The morning started full of promise. As the pink hues of dawn slowly turned golden across a tranquil Sea of Cortez, my fishing partner, Mike Kelly of The Billfish Foundation, and I made our way through the soft sand to the narrow floating dock. Waiting there was one of Hotel Buena Vista Resort’s senior guides, Capt. Juan Garcia, in a well-equipped 20-foot panga powered by a 115 Suzuki four-stroke. After stowing our gear and lunch, Garcia asked us what type of fishing we had in mind. In unison, we both answered, “Roosters.” The veteran skipper grinned, told us to hang on and zipped south along the scenic Baja coastline.
Kelly and I had come to Los Barriles to cover the Bisbee’s East Cape Offshore Tournament, a big-game contest targeting marlin, tuna and dorado. On this day, though, we were hunting a different game, one of the region’s more unique residents. We hoped to tangle with the powerful roosterfish, a type of jack named for its distinctive comb-like dorsal fin. But before we could start our quest, we needed ammunition. Garcia waved over a bait panga and after a couple quick dips of the net in exchange for a $20 bill, our live well was loaded with 10 frisky cabellito.
Using a rigging needle and a loop of dacron line, Garcia swiftly bridled two of the horse mackerel to 8/0 stainless steel circle hooks and dropped them overboard. One was connected to a Penn 309 conventional reel mounted on a Slammer, while the other was tethered to an electric blue Okuma Cedros reel on a matching stand-up rod. The 30-pound running line on each was connected to 40-pound leaders by a blood knot. We engaged the drag clickers to keep the baits in check as they swam 60-75 feet behind. Despite diving pelicans and the occasional shower of glass minnows, the cabellito went unmolested. After 30 minutes without a strike, Garcia was ready for another spot.
“Reel them in amigos. We’ll run to the lighthouse and try there,” Garcia told us as we stowed the rods. “It has been very good lately.”
Located approximately 15 miles south of the Hotel Buena Vista Resort, the Punta Arena Lighthouse is a small beacon atop a rocky mound. It warns mariners of the shallow shoal sticking out like an index finger into the aqua-blue water. As we rounded the sandy spit and came off plane, Kelly and I looked at each other in silent affirmation. Yes, this spot definitely looked fishy. Almost as soon as our baits were again swimming in the 40-foot depths a wad of frantic bait chased by a free-jumping rooster confirmed our optimism. It was only a matter of time. And, as it turned out, blue would be the hot color.
The clicker on the starboard combo went off like a burst from a machine gun. Kelly grabbed the blue Okuma and waited. Another short burst, another agonizing wait. Finally, Kelly counted silently as the bait was swallowed and the big circle hook rotated into position. He wound in the slack, met resistance and the fight was on. With their broad bodies and powerful forked tail, roosterfish can really exert serious pressure. But Kelly pumped the fish to the surface following several stubburn runs and a 15-minute battle. After a couple quick photos, his first-ever 35-pound rooster swam back below the surface. A celebratory cerveza toasted the catch.
As the sun and temperatures rose higher and the moon dipped closer to the horizon, the fish stayed deep. Still, there was only a brief lull before Old Blue went off again. This time Kelly didn’t get quite as strenous a work-out, although he was rewarded with a colorful 12-pound pargo. The mojo in my Penn outfit remained on siesta.
With fresh baits, Garcia swung the boat around for another loop inside the spit. Okuma Blue ripped off another clicker rap and Kelly settled into a serious tug-of-war. I swapped sides with him several times to keep the lines from tangling when a clicker burst of my own signaled another fish. I gave a long count, reeled in the slack and a powerful force telegraphed up the line. ****************-a-doodle-do! Rooster double-header.
For the next 20 minutes Kelly and I danced around the narrow cockpit as our adversaries sprinted from one side of the panga to the other. Going pound for pound against the monofilament, the two of us were soon drenched with sweat. Slowly, the runs got shorter and the lines angled upwards towards the surface until finally, the two trophies were hoisted aboard. Kelly again had the hot hand, as Garcia said his monster would push 60 pounds. I happily settled for another 35-pounder.
With the sea breezes building and tournament chores awaiting us, we reluctantly returned to the resort. Walking back across the beach, Kelly and I both agreed. There’s no better way to start the day than with a flock of lighthouse yardbirds.