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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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