Posted by: 1000fish | January 16, 2020

The Baja Pool Bar

Dateline: July 23, 2019 – Baja California Sur, Mexico

It all started with Heather Spellman wanting Mark out of the house. I get it – I don’t even live with Mark and I want him out of the house. Heather deserves a weekend by herself now and then, and I get to go fishing, so it’s a win/win, like when your mother-in-law drives that 12 year-old BMW off a cliff. Mark and I got talking about tropical destinations, and Cabo, or more specifically the Buena Vista resort on the East Cape, came to mind. This place holds a lot of good memories for me. Back in the 1990s, when I was certainly a passionate fisherman but hadn’t yet organized it into a push for species or world records, this was the first exotic fishing destination I ever went to. Buena Vista is where I got my first yellowfin tuna, my first striped marlin, my first Pacific blue marlin, and my first Pacific sailfish.

My first Pacific sailfish – July 21, 1996.

This is also where I got my first roosterfish, jack crevalle, African pompano, and triggerfish. That’s right, I listed triggers in the same sentence with roosterfish.

My biggest rooster, June 12, 1998.

My first triggerfish of any kind, July 20, 1996. I was desperate to get one at the time, but they lose their luster after the first 15,000 or so.

The guy I went with on all these trips, Mike “Rapo” Rapoport, was a passionate big game fisherman, but he did not share my love of bottom species.

Mike, who manages to look epic in any photo.

There was often conflict between our two type-A personalities over what to fish for, which we resolved by taking separate boats. I didn’t have as much of a sense of species hunting as I do today, but I still managed to catch some interesting stuff between trolling sessions. I always wondered what it would be like to go there just for bottom fishing, especially in the deep water that is so close to the resort. I starting checking recent reports from local contacts, and thumbing though my collection of Sea of Cortez field guides, and it looked like there was a lot of potential. Mark and I booked four days, figuring this would get us a shot at a balance of species hunting and gamefish. I also reasoned that at least one of the species would be an open IGFA world record. That next record would be my 200th – territory explored only by the Arosteguis. I was heading into the trip with 1881 species, so I knew a spectacular showing could put me to 1900, but the record milestone was on my mind big time.

Somewhere in there, we invited Martini along to add that touch of professionalism and basic hygiene we would lack otherwise. The trip fit his cramped schedule, and I hadn’t fished with him in far too long.

On arrival day, there was a dark omen – the airline destroyed Martini’s luggage. The contents were fine, but this delayed us getting to the resort. You can’t imagine my impatience, as I was positively frantic to get to the beach and fish the rockpiles I remember so well from 20+ years ago. Mark and Martini both rolled with the punches much better than I did, which will surprise no one. We finally got there in the late afternoon and raced to set up equipment. It was windier than I wanted, so the sight fishing on the rocks was limited, but we still all got some nice tropicals.

First fish of the trip – a Panamic Sergeant.

The first evening on the beach.

None of the fish were new for me, but it was great to be out on foreign water, and I stuck at it into the evening. The East Cape was just as beautiful as I remembered it.

Sunset at Buena Vista.

At dinner we met Resort Cat. Resort Cat would accept Martini’s fish, but not my pork carnitas.

In the morning, we boarded a cruiser and headed out, full of optimism and breakfast burritos. I had gone to the trouble of buying Mexico charts for Marta’s GPS unit, but it was Martini who actually figured out how to use the thing. He is, after all, a scientist. On our way, we fished some medium-deep bottom grounds – maybe 200 feet. I remembered catching all kinds of cool stuff in this area back in the early 90s, and as I shared these memories with Mark and Martini, it dawned on me that we weren’t catching much. A few sand perch here and there, and some nondescript flounder to add to my unidentified list.

These things are as bad as shiners to ID. Any ideas?

I did get a small African pompano – a great fight on light tackle.

These are fabulous eating.

We were about 300 yards from where I caught my first African pompano, on June 15, 1998.

From the old photo albums. On that very same day, Rapo lost a HUGE dorado because he was rushing to get a rig into the water before me and tied a bad knot. I still smile every time I think about it, because I am a bad person.

By mid-morning, we decided it was time for the deep water.

Martini’s expectations on deep drop fishing are justifiably high. He has spent many days carefully studying potential locales and many days dropping baits down on them. He is relentless and meticulous in all aspects of the game, and his results speak for themselves. We need only look at some of the beastly mystic groupers he has pulled up from well below 1000 feet in the Bahamas.

He caught this without breaking a pelvis or even a sweat.

It follows that our expectations would reasonably include some fish this size, and hopefully a decent variety.

We set up over some very attractive deep ledges, and down we went. Letting a rig drop 1000 feet gives a man time to think, mostly about how deep the water is. Bites were immediate, and the first creature I hauled up counts as half a species. It was a bighead tilefish, a creature I caught here in June of 1997.

The old photos were less than optimal, so this cleared up any possible ID issues.

On our second drop, I hit the first new species of the trip – a speckled scorpionfish. I was delighted to see what I presumed would be the first of many interesting creatures to come up from the deep.

Surely this would lead to dozens of species.

We dropped again. We got more scorpionfish. We dropped another time, because we just knew that something different would come up. We just new that the deep water could not possibly turn out to be a place stuffed with scorpionfish and nothing else. There was no way this could possibly happen. It was early in the trip and we were still filled with joy and optimism.

After around 50 scorpionfish, we moved back toward the beach and fished some shallow water, picking up a good batch of triggerfish and other assorted inshore critters. Martini tirelessly cast a jig after a gamefish he was certain would bite. I had personal knowledge that Pacific Crevalles were in the area, or at least that they had been 21 years ago.

June 12, 1998. My first ever fish on a metal jig.

Spellman had a good pulldown, and at the end of his battle, he landed a huge bullseye puffer. At two pounds, it crushed the existing world record, and so the first record of the trip went not to me or Martini, but to Spellman, who now has four.

How hard could it be?

My first bullseye – July 7, 2001. That purple Hi’s Tackle Box shirt disintegrated in the wash a few years later.

Once we docked, I raced to fish the shoreline – which was also curiously devoid of marine life. A couple of hours later, I was ready to throw in the towel, which left me wondering – when bricklayers quit, do they throw in the trowel? Bemused by this conundrum, I cast my small white jig a few more times, and moments later, I got a crushing hit. Whatever it was peeled line off at high speed and headed down the beach. Twice, I thought I would be spooled or rocked up, and twice, the fish grudgingly came back. After 15 minutes of fantastic light-tackle battle, I beached a gafftopsail pompano, a high-speed permit relative that frequents shallow, sandy areas. I was ecstatic.

But it wasn’t a record. I still just had one to go. This weighed heavily on me.

Still, it’s beautiful place.

Saturday’s dinner was a fiesta on the beach. The outdoor grill and bottomless margaritas were fine, but the musical stylings of “Paul” reminded us that fiesta and fiasco are only a few letters apart.

Day two started out well. We ran north, to an area Martini had scoped out on the GPS.

We ignored the morning red sky. It didn’t ignore us.

We started out in a rugged area that ranged from 100 to 150 feet, and it was there I had my best 10 minutes of the trip. (Except for that magic moment at 3:10am on the 22nd, when Spellman briefly stopped snoring.)

Proof of Spellman’s nighttime grunts.

We dropped the rigs to the bottom, being careful to stay above the jagged rocks, and got immediate bites. Just as the scorpionfish ganged up in the deep water, puffers owned the shallow reefs. We all got a few, and before the novelty wears off, it is fun to take pictures with them.

How do these things mate? I mean the porcupinefish of course.

My second or third puffer was a sharpnose, still a relatively common species, but it struck me as being a rather big one.

The beast.

Martini with a sharpnose. Adorable.

There are very few people in the fishing world that would care about the size of a sharpnose puffer, but two of these people were on the boat. I checked the record, and it was open. I weighed the fish, and it showed as the required pound. But would it still be a pound when we got back to harbor and could get an official weight? I don’t do well with drama like this, but some of the suspense ended in spectacular fashion moments later. I hooked what I figured to be another puffer, but as it surfaced, I saw a brilliant flash of yellow. It was a King Angelfish.

I had never caught an angelfish of any kind before, and believe me, I have tried.

Many of my friends have caught angelfish and mocked me because I had not.

Best of all, this was an open record and a clear pound, so I knew that if the puffer didn’t check out, I would still reach 200, four and a half years after number 100. I was ecstatic. The angelfish was also species 1882 for me. Marta’s father was born in 1882. This is not a typo, and bear in mind Marta is a good bit younger than me.

So, things were looking up. Martini continued casting a metal jig after the big jack we just knew had to be there. It wasn’t, but we still headed to the deep water with the highest of hopes. (In this blog, I often point out that the line between optimism and stupidity can be fuzzy.) We made one drop and caught – you guessed it – scorpionfish.

We laughed it off, albeit nervously.

That would be our last drop of the day. A south wind went from unnoticed to savage in just a few minutes. We had no chance to maintain a controlled drift, so bottom fishing wasn’t going to happen.

As a desperate plan Z, we put out the trolling lures in the hopes that Spellman might hook a decent gamefish. We wallowed home with big waves breaking over the bow. Blam. Blam. Blam. For almost three hours. And nothing bit on the troll. When we did dock, which was a rather difficult affair due to the high waves, I raced to the beach to weigh the puffer. It did reach the magic one pound mark and thus went into the books as my 200th record. The more glamorous angelfish would go down as 201. Martini was the first to welcome me to the club.

The official weighing of Record #200. No, you do not get another Lifetime Achievement Award. Yes, I asked.

The water was roiled up, but I still insisted on giving it a shot from shore that evening. My smarter companions enjoyed beers by the pool.

The guys eat dinner at the bar. Yes, those are fried scorpionfish.

It hit me that I had been fishing a lot with both of these guys individually, but never with them together. Martini was not pleased with the conditions, but he knew this was part of the game. Spellman, as always, was just happy to be out on the water. More disappointed that anyone else, I was likely an insufferable jerk, but kept at the water day and night in the hopes my luck would turn around. The smarter 2/3 of the group hung out at the pool bar, enjoyed some cold beers, and relaxed, which is what vacation is supposed to be about in the first place. I’m sure I was surly by the time I joined everyone for dinner. Luckily, my friends are generally forgiving.

Resort Cat refused my fish that night, because she sensed my surliness.

By the time day three opened, our optimism was waning. We made a long run south to some deep spots, hoping to find the larger and more exotic bottom species I just knew had to be there. We found the mark, and noticed to our great joy that the wind had faded. We drifted perfectly in 800+ feet of water, and hauled up, say it with me, scorpionfish.

This had gotten officially old.

On perhaps the third pass, as we boated our loads of smallish, red beasts, Martini noticed that one of them looked a bit different. A closer look revealed that we had finally, FINALLY gotten something new out of the deep water – another species of small scorpionfish.

The red scorpionfish. Yay.

It wasn’t exactly a glamour catch, but by this stage, I wasn’t picky. Moments later, Martini pulled the one non-scorpionfish animal we saw from the deep water – some sort of lost croaker that defies identification to this very day.

Whatever it is, it’s really cool and I didn’t get one.

That was it for our day on the boat, and I had officially decided that the East Cape had slipped a bit from its glory days. Nothing from our youth ever turns out to be as good as we remember it, except Heather Locklear.

The view from the pool bar. Spellman took this photo.

I of course skipped the pool bar scene that afternoon and stubbornly cast the shoreline. So, while Mark and Martini relaxed and enjoyed the scenery, I managed to drag up one lonely croaker. I had dismissed similar croakers as yellowfins, but this looked a bit different, so I photographed it. Thanks to ID help from John Snow of Mexican-fish.com, the beast was later identified as a Cortez Croaker, the 5th species of the trip.

It wasn’t what I expected, but every one counts.

Our final day was another blur of small red scorpionfish.

The guys gather their thoughts on the way out.

I really, really hate speckled scorpionfish.

We tried some shallower water, where Martini fired the metal around for another fruitless hour. In the midst of this excitement, I had the slightest of bites on a small rig and reeled up what I was certain would be a small sand perch – another shallow water pest. Martini recommended that I photograph this one, and lo and behold, it turned out to be a longfin sand perch, one of the lesser known members of this widespread and aggravating genus.

It was also species six of the trip, which was some consolation, but 1900 seemed further away than it had four days ago.

It was with not insubstantial relief that we docked the boat that afternoon. We had still gotten a few fish, but it wasn’t anywhere close to what I thought it could have been. Even now, some months later, I look at my old photos from the mid-90s, and I stand by my assertion that it was great fishing back then. On our last evening in Mexico, of course I was going to give the rocks one more try, and surprisingly, Spellman left the pool bar and joined me. It was a beautiful evening on the Sea of Cortez, but nothing would bite apart from the usual triggerfish and puffers. Spellman was poking around about 50 yards above me, and he suddenly called me – “Steve – get a small sabiki and get over here.” I trotted up the shoreline, and Mark was on a rock, about 10 feet into the water, pointing straight down. I joined him, and there was a swarm of colorful little fish right at his feet. I dropped the sabiki and instantly caught a Cortez Rainbow Wrasse, species number seven of the trip.

The aptly-named rainbow wrasse.

Just as a photographed it, Spellman waved me back to the rock. He was holding a small serranid in his hand – the fish was later identified as a Barred Serrano. He explained that these were sitting under a ledge about six feet in front of him. I never would have found them otherwise, but I got one quickly.

Species eight of the trip and 1887 lifetime.

With two quick species gifted by a friend, I decided it was finally time to hit the pool bar.

Steve

 

 


Responses

  1. I would guess Thor´s scaldfish – Arnoglossus thori on the flounder. It is not within the known distribution but it sure looks alot like it. Thank you for the awesome report as always!

  2. Congrats on 200! I saw a month or so ago on the igfa site that you had gotten there, was waiting in this blog entry. No second lifetime achievement award? What a rip off.

    • I too feel slighted, but I’ll just have to deal with it and move on. 🙂

      Thanks for the kind words.

      Steve


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