Wild Kayak Fishing on Baja’s Central Sea of Cortez
Five adventurous anglers find wide-open kayak fishing action near Loreto, Mexico
Updated: May 5, 2016
A sea for the taking — a lone kayakero appears to have the entire Sea of Cortez to himself.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Fishing from a kayak miles offshore on the central Sea of Cortez on a dead-calm morning offers a world of extraordinary sights, afloat on an endless mirror reflecting steep, cactus-covered desert slopes, rocky cliffs, and a large early-morning moon shimmering above. Every ripple catches the eye; every tiny baitfish jumping out of the water flashes silver; huge manta rays move slowly, only their wingtips quivering above the surface; and, farther out, the gleam of an early sun reflects off the sides of leaping porpoises.
While awaiting the day’s first action, the author savors mirror-like tranquility of the Cortez.Rob Sherman
The sea is a world of sounds as well. Moving silently, with no hum of outboard engines, we could actually hear individual baitfish flipping, the whoosh of sea turtles taking a breath, and even the splash of a marlin 100 yards away.
I looked out toward the sound of that large splash to see a nice striped marlin again taking to the air as it free-jumped merrily along, shattering the tranquility of the sea.
The sight of the free-jumper dissolved my reverie instantly; suddenly I was all business, pedaling my Hobie Pro Angler hard on what I hoped might be an intercept course with the fish.Jeffrey Fortuna / Hobie
A MARLIN MORNING
I had company. Of the four other pescadores en kayak in our group, spread out as they slow-trolled live baits over deep blue water well to the north of Isla Carmen, two were close enough to also try to get a livey in front of the marlin.
I saw Gary Graham, Baja-fishing author and expert, first hook up, trolling a live caballito (scad) ahead of me.
The lively marlin came unbuttoned (though Graham released another nice stripe, east of Isla Coronado, a bit later that morning).Jeffrey Fortuna / Hobie
Then Morgan Promnitz, with Hobie, was on. That fight too lasted long enough for some thrills, but not long enough for a release.Jeffrey Fortuna / Hobie
My turn came maybe an hour later as I pedaled slowly along, miles from any land. A screech fractured the still air as the clicker on my small Accurate conventional fishing reel let me know something had picked up my caballito. I snatched the rod from the holder, thinking the marlin would rocket up, but it headed down.
Some time later, I released a respectable hammerhead shark.Jeffrey Fortuna / Hobie
The next hookup was the charm for Los Angeles angler Rob Sherman, who spent the following hour enjoying the ride.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Once he’d unhooked the striped marlin, Sherman pedaled slowly forward holding the fish’s bill next to (but pointed away from) the kayak, until the fish kicked strongly for a healthy release.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Next up: Promnitz with a big Pacific sail.Jeffrey Fortuna / Hobie
PREPARING TO GO FISHING IN OLD MEXICO
A couple of days before all this action, this group of adventurous anglers had flown to Loreto, Mexico, roughly two-thirds of the way south between the California border and Cabo. Loreto sits on the edge of the Sea of Cortez in an area of midriff islands, hard tidal-flow currents and big fish.Chris McGlinchy / Sport Fishing Magazine
Upon arrival, we checked in at the Hotel Oasis, which has maintained a traditional style and is something of a landmark here.Jeffrey Fortuna / Hobie
Promnitz had made sure all anglers on this adventure would have kayaks (Pro Angler 12s and Outbacks) on hand with everything needed to outfit them for serious fishing.
Outfitting kayaks became a group activity for our first afternoon. The hotel’s location — close enough to stroll into town but right on the beach — allowed us to keep our respective kayaks right in front of our rooms.Rob Sherman
Pulling the kayaks to the water’s edge, loaded with gear on fat-tired Hobie carts, required several minutes of trudging across the sand.Rob Sherman
Our two “mother pangas,” arranged by Graham, awaited at first light to haul us, the yaks and the gear to a different destination each morning. Those destinations were often around nearby islands, notably Isla Carmen, Coronado, Monserrate or even more distant Santa Catalan.Jeffrey Fortuna / Hobie
But before heading out, the pangas would run five minutes north to Loreto’s municipal marina to pay our $25 for a few scoops of bait (sardinas) and a precious few caballitos as well. We also had to dash into the marina office for wristbands, for three bucks each, allowing us to fish these islands, within the Loreto Bay National Park Marine Sanctuary.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
CATCHING DORADO — OFF THE ROCKS
After putting bait in the pangas’ livewells, we made the 7-mile crossing east to Isla Carmen and pulled into a gorgeous little bay with a river.
On the sandy beach we offloaded the yaks and got set up to head out (though small roosterfish chasing mullet proved a considerable distraction). The group had a variety of tackle, spin and conventional, with 20- to 80-pound line, mostly braid — a bit big for these small guys.Jeffrey Fortuna / Hobie
Before we’d even pedaled out of the bay, I heard Promnitz cursing loudly as he looked up at a ballsy frigate bird overhead, which had snatched his live cab from the surface behind his kayak.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Maybe Promnitz’s invective startled the bird, because it dropped the fish — which, to my surprise, was scarfed down by a nice roosterfish the moment it hit the water.
Shortly after that, I pushed hard to close the distance to an area where the brilliant yellow-green flashes of a large dorado broad-jumping over the surface had caught my eye. By the time I made it there, the fish seemed to be long gone.
But not far away from me, while trailing a bait in about 20 feet of clear green water off the rocks, Sherman hooked what would prove to be the trip’s biggest dorado, a 27-pound bull. He enjoyed a great fight on light line, especially in such shallow water. It marked the first time I’d seen dorado and towering, saguaro-like cactus at the same time.Jeffrey Fortuna / Hobie
All of us caught other dorado (to about 15 pounds) on other days, even if not in the numbers that Loreto is known for. Chris Holmes, Cajun journalist and kayak-fishing enthusiast, seemed to do particularly well on the mahi.
It seemed crazy, at least from my experience, how many of these dorado we encountered very close to the rocky desert shorelines of the islands. In the central Cortez, dorado are not exclusively an offshore fish by any means.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
“Dorado are what this area built its fame on among sport fishermen,” says Graham, who’s been covering the Loreto fishery for decades. “It was really a [fly-fishing mecca](sportfishingmag.com best fly-fishing spots) — for an angler to catch 20 to 30 dorado in a day wasn’t unusual. And those were big fish.”
That said, our adventure attests to the fact that there are still dorado around, and plenty of other game fish to tackle. The marine parks around the islands support what Graham calls a “species-rich fishery,” but one that Loreto has yet to market very effectively.
MONSTER ROOSTERFISH AND MORE
I quickly dropped again, but this time hooked something more substantial on my light spinner, and after a great fight, I tussled in a 12-pound cabrilla.Jeffrey Fortuna / Hobie
Of course, the central Sea of Cortez isn’t always flat. Though summer is often calm, winds may come up at any time, any day. Our fourth and fifth days proved pretty brisk from the south, which gave the waves a mighty long fetch. Couple that with heavy currents, and it can mean a wet panga ride. Fortunately, however, many islands are within 30 minutes to an hour or two of Loreto, so whatever direction the wind blows, the odds of fishing in the lee of an island remain good.
On day five, with the breeze cranking hard, we ended up fishing near the northwestern tip of Isla Monserrate, a 25-mile run southeast of Loreto in the two loaded pangas.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
What looked to be fishy drop-offs around the corner of the island’s northwest tip and down its western side just weren’t fishable with the winds sweeping up from the south. So we were limited to a small area where the action was, well, limited.
Rob Sherman gets ready to pedal off to work near the island, trolling and casting.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
The next day, Sherman goes for a ride — whisked away by what we figured had to be a remaining Loreto fish on his bucket list: a roosterfish, and a big one. I shadowed him to get photos, pedaling my kayak hard just to keep up as the big fish took him for a ride that lasted a half-hour or so. By then we could at least begin to see the silver sides of a rooster.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
When the angler managed to pull the fish part way from the water, I knew it had to be 60 pounds or more. Once the word went out on VHFs among the kayakeros, Sherman became known as Big-Fish Rob.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Still, when it comes to fishing success, Promnitz is usually hard to beat. He had caught a sailfish of impressive proportions a day or two before, and on this morning he caught a couple of roosters — albeit nothing like a 60-pounder — and this first-rate barred pargo.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Of course, none of us failed to catch fish. But I think that more than that, we all shared a sense of our good fortune just to fish these clear, emerald waters with their stunning desert backdrops. I feel safe in saying that the Sea of Cortez around Loreto qualifies as one of those special places in the world where a few days spent fishing — whether from a kayak or a panga — will be long remembered.
FISHING THE CENTRAL SEA OF CORTEZ
For that growing segment of saltwater-angling enthusiasts who would rather do it in a kayak, the good news from Loreto is that a press time, Baja Peninsula Tours had ordered four Hobie Pro Angler 12s and two Outbacks and was preparing to start offering guided kayak-fishing adventures out of Loreto.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Hobie’s Mirage Drive pedal system not only allowed us to fish hands-free, but also gave us the opportunity to resuscitate fish before their release in a way not possible if one has to paddle to move forward. We also were often fishing in strong currents, and the pedal drive meant we could easily remain stationary if we needed to while fishing.Rob Sherman
If you do intend to kayak-fish, you can certainly launch from shore, where you’ll find immediate opportunities for roosterfish and other nearshore species and, just a few minutes out, dorado and billfish.Jeffrey Fortuna / Hobie
But working with a panga is a good bet because a knowledgeable pangero can take you and your kayak to where the action is best, including more distant areas, and can put you in the protected lee shores of some dramatic island backdrops. The panga can also be a great live-bait station and of course a nice safety backup. If you fly in to fish, sans kayak, you can of course hire a pangero to assure you plenty of opportunities to tangle with offshore and nearshore game fish.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
If you do plan to kayak-fish, your list of essentials should include a VHF radio. ICOM provided me with an M92D model that has built-in GPS and floats face up if dropped over — nice features for this use. A small sounder such as the Lowrance Elite 4 will also prove very useful, as will a Boga-Grip.Jeffrey Fortuna / Hobie
However you wet your line here, you’ll need a fishing license; you can buy that online.
Check out Visit Mexico for general information about Loreto.
Some might prefer the noise and glitz of Cabo, but for anyone looking for a very different experience, Loreto should appeal.Rob Sherman
From the Hotel Oasis, downtown Loreto is a walk of 20 minutes or so. I’ve seen Loreto described as “old Baja” and would say that’s a pretty good characterization. Historically, this is the first Spanish settlement on the peninsula (dating from the late 1600s), and currently one senses the continuation of that tradition here. We strolled into town some evenings, with the air cooling after sunset, for ice cream and to enjoy the ambience (and also made a couple of afternoon forays for supplies). Granted, my impression was from just cursory visits, but the town seemed clean, quiet and safe, and the residents were friendly, without any sense of the cynicism that often becomes part of more touristy areas. (Speaking of safety, we left kayaks, rods, reels and tackle on the patio in front of our hotel rooms every night with absolutely no worries about anything disappearing.)
The Hotel Oasis puts on a traditional clam bake every week, with fresh-cooked clams prepared in several different ways, all to die for.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing