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:

Loose ends and dangling powerlines
In my past 3 columns in the span of over more than a month, I’ve tried to give you a ground-zero view from what it’s been like here in Baja during and after Hurricane Odile, the strongest hurricane ever to hit Baja. I haven’t written much about fishing, but frankly, there hasn’t exactly been a whole lot of fishing going on!

But from the responses I’m getting via e-mails, phone and other social media, apparently, my reports are getting read and mostly doing some good. About 99.9 percent positive feedback… which isn’t too bad for one of my rambling columns, all things considered. Can’t please everyone.

Understand that these are simply one person’s perspective. We live here. We run several large businesses here. We are here working 7 days a week. We’re not part-timers or vacationers.

But, I will admit that our view is still limited. Baja is a big place. It’s 1,000 miles long. Heck, the city of La Paz is a big place. I only have first-hand knowledge of what’s going on in our particular zone of influence… and it’s a darned small zone!

I haven’t visited every neighborhood, town or hotel. I don’t have first-hand knowledge of our friends in the East Cape, nor have I visited Loreto or the Airport in Cabo San Lucas.

But, my info is good info. If I don’t hear, see or smell it, then, the information comes from those in authority or who have had some first-hand experience.

As per some of my detractors… I don’t lie. Nor did I embellish or have to embellish any of my reports. I didn’t have to. It was terrible enough and continues to be for many people.

I don’t mind if you call me names, but for Pete’s sake, do your own research before you challenge me so that it will at least be a fair debate and conversation, and we can both learn something!

I get a bit defensive when someone who doesn’t even live here in Mexico starts his e-mail by calling me a *&%# . Exhale. Take a deep breath.

Every two weeks, I have a 1,000-word column to fill and I do my best to get as much into that space as I can! And since 2006, I’ve written around 600 articles. If you can do better, please let me know or write our editor, Pat McDonell. I’m sure he’d love to hear from you! Or not! Pat’s a pretty busy guy and he’ll usually tell you to check your facts, too, before you post up an opinion.

So, let me tie up some bits and pieces and loose ends on the information front.


Huzzah to the government and the airport folks and the airlines for getting flights coming back to Cabo. It was way ahead of schedule!

The airport was supposed to be closed for months. That’s the lifeblood right there. As of Oct. 8th, Alaska Air and United were the first to bring in flights and they were met with water cannon salutes and mariachi bands! They really rolled out the red carpets!

We had clients on that flight and they told me that the new terminal is still a mess. It doesn’t even look like a terminal. But the older terminal is working well enough to take care of business. With each day, more flights and airlines are coming in. La Paz and Loreto Airports are fine.


I cannot say enough about the authorities — CFE (the power and electric people) and Mexican law enforcement. Muchas gracias! Talk about mobilizing and getting things done; it was like an invasion of sorts.

Working night and day, they helped get things squared away fast. They got things under control for the most part. There are still quite a few areas lacking services and they are still working at it, but all the main areas are back on the grid from what I am being told and seeing myself. A big thanks to all of them. As the CFE trucks and police rolled into various areas, they were openly cheered by everyone!


There’s still a lot to be done. But, in many areas, first-timers might not initially realize there had been so much debris. Most folks don’t have insurance down here.

Many buildings, especially in Cabo, are going to take a long time to repair, but in terms of infrastructure, trees, telephone poles, roads, trash and other manifestations of the storm, the main areas are cleared and more getting cleared out all the time, moving outwardly to the neighborhoods.


With the exception of some long lines now and then, I’ve heard no reports of any shortages of gas or food, although water services are not running in some areas outside, but are coming back bit-by-bit. Most of the big stores that were looted or closed down are now open again for business. Most hotels are up and running at least in limited capacity, if not completely open and ready for business, especially now that we have flights.

Here in La Paz, the biggest thing I keep hearing about is in the outlying city areas. Water is the most critical shortage. You can go without electricity to some degree. You can get by with candles, flashlights and gas cooking. But, you can’t make water or use a substitute.


Normally, the fall months are some of the best fishing months of the season. The storms really put the hammer to it all this year. Without flights, weeks of vacations had to be canceled. Many outfitters, hotels and other businesses, dependent on fishing tourism, were hit hard. They’re very anxious to get going again.

From what I’m hearing, the conditions are good. After any large storm, waters can be disturbed, murky and dirty, but with each passing week, conditions appear to be improving. Thankfully, many folks who had to cancel trips are finding new dates to re-book.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) has officially determined just this week, that we are in an El Niño weather event. This means that at least through the middle of 2015, waters will remain warmer than normal. This speculatively means warm-water species like tuna, dorado, billfish, wahoo and others will remain in Baja waters longer than normal.

When I wrote my last column two weeks ago about making the best out’ve your situation if your vacation gets slammed by a hurricane or other natural disaster, I had no idea. As I wrote that piece, it was your typical sunny Baja day on the beach. As I closed out, it was just starting to get a little cloudy. Rain drops were starting to fall.

I used that to underscore how quickly things can change. Especially in Baja. Especially in this El Niño year.

I was just trying to get my column out. Put some words together. I had no clue just how fast things would change. How fast life itself would change.

The “bit of rain” was part of a weather cell we had been watching half-heartedly watching for several days. It was just another ho-hum rainfall that started our way with a roar, but like a dozen others this season, we expected it would eventually bend out to the Pacific Ocean. We might get a “little afternoon precipitation.”

It was an understatement of historic proportions.

In the span of less than 12 hours the storm did the unexpected and put Baja right in it’s crosshairs. By midnight, Sunday the 14th, Hurricane Odile had turned into the largest and most powerful hurricane ever to hit Baja.

It slammed into Baja with Category 3 and 4 strength winds including gusts up to 140-150 miles and hour. By comparison, Hurricane Sandy that devastated the East Coast in 2012, had winds of “only” 115 miles and hour.

Those, like us with a fishing operation in La Paz, or have businesses that are affected by weather or happen to watch weather, had at least a bit of time to get ready. Get the batteries and water. Tape the windows. Get the rain gear. Tie and chain things down. Pull our boats onto dry ground.

Most of Baja was not ready. It was the weekend. It was the start of the 4-day Independence Day weekend festivities, the largest biggest holiday in the country. Folks were in a big-time party mode. Most government officials and civil workers were long gone. Thousands of tourists had no idea either.

It was pretty bad. You’ve probably seen the photos or watched the news. It’s hard to describe if you’ve never been in one. It’s like being inside a vacuum cleaner. It’s THAT loud. But add the glass breaking. Trees snapping. Our ceiling collapsed. Things shattering. It’s difficult to talk. To think.

This was my 10th big one and they are never the same. Like some perverse amusement park ride you know will end, it’s fascination, panic, awe, self-preservation and terror roller-coastering with each blast of wind.

And then it passes. It whimpers; runs outta steam; and moves on. And you sigh. And you exhale and like little Hobbits you gingerly creep out with everyone else into the light.

But, it’s not over.

In reality, it’s just starting.

The destruction is devastating. It looks like Godzilla danced on the town. Phone poles snapped in half. Giant old trees uprooted. Entire walls of buildings simply missing. Boats and yachts sunk or blown to dry land. Not a single window unbroken. Cars upended. Power lines draped limply across roads. Entire neighborhoods destroyed. Roads and bridges submerged. Hotels collapsed.

More than 30,000 tourists stranded with no immediate resources to handle them. An equal number of residents homeless.

And no water. No power. No electricity. No phones. Gasoline runs out. The brand new airport looks like it took an artillery barrage. It no longer exists.

Like being no a deserted island. No way out. No way in. No way to call home…or anyone else. No supplies.

One day post storm, it was shock and disbelief. Day two, it’s assessment.

By day 3, it was starting to get ugly. Tensions rising. Tourists are now ramping up the panic. Tourists and residents alike hit realization. And it’s nasty and ugly and scary.

The vacation has been trashed. The novelty has worn off. The margarita bar has been blown to Mazatlan. The fishing boats are sunk. And there’s no water, showers, food. Everyone is sleeping on the floor.

And worse…there’s no communications. Off the grid. That is especially terrifying . In a world where everyone has their nose stuck in a smart-phone, it’s the stone age. No way to notify family and relatives. No access to news. Still no way off the island. No airport. No planes.

In the cities, the afterwrath is worse.

Wholescale looting erupts. And it’s not just the dad trying to get some milk and tortillas for the family. Mobs break down windows, doors and metal barriers. Some gleefully. Large scale jubilant Christmas looting.

The big chain stores are attacked and emptied by the hordes. TV’s…clothes…exercise equipment…alcohol. If it’s not nailed down, it’s gone. Fighting breaks out. Police and law enforcement, already strained with the disaster are powerless. Rioters barricade streets so police cannot interfere. They don’t. They can’t.

In the neighborhoods, more looting. Assaults. Rape. Gangs roam the streets with machetes and arms. Neighbors set up their own security to protect their neighborhoods with guns, rocks and re-bar. Carjackings take palce. Fires are set to illuminate the dark. Neighbors dress in white to set themselves off from the bad guys.

Families fight off looters from the roof with bricks and chunks of concrete. One group beats back several assaults from gangs attempting to breach their walls by using sticks, rocks and baseball bats against knives and clubs.

Gunfire can be heard in the darkened streets at night. As one escaped resident told me, “It was medieval and primal. Complete lawlessness.”

The army finally rolls in and things quiet down.

Two weeks post-storm, the recovery is remarkable. The government, the phone and power companies; constructions companies and many others are still working around-the-clock to get going. The phoenix rises.

They said the airport in Cabo would be out for the rest of the year. By the time you are reading this, some limited flights might already be working. The La Paz Airport is already open.

La Paz is 95 percent back on the grid. Most of the city is cleaning up and back to normal but dealing with the huge influx of refugees. Cabo is 15 percent on the grid. Some hotels are actually back in business if somewhat limited.

Cell phones were not supposed to work for a month. They were back online in about a week.

But, it’s not over yet. Far from it. Odile’s “ordeal” continues on so many levels.

Many of those who had the least, lost the most. Or everything. The poorer areas, if not destroyed, have not been high on the list to restore services.

Many still have no water. Electricity is a flashlight at best. Or a candle. Food is scarce and many are in residences missing a roof…doors…windows…a wall. As one told me, “My family of 3 shares two buckets of water in the dark to wash, drink and cook.”

Many businesses will never recover. If it was tourist related, there’s no tourists. If the building got blown away, there’s no insurance. It doesn’t matter if your family ran it for 2 generations. And there’s no “bailout” programs here in Mexico.

Odile shattered more than just some hotels and vacations. The most powerful storm ever to hit Baja indeed.

Less is more, or more than enough?
It was almost comical and I didn’t want to say anything. After all, they were our fishing clients. But it took four of us to load all their fishing gear on the panga. It reminded me of an Everest expedition where the intrepid explorers are followed by a line of sherpas.

Artic ice chest, spinning rod, fly rods, bass rods, conventional rods, three jumbo tackle boxes, video camera case, GoPro camera water proof case, underwater extension rods, special seat cushions that had beer holders in them, even “catch flags” they planned to fly from rods for when they returned to shore.

Ahhh…God bless ’em.

They were so excited. First-time Baja fishermen. They were like little kids. It was like Christmas. They had a list of all the species they planned to catch. They had a GPS pre-programmed with all the “hot spots” they had read about. They had waterproof maps and fish ID charts.

So much enthusiasm. Between my captains, deckhands, drivers and other fishermen, it was hard to suppress the chuckles. I really wanted to say something. But what could I say? They had all the toys and they planned to use them.

They took to heart the saying, “Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. “

Here’s the rub: I was supposed to go out on the panga that day with them. I rolled my eyes.

My captain had to leap over all the gear to get to the tiller on the motor. There was barely any room to sit. I squeezed on top of an ice chest as we headed out. This was gonna be interesting, but I was grinning. Whatever. Let’s go fishing, guys!

With all the rods jutting out, we looked like a CIA boat bedecked with prickly porcupine radar antennas as we zoomed to the fishing grounds. I counted…1, 2, 3…8…11…15…19…20…26 rods! Custom wrapped. The latest high-tech reels. Spooled full of shiny new line.

When we got to the spot, it got a little awkward.

Do you remember watching your kids at Christmas barrel into the goodies under the tree? Ripping and shredding and laughing, oh the carnage! Oh the humanity!

Well, the gear boxes opened and out came hooks and lures and feathers of all shapes and sizes. Leaders and gadgets and wires and do-dads and thing-a-ma-jigs and watcha-ma-callits and chingaderas came pouring out! Many still in their wrappers.

All organized. Color-coded. Size-coded. Species evaluated. Things for tuna. Things for dorado. Things for dorado AND tuna. Things for wahoo. Need a purple pink speckled marlin lure? Got it! Surface lures…bottom lures…mid-water lures. Everything had a pouch or pocket. Everything in it’s place!

I’ve done plenty of long range trips for 12 and 14 days where I didn’t have this much stuff. We were only going a mile offshore for a few hours. Fishing 2 days total!

And stuff for their belts…pliers, dikes, hook disgorgers, hook pouches, sunscreen holders.

My gosh, they must have accumulated enough points on their Cabela and Bass Pro visa cards to fly around the world!

And just like kids oooh-ing and ahhh-ing…each guy was as eager to show off his “toys” to me and the captain. Simultaneously, he was showing them to his fishing buddy and also seeing what his buddy had brought along. Like opening two picnic baskets at the church luncheon!

I just stood back. Tried to look really really, really gosh darn excited! I mean, I hate to discourage or curb anyone’s enthusiasm. So, I smiled and gritted my teeth.

“Wow…that’s uh… really great you found one of those lures.”

“You got 4 of them in each color?”

“You bought 100 hooks of each size too? No way!”

But, we were burning daylight. I could tell on the radio that some of our pangas were already into fish.

There was stuff scattered all over the decks!

I finally said, “Guys, time’s-a-wasting. Let’s get fishing.”

They looked at me. They looked at the captain like eager kids. The captain shrugged his shoulders and dropped a bomb.

“Tie on a hook. We will fish with bait.”

Silence. They looked at me. I looked at them.

I said, “Yup, bait’s working. No leader. Let’s just tie on hooks. Maybe later we’ll get to use some of that great gear you brought.”

They looked at each other and I could sense the puzzlement and disappointment from their quizzical looks.

“C’mon, guys, “ I tried to say gently with as much enthusiasm as I could muster. “The fish are biting so let’s get in on it. Get out some hooks and stow the rest of the gear for now so we don’t miss the bite.”

While they stashed all their stuff, the captain and I tied on hooks for them to save time. I didn’t want to look them in the eyes. I felt like I had taken away their toys. Or had told them there is no Easter Bunny.

But, the fish bit. The sun came out. The water was blue. And the fish bit again. And the icy beer and lunches always taste double-good outdoors on the water.

There was a point later in the day when their fish box was filling and the fish were swarming and I asked if they’d like to try out some of their fancy gear. But, they laughed and were too busy hooked up to want to change.

The whole day, they ended up using one rod each. And maybe half-a-dozen hooks. And were happy. Beyond happy.

As one of the guys laughingly said to me as we were headed back, “Somehow, I still have to explain to my wife why I needed to buy all this gear.”

His buddy said, “I once asked my wife why she needed so many shoes.”

“What did she say?”

“Because I say so, Dear. Because I say so…”

“I don’t think that will work on my wife.”

We all laughed.

El Niño ramped down?
At the mid-year mark of the calendar as well as the Baja fishing season, maybe it’s time to take another look at the El Niño phenom we may or may not be having.

At the onset of the season, many of us, me included, wrote about predications that this would be an El Niño season. In fact, scientists strongly suggested 2014 to possibly be one of the largest, if not the biggest one in recorded history.

In a nutshell, the El Niñoevent is characterized by abnormally higher water temperatures, higher rainfall (including hurricanes), higher air temperatures and humidity, and for us fishermen, big differences in the fishing season along the eastern side of the Pacific ocean. Basically, the western side of Mexico and the U.S. are affected.

Early in the season, it was looking pretty ominous. When so many of us down here in Baja and along the Mexican coast base our livlihoods on nature, the weather and the fishing, it’s hard to ignore the predictions.

According to the experts, all the signs were there for a whopper of an El Niño on it’s way. Understandably, it was with some trepidation that many of us kicked off our respective seasons.

Well, now several months into the season, an assessment of sorts can be made. Yes, the waters got really warm really fast. In many places they are higher than normal. In fact, in some spots, it never cooled down from last year. The cold waters never materialized.

No doubt, it doesn’t take a meteorolgist to tell you it surely seems a lot warmer and a lot more humid this year. Just walk outside. It blazes. The air is thick and heavy in the heat.

And the fish?

I think I can speak for a lot of us down here and a lot of folks who have visited. It’s really weird. It’s really crazy.

At the base, there’s very little live bait. That’s all I seem to hear folks talking about. Well, you see, when there’s an El Niño, the cooler waters from the deep carrying all the nutrients don’t make it up.

The nutrients bring the bait. No food. No bait. Or, the waters are so warm, the bait goes elsewhere or dies. It’s just part of the cycle.

If there’s no bait, that’s gonna eliminate a food source for the gamefish, not to mention make life a little difficult for sportfishermen. Certain species don’t show up, or they show up someplace different.

Like slow tuna in Mexico, but tuna show up in big numbers in California and strays of tuna, dorado and marlin make their way up as high as Washington state! Talk about getting lost!

But, now at the mid-way point, the pros are saying, maybe it’s NOT going to be a record-breaking El Niño. They are revising their predictions. Yes, it’s here, but well, maybe it’s not the BIG one!

That’s good news and bad news.

Bad news…like all weather, El Niñois cyclical. It’s the way of the world so-to-speak.

Yes, it brings more rain, but that’s exactly what so many places need along the west coast continents to break extreme drought conditions. In fact, I saw where one meteorologist called it the “Great Wet Hope.” Lord knows rain is needed.

If it’s true that we’re not going to see the historical El Niño, I guess many of us can breathe a little easier knowing that the likelihood of hurricanes is diminished. However, truth be told, even ONE hurricane/ chubasco can be a deal breaker here in Mexico.

Mexico needs water as much, it not more than anyone. And it’s not for golf courses and swimming pools and watering lawns and washing cars. Just basic drinking water is in short supply as well as water for crops.

A little rain here and there or short burst in the afternoons are great. It’s perfect.

But even a good “tropical storm” of any intensity would be devastating in a country where drainage is a problem as well as basic construction. Arroyos become deadly rivers in minutes. Streets become lakes. Neighborhoods become isolated islands. Mexico’s infrastructure doesn’t do well with rain.

A similar storm in the U.S. would generate some fender benders on the freeway. Surfers in Orange Co. would rush to catch “the gnarly break.” And the evening news would show someone trying to kayak down the concrete “Los Angeles River.”

Here… A relatively minor storm of moderate intensity in a few minutes can wipe someone out, destroy businesses, kill people. Let alone screw up the fishing day.

So, if you’re coming down in the next few months, don’t alter your plans. But be prepared. It might just rain.

If there’s something on the radar and the local port captains close the port or put out warnings, common sense dictates that you might be better served sitting by the pool with a cold one. Don’t chance it.

Fishing is supposed to be fun. Safety first. It’s not supposed to be an exercise in survival or miserableness or futility. Many of these “storms” are short-lived, but can be strong. We call them “toritos” (little bulls) that hit with the intensity of a hurricane. In fact, these toritos can come up in minutes and there will never be a warning.

If that happens, by all means, clear the water. If you’re close enough to cover go wait it out. You can go back out later. If you’re that’s not an option, call it a day.

Two weeks ago, we had a waterspout come up that was the size of a city block and sounded like a freight train from several miles away. You could see water gushing up off the ocean. It took a matter of minutes for that to form!

The other side of these storms is that it washes a lot of debris into the water. This includes mud, trash, and vegetation like trees and bushes.

Let it all settle and waters clear. Then look for the temperature and current breaks holding all this floating stuff. You’ll find some of the best fishing around these areas!

Just go with the flow. Be safe. Be prepared.

Memo to self: No bad days allowed
The day had not started well. I woke up grumpy. I was doing my utmost to put on my best “happy face” for the fishing clients this morning, but it was taking an effort. Just one of those days we all have when one would be best-served to just stay in bed!

I already knew it was going to be a long day. We had problems at our restaurant with the plumbing, and several of our employees were out sick. A vehicle was broken down and required a part they just don’t make in Mexico and there was a chance of rain in the forecast too. Sheeesh. And it was only 5 a.m. in the morning!

Worse of all, the fishing had been bad. And I had grumpy fishermen. More than grumpy actually. Rude and pissed off. The bad fishing had snowballed into complaints now about the service, the captains, the hotel, the food.

Funny how that happens. Catch fish and none of that matters. Don’t catch fish and the world is a terrible place. I could feel that target growing on my back. Anyone who has been a guide or outfitter knows what that feels like. As if we could control the wind, waves, weather and fish! But, we care about how our clients feel so you feel the crosshairs growing.

But, I guess you pay that money and it entitles you to be grumpy and growl and no amount of cheerfulness or cheerleading on our end was gonna change things.

My own mood reflected it as well as a feeling of helpless frustration. If I could make fish jump in the boat, I would. If I could wave a fishing rod in the air, I’d make the clouds go away. Doesn’t work that way.

So, we packed them into our van to the beach in the dark and could feel the tension. Yuk. Mine and theirs.

And then some of our other fishermen came down and climbed into the shuttle. All smiles. Handshakes. Backslaps. Excited to be going fishing. Looking forward to being on the water.

Introductions and greetings. Among themselves. “Hey, didn’t I see you on the plane?” “Where’d you go to dinner last night?” “Really nice to meet you!” “You’re lucky to have your wife. Don’t let her catch all the fish!” (Laughs) The grumpy guys could care less. Golly, is it THAT bad?

The happy folks were all long-time customers. They all came from different parts of the country. I had known them for a long long time and knew their stories. But, all of them were coming together this morning and meeting for the first time. Just happy to be out; happy for maybe more reasons than just going fishing.

Yes, I know their stories.

For several of them, this could be their last trip.

One has a serious kidney surgery as soon as he gets back.

The wife, they were talking about? The gal schlepping the rods and laughing with the boys? She just found out she’s got a malignant tumor in her breast. She’s got a lot on her mind, I know.

One of the other guys? He’s had several strokes. I see the changes in him. He still at it, but he can’t fish every day like he used to. I worry about him pulling on a big fish. He’s fragile, but gutty as hell and won’t let anything stop him.

Another guy in the van, he’s had 24 surgeries. TWENTY FOUR!

He had his first heart attack at 35 years-old. His first stroke at 36. He had a heart transplant several years ago. His face is scarred from skin cancer. Right around his mouth, lips and chin. As soon as he gets home from La Paz, he’s got a date with the dermatologist.

He once showed me what his chest, arms and legs look like from all the surgeries. He laughing called himself “Frankenstein.” He takes several dozen pills a day to keep going. He has to wake himself up at night to make sure he takes some of the pills on time.

He just came back from a salmon trip in Alaska. And now here he is in La Paz fishing with us.

He once told me, “I know people who are more fortunate than me and let little setbacks get to them. They are miserable.

I choose to be happy. I chose to LIVE and enjoy the time I have. I got the message early! Fishing just happens to be the vehicle that gets me off the couch and enjoying life!”


None of the folks in the shuttle van know the background of the other folks.

But there were those who were really looking forward to the day. And others who started the day already under a toxic cloud. I guess I could be included in that group.

I want to tell the grumpy guys…”LOOK AT THESE HAPPY PEOPLE!” I want to introduce them and tell the grumpy guys the stories about the happy people. I know it’s not my place.

But, I want to say, a bad day fishing is just that. A bad day fishing. You’re here. You’re enjoying times with friends. You’re doing something that a zillion other people will never ever get to do in their lives. See a sunrise. See the dolphin. Feel the salt spray. Crack beers on the beach. Fishing isn’t life. Life is fishing.

I think there was a reason I saw these folks today. Wake up call. Life ain’t so bad a’tall. I’m blessed. Memo to self…no bad days allowed!

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