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CALIFORNIA'S ONLY SPORTSMAN'S NEWS SINCE 1953

Jonathan Roldan's Blog

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.

Slow down for what!?
I’m as guilty as the next person.

Stuff to do. People to see. Boats to launch. Boats to bring back in. Clients arriving and departing on planes. Snorkelers and divers. The beer delivery is here. Where’s that order of onions for the restaurant? Got all that fish to clean and pack. The van has a flat? Again? Someone lost their wallet at a bar last night and they want me to find it? And his passport?


And all that BEFORE NOON!


So much for that “Jimmy Buffett” lifestyle we project.


We’re blessed. No complaints! LOL


Run. Run. Run. It’s what we do. Your vacation is important to us.


In more than two decades in Baja, we see all kinds. Butchers… bakers… candlestick makers… doctors… moms… students… lumberjacks… jugglers…


You name it. All walks and wonders of life.


They have a schedule. They have an agenda.


Fishing 3 days. Snorkeling another day. Dinner reservations for another night. Scuba. A day of surfing or a day trip to the mountains. Get in. Set up. Do this. Do that. Let’s go! Up at dawn. In bed by the witching hour.


And don’t get me wrong. I love it. Your vacation is OUR job. Our pleasure. Let’s get you booked and rolling!


And then we have to send you home. And you’re looking as breathless and tired as when you arrived. Hopefully, a “good tired.”


Sad to be leaving, but knowing full well you’ve gotta change gears as soon as you get home and get back to work. Back to the grind. Back to traffic and phone calls and the real world. “Hit the ground running,” I hear so often.


And whupped. Don’t get me wrong. Vacation time beats 9 to 5 hands down, and a bad day fishing is still better than a good day at work. Right?


Listen, I love booking you. I’ll never say no to money. Mama didn’t raise no dummy.


But, it’s still refreshing to have someone say, “I’m gonna take the day off and do nothing! “


Good for you. Sleep in. Eat a real breakfast. Go back to sleep. Read a book. Take a siesta. Put your toes in the sand. Sip something cold. Get a massage.


Or do absolutely nothing at all. You’re off the clock. There’s nothing wrong with that. Nowhere you MUST be. You rock. Taking a day off is not a “party foul.” Your “man card” does not lose any credits. No apologies necessary.


I was sitting with a client’s son a few weeks ago. The 12-year-old had just come back from a fun day of fishing with his dad and grandfather.


In the course of our chat, he said, “When was the last time YOU fished, Jonathan?”


I had to think. And think hard. It has been over a year since I’ve fished. Are you kidding me?


Rather quietly, I told him it had not fished in over a year.


“Dude! You’re missing out.”


His dad called him over so he got up; knuckle bumped me and walked away. As he walked away he looked over his shoulder and said, “But you LIVE here!”


And he said it like I was some kind of loser. Like I really disappointed him.


Yes, over a year. It couldn’t be. I live on the beach on the Sea of Cortez. I run two fishing fleets. And I hadn’t had time to go fishing in over a year.


And that is very disappointing.


And here, I tell everyone else to slow down.

Savor that Baja sunrise.


Breathe deeply the spray and salty air as you shoot out in the morning off the beach.


Feel the warmth on your skin of the Baja sun and spending quality time to enjoy the company and conversation of friends, buddies and family.


Stupid jokes and horseplay.


Dolphin, seabirds and manta rays.


Barefeet and that perfect feel of sand between the toes. Feet that have been encased in shoes for months. Warm blue bathwater ocean.


The satisfying burn at the back of your throat of that first icy cold one as you put your feet up after a satisfying day on the water.


An unrushed seaside dinner under a palapa watching the palette of the Mexican sunset slowly pull an evening of brilliant indigo and a zillion starpoints over a great day.


Dude. You’re missing out.


It’s moving too fast. I’m moving too fast.


The beach is right outside my back door. The water is lapping 10 yards away. What a loser.


I’m going to finish typing this week’s column and then I’m going to leave my cell phone and my clipboard on my desk. And I’m going to sit on the beach for a few minutes. Just sit.


There’s some birds crashing a school of bait. Maybe I’ll see those dolphin that were out here yesterday for awhile.


E-mails and phone calls can wait a few minutes. Something more urgent is calling. I think it’s me. Baja is on the line. And I shouldn’t keep putting it on HOLD.


Is the whole island surrounded by water?
Yes, you know who you are. I don’t think any worse of you for asking me that question. Thanks for making me smile.

Any of us who are down here working in whatever capacity could come up with lists of similar questions. Whether we work in fishing, diving, restaurants, day trips…whatever.We are the humble conduits of information for all our Baja visitors. Good, bad, or otherwise.


Many are the same questions over and over. That’s par for the course.


Where’s the best place to exchange money?


Is the water okay to drink?


Who has the best margaritas?


What’s the temperature going to be like this week?


And then there’s the other ones…


What kind of meat do you use in your teriyaki chicken dish ? (BEEF)


Does the sun always rise in the East over the Sea of Cortez? (IT CHANGES DAILY)


Why can’t I take my top off and walk down the street like in France? (IT’S NOT FRANCE?)


Can you do something about the wind blowing in the morning when we’re fishing? (LET ME JUST WAVE MY MAGIC WAND A FEW TIMES)


Can you catch one of the dolphin so my son can ride it? (YES, I AM A FULL SERVICE OUTFITTER)


Hey, it’s what we do and the folks are good folks with good honest questions. I’m thankful for them for putting a little grin in my day!


But, if you’re coming down to Baja it helps to do a little research first. At least a little.


No matter where you go for your travels, especially with so much social media and information out there, a little knowledge will help any trip go smoother. This is even more so with Mexico and Baja.


The phone systems are very very different. Internet, while growing, does not always work. Or when it works, it can be very sporadic even in the most urban areas. Forget it if you’re out in the bush or out on the water.


I mean, c’mon. Admit it. It’s one reason you come down here so you can’t be reached, right? It’s still the Baja frontier.


But what if YOU need to reach out? Especially if something goes hinky with your vacation.


It’s far better to have the details and plans worked out ahead of time so that there’s as few glitches as possible.


There’s nothing like having your wife, girlfriend, family members or buddies giving you “stink eye” because something is amiss and it’s YOUR fault! Or maybe not.


Especially in Mexico.


Even more so in Baja. Double-dog affirmative in Baja where not only might technology be a little sticky, but don’t forget…they speak Spanish here!


It’s kind of a national thing.


Yes. Surprise. Spanish is the language here, and I am often perplexed at how many visitors are equally surprised that Spanish is spoken and (“surprise again”)…not everyone speaks English!


So, if something goes wrong, if something on your tour itinerary goes screwy…if the 5-star hotel you booked only has a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling and has a lovely view of a parking lo…if they send a four-seater Nissan Sentra Taxi for your group of 1…if your fishing tackle goes to Cleveland and your wife’s make up case got left in Seattle…(you better know which bag has priority in your life!)


Things might not resolve as quickly as making a simple phone call or dealing with the person “in charge.”


Some folks just “book it on whim.” They find something on the internet and run with it. Many don’t even do that. “Let’s just be wild and free!”


A little pre-planning takes the guess-work and stress out of your vacation which should be YOUR time to enjoy. Not sweating the details.


Just because a website has pretty pictures is not enough. Exactly what does “close to the beach mean?” How far is “walking distance to restaurants?”


And, if it’s on the beach, can I swim there? Or use the beach? I know several hotels in Baja where they warn you NOT go to in the water. Too rough. Too rocky or dangerous? I know one that looks awesome but it’s built next to the outflow of the sewage treatment.


Just because one city is “two inches” away from another city on the map could mean 20 minutes apart or two hundred miles away!


Will the owner of your charter operation be there on site to answer questions? Can you just walk to the docks and book a boat any time? What does “all inclusive” really mean at the hotel? It didn’t include lobster or steak or mixed drinks?


I’m a vegetarian…vegan…Kosher…diabetic…have food allergies. Good idea to check.


I do need to still keep in touch with my family/ work/ office. Will my phone, computer, texts work? If they need to reach me, can they?


There’s great resources. Talk to others. Get other opinions. A great starting point are Trip Advisor, Yelp, Google and others. Compare. Ask questions. Also, even 10-star places have a bad review or a bad day or simply had a bad customer that loves blasting places. Don’t rely on just that one single bad review or two. A place that has 200 reviews but only two bad reviews is better than a place that has only 20 reviews and has two bad reviews.


Take that into account and make informed decisions! Take the guesswork out so you can enjoy your time!


What date will the dorado show?
So, can you tell me what date the dorado will show up?

I don’t know.


Fishing is not an exact science.


Dorado don’t participate on social media. No Facebook. No Instagram. No cute dorado tweets.


They don’t answer my text messages either. Party foul. Just rude.


Come to think of it, the tuna, marlin, wahoo and yellowtail don’t respond to me either. Yes, there are days when I take that personally, especially when I have fishing clients here ready to burst.


Or they’re trying to make travel reservations and want to know specifically when to book their airlines.


“C’mon, Man! You’re supposed to know stuff like that, Jonathan! “


Right. Right. Right. I’m the “expert.”


Honestly, however, most times, it’s said with a smile. I’m never afraid to say that I don’t know something.


And the questions are good honest intelligent questions from fishermen who are just enthusiastic and want to get as much of an edge as possible. I get it. I’m the same way. Especially with fish.


But, there are some things that are just not controllable. If I was as good as some guys think I am, then I’d be able to wave my rod over the water and the fish would just jump in the boat.


I don’t have those Biblical abilities yet. That one is right up there with the miracle of loaves and fishes or parting the Red Sea. Nope. That’s up a few levels…actually a lot of levels…above me!


So, let’s work with what we have. If you’re simply going to use the calendar, let’s just say it’s a start.


There’s so much more that will allow you to fine-tune things.


A calendar is just a bunch of numbers on a page. The fish don’t get calendars. They don’t know that your yearly vacation starts June 1.


They don’t care about Christmas, Memorial Weekend or that you always fish on your birthday in November. They could care less that you always caught yellowtail in March or that on your last three Baja trips the tuna were great in August.


So, don’t curse the fish or the fish gods if things don’t always go as planned. If you fish by the calendar, you take your chances for better or worse. Go fish. Have a good time. It’s still better than working!


What the calendar can tell you is about the seasons. Don’t look at it as specific dates. Look at the calendar to tell you if it’s winter, spring, summer or fall because “generally speaking” certain fish usually show up during certain seasons.


For example, sierra, yellowtail and pargo in the later winter winter and spring. Dorado and billfish show up when waters are warmer. And so on. Like I said, it’s a start.


What fish do care about is food. Big fish. Small fish. All fish. They gotta eat. And they will go where the food is located and show up when and where the food can be found.


If you want to track food, track the water temperatures because even “food fish” have to eat as well. So, don’t watch the calendar. Track the water temperatures instead.


Even a few degrees can make all the difference. Warmer water is bluer. Colder water is darker, greener and cloudier. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It depends on what species you’re hunting and several different water temperatures can be found in the same areas. And that’s not unusual.


So, if you’re hunting yellowtail or amberjack, you’re looking for cooler waters. Billfish or dorado? The warmer waters are where you want to be fishing. Tuna? Well, that depends. What kind of tuna? Yellowfin tuna like warmer waters. Bluefin and albacore like the cooler end of the blue water.


And that’s just the surface temperature!


Below the surface, there are thermoclines where water temperatures also vary. The surface temperature can say 80 degrees, but 30 feet below that it’s only 70 degrees!


Confused? Too much to wrap your brain around?


Might as well put technology to work.


That’s where I take my personal fishing to the next level beyond just looking at the calendar. Veteran fishermen will back me up.


Websites and services such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) has excellent satellite images of surface temperatures put out the by the U.S. government.


Here’s a sample: http://www.ospo.noaa.gov/data/sst/contour/gulfcalf.cf.gif


Terrafin has been online for years and is a awesome resource ( www.terrafin.com) and specifically directed at fishermen up and down the Pacific Coast.


Another fine service is Fish Dope put out by Bloody Decks ( www.fishdope.com) that not only has water temperatures specific to certain fishing areas, but also various other fish finding services. It’s well worth it to check out before you go fishing or setting up a trip.


It’s all in the details and a degree or two in water temperatures can make all the difference in the world.


Still waiting for the fish to answer my text messages. Until then, I guess I’m stuck with the technology at hand!


Oh, say, can you see?
I want to tell you a little story. We just finished our 21st year on the road. For 3 months of the year, we drive to a different fishing and hunting show around the country.

We sell the Baja. Our Baja. The sunshine. The fishing. The blue water. Come put your toes in the sand and get away from it all.


Seattle… Denver… Portland… Boise… San Diego… Salt Lake City… it’s the life of a modern carnival worker.


We arrive in a city in our cargo van. Set up our booth. Talk to folks for 4 or 5 days. Break it all down. Drive another 1,000 miles or so to the next city.


Ready for the next show. And on and on. See a lot of wonderful country. Shake a lot of hands. Talk to a lot of wonderful folks.


There’s a whole gaggle and rag-tag of other outfitters, guides, vendors, and show people who follow “the circuit.”


Several weeks ago at the show in Phoenix, my booth was surrounded by the usual outfitters. One couple from Alaska. Another from Colorado. A guide from Canada.


But across the aisle from me, was a booth set up with chairs in a row. The “kid” working the booth was selling electric back massagers. Oh joy.


For two days, I watched the kid bust his butt working his booth and talking to people. His booth was a favorite.


Everyone walking that show loved sitting in his chairs and getting a back massage. Who wouldn’t?


But, I loved watching the kid work.


“C’mon in. Put your feet up for a few minutes!” he would smile.


I say “kid” only because he was a lot younger than me. Medium height. Dark and swarthy with a neat mustache and beard. Good shape. Polo shirt, Nike tennis shoes, and hip black skinny jeans that I couldn’t wear even on my best days back then.


On the 3rd day of the show, a few minutes before they opened the doors to the public, he walked over to my booth and stuck out his hand with a big smile.


He introduced himself as Yama Nasrallah.


He said he had also been watching me working the past two days. We struck up an easy conversation.


As vendors do, I told him I live in Mexico.


He told me he was from Afghanistan.


Over the next few minutes, he explained that he had come to the U.S. fifteen years ago. He used to have businesses in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He moved with his mom, dad and brothers.


“When I came to America, I could not speak or write any English. I told myself the only way to get ahead is to learn English. So, I made myself study hard every night while I worked at whatever jobs I could get to support my family.”


“I still do not write English very well,” he grinned, “But I speak English pretty good and I still study every night… after work! I must be better!” he added enthusiastically in a slight accent.


Without prompting, he told me that hard work is the only way to get ahead and do good. Too many people… even Americans (he laughed), expect things to be given to them.


But, he told me he works usually 7-days-a-week. He does over 100 shows around the United States every year.


He now employed his two younger brothers and they were manning his other two booths at the same Phoenix show. One sold soft bamboo sheets and pillows for camping. The other sold a handy high-tech utility flashlight.


He had a warehouse in Salt Lake City.


I couldn’t help but grin and compliment him.


“Y’know, if you are lazy, you won’t get anywhere. I teach that to my young brothers. They like to party too much,” he laughed. “But hard work is how you earn respect.”


“Everyone thinks America is where life is good and things are free and you are entitled to anything you want. That is not true. America gives you opportunity and freedom to make choices.”


As the show would start in a few minutes and both of us had some things to get ready, he gave me a quick, firm handshake, a smile and wished me a great day. He hustled back to his booth.


I walked back to my booth.


A few minutes later, just before the gates opened, the show producers always play the Star Spangled Banner over the loudspeakers.


Most of the show people, vendors, outfitters and guides, stop what they are doing and face a nearby American flag. Often several hundred vendors.


Hand over heart. Hat over heart. Hands clasped behind back. Old veterans often stand at attention and salute. No one takes a knee. Some sing.


It’s a great way to start the day. Like being in school again in some ways.


But, I’m always annoyed at someone who forgets. Some folks don’t notice that everyone else is paying respect. They keep writing. Or talking. Or chatting on their cell phones.


It makes me smirk. C’mon, put it on hold for a minute.


Toward the last part of the song, I glanced over at Yama, my new friend from Afghanistan. Vendor of electric massagers, pillows and flashlights.


Straight as an arrow.


“Oh say does that star spangled…”


Hand over heart.


“… Banner yet wave…”


Shoulders back.


“O’er the land of the free…”


Head high towards the huge American flag on the wall.


“And the home of the brave!”


And when it all ended and all the outfitters were clapping and cheering, Yama, who can speak English, but can’t write English so well… put two fingers to his lips and let out the loudest whistles.


And started pumping his fist in the air…


“U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A!”


I don’t think anyone else saw or heard. I don’t think Yama cared. He didn’t look around. He got ready to work. To earn respect. To get ahead.


You go, Yama.


And that’s my story.


Baja bits and pieces
Insofar as lots of you are making or possibly thinking about making a Baja trip this year, and this is the time vacations are made, there’s a few notes to pass along you might find interesting.

There’s good news as far as airline travel. For one, Southwest has jumped into the already jammed list of carriers flying folks into Cabo San Lucas. This has several great benefits.


I’m not a shill for Southwest. But hey…in the age of getting nickel-and-dimed by the airlines these days who are trying their best to stay aloft and competitive, Southwest does allow those awesome two free bags! For fishermen transporting rods, reels, ice chests, boat parts and frozen fish, this rocks.


Secondly, Southwest has made a name for itself by being relatively lower-priced than other airlines. Sometimes a lot lower. Super.


However, by jumping into the mix, their presence has forced other airlines to lower their fares in order to stay competitive. Winner-winner chicken dinner for us Baja travelers!


Also, while on that same subject of airline fares, there’s more good news. Even on those Mexico routes where Southwest has not started, overall, airfares seem to be substantially lower than last year.


I don’t know why, but I’m not arguing either. I was told that it was because fuel prices have remained lower for several seasons. Since airlines make their fuel purchase contracts in advance, they have cheap fuel inventory which then gets passed onto us consumers.


The downside is there are still some dates, you might want to re-think flying or, at least be prepared to pony up some extra dinero. One of those is April.


This year, Easter falls smack in the middle of the month. On either side of that you’ve got a big demand for airline tickets for the springbreak kids and families that flock to Mexico. The airlines have no problem filling planes. So, prices are jacked-up.


Simple supply-and-demand economics 101. You’re lucky to even find tickets by this late date for many routes to the most popular places.


On top of that, Easter and Holy Week (Semana Santa) are the busiest times for Mexicans to fly. It’s not Christmas. It’s not Thanksgiving (an American holiday, not Mexican!).


Many local families fly domestically to visit other parts of Mexico and vice versa. Likewise, many Mexican families fly out of the country and many from the U.S. also fly into Mexico for visits. That just creates a glut of travelers all vying for limited seats and willing to paying premium prices.


So, if you’re wondering why you’re seeing such high prices or non-existent airline seats in April, that’s the reason. Oh, and many hotels also charge more during the holidays, as they do in the U.S.


If you are planning to make a trip, don’t forget to purchase your fishing licenses online. Many outlets no longer sell the paper fishing licenses. We use such sites as www.bajasursportfishing.com to get those purchased.


It’s actually fast and easy and for once, the Mexican government has a functional well-organized site that doesn’t break down or eat your visa card numbers! In the past, even Mexican officials would tell me with rolled-eyes that the old sites looked like they were built by high-school interns.


If you do get on the site, just don’t panic when you see the prices. They are in pesos and are not a house or car payment. Simply divide by about 20 and it’ll show you that the licenses are actually very affordable. Also, revenue raised from the permits help fund conservation and anti-poaching in Baja and keeps the inspectors out there and vigilant.


Just remember, everyone MUST have a fishing license. Even if they are not going to be fishing. If they are on a vessel where others are fishing, even if it’s your 90-year-old grandma who wants to knit or your 2-year-old who sleeps through the whole thing, they must have a permiso.


If you’re thinking about driving or have not driven the Baja in a long time, prepared to be surprised. This is NOT your daddy’s old Baja road.


Much of the Mexican Highway 1, is two or four lanes in each direction and about as modern as you might want to find. This is especially true between towns and cities. The towns and cities is where you will probably get bogged down with streetlights, stop signs and construction. But, it’s getting there!


However, the days of looking for a gas station or being relieved to find someone pumping green PEMEX gasoline from a 50-gallon drum and filtering it with a t-shirt into a milk carton are gone. Gas stations with convenience stores are everywhere and emergency road-side service is not difficult to obtain. Cell phone reception gets better each year although there’s some stretches that are still thankfully still quite desolate.


Lastly, a word on El Niño that played havoc on the weather; the fishing; and the bait for the last two season. The experts say it’s over.


But, it’s been a tough winter in Baja. If there’s storms in the U.S. they don’t stop just because there’s a border. High winds, big seas, and even rain have pummeled the Baja just like in the U.S….only it’s warmer!


However, general temperatures look to have returned to normal and my observers are telling me they’re seeing more bait around than they’ve seen in the last two years! Perhaps a harbinger of a great season to come!


This week is the big Fred Hall Fishing and Boating Show at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach. It runs Wednesday to Sunday March 1-5 and it’s huge! We’ll be in our regular booth as we have been for over 20 years in the fishing tackle area. Everyone who is anyone in the fishing industry is there! Bring the family and come say hi!


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