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Cabo San Lucas fishing boats heading out at daybreak. Photo by David Mandich
Cabo Marlin Fishing
By David Mandich - for the Cabo Free Press
In the old days - Mexican fishermen used pangas (dugouts) made of wood often carved from a tree trunk much the same as indigenous peoples around the world. You may still see an original one in a museum or lying forlorn in front of a hotel or restaurant entrance. Launched from shore and propelled by paddles or wind - fishing from pangas changed little for 1,000's of years until the arrival of the outboard motor and later in the 1950's - 22' long nearly indestructible fiberglass hulls.
Today you can get a sense of what it was like in the olden days by hiring a panga on Palmilla beach in San Jose Del Cabo at the sports fishing co-operative next to the now defunct Pepe's restaurant. This intrepid group of San Jose fishermen has been serving sports fishermen since the early 1950's. They have 16 pangas they launch off the beach through the surf the old fashioned way and another 10 cruisers up to 28' in length moored in the bay off the One and Only Palmilla hotel.
Six hombres - seasoned fathers and adult sons slid the panga Sta. Maria down a sandy bank and muscled it into the surf. I climbed aboard as the men pushed it through the shore break and capitan Luis Miguel Castro Alvarez fired up the boats Yamaha 85. We motored 100 yards stopping to purchase live bait from the bait boys in another panga in the dawn light.
The golden dawn changed to an azure sky as we headed east along the bay and San Jose's Zona Hotelera. The hotel zone looks so different from the sea. There are surfers at Zippers break on "Dawn Patrol," a gaggle of older beach hotels and new resorts along Costa Azul, new luxury condo projects under construction, the new Desire hotel - as discreet from the sea as from shore, with its clothes-optional rooftop Jacuzzi for 30 people. Buggers! I forgot my binoculars.
Panga fishing is a much different experience than fishing off a 28' cruiser or yacht. For one thing you're closer to the water. Much closer. You hear it, you can drop your hand in it as you cruise along, you can see the fish.... and they can see you. Shadows under the waters surface cause one to take pause. 1,000lb. marlin, Makos, Hammerheads, Killer Whales, and Great Whites almost twice the size of the panga lurk out there.
Luis assured me that no one he knows has ever encountered a Great White - but as I've counted more than a few mounted at local restaurants in Los Cabos - I kept my fingers (arm, legs etc.) out of the water - especially when chumming.
Luis slowed the boat into a troll, expertly baited the hooks and tossed the live bait into the drink to attract and tease whatever may come along. He put the boat into a series of patterns for maximum sea coverage, reeling in the line to check the bait (pitiful creatures were still alive) and chummed the area with the not-so-live ones from the bait tank. We waited.
I took pictures of the resorts from the sea, made notes on the Jackson Pollack-like red paint drippings artfully covering the boats sole, on how the sea seemed covered with sparkling mirrors, and how soft and comfortable the cushioned benches were for my problema back. All in all - panga fishing is pretty cushy. At only $165. total for four - it's less than half the price of a 28' cruiser and light-years better than fishing off a kayak.
Just as a 3' bat ray leaped out of the water - belly-flopping nearby - we caught fish. The glassy surface broke with the long feather-like dorsals of a rooster-fish. It struggled and whipped back and forth on the end of a line like folks at the hotel time-share closing room table just across the water from us. Neither the fish nor the hotel guests had a clear idea of what was happening to them, but the bait offered had seemed like a good deal at the moment until.... Aaaaay the hook!
Being a novice (and really lazy) fisherman - I let Luis do all the fun stuff like bait and set the hook, haul the fish onboard, hold them for photos, and untangle my reel for the umpteenth time. I caught (well, Luis and I caught), 2 amber jacks, three respectable rooster fish and one sierra that morning. All great eating. I would be able to reaffirm my manhood and ability to provide for the woman at home with these trophies.
We made friends with pelicans on the way back tossing them left-over bait before Luis gunned the motor full throttle surfing the boat ashore, landing on the sand bank with a thud. If you get there late morning - you can purchase fish filets fresh off the boats from the cooperatives tienda in the parking lot. Contact Guillermo Zarate' at the Sociedad Cooperativa De Servicios Turisticos y Pesca Deportiva on the beach at Palmilla to charter a panga or larger cruiser at: Tel. 044 624 176 0332.
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