A big plan developed last night. We decided to be explorers today. Yesterday at the roosterfish beach we met a commercial fisherman that offered to take us to an island that he suggested had better than your average Baja beach roosterfish fishing. Naturally there was a fee for this friendly gesture, however with the thought of a monster rooster, Sammy signed us up.
We hit the road to meet the fisherman, Roberto, at 5 am. We arrived to him by about 6:30. His island was huge and appeared to be about four miles away from his beached panga. Although the Sea of Cortez has been calm all week, naturally because we needed a boat ride it was windy as hell.
Once to the island we went around to the windward side and drove along shopping beaches trying to decide which might be best for roosterfish. After what seemed like hours, we found mass schools of sardines. In we went. Roberto dropped us off and said he would be back around 2 pm to take us back to land.
It was beautifully remote and would you believe on Grants first cast with the teaser in came a school of baby roosters. In the first ten minutes Sammy and I landed seven small roosters, several green jacks and a flag cabrilla. The cabrilla, a member of the grouper family, caught me by surprise. I’ve caught them on past trips to Baja but seeing this one rekindled a flame. I have a liking to the challenge of catching groupers and snappers on fly.
Grant walked and cast the teaser while Sammy and I followed and dropped our flies in the teaser’s wake. We caught numerous more baby roosters but it seemed like the big boys were out to sea. We came along some fantastic looking rocks and Grant opted to head back to where we started because the roosters prefer the beach. However, rocks like these typically hold snapper and grouper and I decided to stay and make a few casts.
Just as Grant and Sammy left my sight, a massive shape appeared from a trough and hammered my fly. I set the hook and the fish absolutely manhandled me and my 10-weight and broke me off in the rocks. Most anglers would be pissed off but I was psyched. I was in a place that offered the rare opportunity to cast a fly from shore to some quality snappers and grouper.
I was literally shaking as I retied my rig. I went with a straight chunk of 30lb Rio Saltwater Tippet directly to my fly line and loop knotted on a fly Grant gave me for roosters. Back I went prowling with casts to every sunken rock I saw. Within minutes I was popping pics of a gorgeous flag cabrilla. I was definitely taking a roosterfish break for a few hours.
I went on to catch another flag cabrilla, a mystery cabrilla that was one of the prettiest creatures in nature and had a boil behind my fly that was so big it scared me. I kept thinking I was ready to rejoin Sammy and Grant but the tide was dropping and I could wader further out and cast to new appearing rocks. Then it happened. The howling wind grabbed a cast of mine and took it way out there. I made two strips and I got ripped. I knew immediately that it was what I was after, a big snapper or a grouper because in five seconds, even with the drag of my Ross reel cranked the fish screamed off all fly line, about thirty feet of backing and stuck me in the rocks. Dang! I casted my butt off for the two hours just to jammed up in the rocks in five seconds.
Barely visible from the deep blue water nearly 150 feet from shore was a submerged group of rocks. There was no doubt my fish was in there because my fly line and backing led right to it. I was screwed. I pulled hard from every angle and it wouldn’t budge. I thought about swimming but with the huge waves I’d probably drown. Plus, it was deep out there and on the edge of open Ocean, God only knows what could eat me. I pulled at every angle again but it still wouldn’t budge. I considered trying to break off the fly, but by pulling and stretching a whole fly line and a considerable amount of backing, who knows where it would break being I was fishing a straight 30lb leader. What to do what to do? Screw it. I was swimming.
Grant and Sammy were long gone by now. I was totally alone. I loosened the drag on my reel and wedged my outfit in some rocks up beyond the beach and left it pointed directly to the fish. Then I swam out to where my fly line was cutting the water. There I grabbed it and held on to it all the way out. It was really creepy when I got out where I couldn’t see bottom. Then the rocks where I was stuck came in to view. Ugh, my heart just sank. I was on the playing field of the fish, helplessly bobbing above him and his friends. It only took one pull for me to feel my line pop free of a few rocks. I gained a few feet of line but then it was stuck again. I was so spooked at this point I just wanted to break it off and swim in. As I tried to do this, now directly above where my line disappeared into the depths there was a pump – my fish was still on!
Imagine now, I was treading water 100 feet from shore bobbing up and down in huge waves and fighting a fish with my hands and had no idea how big it was. I was taking on water fast because I was using my hands for fighting the fish rather than swimming. All I could do was kick and gasp for air when I could get it. Then, luckily the fish gave up. When a big snapper gives up they literally come right in. With the line in my left hand, I did a one arm swim towards the beach dragging my mystery fish. The waves were still drowning me and I wasn’t exactly making ground fast. This was a stupid move but it would certainly be worth it if I survived and got the fish to shore.
Finally I could see bottom again. I was exhausted like the fish but eventually I could stand. I had line tangled around my feet and every rock. Waves were crashing and knocking me around but it was time for the moment of truth. I hand of handed my remaining line as I stood waist deep in the crashing waves and in came a tired snapper. It was a striped pargo about 8lbs! It may not sound like much but trust me, catching a snapper of this size in the rocks on a fly is a feat. And it is the stripped pargo that holds the reputation as being the toughest of all – and was he ever! This was a fish I’ve dreamt of catching on previous trips to Baja but was beginning to feel it was impossible. I picked up the toothy fish and ran to the beach. I grabbed my camera and shot numerous pictures. Then, I dislodged the fly from his strong jaws and released him.
Snappers never get released in Mexico let alone anywhere in the world. It was funny watching this magnificent fish right himself and return to his waters. He was truly surprised. As for me, I was a little shocked over the whole event. My line was strewn everywhere and it took me a good ten minutes to reel it in and untangle the mess. Once I had it all straightened out I did what every angler would do, I grabbed my digital camera and looked at my pics. Not bad for a solo event in such chaos. And what a great fish.
An hour later Roberto came to collect me and bring me back to where Grant and Sammy where fishing. I had a huge smile as I approached and so did they. Sammy landed a 25lb Pacific Crevalle! That’s a monster crevalle anywhere. After sharing the stories of our amazing catches we proceeded to pound several more small roosters, jacks, ladyfish, croakers and houndfish. What a great day!