We flew into La Paz on Aero California's flight 145 and landed in the wake of September's second Hurricane, Nora. Fortunately for us there was no apparent damage from the monster storm. From La Paz it is about a two hour scenic drive, especially this time of year when everything is green. The van was new and air conditioned, which made the trip even that much more enjoyable.
Shawn Arnold and I were traveling with the winners of the 1997 Team MacPherson Newport Bay Bass Tournament. Mark Tsunawaki had brought his wife Julie and Roger Goldthwaite brought his best friend Deborah. The closer we got to Rancho Leonero the windier it became. Our first glimpse of the Sea of Cortez, the "Vermilion Sea" as the Mexicans refer to it, revealed white caps and a strong surf pounding the shoreline. This is very unusual, I thought to myself. It seems that the hurricane traveled up the Pacific side of the Baja but crossed over the land higher up and this is what was kicking up the swells and wind from the north.
It was a real crap shoot as to whether we would be able to get out the next morning. The decision was made last minute. Shawn and I decided to take Roger's offer of fishing with them on their cruiser instead of the Super Panga we had reserved. The women decided to skip the fishing for the day due to the rough conditions. I had a feeling they had made the right decision as we loaded onto a truck and headed to a safer beach to launch. We took a panga from the shore to our cruiser waiting offshore and from there we tried to find bait. The bait boats couldn't capture very good bait because the conditions were so bad, however, we did get some sardines which would just have to do.
As hard as we tried, fishing had been off and a limit of anything would be a tough task, even for the good anglers we had aboard. One skipjack after another, and the captain would make a move to get away from the hard fighting Rodney Dangerfield of the tuna family. It was mid day when Mr. Arnold finally got into a dorado. It happened to be on Roger's rod. Fifteen pound test wrapped neatly on a Calcutta 400 attached to a G. Loomis rod, ah, life is good for Shawn about now. The fish certainly had more heart than most fish in his weight class, taking run after exciting run. Finally, after the arduous struggle, the fish was close to gaff. Shawn lifted the rod high and it snapped, breaking rod and line for some unexplained reason. Shawn obviously felt bad and apologized profusely to Roger, who was laughing. He knew about the lifetime guarantee and Loomis always backs their equipment.
We headed away from shore to deep blue water in search of big game. Trolling for what seemed countless hours of very unproductive fishing. I finally convinced the deck hand to put on some of Bill's Tailchaser lures. Almost immediately we had a triple hook-up. It turned out to be three, twenty-pound skippy's and as we boated and released the hearty fish, Mark spotted something. We all peered over the rail only to see five huge ghostlike objects nearly twenty feet deep in the dark blue water. Mark wondered out loud if it might be a school of dorado and then changed his mind to shark. It soon became obvious as I rushed to get my camera, that they were curious sailfish. The deck hand cast out a live mackerel and before we knew it, a sail jumped high out of the water twice before spitting the hook. The ghostriders vanished as fast as they appeared. No matter what we did or caught for the rest of the trip would have the impact of what nature had revealed to us in just a few short seconds off the shores of "The Ranch".
The ambiance and cuisine of Leonero is a delight, and my favorite time there is sunrise with a cup of joe or sunset over dinner. Just kicking back and relaxing with the sea as a backdrop relieves the stress you just had to bring with you.
The second morning the waves still crashed onto the shore, but the winds had calmed and Shawn and I could hardly wait to get in our super panga and go. We shadowed the cruiser with Mark Roger Deborah and Julie for a couple of stops. We all were still catching skipjack although finally some yellowfin were mixed in. Our bait was better this day - nice sardinas!
Shawn was frustrated as the skipper spoiled me with the nice sardina and he always got the mackerel. I caught only yellowfin while he caught only skipjack. The radio squawked and Martin, listened and replied. He relayed the message to us in broken English, but we got the point. Five miles out was a huge school of porpoise and tuna. Off we went, by the light house and out to the deep blue. Twenty boats or so were playing demolition derby driving madly in all directions trolling feathers and nearly killing one-another. We had the advantage being the only super panga among all the cruisers: We were much more maneuverable and always hooked-up first.
Shawn tried a cedar plug and I had a Mexican flag colored feather. I got the fish and another before Shawn switched. His purple and black feather became the delight of the tuna as he boated one and then another while I had to watch. Every time we stopped Martin would pin a live bait on my two-speed Shimano that I got at Anglers Center. He would just let it soak in case something big came along that was hungry. Shawn shared his rod with me on the next strike, probably so he could rest. I didn't care as line peeled off the reel longer than at any other stop. The two-speed went off just after we stopped as well. Shawn would not be able to rest if that was his thinking. We both had bigger fish on this time. After quite a struggle we both independently decided to thumb the line and both of us came unbuttoned at the same time. The lesson of impatience was learned here as both of us lost a nice fish.
Shawn again gave me the next strike and Martin put out another live one. When my tuna was at the boat the Shimano reel began singing the tune of zip, zip, zip. Shawn jumped and began to fight. There was no long run like all the other fish, but rather a strong slow pull interrupted by short powerful bursts. It didn't take long for Shawn to collect sweat on his brow. The temperature always seems to increase when you're on a big fish. The deck pitched to and fro, it was hard for Arnold to get any leverage with poor footing in the panga. Shawn struggled and wanted to increase the drag or thumb the spool but he knew the potential disaster that could bring.
As the struggle played out in the afternoon sun it appeared as if the fish was getting the better of him. You'd think Shawn would pass the rod to me? Not a chance! After only an hour his pride was still to big for that. Another ten minutes went by and Shawn decided that he wasn't gaining on the fish and he was rapidly weakening with the fight. Last year, Shawn caught his biggest tuna at the ranch and it was forty pounds, he could only imagine by the length of the fight how big this one must be. He asked for water, and I obliged him, it was the least I could do. I have fought this fight before and knew where his mind must now be. A couple of swigs at the bottle of cold water and back to the grind. One wrap on the reel and two wraps off the reel, very disheartening to say the least, as the large fish seemed to be doing the death circle. Now it was late and time to go. Martin was getting edgy and we were still a long run away from Leonero.
Much to my surprise Shawn thumbed the line and gave a big tug and then another trying desperately to turn his head. Several minutes of eternity slipped by and finally very deep color began to show. Not the largest tuna ever caught on fishing tackle by any means, but a very respectable fish. There was no struggle left in the tuna at the boat, she was finished and so was Shawn. Martin did the dirty work and the tuna was in the panga. Shawn slumped in his chair on the long ride back. Satisfied, but weary, glad it was over and soon it would be time to brag. We had our limit on tuna which hadn't been done on the East Cape for weeks and Shawn had added to his personal best with a nice estimated weight of seventy pounds. Pictures were taken for proof before the blessed tuna was filleted and iced for the long trip back from Adventureland to Mainstreet - it had certainly been an E-ticket ride!
Roger, Deborah, Mark and Julie also caught tuna that day and were relaxing over sushi while waiting to tell us of their adventures. Roger and Mark, winners of the Team MacPherson Newport Bay Bass Tournament showed their true colors the next morning before we left. They got up early and fished from the shore, true die-hards who just can't seem to get enough fishing in!