Captain Hook’s Gallery: Baja’s Bountiful Billfish
Most striped marlin caught off the Baja peninsula inhabit the waters of Baja Sur, particularly off of Los Cabos and the East Cape. But they can also be successfully targeted by anglers who are fishing off of the Pacific coast of Baja Norte during summer, when they and a bevy of other migrating pelagic gamefish make there way up the coast to briefly visit the seas off of the coastal islands in northern Baja and southern California.
In past decades, trolling has been the most commonly employed method for finding and catching marlin, particularly when they are observed meandering around near the surface. On other occasions, trolled lures are pulled through an area in an attempt to provoke a blind strike. Live bait also works well, but it requires a lot more effort since the fish must be visually located before the cast.
When you are fishing for marlin with bait and feel your offering being picked up, it is important to keep your reel in free spool and gently use your thumb to slow the line release while pointing your rod tip in the direction of the fish. As it begins to swim away from the boat, count about 4 to 5 seconds before engaging your drag and setting the hook. Once feeding marlin are located, live bait can be one of your most effective tools in actually catch them.
Over the past several years, however, the popularity of fly fishing for marlin has skyrocketed. The flies used for these fish are usually twelve to fourteen inches long, and come in various patterns that have been crafted to represent baits such as squid, mackerel, and small bonito. Don’t get me wrong, marlin will attack much smaller flies than that, but their hooks are almost always far too small for the really big ones.
Nonetheless, trolling is still one of the best ways to find the marlin that you don’t see, but it is always a good idea not to be fishing alone when you intend to go after one. An especially exciting moment for avid Baja angler Bobby Arms occurred when he casually decided to go trolling for dorado offshore just southwest of San Diego.
During his lone quest to find a quality grade dorado or yellowfin tuna, he decided to troll a pink Zuker jet head lure behind his boat, but little did he know that it would be suddenly inhaled by a roving striped marlin. After a 40 minute battle, both he and the fish were totally exhausted as he grabbed the short leader.
It was apparent that the great fish would not survive their heated battle, so he was eventually able to shove his hand and forearm up under the striper’s gill plate and, after much frustrating effort, managed to wrestle the huge fish onto his deck. This placed him in rather unique company, since only a handful of highly skilled anglers have ever performed an amazing feat of this nature. Back at the dock in San Diego his striped marlin weighed in at just over 110 pounds.
While Baja’s more northerly waters host striped marlin a few months out of the year, they become far more prolific as you proceed south, finally achieving their apex of activity at the southern tip of the peninsula off of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. This area also offers anglers a seasonal opportunity to hook up to the larger and highly coveted blue and black marlin.
While the appeal of landing a big marlin may be what brings many anglers to Baja, it is important that they remember they are a very valuable resource. And since the food value of marlin is limited, practicing catch & release is highly recommended. In some instances it may be legally required. It is also vital that hooked fish are set free in a manner that will allow them to survive after the encounter. For this reason, it is a good idea to use circle hooks, which tend to catch in the corner of the fish’s mouth rather than hooking it down the gullet as many ‘J’ hooks tend to do.
The marlin is one of the most avidly pursued gamefish on the planet, and Baja has been blessed with a healthy population of them. It is hence the solemn responsibility of everyone who targets them to do so in a manner that will allow this valuable resource to be sustained for generations to come.
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