The advertisement promoting the 2018 season of Sport Fishing Television was sitting on his desk as the show’s producer (and my boss) Shawn Bean shook his head. “This looks amazing, except for one small detail,” he said. “The main image features a marlin, but we’re halfway through filming and we haven’t caught one yet. Cabo had better come through for us.” As the only member of the team who had fished out of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, I’d convinced Bean that the striped marlin capital of the world was a lock when he was putting together the show’s schedule months before. The fall tournament season in Cabo had produced a stellar bite, with anglers releasing more than 300 marlin during three weeks in October. Charters were reporting 10 to 15 marlin releases a day. With the fishing that good right before our scheduled departure in early November, I started getting nervous that it might not last. Check Out This Episode of Sport Fishing Television: SportFishingTelevision.com After an easy day of travel from central Florida, we landed at the modern Los Cabos International Airport in San Jose del Cabo around 4 in the afternoon, where we cleared customs and were greeted with a warm smile and cold cervezas by Raymundo “Mundo” Burgos. Mundo is an old friend, and owner of Burgos Transportation; he helped us load our gear as we headed to the Solmar Resort, our home base for the week. Upon arrival, we unloaded piles of camera cases, rod tubes and reel boxes, plugged in enough chargers and batteries to power a small village and piled back into Mundo’s Suburban. Our first stop was Fisherman’s Landing, where Jorge Tellez, the restaurant’s owner and our fishing host for the trip, confirmed the details of the week ahead. Several hours and several margaritas later, our plans were set and we headed back to the hotel, ready to hit the water early the next morning.
Day One: Swing and a Miss
At 6:15 a.m. sharp, we loaded up for the short ride from the Solmar Resort to the marina, where we boarded the crown of the Gaviotas charter fleet, Tellez’s custom 45-foot Bertram, Don Luis. After a quick stop to pick up some live bait from a panga in the harbor, Capt. Manuel Arballo had us pointed due east on a course for the Santa Maria Canyon, 9 miles off the coast.
With striped marlin being our primary target, we set out a spread of 6- to 10-inch skirted trolling lures on the outriggers and flat lines, and a split-tail mackerel on the shotgun line. Two of the most popular lure combinations for the Cabo area are the Mean Joe Green, green over black, and petrolero, a combination of orange, red, brown and black. But the skipping mackerel proved to be the winning ticket as the shotgun reel started screaming and a beautifully amped-up striped marlin gyrated across the surface of the calm Pacific behind us.
I grabbed the rod, and the camera crew took their positions. The fish jumped again, and in what seemed like slow motion, I watched as the bait shot out of the marlin’s mouth heading north while the marlin continued to the south. Just like that, we were off. Heartbreaking. We rerigged with mackerel all around, and while we didn’t raise any more marlin, we did box a pair of chunky yellowfin tuna that we brought back to Fisherman’s Landing for some fresh tuna “lures” — a remarkably delectable house specialty consisting of tuna, avocado, crab and a spicy sauce — later that evening. We agreed that fresh tuna is hard to beat.
The Fishing Heats Up
For our second day, we were greeted at the dock by Tellez and his good friend, former Mexican senator Luis Coppola. The two men met many years ago when Tellez was working for Don Luis Bulnes, an early pioneer of the sport-fishing industry in Cabo San Lucas. Tellez and Coppola share an intense passion for sport fishing as well as an understanding that this incredible resource should be protected for the future of the entire Los Cabos region.
With a livewell full of fresh baits, Arballo took a right turn out of the harbor toward the Pacific, where the word on the docks was that the fish were on the feed at an area known as the Lighthouse. It was a short 6-mile run from El Arco — the famous arch off Cabo — to the 45 Spot, located 2 miles offshore of the Lighthouse. Here, the bottom rises up at the tail end of a 600-foot-deep ledge off the Cardonal Canyon.
We decided to forgo the trolling lures and opted instead for split-tail mackerel across the entire spread. We were rewarded almost immediately after lines in, when a nice striped marlin shot across the spread and made a beeline straight for the right short corner. Tellez grabbed the rod and deftly dropped back to set the circle hook, and the fight was on. After a 20-minute battle on stand-up gear, he released our first striped marlin, a fish estimated at 120 pounds. After a round of high-fives, we reset the lines and readied the cameras. We missed a knockdown on the right long, and things went quiet for a while. Just as our mate emerged from the cabin with an enormous plate of spicy butterflied shrimp ceviche, the left rigger popped and Coppola was up. Working off muscle memory from countless previous battles with striped marlin, the former senator swiftly brought the brilliantly bluish-purple marlin boatside as our cameraman splashed overboard for some underwater footage of the release.
Schools of tasty dorado also frequent the 45 Spot, so it was no surprise when a pair of acrobatic 20-pounders crashed our party. With the first fish almost at the boat, our mate handed me a spinning rod rigged with a live mackerel to pitch to any followers. Spotting several flashes of telltale yellow and green below the surface, I quickly pitched the lively mackerel, and my rod was soon bent over and the drag singing within seconds of the bait hitting the water.
We finished up our second day with just two striped marlin releases, but at least the skunk was off the boat and we also had a couple of nice dorado for a freshly grilled fish dinner that night in town.
Swimming with Giants
Don Luis was booked the next day, so we elected to take a break from fishing and head up the coast to La Paz for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to swim with whale sharks. These gentle giants feed near the surface in relatively shallow waters of the Bay of La Paz from early winter until late spring. The sun was barely over the horizon when Mundo picked us up at the hotel for the two-hour ride up the coast to Todos Santos and then across the Baja Peninsula to La Paz.
We booked our trip with Cabo Adventures and met them at their offices behind the Museo de La Ballena on the La Paz waterfront. After picking up snorkeling gear and meeting our local guides, we boarded a panga for the short trip to the whale shark grounds just outside the harbor. It didn’t take long to spot the massive shapes of the 20- to 30-foot fish swimming effortlessly in the clear, shallow waters. Despite their lethargic pace, a fairly vigorous level of swimming is needed to stay close to them. It was an amazing experience and something I will never forget. Back on land, our hosts provided us with a generous lunch on their rooftop dining area overlooking the bay, complete with plenty of local Mexican fare along with the requisite beer and tequila.
The Mini Tournament
The next morning, we were joined by Gabriel Tellez, Jorge’s son, on Don Luis for one last day of fishing. The previous evening, Dan Jacobs, tournament director of the Los Cabos Big Game Charter Boat Classic, had arrived for the tournament that was slated for the following week. He was fishing on the 32-foot Cabo Bill Collector, so we struck a friendly wager and had an informal two-boat tournament.
The radio was alive with friendly banter as we motored out of the harbor and again headed west into the depths of the Pacific. Our destination this time was the San Jaime Bank, which sits next to the deepest part of the 3,500-foot Tinaje Trough, a deep underwater canyon stretching between the San Jaime and Golden Gate banks. San Jaime features three seamounts rising to within 150 feet of the surface, providing food and shelter for bait and attracting all manner of pelagic predators.
When we arrived at the first seamount, the deckhand handed each of us a 30-pound outfit rigged with a 4-ounce trolling sinker, about 5 feet of leader and a live mackerel pinned on a circle hook.
“Drop it down 50 to 100 feet,” he instructed. “We’re going to drift this spot for striped marlin.”
While I’d experienced a different technique unique to Cabo — sight-casting to striped marlin on the surface — this was something completely different. On our third drift, line sizzled off Gabriel’s reel for a brief second and stopped. Then the same thing happened to mine. We reeled up to find our baits stripped from the hooks just as we spotted the culprit, a seal, circling the boat a few feet below the surface. As we reeled in the lines to move to a different spot, Jacobs’ voice crackled across the radio: Bill Collector had its second striped marlin on and had taken an early lead. They were fishing southeast of Jaime Bank at an area known as the Herradura, and with the film crew needing a few more shots of lit-up marlin, we made the call to put out the trolling spread and head that way.
As we trolled into the Herradura area, a quick scan with the binoculars revealed that this was definitely the spot: Half of the Cabo charter fleet was there, and many of them were hooked up. We eased into the fray, and in a matter of minutes, the right long went off. I grabbed the rod and frantically cranked down on the striped marlin as it streaked toward the boat in a flash. Then, as if on cue, it showed the true strength and speed possessed by the species as the fish catapulted out of the water 20 yards behind the transom in an explosive display of aerial acrobatics. This was the fish we had been waiting for. Cameras rolling, our deckhand leadered the fish for some slow-motion close-ups and then made a clean release. Rotating through the group of anglers, we released three more striped marlin and a sailfish to round out our day, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the crew on Bill Collector, with its tally of 10 striped marlin, two sailfish and two dorados.
The reports of great fishing leading up to our trip hadn’t cursed us after all. With filming complete, it was time to celebrate our success and enjoy our last evening in town, sampling one of Cabo’s other famous attractions: the nightlife. Joints such as the Giggling Marlin and El Squid Roe, among a host of others, are nearly guaranteed to have you up and dancing in no time, especially after a memorable dinner in one of the town’s many excellent restaurants.
As we consumed our final batch of tuna lures and gold margaritas at Fisherman’s Landing, we set about making plans to return for our next episode. While there may have been some significant changes over the years, Cabo San Lucas still doesn’t disappoint. It really is an angler’s paradise.