Magdalena Bay, located on the Pacific side of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula and a couple hundred miles northwest of Cabo San Lucas, is home to some of the world’s best striped marlin fishing. When conditions are right, the marlin come pouring past Mag Bay in truly astounding numbers. It’s remote and desolate, but for those willing to put up with the hardships, the juice is worth the squeeze.
And for the duo of Old Reliable owner Nick Smith and Capt. Chip Shafer, the conditions lined up perfectly in mid-October. “The conditions were the best I’d seen since 2013,” Shafer says via sat-phone from the bridge of Old Reliable, a 64-foot Bayliss. “Between the hurricane and the El Niño years, it was slow there for a while, but it turned back on this year.” Their best day was on October 17, 2016, when the team raised over 80 striped marlin to the teasers and released an incredible 35 marlin plus one sailfish, all on fly for solo angler Smith.
“We didn’t know it was going to be a special day, but sometimes that’s how it turns out,” Shafer reports. “We were fishing to the north and east of Thetis Bank, and there was a lot of bird activity. Once we started fishing, you could see the marlin on the surface. They were everywhere.”
Shafer says that working the edges of the drop-offs from 350 feet to 800 feet produced most of their marlin action, in water temperatures from 75 to 76 degrees. “That range seemed to hold the most bait,” he says. “We were marking a mix of small sardines and Pacific mackerel, so we tried to stay around the bait.”
Since the Old Reliable crew is exclusively fly-fishing, they pull only teasers that usually consist of a squid chain with an Ilander-and-ballyhoo chase bait on one side and a mudflap dredge on the other. “We also retease a lot of fish that we raise if they don’t eat the fly right away,” Smith says. “We have a mate cast a naked ballyhoo on a spinning rod and get the fish teased back into casting range for the angler. That works pretty well for striped marlin, especially in Mag Bay.”