Captain Hook’s Gallery: Yellowtail Fishing in Ensenada
Ensenada lies less than 100 miles south of the Mexican border and sits adjacent to a picturesque natural harbor known as Bahia de Todos Santos. At one point in the middle of the last century, Ensenada was referred to as ‘the Yellowtail Capital of the World.” During that era, this somewhat boastful designation that was justly deserved, and was backed up by countless photographs of smiling anglers sporting incredibly long stringers filled to capacity with these hard-fighting members of the Jack family.
Over the decades, however, commercial development and a rapidly increasing population took their toll. But perhaps the most deleterious practice to negatively impact the fishery was the mass, over-harvesting of baitfish stocks. Without the proliferation of forage fish, the once large schools of yellowtail that originally made the region famous gradually faded into memory. But in spite of this sad legacy, Ensenada Bay remains a productive venue for pursuing a wide variety of game fish.
Just south of the city, the bay offers miles of unobstructed sandy beach that provides excellent onshore and inshore fishing for halibut, sand bass, barred surfperch, corbina and both spotfin and yellowfin croaker. The local kelp beds offer exceptional action for calico bass, barracuda, yellowtail and bonito, which are usually active from spring through late fall.
Las Islas de Todos Santos sit about 8 miles offshore, and provide habitat for a number of the most sought after surface species as well as a host of tasty bottom dwellers. And, although the bite may fluctuate during the warmer months, deep water favorites like lingcod and Pacific red snapper are still available to anglers on a year round basis.
For those with a taste for bigger game, the rugged peninsula of Punta Banda and the rocky outcroppings at the very tip, near La Bufadora, still offer a chance to hook up with a resident population of large, homeguard yellowtail that are every bit as scrappy and pugnacious as were their predecessors over 50 years ago.
Yellowtail fishing off Ensenada is usually good in the spring and early summer, but often reaches its peak during late summer and early fall. The fish are generally found in areas ranging up to 60 miles from shore, and can be also be located near offshore banks or islands either electronically or by using more traditional methods, which include looking for surface disturbances as well as flocks of circling, diving birds.
It’s difficult for these fish to resist a well-presented live sardine or small mackerel. To incite baits to swim a bit deeper in the water column without attaching additional weight, simply hook them through the flesh near the anal fin. When yellowtail are observed crashing schools of baitfish, one of the most effective artificial baits is a surface iron jig in chrome, pewter or a blue/white combination. Cast directly at the activity, let the lure sink for a few seconds, then retrieve at a moderate speed and prepare yourself for a jarring strike.
Later in summer, anglers may find success near floating kelp paddies, or on the warm side of current breaks. But it is more likely at this time of year that big resident yellowtail will be caught closer to the coast. One of the best ways to connect with one of these brutes is by fishing from a panga or private boat at the southern end of the bay, just off the rocky tip of the Punta Banda peninsula.
And although the density of gamefish may not be what it was back in the Ensenada’s glory days before the 1960’s, there are still a sufficient array of excellent angling opportunities in the region to qualify it as Baja Norte’s capital of great fishing!
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