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Feature Article: WON La Bocana Charter

La Bocana: Baja’s beachfront, four-option angling paradise

BY PAT McDONELL/Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Nov 15, 2019

WON’s trip of 12 fishermen with BajaFishingConvoys.com introduced readers to a fabled fishery inside and out with the estero, insanely good surf fishing, local reefs and offshore opportunities — mixed with a location, lodging and cuisine

LA BOCANA, Baja California Sur — It was the first day on the water for our group, and after a run outside 25 miles to the Polaris Bank aboard the super panga, our La Bocana guide opted to move inside to calmer water at a high spot three or four miles off the coast. I was the fourth angler on the panga as I would be on all four days with different trios of customers as the host of the 6-day WON trip for 12 readers with Baja Fish Convoys. It’s a trip I hope we do annually. It’s that good of a Baja fishing and travel experience.


But back to the first day.


afterawildfirstAFTER A WILD first morning bite on yellows, we took time for a group shot. From left were: host Pat McDonell, Rick Lyse and father-son Tyler and Tommy Barnes of Long Beach. All the forktails were caught on surface iron.

There were four pangas, three paying customers on each and I would rotate each day. I started off the first 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. run with Tyler Barnes, his son Tommy and Tyler’s longtime fishing buddy, Rick Lyse. All are from Long Beach, and all are pretty good sticks — make that excellent sticks. Tyler had just fished with his wife Candy on the Cedros Island trip I’d hosted a month back, but for this first look at La Bocana, Tyler opted to go with his son and friend Rick for this trip of four days on the water. Hardcore fishermen, those three, and upon hearing I’d picked them to fish with first, Tyler had warned me that his son Tommy was pretty intense on the water, highly competitive. He liked to throw lures, stickbaits, plastics, anything with a hook he can sling, and he can sling and crank all day.


One thing about hosting trips, especially one in which skill with a rod and reel is important for some measure of credibility, you don’t want to screw up. You have to hold your own, and soonenough I realized I’d better have an A game because these guys would razz your ass. Not as bad as they razz each other, but pretty bad.


So, we pull up to the high spot a few miles off the coast. A few of the other pangas were in the immediate area because the La Bocana guys really work together, and so we start throwing iron. Two boats had bent rods on nice yellows. I lost my 6-ounce jig on the first cast. “Damn, how shallow is it?”


“Shallow. Muy shallow, señor,” said Dago. By the time I had pulled and finally busted off the jig, retied a 60-pound leader (for the rocks) and tied on my mint 7X surface jig, one of several I brought, my boat mates had hooked and landed three big yellows of over 20 pounds. It was a wild start and was spinning my wheels in mud. Then I heard it.


“Oh, we gotta get Pat a fish,” said Tommy. Pity time was on. That’s when I said a prayer, please Lord, I need a fish. Or I’m going to be that outdoor writer who can’t fish. And there’s a bunch of ’em. Now, if there is one thing I can do, it is throw a surface iron and rip it in (thank you, Daiwa Lexa 400), and praise the Lord, I got an 18- to 20-pound yellow on my first cast, then another, then an­other. Three fish in a row and now, Tommy says, “Jeez, Pat’s on fire!” I could now relax. The hazing was over. I was in the club. We all ended up with 4 or 5 each, 15 to 20 pounds. I lost one to the rocks, but 4 was a nice score.


larryfukuharahad
LARRY FUKUHARA HAD the biggest yellowtail of the trip with this 24 pounder. The San Pedro angler fishing on the third day threw a mint green surface iron near the beach just to the north of the camp, and after picking through a lot of barries, bonito, small yellows and bass, this forkie came calling. His guide Enrique is pictured behind Larry, and at right was a clowning-around Orchid Martinez of Baja Fishing Convoys. What a great host!

“I asked the guide and that spot is Boca Loco, a high spot, and if we didn’t get a yellowtail, we got log barracuda and bonito, and it was every cast,” said Rick later at the outside patio bar, where I slurped down fresh oysters and sipped a strong margarita. “Those barracuda are logs. And the yellowtail, wide open, I think they’re meaner than the ones at Cedros. I got busted off on 15 pounders.”


That’s what kick-started the trip — that bite — but as we soon found out, there was never an issue with how the early fall trip would turn out. La Bocana was everything as advertised by various TV shows, posts on Face­book and Orchid Martinez herself, who hosted the trip as owner of Baja Fishing Convoys, the booking agency for La Bocana. “This is a pretty cool place,” said Rick, “and I’d come back for sure.”


Orchid and her husband Johnny handled every little detail of our travel, working with La Bocana Adventures, a camp of nine on-the-sand cabins, an office and a restaurant on the beach at the mouth of the pristine, shallow estero that runs 10 miles from the commercial fishing village of La Bocana (population 1,800) to the south toward another coastal village, Punta Abreojos. La Bocana was built and is owned and operated by the village’s fishing coopertiva. It is not a poor little Baja town. It prospers with its lobster operation, abalone and estero shellfish farm. But when the abalone population took a hit, it decided to diversify with tourism in the form of the camp that attracts whale watchers, fishermen, surfers and kite surfers.


The trip was hosted by this writer, Pat McDonell, Orchid and Johnny Martinez of BajaFishingConvoys.com. There was Tyler and son Tommy and Tyler’s longtime friend, Richard Lyse, also of Long Beach. Larry Fukuhara of San Pedro came solo, as did SoCal angler Ron Mayeda. There was another trio representing three generations of Sleeks: Grandfather Ted Sleek of San Clemente, his son Ted Sleek Jr. of Burbank, and his son Ryan Sleek, also of Burbank. Fresh off a WON Alaska trip to Sitka were longtime friends Glenn Hinman of Whittier and Ted Tarnowksi. And rounding out the dozen guests were two buddies and co-workers, Ruben Richards of Covina and Lawrence San-Gil of Cerritos.


What our group of 12 WON readers found quickly was that the cabins are very comfortable, most of them with two beds (a few have one queen bed), dressers, a table and chairs, a ceiling fan, a coffee pot, TV, full bathrooms and internet, plus a porch for relaxing or re-rigging. The view is of nothing but pangas and the estero entrance, a wide channel.


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LARRY SAN GIL of Cerritos and his guide Oso, with a quality yellow on the iron on one of the reefs to the south off Abreojos. There were a lot of options up and down the coast.

We also found the fishing to be amazing. Granted, we didn’t get any tuna or wahoo that we thought we might get, but the high spots and inshore reefs were packed with fish. You just never knew what you’d hook when you dropped a jig, trolled a Rapala or threw a surface iron. A nice calico, a yellow, a log barracuda (10 pounds was typical), bonito of 7 to 10 pounds that were voracious, leopard grouper to 30 pounds and yellows to 24 pounds. It was nonstop action.


Okay, so we all had a great day and after my margarita and oysters, I went back to the cabin to write up some notes. I came out a half hour later and looked around and there was a crowd on the beach 100 yards to the north. Cars were parked on the edge of the estero on the hard-pack sand, people casting, most yelling, rods bent. Damn. I grabbed my drone, my camera, and my surface iron outfit (Proteus/Daiwa Lexa 400 high speed) with the mint green jig. Kinda big for surf fishing but I was in a hurry.


It was a crazy scene. A mass of small sardines had settled in a few yards off the water’s calm edge of the estero and birds were diving, anglers were hooking sierra, yellows, sand bass and small halibut, mostly on light surf tackle. It’s what Baja’s coast would look like if bait populations in Baja off Ensenada and other areas were not ravaged by seiners who feed the bluefin pens. That’s a huge beef with me. It’s destroyed Ensenada Bay as a fishery.


The action on the beach was light tackle, Bill Varney-style. I set down the drone, and cast out 40 yards, on the outer edge of the dark mass that stretched 100 yards north to south. There were 10 or more of us throwing — our group and some locals who joined in the fun. I had six straight hook-ups on the 7-inch iron, all yellows, and started hooking and handing to the locals. A young boy was torn between bringing in fish with my rod or scampering about and collecting all the fish we were giving him. Orchid was filming a video on her phone, and later posted it on FB. A half hour of wild surf fishing on video as Larry Fukuhara, Rick, Tommy, his dad and others and all the others were hooked up constantly. I finally flew the drone for some overhead shots, and finally went to dinner as the sun set. We were whipped, but what a day! We had not even fished the estero.


“That first day we went to the Polaris Bank and went inside and picked up 6 yellows of decent size, about 20 pounds, and we just had a ton of barracuda but couldn’t get through them to get to the yellows,” said Fukuhara a few days later. “What made the trip for me, though, was the surf fishing and us giving the fish to the young kid, the look on his face and his dad’s face, the boy running down the beach yelling ‘Mama! Papa!’ holding the fish we’d given him. It just made the trip for me.”


rubenrichardsleftRUBEN RICHARDS, left, of Covina, hams it up with Capitan Oso after nailing this beauty of a leopard grouper on the troll the final day.

For our group, it was a combination of things. The camp cabins were clean and comfortable. The super pangas were solid with new outboards. The four pangeros of Dago, Isaac, Oso and Enrique were enthusiastic and patient and worked together constantly. The margaritas at the full bar were killer, and the dinners in the dining room were five-star quality cuisine.


Normally, meals are ordered off the menu, as one angler hankered for a big cheeseburger and another wanted some pasta (high marks for them by the guys) but for this trip, Orchid included the meals in the WON package, although we could order some appetizers and entrees from the menu and added the cost to our tab. It didn’t add up to much of a tab. The food and drinks were reasonably priced. I never ate so many raw and breaded oysters in my life. Eight bucks for a dozen. My compliments to the chef David Ojeda and the bartender Jose V.


The final night we feasted on all-you-could-handle lobster, rice and vegetables after we had a little end-of-trip party in an outside patio and stage area they use for such groups and parties like ours, an event that put a nice exclamation mark on the trip by Orchid. She thanked WON and honored the four pangeros with tackle packed, topped by a Penn rod/reel combo she bought and brought for the top captain, which ended up being Enrique. On day three, his customer Larry Fukuhara of San Pedro caught a 24-pound yellow on the mint green surface iron close to shore north of the camp. It was a surprise catch (I was on board that day) as we thought we’d just finish up with small sierra and yellows and barries in a near-shore spot laden with bait. You never know, so you just keep chucking the iron and pick through the critters. Some just pull harder than others but it’s all fun, all the time.


One could tell a lot of fishing stories about the area, but the best ones from the WON gang brewed from the afternoon runs into the estuary, which is a fabled small-game fishery that I read about 20 years ago in the fantastic Gene Kira/Neil Kelly book, “The Baja Catch.” It was a highlight of the trip to fish it, and it was for the others too, I found.


“It was constant action, with every cast a fish or a follower,” said Ruben Richards of the estuary. He was fishing with co-worker Larry San Gil and Ron Mayeda and they had a morning on local reefs that produced 12 yellows, 6 sierra and 4 groupers on the deep-diving Rapalas. Then they decided to give the estuary another shot because it was so fun the previous afternoon with small leopard grouper slamming every lure, on every drift. The long, shallow estuary is lined with either sand dunes, mangroves or low salt scrub. The water is crystal clear as the waters and shore are untouched and tidal flows over rocks and deep holes and ledges are fast. Picture, possibly, San Diego Bay 100 years ago. It is something to experience. To see and fish.


“We picked up Orchid and Johnny (of Baja Fishing Convoys who did not get a chance to fish) and we had a blast,” said Richards of the first trip into the estero the third afternoon. “We had sierra, spotties, sand bass, 2 corvina, 24 small grouper and my biggest grouper was about 5 pounds. It was a kick watching them blow up on the lures. It was a good day.”


In terms of the overall experience, every angler said it was worth the money and worth coming back for many reasons, but primarily the opportunity to fish in four different areas: Outside on the banks, inside on the reefs, in the estero and from the beach — combining for a unique Baja opportunity to catch a dozen or more different species.


Inside or out, La Bocana is the next big thing in Baja, protected by the fishing coopertiva and it’s in a biosphere (we had wristbands), and offering a different kind of experience with sand in the toes. I never wore shoes for six days — it’s sand.

One perspective: While our trip flew out of TJ to Loreto and took Baja Fishing Convoys vans five hours across the Baja Peninsula to La Bocana, the best choice I think would be to take vans to Ensenada and fly to Guerrero Negro for the one-hour drive to La Bocana. The drives were long, but every detail was handled by Orchid and Johnny. It’s what they do on their Baja trips to every remote and not-so-remote corner and cove of Baja. No matter how I would get there, I would get back to La Bocana. It’s a special place you have to experience for yourself.


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TYLER AND SON TOMMY BARNES with their leopard groupers the second day.

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SURF FISHING TURNED up a wild afternoon of action the first day, including sierra (held up by Larry Fukuhara of San Pedro), yellowtail and bass. The dark streak just off the beach is a river of sardines, which was a common inshore and offshore sight in the Mexican biosphere, which can be fished only by boats 30 feet and under, eliminating the presence of seiners.

bigcalicoswere
BIG CALICOS WERE scarce, but there were plenty of smaller bass and grouper and yellows, bonito and barriers on the local reefs, but Tommy Barnes managed some quality checkboards. He was relentless throwing the plastics.

thecabinsare
THE CABINS ARE situated at the mouth of the La Bocana estero. It’s an easy launch and the cabins — built five years ago (two more were added this season) — are well-appointed with TVs, ceiling fans, full bathrooms, quality beds, porches and are a few yards from great surf fishing. The boats in the channel are commercial boats with the coopertiva (which owns the camp) that fish for lobster and abalone and farm oysters.

labocanabar1

labocanabar1a
THE LA BOCANA bar and restaurant serves the community and hosts many groups from local residents, visiting fishermen, surfers and kite surfers.

gottahavesomeGOTTA HAVE SOME goofy fun once a while. Friends, Rick Lyse, left, and Tyler Barnes yuk it up. This was their first look at La Bocana.

rapaladeepdiversRAPALA DEEP DIVERS were deadly on the leopard grouper on the local reefs. There is one-fish panga limit enforced by La Bocana guides. No exceptions in an effort to keep the fishery sustainable. Ryan Sleek of Burbank wanted one as a bucket list item and got it at the end of the fourth and final day on the Rapala, several of which were given to the anglers the first night.

sponsorsgearprovidedSPONSORS GEAR PROVIDED to the anglers included Hi-Seas line, Yo-Zuri flouro leader, VMC hooks, Rapala deep divers, two Turner’s $50 gift cards, and Daiwa travel tackle bag and travel cooler. Checking it all out were Ruben Richards and Larry San Gil.

thelineupofsuper
THE LINEUP OF super pangas in front of the cabins. They launch off the beach at 7:15 one at a time with a truck and trailer, and anglers get in with their tackle and then are launched. It’s reversed on the return at 3 p.m.

mintmintandmore
MINT, MINT AND more mint is the color of choice for surface iron at La Bocana, located just south of Guerrero Negro and 10 miles north of Punta Abreojos. If you like to surf as well as fish, this is your place.

droneshotof
A DRONE SHOT of the 10-mile estuary shows how pristine it is, and the action in the shallows on drifts is nonstop on halibut, small bass and leopard grouper, all released.

orchidmartinezandORCHID MARTINEZ AND a La Bocana chef check out the lobsters served the final night at the awards dinner. It was lobster after lobster with all the fixin’s, and that was not even the best cuisine of the trip. The highlight of the trip was the all-included food prepared at the restaurant, every dish and soup and salsa five-star quality.

sashimiwasSASHIMI WAS AMONG the many courses each night for the anglers, included in the trip price. You could also order off the menu, as it is a full restaurant and bar open to the public. The oysters, raw and breaded, were killer. So were the margaritas. Ready to dive into the yellowtail sashimi were Ryan Sleek and Larry Fukuhara.

sunriseSUNRISE AT La Bocana. Always spectacular as you prepare for a day on the water that starts at 7:15 and ends at 3.


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