Fish counts may not what they used to be a few decades ago, but recreational fishing remains a popular activity throughout the Los Cabos area, and Cabo San Lucas has the widest variety of charters and related services.
The legendary Bisbee Tournament takes place each October, with thousands of boats on the bay. In the peak season, hundreds of boats depart the Cabo San Lucas Marina each morning in search of prized billfish (blue, black, and striped marlin and sailfish), plus tuna, wahoo, and dorado.
It’s not uncommon for boats to hook 1,000-pound marlin and multiple billfish in one outing. Depending on the season, you might also catch red snapper, yellowtail, sierra, jack crevalle, roosterfish, and grouper.
Cabo San Lucas boats report an average of almost one billfish per departure, and multiple catches are not unusual. Fortunately, the boats also report a high release rate (95 percent or better), meaning they return the fish to the water to fight another day. A universal system of flags reveals the action that took place on any given boat that day: A red flag with a T means the boat caught and released a billfish, while a blue triangular flag means the crew caught and killed a billfish. Boats may legally keep one billfish per boat, but most charter operations strongly discourage the practice.
For marlin fishing, captains generally head to San Jaime Banks, 29 kilometers southwest of Cabo Falso, or Golden Gate Banks, 31 kilometers west of Cabo Falso. Anglers frequently catch dorado and wahoo as well in these areas.
There are three ways to fish the waters near Cabo San Lucas: by cruiser (motorboat equipped with fish-finders, tackle, captain’s chairs, and wells for live bait), in a panga (simple aluminum skiff), or from shore (surf casting).
Numerous outfitters arrange sportfishing trips aboard cruisers (US$350/day on a 28-foot boat with up to four anglers; US$550/day on a 36-foot boat with up to six anglers). A few outfits charge extra for the license, gear, tax, and ice, but most include these items in the daily fee. Bait, however, always costs extra.
Pisces Fleet (Blvd. Marina at Madero, tel. 624/143-1288, U.S. tel. 619/819-7983, www.piscessportfishing.com) is one of the oldest and most conservation-minded fishing operations in Cabo. It offers two different rates: Bareboat prices, in which customers bring their own lunch and handle their own catch when they return, are US$445 for a 28-foot cruiser for up to four people, US$580 for a 31-foot Bertram for up to six people, and US$900 for a 31-foot Cabo Express (up to six people).
The bareboat rate includes crew, ice, tackle, coffee, and sweet rolls before departure. All-inclusive packages add drinks, box lunches, fishing licenses, and live bait, plus filleting and freezing services for your catch. The fleet includes yachts of every size, all the way up to the 111-foot Crystal (US$9,500 for up to 12 anglers). Half-day rates are available for many boats.
After many years of fishing the Baja Peninsula from a home base in the United States, “Renegade” Mike moved to Cabo San Lucas, bought a 31-foot Bertram, and set it up the way he wanted to fish. He has earned a reputation for top-notch service and high-quality gear, including two-speed reels and bamboo gaffs, which he makes himself. Within his first few months of operation, Mike had completed several days of two-digit marlin releases. Contact him at Renegademike Sportfishing Charters (tel. 624/129-9581, U.S. tel. 619/591-8969, www.renegademikesportfishing.com, US$550/day).
Dream Maker Sportfishing (Locale 20, Wyndham Cabo San Lucas Resort, tel. 624/143-7266, www.dreammakercharter.com) leads five-hour and eight-hour trips with a fleet of nine boats that includes everything from a 22-foot panga (US$175/5 hrs.) to a 42-foot sportfisher (US$1,250 all-inclusive or US$1,050 boat only).
Located at the Bahía Hotel, Gaviota Sportfishing (toll-free U.S. tel. 800/932-5599, www.gaviotasportfishing.com) has experienced captains and 11 boats ranging from 26- to 36-foot cruisers. All-inclusive packages for four (US$755, including tax, or US$595 boat charter only) come with tackle, bait, lunch, and a case of beer, soda, or bottled water. The same package for two aboard a 26-foot cruiser is US$440 (US$360 boat charter only). Boats leave at 7 A.M. and return at 3 P.M.
If you don’t want to contact an outfitter directly, you can arrange guided fishing trips through any major hotel. A few, including the Solmar and Finisterra, run their own fleets.
First-timers are sometimes surprised and frustrated by the amount of time it takes before they actually have lines in the water. Getting bait, cruising out to the banks, and returning to the harbor are all part of the time that will be spent on a day of fishing. You can save time by buying bait in advance and requesting to fish destinations closer to shore.
The most economical—and exhilarating—way to plan a Baja fishing adventure is to hire a local panguero for a few hours; however, options for these simple skiffs are limited in Cabo San Lucas, where most visitors prefer the luxury cruiser experience. The best bet is to head to La Playita near San José del Cabo. If you can find one, a day of panga fishing will cost around US$175 for five hours in a three-person, 22-foot boat.
Dream Maker Sportfishing (Locale 20, Wyndham Cabo San Lucas Resort, tel. 624/143-7266, www.dreammakercharter.com) is one of the few outfitters that has a panga in its fleet. Typical catches include cabrilla, grouper, and sierra, but even marlin are possible with the right captain in the right place at the right time. Prices won’t include rental gear or fishing licenses. Some will fillet the fish you catch for no additional cost.
Be forewarned, if you happen to go out on a panga when the fish are on, you may well tire of the action long before your captain is ready to return to shore. As one panguero told us in the midst of a prolonged fishing frenzy, “When the fish are here, you fish!”
If you want to fish without parting with the cash for a full day aboard a cruiser, you might try casting into the surf from shore. You don’t need a license, and your catch might include sea bass, sierra, and red snapper. Playa Solmar offers the best conditions, but it is a dangerous location because of the strong undertow. Sleeper waves often strike here, catching even the most experienced anglers off guard. A safer place to try is the old pier at the entrance to the harbor. Fishing is permitted at the northeast end of Playa El Médano.
Bait, Tackle, and Fish Processing
Minerva’s Baja Tackle (Blvd. Marina at Madero, tel. 624/143-1282, 9 A.M.–7 P.M. Mon.–Sat.), next door to Pisces Fleet, carries a wide selection of gear and tackle for your fishing adventure. It is also the designated Los Cabos representative to the International Game Fish Association (IGFA).
You can buy fresh bait at the docks along the marina for a few dollars and hire local pros to clean and fillet your catch. Another option for cleaning, processing, vacuum-packing, and freezing is Gricelda’s Smokehouse (Loc. 19 and 20 in the Tesoro Hotel complex, tel. 624/143-7266, www.dreammakercharter.com) on the marina.
© Nikki Goth Itoi from Moon Baja, 9th Edition