Rough Seas in Magdalena Bay

February 3, 2011

Okay man – this is getting ridiculous! I slept with a bright pink girly extra blanket I borrowed out of Grants car that belongs to his kids. I put on fleece pants that I thought I foolishly brought along. And I wore my wool hat that I accidentally have along because I wore it from my car into the airport at Idaho Falls. And I still froze my butt off in our hotel room here in Baja! This is not the Baja I know and love!

We were packed and on our way to Magdalena Bay before 6 AM today. The temperature reading at departure was 34°s. Yikes! After a three hour drive south we got to the fishing town of San Carlos and the temperature warmed up to a blazing 54°s. Here we met Grants friend Octavio to go out with him in his Ponga to fish for yellowtail. I’ve never met Octavio in my life but I could read his mind and he was shocked that we weren’t cancelling our day with him. (I must say Sammy was thinking about it)

By the way, a lot of people think they know what a yellowtail is and don’t. They are not the same as a yellowfin tuna or a yellowtail snapper. A yellowtail is a yellowtail. Often times called kingfish in places like New Zealand.


We pushed his monster ponga off at about 9:30 AM and quickly realized not only was the temperature cold but the wind was out of control – 30 knots! I’ve been in plenty worse on cold lakes back home where the chilled water can kill you in 2 minutes if you fall overboard, but on those trips I dress for the brutal weather. Once again, none of us ever expected such cold times in Baja.

It wasn’t just the cold that made our nearly 2 hour run to the mouth of Magdalena Bay and the open ocean uncomfortable, but the smashing of the boat on every rogue wave was enough to tense up every muscle in the body. However, once to the spot it all seemed worth it. The scenery was spectacular. Gray whales were breaching everywhere you looked amongst the crashing waves. And best of all, frigate birds, cormorants, gulls and pelicans were ravaging bait on the surface scared up from predators below.

Normally when chasing yellowtail with a fly rod, you use fast sinking lines and prowl among the deepest rocks. And with 400 grain Rio Deep Sea Lines, that’s exactly what we did. Not only was it the logical thing to do but also the area of rocks was protected from the wind by Magdalena Island. But this routine brought us nothing. To succeed today we had to step up and ride the waves of the open ocean and follow the foraging birds. That’s where the yellowtail were.

Off we went full speed bouncing off each and every wave so hard I swear my teeth were loosening from the gums. Every time the frigate birds dove to the sea we met them. Each time we were just a minute too late and the surfacing yellowtail were finished with their feeding spree. Than after an hour of chasing, two small groups of yellowtail stayed on top charging bait along the surface within casting range. Sammy launched a great cast from the bow to two massive fish. I made a cast to some behind the boat but they were just too far out. By the time my fly landed they sank out of sight. I shouted for Grant to launch a cast with his spin rod and jig. His cast went a mile and he let it sink. He had a yellowtail on in a split second! Meanwhile, the two giant fish chased Sammy’s fly to the boat and disappeared into the blue.

Sammy and I reeled in and we watched Grant fight his yellowtail as furiously as he could. These fish are fierce fighters and do not come in easy. Grant was really giving it to this yellowtail because he wanted us to hook up with the fly. Pump after pump he pulverized his desperate yellowtail and just as the yellowtail seemed to be getting close he came off. There was no doubt that Grant lost the fish on purpose because he wanted to see us get one on the fly. Now Grant was freaking out hollering for Octavio to chase the birds again. All three of us were certain there would be another chance soon.

But you know how it goes; we never had another prime chance like that one. We chased and chased and every time we were a minute too late. The yellowtail simply would not stay near the surface. That’s when Octavio told us there were yellowtail everywhere about 40 feet down. He wanted us to simply cast ahead of the boat with our flies on the fast sinking lines, let them sink deep and then strip in as fast as possible. And that’s what we did for the next two hours.

This routine got old fast. We were getting bounced around like you can’t believe. Our method of madness seemed hopeless. Here we were in the blue water in 6 to 10 foot high waves; it was freezing cold and dangerously windy, dredging for a fish. That’s when we encouraged Grant to cast the spin rod again. Sure enough, in minutes, he hooked another yellowtail about 50 feet down. Only this one he landed. It was a 40lb beast that had Sammy or I taken an equivalent yellowtail on the fly it would be a fish of a lifetime. Nonetheless we were all very happy. We had fish for dinner. Not only that, yellowtail make some of the finest sashimi on Earth. Best of all, the quick catch proved that Octavio was right, the fish were deep beneath us and somehow Sammy and I had to get down there.

To make a long story short, during another hour of casting, I had a close call. I raised two yellowtails. They were about 20lbs and I would have been more than delighted with one of them. But they simply surfed a massive wave and followed my fly to the boat and disappeared. Dang! So close again!

We had some new hope but that was it. We wore ourselves out for another half our or so and then it was time to go. It was time to travel straight into the wind all the way back to San Carlos. Octavio, who was nearly frozen solid in the back of the boat, did a great job driving us home without killing us. It was miserable but certainly could have been worse. Once back Octavio filleted the massive yellowtail. We took some but left most for Octavio and his family. Grant made fantastic sashimi out of some of ours and we took the rest to a local restaurant and had it grilled. It was a great way to end a tough day of fishing. Sammy and I want a big yellowtail on the fly so bad that we are going again tomorrow. Cross your fingers!

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