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Feature Article: WON Cedros Charter

WON/Cedros Island Charter never disappoints

BY PAT McDONELL/Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Oct 03, 2019

Just when you thought weather would put a damper on the action, the yellowtail go off in a frenzy; for those who made the rugged run up the north side to St. Augustine, it was simply unbelievable action on calicos, big sheephead and many other species for the WON/Cedros Outdoor Adventures group at the bluff-top Baja Magic Lodge

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THE WON GROUP the final evening at the Baja Magic Lodge were: Dave Fausto, Jeff Ramsdell, Bart Williams, Miguel Verdugo, Carlos Vasquez, Luis Urena, Sam Dobel and Alena Tsal of Santee, Tyler and Candy Barnes, Don Fryer, Doug Aiken, James Johnston, Robert Meachem and Ryan Sykes. PAT McDONELL PHOTO


CEDROS ISLAND — On most trips, you have two days to get it done on Cedros Island. There might be two half-days on either end after you fly in and before you fly out, but it’s the two full days on pangas that guides can deliver you to the fishing grounds and the fish have to cooperate. It is an intense 12-hour 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. day.


For some groups in pangas of two or three anglers, they want yellowtail, and can stay fairly close on the lee side. But if you want to go after calico and white seabass of any numbers and quality, you need to run to the north end to St. Augustine and its reefs and thick kelp beds. If the weather is up, and the swell is up, that can be tough, however.


Bottom line for the WON Dozen on the annual charter to Cedros Outdoor Adventures’ Baja Magic Lodge last week, they got it done in various ways, pushing through wind and a nasty south swell to reach the big-fish spots. In every case, the fish eventually cooperated. If you wanted it bad enough, the fish were there. Before we get into some of the stories, a word about the bluff-top lodge owned by the husband-wife team of Jose Sanchez and Melanie Lamaga.


This is my 11th trip to Cedros. The operation as a whole is at another level now in terms of food and accommodations, and for those who don’t know, Cedros is a little island halfway down the west coast of Baja. It’s a tough place to get to for anglers, but imagine what it’s like to get building and kitchen supplies and food there. But it gets done and it’s remarkable the such high level of service and food and accommodations you now get.


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capitantotocontrols1aCAPITAN TOTO CONTROLS another yellowtail for longtime WON charter attendee Dave Fausto of Lincoln, Calif., on his eighth trip to Cedros and COA with host Pat McDonell. He heard about a new Puerto Vallarta tuna trip and called in his reservation from Cedros! He moves quick! PAT McDONELL PHOTO

Last year COA purchased an 8-seat twin-prop Chieftan Navajo, offering trips from Brown Field in Otay Mesa on the U.S. side to the island. Quicker, and more fishing time. They also have the usual charter flight from Ensenada, which I took with half the group after being bussed from Otay to Ensenada and back. We had a few delays and hiccups with both flights but COA handled it all, and one benefit of a delayed flight home for me was three extra hours of fishing in the morning, with two of us casting surface iron like madmen and connecting on 5 quality forkies two miles form the lodge in beautiful conditions. What a way to end a trip.


Each year is different — the fishing, the tactics, the weather. The constant is the service, the food, the lodge, the view, the effort and the staff and the crews. It’s not easy and I’ve seen the lodge grow and expand, and it remains one of my favorite destinations in the world. A first-timer felt the same way.


“Cedros is a magical place,” said Doug Aiken of Carmel Valley. “It’s the best fishing experi-ence I’ve ever had. We caught countless fish and my family consumed pounds of yellowtail sashimi last night when I got home that I caught yesterday morning. Earlier this year, I went helicopter skiing in British Columbia and had a jaw-dropping time. Cedros Island is the helicopter skiing of fishing. Jose runs a great operation, the guides are great and the food was top notch.” Aiken came down with five friends, four from San Diego and one, Jim Johnson, who relocated to St. Louis and loves it there. The group of five had great fishing, not wide-open fishing, but steady action on bigger yellows to 30-plus pounds.


On his eighth trip was Dave Fausto of Lincoln, Calif., who flew to San Diego with friend Jeff Ramsdell, a fellow retired firefighter. They teamed with this reporter and targeted the yellows and toughed out bumpy conditions using Rapalas, live bait, Butterfly jigs, and surface iron, which was my favorite as I zinged out lures with my Daiwa Lexa 400 and Proteus rod, my go-to yellowtail, calico and small tuna surface casting outfit.


The first half-day after the flight turned up a few small fish, and the second day the wind blew hard and made things tough on most boats that went on a north side run. Reef calicos on Butterfly jigs and a few bigger yellows on trolled Rapalas were caught, and finally our pangero Toto decided we had been punished enough and we headed in at 4 p.m., a few hours early with two fish each. We were whipped. Not great for Cedros, or our legs and backs. The next day we’d all make bait and continue to head north up the south side of the island, Toto said.


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TYLER AND CANDY Barnes of San Diego defied rough conditions and pushed onto St. Augustine at the north end of the island and fished with ColtSnipers all three days, scoring a dozen species, including dozens of bass and these two slug sheephead. Tyler’s fish was a 15 pounder. Candy’s was slightly smaller. TYLER BARNES PHOTOS

The winds were even more intense and a mixed swell from the west and a south swell from a tropical storm made life more difficult, but we still caught a few yellows on a reef about four miles up the line. By noon, we turned back to the lee side. I have to admit, we were bummed. Almost resigned to a slow trip overall. The fishing off the salt plant where we were headed had seen only small fish the first half-day. But the waters were more comfortable to fish in and soon we hooked a few fish on the Rapala.


Then things got interesting. We lost 4 big yellows to the reef, and then the birds started working, we gave chase, and then the surface iron worked its magic. Every other cast was a yellowtail, 15 to 18 pounds, smashing the scrambled egg 6x Jr., which seemed to excite the hordes of yellows more than the surface iron. It was wide-open, limits-for-all crazy Cedros action on 18 to 20 pounders. It just took a while to show itself.


The next morning the fish were still there off the salt plant, slamming the iron. Not like the afternoon before, but it was a great “extra” bite we enjoyed due to the delayed flight.


The group was a mix of returnees and first-timers. One was Bart Williams of Oceanside, a 67-year-old retired pool contractor and my roomie for the trip. Great guy.


“It was a blast,” said Williams. “It was just what I was looking for, these big yellows. Their mouths are just huge! My biggest was a 35 pounder on a Rapala on the first day, and on the second day I got a 25 pounder, and on the third day we had 15 to 28 pounders.”


The lodge food got high marks by all, finished off the final night by a lobster blowout, a true feast. Williams fished the two full days with Sam Dobel and girlfriend Alena Tsal of Mission Hills (near Santee in San Diego County), who is just learning how to fish. She did great.


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JEFF RAMSDELL OF Lincoln, Calif., with a fine yellowtail the final morning, nailing it on the surface iron using his distinctive camo-colored Avet Raptor reel. PAT McDONELL PHOTO

“The operation is great and I would be back in a heartbeat,” said Dobel, 36, who works in the insurance industry assisting vets with their disability claims. He worked on the San Diego Bay bait barge in his younger days and he’s fished a lot. “It’s relaxing and well-run, and I told Alena that, ‘You know, it just feels like home here.’ She caught her first yellowtail and I caught my biggest-ever yellowtail flylining a mackerel. One thing I would tell people, you don’t need a lot of gear. Some live bait hooks, sardine-colored 8- to 12-inch Rapalas, light and 6x Jr. scrambled egg iron.”


One couple had the island at its mercy and they did not fish with the fleet, and as longtime visitors, Tyler and Candy Barnes prefer fishing in the Punta St. Augustine area to the north. Each day they pushed through the wind and slop to get there where it was pretty flat and protected from the 20-knot winds.


“We come here to Cedros three times a year and have been coming from the very beginning when people were just starting to fish here, before all the operations and lodges,” said Tyler, who for 27 years has had a second home on the water just north of Ensenada. A lot has changed in the area, and all of Baja. More traffic, sure, but better restaurants and wineries.


As for the fishing, both Candy and Tyler prefer the wild action and uncertainty of fishing the deep and shallow reefs off St. Augustine with Colt­Snipers. “Trolling is too boring,” said Candy.


“You never know what you are going to hook up,” Tyler said. “I just prefer those lures. They have a great action. Today (the second day) we had 140 fish and we counted them, and 60 of those were calicos, bigger ones. A lot of other species too, and while we were at it we still had 8 yellowtail.” The area is also a prime white seabass spot, and will turn up halibut and black seabass as well. “Every drop is a surprise.”


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DOUG AIKEN OF Carmel Valley came down with a group of five from San Diego and the avid skier and angler said that Cedros is the “helicopter skiing of fishing.” Aiken (blue shirt, shorts holding big yellow) was with Don Fryer of Del Mar, James Johnston of St. Louis, Robert Meachem of Corona Del Mar, and Ryan Sykes of Carmel Valley. PHOTOS COURTESY OF DOUG AIKEN

Two surprises were monster sheephead the first day. Tyler’s was 15 pounds and Candy’s was just a tad smaller, about 12. Tyler is looking at other Baja spots, and is fishing with WON with two friends at La Bocana in October. Another trip with Candy to Cedros is in the works for May or June. It’s prime time for bigger forkies then.


“That’s when the homeguards are around,” said Tyler.


As it was a sponsored WON trip, the 12 anglers received Daiwa tools, water bottles from COA (to cut down on plastic bottles and trash on the island) and four $50 gift certificates were raffled off the final evening.


The WON charter group was made up of: Dave Fausto and Jeff Ramsdell both of Lincoln, Calif., Bart Williams of Ocean­side, Miquel Verdugo of Sylmar, Carlos Vasquez of Commerce, Luis Urena of La Mirada, Sam Doble and girlfriend Alena Tsal of Santee, Tyler and Candy Barnes of San Diego, Don Fryer of Del Mar, Doug Aiken of Carmel Valley, James Johnston of St. Louis, Robert Meachem of Corona Del Mar and Ryan Sykes of Carmel Valley.


For details on any WON trips this year or next, contact Cameron Gauci at cameron@wonews.com. Also, be sure to go to www.cedrosoutdooradventures.com for the latest fish reports, the 2020 schedule and tips on tackle and fresh reports from Tom Gatch. And, of course, read WON for its weekly Baja report in print and wonews.com for the Baja Reports blog.


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PAT McDONELL, HOST of the trip, had a ball on the surface iron. The Daiwa Proteus rod matched with the Daiwa 400 reel is his go-to outfit. Just keep throwing the surface iron and you are rewarded sooner or later. But everything worked.


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THE BAJA MAGIC LODGE deserves its name. Magical fishing, food and service and a view that is, well, magical too. It keeps expanding, hosting anglers, and at times, university students studying the island’s ecosystem. PAT McDONELL PHOTO

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BART WILLIAMS OF Oceanside enjoying the afternoon view at the lodge after a great day of limit-style yellowtail fishing.

anotherkillerayANOTHER KILLER DAY at Cedros Island begins as the pangas move out toward the bait grounds. DOUG AIKEN PHOTO


hostsjoseangelHOSTS JOSE ANGEL Sanchez of COA and WON’s Pat McDonell.

miguelverdugofishyMIGUEL VERDUGO, (fishy shirt), Carlos Vasquez, right, and Luis Urena, beard, collect their vacuum-packed fillets they enjoyed filling over three days of panga fishing.

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