Tony Reyes and the Sea of Cortez deliver again
Heading back to the Tony Reyes one night last week after another awesome day of fishing we were talking about what color the sunset was, and how you would describe it to someone, we came to the conclusion that pictures or descriptions don’t really do it justice, you have to be there to really appreciate it but here is kind of what it looks like.
The other thing you have to experience in order to really understand is a week aboard the Tony Reyes for some of the best fishing you will ever experience, the 27 anglers that were on the annual Steve Enright charter were very excited to get the experience under way, as usual most of the faces were familiar with a few new additions and few subtractions, Ted Windom who had been a regular on our charter lost his battle to cancer a few weeks before our charter and was and will be sorely missed, he was always a joy to fish with and be around, he brought an infectious joy for life and fishing that spread to those around him.
As is the usual drill for our group most of us met in Calexico at the Jack in the Box, from the looks of things none of the guys on trip had missed many meals in the last year and ,the 3 ladies on our trip looked a beautiful as ever, so after we had all said our hello’s and grabbed a bite we hit the road convoy style for San Felipe.
Right as we crossed the border we stopped for our Mexican visas, it is not the most efficiently run office but with a little patience we got our shiny new visas and headed down the road that happened to have major construction happening. Mexicali is a mess to say the least, but after snaking through numerous backstreets we eventually reached the end of the road construction got our convoy together and put the pedal down, it is about 130 miles from mexicali to san felipe, the road was decent until you got to the mountains then it was dirt for quite a while until just about the military checkpoint, the military guys appear to be much happier now that they have some covering, as usual they were very polite and asked to look in our vehicles and our luggage and had us on our way shortly. We arrived in San Felipe and stopped at the boat to unload our stuff, the usual gang kids were there to help with the unloading, after unloading we all checked into our hotels, the El Caribe and the El Capitan $55 per night for 2 beds, and headed to the corner bar to have a margarita in Teds honor. Most of us had dinner at the Red Lobster and did a little shopping before heading back to bed.
From the looks of things a few people did not get much sleep on Saturday night, but we all made it to the boat by 10am with one noteable exception who needs a kick in the ass every once in a while but once we had all arrived and the drivers had parked their trucks at Tony’s house, which is the safest place in San Felipe to park we were ready to throw the lines and go. After the military ran the dogs through the boat we threw the lines and were on our way, we had a meeting after our club sandwich with fries lunch, Steve went over some safety stuff on the boat and the boat has life jackets in all rooms for every passenger and crew, as well as 3 life rafts on the upper deck and 6 kayaks, a number of people brought their own life jacket. I can say that I have always felt very safe on the boat but it is good to be aware of where all safety device are and have a what if plan in your head. The fishing the last few weeks had been very good so we were excited for the next morning, Steve covered all the important stuff like making sure you tip well including, your pangero, the kitchen staff and the deck crew, these guys all work tirelessly all week to take care of everything they are very professional and deserve every penny. We also have a daily jackpot as well as a big fish of the trip jackpot, we give the jackpots to the pangeros and I am glad to say the guys in my panga were fortunate enough to give Marcos, the best pangero on the boat, the daily jackpot twice during the week but I will get to that in a bit.
The rest of the day was spent rigging up gear, telling lies and reuniting with old friends, you only see most people on the trip once a year so it is a good time for catching up, the chili rellono dinner really hit the spot and around 10pm I hit the rack for the rest of the smooth ride down to the fishing grounds.
I have to take a second here and give the kitchen guys, Marcos and Carlos some huge props, Tony hired a new cook named Carlos as the last guy had some health problems, and they are doing a phenomenal job, they have changed the meals for the better, they are doing cool things with presentation and I was very pleasantly surprised, I did not get a picture of the sashimi platter the guy did but it was awesome, with very intricate knife work and lots of little extra things, you can tell when someone has a passion for what they do and those guys in the kitchen have stepped up and really brought their A game, so a big thanks to them, everyone on the boat raved about what a good job they are doing.
Pat and Mike (Blackfish on BD) were my battery mates in my panga this year, and Pat hates sleeping so he woke up daily at 4 am, he promised to let me never sleep in but the first morning I managed to sleep until 5am and as the boat throttled down and the hooked dropped I knew we would be at it shortly, I was a little surprised to find we were at Partida and not our usual first day at Snake Island but you fish where you are so it was time to go, in the 51 weeks leading up to the trip I had sworn off all jigs except salas, dx, 6xjr, 6x and 7x and some surface jigs, and in my fervor I had brought way to many, I left most of them in my stateroom but loaded a bunch in my jig box, grabbed 6 rods (one of them was for Marcos) and we loaded up the panga and headed out.
If you have never fished run and gun style bird school chasing fishing you do not know what you are missing, you can see the yellowtail chasing bait and the birds diving on bait and you just have to throw a jig in the middle of them and hang on. We had a pretty good morning with 14 yellowtail to about 20 pounds and 12 cabrilla 4-10 pound range along with a number of smaller ones being released, most of the fish were caught on blue and white 6xjr or dorado on the surface, we only had one yellow on the yo-yo and as and added bonus the cabrilla were on the surface in 100 feet of water along with the yellowtail eating the very small bait fish that were in the water. It is a good day when you throw on a boil and two people hook up and one catches a cabrilla and the other catches a yellow, the blue and white dx was , deadly that morning too, we headed back to the boat to unload our catch and eat rolled tacos and tostadas with guacamole, from the looks of things most of the pangas did pretty well. The cool thing about a mother ship is after lunch you can take a nap before you go out for the afternoon session and that’s what I did.
The afternoon session started off a little slower but as it got later in picked up with the fish blowing up on bait in the glass calm water, it was pretty much a repeat of the morning with the exception of a few trigger fish, one of which blackfish really wanted to take home, I had an unexpected hookup of a shovelnose shark that I was convinced was a pig cabrilla, I was happy to release him and get back to fishing and shortly thereafter I hooked a nice yellow that on the blue and white 6xjr, he put up a good fight and when marcos sunk the gaff I knew what had a contender for the daily jackpot. One of the pangas in the morning had weighed a 25 pounder so I knew it would be close. I can never get over how hard these yellows pull, they never give up and if you have any deficiencies in your gear you will find them fast. We ended up with 16 yellows and 14 cabrilla for the afternoon, not a bad first day and we headed back to Salsupuedes to the big boat, we had a 40 minute panga ride back and witnessed a great sunset, we were the last panga back and as the big yellow came on deck there was an audible groan from one of the pangas, we put the fish on the scale and Tony called it at 27 pounds and with that we won the first day jackpot, I was just happy I beat Alex and his 25 pounder, he was not quite so happy. After the usual pre and post chicken cordon bleu dinner banter we called it a night and went to bed ready for the next day.
Day 2 We woke up at San Frisquito, there had been some larger model yellowtail caught here the past few weeks so we had our big guns ready for action, Marcos was ready to rock at 5am and as became the norm we were the first panga out for what would be a day a huge yellowtail slaying. We made a 30 minute move out to the grounds and looked around for the bird schools, but we never found them, we tried a few reefs but struck out, as the rest of the pangas made their way out it was apparent that the fish were just not there, a huge school of porpoise had drawn most of the birds and no matter how hard we tried we could not find anything, finally Pat and Marcos manage to hook into some decent fish on the 6xjr dorado color, we made our way back near the boat for some reef fishing where we managed a few small cabrilla and pinto bass that were released and we ended up with 2 yellows in the mid twenty range. Most of the other pangas has a slow morning as well but the fish they got were big, Alex had his revenge landing a nice 38 pound yellow that ended up being the jackpot for the day. The cheeseburger and fries I had for lunch helped lightened my mood as we moved back to where we had fished the day before.
The best alarm clock to hear is the hook dropping and when I got up we were back at Partida, we left the panga and ten minutes later we have birds diving and yellowtail splashing all around the panga, everyone gets their jigs in the water and hooks up, with the exception of my jig. As I helped gaff the fish I remembered that maybe today was not my day to catch yellows, we put in a lot of work that after noon but that first stop of 3 fish would be it for the yellows, we did manage a few cabrilla including one on the storm baits I have been carrying with me for the last 3 years, the barracuda took great pleasure in eating the dx that afternoon, it was amazing how one day the fishing is crazy and the next it turns off, it is frustrating but as fast as it turns off it can turn on.
Day 2 pm after a roast beef dinner I hit the rack for some much needed sleep.
Day 3 am we made a small move during the night and early wednesday morning we jumped in the panga and headed for Snake Island where there are always yellowtail, we headed north and a huge bank of fog had covered Snake and we had an eery feeling heading into the fog, it took us 15 minutes of driving to get through it but when we popped out the other side we were by ourselves in yellow country with flat water, within a few minutes the birds were diving on fish and we were in business, but the fish were skittish and we could not get close, after working hard for nothing we headed to some rocks for some cabrilla fishing where we manage 6-8 cabrilla on irons, we made a few moves to the north side of snake island for nothing, finally mid morning we found a reef of shore that was holding some good yellows and they liked the yo-yo, Pat was hot on his dorado 6xjr and Avacodo 6xjr, we managed 7 fish in an hour then the bite shut off and we made a 20 minute move to meet up with the rest of the pangas had found some breaking fish on a reef and finished our morning there. The painful lesson of making sure the double san diego is not crossed in the eye of jig was once again taught to me and as payment for that lesson a dorado 6xjr was donated to the sea. Our big fish was 27 pounds and we were in good shape for another daily jackpot, as the crew cutted gilled and iced our catch we were treated to a huge tub of yellowtail ceviche with all the fixings, by the time the cook was ready to serve lasagna for lunch I had downed 2 huge bowls and I was ready for a nap.
The wind was blowing pretty good when we stopped at diablo for the afternoon festivities, there were large numbers of birds diving on bait and we braved some rougher water to get to them, it was wide open on barracuda and small yellows, so after releasing a few smaller ones we headed toward the cliffs of the shore for some cabrilla fishing, the wind pushed us pretty fast and marcos kept us at just the right distance and we drifted and made cast towards rocks for cabrilla, this kind of fishing really tests your casting skills and can be alot of fun if all the guys can keep their jigs out of the rocks, we were quickly rewarded with a lot of cabrilla on megabaits, dx jigs, 6xjrs and similar jigs, once we found a few rocks that were holding fish we would hit them a few times, the cabrilla were a smaller grade so of the 40 or so we caught only 14 were kept, one of the fish we had to keep was a gold grouper that ate my blue and white dx hard, as it came to the boat I was very excited as this was the first one I had every caught, it was smaller and would be released but the treble hook was in his gills and the fish was bleeding badly, we took pics of how deep the jig had sunk so we had evidence, it is generally frowned upon to keep these beautiful fish but at that point we had no choice.
We ended the day with 14 cabrilla and a small yellowtail and as we waited for the fried yellowtail with pico de gallo and rice with a flan desert we made bait. It was wfo open on the macs, most of the passengers got in on the action and we had the tanks plugged in a half hour as well as a few crates of dead ones for chunk bait. With live bait in the wells I had a hard time sleeping as we point the bow towards Refugio. Steve had 40 pound yellow, and 33 pound.
Day 4 am
with live bait in the well and a few bananas for breakfast, we motored 5 minutes from our anchorage in Refugio for some flyline cabrilla fishing. Marcos threw out the pangas picked and on went the live bait and the cabrilla started biting, we boated a few and I tossed out a huge storm bait that was quickly inhaled and broken off, it was a good reminder to check your double san diego for crossed lines, hard lesson to learn again. Pat put a fresh mac on his line and dropped over the side and got hammered by a huge fish, after a quick fight up comes a 35 pound grouper, I was stunned at the size of the fish that he pulled out of 15 feet of water, as quickly as it started the bite stopped so we made a few moves and tried a few different spots and picked a few off.
With only a few baits left we tried on final spot after dropping the grouper at the boat and getting a weight on it, the first bati I dropped in the water got smashed and it came to the boat pretty quick, my second bait hit the water swam 5 feet and was inhaled, the fish swam laterally about 10 yards while pulling drag, I thought it was a yellow but after a brief fight a personal best cabrilla of 22 pounds got a gaff sunk in his head by Marcos, I was speechless, and my panga mates just laughed at me and we snapped a couple pics.
The bait was quickly gone and we headed out, to find Alex for some fun, a few of us had brought spear guns along and at 8:30 with a 22 cabrilla, a grouper and 2 yellows it seemed like a perfect time to do some freediving and spearfishing. Pat jumped on Rich’s panga to finish out the morining fishing and Mike and I grabbed Alex along with our dive gear and headed for a nice point, there was a decent amount of current so Marcos kept a constant watch on us fromt he panga, blackfish was convinced he was going to be eaten by a huge shark but got in the water anyway. I have to say snorkeling in that water for 3 hours was a blast, there are millions of fish, it looks like a huge aquarium with many large multi colored fish, my goal was to shoot a decent sized cabrilla and from the start of our dive we saw many but most were small, after a few moves we found a deeper spot that was holding a lot of fish and we all spotted a good sized cabrilla but no one could get close, I missed a few shots on sheephead but it was great experience and I can’t wait to do it again.
I was very hungry by the time enchiladas were served, everyone had done very well on the live bait and there was very good energy on the boat.
That afternoon we were at the mainland and went out to fish some reefs, we had some squid and some chunk bait but could not make much go, we had a few small sand and pinto bass then had a nice jag of smaller yellows come through, 3 we good enough to keep and we ended the day throwing iron for cabrilla, we manage 3 decent cabrilla and headed back to the boat, the cook had made 3 trays of yellowtail sashimi for everyone and it tasted as good as it looked, not sure how anyone can resist fresh sashimi, thanks to Rich Rose for donating the fish, it was appreciated. Dinner of steak and baked potatoes capped off a great day and it was hard to believe we had one day left. Congrats to Pat who won the jackpot for the day with his 35 pound grouper, my man deserves it as he fishes harder than anyone I know.
Day 5 am we woke up at the enchanted islands, it had been a rough, windy ride the night before, so much so that one of the panga had lost a motor, it sunk to the bottom to never be heard from again so a few of our crew was out of a ride for the morning, Marcos tried many different spots to put us on fish, we even lowered ourselves to try trolling but had no luck, Pat hooked something on a 6xjr but got broken off, it was our only bite of the morning, we headed back to the boat to start the loading process and found that everyone had a rough morning of fishing, well everyone except for the charter master who found a small rock holding fish and put 22 huge cabrilla on his panga with jigs, it was a very impressive catch that would earn him the daily jackpot for the second time and well as the big fish for the trip with their 40 pound yellow from a few days before, his pangero Ramon had a very good week.
As is the practice on the boat, the crew washes all your rods and reels in fesh soapy water the last day, it is a nice touch and as the pangas were loaded we had our last lunch of the week and packed our gear for the ride home. We reached the dock around 7 with full coolers of fish and memories of a great week. The deck crew did an exceptional job with the fish, they had made the vacuum packed bags a little smaller for better portion sizes.
The hat for not so smart move of the week was awarded to blackfish for attempting to dump a cooler full of rotten squid water over the top deck in high winds and soaking a number of passengers and the side of the boat at our post fishing meeting.
The unloading of the boat went fairly smooth, as the military was present at the dock and the locals on their best behavior, most of us stayed at the El Cortez and went to dinner at the Red Lobster again, a few of us stayed out rehashing the weeks events over margaritas, beers and coke lights.
The next morning our slightly smaller convoy met up for the ride back to the border, it was very uneventful and the wait at the border was tolerable at about 90 minutes and we met at the Denny’s in Calexico for our final meal until next year.
The tackle that worked best for us on this trip was salas 6x jr in blue and white, dorado, and avocado, and salas dx in blue and white, scrambled egg and baby shit be sure to load up on these if you go down, Steve made me a believer in the DX but it took me a while to learn how to fish it, you have to go slow. A tragedy occurred on this trip when I lost my lucky blue and white dx but as luck would have it I had a few spares. The boat no longer has a tackle store so be sure to stock up on jigs and line before your trip. I used 40,50 and 60 all week, I am sure you could catch fish on 30 pound but don’t waste your panga mates time by trying to be a hero.
A big thanks to Steve Enright for taking on the task of being chartermaster and putting this thing together, he does a great job at getting a group of 27 anglers to co exist for a week in a civilized manner, thanks also to Ron and Kelly for giving me a ride it is appreciated, and finally thanks to my wife Debi who does not always understand why I love to fish so much but understands it is important to me and lets me pursue my passion.
If you have ever said someday I am going to do one of those trips don’t wait, do it as soon as you can, you will not be sorry. It is the best value by far of any trip I have ever been on, the boat is spacious with 6 heads and 4 huge showers, the food is fantastic, the fishing is off the hook and the experience will change you. There is an abundance of whales, sharks, birds and wildlife that you will never see anywhere else not to mentioned the rugged island lanscapes and killer sunrises and sunsets. The staterooms are all airconditioned and there is always ice cold Corona and Pacifico ready as well as bottled water and soda, your catch is processed and vacummed packed and put on ice for the ride home in sashimi grade condition. There is more storage on the boat than you can imagine so if your are inclined to be a gear ho they have room for your crap. Every year I go I learn something new, I see something new and I become a better fisherman and the memories and friendships from these trips last a lifetime.
Only 51 more weeks.
Thank you so much Mike Huss for making this report and thank you Steve for sending it to me.
|Golden Cabrilla||4||C & Released|
|Spotted Bass||45||To 3lbs|