Last June, I was one of a group of four kayak-fishing adventurers to fly down to this high, parched desert island to try out the new Cedros Kayak Fishing operation — with its owner and hardcore yak angler Jeff Mariani — for five days on the water.
A CALICO START
Just about first light, two pangas carried four kayaks and four kayakeros — Mariani, John Bretza of Okuma, Morgan Promnitz of Hobie and yours truly — 10 or so miles north along the southeastern shore of Cedros Island.
There, we slid into our respective kayaks and organized our gear, anxious to start fishing.
A typical Pacific light fog lingered; without a breath of wind, we pedaled in a white, still and somewhat surreal world. Almost at once, Bretza and Promnitz held rods bent and bucking after calico (kelp) bass pounced on their Savage Sandeels. And so it went for the next hour or so as we worked our way farther north along the coast.
The morning sun began to break through the low clouds, reflecting off the blue, mirror-calm ocean.
With the perfect air temperature, amazing conditions and fast fishing, it was shaping up to be one of those days you might wish would never end. But it was about to get better.
Mariani had pedaled farther out. I knew this when I heard a shout break the stillness — and looked offshore to see him, hanging onto his rod arcing off the kayak’s bow, as it was being towed farther out in a rush.
The source of the commotion suddenly rocketed clear of the water: a jumbo thresher shark that, as it turned out, had grabbed the surface iron Mariani was throwing.
A THRESHER SHARK KIND OF DAY
The last I saw of the man, until later, was a small figure heading toward the horizon.
When Mariani caught up with us an hour or so afterward, we learned that he’d hung the thresher, likely in the 300-pound range, on his new Okuma Komodo 450 levelwind with 65-pound braid and only 35-pound fluoro leader — all pretty light duty for this task.
But as the thresher dragged Mariani a mile or more offshore, everything held — until the shark’s enormous tail clipped the braid.
It turned out to be a thresher kind of day. Mariani hooked another of perhaps 120 pounds, and released this one. Promnitz hooked two, releasing both. We saw yet more threshers free-jumping and on our sounder screens.
Surprisingly, three of these threshers went for surface iron, and one Promnitz caught on a small Savage Gear Squish jig, after he marked the shark on his meter and dropped to it.
Some of my best moments came while throwing out a metal jig, letting it sink and speed-jigging it back; the bass often slammed it just below the surface.
At one point, some huge baitballs formed — though they produced mainly Pacific bonito, and attracted sea lions that were inclined to relieve us of any bonito we hooked.
As the sun began to near the top of the island, I found myself willing it to slow its descent, but to no avail. With shadows growing, we grudgingly pulled our kayaks back into the pangas for the ride down-island to the waiting truck and trailer.
IDEAL YAK FISHING
A few years earlier, Mariani had visited Cedros for the first time, and was hooked on the remote desert island’s unique ambience and the seemingly undiminished populations of game fish in the Pacific around its shores. There he built Cedros Tackle and soon after, accommodations to house clients who would fly down to the island to fish (thanks to regular flights to Cedros from Ensenada).
Initially, Mariani offered fishing from a panga but, as an ardent kayak-fishing fan, he soon added a fleet of new Hobie Outbacks, finding these waters ideal for kayak-fishing. We were among the first to try out his new yak-fishing operation.
Mariani had advised us that the wait at Ensenada could be unpredictable and we might not arrive until late afternoon, so were happy with the late-morning arrival.
We were whisked to Mariani’s compound in town, on the southeast corner of the island, a large casita divided in two — a living area for Mariani and one additional bedroom for a guest, plus a large kitchen with adjacent dining area for guests. Partitioned behind is a separate common area with a kitchen and three bedrooms.
There we hurriedly dropped our gear and sorted out some rods, reels and lures from the generous supply that Bretza had brought down for our use. By that time, Mariani’s colleagues, Luis Lopez and David Miranda, had kayaks loaded into four of the six cradles on the two-tier trailer, along with Hobie Mirage Drive pedal units, seats, paddles, our depth sounders and other accessories.
By 2:30 that first afternoon, we were off.
With limited time, we made the two-minute drive down to the port and, in short order, we were fishing. And, in short order, Mariani was on the board with a 20-pound broomtail grouper that struck a Savage Gear Manic Prey deep-diving lure he’d just started casting along the north jetty. For Mariani, that excellent catch qualified as a mere minnow:
Only a couple of weeks before our visit, he had put a monster 108-pound, 9-ounce broomtail in his kayak. The fish grabbed a slowly sinking Kicker surface iron that he fished on a levelwind (an Okuma Komodo baitcaster with 65-pound PowerPro) just a tick south, near the salt-loading dock.
Mariani’s fish remains the all-tackle world (and 80-pound line-class) record for the species.
As the afternoon waned, Adrian Gray, with the International Game Fish Association, swapped out his cameras for tackle and proceeded to hook something far larger than he could handle. When it gave any ground, it was very grudgingly; with darkness approaching, Gray upped the pressure until the braid finally parted above the leader. The consensus: He’d lost a giant black sea bass.
Match the Tuna Crab Hatch
During our visit we fished along several areas around the island. For example, in addition to the lower east side, one day we put in near the salt-loading dock at the southern end of Cedros. West of the dock, just outside rugged and wild boiler rocks, we pedaled into amazing swarms of small red tuna crabs at and just below the surface of the smooth but high, rolling swells.
Frustrated at various lead-heads and tails being ignored amid the constant surface explosions, I tried to match the hatch by switching to small (quarter-ounce) red lead-head and threaded onto the hook just the last couple of inches of a 5-inch red plastic tail. That worked for most of the species mentioned above.
CALICO BASS HEAVEN
We ended up catching some calicos that day to 8 pounds (per Promnitz’s BogaGrip) and lost a good yellowtail or two. Our opportunity to fish various areas around the lower part of the island not only gave us the chance to fish varying habitats, but it also meant we could find lee shores if the wind came up (though a south or southeast breeze would have been somewhat more problematic).
Our opportunity to fish various areas around the lower part of the island not only gave us the chance to fish varying habitats, but it also meant we could find lee shores if the wind came up (though a south or southeast breeze would have been somewhat more problematic). Fortunately, there are roads (albeit some that made Mariani’s trucks four-wheel-drive option very desirable) around much of the lower island’s coast, and in most areas, quiet beach launches are easy.
On our final day, following an hour drive west from town to road’s end just inside the long, jutting westernmost point of the island, this group of kayakeros faced a bit of a launch challenge inside a tiny cove, demanding good timing to make it through the chop sweeping around a building-size rock.By hugging the coast, we were able to fish despite a screaming westerly. And it proved worth the effort: This was truly big-bass city.
The fabulous habitat here, with rocks and jutting points everywhere, produced calico after calico, many in the 3- to 6-pound range. Bretza particularly crushed them fishing green mackerel Sandeels. That evening, we compared chewed-up thumbs, abraded from releasing so many bass.
Mariani had again gone to the top of the scoreboard here, after — as with his thresher — a big fish took him by surprise.
KAYAK-FISHING CEDROS ISLAND: A RARE OPPORTUNITY
By early afternoon, with the west wind amping up to a good 30 knots, foaming the wave tops just offshore, everyone headed back to the cove — where Luis and David had a fantastic shore lunch ready, including grilled steaks.
In fact, that was one of several outstanding shore lunches we enjoyed.
One day we were served one of the best, richest stews I’ve ever enjoyed anywhere — of goat, fresh cabbage, tomatoes and more. Another day, they whipped up burritos to die for.
Dinners often included our own catch-of-the-day options (including, one night, Mariani’s amazing halibut enchiladas with green sauce). One night we enjoyed as much lobster as we could consume.
Few people ever visit this large island; the chance to see some of it is a rare opportunity. You’ll find no large luxury hotels or upscale eateries in the tiny desert village here. Everything is authentic and, of course, limited. Don’t fly in expecting any sort of nightlife. But then, after long days of pedaling many miles and (the best part) hooking many fish, most anglers will find themselves ready to hit the sack following the evening ritual of cleanup, dinner and tackle prep to be ready for an early start next morning. Being tired never felt better.
PLANNING A TRIP TO KAYAK-FISH CEDROS ISLAND
For reservations or information: Visit cedroskayakfishing.com or call 760-412-2507. Trips run from four to eight days (two to six full days of fishing, respectively).
GETTING TO CEDROS
Anglers need only drive to San Ysidro, California, south of San Diego, or fly into San Diego, as we did, to overnight in a hotel where Mariani picked us up early next morning. The Cedros trip begins there, with all transportation included in the package. Mariani or an associate drives guests and gear in a van through customs in Tijuana (where knowing the ropes truly made it much quicker and easier) to the airport in Ensenada. From there, Mariani will have booked seats on one of two daily flights to Cedros. The 1.5-hour flight offers some fabulous views of Baja and the coast.
STAYING AT CEDROS ISLAND
As noted, Jeff Mariani’s casita has four comfortable bedrooms for up to four anglers. While they’re air-conditioned, I found the dry desert air cool enough most evenings to sleep with the AC off and the window open. In addition to providing all meals, Mariani offers juices, coffee and sodas — and water that Mariani describes as bottled-water quality via the filtration system from any tap in the house. We drank it accordingly and had no issues.
KAYAK FISHING CEDROS ISLAND
Anglers can fish from the 27-foot superpanga owned by the resort. However, we were all about kayak-fishing (so they used the panga to shuttle yaks and carry supplies for angler support and beach lunches). With their Vantage seats, comfortable on even long days, and Mirage Drive pedals, the Hobie Outbacks are superb fishing machines. Mariani has outfitted his kayaks exceptionally well indeed, including waterproof handheld VHF radios and Lowrance Hook 4 color fish-finder/GPS units (with hot spots already logged in!).
SOME SUGGESTED GEAR:
Some combination of baitcast and spin outfits to fish 30- and 50- to 80-pound braid. Note that Mexican law allows you to bring in a maximum of four rods. We had to leave our rod tubes in Mariani’s van since they’re not welcome on the Caravan, but the rods were handled carefully and suffered no issues.
Plenty of lures, particularly swimbaits, surface iron and sinking iron (metal jigs). (Note that you can buy lures and rent tackle via Mariani’s Cedros Tackle shop.) Some sabiki rigs and, for fishing liveys, various circle hooks and sinkers would also be wise.
A BogaGrip (preferably the largest — 60-pound — model) and high-quality pliers (I used Rapala’s 9-inch Double Leverage Pliers).
As a backup, perhaps a reliable handheld VHF (for example, my ICOM M36 is waterproof and floats — good qualities for a kayak). The flight from Ensenada allows 30 pounds of gear without incurring any excess baggage charge.
WORKHORSE REELS PROVED THEIR WORTH
The anglers on this five-day adventure used mostly these four Okuma reels (with 30- to 65-pound braid):
Metaloid spinners (55 and 65 sizes)
Azores spinners (55 and 65 sizes)
Komodo SS low-profile baitcasters (450 size) and
Metaloid two-speed lever drags (511 model).
Okuma’s John Bretza used this trip to showcase this recently introduced gear, and without any smoke-blowing, I confess that I was truly impressed. These new-generation reels are far and away the best reels, in my opinion, to come from Okuma. They proved themselves serious, high-quality workhorses.
A BIT ABOUT CEDROS ISLAND
Sitting about 60 miles off Baja’s Pacific Coast, the Isla de Cedros (island of cedars, oddly named by Spanish explorers for the driftwood they saw washed up) is Mexico’s fourth-largest island, about 24 miles north to south and 11 miles across at its widest point. The arid island is mostly uninhabited, and most of its coastline remains today as it has for ages. Recent ocean warming has decimated the island of its once-extensive kelp beds; species such as calico (kelp) bass utilize the abundant rocky structure instead. One of the most visible landmarks is a “mountain of salt” in the eastern corner at the bottom of the island.
Here, a deepwater port allows freighters to pick up loads of the salt that is barged over from huge salt-evaporation ponds at Guerrero Negro on the Baja mainland (too shallow for freighters). The island also produces abalone and lobsters. A few animals inhabit the island, including feral goats and mule deer (introduced). Large colonies of sea lions make the shore their home; anglers can expect to lose a fish to them now and then. About 200 miles from Cedros is Guadalupe, one of the best places in the world to encounter white sharks. Fortunately, they’re not common around Cedros. (But if you’re concerned — about sharks in any waters anywhere — you can bring a deterrent: Check out the sharkshield.