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Eric Prictson Photo of Eric Prictson
Gordo Banks Pangas
Email: gordobanks@cabonet.net.mx


             Throughout much of the United States the winter season can
be the time to put away your saltwater fishing gear and hibernate until the springtime thaw, but south of the border at the southern tip of Baja California anglers can find a winter wonderland for a variety of popular tropical gamefish.. Every year this desert paradise is becoming one of the more favorite places for vacationers to visit and enjoy the warm Baja sunshine along with the incredible opportunity to find such saltwater species as striped marlin, dorado, wahoo, yellowfin tuna, sierra, roosterfish, jack crevalle, pargo, grouper, amberjack, cabrilla, pompano and yellowtail. This is the season when the sun shines everyday, no rain or snow, just sunny days with average high temperature of  75 to 78 degrees.  Typically the offshore conditions are very calm, the larger southern swells that pass through during the summer are not a factor in the cooler months. The northeast winds can blow relentlessly at times but this does not affect certain areas that are sheltered closer to shore and on these breezy days the charter boats can find plenty of action in the calm waters just off the beautiful beaches. February is usually the windiest month and ordinarily when it does blow it will be for several straight days and then it will lay down and leave ideal ocean conditions for anglers to work the fishing grounds further offshore. The standard trade winds blow offshore from the west early in the morning and then as the sun comes up higher in the sky the wind resides and the creates calm seas for the rest of the morning, then the breeze will often blow again in the afternoon, from either the northeast or the south.
              The water temperature, as it is just about any otherplace, is a major dominating factor as to what species of fish are active during certain periods, and this is definitely true in Baja also. Most of the season the water temperature will stay in the 70 to 75 degree range, this being throughout the cooler months, which are December through April.   During an extreme year it can dip down between 65 and 68 degrees, especially in February and March if the north winds prove too persistent. Particular species have their preference of water temperature, such as wahoo, who like it best from 76 to 82 degrees and striped marlin, who are most active from 70 to 74 degrees and then there are sierra that cruise the inshore waters and prefer 72 to 76 degrees. Usually these temperature ranges are the same ones that attract particular schools of  favorite baitfish like mackerel, mullet and sardinas. When the surface water temperature drops below 70 degrees it generally becomes difficult to find much fishing action for marlin, dorado or tuna, so this is the time when working lures and bait down deep off the bottom rock piles can be productive.
              The most common catches during the winter months from the
offshore fishing grounds include striped marlin, yellowfin tuna, skipjack, dorado, with wahoo being more of an incidental catch that can be taken as they are migrating through the region. The species that are commonly taken closer to shore during this time period are sierra, jack
crevalle, pargo, needlefish, pompano and most popular of all, the roosterfish. Methods of fishing include everything from live and dead bait to all types of
trolling and casting lures, including rapalas and flies. Anglers fishing the bottom typically have combined catches of pargo, amberjack and cabrilla with a variety of other fish being mixed in on any given day, such as pompano, grouper or yellowtail. Overall it is the time when the variety can be incredible, you can easily end up catching between six
and ten different types of fish in a single day. Most of them are truly excellent table fare and many anglers  do like to freeze their fresh catch and haul it back home with them in an ice chest. This is encouraged but also there must be respect to release as many fish as possible back into the Sea of Cortez so that it will help preserve the quality fishery for future generations.
                 Striped marlin are the kings of the offshore waters from January through May.  During the warmer months of the summer they migrate north into the waters off of Southern California, following their favorite food supplies of mackerel and squid. The average weight of these locally named  " stripers " is from 100 to 140 pounds, but every year there are some landed that weigh over 200 pounds. These fish have a range as far north into the Sea of Cortez as Loreto and Mulege but are most plentiful at the southern
tip of the Baja Penninsula. They can be found as close to shore as one mile but typically prefer the deeper blue water from 5 to 15 miles offshore.           

Striped Marlin have a reputation of incredible endurance and amazing aerial displays and when hooked on light or medium tackle in the 20 to 40 pound class they provide an awesome battle that typically will last close to one hour or more.
            The most common and productive techniques that are used when
targeting marlin include three basic methods. First of which is setting out plastic clone style lures in the 8 to 12 inch size in the general area where marlin migrate through and keep your eyes open to spot any sign of feeding activity or tailing marlin on the surface.  The more eyes the better, because it is a large area to cover and this type of fishing calls for team work. All during this time trolling there could be a blind strike at any time, sometimes the fish will not become hooked but still will be aggressively following the lure. At
this time a person must think fast and if live bait is available have one rigged on an leader set up and drop it overboard towards the fish and at the same time the crew retrieves the rest of the trolling lures, more often than not this technique will result in the marlin attacking the bait.  While traveling distances over the water while dragging lures behind the boat you are constantly search for signs of any marlin fins, usually it is later on in the morning when
more marlin will be seen on the surface and when there is a strong swell
running this will really get them on the move, riding the surface waves, in the direction with the swell. On calm days the marlin can be spotted on the surface, either sleeping or just lazily moving along. This is when an angler wants to communicate with the skipper so that they can synchronies their moves. The idea is to maneuver the boat from behind and off to the side of the fish to within casting range if possible, then cast the bait out so that it
drifts back near the front of the marlin, at the same time you free spool your reel and hold your pole high up so that it stays clear of the water. At times the marlin will instantly move in to take the bait and other times it will completely ignore it.  If it does not take it the first time and is still up on the surface you can quickly reposition yourself to make another cast out in front of the fish, sometimes this will take many attempts before a marlin will finally take the bait and then there are times that the marlin will not be spooked but just will not take the bait no matter what you do. They are moody and often
become shy, it is a good idea to try lighter mono leader material of 80 pound test and sometimes go all the way down to straight 50 pound. This will often get them to bite but will usual end up in broken off lost fish. When the striped marlin are in local waters, they can be abundant at times and travel in schools,  they become more competitive when they are in groups. It is not uncommon to see twenty or more marlin during a day and hook and land several in a few hours. Typically the boats targeting them average one or
more a day when the marlin are here and migrating through the Southern
Baja waters.
             Other successful methods are racing to feeding marlin that
have been spotted and casting into them, then waiting for them to be located again and racing to the next spot to repeat the process. This can be very fun fishing if the swells are not too large, typically it is the first couple of boats that arrive to the feeding marlin that are rewarded with fresh hook ups. Another common technique is to soak or drift live bait down at different depths once an area is located that is known to hold marlin and after the
surface has proved no results to speak of. This can be after signs of free jumping marlin or schooling bait activity. Most common baitfish is mackerel and often the marlin will locate schools and then coral them into tight meat balls that they then will take turns slashing through. This is no doubt a very popular sport, chasing striped marlin, the odds of finding action are a lot better than with the larger black and blue marlin of the summer months and once hooked a novice angler has a lot better chance of actually landing them.

              Dorado are also common offshore during the same season as
when the striped marlin are here, but they are not as numerous as they are in the warm months. These are tropical fish and they prefer warm conditions but are found in local water all year. From inshore to offshore they are unpredictable as to where they will be the next day and really like to follow any type of floating debris that may be adrift. Dorado normally average 5 to 25 pounds but can get to over 70 pounds, largest specimens are usually taken during April, May, June and July. Fishing techniques include trolling medium size feathers, plastic skirted lures and both whole and strip bait. Once located there is a good chance of more fish being in the close vicinity and often there will be other free following fish near one that is hooked up. Always be ready to cast out another bait when the chance is there, you never know if you will be fortunate enough to locate another school
that day. These fish are known for their beautiful rainbow colors and the incredible battle they put on when hooked. Excellent eating, this is the same fish that is known as mahi- mahi on restaurant menus.
               Yellowfin tuna provide some of the more consistent action
throughout the winter and spring seasons. Typically these are schooling fish that range from 10 to 50 pounds, there are exceptions such as this past year when the Gordo Banks produced the most incredible action for big yellowfin tuna, that ranging up to 300 pounds. Not even any of the long time locals could remember more large tuna being taken from the banks.  In the coolest months the tuna are generally found closer to shore and are taken mainly
with live sardinas that are either slowly trolled or drift fished. These schooling football sized tuna can become line shy and it is always an advantage to use as light as line as possible, 15 to 30 pound tackle seems to be the perfect match for these feisty fish. During springtime and early summer the tuna are generally found further offshore, anywhere from 5 to 25 miles and are more often than not found traveling with migrating porpoise.  Trolling medium sized feathers, cedar plugs, rapalas and using live bait can all produce fantastic results if the fish are up and feeding, if the fish are not up it can be worth the
time to be patient and work the area a while to see if they come back near the surface and go back on the bite. For the larger tuna that hold on the banks it is typically the chunk bait method and trolling larger live baits that is most successful. The yellowfin tuna will still bite in water as cool as 68 degrees but they do definitely prefer clean and blue water,  so it is best to search out the more favorable areas.
               Fishing for a variety of bottom fish can be an excellent
alternative when the surface conditions are not right and it proves difficult to find any cooperative fish. There are scores of  rocky areas that attract fish,  the depths range from less than 100 feet up to 200 feet and usually within a couple miles of the shore line. Successful anglers use a combination of  chunk and whole baits, along with iron jigs, which draw strikes when
they are retrieved at a fast rate up from the bottom. This type of fishing is referred to as yo yo 'ing because of the up and down motion, jigs are fast sinking, four to six ounces and can be found in every color imaginable. Most common catches off the bottom are pargo, cabrilla and amberjack but at the same time the variety can be amazing, it is common to also hook into such species as pompano, trigger fish, grouper, yellowtail, skipjack, rainbow runners and at certain times hammerhead sharks can be a regular nuisance. A general rule is that you will find the majority of the bottom fish out in deeper water when the temperature is warm, as they are searching out the cooler spots and after the water temperature drops in the winter they will come into more swallow water to seek out the warmer currents. Often the charter boats will break up the day's fishing activity with some bottom action early and then as the sun warms the water's surface they will troll for dorado, tuna or marlin.
                Inshore action during the winter months can offer exciting light gear action for species including jack crevalle, roosterfish, and sierra, along with other elusive fish such as snook. Although the main peak season for the larger roosterfish is from May through July when the schools of mullet are abundant along shore, they can also be taken all winter long. In general the winter fish are smaller but they can run in large schools and the action can be fast and furious. The most common and productive way to hook into the roosterfish is to slow troll live bait close to the sandy beaches.
At times when they are really active they will strike on artificial lures. Jack crevalle will hit on the same baits and lures, they are incredibly powerful fish for their size and will test the limits of even experienced anglers and their light to medium tackle. They can reach up close to 30 pounds but average 10 to 20, their Mexican nick name is " toro ", which simply means " bull ". Usually around the same time that wahoo start to head towards warmer southern
waters, their inshore cousin the sierra move into local inshore areas, attracted by schools of sardinas. They are smaller fish in the 2 to 14 pound range but are excellent eating and very sporty fighters on light tackle. They have razor sharp teeth also like wahoo and the use of wire leader is necessary. Schooling together, they patrol inshore waters and will attack any baitfish that they can find. Always more active either early in the morning or
again later in the afternoon. Especially fun fish for younger anglers, to practice their skills, full of surprises, the way they strike lures and bait with
lightning like speed. There is nothing quite like being in a wide open inshore bite for sierra and it will most assuredly keep you very busy rigging terminal tackle.
              It would be very tough indeed to find another place in all of North America that could match the all around fishing opportunities that can be found here in Baja California during the winter season. The weather is ideal , while the rest of the country is just trying to stay warm, this is the place to come and relax in the sunshine and take advantage of all this pristine area has to offer.

Good fishing ,  Eric Brictson


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  • Winter Opportunities in Baja