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April 01, 2011

San Carlos Offshore

Fish the other side of the Sea of Cortez - off Mexico's mainland

san carlos fishing

Football Season
On our second day, we decided to dedicate some time to finding tuna. Both bigeye and yellowfin tuna are commonly caught in the area, and are often found incidentally while trolling for dorado and billfish. Most of these footballs weigh around 20 pounds - modest compared with the big boys caught farther south in places like Puerto Vallarta - but beefy fish occasionally turn up and surprise even seasoned locals.

"This year I got lucky with a 150-pound yellowfin. It was my only strike of the day, but the best one in a while!" says Almada. "There was also a 235-pounder caught this past May. That's the biggest tuna I've seen in San Carlos."

Almada generally employs the same tackle for tuna as for other offshore quarry. The lure spread usually includes cedar plugs and jet heads, and he reports good results with Rapala X-Raps. Almada trolls between 10 and 12 knots for tuna, and he sends his lures a bit farther back.

A popular tuna hunting ground lies 20 to 22 miles south of the marina, and captains often team up there searching for fish. The location yielded MacKenzie a striped marlin, which we estimated at about 90 pounds, but by midmorning we left a steady dorado bite to run about 30 miles out looking for tuna birds or other signs of life.

Here, the old axiom proved true once again: Never leave fish to find fish. While we were treated to the sight of multiple pods of whales and porpoises circling the boat (San Carlos' cetaceans are both abundant and friendly), our tuna hunt went unrequited. Luckily, the dorado had waited for us at our original spot, and we were able to quickly put a couple in the box for dinner.

The seas laid down quite nicely toward the end of the day, and after a smooth ride in we enjoyed a uniquely San Carlos experience: We jumped in Almada's SUV and drove the main route north out of town to the small fishing village of La Manga.

Perched atop a cliff overlooking La Manga Bay, a half-dozen or so open-air eateries specialize in fresh, local seafood served at dirt-cheap prices. At Doña Rosa's La Manga Restaurant, we enjoyed stunning views of Tetakawi - the area's twin-peaked landmark - and the bay over an appetizer plate of succulent, freshly shucked local chocolate clams (named for their shell color rather than flavor, which was quite delicate) while we waited for the main course - our fresh dorado grilled in an open-coal oven.

Thick as Thieves
Sea conditions on our third day only improved on what had seemed like perfection, and by midday the Sea of Cortez was essentially glassy. We decided to switch our tackle to spice things up and armed ourselves with Accurate spinning reels loaded with 40-pound braid.

A sizeable bull dorado once again disrupted our line setting. Nearby boats gathered quickly around us to sample the hot bite. Captains in San Carlos are charitable with their fishing spots, and the VHF buzzed with details on hookups.

We had already hooked a number of sailfish and dorado by lunchtime. As we trolled on, gazing out from the bridge, looking for signs of life, Almada took advantage of the lull to prepare food. Bad timing! About five minutes after he ­disappeared into the salon, outrigger clips started popping.

"Dorado, dorado!" yelled Herrera. A gang of hungry dorado had suddenly detonated on our spread, and Almada scrambled into the cockpit to start clearing lines - half of which had a fish on the end. MacKenzie, Herrera and I grabbed rods to deal with the quadruple hookup as a blur of green and gold swirled directly below the transom.

Dorado are the bread and butter of San Carlos offshore sport fishing, and multiple hookups like these commonly happen. A good day here can produce seemingly nonstop action - as we experienced - with fish ranging from 20 to 40 pounds, sometimes topping 50. While officially protected throughout the Sea of Cortez as a game fish, dorado still suffer from illegal longlining and exportation, an activity that has drawn the attention of local conservation groups in recent years.

We eventually found time to sit down in the cockpit for a great lunch of tuna sashimi "Sonoran style" with fresh peppers and onions. As Almada slowed our troll to an ineffective crawl, we realized how hot the bite really can be here - we were intentionally avoiding fish so we could eat in peace for 20 minutes.