All that stuff is cool — really cool – and I love it, but my absolute favorite thing to do down there is to mess around inshore with freshwater bass gear.
The shallow rocks, beaches and kelp lines on both sides of the peninsula harbor a mind-boggling array of finned critters of all shapes and sizes. Many of these species are too small or not good enough table fare to be targeted by other anglers, but who cares? They bite, burn line like crazy and pull a lot harder than anything you’ll find in a lake or river back home.
And the variety is awesome – you just never know what you’re going to catch. On a recent trip to Mag Bay, my first 5 casts in the morning yielded 5 different species: barracuda, sierra, pargo, calico bass and a puffer fish. There’s something so exciting about not knowing what you’ve got hanging until you get a glimpse of it. I enjoy the potluck aspect of the whole deal and don’t really target anything in particular. If it grabs hold of my lure, it’s okay with me.
Another appealing aspect of poking around the inshore shallows for the non-glamour species with light tackle is you’ll hardly ever see another soul. Let’s see: ton of action, awesome battles and no people. My kind of fishing!
It’s hard to even begin to cover the types of fish you may encounter. There are literally thousands of species that live near the shore and where you fish and when will determine what you may run into. Again, the charm of this style of fishing is not really knowing what you’re fishing for. I often refer to it as simply “fishing for stuff.”
Some of the more well-known varieties you could latch into include sierra, bonito, roosterfish, needlefish, halibut, yellowtail, cabrilla, pargo, lingcod, ladyfish, Pompano, jacks, surf perch, calico bass, sand bass, barracuda, corbina, assorted grouper, leopard sharks, rays, etc.And then there’s a whole host of kooky stuff you’ve never heard of or seen before like various members of the chub, wrasse and grunt families. Just for kicks, on previous trips, we’ve taken a Mexican fish identification book with us and tried to cross off as many species as possible.
On my most recent trip, I used the same setup I use for throwing ½-ounce swimbaits for stripers in the Sacramento River Delta – a 7-foot bass stick rated for 10- to 17-pound line and a 200 size baitcaster spooled up with 20-pound braid and then ran a 4-foot section of 20-pound fluorocarbon leader. When toothy fish like barracuda, needlefish and sierra were around in good numbers, however, I bumped my leader up to 40-pound to avoid bite-offs.
No fighting chairs or belts; no wire leaders or broomstick rods; and no backing down with the boat – just me and the fish, toe to toe. Awesome.
Most of the creatures that inhabit the inshore shallows don’t exactly have the most sophisticated of palates and will often smack just about anything put in their path. If you could only use one lure down there, something like a Krocodile or Kastmaster would cover just about every situation.
To start, grab an assortment of spoons in the ¼- to 2-ounce range and kept it simple as far as color goes: mainly silver, green and white. One-half and ¾-ounce swimbaits, some Zara Spooks and Pencil Poppers are good to have along as well and then add a couple bags of soft plastics – Flukes and 4-inch drop-shot worms and you’re in business.
In the early mornings, I like to walk the beach or fish close to if from a small boat and toss top water plugs. At the crack of dawn, there’s usually all kinds of surface activity near the surf as predatory fish off all persuasions push baitfish schools to the shore.
I’ve had some unforgettable mixed-bag mornings along the East Cape tossing Zara Spooks to boiling roosters and sierra and one session along Cerralvo Island where a frothing school of big jack crevalle was eating baitfish off the beach literally at my toes.
Blind casting along the beaches with swim baits or spoons will also produce some outstanding action later in the day and it’s a good idea to vary your retrieve speed until you find something that works.If you have access to a boat or kayak, yo-yoing jigs is a super-effective way to go. I like to drop my spoon to the bottom and dance it a few times down deep. Then, I’ll burn it up several cranks and then yo-yo it again. Drop, burn, yo-yo, burn, yo-yo, burn until you get to the surface, and then drop it down again.
This way, you cover the entire water column and have a shot at several different varieties of fish. Along the bottom, you may encounter stuff like yellowtail, pargo and bass while the rapid ascent of the lure may also attract surface predators like barracuda, sierra and bonito.
Another situation where light gear can really make your day is in harbors and marinas. In late winter, there are some really nice corvina in some of the harbors on the Cortez side and I’ve also caught plenty of 3- to 5-pound snook between boat slips in La Paz. Marinas are best fished after dark – if they have lights. The baitfish will sit under the lights and the bigger fish will be just beneath them. It’s just like the crappie fishing I used to do as a kid off the docks at Clear Lake – only the fish are bigger and more exotic.
One of the best ways to fish the tight gaps between boat slips is to drop-shot with small plastics. Drop the rig straight down to the bottom and twitch away. You’ll be amazed by the cornucopia of saltwater species that you can catch with a method developed for freshwater bass.
When I’m doing my light tackle fishing in Baja, there are a few pieces of equipment that I always carry. One is a Boga Grip for weighing, landing, handling and removing hooks from sometimes toothy, spiny and otherwise hard to grip denizens of the not-so-deep. This trip, the Boga saved me from a potentially painful situation – those leatherjacks, I found out later, have venomous spikes that can inflict some nasty wounds.
Also, a good set of long-nosed pliers is handy for extracting hooks from the wicked dentures that some of the species sport. To make un-hooking even easier, I’ll run barbless single hooks on most of my lures.
Finally, a nice waterproof point-and-shoot digital camera is a great addition to your tackle box. Pentax and Olympus are making relatively inexpensive models these days that you can grab, without worry, with fish slimed hands to take a quick shot of that strange fish for identification purposes later.
Give it a Try
So, next time you’re headed down to the Baja, don’t forget to grab some light gear and give the inshore mixed bag fishing a try. Be warned, however, that it can be so addictive that you may not even bother with the bluewater stuff.