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Fishing Desire, Weather and Boating Safety


Photo of Neil Kelly, coauthor of The Baja Catch.

SAFETY FIRST--Neil Kelly and one of his "Baja tin boats." Neil fished everywhere in Baja California, Mexico, with this class of boat, but he never had a weather-related accident, and was only once surprised and forced off the water by bad winds. No matter how much he wanted to go fishing, Neil always exercised weather prudence. Photo by Gene Kira.


By Gene Kira, April 21, 2003, as published in Western Outdoor News:

Neil Kelly, my co-author in The Baja Catch, would do nearly anything to catch a fish.

Once, while camped at Gonzaga Bay, I listened an entire night to an agonized Neil, moaning and thrashing in our tent, with what turned out to be a kidney stone.

About midnight, it got so bad I thought Neil might actually die, and I told him to hang on until first light, when we would load him into the back of my 4WD Suburban and make a desperate run to San Felipe.

I fell asleep just before sunrise, and startled myself awake a few minutes later--to total silence. I looked over at Neil's cot, expecting to see his cold body staring up at the dawn stars through the big hole in our tent.

But, Neil's cot was empty. I dashed outside to look for him. I searched in bigger and bigger circles, and finally, just as the sky was brightening over distant Isla San Luis, I spotted Neil's silhouette down on the beach. He was ankle deep in the sand, struggling toward the water, with something dragging behind him.

I rushed down to the beach, not knowing what to think, and when I got close, I saw what Neil was doing. All by himself and with a kidney stone tormenting his body, he was trying to drag his ten-horse outboard motor to his boat and go fishing.

Well...we did go fishing that day, and as I recall, Neil released about 114 fish of about 17 species, including a real nice barred pargo.

The first point of this story is that Neil Kelly was a man possessed and driven to fish in Baja.

And the second point is that, despite all his desire, and despite the fact that he only fished in 12 and 13-foot aluminum boats, Neil never had a boating accident in Baja, and in fact, he never even came close.

During hundreds and hundreds of days of fishing in frail tin boats, while fishing all over Baja California and Baja California Sur, Mexico, Neil never launched his boat if his inner mind told him the weather might turn dangerous. In all that time, he was surprised by wind and driven off the water only once, and that day he beached his boat in a small cove about two miles south of camp and calmly stood there, filleting his catch, as he waited for someone (me) to drive down and pick him up. No sweat.

Last month, yet another person was killed in Baja, apparently after launching into unfavorable conditions, and then failing to take refuge, even as those conditions were turning deadly.

As reported by Abraham Vazquez, this tragedy happened to a kayaker at Bahia de los Angeles who was killed by hypothermia and drowning in strong westerly winds while trying to cross to the southwest shore of the bay from Don Juan Cove. This is the same stretch of water where several people died in a panga accident two years ago, again while trying to punch back to shore through strong westerly winds.

And recently, a panguero was lost at San Quintin when his boat overturned as he was fishing near shore in high surf conditions.

And last year, another kayaker and two other people in an aluminum boat were killed in separate Midriff Area accidents, again in windy conditions.

When desire is strong, it is psychologically difficult to refrain from launching, even into bad conditions. When fear is strong, it is perhaps even more difficult to simply drift, or beach, or anchor your boat in any sheltered water available, and wait out a blow, even if it means you may be incredibly miserable, cold, and hungry for a night.

But taking an important lesson from ol' Neil, if you want to live, you must be prepared to do those things when necessary, no matter how much you want to fish, and no matter how strong the urge to run home through impossible weather.

(Related Baja California, Mexico, articles and reports may be found at's main Baja California information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Baja California area in "Mexico Fishing News.")