"You don't have to lie about your fishing exploits here! How many you catch, how big they are - the sky is the limit!" replied Jim, an American who was my fellow lodger at Rancho Leonero on Baja California's East Cape.
"I caught half a dozen dorados and a huge marlin - that's not counting the ones I threw back into the sea," he said.
During the next few days I discussed fishing with a good number of tourists, mostly from western Canada, Alaska and California, who had come, time after time, to the Rancho for the sole purpose of practicing this sport. Without exception, they all emphasized the great fishing attributes of the Sea of Cortez. Bob, a sports fisherman from Alaska summed it all up by saying, "No matter what time of the year I come here, I always hook more fish than I expect. It's the best place in the world to fish."
Even though I am no fisherman, the stories that I heard about the abundance of fish perked up my interest. That evening, while dining at Rancho Leonero, I talked to John Attaway, who hailed from northern California, about my wish to join a fishing party.
John, an avid sports fisherman, said that he was going fishing the next day and agreed to take me along. No doubt he was amused by my naiveté when it came to fishing.
The morning air was cool as our panga (small boat) steered by our captain, Indio, stopped near shore to pick up a large pail of small herring for bait. The sea was calm and our panga seemed to glide over the smooth water. In less than half an hour, we had reached a buoy with large pieces of fish attached - placed by fishermen to attract schools of fish. Indio, who spoke no English, pointed to the many fish stirring the waters and yelled, "Tuna! Mucho (much) tuna!"
I looked around. Pangas and larger cruisers were converging on the same spot. In a few minutes there were more than a dozen boats swarming like bees around the buoy.
My fishing partner was excited as he threw his line into the water. "Look at them! They're all over!" His face radiated with happiness as he hauled a fighting tuna toward our panga.
Soon, from all the surrounding boats, excited voices filled the air. "It's a bite! It's a big one! Pull it in! Slacken the line." The world around us seemed to be a mass of babbling voices as the fishermen pulled in their tuna.
John was doing well. As soon as he had his first tuna - a 12-pounder - on board, he hastily rebaited his hook and tossed his line into the water. At the same time, to entice the tuna, Indio would throw handfuls of live herring around the panga. In lass than half an hour, John, with a little help from me (I viewed myself as an obstruction), had landed four 10 to 15 pound tunas.
There is an incredible variety, some 850 species of game fish found in the Sea of Cortez - considered to be the best fishing grounds in the world. A number of these, such as the Dorado, Marlin, Pargo, Roosterfish, Sailfish, Yellowfin Tuna and Wahoo are brought in daily by sports fishermen. This lends credence to the saying, "Baja is the best fish story ever written."
Back at Rancho Leonero, John took his three tuna and one dorado to be filleted and smoked by the hotel staff for a party he planned back home. I went to sit by the pool to write about our fishing trip - a fulfilling experience but, of course, not the greatest fish story ever told.