None of the boats in the Cabo San Lucas fishing fleet had reported any action, and the clock had pushed into the early afternoon. The baits we were drifting subsurface had gone unmolested, but suddenly two of the rods went off, the clickers wailing.
Ronny Sweger, a marlin newbie and our guest on this venture, held one of the rods and, listening to mate Chino’s instructions, pushed the drag lever forward and reeled down. The line came tight, then sang off the reel and Sweger watched his first striped marlin tail-walk across the surface, 200 yards out on the angry ocean.
Call of Duty
It had been a rough road getting to that moment. We were part of a Baja filming venture, Expedition: Hero, and invited by Nissan to field-test its new Cummins diesel-powered Titan XD pickup. Said field test called for us to tow a boat around the southern Baja Peninsula, fish Cabo San Lucas, and make an exploratory foray into the waters north of La Paz, several hours away. Along the way, we put the prototype truck through its paces on Mexican roads and rugged terrain and, at the same time, hosted a dream fishing trip for Ronny Sweger, executive director of The Foundation for Exceptional Warriors (The FEW) based in Bixby, Oklahoma.
A former Green Beret, now medically retired after missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and other troublesome places across the world, Sweger volunteers full time with The FEW and other organizations, coordinating fishing, hunting and outdoor adventure experiences for other exceptional warriors. This trip, his board of directors decided, was his. They insisted it was his turn to finally take some time for himself and go fishing.
Rigged and Ready
The expedition itself proved initially daunting. Storms across the southern U.S. pinned us down in Dallas for 24 hours, and when the entire crew assembled in Cabo at last, we were already running behind schedule. Weather in Cabo had been harsh — two days prior, the harbor had closed, prohibiting charter boats under 38 feet from going to sea. Heavy winds had the ocean roiled, and seas were still running high by the time we launched. Under these conditions, nobody had been catching any fish for quite some time.
We had a sound boat — albeit only a 23-footer — and more than enough truck under us for worry-free transport, plus good, sound tackle and seasoned local captain Guillermo Bojorquez. The film crew had shot its background footage, and we were gaining on our schedule. Now everything depended on us catching fish, but we had only one day in Cabo to devote to that. And marlin are hard to schedule.
However, our choice of location couldn’t have been better. I recalled the memorable words written by Neil Kelly and Gene Kira in The Baja Catch, the seminal guide to fishing the Baja Peninsula: “If you have never wet a line before in your life, and for some strange reason, you absolutely, positively must catch a striped marlin before next Thursday afternoon, your odds are better in Cabo than any place else in the world.” That paragraph proved prescient: Thursday morning, our one day to fish, we backed our boat down the city ramp in Cabo, and after a quick stop to buy bait from a local panga in the harbor, we transferred a half-dozen caballitos (aka goggle-eyes or bigeye scad) to our livewell and headed out past El Arco.
These Colors Don’t Run
Just a short run south brought us over San Lucas Canyon, a section of the extensive lacework of deep seamounts and trenches that typifies the fishing grounds off Los Cabos. These bottom features offer severe drops in depth, which create upwellings that bring bait and predators to the surface.
Rugged sea conditions and the need to prospect made trolling lures the logical choice. We had to cover some ground if we hoped to find fish. The captain pulled a tackle roll out of the console, spread it open and asked: “What color do you like?” We opted for blue-and-white, yellow-and-green and pink-and-white — all effective combinations — with a cedar plug thrown in for good measure. Turns out, either the lure color didn’t matter in the least, or we’d picked the wrong ones, because we battled little more than seas building to 4 to 6 feet and an increasingly uncomfortable ride during a couple of hours of trolling.
Time to move, our captain announced. So we reeled in and headed northwest where the fleet had been fishing all morning; the same fleet that was now giving up and going in or heading off to search for fish farther to the north. For better or worse, we now had the waters to ourselves in the shadow of the Cabo Falso lighthouse where yet another subsurface canyon pushes in toward the shoreline, creating a reliable, if limited, feeding area for pelagics.
This time we broke out the liveys, pinning a trio of caballitos through the nose and slow-trolling them into the waves with an egg sinker above the snap swivel. Not 10 minutes into this routine, two of our three reels went off. Sweger and Chino, both holding rods that had suddenly come alive, bolted out of their slow-troll lethargy. Chino’s line raced off the reel, then went limp as he tried to come tight. But Sweger was luckier, and soon he was in the fight of a lifetime — a day saver — as the camera boat moved in to capture the needed footage.
Some 20 minutes later, as the captain jockeyed the boat and Sweger kept the pressure on, the mate took a wrap on the leader and pulled 120 pounds of big-shouldered striped marlin alongside for a quick, healthy release.
The next leg of our expedition included more adventure than fish catching. Yet it’s hard to have anything but a good time while road tripping in the southern Baja, investigating new waters. As Sweger put it, “The fish didn’t cooperate, but that’s fishing.”
Nonetheless, our safari drew to a close on a successful note. We’d explored some remarkable country and spectacular waters, caught a few fish — including a beautiful billfish — and had the privilege of hosting an exceptional warrior on an exceptional adventure. Above all, Sweger had his trophy. And once again, as it has for thousands of anglers over the years, Cabo San Lucas came through.
The Foundation for Exceptional Warriors (The FEW), founded by Executive Director Ronny Sweger assists in the healing process of veterans of the most underserved of communities: Special Operations Forces (Green Berets, SEALs, Rangers), those recognized for acts of valor (Medal of Honor, Silver Star recipients), former prisoners of war and the combat wounded, providing therapeutic outdoor experiences in sports, hunting and fishing to enhance the veterans’ mental and physical health, help them reintegrate with their families and communities, and take their well-deserved, meaningful places in civilian life. For more information, go to exceptionalwarriors.org.