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Angling Abroad: Cabo's great panga fishing

4/28/2005
An armada of anglers in pangas fish Gordo Banks near La Playa, Mexico. 

SAN JOSE DEL CABO, Mexico — Neon blue dorado with bright yellow tails jump just for the joy of jumping. Find a school of them, then hold onto your rod, because they hit anything cast into the water.

Wahoo breach 20 feet into the air, making scorching runs and are scrumptious to dine upon.

Tuna fight deep and pull and pull and pull until you think your arms are nearly yanked from their sockets.

Marlin and sailfish makes towering acrobatics, tail-walk across the surface and a large one fights almost forever.

All of these and roosterfish, sierra, pargo, amberjack and large grouper are caught at Gordo Banks, eight miles off the southern tip of Mexico's Baja California peninsula. Combined they make the area surrounding San Jose del and the neighboring resort city of Cabo San Lucas — otherwise known as Cabo — one of the best fishing spots in the world.

The best way to fish here is in a panga out of the fishing village of La Playa. There is no harbor, no conventional launch ramp and no docks here, just a sandy beach where guides and anglers gather early each morning to slide pangas into the surf to start their fishing trips.

At the end of the day each pangero, or boat operator, surfs a wave up onto the beach; his boat's forward momentum as it hits the wet sand at high speed carries it onto the beach — as exciting as any ride at Disneyland.

After everyone steps out, a heavy rope is connected to the panga and a four-wheel drive pickup pulls it safely above the waves and tides.

These 22-foot long, open boats powered by 65 to 70 horsepower outboards are perfect for two or three anglers.

Their cruising speed of more than 20 knots gets you to the fish quickly. And you have a lot of fishing room and, when you hook a fish, you can easily follow it all around the boat.

Making bait is the first objective of any panga trip, and that's just what we did during an outing in late November.

An acquaintance of mine and I asked our host, Eric Brictson, owner and manager of Gordo Banks Pangas, how we could assist pangero Jesus at the Gordo Banks.

"Jesus is the best bait catcher in the fleet," Brictson said. "When you are with him, just sit back and watch."

It only took a few minutes and we were set for the day.

With our bait in the livewell we ran north about 15 miles, where anglers had been averaging one or two wahoo a day. We hooked on chiwhilly baitfish using a wire leader with two hooks, placing one hook in the head and one at the dorsal fin and started trolling slowly.

No hits until about 10 a.m. Jesus trolled past a few birds diving into the water for baitfish — a good sign of wahoo. A wahoo rocked out of the water about 30 feet behind the boat with one bait in its mouth but it didn't get hooked.

A wahoo jumped again with a bait in its mouth and this time as it reentered the water, angler Sam Takemoto's reel sang out. He lifted the rod tip and was solidly into the fish.

A wahoo is one of the fastest fish in the ocean. It zipped around the boat then ran off our bow as Jesus gunned the motor to follow it. The hook held and the 40-pound wahoo wore itself out and was at the gaff about 15 minutes after it was hooked.

The next day we fished for yellowfin tuna at Gordo Banks, using skipjack tuna we caught as chunk bait.

Jesus set up a drift, started chumming with cubes he had cut from a skipjack and we started fishing using a chunk of this same bait with its tough skin on one side to keep it on the hook.

I rigged a chunk bait on my 40-pound fluorocarbon leader. I fed out about 50 feet of line, then slowly let line out a little at a time as the boat rolled in the swell and pulled on the line.

After an hour, line started flowing off my reel; I counted to three, engaged the reel and pointed the rod toward the fish.

The line came taut; I set the hook and I jammed the rod butt into the cup on my rod belt to gain leverage.

This fish was much stronger than the skipjack and made a long run then fought deep. For each foot of line I gained, the fish seemed to take out two feet.

But slowly that changed and I was gaining more than I was losing.

A half-hour later I inched the fish the fish to the boat and Brictson gaffed the 45-pound yellowtail tuna.

On our next drift, Takemoto was assigned the hot outfit with the fluorocarbon leader. Now it was his turn to hook the fish. After a 45-minute battle, he had a 55-pound tuna.

We caught two more tuna always on the rig with the fluorocarbon leader.

"Several marlin, including some 400 pounds or larger, are caught from pangas here each year," Brictson said.

"These fish make epic battles towing the panga tens of miles, often lasting all day and far into the night."

Indeed, this is a very special place to fish.

Ray Rychnovsky is the author of three books: "California Guide: Great Saltwater Fishing," "The Troller's Handbook" and "The San Francisco Bay Area Fishing Guide." The titles can be purchased at your local bookstore or through the publisher, Amato Publishing, at (800) 541-9498 or by visiting its website.