Pelagic Playground

With a wary eye, a good plan and the right boat, anglers can seize the big-fish opportunity September provides.

During September, the outside of Baja can be glassed off for days and provide the most amazing fishing and gunkholing opportunities, maybe even a stop at Cedros Island. But it’s not for everyone. That’s because Sept. 10 to 20 is, statistically speaking, the height of hurricane season in Pacific Mexican waters — the maximum likelihood of getting clobbered. A whopping 98 percent of the Category 3, 4 and 5 storms (Saffir-Simpson Scale) occur during this narrow window.

Whenever hurricanes are roaming up from Hurricane Alley on mainland Mexico, I recommend that slower and shorter-legged powerboats don’t star    traveling up or down Baja. Why not? First, slower boats aren’t fast enough to outrun a hurricane barreling toward them at 15 knots or more. Even express boats that boast an 18-knot cruise speed can get bogged way down by the heavy seas and winds from a hurricane’s outer bands.

Second, and apropos to Baja, boats that are fast enough usually don’t carry enough fuel to hurry to the nearest 360-degree shelter. Once a seagoing boat leaves Ensenada, the next possible shelter with fuel is 250 miles away, in the harbor on Cedros Island, and past that, 275 miles from Ensenada, is the anchorage at Turtle Bay. After Turtle Bay, it’s 275 more miles down to Mag Bay and another 12 miles up inside the north end. These are possible shelters with fuel, not hurricane holes.

By September, all Mexico boaters should be monitoring the National Hurricane Center’s five-day forecast: nhc.noaa.gov/ gtwo.php?basin=epac&fdays=5.

If the Baja coast is clear, the “big dogs” can play. Sizzling seawater temperatures of more than 80 degrees Fahrenheit creep up Baja from the tropics, bringing with them the biggest gamefish, billfish, and pelagic tuna and dorado — all primo targets for world-famous tournaments with big prizes.

Dozens of U.S. West Coast sportfishers will already have scored big in the Pelagic Triple Crown (June 3–5) or Bisbee’s East Cape tourney (Aug. 2–6). Dozens more are preparing to head down Baja for the Los Cabos Billfish tourney (Oct. 11–16), Bisbee’s Offshore (Oct. 14–16), Bisbee’s Black and Blue (Oct. 18–22) or the Tuna Jackpot (Nov. 2–5).

A lot of these “big dogs” live year-round in the relatively safe inner harbors at Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo, La Paz, Puerto Escondido and Mazatlan.

For most recreational boaters — and anyone seeking a fast, explosive fighter — yellowtail (aka fire crackers) are probably the most desirable goal. Along Baja there are a few places (structure, squid, kelp) to find them:

1 Coronados. Inside the 150-fathom curve along the back side of all these islands; the 9-fathom kelp 3 miles south of South Island.

2 San Quintin. Around the three sea mounts within 6 miles south and west of Roca Ben (even in glass I avoid Roca Ben).

3 San Benitos & Cedros. Ranger Bank’s 65-fathom spot; at 30 fathoms all around West San Benito; in the kelp beds along Cedros Island’s northwest shore; in Keller Channel’s 41/2 – and 5-fathom seamounts.

4 San Lazaro. 10-fathom spot 35 n.m. northwest of Cabo San Lazaro; all around Petrel Bank.

5 Magdalena Escarpment. Three defined pinnacles 10, 15 and 20 n.m. south and southeast of Punta Tosca; Lusitania Bank; Morgan Bank; Jaime Bank.

Summer sportfishers usually want to stay topped off. Cedros Island, the fourth largest island in Mexico, is about halfway down Baja’s Pacific coast. Boaters who’ve already cleared into Mexico can stop in at the small commercial fishing harbor on the southeast side of Cedros Island.

To make arrangements to take on diesel — usually cheaper than at Turtle Bay — and book an overnight side-tie, contact Jose Angel Sanchez Pachecho, owner of Cedros Outdoor Adventures. As a ships agent, he has helped many recreational boaters over the years.

Pachecho and his wife, Melanie Lamaga, have for years provided super-panga fishing charters for fly-down clients. Five years ago, they built Baja Magic, their two-story, eight-suite lodge, and four guest cabins atop cliffs just south of the harbor — the only sportfishing resort on the island. Jose has a degree in marine biology and helps protect the islands from poachers. Melanie is a gringa who runs the business end of everything. They can put together a custom package for adventuresome boat owners who want to do more (cedrosoutdooradventures.com).

Let them know your boat details and arrival date, so they can line up a safe berth inside the harbor, fuel, provisions, etc. Now that Baja Magic is in full swing, they might squeeze anglers with their own boat into their dining room and prepare lunches for on board the fishing pangas. They also lead visitors on hiking trails to see the island’s indigenous flora, fauna and misnamed “cedars.”

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