I caught fish, yes I did. I've washed and stored a share of the fish in my freezer.
We took off from San Jose at 5am, thanks to Gloria for a lift that early in the morning, and had an easy trip to Loreto, Baja. Loreto is a great place. A very, very, very (did I say, "very"?) small town. No big hotels. No one on the beach. Beautiful, clear water. Ground transportation was flawless and by the time we got to our hotel I had already forgotten about work, the house, and other miscellaneous mental pains. Our rooms are right on the beach. The bungalow hotel is small, with only 40 rooms, but it's still the biggest and best hotel in town. Kind of a super motel 6, but fastidiously clean.
We rise at 5AM for a simple breakfast buffet. 45 minutes later we pick up our gear and step onto the narrow beach. It's cooler this morning, still warm enough for shorts and T-shirts. As we cross the chain link fence delimiting the sand that belongs to the hotel the beach dips and heads to the sea. Pulled up on shore are more than a dozen two and four seat skiffs. Small and low to the sea, they have no super structure, no comfortable cockpit. Most importantly, no toilet! We'll bake in our seats while the fish taunt us from the depths.
The beach that was empty all yesterday is now abuzz with early morning fishermen trying to find their skipper. We don't speak much Spanish, the guides don't seem to speak much English. Confusion reigns as we all try to pair up like school children at a dance. I just sit in the sand, my pole next to me, and wait for our leader, Rick, to sort it all out. As other boats push off and turn to the sea a process of elimination leaves us with one skiff; we should have two. All five of us jump into this Super Panga and head off with Tito yelling into the radio. At the far end of town another boat has spotted Martine, our other skipper, pulled up in front of the wrong hotel. His boat is radioless and we're off.
At last Tito slows the boat and we rig up. We're using two feathers, blue and white, and green and yellow. The lines go out, the poles go in their holders, Tito throttles up and we're fishin'. We drive for an hour, still fishin', not catchin'. Tito is on the radio always looking for where the tuna are. They aren't. We're looking for birds circling in the sky. The birds hover over schools of big fish waiting for them to push smaller bait fish to the surface. The birds follow the fish, we follow the birds. But today the choppy seas and overall haze make it difficult to find them. We stop to troll with live bait, then we troll with feathers, then we troll with live bait. I'm dizzy. Then, BOOOOOM! FISH ON!
Rick grabs the pole from the holder while I reel in the second line. BOOM! FISH ON! Now we have two poles bent almost in half. Holding the pole in my hand, I plant the butt end against my hip and hold on for dear life. The line comes back close to the boat as the fish dives for the bottom. I'm able to crank a little bit at a time. It's hard to pull him in. All I can do is hold on and lean back, I have to keep as much tension on the line as possible. With one slip, a second of slack, he'll spit the hook and I'll be done. Rick's fish is running around the boat and we cross lines. He goes over the top, I duck under him. Still we keep tension on the lines. As we move the small panga rocks on the water. Several times I loose my balance and stumble back and forth a few steps. My attention always on the pole, always on the line, always keeping it tight. Small gains are the story of the day. I lean back and raise the pole, then lower it slowly and crank in the line. Lean back, lower and crank. It's like pulling up a sack of cement from the bottom of the ocean.
I've got to rest. I switch hands and lean into the pole, the butt end digging deeply into my hip. For a second I let my attention float around the boat. Rick is resting too. We look at each other and laugh. Ho, ho, we're fishing now. Dave's got a third line in the water with a live mackrel, but no action yet. I'm free to focus on the situation and find that I'm sweating. A lot. My light shirt is soaked. Rick has water dripping from his nose. I realize I'm breathing hard and force myself to take a few deep breaths. It is strangely peaceful here. A fish of indeterminate size fighting for its life on the other end of this pole I hold. My strength and my stamina the only thing that it has to defeat. I return to the pole and crank some more.
It takes about thirty minutes until I see a flash of silver in the depths. The tuna is now within forty feet of the surface. Forty more cranks of the reel. Getting closer to the surface the tuna's swimming now causes my line to run in circles across the surface of the sea. Like an ice skater pulling in his arms, as the tuna gets closer the speed of his circles becomes more violent. Tito is by my side with the gaff. At once the tuna is next to the panga, the gaff is through his back, the tuna is now my tuna. Thirty five pounds of tuna is out of the sea and in my bag.
Tito is swift with the club. These monsters could never be allowed to thrash around in the small skiff. Three sharp raps on the noggin and with a quick, practiced motion Tito has him into the tiny hold. My left arm is unwilling to uncurl. I have to stretch it out, pulling the tendons back into place. A short stumble and I'm on my ass on the fore deck. God, I need a beer. Rick's tuna is on deck now too. Tito is quick to bait up two more rigs. Before I know it I'm holding a beer in one hand and a baited rod in the other. Yee haw, we're fishin' agin', but now we don't catch.
The tuna have moved on. The moment is gone. We keep trolling, looking for fish. Tito is on the radio, Rick and Dave and I scan the horizon for birds. It's hard to even spot any other boats out here in the far off haze. Tito is anxious for us to bring in more than one apiece, and he changes our hook ups from lures to live bait and back many times. The lines are always in the water but the fish are not. Over the radio come taunts from skippers that are loading up on tuna; Tito is not happy. It is normal to head for home about 10:30, but at 11:30 we still have wet lines. At last Tito admits defeat. We pull in our lures and he powers the panga home.
Back at the ranch the weather is warm and I'm beat. We stumble into a table at the outdoor restaurant and the fixed menu lunch begins. Soup, entree, dessert, water. Lots of water. Mas aqua por favor. The drinking water is purified and we are downing it by the bucketful. Table talk is all about the excitement of landing these big fish. We hear from other tables that their boats did much better today than we did. Ron and Tom were with Martine and we lost them as soon as we left the beach this morning. They stayed with the fleet and landed three apiece. Dave is fishless, but ready to take one on.
It's a leisurely lunch. Simple foods and delicious. All this week we'll have tasty treats from the hotel kitchen. A soup with every meal. Light soups, no creams, with spices and textures to make each one a different experience. Tamales. Enchiladas. An incredible chicken mole, dark, cocoa hints, and smoky tasting. I had to get seconds; it was the best I've ever had. And water. Always water.
Our days at the hotel is like any other small, small, small town island-like resort. We drink beers. We sit and watch the waves. We sleep in the hammocks. We chit chat with other guests. We eat dinner. We're in bed by 10pm. Every day some of us walk the five minutes into the town center, but there's really nothing to see or do there. The bars are never busy. The restaurants are no better than our excellent hotel. The hotel staff is friendly. The bar tender is a nice guy. It obvious that people only come here to relax or fish, or both.
The next day is a repeat of the first, but this time we hit fish big time. Again we take the long ride to the hunting grounds. Today I notice more of the islands we pass on the way out. They are brown and barren. High dessert in the middle of the sea. Perhaps a cactus here and there holding court on the ridgeline, but nothing else to be seen. Rick and I are in the panga today with Martine; Dave, Ron, Tom in the super panga with Tito. Tito is the senior skipper and we've told him that we'd like to fish near each other if we can; today Tito throttles back the super panga so Martine can keep up.
We've again headed out in a different direction than the rest of the fleet. Rick and I exchange glances as we keep pushing further out to sea. Today the wind is down and the water is calm, glass like actually. We could be cruising over the quiet morning calm of an inland lake instead of a major sea. Eventually Martine signals to throw out our lures and we troll. And we troll. And we troll. And we troll. Rick and I and Martine look for circling birds. Some are here and there, but nothing exciting. And we troll. And we troll. Tito is off our port about 500 yards. Nothing is happening there either. And we troll.
Suddenly we see the super panga veer to the left and power off. Martine follows. Perhaps a mile away we see birds. These large frigate birds are circling and diving. Little splashes raise as the hit the water to take a small bait fish. Then they circle up for another go. This is what we've been waiting for. Rick and I sit up in our seats, our eyes on the poles. Martine is heading right into the center of the activity. We never make it. BANG! FISH ON! Rick has his pole out of the holder and is standing to strain against the fish. I fumble my rig out and reel in as fast as possible. I take no more than three cranks and BANG, FISH ON! And these are big hits. We're laughing and straining, and cranking these bad boys in. Our poles are almost as thick as a broomstick and the fish bends mine in half, while I'm holding on to the other end. These seem much bigger than yesterday's catch.
Again, it's crank, hold, crank, hold. Then "whizzzzzz" the fish runs out another fifty feet of line; the fight continues. Every time the fish takes more line it's my energy running out the top of my pole with him. Sometimes I calculate the my own strength against the line that's out. Yes, I think, I might just be able to keep this up just barely long enough to bring him in. Then he takes another run and I know that if I'm going to land this bad boy I'm going to have to find another reserve of energy. I wonder if I'll have to hand the pole to Martine in an admission of my own weakness. Or will I give him slack and loose the fish altogether?
God, my arms ache and my back hurts. After thirty minutes of this I can at last see the tuna flashing through the water below. Whizzzz and another fifty feet go out. He's just teasing me. I lean into it and literally pull him up by the lip from the depths. This time the fish gets too close to the boat, and Martine gaffs him in the back. Rick is still fighting his. I flop into one of the hard small seats. Martine baits a live ten inch mackerel, heaves it into the wind and hands me the pole. I just look at the reel in my hand. What the hell am I doing? I don't need another fish yet. I look to Martine and he understands my thoughts. When the tuna come, you fish, says Martine. And so I fish. I have to admit that in my mind I'm hoping that perhaps the fishing will slow just a little bit. I ease back against the seat back, my eyes on the horizon, looking for Tito and company. With my pole held lightly in one hand I'm reaching to the cooler when it comes. I hear a short "click, click, click" from my reel as my bait starts to run. What does it see? I'm staring at the reel, and then it hits. Rizzzzzzz goes my reel as the next tuna takes my bait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Every second that goes by is twenty more feet of line I'll have to fight to regain. Still the Rizzzzz continues. Wait. Wait. I need the tuna to take the whole of the bait into its mouth. Rizzzzzz. Ok. I'm standing. I take and hold a breath. I flip the drag on with a positive CLICK, and yank back on the pole. For the briefest of an instant there's nothing there. I might have missed him. No. BANG! FISH ON! And he's on and he's running. The line keeps going out so I work the drag a little tighter. Tighter still. A bit more. At last I've stopped the running. I can see my line come back towards the boat as the tuna takes an arc towards the bottom. Another monster.
The two of us land six fish this day, all in the span of only two hours. Unlike yesterday, the smallest of these tuna is 40 pounds. The largest is 55. An extra 15 pounds is another 40% of fish, which is about double the fight. God I ached all the way back to the hotel. My lower back is occasionally mentioning the need for a slug of ibuprofen I have stashed in my room. We're back at the hotel by 1 pm and hit the beds. We all sleep for three hours, dead to the world. Then it's time for dinner, sleep, and we're at it again.
I now have only my share of the tuna fillets in the freezer: about 70 pounds of raw, blood red tuna sushi. I'm ready to go again.
How did this get in here?
Oh man, Ron and his crazy hats! He cracks me up.
Here's a video of someone else's trip I found on Metacafe. Our experience was similar, but the boats were smaller.