Feature Article: WON/Cedros Chater

Return to Cedros Island

BY PAT McDONELL/Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Oct 13, 2017

Now protected from purse-seining, Cedros Island, halfway down the Baja Peninsula, is seeing its fishing bust loose on yellows with a special new twist: wide-open surface action on tuna! WON’s hosted charter group scored easy limits each day and enjoyed the “Magic” of the lodge’s location and the staff’s premium hospitality

fishingforyellowtailFISHING FOR YELLOWTAIL was wide open for the trio of Mike Flores, WON’s Pat McDonell (very excited as you can see) and Ben Schuck.

CEDROS ISLAND, Baja California — The WON charter run to Cedros Island, an annual adventure for this writer, is a favorite for a variety of reasons. The remote Baja island itself; the cliffside Baja Magic Lodge; the authentic Mexican food; the views; the 12-seat prop plane flight from Ensenada; the calm, protected waters; cold beer; and good chats getting to know fellow anglers as you look out on onto one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. All this while exhausted from pulling on fish all day, sitting on the lodge patio in the afternoon with a beer and maybe smoking a Cuban cigar, if you please.

Ah, but the fishing, the fishing is amazing. It has not been stellar for a few years, as purse seiners raked the bait populations of nearby Vizcaino Bay and regularly scooped up yellows and tuna, but the Cedros and Benitos islands are now part of a massive protection zone, a biosphere, one of many established by the government on Baja’s west coast. The seiners actually tried to test its enforcement and fished the zone a few months ago after the biosphere went into effect, but a public outcry deterred the huge seiners from setting nets in the restricted zone.

Soon, fishing for yellowfin blew up, and it has continued for the last two months, adding another element to the yellowtail and trophy calico bass fishing the island operation is known for. Yes, they have been small tuna, but it was wide open on the surface just two miles from the Baja Magic Lodge, owned and operated by Jose Sanchez-Pacheco, who is on the island on-site all season while his wife, Melanie Lamaga, handles the business side in the U.S.

“While years before, tuna has been a rare occurrence, this year with the absence of the tuna and sardine seiners, lately it’s been the everyday catch with many easy limits, although only 10 to 15 pounds up to 30 pounds,” said Sanchez. “Still, they are fun to catch together with the yellowtail and calicos.”

yellowfinwerethickYELLOWFIN WERE THICK a few miles out from the lodge. After 5-fish limits were attained, the fish were then released amidst hot surface iron action. It was a wild three days at Cedros.

The one holdover issue from El Niño is that the massive kelp beds that harbored huge calicos within a short panga run are still gone. Calicos still abound on the reefs though. On the second day after limiting on yellows and tuna, we hooked dozens of 2 to 4 pounders on surface iron just off the salt works transport facility at the end of the island.

“Kelp is only back to the west at San Augustin, but most times it’s too windy to make it fun,” said Sanchez. “Still, there are big calicos for the ones who make it a morning and all-day priority. All of these calicos are catch-and-release.”

With our WON group that was on the island mid-September, the air was mild in the high 70s with some wind, but with no issues because you fish on the protected, lee side of Cedros and no one was after huge calicos or wanted to make that long run to St. Augustin’s kelp areas. Not with the tuna and yellowtail so thick within just a few miles of the marina.

“We can feel the end of summer, with slightly cooler days and some extra wind,” said Sanchez as the season wound down to just a few more groups. “Still, no outings have been cancelled this year. Worth mentioning is that almost every trip of this season we had either a son and dad, and many daughter and dad fishing teams. That’s especially important to us because it means that, with all the violence elsewhere and natural phenomena pounding popular fishing destinations (hurricanes), Cedros island, and in particular our operation, is perceived as a safe destination and where the experience will be full of good memories for everyone. We are almost at the end of the season, but lots of happy guests are booking almost immediately for 2018.”

Add our nine-person WON group to that set of satisfied customers. We had eight anglers who fished three days, with this writer tagging along to make it nine of us, and simply put, because the yo-yo iron fishing for yellows and surface iron action on the 10- to 20-pound yellowfin was so good, we were exhausted and came in early.

doradowereintheDORADO WERE IN the mix. Not a lot, but enough for Mike Flores of Rancho Santa Fe to catch his first-ever dodo.

“It was a great trip, and I was counting on it after hearing the reports,” said Bill Stafford. “But it’s an island that you never know whether it could be off for a few days, but it wasn’t. It was a whole lot better getting out there each day, getting a lot of fish early, than being out there all day and really working for it. It was a great trip, well organized, a comfortable lodge, and skilled boat captains.”

Said Carlos Gutierrez, a law enforcement officer who traveled with two fellow SoCal peace officers, Santos Jimenez and Chris Komarthy, “It’s a best-kept secret and I would recommend it to other friends and family.” The trio limited out all three days on yellows and tuna — in short order too.

Now completing its 11th year of operation, Cedros Outdoor Adventures keeps improving. I should know. I missed our last trip in 2016, but made it this year as the host of my seventh WON charter there. The Baja Magic Lodge was built by Sanchez six years ago and while I thought it was an achievement when I first saw it, Sanchez keeps expanding and improving it, providing extra amenities for the anglers. The two-story facility with a grand view of the island’s coast can currently handle up to 19 anglers, but next year it will be able to host up to 21 people. It’s not an expansion. Sanchez is finally building himself a small house above the lodge, and moving out of one of the rooms.

For those who have never been to Cedros, a typical scenario for the trip is that groups meet at 5 a.m. and park at Brown Field in Otay Mesa ($3 a day), climb into a comfortable van with their gear and head to the border, stopping just across the border to pay $30 for visas, then proceeding to Ensenada 60 miles south. There you clear Customs for the 1½-hour flight to Cedros and arrive at the lodge 5 miles away, in time to fish the early afternoon. There are then two full days of fishing 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and you go non-stop or you can take a lunch siesta, or fish through lunch and kick off early if you get quick limits.

After your 2½ days on the water, you fly back to Ensenada for the van ride to and across the border, and by 1 p.m. you are back at your car at Brown Field (if you are worried about your car’s safety, I left my F150 unlocked and the driver’s side door wide open by mistake. (Nothing was askew). Most group trips to Cedros are 12 people because the commercial prop plane from Ensenada can handle up to 12 passengers, but three more people can be flown in on private charter planes from Brown Field if they wish — providing more fishing time — but there is an additional cost.

BEN SCHUCK WITH a solid yellowtail the first day when limits came quick — right after the short plane ride from Ensenada.

“We’re looking at options for flights, some different transportation options for bigger groups,” said Sanchez.

The key to the operation is that Sanchez and his wife Melanie and their booking agent Rowan make this trip into Baja safe and easy. It’s all about the details. Booking, transportation, fantastic buffet-style Mexican food, pangas and captains, and the lodge that is quite impressive. This is on a remote island, for heaven’s sake!

Sanchez cannot control the fishing, or the weather, although rarely are either ever an issue. He can, however, control the overall experience. The Baja Magic Lodge beds are new doubles (or queens), and good quality, with nice thread count linens. Hot water in the shower is “immediate” to conserve water. The “help” is everywhere. This isn’t roughing it — far from it. The super friendly crew he has assembled carries rods and your fishing boxes or tackle packs to the truck that takes you to the marina and puts the gear on the boat for you with coolers of drinks, and when you return, they grab all tackle bags and rods for the ride home. Rod racks are outside the rooms and the outfits are gently washed and wiped down.

The website has a lot of details on the operation, so go to and check it out. I will add that the trip costs about $1,650 and you will realistically need an additional $300 or so for tips for crews and staff, and because there are so many fish, there are small overcharges for weight over 50 pounds. As for filleting, it is free, although you have two choices on that: filleting and vacuum packing your fish is $1 for a 2- to 3-pound bag, or it is free if you opt for a Ziploc bag for fillets, frozen for the transport home. There are few nickel-and-dime charges: soft drinks are free, as are waters, but beer is in the fridge and it’s a mere $1 a can on the honor system. Finally, you may have to pay a fine if you talk politics.

“This is a no-politics zone at the lodge,” suggested Sanchez in a casual “here’s how we do things” gathering on the lodge dining patio the first night during dinner. We honored that request as a group, and believe me, we were a diverse one. Among us was an air traffic controller (Miramar) and his 22-year-old son, three cops, a writer, and a retired commodities trader. Our common thread was fishing, but as time went on, we got to know each other and the group started to meld. That’s the beauty of fishing.


bryanwaterscamewith2BRYAN WATERS CAME with his dad, Dennis “Doc” Waters. After a rough start for Bryan at the border, the trip was a nice way to relax with his dad, catching a slug of tuna and yellows and nice calicos, too.

We all had great stories at the lodge as we sipped beers and feasted on plates of sashimi and ceviche before dinner. There was plenty of time for stories as the boats were in early since the yellows and tuna were so plentiful that we all ended up catching and releasing, and at some point, we just wore out our arms casting or dropping iron down deep, hooking 15- to 40-pound yellows or getting thrills as 15-pound tuna slammed surface iron. Any color iron was just fine.

The 26-foot center console pangas hold three anglers each, and this writer was joined each day by Michael Flores, a retired commodities trader from Rancho Santa Fe. He is primarily a globetrotting flyfisherman, but he was learning how to yo-yo iron for yellows and throw surface iron for tuna. And, he had never caught a dorado. He did on this trip, as 15-pound dodos were also in the mix.

Flores was a quick learner and was hooking the yellows deep and the tuna up top to the point where he was like the rest of us on three pangas — exhausted and happy. Also on our panga was estate attorney Ben Schuck, an experienced saltwater angler but a newbie to Cedros.

His comment was simple: “The trip and fishing exceeded my expectations.” Several times on the third day, all three of us were hooked up on yellowfin on the surface iron. The yellowtail? We already had limits and did not want any more yellowtail to take home. It was a great three days on the water with these two guys.”

Bryan Waters and his father, Dennis “Doc” Waters, were on a panga with Bill Stafford, who enjoyed limit-style action every day and sampled some of the big calico bass. Three law enforcement officers from the SoCal area, Santos Jimenez, Chris Komathy and Carlos Gutierrez, came on the trip together and fished on the third panga. Limits all around. Komathy remarked, “It was the best fishing I’ve had in the past few years.”

biggestfishoftheBIGGEST FISH OF the trip came the first day by WON’s host and former editor Pat McDonell. A digital scale had it at 40 pounds even. Most of the yellows were in the 18- to 25-pound class and caught on yo-yo iron.


ALL TACKLE WHEN rigged up is moved to and from lodge and trucks and pangas to the marina for anglers, and then brought back and cleaned each day. Seeker rods in various lengths and actions are free to use, making travel both easier and cheaper.

FISH EXPERTLY FILLETED at the COA dock area is either zip-locked (free) or vacuum-packed ($1 a bag) for anglers and put in bags for transport home.

costasponsoredthetripCOSTA SPONSORED THE trip with free hats, and other swag, including sunglasses. Here, Bryan Waters shows off his winning pair. (A card to order his choice on the sunglass manufacturer’s website,

relaxingafterscoringRELAXING AFTER SCORING limits early each day were Mike Flores and Ben Schuck, hanging at the lodge porch with an unbeatable view, cold brews and cool breezes.


THE ANGLERS POSE for a photo before their morning flight home to Ensenada, followed by the van run to the border. We were at Brown Field and back at our cars by 1 p.m. WON PHOTOS BY PAT McDONELL

deliciousmealsmorningDELICIOUS MEALS MORNING, noon and night — plus free soft drinks and waters and $1 beers on the tab — are part of the great bargain on this adventure. The staff is outstanding and they handle everything you could need.

About the owners and operation


THE DECK OF THE LODGE provides a great view of the coast. Every room has the same view.

JOSE ANGEL SANCHEZ stands above the Baja Magic Lodge. He built it from scratch six years ago. The Cedros Outdoor Adventures operation is in its 11th year. Sanchez keeps expanding the facility for anglers’ comfort. It’s a beautiful setting, both comfortable and relaxing.

Jose Sanchez-Pacheco is a bilingual marine biologist who has dedicated more than 30 years to working in the field of conservation. A Mexican citizen and a U.S. resident, Jose has over 30 years of experience living, traveling and working all over Baja and the Pacific islands.

Sanchez is also a certified scuba diver, is trained in rescue and first aid, and has logged many years in boats and pangas. As of July 2010, he earned his boat captain’s license. Sanchez oversees the lodge and operations in Baja California. Jose’s wife, Melanie Lamaga, is a U.S. citizen and CEO of Cedros Outdoor Adventures U.S. Inc.

The website is but here are some basic details on the operation.

— They maximize your fishing time from the moment you land at the island, including fishing the same day of arrival. Also, your trips can be customized in duration and mode of transportation.

— Trips can be customized and Sanchez can take you on pre-arranged tours of the island, which looks stark and dry on the lee size, but features a diverse and even lush ecosystem with meadows and trees in the upper elevations.

— Sanchez offers many options and services: vacuum sealing, 26-foot pangas with live bait tanks and electronics, different modes of transportation to the island, private access to their beach, their own floating dock, customizable food options, free internet and phone calls, and a beachside hot-tub.

— Their crew receives all legal benefits and must pass drug tests, important for a healthy, family-friendly and risk-free environment.

— They offer free Seeker rods for use for free, and reels to rent, too. Many guests just bring reels and lures and terminal tackle and use the provided Seekers.

— The 21-guest Baja Magic Lodge offers the best accommodations within hundreds of miles, with big rooms, comfortable beds, and all ocean-front rooms to boot.

— The preparation of meals in their modern kitchen is under strict sanitary conditions and meals are customizable. Just ask. But you won’t be disappointed in the food.

— They care about the health of the island’s environment since Jose is a marine biologist. They also contribute to the island’s high school, local festivities and other activities, making do­nations every year and supporting individuals or groups of researchers on the island that include conservationists, ornithologists (birds), geologists, herpetologists (reptiles), botanists, archeologists, and ichthyologists (fish).

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