When one species or another doesn’t cooperate, and you are ready to throw in the towel, you stop, look around, and change your course of action. You go to a backup plan – Plan B.
If you believe everything you read, you probably think that Baja’s fishery is made up of big, exotic fish. But if you have ever fished in Baja, you know for one reason or another, the bite of your targeted “exotic” might go sideways and shut off.
When that happens, anglers and crew will do whatever they can to induce a bite. Occasionally, the endless hours of trolling, hoping to conjure up some action, can pay off. But often, that ends up in frustration for a boatload of people who are ready to play the blame game.
While none will likely land you in the angling hall of fame, our Plan B species of fish will put you back on track where you are doing more catching than wishing. You’ll also sharpen your angling skills, improving your chances when that trophy-sized fish comes along!
Giant needlefish are condescendingly referred to as houndfish on the East Coast, but they gained a certain amount of notoriety in the Sea of Cortez when author Ray Cannon declared them to be one of his favorite targets. I met Ray, and I assure you he was all about catching — not about riding around looking for that one trophy fish. He was so taken with watching the huge needlefish leap in pursuit of the slab bait trolled behind his boat that he devoted an entire chapter of his book, Sea of Cortez, to catching the scaly snakes.
The trumpetfish is another fish worth watching. I’m not sure if it’s the little puckered mouth, the strange iridescent blue lines that appear when they are excited, or the cute way they swim backwards when released that gets your attention. Oddly enough, I have taken as many photos of clients with trumpets as with trophies! Go figure.
Every member of our list of “others” under my Plan B possesses a toughness that comes from living in a neighborhood where they are “eat or be eaten.” Ladyfish, often called sabalo by the locals, live up to their namesake “tarpon” in English. Although not as large, ladyfish are airborne at the first jab of a sharp hook and continue leaping until they throw the hook or they are caught.
Lookdowns are a schooling fish, and chances are if you catch one, you can catch more by staying with the school. In the past several years, anglers have figured out that both lookdowns and ladyfish make great bait farther offshore.
The jack family breaks down into 34 different subspecies, including some that fall into the exalted exotic category. One of the more well-known is the jack crevalle, which has earned the nickname “toro” because of its bull-like strength and tenacity. The jack are aggressive feeders that seldom pass up an eating opportunity.
Pompano, technically in the jack family, have earned the respect of many anglers who target them no matter what is going on offshore. Usually found in very tight schools swimming in relatively shallow water, they are easily spotted in the bright sunlight, with the school resembling a dark cloud moving slowly over the sandy bottom.
Known in Baja as “pargo,” there are nine varieties of snapper to target — blue and gold, Colorado, dog, golden, Jordan’s, mullet, red, spotted rose, and yellow snapper. Although the Mexican barred pargo is not a snapper, it is another bruiser that will save your day.
Every one of these Plan B fish will instantly retreat into the rocks they call home and “rock you” until you refine your technique enough to react to their lightning-fast take. The smaller fish pull hard, but as they grow larger, they are nearly unstoppable, combining stealth, strength, and speed.
Grouper/sea bass has 38 subspecies that reside in the Sea of Cortez, ranging in size from small to huge, approaching nine feet in length and 900 pounds. These fish are as badass as they come.
While yellowfin tuna dominate the elite list, others in the tuna family are just as fun to pull on, such as skipjack, bonito, and bullet tuna. Most are considered inedible with dark-red, oily flesh, with white skipjack being the only one of the group with edible flesh — a favorite for sashimi. Often found in huge schools a few miles offshore, these aggressive fish can provide hours of exciting action on light tackle or fly. I have even seen them caught from the beaches at East Cape on both conventional and fly tackle.
Mistakenly considered a winter species, sierra mackerel are around most of the year. With a mouthful of sharp teeth, wire is recommended to avoid being cut off; however, wire spooks them, so using a longer shank hook, without wire, when fishing bait will prevent most of the cutoffs, and the number of bites will increase dramatically. If fishing artificials, a short length of thin wire will avoid gear loss.
Triggerfish, a voracious eater, is probably the most overlooked fish on our list. Think of them as a perch on steroids found in schools near shallow reefs out a couple of hundred feet. Small lures, flies, live or dead bait all work with these accommodating critters that bite almost anything on any tackle – real kid pleasers!
Cortez grunt — their name doesn’t do them justice — are usually caught from shore along with most on our list. We have caught so many that once I tried to talk Gene Kira, author of The Baja Catch, into dreaming up a more suitable name than “grunt.” Not one of our most creative efforts worked. The best we could do was add Cortez to grunt.
Halibut in Baja are frequently an incidental catch. Nowhere near the size of their northern counterpart in Alaska, they seldom reach 20 pounds. I am amazed at how many thriving populations of halibut are found along beaches and esteros in the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific side of Baja.
Expand your repertoire to include fishing for these fun species that are often overlooked. Plan B will help satisfy your inherent need to catch, not search that is in kids and grownups alike.
With more than five decades of fishing experience – from light tackle and fly to offshore billfish – Gary Graham has experienced all aspects of fishing in the Southern California and Baja waters. His observations of species behavior, tackle and techniques are always from his unique perspective, earning him the respect of his peers as well as anglers who eagerly follow his Baja reports and features.
Gary maintained a home at East Cape in Baja Sur for more than 18 years and still spends nearly half of each year exploring the entire peninsula in his self-contained Roadtrek van. He observes everything Baja, from the mysteries of a tide pool on a deserted Baja beach filled with tiny sea creatures to the largest billfish in the sea.