Jonathan Roldan – 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:

The gift
It was the most fun 6 guys could have in a grocery store in Mexico. And I had fun watching them.

Y’know Christmas lasts beyond Dec. 25th in Mexico. People traditionally exchange gifts and celebrate until Jan. 6th. That’s the feast of the Epiphany when historically the three wise men visited the Christ child in the manger.

It got me thinking about gift giving that I had witnessed over the years in Mexico.

More than 20 years ago, there was a group of guys who all worked together. Some years there would be 10 guys. Other years, as many as 30 who all came down for a few days to fish with us in La Paz.

Over the years, they developed a tradition of gifting the community. Specifically, they would make a donation to the old folks nursing home in La Paz.

As one of them told me, “Everyone donates to the kids or the orphanages or the church, or poor. But everyone forgets the old folks!”

He was right.

In many families, grandparents stay with the nuclear family. Everyone lives together a long as they can. Often 2, 3 or even 4 generations all taking care of each other.

However, for whatever reason, there are many who have no one to care for them. They go to the old folks home.

If you ever have a chance to visit, it’s pretty depressing. No TV. No barbecues on the patio. No “bingo night” or “afternoon crafts.” No “day trips to the shopping mall” or “hair salon.”

Basically, these poor folks sit propped in a chair or leaning against a wall. Waiting. Watching. Last time I was there, no one was even talking. Many just stared blankly with barely any recognition.

It was like an old movie projector. You could hear the slight hum. But the projector light just wasn’t turned on.

Conditions are sparse. This isn’t Senior World by any stretch.

The caretakers seemed to care and did the best they could with limited resources, but there’s only so much that can be done.

In the few times I have visited, I never saw a visitor. The only visitor was permanent loneliness and solitude.

So, these group of guys started to make a point of doing something about it.

Every year, they would decide that one day of their fishing trip, no matter what they caught, all of their catch would be donated to the seniors. Quite a gift when it seemed like mostly all they ate were beans, rice and tortillas!

They would also take a collection up from their other co-workers.

Using the money, they would run through the grocery store. Each of the guys with an empty shopping cart!

In went produce!

In went milk and cheese!

In went whole turkeys and hams!

In went frozen bags of shrimp and fish!

In went big bags of beans and rice!

In went shampoo and soaps… socks… and underwear!

If you’ve ever seen “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and watched how things were literally sucked up by the Grinch with such glee, that’s how it was with these guys! It was fun to watch!

Carts were piled as high as could be and they laughed all the way, running up and down the aisles.

I spied one of the guys down one aisle happily packing cartons of beer and cartons of boxed wine as well as some cakes and pastries!

I looked at him quizzically.

He laughed and said, “Hey, they’re old. They ain’t dead! Might as well enjoy the time!”

Well, amen to that!

It took two vans to pack it all up.

Upon showing up at the senior’s home, it was indeed like Christmas.

Unloading the bags of boxes was better than watching kids unwrap presents! Some of them cried. Many of them hugged and shook our hands as they said “Gracias” over and over. And “Que Dios te bendiga.” (God bless you!)

At least for a moment, the lights came on in this small place in Mexico and in the lives of some forgotten folks.

And then… the first things they cracked open…

The beers and wine of course! And we had one with them then drove away with even bigger smiles. And it wasn’t from the beer.

• • • • •

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Running leaner
There’s that old saying, “Better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.”

If you’re a fisherman like me, you’ve got toys. Lots of toys. And we like to play with our toys and surround ourselves with lots of our toys. Deep inside, we’re still little boys.

Just the way we are.

So, when I go on fishing trips, I want to bring all my toys with me. Bring the whole garage full if possible. And use them all too.

And you want back-up gear for your backup gear.

A 3-day fishing trip to Baja?

Well, let’s see.

Eight sticks… 2 trolling rods… 4 bait rods… 2 jig sticks. Check.

Of course, that means 8 reels to match. And 3 extra reels in case there’s a malfunction, like if a handle falls off or you burn out the drags. Check.

Terminal tackle:

— 50 hooks of each size

— 20 jigs in all colors and shapes

— 5 pounds of lead

— 20 trolling feathers

— Squid jigs

— Large, medium and small rod belts / harnesses

— Leader material in all sizes from 10- to 100-pound- test

— … and of course, something to carry it all in. Check.

— 100-quart ice chest? Check.

Over the years, I’ve seen anglers bring some other weird stuff too!

— One guy brought his own anchor.

— Another brought a machete.

— A fish-finder and battery.

— A large, battery-operated bait tank.

— A fish caller that made sounds underwater to “call fish.”

— A harpoon. Yeah… a full-sized harpoon.

C’mon, man!

But, in all honesty, it’s great to have it but for just a few days on the water, how much do you really need? How much will you realistically use?

Especially in these days of airlines increasing the restrictions on the size and weight of luggage and the prohibitive fees for exceeding those restrictions, it’s time to re-evaluate.

If it’s you and a buddy, consider combining your gear, as much as it hurts to share. Put all your rods in one container. Share hooks, jigs and other equipment.

Downsize! There are some great travel rods out there these days that will literally fit in an overhead compartment.

Ask your charter operator what you really need. Maybe they already have some or all of your gear and it’s good stuff. Leave what you don’t need at home.

If you’re chasing dorado, there’s no need to pack a Penn 50W International. Match your reels to what you will realistically be targeting. Or consider bringing lighter gear and use the heavier gear provided.

For taking fish home, consider soft-sided coolers. Hard-side ice-chests weigh a lot with absolutely nothing in them. Soft-coolers weigh only a few pounds and you can put a lot more fish in them and still stay under the airline weight restrictions. Plus, they’re a lot easier to haul around too.

I’m not talking about cold coolers like you bring ice cream home from the market or keep your drinks cold at a tailgate picnic. These are genuine cold bags that are often airline-rated and will keep your fillets frozen for many hours, or even a day or two.

These coolers are also great on a boat. They will keep drinks and ice colder longer than a hard-sided cooler. Plus, again, a lot easier to handle than a hard-sided cooler.

You also want to check your airlines too. Some, like Southwest, allow for free bags. Others might be cheaper, but charge a lot for luggage and especially for being over-weight or over-sized.

One other thing, consider leaving some of your gear behind for your captain or crew. It’s a great goodwill gesture, although it should NOT be done in lieu of a tip.

Gear is expensive in Mexico and would be extremely welcome as a gift. Do you really need to drag home all that lead or 10 jigs? It will help lighten the load home.

Either way, leave the harpoon in the garage!

Jonathan can be reached at his Tailhunter Sportfishing Fleet in La Paz at

• • • • •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice

C.P.R. for FISH
We had several pangas slow trolling the shallow, turquoise waters off Punta Arenas. White sands met the Sea of Cortez in colors worthy of any travel brochure.

We are in roosterfish land.

The big kings of the beach in this area can range from 40 to over 100 pounds. We had already landed and released two 60-pound fish and were hoping for at least one more.

Two other guys in the panga 50 yards away suddenly started whooping. They had a double strike and the boat was in pandemonium mode.

Both guys were on bent rods already moving and dancing around the stern of the panga trying to keep the lines tight and untangled. The captain was alternately steering the boat, coaching the anglers and trying to keep the deck cleared.

The big fish were tearing up the waters behind the boat. We could hear the reels singing.

We needed to change our own baits so we stopped our panga and all of us watched the crazy activity in the other panga. It made for some fun video – time for a cold beer anyway.

In about 15 minutes, both fish were simultaneously brought to the boat. Everyone was high fiving and whooping it up. As they should! Judging just by the dorsal fins of the submerged fish, they were legit 50- to 70-pound roosters.

This was confirmed as both fish were lifted into the panga.

One fish, was unceremoniously plopped on the deck. The other was dropped by the tired angler. I could see the anglers and skipper jump as the fish thrashed.

Then, of course, congratulatory photos.

This pose. That pose. Double pose. Hold them this way. Hold them that way. Snap! Snap! Snap! Your camera. My camera. Now with the captain. You know how it goes.

Then, of course holding the fish up so we could see! Of course, we gave them some sportsmanlike applause and thumbs ups.

Photos done, I could see everyone bending over and trying to unhook the fish. It looked problematic but ultimately, it was clear that hooks and lines were unhitched.

Then, both fish were lifted and heaved up and over the side in cannonball splats! More high-fives, knuckle taps and fist bumping.

Good for them.

But, as we pulled away to start trolling again, I had to cringe about how the fish were handled. No doubt, I’m glad the fish were released and the other anglers were well-intentioned.

I could only hope the fish survived.

There’s a right and a wrong way to C.P.R. a fish (Catch-Photo-Release).

For one, time is of the essence. Actually, it’s the most important thing.

A fighting fish builds up lactic acid in their muscles just like any human who exercises strenuously. The longer the fight, the more lactic acid builds up. In fish, this can be lethal.

Once the fight is over, if you can get your photos and the release without taking the fish out of the water, all the better. Once you pull the fish out of the water, a bunch of things happen.

In the water, fish have neutral buoyancy. When you take them out, gravity takes over and internal organs can be severely damaged.

This is especially true if you hold the fish (as we have all done), with the head up and tail down. It’s just not a natural position for the fish and all it’s innards.

Also, dropping the fish on the deck is a knucklehead move.

Fish need water to breathe.

So, for obvious reasons, once the fish is out of the water, it’s suffocating. It’s just been fighting for its life and now it can’t breathe because you're have a 10-minute photo session.

Imagine running several hundred-yard dashes as if an army of zombies was after you. At the end of 10 minutes… 15 minutes… an hour of running full-speed, someone pinches off your nose and mouth so you can’t breathe!

A couple of other pointers.

As mentioned, holding a fish vertically isn’t doing the fish much good. How you hold it can further exacerbate the damage.

Holding it by the gill and probably damaging its breathing apparatus is a fail. So is sticking your fingers in it’s eyeball sockets! OUCH.

The fish also have a very important slime covering their bodies.

The more you touch it, the more that slime rubs off. That coating is important in warding off infections. Another reason why dropping it on the deck to wiggle and squirm is a really bad move.

Removing the hooks properly is essential as well.

For your own protection, as well as the fish, use long-nose pliers. If all else fails, it might be better to just cut the line as close to the hook as you can rather than further injure the fish.

Better to get it back into the water faster.

Undoubtedly, there’s some controversy on this topic.

Some say that the hook will eventually cause an infection that kills the fish. Others say that the hook will eventually rust out. For that reason, some anglers use bronze hooks instead of stainless steel whenever they can.

People with bigger brains than mine might someday figure that one out. Personally, I would just like to get the fish in the water and on its way ASAP.

Finally, for the actual release, be gentle.

Tossing it into the air like a pizza to come down in a big splat doesn’t cut it in any circumstances.

If you can, gently get the fish moving back-and-forth in the water. This helps re-oxygenate its gills. For a big fish, slowly moving the boat forward while carefully holding the fish helps accelerate getting the fish back to normal and reviving it, and the fish swimming off no worse for wear to fight another day.

•   •   •   •   •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

A man’s junk
No, not THAT junk!

I’m talking about fishing junk. And there’s a lot to be said about one man’s junk being another man’s treasure, so to speak.

For instance, let’s talk about “junk fish.” I hear it almost every day when our fishing clients come back.

“We had a good day, but also caught a lot of junk fish too. Fun, but can’t eat ’em!”

“Man, the junk fish were all over us today!”

By that they usually mean species like bonito, jack crevalle, barracuda needlefish, triggerfish and the like.

They can be really fun to catch and make great sport.

However, rather than quickly unhooking them and tossing them back into the water, there’s things to be done with them that can give you a completely different perspective on some of these species.

Let me preface by saying I’m all for catch-and-release. By all means, if you’re not going to eat it and make good use of it, let it go to fight another day and make babies.

However, if one happens to die on you or for some reason you have to take it aboard, there are ways to turn lemons into margaritas.

For instance, it’s an eat-and-be-eaten world down there. Everybody eats everyone else in the underwater foodchain.

Chunked “junk fish” tossed into your chum line can get the fish going and bring them into feed mode. Especially dark meated and bloody fish like bonito or jack crevalle are very oily and leave a great scent in the water.

Besides, they are also very firm and sinewy and will stay nicely on a chunk hook.

You can take a whole bonito, jack, barracuda or other species…maybe one of the smaller ones…

If it’s still alive have a heavy rig ready to go.

I like to cut one of the fins and also put some small cuts in the flanks.

Send it back down deep with sufficient lead on a dropper loop and a stout rod and your drag set tight.

It will go down there and swim irregularly like the wounded fish that it is. The cuts will emit some blood and scent.

Mr. Grouper and Mr. Dog Tooth snapper have big mouths and just love sucking down a tasty whole fish like that! Better hold on!

This will also work if the fish is dead.

Similarly, dead fish can be tied to the transom of the boat on a short rope. Again with some deep cuts in the flanks. Slow trolling, these fish leaves a nice scent in your prop wash.

I’ve been trolling like this many times. With live bait lines out behind the boat, I’ve looked down and seen dorado three feet behind the boat actually taking chunks of the dead fish we are dragging.

I quietly show my clients and point down in the water and have them slowly bring the live bait close into the prop wash and BANG! FISH ON!

You can do the same thing with strips of dead junk fish trolled behind the boat with a swivel and leader. It will often get bit when other lures or bait are ignored.

One trick was taught to me many many years ago by the the owner of the old Doorknob lure company. He told me to actually pin a strip of dead fish onto the hook of the trolled lure.

A greasy, oily piece like the belly meat of a bonito, mackerel, jack or barracuda adds a lot of scent to the water — plus it wiggles when trolled and it entices fish to bite the lure and hold onto that flavor of fresh meat.

You can take a combination of dead junk fish and grind it and mash it up as well. I would take it home and freeze it with the end of a rope frozen into the gooey mess.

I would then take it fishing and hang it over the side of the boat. As the boat rises and falls in the water, the big chunk slowly melts and the mashed chum (blood guts and all) slowly dissipate into the water.

By the way, this is also a good way to attract bait to the boat if you’re catching finbait with a Lucky Joe or Sabiki rig!

One last thing I will often do with a junk fish that regretfully gets killed.

I always keep a bottle of the hottest burn-your-butt hot sauce in my tackle box.

When a sea lion comes around and starts creating a nuisance, I don’t wanna hurt it permanently. I just want the animal to go away and bug someone else’s boat.

I’ll take that junk fish and put hot sauce in it and heave it like a football at the sea lion. He/ she grabs it like they pulled another fast one on me. They might toss it in the air a bit thinking to rub my nose in it.

Then they dive.

I count…5…4…3…2…. I know that bugger sealion is chomping down.

BAM…up he comes barking and yapping and flipping all around with a mouth of spice he’s never had before! And he goes swimming off!

Like I said, I don’t wanna hurt any animal permanently or unnecessarily but this is kinda funny. Beats the old days with seal bombs and wrist rockets.

Oh… and it works great on seagulls and pelicans too! Just a drop of hot sauce on a piece of bait. Hehehehehe….

* * *

Jonathan can be reached at his Tailhunter Sportfishing Fleet in La Paz at

•   •   •   •   •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

I don’t always tell people where I fish… but when I do, it’s a lie!
Fishermen are funny folks.

Most of them that I know will give you the shirts off their backs. They’ll invite perfect strangers to sit down for dinner and a beer.

They’ll happily give you every fish recipe they know. They’ll patiently show you how to tie every knot or explain their gear to you.

But, there’s a caveat and limit to generosity. Fishermen have a reputation for tall tales and outright lies. It’s in our nature.

Nowhere is that more evident than when you ask an angler where his secret fishing spots are located.

He or she will give up the combination to the family safe or tell you where the family jewels are stashed before revealing their honey hole fishing spots.

In my years down here, I have seen some crazy things.

With our fleets here in La Paz, let me preface by saying that most of the captains are related by blood or marriage. Overall, no matter which fleets they work for, there’s a general spirit of cooperation.

Most times!

There’s mutual respect and at the end of the day, they all have to go home to the same families, neighborhoods and, in some cases, the same homes together.

But, like competing football teams, that doesn’t mean there’s any lack of competitiveness or shenanigans.

For example, there’s radio channels.

There are the general channels that everyone listens to or for emergencies. But then each fleet also has it’s own channel that everyone in that particular fleet tunes to. Everyone knows the other fleet’s frequencies.

And there’s the “secret channel” where anyone can listen, but the fleet broadcasts its phoney-baloney info! And the channels change all the time to keep the competition off-balance.

For instance, they’ll broadcast the wrong locations to catch bait or where the dorado or tuna are biting. They’ll outright lie about what they’ve caught in their fish boxes or where they are located.

And all seems fair.

It’s part of the game and strategy because everyone is doing it. The “hot” guy one day might be ice cold the next. He might be giggling about his secret spot today but tomorrow, he’s the goat and gets duped by false info.

The secret to playing the game is scanning through all the radio junk and know who’s broadcasting what info and recognizing voices.

To us it sounds like one continuous Spanish word and a lot of squawking, but there’s a method to the madness. I’ve even seen them disguise their voices.

Almost like the Navajo radiomen in World War II.

So, if your captain seems like he’s spending a lot of time on the radio, he’s wading through all the chatter and keying on what’s happening on the oceanic gameboard.

This was all explained to me years ago by one of my captains after I asked him why he spent so much seemingly useless time on the radio.

He laughed and said, “I’m playing the game! My youngest brother and uncle work for the other fleet. My older brother and cousin work for you so we screw with each other all day. So do all the other captains!”

Gamesmanship! Know when to hold ‘em. Know when to fold ’em.

He also said, “We know the gringo guys in the big yachts are trying to listen as well and we do not want them to know our spots and ruin the bite!”

Well, OK then…

Another time with one of our favorite skippers, he told us to bring colorful beach towels with us. Sure. No big deal.

Later in the day, he brought us to one of his “secret spots.” We were having a blast catching fish.

But, whenever another panga (from another “team”) got close to us, he would quickly tell us to take down the rods and hide them. He told us to grab the beach towels and pretend we had been swimming.

He told us to make a lot of noise and pretend we were drying off and wave at the other boat as it went by.

As soon as they were gone, out came the rods again! Sneaky.

There was another year when we had a huge dorado bite going off north of town. The “fish magnet” turned out to be a huge Christmas tree that someone had set adrift.

Floating upside down, it attracted huge schools of sizeable dorado and other species. Whoever was on the spot could easily load up on fish and/or catch- and-release as quickly as you could put a bait in the water. It was epic.

One or two boats would fish the spot and load it up. It would then call in other friendly pangas. They would get their limits. They would leave and call in others. And so-on-and-so-on in a great rotation!

All the while, phoney radio transmissions were getting sent out. But…word eventually got out to the other fleets.

Every few nights, each fleet would “steal” the tree and tow it to another secret spot known only to it’s captains.

A few nights later, having deciphered all the crazy radio broadcasts, some other fleet would steal it back. This went on for two weeks until the currents carried it away or the tree simply disintegrated.

Even on a daily basis, when our own captains return each day to give me their reports, I ask where they were fishing or where they found the bite.

“Where were you fishing today?"

I get winks and a smile, “In the Sea of Cortez, Senor Jonathan!”

Let the games continue… can’t trust a fisherman to give a straight answer.

*  *  *

Jonathan can be reached at his Tailhunter Sportfishing Fleet in La Paz at

• • • • •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

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