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:

Not another t-shirt!
You’re just about headed home after a great fishing trip. It’s been good. Fishing is done. You’re kicking back and chilling now. Dang, you’re not ready to go home yet. Oh well.

You’ve been knocking back copious amounts of beer and nachos with the guys. And suddenly it hits you like ice water.

You remember you have a family!

And suddenly you struggle to wrap your brain around the thought, “Oh man, I better bring home some presents!”

And you curse yourself a bit because you feel like that time you forgot it was your anniversary until the day of your anniversary. So, you gotta scramble.

Red alert! Defcon 5!

You’re gonna get killed if you bring home another t-shirt for mom and the kids. And faux-turquoise jewelry from the guy on the beach isn’t gonna cut it either. Zero points.

Here’s some of my personal suggestions that are unique and relatively inexpensive.


This is always a winner. Walk into any Mexican grocery store. Head to the spices aisle and you’ll find rows of salsas. Find some that you’ve never seen before back home. They come in all colors, sizes and degree of heat.

And they’re cheap. About 2 bucks a bottle. Some even less.

I would often buy a bunch at Christmas time. Take them back to the U.S. Tie a ribbon around tree or four bottles and ta-DA! Instant present!


Forget the over-priced stuff you find at the airport. Find a place that has a good selection of tequilas or, better yet, an actual tequilaria (tequila store). Best prices are found at places AWAY from the tourist areas. Find a good bargain or look for a label you don’t see back home. Like wine, it doesn’t have to be expensive to be good.


If you’ve got someone who loves the kitchen or loves to cook or mix things (even drinks!), Mexico has some of the world’s best vanilla and cinnamon.

Vanilla comes in dark bottles. It’s not the imitation stuff back home. This is the real juice and a little goes a long way.

Same with cinnamon. Fresh sticks of aromatic cinnamon…nothing like it.

Put some of these things in coffee…baking…mix with sauces…infuse your own vodka, tequila or rum. Use on ice cream. It’s not expensive and shows you actually put some thought into your shopping (right?).


When I had a lot of younger nieces and nephews and neighborhood kids, it was too hard to find t-shirts or remember sizes. So, I would go to the Mexican market and find the bins of Mexican candies or candies that could NOT be bought in the U.S. Get a couple handfuls. It’s cheap and a lot cheaper than t-shirts!

I’d bring home zip lock bags of each kid and I was instantly their favorite uncle or neighbor. Their parents weren’t always happy with me, but hey…that’s what uncles are for. Uncles teach kids to pull fingers and make fart noises under their arms too!


If you’re bringing home frozen fish in your ice chest, consider saving some room to stash some homemade Mexican ranch cheese or even better…real Mexican tortillas.

You KNOW you’ve been loving the tacos and nachos you’ve been eating. Everything tastes better in the incredible tortillas from Mexico. And they taste nothing like the tortillas back home which taste like cardboard!

That’s because they are made with…lard! Yup…the good stuff. And the better ones are made by hand in a tortillaria most likely by someone’s mom who’s been making them for decades. You don’t even need to butter them. They taste good right out’ve the package or off the stove!

Ask around, and there’s little hole-in-the-wall neighborhood tortilla shops everywhere. Any taxi driver can take you. Or, go to the larger markets which all have their own tortilla makers or have them delivered to their deli sections daily and are kept warm.

Flour tortillas travel better than corn. If you can, freeze them before travelling in a zip lock. If not, keep them cold stashed between your frozen fish until you get home.

Tortillas are CHEAP! You can get a kilo for about 2 bucks. I send some to friends in Montana where real Mexican tortillas are a rarity. They hoard the tortillas in their freezer and dole them out one-by-one only on special occasions!

Same with cheeses. Mexico has an incredible variety of cow and goat cheeses that are gaining in popularity around the world.

Find a market that has a deli. Ask for some queso fresco (white cheese almost like a moist bluecheese or buffalo mozzarella in consistency). Or ranch cheese or manchengo cheese. If you’re in a good store, you can find cheese that has bits of mushroom or chilis or cilantro mixed into it.

And again, like many of the other things on this list, not every expensive and all a big hit when you bring some home!

If all else fails, you can always buy a t-shirt at the airport. If you’re coming to Baja in the next few months, a lot of these make for great Christmas gifts.

Two cents worth
There was a time…

A penny bought you a piece of Bazooka Bubble Gum.

A nickel got you a pack of trading cards.

A dime was worth a comic book.

A buck was a month’s subscription to the daily newspaper…delivered to your doorstep.


A dollar isn’t even a good tip.

Five bucks won’t get you a gallon of gas

Twenty bucks in your nephew’s birthday card…you might as well have given him underwear.

A hundred dollars barely fills your gas tank

BILL JUBB, AND the Roldans at the Slam dinner. The $400 donation proved to be seed money for other donations for high school scholarships.

A few weeks ago, we had a small tournament here with our fishing fleet in La Paz. Not a big deal. But a fun deal!

After all, we have a bunch of pangas. But, we had a great time. It was sponsored by Western Outdoor News.

There was a small jackpot at the end. When I say, “small” no one was going to be able to buy a new condo with it or have to worry about getting an IRS audit. Our little soiree was not on the level of any Bisbee’s or Gold Cup event.

But, $600 bucks is $600 bucks, right?

The winner, Bill Jubb, got his prize and did two really cool things. He picked up everyone’s tab for the awards dinner.

Then, he simply donated the balance of more than $400 to us at Tailhunter for a scholarship fund my wife helps sponsor here in La Paz. Specifically, the money was donated to the FANLAP scholarship program which helps economically disadvantaged students.

I knew Jill had been working with this organization before. She admirably works with a lot of them. I can’t keep ’em all straight. God bless her. And I was gratefully amazed at the wonderful gesture.

But, then I found out what $400 really gets you. It changes a life. It could be the difference between working in a taco stand and sweeping floors for life. Or something better…much better.

You see here in Mexico, most never get past 6th grade. That’s all the schooling that’s guaranteed. Imagine how far your kid would get with a 6th grade education. Many kids come from homes where the parents may not read or write either.

After 6th grade, assuming they make it that far, a family has to decide if it can or will send a child further. It’s a big hardship.

Usually, a boy is chosen. He’s the potential future breadwinner. Girls, it is felt, will only get married and pregnant (not necessarily in that order), so the education isn’t warranted.

Four hundred dollars keeps a kid in school for a year. A whole entire year. It provides uniforms, shoes, food, school supplies, transportation from outlying areas and so much more. Four hundred bucks is what some American kids spend on an outfit or their gym clothes.

FANLAP started in 2005 with five scholarships and now does 20-30 a year. Totally non-profit. No high-paid executives or fancy buildings. No gala fundraisers. Everything to help a kid get a bit more of a future with opportunities.

In return, the kids must keep up their grades and perform community service such as cleaning or painting in the neighborhood; covering graffiti or tutoring other students. Win-win for everyone.

I’m not writing this to pimp the program, but rather to point out in a day-and-age, when it seems a kid “needs” $200 Air Jordans; a $100 cell phone; and $100 designer jeans just for the first day of school, there’s still some value in our “disposable income.”

In Mexico, four hundred bucks keeps a kid in school for a whole year!

And I’m also applauding the generous hearts. Bill’s gesture caused several other participants at our event to also slip Jill an envelope. Several of our clients, since then, heard what happened and have also given us donations. Another amigo, himself a retired educator, is in the process of setting up funding to take a youngster all the way through high school, and possibly college.

As one of them told me, “When I think about what I blow in Vegas in an evening or what I spend to take the family out for the evening… can keep a kid in school and change their future…yea…that makes a difference. That’s a good investment.”

It’s about value. And values. The important ones.

A change is gonna come…maybe!
I have been asked often enough that I guess I should post up a column and hopefully get the issue covered.

When fishing is good, no one seems to question the techniques of their captain.

Over a decade ago, I had a group fishing here with us in La Paz at Tailhunters. Fishing had been great. Until they showed up.

Fishing was spotty at best. It was just a funky group of days. It happens. Even in Baja. It’s fishing. Fortunately, it’s a not common.

But, that’s usually when the second-guessing comes in. Boo. Hiss.

“Why did we pick these dates?”

“We should we have come a week earlier/ later?”

“We should have gone to (pick a different Baja city) instead of here.”

“I think these captains don’t know what they’re doing. They do it differently in (pick another Baja city). “

“The captain never tried something different. He was just lazy.”

Ouch! The last few sting a bit. It presumes incompetence from guys who have done nothing else their whole lives. Who have probably fished in no other area their whole lives. Who not only make their livings in these waters, but depend on these waters to feed their kids. You usually get pretty good or your kids go hungry.

The day that group left, another group came in. Fishing went ballistic. Our guys were heroes again. As the group toasted and posed for photos and whooped and hollered, I said to my head captain, “Isn’t it amazing how much our captains learned in 24 hours?” He laughed.

He said something to me that I’ve never forgotten.

He said, “When I first started fishing with gringos, if I catch fish, the gringos will call me a Mexican god. If I do not catch fish, I’m a G—damn Mexican.” He laughed.

I never forgot that.

I think it was Einstein, a pretty smart guy, who said something like, “Idiocy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

Sometimes, it applies when clients say things like, “Why didn’t the captain try something different?” Basically, implying if the fish aren’t biting, why did he keep doing the same thing?

A lot of Baja captains have no idea what Einstein may or may not have said. Or even who Einstein is. Theory of what?

But, from what I’ve seen over my two decades here in Baja, most adhere to the adage, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it!”

I think what many fishermen forget is that, the method that may not be working now, was working yesterday. It worked last month. Last year. Ten years ago. For his daddy and probably his daddy’s daddy.

It may not be working AT THIS MOMENT but hell, it COULD work in the next 10 minutes! Let’s keep playing the odds. The system isn’t busted because no fish are biting…so far. But, it’s worked in the past and it will work in the future. Let’s stay with what usually works.

Kobe Bryant misses a few baskets, he keeps jacking up shots at the hoop. You don’t bench Hank Aaron because he strikes out a few times or tell him to “change your batting stance.” Peyton Manning won’t change his football grip because he threw two interceptions.

And so it goes. Often to the frustration of the client. But, only if it’s a slow day!

Remember, most of these guys running pangas and cruisers, have spent more days on the water in a month than most of us will spend our entire fishing careers. They’ll have caught more fish and seen more than you will ever see.

But, they are limited to what works. Slow to change from what has worked and slow to change to new ideas!

These guys have never fished anywhere else except their backyards. La Paz captains have no idea about fishing in Cabo and Cabo guys would probably have a hard time fishing in Loreto or Mulege.

They don’t read every fishing magazine. They don’t spend weekends at tackle stores or Bass Pro “hanging out” and fingering all the new toys. They don’t access social media and chat boards about the latest tips and techniques.

They don’t go to fishing shows or watch fishing videos. They don’t surf the internet reading fishing reports and they don’t read Facebook to see what their friends are catching down the coast.

So, they very likely don’t know about that new 4-speed reel you just brought down or the space age polymer line you have. Same with the “guaranteed-to-catch-fish lure everyone “must have” to fish Baja you bought at the fishing and hunting show in 6 assorted colors. Nor did they read the latest clinical tests that say tuna bite best 30-feet below the surface on a full moon.

They know what they know. And change moves glacially.

A perfect example. It took almost 10 years for my own captains to have faith in fluorocarbon line. They are still not sure why anyone needs braided line. They are leary of circle hooks!

We have two fleets that fish two different areas…La Paz and Las Arenas (Cerralvo Island). My captains are all related. The waters and species are the same.

One group fishes a little further north than the other but their operational areas do intersect. Surely, the fish don’t know or care! A dorado is a dorado. A marlin is a marlin!

But, my Las Arenas captains think my La Paz captains don’t know how to fish and vice versa. One group hates Rapalas and says only feathers work. The other group says only feathers work.

One set of captains insists on chumming the water with handfuls of bait (to keep the fish in an interested frenzy). The other group chums by tossing out one bait at a time (so the fish don’t get full and lose interest.).

Both sets of my captains are very successful. They have to be. Their incomes depend on it.

But, it will take more than me to convince them to make changes. And it will take more than one slow day or two to make them see differently. Nothing’s broke. Es la pesca! (It’s fishing!). Just keep doing the same thing a little harder until it works. Which it will!

Trip insurance?
A lot of you are like me. You run through the airport from Point A to Point B. Run…run…run!

You got your boarding pass in hand. Your suitcase, tackle and rod tubes are in the “gentle hands” of baggage handlers. Depending on the time of day, you get to the gate and your most critical concern is getting to either Starbucks for your morning latte or to the nearest airport sports bar to wrap your hands around something icy. Let vacation begin!

You pass all the usual airport hot spots.

Nope, don’t need See’s candy. Don’t need a magazine or novel. You don’t need a t-shirt either.

And you run by the booth that says “Travel Insurance.” You give it a glance but not a second thought.

That was me for years. I didn’t even know what it was. I didn’t really care either. What could possibly go wrong?

But, after a zillion miles of travel…after working here in Baja for two decades and over 1,000 fishing clients-a-year…regretfully, stuff does happen.

Honest, it’s rare! Don’t panic. You probably have a greater chance of getting in an accident on the way to the airport than something critical happening on vacation.

But, for the same reason, we all have car insurance and home insurance, you’re playing those slim odds. It’s better to have it and not need it…than to need it and not have it!

And, the longer I’m in this business, the more I see the value in it. Because stuff happens. Life happens.

I’ve seen medical emergencies like busted legs and fingers; Appendicitis; allergic reactions; heart problems; diabetic problems; heatstroke, hooks-in-fingers; inspect bites; slip-and-fall; etc.

Some are just accidents. No one’s fault. Some could have been prevented by the person or perhaps with just a little less alcohol consumption.

There are others like lost luggage; lost medications (or forgotten medications!) and then there’s canceled flights; missed flights: fender-benders and hotel problems (one hotel decided to go on strike several years ago and simply locked clients out of their rooms!).

And then there are the weather-related situations (“acts of God”) that simply happen. There are hurricanes or smaller weather-related situations that can cause part or entire vacation cancelations.

Last week there were two days when the Port Captain simply did not let any boats out of the marina because it was too rough. You just never know.

Last year, when devastating hurricane Odile that slammed into Baja with historic impact, many of the items in the list above were quite evident.

There are still folks waiting for refunds and credits and having to deal with that nightmare. Some inexpensive travel insurance can help alleviate much of that.

Living here in Baja, where facilities might not always be the best, I’ll tell you…we have medical insurance that covers us. Jill also purchased a policy whereby in the event of a serious catastrophe like storm or civil unrest, etc. and we’re sitting on our rooftop, they will basically send in the Seal Team 6 to evacuate us out.

While that might be a bit extreme for the majority, regular trip insurance is pretty economical. And it saves a lot of headaches.

Because, let me tell you…getting refunds from many operators in Mexico is non-existent or very difficult.

Many simply don’t offer any refunds. Some may take months. (Do you really want to spend all that frustrating time on long-distance calls and e-mails? How good is your conversational Spanish? ).

In extreme situations, it will probably cost you more to bring legal action even if your booking agent is American based, let alone trying to sue an operator in Mexico. Litigation in Mexico is a maze you don’t want to get into. Danger. Danger!

Airlines are big and handle things like this all the time, but you still may have to jump through hoops.

A major hotel chain like the Marriot or other international chains may give you some relief. They can be really great…or not.

Or they’ll tell you that you have to deal directly with the local hotel franchise in which case you better get ready for some anxiety time. You can pretty much forget it if you booked at Jose’s Cantina and Palapa Hotel. Good luck reaching Jose!

If you google “Trip Insurance” you’ll be surprised.

You can actually insure against all of these crisis pretty easily and even “doctor” the policy to cover only the things you need. You can individualize medical, luggage, transportation, activities, etc.

Or, you can simply get a comprehensive policy that covers everything!

Just for example, I found one online plan to cover a hypothetical trip to Mexico for one week from the U.S. I estimated the cost of the trip at $2,000 ($400 for airlines and the rest for hotel, fishing, diving, etc.).

For $72, the policy included things like:

$2000 in trip cancellation / $2000 in trip interruption

Terrorism coverage

$500 baggage lost

$200 baggage delay

$150 for more than 6 hours travel delay up to $300

$10,000 medical ($50 deductible)

$500 dental (never know when that flare up happens or you crack a tooth on ice)

$50,000 medical evacuation

And, I could adjust any of those areas for paying a bit more or a bit less!

For $500, I almost hoped they lose my bag with Walmart brand underwear, socks and my toothbrush and toothpaste!

And there are many other plans as well from a myriad insurance carriers. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of pain. Something to think about next time!

Stay or go?
You’ve been looking forward to this Baja fishing vacation for ages. You’re all set. Baja is calling you. You can taste that frosty margarita and you’ve packed and re-packed your fishing gear a zillion times.

Checklist. Passport? Got it. Toothbrush? Check. Hat and camera? Roger. Extra socks. Are you kidding? Extra underwear? Hmmmm…nah…you’ll just rinse your shorts in the sink. Unnecessary clothes add weight that could be used for packing fish on the way home!

Even more so, you’ve promised your boss, co-workers and your mother-in-law you’d bring them all some fish. However, the minute you walk out that door, you’re turning off your cell phone and e-mails.

You’re already humming Jimmy Buffet tunes.

And then, you hear the news. What? Oh no. A storm? A hurricane? Rain on my vacation? No! No! No! Please oh please no!

It starts with a little blurb on CNN or the little rolling banner at the bottom of the TV screen. But, it’s a slow news day and now your evening news picks it up, too. A dozen words of dread. You would swear they did it just to jab you.

“In other news, for you vacationers, there could be a big storm brewing 1,000 miles south of Cabo San Lucas. And now back to Joe on the scene with his story about talking monkeys…”

And pretty soon, everyone on your Facebook page is telling you about it because, of course, they all know you’re headed to Baja! They start sending you graphic images of the weather map showing the tell-tale whirling cloud clusters. As if you didn’t know.

Your e-mail box is getting pinged as well. Well-meaning or envious friends are writing.

“Hey, duuuude, I think you’re screwed. Did you know that there’s this big storm…” Man, that’s not cool.”

Whoa…underwear is really bunching up. This can’t be happening. You’re trying to get some answers and the folks who booked you may or may not be responding. Your buddies are getting into panic mode as well. Rumors are flying.

“Man, I heard from a friend of a friend who was reading online that…”

“The word around town is that…”

This is snowballing. Badly. How do you calm your beating heart and reduce the pucker factor?

Well, keep trying to get in touch with your charter or hotel or booking agent, or whoever booked you. This is where it helps to have someone who actually lives where you are going. An agent who lives in Seattle might not be much help.

Remember that they have a vested interest in you coming down. No one likes handing back refunds. So, take their opinion with a grain of salt and accept it for what it is. The good ones will give you an honest assessment of the pros and cons so YOU can make an informed decision.

Get online and look up the weather forecast yourself! It seems like the most logical thing, but many folks don’t take that first step. There are websites a-plenty including the National Weather Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and many others.

Even for those of us who live here, believe me. We don’t have mystic powers. We look at those services as well. That’s how we get our weather information. So go straight to the source. If you ask us, we’re often going to give you the same information you can see for yourself.

That doesn’t mean you should discount what your outfitter, captain or charter guy says. Sometimes, there’s a lot of value to having someone simply stick their head out the window and tell you if they see storm clouds or bright sunshine!

Your nightly news might have grabbed the story, but a storm 1,000 miles away can do many things before it hits landfall. It could easily peter out. It could veer off. It could turn into a drizzle.

Don’t get worked up for no reason or without all the facts. Or for something that isn’t even a certainty.

Call your airlines. If they are flying in, chances are, it’s okay. But it’s just one more bit of fact to weigh-in.

Here in La Paz, we had something like 18 storm warnings last year in an El Niño season. Only a handful ever dropped rain on us although one of them was a doozy and became the historic hurricane Odile.

As I write this, there’s a storm warning. Blancais heading our way. Everyone is jumpy. The weather forecast changes by the hour. Angst runs high. The memory of what Odile did to us is still fresh.

It’s the second such storm in about that many weeks. The last one, Andrea, got everyone worked up. too.

When it “hit” us…there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Not a drop of rain. In four days, it went “poof!” Adios. Andrea did rain on someone’s parade way out in the Pacific, but not on Baja. We fished as usual.

With lower Baja so close to the equator, storms can just be part of life. It’s tropical. Storms blow through. With this current El Nino weather pattern, more storms than normal will be around.

Storms come up sometimes with zero notice and unleash for 15 minutes then disappear. It can be raining in one area, but 100 yards away no rain falls at all.

The weather forecast can show “rain,” but it rains in the mountains 20 miles away which are technically part of the city. In the city folks are eating ice-cream cones with not a cloud in the sky.

That’s when simply asking someone to look out the window can be worth its weight in pesos.

Get all the facts. Make a good decision before you cancel your plans and have to tell your boss you’re not bringing him any fish.

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