The Baja California peninsula in Mexico used to be the exotic fishing province of primarily California anglers. With the proliferation of modern air travel, Cabo San Lucas is now readily accessible to not just the USA but all of North America, including Canada and Alaska. Most of our Marlin University students got to “Cabo” quicker and easier than many of our Central American and even our Caribbean destinations, and at lower fares. In fact, one student got there in less than three hours in his private plane from either Oklahoma or Kansas -- I forget which.
On our van ride into town one student asked me, “With all these charter boats here or anywhere else for that matter, how would you pick the right one? If you didn’t know someone, or have a good recommendation, how would you pick a boat for a day’s fishing?”
I thought for a few seconds and took into consideration that I might be in a place where I had almost no knowledge of the local language before I replied.
“I would look at the tackle, the rods and reels. If all the reels were full of line, and all the line was neatly level-wound, chances are it’s a good crew that can catch fish. Even if the boat looks a bit beat up and could use a paint job I would go with the guy whose tackle looked good. Varnish never helped anyone catch a fish but good tackle is essential!”
When I got to the boat I was assigned to I was sorry for my words. The reel on our heaviest rod was only 2/3 full of line. I might have let it pass except for my earlier comments. I pointed it out to my team for the day. “The odds are huge it will not make a difference today, certainly not on a striped marlin or yellowfin tuna,” I told them, “but if we hook an 800-pound blue marlin we will be in trouble unless the skipper is a better boat handler than I suspect he is.”
We got one striped marlin, jumped off another, and caught several dorado. The tackle defects made no difference at all in our day, but that evening I spoke, politely, to the manager in the booking office and explained my dilemma.
The next morning we had new line on the big reel and all the tackle passed my inspection although, as is the case on many charter boats (especially outside the U.S. or Australia) the drags were a bit jumpy. They were not TOO bad but were sticky enough to have me NOT recommend that the anglers ever increase their drags above their original settings and I was a bit nervous when we had any significant amount of line our on a fish.
We caught at least one billfish everyday on my boat and the crews were adequate. My boat had the same captain everyday but three different mates in four days. That became a problem the last day, one for which I take full blame even though I had told the skipper our anglers were to hook the fish themselves.
Under IGFA rules, if the anglers were slow getting the live pitch bait from the well, the crew could get the bait from the well and throw it overboard but must hand the reel, in free spool, to the designated pitch rod angler (or whoever was closest) BEFORE the fish bit.
On the last day we had a tournament where all our students pitched in some money. The winning boat’s crew got the pot - in addition to the tips all the crews get from MU. I saw a marlin after the short right flat line. (I saw every fish before the Mexican crew, another indicator of less than superb mates.)
The students were a bit confused and excited so I grabbed the pitch bait, threw it overboard and handed it, in free spool, to the nearest student. To my horror I saw the mate jerking furiously on the right flat line and a striped marlin jumping away from us.
“No, No!” I yelled. Then I called to the captain, “That fish is disqualified, it doesn’t count. Tell your mate that he might have just cost you and him $600!”
One of the student anglers fought the marlin to the boat and we released it. We got another stripey and a sail but lost to a boat with two striped marlin. The unnecessary “setting of the hook” had indeed cost the crew $600. In “The Buck Stops Here” mode I tipped the crew and apologized for not reminding them, for the umpteenth time, that the anglers, or in this case, with a lure, the rod holder, had to hook the fish.