimental than the wild caught equal.”

The world is growing. There’s more people to feed. Yet, we want a balance with our recreational activities. Everyone has an interest and a stake in things. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

I wonder if farm-raised yellowtail can be released into the wild? I know they do it with salmon!

And, I for one, wouldn’t mind giving it a whirl on my dinner plate too!

In the presence of giants
“Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better.”

Albert Einstein

Oooo! Wow! Oh my! Lookit! It’s coming right to us!

Squeels. More ooo’s and ahhhs!

But, then everyone jostled to the starboard side of the panga. Whoa! For a moment there was an air of apprehension as everyone hung on.

But Mexican pangas are built for stability and although there was a bit of a list, attention quickly focused on what was making its way towards us.

For most of us, we grow knowing we’re at the top of the heap. We are the apex of intelligence, power and the food chain. Master of all we see. Conquerors of time, space and dimension.

That is, until we’re suddenly faced with the fact that there are creatures larger and stronger than us.

That is, until those creatures are not behind some cage in the zoo giving us a false sense of security.

That is, until one of those creatures is right next to us and literally smack in our laps!

Looking at us. And we touch it. And in some cases, it tries to touch us. And maybe communicate with us?

Something like a whale. Even a 15-foot baby…and it’s uh…its 40-foot mom!

And both were rising and approaching like two big gray submarines towards our awestruck panga full wide-eyed-cellphone-camera-snapping eco-tourists.

You feel small. And vulnerable. And utterly amazed.

This isn’t a video. This isn’t the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet or National Geographic. Or Sea World.

We’re not in the safety of our Lazy-Boy lounger in the living room in front of the big-screen.

We’re in Mexico. The light hum of the panga outboard is real. The water and the salt air is real. The sun and breeze on your cheeks isn’t virtual reality. The smell of damp things from the ocean is real.

We’re not outside the aquarium. We’re on the other side of the glass today. And we’re in the presence of giants!

And then, the magic happens.

The mom stops just a few feet from our panga. And the calf comes right up. And stops and raises his head. And its eye opens and you can swear it’s looking right at you with seemingly the same wonder that that you have for it!

And you reach out and you touch the rough skin and other hands also touch and scratch the youngster. And in those few moments, you feel like you’re doing more than just touching. It seems to transcend just a touch.

Two seeming intelligent creatures from different worlds…one above and one below the waters… reach across the abyss of eons and it’s unlike anything you have ever experienced.

Is the little calf really smiling and enjoying the scratches. Is it wondering about the funny creatures in the floating panga as much as we wonder about it? Can it sense us? In some cosmic way, are we communicating? Will we ever?

Whether one believes in a divine being or creator, I’ve never known anyone to come away from the experience without feeling something very special and different has happened or feeling humbled by the magnificence. For many, it certainly gives new perspective to our place on the planet.

Every year from approximately, January to March, the gray whales arrive at in Baja at the end of the longest migration of any animal on earth. Starting at the Bering Sea up by the Arctic Circle, they arrive in Bahia Magdalena, Scammons Lagoon and San Ignacio, three warm water lagoons on the Pacific Coast of Baja.

Once, almost hunted to extinction, they now arrive by the thousands, to breed, mate and give birth. It is estimated that some 20,000 whales now make the seasonal migration to these protected areas. In the 1800’s it was once suggested that they exceeded more than 100,000 in population.

But, these areas provide an incredible opportunity to get close to observe these magnificent creatures. For many, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the calm, protected sanctuaries make an ideal place to see dozens of whales a day on many occasions.

Baja is currently experiencing perhaps one of its best whale-watching seasons in years. If you have a chance, take a trip. Look into an inquisitive eye of a creature larger than yourself. Be in the presence of gentle giants. And perhaps come away understanding a little bit more about so much more.

Tackle packing and juggling
It’s an irritation, but something we’ve gotta learn to live with these days. Like taking your shoes off at the airport. Like having your expensive shampoo taken away at check-in.

I’m sure greater and bigger minds than ours have figured out why they are important aspects of airline travel these days. We empty and open our bags and pass our stinky shoes through the conveyer belt and do our little spin in the x-ray scanner. Like the hokey-pokey. That’s what it’s all about.

One thing for sure is that the days of free luggage are something we use with words like “back in the day” and “in the olden days.” The more you bring, the more you’ll get charged. These are real concerns as you plan your trips, especially with the two Hall shows coming up. You have to plan.

It kinda makes you cry as you stand in your garage and you look at all your custom rods, reels, feathers, jigs and other toys. You want to bring them ALL!

Almost 30 years ago, I remember my first trip flying to Baja. I took 10 rods and reels (two tubes); a tackle box that weighed about 50 pounds and almost 30 marlin lures (that my buddy had borrowed from WON Editor Pat McDonell who didn’t know who I was at the time!). Oh, and two 85-quart ice chests as well. And this was for fishing in a panga for only two days!

Nowadays, you get one piece of luggage. If you’re lucky.

Economy airlines charge for each piece of luggage.

Rod tubes are oversize. Pay extra. Cha-ching!

Reel bags too heavy. Pay extra. Cha-ching!

Ice chest…even with nothing in it. Pay extra. Cha-ching!

But, a man must do what a man must do and the fish are calling! So, we just have to think from a different angle. Consolidate and downsize.

Before purchasing your airline tickets, find out if the airlines has a special luggage allowance you can purchase. Some airlines (Volaris comes to mind) allows you to pay a little extra up-front when you purchase your tickets online. Spirit is one that itemizes charges.

This allows you to bring more luggage and more weight for a fraction of the cost. If you just walk up to the counter with all the extra weight, they charge BY THE POUND!

For example, we had some clients who purchased $200 round trip tickets to fish with us in La Paz. We told them to purchase the extra luggage allowance. They declined to do so.

When they flew back to the U.S. they had several very full ice chests. It cost them almost $600 to fly the fish back. OUCH!

For practical purposes, take a look at your own gear, if you’re planning to travel.

“Back in the day” multi-piece travel rods were junk. Nowadays several very good manufacturers and a number of custom rod wrappers are making some super 2- and 3-piece travel rods in varying lengths and strengths.

Many of them come with handy cases and can literally be carried in the overheads or packed into suitcases. They even make break-down trolling rods.

For reels, here’s my suggestion. Pair it down to some essential reels. Match your reels to what you’ll be fishing for. You don’t need a bowling ball-heavy 5/0 wide reel if you’re going to be fishing inshore in 100 feet of water. With the new aluminum reels and their horse-strong drags, you can use smaller/lighter reels to get the job done. Even for trolling.

I would also suggest putting spectra on the reels then put 150 yards of mono top-shot on them. That way if, for example, the 40-pound test mono isn’t working, all you have to do is change the top-shot to whatever line is the hot ticket for the bite. You won’t need a separate reel for that.

For terminal gear, be practical. If you’re only fishing three days, you don’t really need 500 hooks of all sizes. You don’t need 20 throwing irons. You don’t need 10 feathers of all colors. If you can, contact your outfitter ahead of time and find out what’s really working. Bring the essentials.

While you’re at it, pow-wow with your fishing partner. Consider packing all your rods together. In one tube. Each of you doesn’t need to bring a whole set of lures, hooks and other essentials either. You can both share and thereby cut down on weight and gear.

As for bringing the fish home, if you’re like me, it always irritated me to pay to bring an empty ice chest down to Mexico. Paying for air? C’mon!

What I’ve been suggesting lately is using the newer soft-sided coolers that are airline rated heavy duty; keeps things frozen for days; and can be folded and packed into your suitcase on the way down.

We’ve had one made by American Outdoors that has worked like a champ for about 5 seasons. Another nice thing is that these weigh less than a traditional cooler. Since most airlines limit you to 50 pounds on luggage, you can get more actual frozen fish in a soft-cooler than a hard-sided cooler that weighs 8-20 pounds with wheels on them.

One last thing. In the old days, my buddies and I brought down one or two sets of shorts and t-shirts with us. That was it. Our motto was, “if you can’t wash it in the sink, don’t bring it.” That was a great way to save room for more tackle.

Of course, that was in the days when my buddies and I were all bachelors.

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