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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.

Baja Beer Boom: Something Tasty is Brewing South of the Border

It wasn’t so long ago that almost all of the beer sold in Baja California was mass produced by the likes of Tecate and Modelo. The south of the border beer scene has undergone a profound transformation in recent years, however, and there are now over 100 craft breweries located in major hubs around the peninsula.

Baja Beer

Baja Brewing Company was the first microbrewery in Baja California Sur.

One of the oldest of these may be found in Baja California Sur. Inspired by a passion for beer and love of Los Cabos, the original vision for Baja Brewing Company began shortly after the founder, Jordan Gardenhire, relocated from Colorado to Cabo San Lucas in 2006. Nearly a decade later, BBC has become one of Baja California’s premier breweries, and their three restaurants in the Los Cabos region offer first-class beers available in bottles or on tap, as well as gourmet dining options and consistently outstanding live music. 

Despite Baja Brewing Company’s success, the preponderance of the peninsula’s microbreweries are located in Baja California Norte, and the majority may be found in the cities of Tijuana and Ensenada. Cerveza Tijuana has established a solid reputation over the years, and produces their beers under the old German brewer’s law known as Reinheitsgebot, which states that only barley, pure water, hops and yeast are allowed to be used in the making of beer. This is a time tested standard that consistently renders a product with handcrafted quality.

Baja Beer

Agua Mala has become popular throughout Baja thanks to brews that offer a fine, hoppy finish.

Situated within 100 yards of the Pacific Ocean on the rugged coast near Ensenada, Agua Mala is a small microbrewery that is rapidly gaining a strong following among Baja beer lovers. They now produce seven distinctly different brews to tantalize the taste buds, and have created a delightful witbier in partnership with Drew Deckman, one of the best chefs in Baja California. 

Old Mission Brewery relocated from Punta Banda to 645 Avenida Castillo in Ensenada’s downtown business district, and is owned by master brewer Paul Woronicz and his wife, Karla. The couple has spared no expense by importing the latest and most sophisticated brewery hardware all the way from Germany, as well as many of the specialized yeasts that are necessary to create the finest artisanal beers this side of Bavaria. They also provide delicious wood-fired pies at the onsite pizza restaurant.

The size of a brewery need not necessarily define the quality of its products. Several of Baja’s tastiest ales, pilseners and porters are brewed by operations generating less than 50 gallons of product per year. A few of these fledgling operations — including Cucapá in Mexicali, Kudos in Tijuana, and Zombie Brew Labs in Ensenada — have become formidable players in this highly competitive market, and the latter even hosts those who would like to try their own hand at the brewer’s art.

Baja Beer

Mexicali based Cucapá is one of Baja California’s best microbreweries.

A good example are the cervezas produced by Tres Brewjas, a trio of expat ladies living in the Ensenada area. The women teamed up a little over a year ago, and with the assistance of Zombie Brew Labs created their own signature beers. Tres Brewjas’ efforts received rave reviews at a recent Baja Beer Fest sponsored by ACABC, the Baja Association of Craft Breweries.

Of course, it would be challenging if not impossible to attempt to sample all of Baja’s best microbrews, but if you would like to give it a shot, take a few trips to the Baja Craft Beer Tasting Room in Tijuana. The brewery style restaurant is owned and operated by one of the city’s largest distributors of craft beer, and has 42 beers on tap and about 300 more in bottles. Their menu items are also quite popular, and include margherita pizzas, savory currywurst and fries, pork belly sandwiches, and fantastic rib-eye hamburgers.

After a representative sampling of the suds at BCB Tasting Room, we think you’ll agree that some of the tastiest and most innovative craft brewed cold ones can now be found in Baja California!

  

 

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.

Images courtesy of Baja Brewing Company, Cervecería Agua Mala, and Cerveza Cucapá.

 

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Captain Hook’s Gallery: Walking Your Dog Snapper!

Captain Hook’s Gallery: Walking Your Dog Snapper!

As the temperature of the water around the tip of the Baja peninsula begins its seasonal warming, anglers are occasionally teased by summer-like flurries of surface gamefish activity that may be abruptly disrupted by windy periods, green water and rough offshore seas.

These are the times when anglers in Baja Sur might find it more productive to forget about the highly touted gamesters like striped marlin, yellowfin tuna or dorado and focus on the inshore zone and one of the most notorious tackle-busters in all of Baja… the pargo.  Pargo are generally caught from Bahia Tortugas on the Pacific side to Bahia de Los Angeles in the Cortez.  In southern Baja, the name “pargo” can be used interchangeably to refer to different fish species, much as Californians might allude to certain members of the Sebastes family as being “red snapper.”

Southern Californian, Charlie McGee, shows off a sweet pargo perro (dog snapper) that he caught near Isla Cerralvo.

In Baja Sur, “pargo” are members of the true snapper family, Lutjanidae.  The most prominent species are mullet snapper (Lutjanus aratus), known as ‘pargo lisa’, dog snapper (Lutjanus novemfasciatus) called ‘pargo perro’, the original red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus), affectionately referred to by diners as ‘huachinango’ and one of the most targeted members of the group, the barred pargo (Hoplopagrus gunther) known to Baja pangeros as ‘pargo coconaco’.

These fish are generally found close to islands, reefs and rocky areas, and can range in size from 5 to well over 40 pounds.  Most species of pargo are considered prime table fare, but all of them tend to have the infuriating habit of grabbing a lure or bait and running straight into any nearby structure that happens to be handy, at which point in time they are nearly impossible to extricate.

A standard dropper loop baited with live or dead sardinas is an extremely effective pargo set-up, but I personally prefer using a whole squid on a modified trap-rig.  If you’ve never made one of these before; tie a large treble hook to the end of a 25 to 35 pound test fluorocarbon leader about 25 to 30 inches long.  A single, 2/0 live bait hook is then tied up the leader that corresponds with the size of squid being used.  The tag end of the leader is tied to the middle eye of a 3way swivel.  Secure an 8-inch leader on the bottom eye, and attach a 4 to 6-ounce torpedo sinker to the terminal end.  Hook one prong from the treble hook between the squid’s eyes, and then pin the single live bait hook through its nose.

As the squid is slowly lowered through the water column, it tends to flow along with the current and almost look as if it’s swimming.  Once you reach the bottom, give your reel a couple of cranks and hang on!

Depending upon the season, big brutes like this one are readily available in the waters off San Jose del Cabo.

If you plan to charter a panga to fish specifically for pargo at one of the major resort hubs like Cabo San Lucas or San Jose del Cabo, remember that most panga operations in these areas earn new and repeat business by the level of success that they display in catching species like marlin, tuna, sailfish and dorado.  Therefore, don’t be surprised if your captain looks a bit disappointed when he finds out that you want to focus your angling efforts on these bottom dwellers.

I’ll never forget a trip that I took to a prominent East Cape resort well over a decade  ago.  When the skipper first asked me what I wanted to fish for his smile dropped noticeably when I chirped “Yo quiero pargo!”  He then looked at my tackle set up and raised his eyebrows when he noticed my block of squid and large, treble hooks.  On the way to the fishing grounds just north of the Cabo Pulmo reserve, he couldn’t help but speak up.  “Por favor, señor! Your hooks are much too big!”  He continued to suggest that I change my rig, but I simply remained silent.

Less than 30 seconds from the moment I cranked my squid up from the bottom on our first stop, I got slammed by a spirited 13-pound amberjack.  Not exactly what I was looking for, but a nice fish and good fight all the same.  Other boats that swarmed in on us sat soaking their untouched sardinas as I continued to pull in a 6-pound red snapper and then a chunky barred pargo on my squid rig.  Needless to say, my skipper made no further observations regarding my tackle or techniques for the remainder of the trip.

If at all possible, it’s a good idea to bring along at least one 5lb. block of frozen squid when you head south of the border in pursuit of pargo.  These fish are not particularly picky eaters, however, and they will happily inhale just about anything from cut bait and squid to a wide variety of plugs and iron lures.  They also deserve your respect, and should be fished for only with a conventional reel and line having a minimum test strength of 30 pounds.  Making the unwise decision to use spinning gear when targeting these stubborn and pugnacious fish could easily end up ruining your fishing trip.

There are, of course, other good techniques for catching pargo.  Dennis Spike, a well-known kayak fishing expert, is an experienced light tackle angler who has perfected the art of casting a live, nose-hooked sardina directly over submerged rocks and reefs, then waiting with the reel in gear for the slightest nibble so that he can immediately jerk the hooked fish away from the structure before it is has a chance to wedge itself in.

Another southern California kayak angler, Jon Schwartz, enjoys fishing for pargo from his yak using medium-sized mullet as bait.  He often buys them in an Asian fish market near his home and brings them down with him when he visits the East Cape’s Rancho Leonero Resort.

Schwartz is particularly fond of this particular area for pursuing big pargo and suggests, “The best place to fish is to paddle straight out to where the charter cruisers are anchored and then start paddling south.  If you bring a fish finder, you will see that there is a huge drop off just past the boats that goes from about 40 feet deep to nearly 3 times that depth within about 20 yards, and there are fish lined up all along the ledge.”

No matter how you plan to stalk them, big pargo are a true prize unto themselves, as well as being a wonderful alternative target for spring anglers who may have been kept inshore by unpredictable weather conditions.  Release the small ones but, whatever you do, be sure to take advantage of a gourmet dining opportunity by filleting out a 15 to 20-pounder and having a member of the hotel staff grill it for you over mesquite while bathing it in melted butter and crushed garlic.

Freshly plated pargo fillets right off the grill are a seafood lover’s delight.

By the time the first delightful, charbroiled chunk hits your palate you might even forget all about that elusive striped marlin, which was your originally intended quarry.

Ready for a trip to Los Cabos?  Check out our new Have a Baja Moment! promotion, featuring great Summer deals for three of the area’s premier hotels: Hotel El Ganzo in San Jose del Cabo, Bahia Hotel & Beach Club in Cabo San Lucas, and the chic oceanfront resort Rancho Pescadero. Don’t wait too long! Offers expire soon.

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 restaurants, hotels, vacation 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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