We’re back in the Sea of Cortez, latitude approximately the Tropic of Cancer. A magical place and one I’ve written about a couple of times before (Diablo Rojo and Tailhunting). This time down south I had for the first time in more than a decade a Roosterfish fest. And the largest Rooster I’ve ever brought to boat. This was our team’s eighteenth year on the Baja Peninsula and its sublime mix of deserts, xeric scrub and forests. It’s absolutely beautiful ruggedness. In many recent years there has been a notable decline in the sportfishing action and variety. Overfishing, pollution, and warming waters are some of the many documented reasons. This year the fishing picked up a bit but still not like decades ago. I was excited to catch a fair amount of sizable Toro or Pacific Crevalle Jack (Caranx caninus, Gunther, 1867) and my boat mate landed and released a beautiful blue marlin (Makaira mazara, Jordan & Snyder, 1901) over the course of about three hours on our first day on the water.
Fishing the Bahia de la Ventana area, Frigate birds took their place high in the hot still air and a surprising number of turtles floated on the surface as we motored to the bait boats. Our fishing grounds are highlighted by Isla (Island) Cerralvo also known officially, and controversially, as Isla Jacques Cousteau. As in prior years the bait boats were working a section of Cerralvo where the steep cliffs meet the Gulf’s blue waters. Following our run on Toro we were low on bait and our captain expertly handled the use of a purse seine net to replenish our supply.
Our second day on the water started before sunrise with Cerralvo looking very foreboding as the dark mass rose out of the sea. As we spun towards the sun though, those dark shadows turned to inviting bright hills, mountains, and cliffs. Our ride to the East side of the island was quick and smooth and a rich bird life of pelicans, cormorants, and sea ducks exposed themselves all along the aged strata of the island. Following another run on Toro we worked our way to the Iland’s south eastern edge.
With bait in the water I sat down as we slow trawled westerly toward the beach. It wasn’t a bam but rather like a long tug that didn’t let up and then the line went taught followed quickly by the beautiful bend of the rod and the singing and clicking of the line off the reel. With one
hand above and one below the reel I pulled up hard to set the hook, turned the clicker off, and placed the rod butt in my fighting belt. My drag was set good and tight and the Rooster took the line pulling like a freight train. I was surprised how hard in one direction the line went. Prior experiences with Roosters where they pull straight briefly then run back and forth. I tried to reel but the fish was still taking line. I just hung on. The brute strained the 40 lb test at full drag with me feeling it was on the verge of breaking. After a few minutes I was at a stand-off with the fish wandering about a bit and me not able to reel at all with any progress. Several minutes more and I was finally reeling down and pulling up thinking I now had the advantage. My captain was excited, “big fish, big fish”. Another strong run followed by some gains back – and then a hard run that had me and the captain worried we were out of line. The captain starting driving toward the fish so I could gain additional line back as there was maybe a meter left on the reel.
Roosterfish (Nematistius pectoralis,T.N. Gill, 1862) are distinguished by their rooster comb consisting of 7 long spines on the dorsal fin and two black strips running down their sides. They are a fantastic sport fish and a big draw to places like the Baja, Panama, and Costa Rica. Fishermen and captains take care to make sure these striking animals are successfully released back to the sea. Roosterfish can grow to over five feet long and over 100 lb with the world record currently at 114 lb.
With a few meters of line back on the reel we put the boat back in neutral and I enjoyed another half hour of strategically keeping this fish on the line and bringing him to the boat. I was never sure I would land this fish until I did. Two of us brought the beautiful animal on board quickly and man was it heavy. I wrapped one arm around its belly and the other through a gill slit while a rapid set of photos were taken. From pick up to being placed back in the water maybe 10 seconds elapsed. The fish took two slow tail swishes and then it powered into the deep. I was blown away by the experience and best estimate was between 60 and 70 lb. I caught two more under 15 lb Roosters to end a spectacular day.
I had only planned on two days of fishing but was so thrilled with the big Rooster catch that I arranged another day out on the water. This day started with the captain putting us on a ton of Pacific Bonito (Sarda lineolata, Girard, 1858) to the point where we were tired of them after over an hour. We requested a Rooster hunt near the beach and the captain sighed. They never like to leave a productive area. Unfortunately, our attempt for Roosters at the beach was marred by an over-abundance of needlefish (Platybelone argalus pterura, Osburn & Nichols, 1916). Anyone who’s fished and been harassed by the needles knows the pain of having this creature present. They seem to be specifically designed to strip one’s bait while on the hook. We were out of bait.
I was happy with the day with just the Bonito but the captain had the idea to jig for Ladyfish (Elops saurus, Linnaeus, 1766), a yellow and green highlighted compact fish with a deeply forked tail and a favorite food of big Roosters. A simple weight and hook with no bait and striping the line quickly hand over hand was enough to attract the fish to the hook. The captain was killing it while I and my boat mate scored zero. We had enough we hoped to entice some large Roosters.
With the Ladyfish on the hook and swimming aggressively off the back of the panga boat, we motored along the deeper waters south of the beach.My boat mate got the first hit when a Pargo (Northern red snapper; Lutjanus campechanus, Poey, 1860) bit
his Ladyfish in half.As I looked at his bait, my line got hit hard.I scrambled back to my job and got set up.Just like the day before the fish took multiple hard runs but this time close to the surface where we could see another large Rooster in for a fight.Although not quite as long a battle as the previous days, this fish was strong.And like the previous fish, this one was heavy and hard to hold, allowing only seconds to lift, get a photo, and get back in the water where it hit full locomotion almost instantly.Best guess was between 50 and 60 lb. The Sea of Cortez and its barren landscapes delivered another spectacular adventure.Good friends sharing a remote fishing experience, good food, good whisky, and great stories.Until next year.