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About Tom Gatch

For over a decade, Hooked on Baja author, Tom Gatch, has built a solid reputation as one of the foremost writers and columnists focusing on travel and recreational activities in Baja and southern California. His company, El Puerto Creative Consultants provides professional copy writing services and creative support for business entities on both sides of the border.

Bahía Magdalena: Jewel of Central Baja’s Pacific Coast

by Tom Gatch

Bahía Magdalena: Jewel of Central Baja’s Pacific Coast as seen from space

Although earlier Spanish explorers originally mapped navigational charts of the surrounding coastal region, no colonized settlements were actually established in Puerto Bahía Magdalena until the late 1800s.  The port also served as a supply point for whaling ships and other commercial vessels traveling around Cape Horn on their way to San Francisco. In centuries past, primitive populations of indigenous natives would make occasional pilgrimages to the Bahia for weeks or months at a time to harvest fish, shellfish, sea turtles and cactus fruits, which were recurrently abundant on the nearby desert plain.

Bahía Magdalena has also been a highly revered destination for adventurous anglers for decades, and still offers a wide variety of offshore, inshore and onshore fishing venues that provide access to a vast assortment of species.  Over the past several years, the region has also become a magnet for a burgeoning number of eco-tourists that augment the yearly influx of whale watchers who visit the area.

California Gray Whales can generally be observed migrating south along the Baja coast between the months of December and April, while smaller pods of these huge creatures are also visible from the coasts of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California.  Their prime breeding grounds are found within the warm waters of Magdalena Bay, as well as in nearby Scammon’s lagoon, Ojo de Liebre, Guerrero Negro and San Ignacio lagoon.

Bahía Magdalena: A Great Blue Heron. Bird-watching and eco-tourism are major past-times in Central Baja.

In addition to hosting whale lovers, the port city of San Carlos supports numerous tourist oriented operations that cater to a diverse range of recreational activities appealing to visitors in practically every demographic group.  The Pacific lagoon is a narrow channel protected from the open sea by Isla Magdalena.  The prolific sand dunes on the island stand in stark contrast to the thick, impenetrably tangled growths of mangroves that flourish along its inner coast.

The cloistered canals at the bay’s northern end are a kayaker’s dream, as well as a productive destination for avid fly-anglers targeting the coveted robalo, known to Norte Americanos as snook.  These mangroves are both a blessing and a menace, since they harbor many lurking cabrilla and grouper that are receptive to a fly or a lure, but are almost impossible to extricate from their nest-like roots once the fish are hooked.

Bahía Magdalena: Fishing for grouper and cabrilla is difficult but possible in the mangrove areas. Photo by Captain Juan Cook.

At the northern end of Santa Maria Bay, the tricky access to Punta Hughes will reward determined surfers with some of the finest breaks on the local coast, while practically endless stretches of adjacent sandy beach make for unparalleled beachcombing opportunities.

For shore casters, the sandy bottom and calmer waters inside the Bahia create a nearly perfect breeding ground for halibut.  Although a live, trap-rigged smelt is one of the most dependable offerings for these highly prized flatties, shiny Krocodile-style spoons can be equally deadly at times.  The summer months are a good time to catch corvina and spotted bay bass, a variety that is so profuse in some sections of the bay that it is practically considered a pest by those fishing for other species.

Bahia Magdalena is also home to several types of endangered sea turtles and other commercially valuable species such as scallops, crabs, clams and shrimp.  Small poblados (tiny villages)  along its shore depend almost entirely upon fishing activities for their livelihood. Unfortunately, years of over-harvesting, as well as the negative effects of the ‘by-catch’ of commercial fishing, have proved to be highly detrimental to the bay’s ability to regenerate a proliferation of its own native marine life.  Incidents of juvenile loggerhead turtles being captured in halibut gillnets within the bay are still fairly common.

This incredibly diverse fishery with its assortment of inshore habitats can be accessed from ocean waters by several passes that run between the guardian islands, each of which can churn out its own fair share of rod bending action during tidal swings.  The most successful anglers who fish these areas always keep an eye out for working birds or fleeing schools of surfacing baitfish as an indication of where to cast.

 

Bahía Magdalena: Wahoo, says Bill Erhardt of his catch.

For those who choose to venture offshore with rod and reel, the months of summer and fall can offer some of the most spectacular fishing available along the entire Pacific coast of Baja.  These waters are blessed with numerous banks, pinnacles and high spots that attract large schools of baitfish which, in turn, invite hungry gamesters like big yellowfin tuna, wahoo and billfish to approach within range of both private and commercial craft.  And between October and December, this area has also been described as having some of the best striped marlin fishing on the planet.

Many anglers from north of the border choose to trailer down their own boats, which provides them with many more options than if they were to rely solely on local pangeros to take them fishing.  The launch ramp at Puerto San Carlos can accommodate vessels that are 28 feet or less, but it is only usable during high tides.  Anglers using aluminum boats, inflatables and kayaks will do best by launching from the sandy beach just southwest of there.

 

Bahía Magdalena: La Bufadora Inn in Bahía Asuncion offers serenity and views.

San Carlos is not overly burdened with upscale accommodations, but decent food and lodging is available, albeit somewhat pricey at the better properties.  If a pre-planned experience is more to your liking, then you can’t go wrong by booking a trip with one of the highly respected outfitters that service the area such as Baja on the Fly, Mag Bay Tours and Blue Water Tours.  These operations specialize in ‘turn key’ adventures, and can put together anything from a kayak fly-fishing trip in the mangroves to an offshore foray pursuing marlin and giant yellowfin tuna.

Those who prefer driving on their own can follow Baja’s Transpeninsular Highway down the sometimes grueling 443 miles from Tijuana to the Ciudad Constitución turnoff, which is located at Km 555 south of Guerrero Negro and Km 216 north of La Paz.  Then take Highway 22 and drive about 60 more kilometers to access Magdalena Bay. If you happen to be pressed for time, there is always the option of flying into Loreto or La Paz and either renting a vehicle or taking a shuttle to make the ruggedly scenic 3-hour journey west toward the Pacific Coast and Bahia Magdalena.

Because of its somewhat rural location, visitors who have been lured to places like Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo and the East Cape by polished marketing campaigns often overlook such a remote portion of Baja Sur.  But that situation is rapidly changing as more and more people become aware of this magical place where angling records are regularly broken, and great, gray mammals can often be observed nursing their young in a placid lagoon under a warm, golden sun.

Want to visit Bahía Magdalena: Jewel of Baja’s Pacific Coast? Find out more about Bahía Asunción and Central Baja!

Hooked on Baja author & columnist, Tom Gatch, is one of Baja’s foremost writers with a focus upon outdoor and recreational topics in Baja and Southern California.

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula, supported by a full-service tour operator staffed by Baja locals (our “Baja Travel Savants”). We offer Baja travelers expert advice aboutlocal restaurantshotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles about events, sports and activities. We provide bilingual customer support, information and sales seven days a week, 365 days a year.

 

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The Cedros Island Experience

by Tom Gatch
How would you like to travel back in time and pay a visit to Southern California as it was over a century ago? Imagine the unspoiled desert vistas, soaring mountains, and a Pacific Ocean that was teeming with fish, lobster, abalone and whales, along with an abundance of other marine life.   While those days may very well be gone along the California shoreline north of the border, that is certainly not the case just off the picturesque coast of the Baja California peninsula only a few hundred miles to the south. All of these amenities, complete with a generous slice of friendly Mexican culture, can still be readily found on the vibrant and remote islands of Cedros and San Benitos:  it is the Cedros Island experience.

The Cedros Island experience is like stepping back in time.

Located just off the central Pacific coast of Baja California, Cedros Island stretches 24 miles in length, and is characterized by a ruggedly beautiful sloping terrain with a host of native flora and fauna that includes coastal scrub, juniper scrub and sand dune scrub along with dense patches of chaparral and pristine pine forest.

The island’s two communities, El Morro and Cedros Town, are home to most of the region’s 4,500 inhabitants. While the industrial focus of El Morro involves the processing and export of industrial salt, most of the residents of Cedros town pursue the more traditional occupation of harvesting gourmet seafood products, such as abalone and lobster, from the rich waters that surround the island. Somewhat surprisingly, tourism is still in its infancy here; but what does exist helps to bring in supplemental income that is vital to the local economy.

Fishing off of Cedros Island

For countless decades, the great fishing that is available around Cedros and San Benito Islands was a relative secret, known mainly by local residents and members of San Diego’s long range sportfishing fleet. The surrounding waters teem with numerous marine species, several of which are comprised of populations that have been either greatly diminished or practically eliminated in more developed regions of our hemisphere.  Here, copious schools of large yellowtail and oversized calico bass swim with other popular gamefish such as giant black sea bass, grouper, white sea bass on a year round basis, and are joined by dorado and several members of the tuna family during summer and late fall. In short, it is a saltwater angler’s paradise.

 

 

Part of the Cedros Island experience is appreciating the flora of the area, including its widlflowers.

Nonetheless, one of the purest reasons to visit the Cedros Island region is really quite simple; it’s spectacular and unspoiled natural environment. A plethora of desert plants, many of which are endemic, punctuate the landscape in the arid climate at lower elevations, while aggregations of oak and the native Cedros pine sit atop the mountains at an elevation of nearly 4,000 feet, where the primary source of water is the fog-borne moisture that is common to the island. Native animal groups also include specialized species of mule deer, rabbit, pack rat and horned lizard that are also endemic to the island.

Sixteen miles west of Cedros Island lies the San Benitos Island group that is made up of three islands and accounts for nearly 900 hectares. A lighthouse dating back to 1934 overlooks western San Benitos Island.  The island offers the greatest diversion of species and topography, and also has one of the islands’ most interesting hiking trails, which circumnavigates the island from the fishing village to the lighthouse on the western side. Although there are no full time residents on San Benitos Islands, up to 70 people live in a small fishing camp on the west island during the duration of the abalone season.

Elephant seals enjoy the privacy of Cedros and San Benito islands.

 

During their respective breeding seasons, expansive colonies of elephant seals and sea lions fill almost every inch of beach on San Benitos Islands. The east island is the only breeding colony of the rare Guadalupe fur seal outside of Guadalupe Island. On the soft terrain, there are literally thousands of holes where species like storm petrels, auklets, shearwaters and murrelets nest.  The total population of this group of birds is estimated to be over 2.5 million. And, in 1999, an effort to eliminate the European rabbits introduced to these islands in the 1990s was successful.

Because of this effort, many species of plants, including endemics, are returning from the seed bank, or surviving roots. Without a doubt, the Cedros/Benitos archipelago represents one of the most prolific havens for terrestrial wildlife and marine species this side of the Galapagos Islands off the west coast off South America.

One thing is certain; whether you visit this magical region as an angler or an eco-tourist, you are bound to encounter a beautifully fascinating outdoor experience in one of Baja’s most unique coastal island venues.

Want to discover for yourself the Cedros Island experience?  Find out about Bahia Asuncion Hotels and Bahia Asuncion Activities at Baja.com!

Hooked on Baja author & columnist, Tom Gatch, is one of Baja’s foremost writers with a focus upon outdoor and recreational topics in Baja and Southern California.

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula, supported by a full-service tour operator staffed by Baja locals (our “Baja Travel Savants”). We offer Baja travelers expert advice about localrestaurants,hotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles about events, sports and activities. We provide bilingual customer support, information and sales seven days a week, 365 days a year.  For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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