Tag Archives: Fly Fishing Baja

Fly Fishing the Mangroves Near Punta Abreojos, Baja, 2023

Dave took this picture of me struggling to get this big corvina into the net

Dave Zoby turned to me and said, “No one is going to believe this.”  I laughed and agreed.  The fishing was so good. it’s just laughable at points.  You see, Dave read my prior article on the annual SDFF camping / kayak fly fishing trip to southern Baja, 600 miles south of the border, from 2 years ago.  He then contacted me with an email asking if he could tag along for a few days on the next SDFF club trip to southern baja with the intention of writing a feature article on the adventure for a well-recognized fly fishing magazine.  My answer was, “Of course, Yes.”  I just didn’t have confidence at the time that he’d actually pull it off.  He did. Punta Abreojos in Baja is a long way from San Diego.  But, it’s a really long way from Casper, Wyoming.  Dave is professor at Casper College in Wyoming and a professional writer with numerous published articles in fly fishing magazines.  And now he is just another dear friend I have accumulated over this 30+ fly fishing journey.  Along with my Baja mentor, John Ashley and Dave’s dog Henry, we covered some serious water in the mangroves over 3 days during my 11 total days on this trip.

There’s Dave with the most cherished fish of the mangroves: the Broomtail Grouper

Dave’s dog Henry also made the trip.  Henry is a big black lab and a hoot of fun to be around while fishing. But, here is the irony: I’m not a dog guy.  At all.  I didn’t grow up with dogs.  The border collie we have at home I call, “Kelly’s dog”.  Which is a testament to how awesome henry is.  While Dave and I wade fished Henry would alternate between us, pointing like a hunting dog at the fish we’d hook up on.  If I hooked up Henry would run over to me and point.  Then he’d hang with me waiting.  Only to abandon me as soon as Dave hooked up.  That went on for hours and it was hilarious.  Now that I’m home, I keep telling kelly’s dog: “You’re not a fishing dog.”

There’s me and Dave with Henry doing that pointing thing…

Dave’s article on this trip will appear in the January, 2024  issue of Gray’s Sporting Journal Magazine.

With my description of this year’s encounter, I’ll attempt to augment (and not duplicate) the info & guidance I already did on this magical part of the world with my prior article.

This was my 3rd time to this part of southern Baja on the Pacific Side.  It’s an annual trip of the San Diego Fly Fishers club and this year there were 15 of us including 2 females camping on the edge of the Estero.   And man did I have fun with the group fishing for 11 days.

One of the big differences this time is that I used a different kayak.  In the prior two trips, I used a Hobie Mirage Sport.  It’s small and fast; two attributes that make it perfect for the travel there and for navigating the Estero.  But, stability was not one of its attributes.  It was subject to tipping in current and there was no possible way to safely stand up on it; even in the most calm water.  Well, I was lucky enough to stumble into a used Hobie Mirage Lynx Kayak that is perfect for this type of water, travel and fly fishing.  It’s built in the materials like a stand up paddleboard making it super light.  The boat is only 40lbs making it easy for me to load on top of my Tundra by myself.  Because it’s light and built so efficiently for travel in water it’s lightning quick.  Because it’s light it gets a bit pushed around in strong wind, but you can’t have everything.  The fact that I can stand up and cast on this kayak is pretty awesome.  Standing up was also pretty effective in letting me spot fish hanging at the edge of the mangroves.  It’s so stable I can pretty much walk up and down its deck.

this picture captures the mangroves pretty well. there are miles and miles of pathway through the mangroves. Someone like me that didn’t get the direction gene needs to pay careful attention not to get lost.

Fly Fishing Highlights

I’m still no expert in the Estero.  But, I can confidently say I am so much a better fly fisher in this place than I was 3 years ago.  And my results show it.  I’m not exaggerating when I told you I probably strung 10 straight 40+ fish days in a row.  Here are the species I caught the most:

  • Broomtail Groupers
  • Corvina
  • Corbina
  • Halibut
  • Bonefish
  • Spotted Bay Bass

But, I did catch a number of other species too.  I caught so many species in quantity I found myself getting spoiled.  I don’t like that feeling.  It’s the feeling of disappointment instead of joy when battling a huge fish only to find out it’s an enormous spotty when getting it close to the kayak.

I have fished in Hawaii a gazillion times and have thrown at more parrot fish than i can count. But, i never have caught one there. So, you can imagine my surprise when i caught a parrot fish in Baja.

So, it may sound strange that I did experience of component of failure on this trip… and actually like it.  It sets the tone for my number one goal for next year:  I did not catch a single fish on a popper.  And God I tried.  I tried every day to get the groupers and corvina to rise to my popper.  And I failed.  I’m not sure why it was so different from last year when getting a tight cast to the mangroves was rewarded.  It might be that the water was not as clear as it was last year.  Or colder?  Who knows?  Either way I have a goal for next year.

These big Corbina fight you right to your feet.

Also unique this year was the sheer amount of broom-tailed groupers I caught.  For the prior two years I really struggled to find them.  It made them special.  They are the target species and that was a challenge for me in prior years.  not this year, though. This year I caught a gazillion of them.  I also caught a gazillion big corbina (called the “ghost of the coast” here in Southern California and really difficult to catch in the surf).  They were rare for me to find last year.  For some reason, though, unlike last year I did not catch a gazillion Corvina.  I bet I only caught ~20 of them this year.  Strange.  Each year the estero gives you something different.  I like that.  We do this trip in Spring every year.  It sure would be interesting for me to fish it in each of the seasons.  Another goal.


Kainoa: his first trophy shot

Hands down my favorite part of this trip in terms of fishing was teaching Kainoa how to fly fish.  Kainoa is a 20 year old, straight A college student at UC Irvine and was there with his dad, Rich.  These are great people who are fun to be around and veterans of this trip and of Baja.   And both are veteran conventional tackle fisherman.  This type of fly fishing in the Estero is not conducive for success for beginners.  You really do need at least a 40 foot accurate cast and good line management and quick line stripping skills for success.  So, I was confident I could get him casting proficiently.  But, not so confident he was going to get takes like I would be with a beginner on a trout stream.  Because of his prior fishing experience, he took to the overhand cast quickly.  I even taught him to roll cast so he could get the line in position for a big overhand cast.  It was his pickup that was impressive.  A good line pickup off the water is hard to teach.  That type of skill just seems to only come with hours on the water; not from a beginner.  Once he mastered the pickup he was averaging an efficient cast about a 1/3rd of the time and recognizing what happened on the failed casts.  So, he was way ahead of a normal beginner.  But, that stripping the line thing is physical and takes some dexterity.  He was getting better…. But, not getting takes.  And it didn’t help that people were catching fish all around him.  He stayed with it, though.  I gave him some space to figure things out like I do with every beginner and fished myself.  But, by the end of day one he had not gotten a take. Day 2 was a different story.  He caught a small spotty and it was high five time with pictures.  I joked that I taught him 6 of the 7 elements of fly fishing.  But, failed to teach him the 7th: the trophy shot.  It wasn’t just a few minutes later when I looked over and saw his rod bent in half with him losing line.  I quickly set my rod down on the sand and ran to him fumbling with my camera.  After a decent battle we could see it was a big halibut.  A beginner without any fishing experience would have lost that fish right at their feet.  But, since Kainoa was not a beginner to fishing he used the rod and momentum to swing that halibut up to shore immobilizing it.  I was hooting and hollering and clearly more excited about it than Kainoa.  Since Rich and Kainoa were going to harvest this fish we had time to do a proper trophy shot.

Kainoa in battle

We always remember the ones that got away more than the ones we catch and release

On the last day of fishing I got out on the kayak early with the group.  And we all absolutely killed.  Mid day the gang headed back to camp in fear of the afternoon winds which had been brutal every day.  I decided I was going to push it to the max (temping fate with the winds and current of tide shift) because it was the last day.  But, I did stay close so that no matter how bad the current or the wind got I’d have less than ½ mile to peddle back to camp.

Alone now, after successfully fishing “grouper alley” pulling a few broom-tailed groupers out of the mangroves I found myself close to the main channel, a ½ mile entrance and exit of the current into and from the pacific.  There was an amazing channel against the mangroves that I fished on foot a few days earlier on the other side at low tide so I peddled over to see what stage of tide it was in.  Unfortunately, where I waded on sand was already under water.  So, with no place to put the kayak safely while the tide rose, I turned to figure out what I’d fish next.  I had always done well stripping fast while trolling in the main channel for bonefish so that was an option.  Facing the ocean, I saw the current ripping in by a point of sand.  That formed a current seam of 2-3 feet of slow water behind the protection of sand with the current ripping by in 5-10 feet of water on the other side of it.  The type of water that would be epic in a trout stream where the trout use the least amount of energy in the seam only to dart out into the current as the food goes by.  But, here in estero I had only experienced predators in the base of the mangroves or in deep water.  So I moved the kayak into position and casted into the current seam.  My line tightened.  Hung up.  I immediately envisioned breaking off and calling it a day… calling it a trip.  We’ve all had this happen: Then my hung up line started moving.  It was slowly moving away from the ocean towards the mangroves.  At first I thought, “Darn, I foul hooked another shovel nose shark.”  But, then I thought to myself, “There’s no way a shovel nose shark would be there in that position unless he randomly swam right into my strip.”  That is when I felt the head shaking.  It now realized it was hooked in the face.  The fish picked up speed.  I had him on the reel but was losing line as he picked up speed dragging my kayak with him.  I chased him like a captain would do on the open ocean getting an angle fighting to get the line back the line.  Multiple thoughts ran through my head.  I assumed it was a huge halibut.  But, it could have been a legendary grouper.  Could it have been one of john’s infamous red pargos?  Then the fear set in: 20 LB flouro, a size 2 hook that could bend out.  and what I had the most fear of: two knots involved I personally tied…

i can’t figure out how these young folks do such awesome selfies holding fish. i’m terrible at it.

After a number of runs.  After about 10 minutes of battle I got him to the leader and up to the side of the boat…..  I still didn’t get a good look, but it did see it was a monster.  Too big to pull onto the kayak and it was not tail hooked.  He shot away again.  around the 20  minute mark I tightened the drag to max.  this was no cheapo reel.  It was a high end Orvis large arbor designed exactly for this type of battle.  20 lb flouro.  The fish was toasting my reel at full drag.

Now the fish had dragged my kayak 200 yards in the main channel, and it appeared to have intentions of dragging me out to sea.  ½ mile away was the door to the open ocean.  Getting dragged out to sea was not an option; too dangerous.  So, I man’d up and horsed him, risking breaking him off.

It was the end of the day and the wind was up; The surge / chop was up.  There was no one around to witness my battle. I kept going through scenarios in my mind convincing myself there was no way to land it…. then as quickly fantasizing about hauling a halibut the size of my kayak back to camp.  I fantasized how I’d kill it because I didn’t have a tool with me to do that.  Then as quickly I switched to fantasizing about taking a picture of it on the shore and dragging it back into the water to let it go.  I fantasized that I was now “old man of the sea”….with no one crazy enough to still be out fishing; no one to see me in this battle; no one to believe it.  I looked down to my reel and I could see the backing coming.  It’s my hang up.  But, I just believe there are so few scenarios (if any) where a fly fisherman needs to be in the backing.  Getting pulled into the backing is for amateurs that don’t know how to fight a fish and don’t care if the fish dies as a result of the battle. it’s really hard on the fish to get all the way into the backing if you intend to release it.  again, that is my hangup.  That is when I decided “enough is enough” and decided the battle needs to stop whether I lose this fish or not.  I took a 45 degree angle towards shore about 50 feet away and peddled like crazy.   My strategy was to beach the kayak with the rod held high, get out and battle the fish on foot.  I knew it was risky in terms of losing the fish.  But, the battle was getting unsafe and I was alone.  I got out quickly and beached the kayak.  but the fish was going the other way taking out line and now my rod was parallel to the water, full drag, and the fish was still headed out to sea.  I lifted the rod so it could help in the fight,  It was not long after that when it broke off.  I have to admit I was bummed.  I typically laugh when I lose a fish.  I reeled up and there was some consolation that the flouro broke right in the middle of my leader and not in either of the knots.  I peddled the ½ mile back to camp getting pounded by the waves, fighting the current, but still in a fantasizing state of mind.  I fantasized about fishing in the main channel on next year’s trip.  Another goal for next year.

That’s John on the GPRMS radio from his truck “El Mucho”. we use the radios to communicate with each other as we caravan across Mexico

Fly Fishing Guidance

As mentioned prior I’m no expert yet at fishing the esteros of southern Baja.  But, each year I learn a little more.  And each year the Estero fishes differently.  3 straight years I have seen different conditions which demanded different types of flies, fly lines and tactics.

I can tell you this, though, with conviction: The color of the fly I fished in the estero this year was insignificant as compared to the structure of the fly.  It should be stated that many of my fishing partners, some of whom are experts on the trip disagree with me.  They only fish yellow or chartreuse over white.  Those colors definitely work.  And those colors are the only colors that they fish.  well, I fished every color I had and everything worked….as long as my fly was in the right part of the water column.  What did not work were flies that were designed to fish in the wrong part of the water column.

There’s Kim Jones in battle with a big Corbina. Notice the tide coming up on her. In about an hour she’d be in 5 feet of water in that spot

In my notes from last year I remarked that I tied too many clousers.  Last year the fish were mostly in the top of the water column so I was missing them.  I was stripping back flies below the fish in the water column because clousers have big, weighted eyes.  So, this year I must have tied 3 dozen unweighted deceivers.  And guess what?  This year, most of the time the fish were in the bottom of the water column so it was the clousers that didn’t work last year, that worked great this year.  In my notes to myself from this years trip… which I’ll read 11 months from now as I prepare to tie for the trip, it says: “tie clousers in all sizes of eyes so that you can cover all parts of the water column”.  It also says, “Design a deceiver like pattern that has a little weight to it to fish in 1-3 feet of water”.  I have some ideas…

Punta Abreojos

Leonor & Bacilio gave each of us a couple cans of fish from the Cooperativa. when i got home i made Abreojos Chipotle Fish Stew with my yellowtail with Leonor’s recipe and it was spectacular

Hands down one of, if not the most special experiences on this trip was finally getting to visit the tiny city of Punta Abreojos and being invited for dinner into the home of Bacilio & Leonor Romero.  The drive is about 15 minutes from where we camp.  This tiny city is run and managed by a cooperative.  In the US we call that a “co-op”.  In mexico it’s called a “Cooporativa”.

I have to admit I used GPT to help me with the next part:

Punta Abreojos is a small fishing village located on the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur, Mexico.

Fishing cooperatives, also known as “cooperativas pesqueras” in Spanish, are organizations formed by fishermen to collectively manage and sustainably exploit marine resources in their area. These cooperatives play an essential role in promoting sustainable fishing practices, protecting the environment, and ensuring the economic well-being of their members.

Typically, fishing cooperatives have a set of regulations and guidelines that govern fishing activities, such as defining catch quotas, enforcing fishing seasons, and establishing sustainable fishing methods. By working together, fishermen can have more control over their livelihoods, negotiate fair prices for their catch, access credit and resources, and participate in decision-making processes.

Bacilio is one of the profession fishermen of the Cooperotiva.  The Cooperotiva has their act together in terms of conservation unlike many Mexican towns on the pacific (and frankly much of the US) that are “fished out”.  The cooperotiva at Puntos Abreojos even  has a full time watch for poachers.  They are famous for a lobster season that they regulate and manage.  Their ocean is a healthy one.  They manage a thriving ecosystem.

here’s the gang at the home of Leonor and Bacilo.  From the back of Tom’s head clockwise: Michael, Bruce, Kim, me, Gorge, Rich, Kainoa & John

I met Bacilio last year through John Ashley on this trip.  God only knows how John originally met Bacilio… and that is a testament to John.  Last year Bacilio brought his home-made ceviche to camp for us.  Just a surprise gift.  That is how awesome he is: a bunch of gringo fly fishers come into his town and he welcomes them with open arms and brings them gifts of food.  This year Bacilio showed up at camp with Leonor and a pot of Frijolies Charros.  Leonor knows her way around a kitchen.  In broken Spanish we communicate.  Of course, the more alcohol John and I consume the better Spanish speakers we are.  Well, I guess I shouldn’t have been shocked when Bacilio and Leonor invited us to come over to dinner on Saturday night….all of us.  We drank beers and laughed.  We were served “sopa de albondigas de pescado” (fish meatball soup).  It was specatular.  I could have called it goo there.  but, no.  out came the fish tacos. It was an honor and I will spend the rest of my life trying to figure out how to repay them for their generosity and kindness.

Let’s just say Leonor knows her way around a kitchen. This is the set of ingredients for the abogondigas soup


If you have read my stuff on this site before or have gone on a fly fishing trip with me, you will remember my tradition of “the ceremonial last cast” right before ending a fly fishing trip and leaving.  I pack up everything except for one rigged fly rod and when it’s time to go I execute.  Typically it’s 5-10 casts and mostly I get skunked.  I never change the fly that is tied on from the day before and many times that fly is not appropriate for the conditions or time of day.  And that doesn’t matter to me.  So, after 11 days, after 2 hours of packing HUKTRUK, and after mounting the kayak on the Yakima racks on top, ready to go I announced to the gang, “Time for the ceremonial last cast.”  I walked down to the water and within 4 casts I caught and released a halibut.  I couldn’t help but think of a quote from Steve Rinella, an accomplished writer and TV personality from one of his Meat Eater hunting shows.  So, I have taken the liberty of slightly wordsmithing Steve’s comment from one of his shows because it reflected my thoughts at the time so well:

“As we prepare to leave this place.  I’m as entranced as the first time I came here.  I alternate between excitement about plotting my return and pushing even farther into the mangroves.  And dread about the idea that this place and people will change somehow into something unrecognizable; something less unique.  I try to grab onto snippets of visual memories and to lock into my brain those moments that most exemplify the things I love here.  In hopes of keeping the images from fading away from my mind the way things seem to slip into the currents of time.“

High Tide. I took this picture from the back of Huktruk where we camped

Palapas Ventana – Fly Fishing from Pangas near La Paz

October 4-9, 2021

Hey that’s me with a huge jack crevalle! Mike in the background cerebrating.

Who knew you could have so much fun with a 10 wt TFO fly rod?! That is the line I used when I did the “Old-guy Instagram” thing from the Palapas Ventana resort in Ventana, Baja, Mexico.

On October 4-9, 2021 the SDFF club assaulted the Palapas Ventana Resort near La Paz with more salt water flies, flouro, and fly rods than God.  This is an annual trip that the club has been doing for a few years lead by fearless leader, John Ashley.  For years these guys have been telling me, “If there is anyone who would enjoy this trip, it’s you, Huckaby.”  They were right.  I had a ton of success; some real bucket listers.  But, I paid my dues in mistakes for sure.  I learned a lot on this trip.  I can’t wait to get back there next October with the club.  I’m actually trying to figure out how to get there in the late Spring it was so fun.

Steven with a big ass rooster

The Fishing

I’m an old trout guy with very little ocean experience (fly or conventional).  This was my first time doing the fly fishing thing from a Panga.  In the myriad of guidance and preparation communications before we left my takeaways was: “It’s two people in a panga; one in back and one in front.  What a learning experience it was for me!  And man did I make mistakes for the first couple days before I got it dialed in.

Fearless Leader John Ashely with a nice dorado

What the captain (by all means not a guide) does is make bait with impressive throws of a bait net; sometimes in total darkness.  I was wearing polarized lenses and many times I could not see the bait balls the captain was throwing that net at in broad daylight….without wearing glasses….so impressive.  So, typically you start early as the sun comes up.  Then, with the live bait in the bait tank you zoom out to where the game fish are (dorado, roosters, jack trevalles, and even trevally….along with 25+ other species).  Cerralvo Island is a fairly short run across the sea of cortez and that is where most of the boats go.  The captain starts winging the live bait into the water with a cut out Clorox bottle.  The gamefish come up to the surface and go crazy in a fish feed.  You throw your fly into the chaos hoping to fool one of them.  When you catch them, you have the option to let them go, bring them back to the restaurant to compliment the night’s gourmet meal, give it to the captain to enjoy with his family, or have the Palapas Ventana resort vacuum seal, freeze and pack your fish to take home.

So many species to catch with the fly rod. That’s Jim Castelluzzo, the SDFF club president with a pompano

Let me try to define a panga.  A panga is a skiff; a modest-sized, open, outboard-powered, fishing boat common throughout much of the developed world.  The panga is not one of those super nice boats they use in the Bahamas where the fly fisher in front and in back have plenty of room on a casting platform to ensure a long cast.   The bow (front) of the panga has plenty of room for a fly caster and relatively nothing up there to grab a fly line.  But, it’s not a casting platform; it’s the bow of the boat.  The stern (back) is a challenge….at least it was for me.  If you cast from the deck in the back, you must heave a heavy weighted saltwater fly over the boat’s sides or the engine or the captain.  I’m a pretty good cast and I even hit the captain once.  Guess what?  “Oww!” is the same word in Spanish as it is in English.  Ultimately, I ended up just climbing on top of the rails in the back of the boat to get some height and balanced myself there; sometimes actually standing in the bait tank with the live sardinas.  That allowed me to double haul from a height advantage….or seeming advantage…more on that later.  And when the seas got rough, I had to lean against the engine itself.  So, when the captain turned the boat my ass turned with it.  It’s a miracle I didn’t fall into the water.  But, I am pretty agile for an old guy.   Being perched high meant I could double haul a cast 60-80 feet….which I learned after a couple days of struggling is not really an advantage.  Also, every panga seems to be different.  Some are newer and slightly modern.  Some have years of stories behind them with some impressive “Magiver-ing” of a bait tank.

Notice mike battling behind me. Double Hookups were common on this trip

As mentioned, I was told before the trip is “The captain throws live bait in the water and that makes the fish come up and go crazy.  Then it’s a simple 20 foot cast into the madness.”  That is kind of true.  Just like in trout fishing where there are great guides, good guides, and average guides.  The same thing goes for the captains here: some are awesome, some are not.  None speak fluent English.  Each captain and boat is different and fishes differently in terms of where…and sometimes even how.  Mike Hillygus (Montana Lodge owner where we do the annual SDFF trip, and friend of the SDFF club) and I fished 4 days with 4 separate captains and boats.  I love that Tim from the Palapas Ventana resort each night at the restaurant does a blind draw on which captain you get each day.  One day Mike and I stayed within a mile of the resort near the shore all day.  one day we did 10-1 more moving around than fishing; moving from fishing buoy to buoy.  There are a number of fishing buoys that have been strategically placed throughout the area that hold fish.  two days we ran over to Acervo Island and pretty much fished in the same location all day.  Mike and I traded getting the bow each day.  Mike out-fished me every day.  And it wasn’t until well through the 3rd day that I figured out why.

You don’t have to fly fish; a few of the group fished conventionally and did well…including a couple marlin.  This is Mike Rundlett with this big rooster.  but, look closely at the captain’s hat – making a bold prediction of the braves making the world series in early october is uncanny…

The School of Hard Knocks

I really don’t know why it took me two days to figure this thing out.  It may be so obvious to you Saltwater guys and gals with this type of experience. But, it was not to me.  I wasn’t without success.  In fact, I had a lot of success.  my mission was to catch a big rooster on a fly.  I ended up catching a lot of big roosters on the fly.  One of the roosters I landed was too big for me to hold to take a trophy shot with it.  I had the captain hold it for me.  But, now that I know (and now you know), I will be so much more successful on next year’s trip.  So, hopefully my malfunctions will serve as guidance for the trout anglers that want to do this type of fly fishing:

  1. The Double hauling 60-80 feet I was doing over and over is just a wasted workout and burn of calories. When I finally did look over at what mike was doing; he was not doing what I was doing. And having a lot more success. I was basically “hero casting” blind and he was targeting and being efficient about it.  I got the guidance from John and Kai before we left, “a simple 20 foot cast is all you need.”  For some reason I did not think that through.  While I was literally huffing and puffing double hauling casts over and over 60+ feet into the abyss, Mike was waiting for the right moment to cast a 30 footer right into the fish he was targeting.  Duh…  I was dragging the fly through the bait and feeding predators too late.  This was a sobering blow for me when we got back to the resort and in the bar I heard all the success my buddies were having…who simply could not cast (or chose not to cast) over 30 feet.
  2. The fly really does matter – How many times in trout fishing do we say something like, “the fly really doesn’t matter. Your placement and the drift matter a lot more.”  Well, in this type of fly fishing the fly really does matter.   Even the color matters.  The size really matters too.  But, what matters the most is that the fly rides correctly in the water imitating a baitfish as best as possible.  If you half-ass drunken fly tying in your man cave and your fly spins you don’t get takes.  My first two days I was fishing big heavy clousers with big beaded eyes.  Not only are they are they a tough cast but, the jigging thing those eyes produced were not producing as many strikes as mike.  Mike was fishing smaller deceivers (and similars) unweighted flies and killing.  He was in the right part of the water column; I was not.
  3. Knots Matter – This is the most painful lesson for me. I have been trout fishing so long.  I tie 5 different knots 95% of the time and 95% of the time in 3x and 5x. I can tie them all blind folded.  I haven’t failed a knot in years.  Well, I had no idea how differently 5x knots up than it does with 30lb flouro.  I had no idea that you have to wear gloves and yank those knots as tightly as your strength can handle… no idea.  I had no idea that you have to inspect your saltwater knots closely because the heavy flouro doesn’t just slip into place and knot-up like the light stuff does.  I learned that the hard way.  I lost a big dorado on a rapala knot that simply failed because it was not pulled tight enough.  I didn’t even look at the knot after tying it.  but, you can sure as hell tell a knot has failed when looking at the flouro after losing the fish.  and miraculously I also lost a big rooster on a perfection loop knot I tied for the flouro leader.    That is a first.  Some huge rooster swam away with my entire leader hanging out of his face… simply because I didn’t pull the knot tight enough.  Uggghhh…  30+ years of fly fishing and I am failing knots. I suck.  Don’t worry about me; a number of margaritas later that night at the bar fixed everything.
  4. Needlefish – I knew about these slimy creatures going in. if you see a needlefish following your fly you simply stop stripping and they will stop the chase.  But, if you are hero casting beyond what you can see you inevitably catch them.  And you can’t really do a damn thing about it.  and the poor captain has to figure out how to release them without getting bit by razor sharp fangs.  I’m a conservation guy and feel slightly guilty about when mike and I giggled watching one of our guides twisting the neck of the needle fish killing them so he could safely remove the fly.

Tom and Doug Rundlett with another fly fishing double. notice the PInchi Patos in the background

  1. Pelicans – “pinchi patos” I laughed out loud when our captain yelled that as I caught my first pelican. I speak decent Spanish and that loosely translates to “f-ing duck”.  Pelicano is a beautiful word in Spanish.  The captains don’t use that word.  they call them “pinchi patos”.  Btw, there is competition and hilarious chatter on the radio between the captains.  At one point, laughing, I said in Spanish, smiling, to our captain, “you do realize I understand what you guys are saying, right?.” He laughed …because there was a comment about one of my buddies in a different boat not having enough manhood to fight the fish he hooked.  I’d write what he said in Spanish here, but common decorum precludes me from doing it here (god, I hope someone gets that animal house reference.)  But, my god the pelicans.  On the day that our captain stayed on shore within a mile of the resort the pelicans followed us the entire time.  It was fairly frustrating.  Those birds have become accustomed to the captains throwing bait in the water and intercepting that bait.  which means they have unnaturally flourished in population because of it.  at points I had to pinpoint cast a 2 foot window through the gauntlet (50 or more) of pelicans with no way to strip the fly back without the pelicans taking it.  if you see a pelican take your fly you learn quickly to stop stripping.  They spit your fly out if you wait; which is excruciating if the fish are going nuts.  But, if you strip too quickly after that you risk them grabbing it again.  and then there is the good chance of simply leg hooking them as you strip your fly back; many times with a fish chasing.  On that day I caught ~15 pelicans.  Let’s just say the captains don’t really dig pulling a barbed fly out of a pelican’s mouth or leg.  Pinchi patos.

The Palapas Ventana Resort

I am no stranger to fly fishing lodges; I have been lucky.  Let me just start by saying the Palapas Ventana resort is a fraction of the cost of the high-end lodges in Alaska, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.  Remember that I was joined by a Montana Lodge owner, Mike Hillygus from the Stillwater River Outpost Lodge and the Clark Fork Outpost Lodge.  Mike was surprised at what a deal it was. It’s Mexico.

For the SDFF club trip we had two people in each Palapa; Mike was my roommate.  These are not really palapas at the resort; they are so much better. A traditional palapa is an open sided cheap building with the thatched roof.  These palapas are stand alone buildings with a large bedroom and separate large bathroom…. With air conditioning; key for this part of the world.


“They have a bar.”  That is the line I usually start with when describing this place.  I love bars and I’m not shy about it.  they also have a complimentary restaurant that goes with the bar.  But, this isnt’ just any Mexican restaurant.  Each night we were served a gourmet quality meal.  One night we had a Japanese themed sushi and sashimi set of dishes that riveled anything I have had in the states…. Or in the Japan for that matter.  You don’t go back skinnier on this trip; the food is that good.

Within steps of the bar is an Endless Pool where you can stare at the ocean.  Imagine fishing for 8 hours and battling big fish on your 10 weight to come back, grab a beer, walk into the pool and just stare at the ocean while saying things like, “this is the good life”.

I love this picture that Mike Rundett took.  That’s Tom Rundlett on my left and Stan on my right….. after a long day of battling big fish.”

They focus on service – Tim and his partner have trained his seemingly enormous staff well.  From the groundskeepers to the servers to the bartenders to the financial manager.  They are friendly and attentive.  On the first night he introduces his generals to the entire group.  It’s a classy move.  When you leave you end up hugging these people they are so awesome.

I should mention that Palapas Ventana is not soley a fly fishing lodge.  In fact, Ventana is more famous for it’s wind surfing and scuba diving.  Both those are options at the resort.  Also the resort provides snorkling equipment for free while you are there.  It’s a tropical fish and coral paradise in front of the lodge.  It just so happens that if you are tropical fish you have to always be on the lookout for that patrolling roosterfish.  Yea, it’s conceivable to DIY the roosters right from the shore like you see on those fly fishing shows.

Every night Tim from Palapas Ventana arranged some type of fun event for us. This was from “hot dog train” night.  Just imagine this train blowing through the tiny town of Ventana with everyone aboard holding a beer hooting and hollering.

Getting there: I believe the cross border exchange (CBX) is the best kept travel secret in the united states.  It consistently shocks me that even San Diegans still don’t know about it.  in their description it is “A faster, more comfortable, one-of-a-kind way to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, exclusively for passengers of the Tijuana International Airport.”  Basically, you drive to the border in otay mesa, park in a huge parking lot. show a passport and plane tickets in a completely uncrowded modern building.  then walk across the border on a 200 meter air conditioned covered bridge that drops you right into the Tijuana Airport.  It’s $35 and worth every penny.  They even have a bag drop.  You don’t even need to check in with the airline at the airport. This allows you to fly from TIJ on a number of Mexican airlines for a fraction of the cost of flying from San Diego.  My round trip flight to La Paz was around $100…not kidding.  In La Paz the drivers from the resort are waiting for you with a sign to make the hour drive to the resort.  Simple and painless.

It wasn’t like it was not fun watching Mike Hillygus catching all those fish…


I know my way around a trout stream…that is for sure.  You learn a bit when you do it for 35 years.  What the many experts in the SDFF club have taught me…and continue to teach me, is the fly fishing saltwater game.  Let me tell you it’s compelling. I watch all the fly fishing shows on TV and it is frequently mentioned that catching a large roosterfish on the fly is in the top ten of fly-fishing bucket listers.  I caught a bunch of big Roosters and from what I wrote above you can tell I barely knew what the hell I was doing.  In the bar after that first day of fishing I told my fly fishing compadres, “I had no idea how fast those dorado swim.”  When you hook up with a Dorado you watch the entire thing… they are so colorful and beautiful.  It’s almost surreal how quickly it happens when they take your fly.

Complimenting this awesome fly fishing is simply an awesome resort at Palapas Ventana.  It’s run so well with awesome food and service.  They make you feel like family when you are there.  Did I tell you they have a bar?  I am definitely going back to Palapas Ventana.

I think this is Aaron. I do know that is a big rooster with a fly hanging out of it’s face