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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.

Captain Hook’s Gallery: Cruising for Calico Bass

Captain Hook’s Gallery: Cruising for Calico Bass

When spring is on the horizon, many anglers along the northern Baja Pacific Coast take full advantage of the increasingly sunny, calm days by drifting near inshore kelp beds in pursuit of calico bass. Technically named “kelp bass,” this colorful, checkerboard patterned fish is a member of the family Serranidae (sea basses), and is also a close relative to the barred sand bass. These and other smaller members of the tropical grouper family are generally referred to as cabrilla in Baja California.

Captain Hook's Gallery

Capt. Kelly Catian of K&M Sportfishing shows off a trophy size calico that fell for a well-presented swimbait just off the coast of Bahia San Quintin.

The calico, Paralabrax clathratus, is a prime target of Pacific anglers because of its great fighting spirit, as well as for the quality table fare that it provides. Although most likely to weigh between one and four pounds, these fish can occasionally reach a weight of 12 to 13 pounds when living in a natural, kelp bed habitat.

The coastal region between Playas Tijuana and San Quintin is fortunate to be blessed with thick concentrations of kelp, which are home to the calico bass, one of our area’s most prized gamefish. Members of this species will viciously attack a well-presented live anchovy, sardine or plastic artificial, and have a reputation for hiding behind the cover of kelp strands, and then ambushing unsuspecting prey as it swims by.

Captain Hook's Gallery

MC Swimbaits, one of the most popular brands in both California and Baja California, produces plastic swimbaits in a wide variety of sizes and colors to correspond with changing weather conditions, fishing venues and forage preferences of the targeted species.

When fishing for calicos near kelp beds using artificial plastic baits, try starting out with colors that incorporate brown and golden hues with hologram or metal flake. It is believed that these colors most closely emulate the appearance of juvenile kelp bass, which are regularly cannibalized by larger members of their own species.

During warm summer months, calicos will often boil near surface bait schools, and bigger fish can even be taken using blue and white “surface iron” jigs that might normally be used to catch species such as yellowtail, or big barracuda. Whether using plastic or iron lures, a long rod is often another key ingredient for success, as it allows you to cast farther and get more leverage on the fish.

The colder the water temperatures, however, the more likely it is that your lure will be attacked as it flutters down through the water column. While it is possible to catch calicos throughout the year, the best action takes place in spring and continues on through late summer.

Captain Hook's Gallery

A Baja panga offers a near perfect platform for targeting calico bass, as demonstrated by Punta Banda angler “Calico” Brian Foley and Capt. Beto Zamora. Image: Vonny’s Sportfishing Fleet

Because they are both territorial and delicious, calico bass populations have diminished drastically during recent decades, particularly in Southern California waters. Unless Baja’s coastal anglers practice great restraint, the same thing could happen here. But one simple practice could change that: When you catch a kelp bass over five pounds, it is very important to release it unharmed.

It is a known fact that large, female calicos are able to contribute millions more juveniles to help rebuild the population than can smaller bass. Fish that weigh between one to three pounds provide delicious fillets, and can be enjoyed without making as much of a negative impact on resources. Of course, responsible anglers never keep more fish than they can readily use. And if properly respected, this relatively slow growing species can offer both outstanding “catch & release” action and occasional table fare for future generations to enjoy as well.

 
Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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Captain Hook’s Gallery: Baja’s Pacific Barracuda

Captain Hook’s Gallery: Baja’s Pacific Barracuda

It was the last day of his vacation in Ensenada before heading back to the blistering July heat of Phoenix, Arizona, and Rob had made the decision the night before to spend it on a sportfishing boat.

Although it was only 7:45 a.m, the summer sun had already torn its way through a thin, gray layer of marine mist when the skipper encountered flocks of hungry seagulls and pelicans on the way to Islas Todos Santos, just offshore. The birds were intently circling, and diving frantically into a small section of ocean that had erupted into a chaotic froth of fleeing sardines, as well as predator species that were crashing through the deep blue surface while attempting to eat them.

Baja's Pacific Barracuda

Pacific barracuda may be taken off the Baja coast during warm water months, although heir razor sharp teeth can cut through an angler’s line in a heartbeat. Image: MarineBio

As the boat carefully slid up to the feeding frenzy, anglers onboard quickly began tossing live baits and lures at the boils. Rob had already tied on his trusty Krocodile spoon, and was one of the first to get his jig in the water. Before he had a chance to crank the reel’s handle more that a few rotations, his pole was nearly yanked from his hands by a fish that attacked his bright, fluttering lure with the speed of lightning and the force of an angry bull.

“Fresh one!!” Rob called out enthusiastically, remembering something that he had heard once a few years before while aboard a commercial sportfisher in Southern California. The fish bent his medium weight spinning rod nearly in half, as line continued to peel off his reel. Eventually, the fish began to tire, and Rob was able to turn its head and regain control of the battle.

“What is it?” Another visiting angler asked while peering attentively over Rob’s shoulder.  “Do you think it’s a BIG yellowtail?” At that very moment, the fish came to color below the boat. The flash of its long, silvery body made it immediately identifiable.

“Oh, no!” shouted the kibitzing fisherman for all to hear. “It’s a damn SLIMER! …The guy caught a BARRACUDA, not a yellowtail!!” His voice was dripping with sarcasm.

The big fish appeared to be almost three feet long as it was gaffed and brought over the rail, but Rob was no longer smiling. When the deckhand who was holding his catch asked for his bag number, he shook his head and declined with a simple “No quiero.” This was a big error, because Rob had just made the common mistake of allowing someone else’s perception of reality to ruin what had been, in fact, a wonderful event.  No matter whether you call them slimers, snakes, or by their most considerate nickname, California wahoo, the barracuda remains one of the most maligned gamefish that swims in our waters.

Baja's Pacific Barracuda

Pacific barracuda offer great sport when hooked, and when properly handled also provide tasty table fare. Image: Gary Graham

Pacific barracuda (Sphyraena argentea) are a pelagic species that is usually found in Ensenada Bay during the summer months. Although they prefer live bait, they can also be taken on chrome spoons, top-water poppers and surface iron in a blue and chrome combination. This barracuda has a slim body design, and rarely exceeds a weight of 10 pounds.  They can offer an excellent fight on light to medium tackle, and grow to a maximum length of about four feet.  Not to be confused with the Great barracuda that lives in tropical waters, the Pacific barracuda can be distinguished from those found in the Sea of Cortez by its silvery sides and a lack of broad bars or spots.

Most Pacific barracuda are taken with live bait fished at or near the surface; however, they will take an assortment of trolled artificial lures. If you see a very large barracuda, in the 10 pound range, chances are it’s a female. Positive identification can be made because the female has a charcoal black edge on the pelvic and anal fins, whereas the male fins are edged in yellow or olive. Three pound barracuda are common, but generally they are large enough to put up a good fight. Caution should be taken when you land a barracuda to avoid their needle sharp teeth.

The good news, which is often overlooked, is that Pacific barracuda can be excellent table fare when properly prepared and cooked fresh. Although it is not usually feasible to execute while on a commercial sportfisher, it is very important to remove the gills, entrails, and to bleed out this fish as soon as possible after it has been caught, and then place it immediately under ice. Prior to cooking, thoroughly scale the whole barracuda and slice it crosswise into steaks. Place the steaks into a large bowl and marinate them in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours in your favorite oil and vinegar based Italian salad dressing. Then grill over smoldering mesquite, turn once until they’re fully cooked, and get ready for a surprisingly tasty meal.

Remember, if you can’t eat that barracuda on the day that it was caught, they are also extremely good when smoked and served with crackers and whipped cream cheese!

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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Baja Skinny: A Local Answers Frequently Asked Questions About Ensenada

Baja Skinny: A Local Answers Frequently Asked Questions About Ensenada

Located less than 100 miles south of the International Border at San Ysidro, the Mediterranean-like seaport of Ensenada is situated at the end of a picturesque highway on the Pacific Coast of Baja California Norte. Ensenada’s proximity to the border has for many years made it a natural choice for stateside visitors looking for a convenient and reasonably priced Baja getaway. Here you can enjoy the best of both worlds, from bucolic natural beauty to world-class wining and dining, as well as the other sophisticated pleasures found in this modern city located near the gateway to populous southern California.

But despite its close proximity to the U.S., many folks still have questions about visiting the Ensenada area. So in order to clear up any confusion, we’ve provided answers to the most frequently asked questions.

Baja Skinny

Ensenada at night.

Do I need to get a visa in order to travel to Ensenada?

If you are staying less than 72 hours, you do not. The area between Tijuana and Punta Colonet is a tourist zone that does not generally require any additional documentation to visit within that time frame. Of course, you should always have a valid passport in your possession, but that is required by the Department of Border Protection in order to cross the border coming back into the U.S., not by the Republic of Mexico.

Will my cellphone work in Baja California Norte?

These days, many of the larger carriers feature international calling privileges in their monthly service packages. If yours does not, chances are that you may still be able to place a call to places north of the border using your phone; but make sure that you find out how much you will be charged before doing so.  Sometimes this type of service extension can run as much as $1 to $1.50 (U.S.) per minute. Calling from a local pay phone can often be similarly expensive.

What about Internet access?

Fortunately, Wi-Fi access is widely available between the border and Ensenada, since numerous restaurants, cafes, hotels and even a few shops in the tourist zone use this convenience as a vehicle to bring business into their operations. With the current proliferation of phones, pads and notebooks that are carried by so many people on both sides of the border these days, such widespread access is considered by many to be a necessity.

Do I need a license to go fishing in Baja?

As in almost every region of Mexico, those fishing from shore, the rocks or any type of land based platform such as a pier, dock or wharf can do so without the need for any type of license. Those fishing from boats, however, must have a current, valid Mexican fishing license in their possession for each passenger aboard any boat that is also carrying any type of fishing gear. This means everyone, even small children, regardless of whether they plan to do any fishing. Fishing licenses can be obtained at all Baja Department of Tourism Offices, as well as at sportfishing landings and most tackle shops.

What about emergency situations?

Just as in other industrialized countries, there is any emergency number available in Mexico that will immediately link you with the police and other authorities.  It is ‘066’.  Although many dispatchers may not be bilingual, you can often be transferred to someone who can speak English simply by politely asking “Servicio en Ingles, por favor?”  If your particular situation should require the assistance of the American Consulate, you can contact the Tijuana office by calling (664) 977-2000. They are located at Paseo de las Culturas S/N, Mesa de Otay, 22425 Tijuana, BCN.

Is it true that Baja Norte healthcare professional offer quality dental and medical services at a fraction of stateside prices?

There are, indeed, a growing number of individuals from the U.S. who visit Mexico for medical reasons.  Over the past few decades, the number highly trained dentists, physicians, surgeons and other healthcare professionals in Mexico has grown exponentially,particularly in the state of Baja California Norte. Many of these individuals have been schooled in the United States and have set up their practices south of the border, which allows them to offer extremely competitive pricing while maintaining a high professional standard.

Can I use my credit cards in Ensenada?  What about paying in dollars as opposed to pesos?

Most of the larger business, hotels and restaurants in Ensenada will happily accept credit and debit cards from major carriers, except for Discovery.  However, the majority of smaller operations will accept only cash. While most stores will accept U.S. dollars, the exchange rate that they offer is not always the best.  It is often a good idea to pick up some pesos at one of the local cambio kiosks, whose rates are generally advertised on prominent neon signs outside of the establishments.

What if I encounter severe mechanical issues while visiting Ensenada, and need to return to the U.S. without my vehicle?

Fortunately, there is excellent bus service between Ensenada that offers regular carriage to Tijuana and the border every few hours from the downtown terminal. The trip usually takes less than two hours and costs under $15.00 per person.

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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Captain Hook’s Gallery: Searching the Surf for Baja Perch

Captain Hook’s Gallery: Searching the Surf for Baja Perch

During the first few months of each calendar year, when the cold rain from northern storms batters Baja’s upper Pacific Coast near Ensenada, the surf remains churned up into a heavy froth and water temperatures tend to plummet into the low to mid 50s. It is a season when many anglers have already turned their attention toward the highly anticipated spring action, which is only a few months away.

Yet, it is also a particularly good time of year to hit the beach with light tackle in pursuit of barred surfperch. This particular species of perch, Amphistichus argenteus, is found from Baja’s Pacific Coast in the south to Bodega Bay on the coast of Northern California. Barred surfperch are common in the surf zone along sandy beaches where they seem to congregate in depressions on the bottom.

How do you find prime conditions for catching large surfperch along the sandy Pacific shores of Baja Norte? It’s easy: Just wait for the early winter storms to stir up the Baja surf, and a few of the high tides between Playas Tijuana and San Quintin that immediately follow to creep further up the beach than normal.

Winter fishing for barred surfperch and other near shore species with light tackle is an entertaining and inexpensive way to enjoy the season.

For those stalwart anglers who are willing to roll up their pant legs and wade into the crisp shore break with light tackle in hand, these periods also create prime conditions for catching barred surfperch.  The Rosarito Beach sportfishing pier is an excellent place to find them, as are jetties and rocky structure adjacent to the surf zone. But, generally speaking, surfperch are usually targeted by those casting from a sandy beach.

In the off-season, the Baja Norte’s Pacific Coast experiences very little pressure from shore anglers. Since some of the most productive surfperch spots are found several miles from the city and are a bit primitive, don’t be surprised if you happen to get lucky and end up taking home a nice stringer of these popular, pan-sized fish.

Sizable schools of barred surfperch can usually be found in the surf zone along most sandy beaches, where they tend to congregate in depressions or troughs along the soft bottom.  In colder months, larger adults weighing up to 3 pounds come close to shore during their winter spawning cycle, allowing a better grade of the species to be available to those fishing the surf.

The most popular natural bait for perch is the soft-shelled sand crab, but local mussels and small pieces of cut anchovy can also be productive. When sand crabs are present, groupings of their small, filament like antenna can be seen protruding from the wet sand left behind by the tidal ebb. Digging beneath them immediately after a wave recedes will often produce several of these small, oval shaped crustaceans. The ones that carry an orange egg sack under their carapace tend to catch more fish.

Those who prefer fishing with bait should either use a standard, two-tiered surf fishing set up or a Carolina-rig, which is constructed by attaching a #4 or #6 treble hook to the end of a 4 to 6 pound test, fluorocarbon leader about 20 inches in length. Then tie a barrel swivel to the opposite end of the leader, pass the line from your reel through a half to ¾ to 1 ounce egg sinker, and tie the line to the other eye of the swivel so that the sinker sits positioned above the leader. Beware, however, because these fish are masterful bait thieves.

This same type of rig is also extremely deadly when using appropriately colored plastic grubs, which mimic the appearance of small crustaceans like ghost shrimp and sand crabs. Watch the waves, and cast your lure just past the suds in the last swell of each incoming set immediately after it breaks.

In addition to premium live bait like sand crabs, barred surfperch can be suckers for a properly presented plastic grub.

One on my favorite techniques is to fish near a place where a sandy beach abruptly ends near rocky outcroppings or tide pools. Look for places where you can safely make your way out onto the structure and position yourself a few hundred yards away from the shoreline. You can then cast parallel to the breakers and work your lure or bait along the surf line for a better shot at foraging fish. These areas can also provide an occasional opportunity to hook up with larger inshore species like halibut, bass, corbina or even a white sea bass.

Some of the best locations to fish for surfperch in Baja that can be found within a few hundred miles of southern California are the sandy beaches between Rosarito, La Mission and the beach south of the La Salina Marina jetties.  The shorelines adjoining the outer mouth of Ensenada’s Punta Banda Estero and the small patch of sandy beach south of La Bufadora at Puerto Escondido are also good, as are similar areas further south that punctuate the coast to points well past Bahia San Quintin.

Although mature perch may only weigh up to 3 pounds at their maximum size, these compact fish are still prized as table fare by many of the anglers who pursue them, and are perhaps the most likely species to end up over a beach campfire in Baja. They can be filleted or gutted, scaled and cooked whole.  Whichever way you chose to dress them out, they are usually best when either pan-fried or steamed. Once their cooked, snowy-white meat is flaked away from the bones, you are left with mild, delicate and tender morsels that will receive a unanimous ‘thumbs up’ from the hungry guests around your dinner table.

 

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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Ensenada Gallery Exhibit Showcases the Spirit of Mexico’s Day of the Dead

Ensenada Gallery Exhibit Showcases the Spirit of Mexico’s Day of the Dead

Because they are celebrated just a few days apart from one another, and perhaps because they also both happen to contain certain otherworldly elements, it is a common misconception among casual observers that Halloween in the United States and Mexico’s Day of the Dead are practically synonymous. In fact, they are not.

Day of the Dead

Although skulls may be a common sight during both Halloween and Dia de los Muertos, the meanings of the two celebrations are really quite different.

Stateside celebrations of Halloween have become overly commercialized and often tend to focus on shock value, with revelers trying to win a prize for ‘best costume’ at a party. On the other hand, Dia de Los Muertos, as it is called south of the border, is not about ghosts, goblins or other scary things at all, but is rather a joyful annual festival in which individuals and families honor memories of those who were close to them that have now passed on.

Day of the Dead

Photos of deceased friends and family members are a traditional part of displays.

The event takes place in Latin America on November 1st and 2nd. The first day is dedicated to the memory of children and babies who have died, while the second is held in the honor of dead adult relatives and friends. The lives of the deceased are celebrated  with displays of food, drink and activities that the dead once enjoyed during their lifetimes. At the same time, there is the sober  recognition that death is ultimately a natural part of life’s evolutionary cycle.

Day of the Dead

A typical Dia de los Muertos altar, with the favorite momentos of the deceased.

It is a centuries old custom that combines indigenous Aztec rituals with artifacts of Catholicism that were originally brought to Mexico by the conquistadors from Spain. Stands selling brilliantly orange marigolds, shops displaying festive altars and bakeries offering colored skulls are a common sight. Today, most families follow the traditional practices of their native regions, which may vary slightly from state to state. Often, this includes a trip to a local cemetery where the grave sites of departed friends and family members can be adorned with a variety of decorations, including offerings of flowers, candles, favorite foods and beverages.

Situated in the tourist district in downtown Ensenada and now almost 20 years old, Bazaar Casa Ramirez on Lopez Mateos is perhaps one of the best places in Baja to get a taste of the true essence of this very special holiday. In addition to having created a showcase of some of Mexico’s best handcrafted arts, owner Alejandra Ramirez has put together a fantastic Dia de los Muertos exhibit that artfully portrays this rich Mexican tradition. She does so using a bevy of authentic folk art, as well as an upstairs gallery that includes an elaborate shrine celebrating the departed; complete with photos, mementos and consumable offerings. The exhibit at Casa Ramirez will be open to the public until Wednesday, November 20th, 2013.

Day of the Dead

Alejandra Ramirez, owner of Ensenada’s Casa Ramirez, makes a point to get in the spirit of Dia de los Muertos for the many patrons who visit her shop during the holiday.

Despite the celebratory nuances and festivities associated with this holiday, it is extremely important for foreign visitors to remember the somber focus of the tradition and to act appropriately. As an example, visiting a cemetery and taking photos of families decorating grave sites or involved in any other related personal activities is considered rude and in poor taste. Public displays at places such as schools, churches or private businesses, however, are generally open to tourist photographers. After all, they are the best ambassadors to spread the word about yet another colorful event around which to plan your next Baja vacation.

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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Off-Road Nirvana: Gearing Up for the 46th Annual Tecate SCORE Baja 1000

Off-Road Nirvana: Gearing Up for the 46th Annual Tecate SCORE Baja 1000

Perhaps the most prominent sporting events in Baja California over the past few decades have been the wildly popular races known as the Baja 500 and the Baja 1000. The legendary off-road races are organized and managed by SCORE International, which was originally founded by racing champ Mickey Thompson in 1973.  Over the past 40 years, they have gained a worldwide reputation for being two of the most exciting desert races on the planet.

The latest episode of the classic Baja 1000, which also happens to be the final event of the 2013 SCORE Desert Series, will be held November 13 – 17.  The brutally rugged race course that has been mapped out covers almost 900 miles of desolate territory, and is strewn with a variety of naturally occurring obstacles that may prevent many competitors from finishing. The race will start and finish in Ensenada. It’s the longest course in race history that begins and ends at the same location.

Over time, many celebrities have tried their luck at conquering the formidable badlands of Baja, including actors James Garner and the late Steve McQueen, as well as rock musician Ted Nugent in the 1970s.  The 1982 race was attended by Mark Thatcher, son of Great Britain’s then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The Academy Award winning actor, racer and race team owner Paul Newman joined in the 2004 event. Jesse James, of ‘Monster Garage’ fame, and Hollywood film and TV star Patrick Dempsey have also competed in the legendary off-road challenge.

The Baja 1000 is the world’s most famous off-road race.

This year’s event will commemorate the achievements of legendary desert racers like Rod Hall, Ron Bishop, Johnny Johnson and Larry Roeseler.  Hall, who will turn 75 on November 22, holds the all time record with 22 class wins, including an overall win in 1972.  He is the only person who has competed in each of the previous 45 races.

The 46th Annual Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 is expected to draw competitors from at least 40 states north of the border, and from over 25 countries around the globe.  It will include entrants in the SCORE Trophy Truck, Class 1 All Pro Motorcycle and Pro ATV categories.  The new owner of SCORE International, Roger Norman, has announced that for the first time in race history there will be qualifying for start positions within several vehicle classes.

Baja Gears Up for Legendary Off-Road Race

Each racer’s progress is monitored throughout the event.

SCORE has announced that this year’s race will boast the longest course in its history, starting and finishing in the heart of Ensenada, and covering both sides of the Baja California peninsula: from its beginning near the Pacific Ocean, over to San Felipe on the Sea of Cortez, and back to Ensenada. The most lengthy course distance previously was 822 miles back in 1985.  There will also be eight physical checkpoints used during the race, as well as over 70 virtual checkpoints to verify the ongoing progress and position of the racers. 

The Baja 1000 is also an occasion for convivial social events.

Every year, SCORE endeavors to make sure that the next Baja 1000 is even better than the last one, and this 46th annual race should provide enough excitement and entertainment for everyone …whether you are actually eating dust in the Baja desert, or simply sipping your favorite cold beverage as an enthusiastic bystander.   

 

OFFICIAL SCHEDULE OF THIS YEAR’S EVENTS (All times PST):

TUESDAY, Nov. 12
10a.m. – 4 p.m. – Annual SCORE Chassis Inspections (Hacienda Hotel)
2 p.m. – 8 p.m. – Racer Registration, Casino Room-Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center (adjacent to S/F)
3 p.m. – 6 p.m. — Media Registration, Casino Room-Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 13
9 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. – Qualifying-SCORE Trophy Truck, Class 1—LOCATION RESTRICTED
Noon – 2:30 p.m. – Qualifying-Pro Motorcycles, Pro ATVs—LOCATION RESTRICTED
Noon – 6 p.m. –Racer Registration, Casino Room-Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center (adjacent to S/F)
1 p.m. – 6 p.m. — Media Registration, Casino Room-Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center
7 p.m. – Midnight – Monster Energy SCORE  Papas & Beer Street Party, Avenida Ruiz (adjacent to Papas y Beer). All are welcome.

THURSDAY, Nov. 14
9 a.m. – 5 p.m. — Racer Registration, Casino Room-Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center
9 a.m. – 5 p.m. — Media Registration, Casino Room-Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Contingency Row, Boulevard Costero, Next to Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center
10 a.m. – 6 p.m. — Technical Inspection, End of Contingency Row
4 p.m. — Wildman Cenni First Ever 360 Truck Barrel Roll in the wash just off the start line.
7 p.m. — Mandatory Racer Meeting-Cathedral Room, Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center
7 p.m. – 2 a.m. – BAJA 1000 GOES GREEN, Monster Energy SCORE Motorcycle Start Party, Blvd Costero (adjacent to S/F). All are welcome.
10 p.m. – Midnight (Nov. 14) – Late Motorcycle/ATV racer registration—Casino Room, Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center
10 p.m. – Midnight (Nov. 14) — Late Tech Inspection (Motorcycles & ATVs), start line, next to Riviera CC
10:30 p.m. – 12:30 a.m. (Nov. 14-15); BFG Tires/Baja California Secretary of Tourism/SCORE Media Center—Casino Room, Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center
11 p.m. – RACE START – Pro Motorcycles, Pro ATVs, Sportsman Motorcycles, Sportsman ATVs

FRIDAY, Nov. 15
9 a.m. – 5 p.m. — Racer Registration, Casino Room-Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center
7 a.m. – 9 a.m. – Late car & truck racer registration—Casino Room, Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center
7 a.m. – 9 a.m. — Late Tech Inspection (Car & Truck), start line, next to Riviera CC
8 a.m. – Midnight –  BFG Tires/Baja California Secretary of Tourism/SCORE Media Center—Casino Room, Riviera CC
9:00 a.m. (APPROX) RACE START – Cars and Trucks

SATURDAY, Nov. 16
12:01 a.m. – 11 p.m. – BFG Tires/Baja California Secretary of Tourism/SCORE Media Center—Casino Room, Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center

SUNDAY, Nov. 17

7 a.m. – Noon — BF Goodrich Tires/Baja California Secretary of Tourism/SCORE Media Center—Casino Room, Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center
8 a.m. — Posting of final unofficial results—Casino Room, Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center
10 a.m. — Awards Celebration-Amphitheater, Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

Photos courtesy of SCORE International.

 

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Captain Hook’s Gallery: Baja’s Scorpion of the Sea

Captain Hook’s Gallery: Baja’s Scorpion of the Sea

Anyone who has ever spent much time around tide pools along the California coast has probably noticed small members of the sculpin family darting quickly between limpets, barnacles, and sea anemones. They practically disappear when they sit motionless, their natural camouflage blending with the mottled rocks around them.

Most California scorpionfish (Scorpaena guttata) are found in Pacific Ocean waters, but there is also a considerable population of related species that occur in the Sea of Cortez. They are usually caught over hard, rocky bottoms from just below the water’s surface to depths of over 600 feet, and occasionally over mud or sand. They range in color from dark orange-brown to bright red, and rarely exceed 4 pounds in weight.

Their diet includes mussels, small crabs, squid, octopus, and a variety of the small fish that share their territory. Sculpin will readily take a piece of squid, mussel, or anchovy that has been lowered to the bottom in one of the rocky areas that they are known to inhabit. Small plastic grubs in various colors are also very effective in catching sculpin, particularly when tipped with a thin strip of squid. At times, chumming with small pieces of squid, mussel, or sea urchin will also help attract them to the area.  As a bonus, the firm, white, delicately flavored fillets of mature sculpin are a delightful treat for the gourmet palate.

But, alas, nature usually has a counterbalance in store for those who would harvest and consume the tastiest of its seafood delights. In this case, the sculpin sports poisonous dorsal and pectoral fins that can be painfully sharp.

Baja's Scorpion of the Sea

Scorpaena Guttata, also known as Baja’s scorpion of the sea.

While growing up, I had always heard the horrible stories about what happened when unlucky anglers found themselves on the business end of a sculpin’s dorsal fin. When I actually witnessed the event in living color, you can be assured that it was not a pretty sight.

I was aboard an open party sportfisher out of Ensenada in late spring many years ago when an unwary 16-year old fisherman visiting from Arizona turned from the rail holding up one of these spike-finned toads by the lip as if it were some kind of freshwater bass and chirped, “What the heck kind of fish is this ugly sucker?”

“Watch out, amigo!” shouted a nearby deckhand who immediately realized the peril that his young passenger was in. “Just drop the fish on the deck, my friend, I’ll take care…” But it was too late.

“YEOWWWW!” Shrieked the unfortunate young man.  “He STUCK me!!  Oh, man …this really hurts!!” He screamed as we all looked on, stunned and frozen by the unexpected turn of events. Within five minutes, he was lying on a bench inside the galley writhing in indescribable agony, his hand swollen to nearly twice its normal size. Our trip was cut short, of course, as the boat immediately headed back to port so the passenger could receive some much needed medical attention.

This word to the wise should be sufficient to remind everyone that the sculpin may be beguiling as table fare, but it must also be afforded the same respect that you would extend to a scorpion or a rattlesnake. Immediately after catching one that you intend to keep, be sure to snip off the spines before putting it into your fish box.

Once filleted, my favorite technique for cooking sculpin is to simply dust them in flour, dip them quickly in beaten egg, and then roll them in panko style Japanese breadcrumbs.

After letting them set up in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes, fry them lightly fried until golden brown in an equal mixture of olive oiland garlic butter. They are great on the plate with a little rice and veggie, but also make a fantastic fish sandwich.

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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Captain Hook’s Gallery: Baja Shows Off Its Mussels

Captain Hook’s Gallery: Baja Shows Off Its Mussels

As the bright morning sun peeked over a hillside just to my east, the large resident kelp forest inside La Bufadora cove appeared to be a shimmering sea of Golden Fleece.  I finally pulled to a stop near a rock-strewn section of cliffs at the southern end of the rancho.

Pacific black mussels are plentiful along the rocky Pacific coast of Baja Norte.

Armed with a bucket, gloves and some basic fishing tackle, I carefully made my way down the stony arroyo and around a portion of cliff that was no longer visible from the roadway.  A rugged slate stairway, conveniently provided by nature, allowed me to gingerly make my way further downward toward the vast expanse of exposed tide pools near the crashing surf.

On this occasion, my timing happened to be right on target.  A minus tide had ebbed far enough from the shore to allow me to easily gather a good supply of mussels to fish the rising tide that was yet to come. 

The Pacific side of the northern Baja coast offers hundreds of miles of rocky, volcanic shoreline, punctuated by a seemingly endless number of protected coves, beaches and grottos.  Although many of these rural hideaways may seem a bit out of the way, local residents have enjoyed great success fishing them for decades.

Black mussels have been a blessing to coastal populations for centuries; both as a bait, and as a gastronomic delicacy.

Because of the numerous navigational hazards in these places, such as thick kelp, boiler stones and large breakers, walking over treacherous rocks to fish from shore is one of the only ways that most anglers can take advantage of these beguilingly ‘fishy’ places.

There are several varieties of surf and rockfishes that abound in those often hidden coastal nooks and crannies.  A few names on the list are the barred surfperch, yellowfin croaker, spotfin croaker, corbina, calico bass, sand bass, sargo, cabezon, sculpin and California sheephead.  Although most of these fish are unrelated, there is one thing that they all have in common, an undeniable love for fresh, juicy mussels!

Our local sea mussels (Mytilus californianus) are the largest species of mussel on the west coast of North America and range from Baja’s central Pacific coast up to the Gulf of Alaska.  These bivalve mollusks often form thick beds on exposed sections of rocky shoreline adjacent to the surf zone and spawn throughout the year, with peak activity occurring during spring and fall.

Fishing while standing on occasionally wet and slippery rocks can be hazardous, but greatly rewarding.

Freshly cut mussel meat exudes beguiling juices that often prove to be irresistible to a bevy of hungry inshore fishes.  Mussels are a bait that can spark near shore action when all else fails.  The legendary author and fisherman, Ray Cannon, had this to say in his classic book, How to Fish the Pacific Coast, “For shore fishes, mussels are by far the best all-round bait…but are the most difficult to keep on.”

It’s true; the toughest part of fishing with mussels is adeptly removing the meat from the shell and then successfully securing it to the hook.  Its soggy membrane has the texture of raw egg, and possesses only two hard areas to place the hook point.  Some anglers tie the mass on with orange or pink thread, which can be quite useful in helping to secure it to the hook’s shank.  Just be patient and you’ll soon become adept at the practice.

In my opinion, the best tackle configuration for this type of fishing is a standard surf rig; that is to say; sinker on the bottom (weight will differ with conditions) and one or two hooks on leaders about 15” long, rigged approximately 16” or 17” apart.  Another technique is to ‘flyline’ a whole, opened mussel, with a treble hook lodged in the center, and allow it to slowly sink to the bottom and leisurely move around with the current.

Mussels are a favorite of a wide variety of popular inshore species like barred surf perch and cabezon.

As with most inshore salt water fishing, it is best to be at your spot ready to wet your line no later than an hour before high tide; although when working the surf near rocks or jetties, you are usually able to get some kind of action as long as there is good tidal movement.  When fishing the rocky points and tide pools it is important to remember that the majority of fish will probably be found in the churning, white water not far from the rocks.

Exploring hard to reach areas with limited access will also increase your chances of being successful.  This type of angling may not be as easy as languidly drifting around in a small boat on a placid bay, but there is much to be enjoyed by taking advantage of this more primitive, rugged method of fishing, not the least of which are the exercise, fresh air and the clean, salty spray upon your face.  So, the next time you feel like tossing out your line in circumstances that are generally uncrowded and usually rewarding, grab your gear, head for the coast …and do it with mussel!

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

 

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Paella Contest Caps Annual Harvest Festival in Baja’s Wine Country

Paella Contest Caps Annual Harvest Festival in Baja’s Wine Country

Paella Contest

One of the most celebrated culinary creations of La Cocina Español is the famous preparation known as paella. There are many regional recipes for this popular dish, some which incorporate rabbit or even escargot. Most of the entrants in La Vendimia’s annual paella competition, however, favor the classic Andalusian version that combines clams, shrimp, chorizo, chicken and pork with colorful saffron rice.

The annual paella contest generally marks the conclusion of Ensenada’s Fiestas de la Vendimia, or Harvest Festival.

Over the years, the annual Concurso de Paella has become is a wildly popular event that traditionally marks the conclusion of  Ensenada’s Fiestas de la Vendimia, or Harvest Festival. This is truly a family oriented celebration, and is held in Valle de Guadalupe at Vina de Liceaga, adjacent to a massive canopy of old growth oak trees, under which a virtual armada of long tables are assembled.

Competitors go all out in their attempt to capture victory for their respective teams.

Early in the afternoon, you can stroll around the picturesque grounds and take in the smells of wood fires mixing with the captivating aromas of the simmering peppers, garlic, onions and fresh seafood. Later on, a team of official judges work their way around the large contingent of competitors to evaluate the many entries and determine which one will ultimately reign supreme. Shortly thereafter, the remaining paella is doled out to throngs of hungry visitors waiting in line to sample the gastronomic delights at hand.

This popular family-friendly event draws visitors from both sides of the border.

Two separate stages feature a variety of live musical entertainment, and dozens of local wineries provide samples of their esteemed wares to help keep spirits high.

Dr. Miguel Angel Ortiz Hidalgo, shows off his prize winning wines at Concurso de Paella.

As with most of the events affiliated with Ensenada’s yearly harvest festival, tickets to the Concurso de Paella tend to sell out rather quickly once they go on sale, and it is not unusual to have a few hundred people end up on the waiting list, even though over 1500 gate passes may have been initially available. But luckily, because off the spacious grounds and ample parking at this beautiful pastoral venue, this regularly sold out event never really seems excessively crowded.  (For additional information on the winners of the famous paella competition, read this Baja.com story).

Some might even say that this is a perfect note upon which to end Ensenada’s yearly celebration of La Vendimia. It does, after all, bring together two of the region’s international claims to fame; a variety of wonderfully fresh fruits from the nearby seas, and the ripe, rich fruits of the vine, which account for almost the entirety of Mexico’s annual wine production.

 paella contest

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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Captain Hook’s Gallery: Fishing for Baja Halibut

Captain Hook’s Gallery: Fishing for Baja Halibut

Often referred to as ‘lenguado’ in Baja California, this oversized member of the flounder family can grow to over 60 pounds and is eclipsed in size only by its giant cousins, the northern Pacific and Atlantic halibuts, which can often reach weights of several hundred pounds.

The late Jack Wardley, an avid Baja angler, poses with one of his all time biggest catches: a 40 pound California halibut taken at the southern end of Bahia de Todos Santos.

Because there is no minimum size limit for taking these coveted fish in the waters of Baja California, it is always important to exercise restraint and remember that halibut generally must be over 20 inches in length before they can have an opportunity to participate in their first spawning season.

These flat, opportunistically aggressive predators are masters of camouflage.  Their coloration will often change from dark brown to golden sandstone, depending on their cover, and they can deftly wiggle under the loose sand and lay motionless with little more exposed than the two eyes on the topside of its body.  Suddenly, when a smaller, unsuspecting fish swims by, the halibut explodes forth with open jaws and a flurry of pointed, slashing teeth to devour its prey.

From Spring through late Autumn, this is one of my favorite target species.  Fishing for the California halibut along Baja’s Pacific coast can be exceptional, especially in the various sandy, inshore areas that are excellent spawning grounds for this species.  Since these months are ones that tend to spark the halibut’s reproductive activities, those windows of time are usually most productive for the anglers who seek them out.  Bays, such as Bahia de Todos Santos and Bahia San Quintin are also good places to find halibut.  Schools of forage fish like such as smelt and anchovies are found in these areas and help to attract larger fish that move in seasonally to spawn.    

The author with a 26 pound flattie caught off the Punta Banda peninsula.

While fishing for lenguado using natural baits, it is not unusual to experience many short or missed bites.  This situation can be addressed by using a ‘trap rig’.  To construct a trap rig, a small treble hook is tied to the end of a 12 to 20 pound test fluorocarbon leader approximately 25 inches long and a single, live bait hook is then attached about 4 to 5 inches up from the treble.  The leader is then tied to the middle eye a 3-way swivel, and 2 to 4 to 6 ounce torpedo sinker on a 5-inch leader is attached to the bottom eye with a clip swivel.  Tie the line coming from your pole and reel to the 3rd eye of the swivel, and the trap rig is now complete and ready to use.  Place one prong of the treble hook in the tail of the baitfish and the live bait hook through its nose.

Live bait is one of the most efficient methods for catching halibut, either from a boat or onshore.  Top smelt are one of the halibut’s favorite meals, and can be caught around rock jetties, pilings and marina docks by chumming with very small bits of bread, and then using a ‘Lucky Joe’ or ‘Sabiki’ type bait rig to hook them.  Smelt are much hardier than anchovies, and can stay alive for a longer period of time when kept in a bait bucket or tank.  The same bait rigs are also effective in taking small mackerel, which are a prime offering for bigger flatties.  

The Sabiki rig is a valuable tool that is often necessary to secure live baitfish for your fishing trip.

Catching your own bait may not be practical and, if that’s the case, lively anchovies and sardines are generally available from Mike’s bait receiver, if you happen to be in the vicinity of Ensenada harbor.  Another option is to buy fresh dead sardines at a fish market, or you can use, as a last ditch effort, salted anchovies from a local bait store.

Halibut can also be taken on white or squid colored ‘jointed iron’ lures, as well as on 3 to 5 inch plastic swimbaits in colors like blue or green that resembles local forage fish such as the smelt, sardine or anchovy.  They will also attack plastic grubs of a similar length, with the best colors generally being chartreuse, orange or green.  Grubs in smoke or clear colors with high metal flake content are also effective. 

When fishing from shore, gently cast your rig out as far as possible onto the sandy bottom then let it move along with the tidal flow.  When fishing from a boat, always lower live or dead bait rigs to the bottom slowly to avoid them from becoming tangled by too quick of a descent.

If a bite occurs, gently lift the tip of your pole until weight or movement is detected then set the hook with a light touch.  Keep pressure on the fish throughout the retrieve, but make sure that your drag is not set too tight.  Remember, halibut have relatively soft mouths, which can easily cause the fish to be lost if anglers become overly aggressive.

Once on the cutting board, the California halibut can offer up 70% of its body weight in delicious boneless, skinless fillets.

The California halibut, Paralichthys californicus, is one of the most avidly pursued gamefish on Baja’s northern Pacific Coast and is highly prized as a gourmet delicacy.  When properly cleaned, it can yield up to 70% of its body weight in mild, delicate fillets.

To get the highest yield from these tasty fish, use a very sharp knife and begin the filleting process by cutting a lengthwise line down the middle of the halibut’s back.  Then carefully separate each of the two sections of meat from the skeletal structure directly below them with evenly measured incisions that scrape cleanly across the bones.  After removing the skin from each of those fillets, turn the fish over and perform the same procedure on its white underbelly.

Macadamia nut crusted halibut fillets are a gourmet delicacy.

Once you have dressed out the halibut fillets for cooking, one of my all-time favorite ways to prepare them is to lightly coat each piece in flour, shaking off any excess.  Dip them in beaten egg yolk, and then dredge in crushed Macadamia nuts.  Make sure that each piece is covered completely.  Place the fillets in a buttered baking casserole, and then drizzle each fillet with 1 tablespoon of the melted butter. Bake on the center rack of a preheated, 450-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes.  Serve with fresh veggies, lemon wedges …and enjoy! 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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