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March 02, 2012

Trailer Trekking

A trio of top spots from Mexico to Massachusetts where you can fish your own boat

Every angler who owns a trailerable boat dreams of taking it to fish-filled destinations. There’s freedom in having your rig and gear with you to muck about inshore or offshore.

Take your time and dabble, or spend all ­available moments devoted to a feverish mission. First sailfish or marlin? Take-home trout fillets? You control the timing and the pace.

Numerous North American ports hold ­excellent fishing opportunities, but some destinations stand out because they’re either heavily favored by adventure-seekers or they’re gems tucked in out-of-the-way places. Over the next seven pages, we’ll show you three. And check out our expert tips for safe trailering
to any ­destination.

Road to Paradise
Mexico’s magnificent Sea of Cortez is well worth the tow
By Bill Boyce

With news of drug cartels and bandits, the notion of towing your boat to Mexico might give you the jitters, regardless of how many fish await south of the border. Should it be considered? If your destination is the Sea of Cortez, the answer is yes.

Cradled between the Mexican mainland and the ­mountainous Baja California peninsula, the Sea of Cortez (aka Gulf of California) is a spectacle of natural beauty and awesome fishing for species such as dorado, striped marlin, roosterfish, sailfish, yellowfin tuna and more.

The most popular road to this angling paradise is Mexico Highway 1, Baja’s 1,060-mile main artery. It’s just two lanes with few shoulders or turnouts along most of its length, and it cuts through blistering deserts and tortuous inclines.

Still, Americans safely tow their boats every day to seaside towns such as Bahia de Los Angeles, Santa Rosalia, Mulege, Loreto, La Paz and Cabo San Lucas, as well as sleepy fishing villages in between. Here’s how they do it.

With few road services, your towing rig needs to be in top shape. Pay special attention to tires (including the spare), brakes, belts and hoses, as well as filters, fluid levels, battery and alternator.

Most Baja trailer boaters use ¾-ton pickups with either gasoline or diesel engines. Quality fuel is readily available at Pemex stations along the highway, with relatively low prices thanks to Mexican government fuel subsidies.

If you plan to launch and retrieve your boat on unimproved ramps, four-wheel drive is a must.

There is a tendency to load extra gear in the boat for Baja, so make sure the trailer is not overloaded. A multi-axle trailer is more stable and, should you get a flat trailer tire, lets you limp to the nearest turnout (which could be miles away).

Have everything inspected, paying special attention to bearings and seals, the brake system, wheels and tires. When it comes to spare tires for trailers, there is a simple rule for Baja: You can’t have too many. Two spares is the minimum.

There is no ideal boat for fishing the Sea of Cortez, but most you see in Baja are between 20 and 26 feet in length. There seems to be an even split between outboard and ­sterndrive power.

No matter what size the boat, if it breaks in Baja, it is tough to find a mechanic or the parts to fix it, though your first priority might be finding a tow back to the ramp if you break down at sea. There are no commercial towing services in this part of the world.

Preventing a breakdown is the key, and this means meticulous boat maintenance and service ahead of time.

Baja can take a toll on equipment, particularly if you need to tow on an unpaved road for any distance. These dusty, washboardlike roads can rattle bolts loose and damage equipment. After a long tow, check out everything on the boat, as well as the trailer.

Safety in Numbers
To increase the safety factor, travel in a caravan with three or more other trailer boats. Nefarious types are less likely to target large groups. The U.S. club Vagabundos del Mar ­regularly organizes caravans of Baja-bound trailer boaters.

The other benefit of a caravan is that if you break down — on the road or on the water — others in the group are there to lend assistance and share spare parts.

Whether in a group or not, drive only in daylight hours, as animals such as cattle and burros tend to wander onto the roads at night.

Fishing Options
Dorado — April through November are the best months to find dorado (aka dolphin or mahimahi). They range from the tip of the Baja up to Bahia de Los Angeles. Feathers, small marlin lures and Rapalas work great. Cortez dorado find live baits such as Pacific mackerel irresistible. Look for dorado under any floating object such as driftwood or weed lines. The waters off Loreto are famous for dorado in late June and early July.

Striped marlin —
May through December are the best months for “stripers” near Baja’s tip, with June and July being peak months farther north in the Sea of Cortez. Abundance can vary from year to year, but these marlin — which average about 120 pounds — can be thick. Live Pacific mackerel cast to “tailing” fish is the most popular method. Trolled lures catch their share as well, but dropping back a live mackerel once a marlin appears behind the lures results in a higher hookup ratio.

Roosterfish — May through November are the best months in the lower Cortez to find roosterfish along the sandy beaches and inshore reefs. Live baits work best for the larger 40- to 60-pound fish. Small ladyfish work especially well for roosterfish.

Sailfish — June to October are excellent months to find Pacific sailfish as far up the Gulf as the Midriff Islands. Small marlin lures work great for these hungry billfish, and a live-bait offering is rarely ignored. Cortez sails are usually less than 100 pounds, but larger fish are sometimes caught.

Yellowfin tuna — From April on into November, throughout much of the lower Cortez you will find yellowfin tuna associated with porpoise schools. Trolling feathers and cedar plugs around the schools typically gets action if the tuna are hungry. Sizes range from “footballs” of less than 10 pounds to brutes in excess of 100 pounds.

California yellowtail — These upper Cortez favorites are found year-round, but they peak from May through November. Heavy metal jigs (worked yo-yo style near the bottom), trolled Rapalas and live Pacific mackerel all catch their share of these powerful jacks, which reach weights of 40 pounds or more.

With scores of other species — including several ­varieties of pargo (snappers), grouper, jacks and croaker — and breathtaking scenery, the Sea of Cortez is the ultimate trailer-boating getaway. Prepare your rig properly and drive carefully, and this angling paradise is yours to experience aboard your own boat.

Baja Resources

There are three great books on towing and fishing in the waters surrounding Baja California:

The Angler’s Guide to TrailerBoating in Baja
by Zack Thomas

The Baja Catch
by Neil Kelly and Gene Kira

Sportfishing Atlas Baja California Edition
from Baja Directions

Required Papers

To legally enter, stay, drive, boat and fish in Mexico, you are required to have the documents below. So, make sure you bring the following:

  • Passport
  • Mexican Tourist Visa
  • Vehicle, Trailer and Boat Registration
  • Mexican Automobile Liability Insurance (minimum $25,000)
  • Mexican Fishing License

To be on the safe side, you should also have Mexican boat insurance. Here two stateside resources to help you obtain the required Mexican documents, licenses and insurance:

Discover Baja

Vagabundos del Mar