One of the best things about this job is meeting people who have the vision and passion to come down to “The best Place on Earth” and really make things happen – their way. In this case, I was trekking up to Los Barriles to start this “East Cape Section” for Destino, and had a few meetings with Gary Graham, Baja’s saltwater fly-fishing guru. I asked Gary about who’s who in the area, and he insisted that one of the first people I should meet would be John Ireland, owner of the renown Rancho Leonero Resort, just south of Barriles. I’d been by the place years back, and since then know it only by reputation. So Gary took me out to the Rancho, which had really spruced up since I saw it back in its early days. We met with John, a soft spoken easy going guy who you can tell, cares a lot about his guests, his people, his land and the area in general – both the land and the sea.
It was a fresh, warm-lit April afternoon, and sipping iced Pacificos with these guys out on the patio overlooking the Sea of Cortez was, ahh…the exact perfect Baja feeling I’d always imagined before I moved to LC a few years ago. And I right away noticed the strong camaraderie and delightedness of the guests around nearby…and sensed an old-school undertone almost like that of a classic North Woods fishing lodge up in Minnesota or Canada – only with palm trees – and no mosquitoes. John talked about the history of Rancho Leonero; about his efforts to help eliminate the illegal netting of game fish; and about his love of this magical part of Baja California Sur. Then John asked me a question, since I had a busy manana planned: “You wanna go fishing?” Well, what better excuse could I have for going easy on the Herradura and getting a good night’s sleep.
Once I realized I’d be staying the night, I really relaxed and let myself soak up the serenity of the place… the cool green lawns spreading out under the palms, the massive rock walls of the cottages, the crystal clarity of the pool, the walkways winding every which way and finally leading down to the beach. I was also reminded a little of the feeling of both the Palmilla Hotel and the Hotel Cabo San Lucas, but on far more intimate scale. Dinner was simple, hearty fare in the lodge-like dining room, surrounded all around by fishing and hunting trophies mounted high up on walls. Then a nightcap with the boys at the bar, and it was off to my spacious cottage and a long, hot and prodigious shower before bed.
Next morning was a simple omelet ranchero breakfast with John, and then we were off to the beach to catch our panga ride out to the “Canelo”, a fast 30’ Super Cruiser skippered by Capt’m Gaspar Macklis of La Ribera. The ride was quick, cool and smooth, and I was intrigued by this seaward perspective of the mysterious-looking mountains of the East Cape. But soon Senor Macklis was saying something about “structure”, and down went the diesel’s rpms and we grabbed for the fishing rods, Trolling by and around a chunk of wood washed down out of some distant arroyo, we hooked up immediately, and started working the first couple of fish slowly back to the boat on heavy tackle. Flashing lazar blue and neon yellow down under – Dorado!!
We knew we were into a good school of dorado, we switched to lighter tackle and the serious fun began. Just a small hook and a single sardine for bait, we’d strip pff a few yards of monofilament and “fly line”, waiting with an open spool for one of these aggressive predators to zoom in for a strike. And ok, I’ll admit it, it had been a while since my real fishing days and when that first fish hit my bait, the shock of the sudden out rush of line caught me by surprise. The reel started to “birdnest” and in a …ugh, I hate to say it –panic – I thumbed the spool hard to try and slow it down. Kids, don’t try this – anywhere. In the split second I took to realize my mistake, the pad of my thumb actually cooked a little, and the blistered grooves cut by the line were with me for more than a month. But hey, as the new guy, and now possible idiot-on-board on a boat of other guys, there was only one thing to do – you gotta fish through the pain, man!
And we fished that chunk of flotsam hard all morning, pulling in fifteen dorado in all, all good-sized, with a couple of big bulls that I don’t even want to guess at, pounds-wise. Finally we decided it was a tie, with our couple hundred pounds of hard-won fish just about balancing out my bruised and burned ego. Actually, I’d have been feeling downright “macho” about our catch – if I hadn’t also been so clumsy and sent two beers clatter spewing across the deck while grabbing for my fishing rod; and finally almost breaking a piece off the Canelo herself. Well, I never figured “landlubber” as a nautical term of profound respect, anyway. I was just glad I could keep my humor intact, and that John and Gaspar were both gracious enough to pretend that I wasn’t actually the menace to seafaring society that I really was. And soon enough we were back to the panga , and then back on the beach in front of the resort.
I’d have liked to stay on at the bar, trading stories with the guests, hearing their own tales of triumph and woe (or was it just me?)… but soon I tired of hiding my scorched thumb in my pocket, and besides, I had a six o’clock appointment back in San Jose. So they packed me up a cooler of dorado fillets (please don’t call it “mahi-mahi” –nobody speaks Hawaiian around here, anyway) and I was off down the two-lane and back in town before dark. That night, tucking into bed with that nice sea-weary, slightly swoopy feeling, I drifted off to sleep with visions of “next time” shimmering on my mind.
A few days later I was talking it up to a buddy of mine who’s a genuine hardcore Bisbee type big game fisherman and he was stunned: “You mean you were fishing with John Ireland, from the radio show? Let me see that thumb again!” Sure, John had mentioned “the fish report” but it wasn’t until I was up in So Cal a few weeks later and caught his weekly live East Cape fishing report on Let’s Talk Hookup, with Peter Guy and Marty Miller (on SportsRadio AM690, at 7:30 Sunday mornings) – that I realized I’d been fishing with a celebrity!