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August 06, 2009

Baja Striped Marlin

Targeting striped marlin in Cabo San Lucas

A six-mile run brought us to Lighthouse Bank and a dozen or so boats bobbing on the swells beneath high-circling frigate birds. The first day proved tough. Nothing showed on the surface, bait was scattered, and the few fish that were around stayed deep. We finished up our first day with a couple striped marlin to our credit, but hardly the excitement we'd come for. Release flags, 10 or 12 on some boats returning from Golden Gate Bank farther up the coast, told the story.

The next morning found us heading there, this time with another Solmar boat, captained by Jose de la Peña, who'd grown up fishing these waters with his father and grandfather. He'd learned to fish seamounts off Cabo by drifting them with hand lines, taking soundings with a sash weight, and finding ranges from the peaks looming to the east. Electronics at the helm offered nothing compared to the picture of the bottom he carried in his head.

With us in the cockpit was Scott Overholtzer, who had fished Cabo for more than 10 years in his own boat trailered from his home in Irvine, California, and as a mate on charter boats. As we made the 24 nautical mile run to Golden Gate, he sketched a picture of the fishing at Cabo. Striped marlin, he explained, are around all year, and during winter they gather at Golden Gate Bank, northwest of Cabo, where the outflow of warm water from Magdalena Bay creates a thermal haven.

Peak seasons parallel water temperature, which begins warming in April. Fall months September, October and November are especially good, and the peak striped marlin season follows on the heels of the blue marlin run, which begins in late summer. Blue marlin to 700 pounds can be expected, as they follow the schools of summertime dolphin onto the banks, and in the case of Lighthouse Bank at the cape, to within a few hundred yards of the beach.

Wahoo are abundant at the same time, though they are more likely found when trolling the canyons that lie between the banks scattered off the peninsula. Primary locations, in addition to Golden Gate Bank, are the Finger Banks, some 50 miles west of Cabo; San Jaime Bank, 15 miles west of Cabo; and Gorda Bank, off San Jose de Cabo, which lies in the warmer water of the Sea of Cortez. Throughout the year, the cooler water of the Pacific and warmer water of the Sea of Cortez offer a range of temperatures, rip lines and breaks.

Yellowfin tuna are plentiful from September through November. While the tuna fishery isn't the same as at Puerto Vallarta, it's nothing to ignore, and big ones will tip the scales at well over 300 pounds. It was a school of smaller tuna de la Peña found as we approached Golden Gate.