Not long ago, the thought of fishing in Baja California Sur instantly conjured images of Cabo San Lucas and its large hotels, beachside restaurants, crowded bars and people that never sleep. With the horde of people came visions of leaping marlin, breezing tuna and hard-pulling dorado.
Since the film Running Down the Man was released, the mention of Baja now turns the conversation to roosterfish and the East Cape of Baja. This controversial DVD put the sleepy little towns of Los Barriles and La Ribera on the map, as far as fly-fishing is concerned. These two small towns are in the heart of the East Cape and are the complete opposite of what’s normally found in the party city Cabo. You won’t find any ritzy nightclubs or crowded Cabo Wabo-type bars here. What this area lacks in night life, it more than makes up for with awesome little taco and beer stands, quaint hole-in-the-wall restaurants with homemade Mexican food, small quiet resorts with laid-back pool areas and vacant beaches that are great for exploring with a fly rod. Did I mention lots of fish?
Basically, Mexico’s East Cape stretches south of La Paz, at Punta Arena de La Ventana, to Los Frailes on the Sea of Cortez side of Baja. Roughly an hour-and-a-half drive north of downtown Cabo and less than an hour’s drive from the Los Cabos International Airport will put you into the core of the East Cape and what those in the know call Rooster Alley. Many describe the area as being what Cabo San Lucas looked and felt like 50-plus years ago. No giant hotels, no golf courses, not a lot of people, and seemingly endless white sand beaches.
For the fly-rod enthusiast, there is no better place on the planet to pursue large roosters. The cool water of the Pacific Ocean collides with the warm water of the Sea of Cortez to create a nutrient-rich environment that carries a multitude of aquatic life. With that come baitfish that roosterfish love to feast on. In addition, there are plenty of deep drop-offs very near the shore of the East Cape, where game fish often take shelter when needed. Also, the beaches themselves have a very gradual slope, which is advantageous when it comes to making efficient backcasts. Finally, the water off these beaches often looks as calm as a swimming pool, which means better visibility and a more conducive environment on which to land big roosterfish with your feet planted in the sand.
Nick Curcione and Gary Graham introduced me to the East Cape and chasing roosters on the fly back in 1995. As many anglers still do today, back then, we would cruise the beaches on ATVs and look for movement with the hope of casting to large jacks and roosters. It was quite rare for us to see another angler for the entire day. In my opinion, most fishermen in those days simply didn’t realize how good the beach fishery was and opted instead to go offshore in pursuit of big game like marlin, tuna, dorado and sailfish.
Gary Graham started Baja on the Fly in 1995 and began offering guided beach-fishing trips and offshore panga trips. He hired a young gun to guide for him named Lance Peterson. Lance is considered by many (including me)to be one of the most knowledgeable guides on the entire East Cape. He is one of only a few guides who actually live in Mexico year-round. He resides on one of the best rooster spots on the planet, and when he’s not guiding his clients for big roosterfish, he’s on the beach hunting them himself.
Like any challenging fishery, a good guide is priceless, and there are several in the area. Beach fishing may seem to be mindless. Grab a rod, find a stretch of beach, walk, look and hope to spot a fish you can cast to, but trust me — there’s much more to this game. The guides in this region are dialed in and will save you a lot of valuable time and energy — for this fishery, a good guide is money well spent.
Rancho Leonero is an excellent place to stay on the East Cape, and it actually sits on Rooster Alley, one of the prime spots for hunting fish off the beach. This charming resort has a beautiful pool overlooking the Sea of Cortez and offers plenty of activities other than fishing for the whole family. One of the best parts about this place is that its prices include three meals a day. The rooms are very nice and have air conditioning. Rates start at around $120 a night. Also, if you’d like to fish offshore, you can’t beat the panga rates the hotel offers — only $300 per day. Fishing the beaches is awesome and very rewarding but taking at least one day in a panga will give you a great opportunity to catch a variety of pelagic species.
As far as equipment goes, you better have good gear. You’ll need it to make long casts and battle big fish. I recommend bringing an 8- and a 10-weight rod for the beach fishing. If you think you may venture offshore, be sure to throw in a 12-weight if you’re thinking of fishing from a panga. Match the rods with good reels — when you land that fish of a lifetime, you’ll be glad you spent a little extra money to get a reel with a solid drag in place.
Your fly line choice is important when fishing off the beach. It needs to withstand the extreme heat, turn over large flies and be virtually invisible to the fish.
Leaders should be 8 to 12 feet of tapered, fluorocarbon with a 30- or 40-pound-bite tippet.
As far as flies are concerned, you’ll want to bring some mullet patterns, sardine imitations and other baitfish flies to match the size and color of what the fish are eating at the time. Your local fly shop will be able to help you with fly selection and any other equipment you’ll need.
Prime time for hunting big roosterfish off the beach on the East Cape is mid-April through October; however, the fishing can be good year-round. Winter and early spring can be windy, but when the wind lies down, the fish are there.
I will admit that the area and the fishing pressure have grown over the years, but name a place where it hasn’t. The good news is that this fishery is still pretty unbelievable, and I highly recommend it for anyone who has an affinity for beach fishing and enjoys a good challenge. Once you get a dose of rooster fever, you’ll never be cured.