Bahia Bad Boys
On a small stretch of coastal desert sits a hidden gem where wildlife thrives and fishermen in search of uncrowded waters can find themselves isolated in a crystal blue cove in under 16 hours. This was my first time on the eastern edge of Baja. The desert stretches for almost 800 miles with nothing in sight but dirt roads and the occasional salt flat or Mexican Giant. The roads here wind in and out of the coastline and on the ins is where I would try to close my eyes only to wake up to see the blue waters of the Sea of Cortez on the horizon. If there were ever a place to hone your craft as a fisherman, this was it.
After a bout of heavy traffic and a rough nights sleep, we had finally made it to Bahía De Los Ángeles. Tiny got the boat ready for the water and we set out looking for surfacing mackerel and sardine. Day one was filled with unpredictable winds and a rough gauge on where exactly the fish were biting. We ended up at Punta Roja, just southeast of our camp spot for the next 4 days, where someone had lead us for small yellows and mackerel. The sun was beating down but we had managed to escape the winds. I had just dropped my surface iron as Tiny threw out the anchor and I felt like I got shot in the nuts. I threw my rod and pulled the entire back end of a bee out of my pants. What seemed like seconds after that, I pulled up my jig and I was snagged bad... and so was my surface iron. I fought on that for a second with no luck so we motored in the original direction of the anchor only to find that it had been snagged in whatever mess I was in down there. We decided it was more worth it to cut my line and try to salvage our only anchor. After a long fight that took all 4 of us, we managed to pull the anchor into view and cut it free from a net. That day we only hooked on a couple bass and a lizard fish.
As sleep was fading in and out, my only regret was not taking the time to setup a tent. What started as a calm night under a clear sky had turned into thousands of angry mosquitos and high winds blowing sand directly into my mouth. I kept waiting for everyone to wake up but it took hours. Watching the sunrise over the water was new for me. My body clock felt turned around but it was only day 2.
Most of my accounts of this trip are remembered through a timeline that my phone has created for me. My memory was bit scattered, as most of the days blended together only separated by a break of darkness and shit sleep. Today felt like we had it a little bit more dialed in than the previous day of winging it. We followed the Pangas toward the rising Mackerel, loaded up on bait and headed out toward their trusted fishing spot on more open waters. The markers you learn to use while being out on the water really make you use a different part of your brain than you're used to. There's no street signs telling you where to go or if you've made a wrong turn, only small rocky points and if you're lucky, a buoy set up by local clammers. Off the mackie went and before we even had the chance to get situated Seth was hooked on a monster yellow. I now understood the appeal of fishing for yellowtail. The fight was unfamiliar. Something that's hard to find these days. Something new. Once the fish was onboard we were in the clear. Our first big fish on the second day. Good odds.
Right after Seth pulled that in, Josh hooked on another big one. This was our spot for the day, and no one was around for miles. It seemed like he pulled this one onboard fairly easy, but this was not small by any means.
Only a few years ago had I understood the appeal of open waters. It's a lost connection to that familiarity that I had mentioned earlier. Tides change quick. Wind patterns are unpredictable. Nothing is arranged or calculated and if it is, it is by your doing only. You turn the motor to position yourself in a fight against ever changing elements and find yourself hooked or snagged on something in the middle of nowhere, or you have boat trouble, you have to figure it out. No one is yelling at you to get it done. You just have to do it. That stillness when the wind stops and your drifting through an open cove at the end of a long day of fighting is what draws you away from what you're so used to day in and day out. Only those who have been there will ever understand the feeling of learning how to connect with something bigger than you will ever be, and that's yours.
That night I set up a tent and hours later, the sun came up again over the water. On the third day we were a well oiled machine, collecting bait while the wind hit the outside of the islands and perfectly timing or run into open waters. I was the first to get a hit that day. It was a fight, but it didn't seem to fight quite like the others had for Seth and Josh. I knew it wasn't a yellow. Either way, I pulled it into view and we had hooked a little silky shark. Tiny was next and his put up a good one- pulling our boat in circles reeling in and back out into the open. After that Josh hooked on again and this was the one he had been waiting for. These guys know what they're doing. It really puts me in my place. Reminds me that in these times, I'm the guy behind the lens and I should just listen and enjoy myself as much as I can.
Day 4 was a new setup for me. I tried drop fishing dead bait like we used to do off the pier in Dana Point when we were kids. If you disregard the snag factor and my overall inability to fish, it was actually pretty fun. Previously I had just been hooking on sharks and I wanted to try something else out. I started hooking on big bass and the day gradually just turned into everyone laying in the boat under an umbrella talking while I had a dead cast out. It was my favorite day by far. That was where we found that stillness. We drifted as long as we could and we would reset the boat and no one cared about anything. These are bonding moments. When all that matters is either on the boat or it doesn't exist. I don't even remember if I caught anything on that dead line except for the bass but it didn't matter to me, we listened to Brian Eno and watched the clouds drift above our heads.
Every night we would eat at the same restaurant in town called Alejandrina's. I had become pretty familiar with the bartenders there and it was one of the only places in town where you could get wifi if you needed to connect with work or people back home. On this particular night, I believe I may have been over served. I had one of those nights where you wake up in the sand in Mexico with a missing sleeping bag and 30 phone calls to people you don't remember talking to. This kind of night doesn't necessarily mix well with fishing for 12 hours the next day. Day 5, for me was a blur. I threw up all day and ended up in the water shitting over the side of the boat. If someone else who had a better day were with me writing this, I'm sure they could account for another one of those beautiful days on the boat but this wasn't it for me. On day 5, our last day on the water, Tiny dropped Seth and I off and we slept all day. Another really good day. Another one of those days that I would never have appreciated until now. That night we slept next to an open fire under the stars , woke up early and headed home. I'll never forget laying on those waters under the umbrella doing something for myself without the intent of getting paid. For me, that was a much needed reminder to take the time to collect my thoughts, write up a few words and stash them somewhere forever.