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December 29, 2008

Mexican Mixed Bag

The twin cities of Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa deliver year-round variety

We find no roosters; however, all the action from less-sought-after species keeps David and Suzanne so busy that they don't really mind. We have to stop fishing every so often just to look around, distracted by the area's incredible beauty. As our panga circles Rocas Potosi - a cluster of small, desolate islands about five miles offshore - we admire the saguaro-like cardon cactus clinging to the steep rocks. Frigates glide on invisible currents of wind, while brown-footed boobies tend to nests on the islands. Later, while running along the shoreline, we see strong waves pounding remote beaches to create every surfer's vision of paradise.

Super Panga
Dos Hermanos I is a 25-foot super panga powered by a single 75 hp Yamaha Enduro outboard. Although many local skippers command their pangas from a console, Espinosa says he prefers tiller steering because of its faster response time and maneuver-ability. Quickness and agility rate as very desirable qualities when jockeying a boat between breakers while anglers cast for roosterfish just off the beach.

This boat, as well as the others chartered by Ixtapa Sportfishing, earns the name super panga because it ranks several steps above the typical pangas found along Mexico's Pacific coast. Super pangas offer more creature comforts for anglers and run faster. Cruising speeds of 20-plus knots are not uncommon. Anglers will notice variations among individual super pangas, but most include a "siesta seat" for passengers to take quick, refreshing naps during breaks in the fishing action.

Espinosa proudly maintains and annually overhauls his 50-year-old boat, which his father originally used for fishing commercially. Constructed of fiberglass, it boasts cushioned gunwales and two mounted fighting chairs. A shaded covering brings much appreciated protection from the sun, and the open-air head, tucked behind a panel near the bow, is another   welcome convenience.

Combined with their maneuverability and cruising speed, a rugged practicality gives super pangas the jack-of-all-trades versatility to perform inshore and offshore duty. Most are equipped to carry live baits on blue-water trips. For example, Dos Hermanos I carries a livewell at the stern and sports tuna tubes for keeping large baits fresh and frisky. Anglers who want to use liveys can usually catch a supply of baits just outside the harbor. Lushinsky encourages his skippers to troll big live baits on Z-Wing planers, a tactic accounting for many sailfish and marlin.

A Day Offshore
Conditions typically remain calm in Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa, so we were surprised to awake for our second day of fishing and hear a weather prediction for 10-foot swells with chop and gusting winds. My family chose to spend a relaxing day at La Ropa Beach, so I found myself walking down to the Paseo alone.

"Just the two of us," I shrugged as Espinosa picked me up. While his super panga is smaller than many of the more luxurious yachts available for charter, he can run a lot faster. The chop and big waves bounced us around like kids on a trampoline. We motored west for more than an hour before reaching blue water to my skipper's liking. The GPS indicated we were 24 miles from shore.

Espinosa produced a pair of Shimano TLD 25 lever drags and set out two bigeye scad as skip baits, one off each outrigger. We began trolling for billfish, trailing two squid teasers in our wake to complete the spread. As a school of dolphin circled the boat, Espinosa rubbed his nose so I would know they were bottlenose.

Within minutes, an outrigger clip snapped open to announce our first strike. A Pacific sail, weighing about 100 pounds, performed multiple jumps before I brought it to the boat. Espinosa doesn't back down the boat on fish, so I enjoyed a 25-minute workout. Before he released his grip on the sail's bill, he asked me to feed it a baitfish. "I want the sail to have good thoughts and return another day," he said.

Later that afternoon, my guide studied the GPS and looked at his watch. "We're about 30 miles out," he said. "Better start heading back."