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East Cape, Mexico



Oct. 19, 2006, Henry Howard, Buena Vista, East Cape, Baja California Sur, Mexico:

As an avid fan of the Baja Corner page of Western Outdoor News, I have always been surprised by the lack of attention given Chuy's Catch-and-Release Fishing Tournament at Buena Vista Beach Resort, held at East Cape every October.

This seems to hold true for most of the Baja websites I see, too; it's the one tournament usually not even listed in the upcoming events section of many of the fishing sites. Perhaps this is because it is "only" catch-and-release, without a big money prize attached, but it is a highly enjoyable, laid-back event with the worthy goal of no kills, and with much of the proceeds going to local charities.

I fished in this contest in 1999, 2000, and just last weekend, October 6-9, 2006. So I was surprised not to have seen it included by Axel Valdez in last week's Buena Vista Beach Resort fish count.

Anyway, it was a helluva lot of fun. I was bracing myself for a weekend of virtually no fish, as was everyone else, because the marlin seemed to have flat-out vanished after Hurricane John, and the week before the tourney, the highly reliable tuna and dorado took off south of the border as well. Plus, by a reasoning process known only to Esaul Valdez, this year's tournament was held on the full moon, when the marlin tend to gorge themselves in the bright light all night long and often come up on the surface just to play games with anglers and drive them crazy.

Was I ever in for a surprise!

My father, Alfred Howard, and I fished the Buena Vista Beach Resort charter boat Eclipse '91, as we have ever since 1994, with Captain Jesus Araiza and ayudante Mauricio Cota. These guys are the best I have ever fished with; Jesus himself belongs in the category of living legends, but more than that, he was the one who really turned my head around regarding gaffing these magnificent fish and turned me into a now-lifelong catch and release fisherman.

On Saturday and Sunday both, we fished near Cerralvo Island, a long boat ride from Buena Vista. We were using the usual jigs on the trolling rods and caballito in the bait tank. My dad does not fish anymore, he comes along to take pictures, sort of, and throw cold towels around my neck when I get into a tough fight. I mention this for a reason, to be explained shortly.

We had the first striper on, a nice fish around 130 pounds, a little after 9 a.m. A 20-minute aerial fight ensued, leaving me breathless from screaming at every jump.

Not even half-an-hour later, we had a screaming knockdown on the 60-pound boat rod from a striped marlin that jumped quickly, far out, then dove and seemed determined to break a one-way speed record to the other side of the Sea of Cortez. After around 25 minutes of sweaty hauling, this stubborn deep fighter surfaced 5 feet off the stern, in a fantastic full, low jump, with his dorsal fully raised and every part of him glowing lavender and cobalt in the sunlight. All of us yelled in amazement, and after another jump alongside, Mauricio duly billed him and pulled him part-way into the boat for a good look at him. What a beauty! Jesus later estimated him at around, or slightly over, 200 pounds, maybe 210, which would have to be a beautiful striper in any ocean, particularly in Baja, where the average, I think, is around 90 to 110 pounds. So for me, that was the striper of a lifetime. It was not, however, the end of the madness.

Fishing between then and quitting time at 3 p.m., we were literally attacked by striped marlin, despite the full moon, El Nino, and whatever else had been causing them to play hard-to-get. These were all super-tough, conditioned athletes between 120 to 150 pounds, the last two of which took over half-an-hour each to land. Marlin number 5 took around 40 to 45 minutes, a never-say-die combatant that had me shaking my head and laughing in disbelief.

You read that right. By the end of the day, I had caught and perfectly released 5 striped marlin in a single outing! I have caught many double-headers with Jesus, and in the 2000 tournament, achieved the somewhat outlandish catch of 3 blues before lunch, all released, the biggest a personal best at about 350 pounds.

But a "quintuple-header" was a little more than I had even fantasized. Moreover, recall that I said my dad does not fish any more. Several stripers came at us in simultaneous pairs, and he kept pulling the jigs away and shooing them off! If he had fished, too, we would have had 7 marlin instead of "only" 5! It was ridiculous!

At the end of the first day of the tournament, I had 2,000 points, and next morning, I put the nail in the coffin of the competition with a 130-pound striper released on a trolled caballito, gutted and beautifully rigged by Mauricio as a split-bait. That was the only fish we saw the entire rest of the day (actually, a second striper came up almost immediately after the first release, but played games with us and spit the bait before really taking it. It was a pretty sight, though, to see his dorsal come in close, weaving like a big old hound-dog chasing a rabbit).

There were only 3 marlin caught all day, so mine put us over the top completely and nailed down first place in the Buena Vista Beach Resort tournament.

One thing that struck me as unusual was how aggressive these fish were. On two occasions, they either missed the bait or came unbuttoned after the initial hookup, but they really wanted to eat and came roaring back for the same baits. Moreover, on the light 40-pound bait outfit, these stripers behaved as if they were auditioning for Cirque du Soleil. With the exception of the big one and marlin number 6, both of which hit on the heavier trolling gear, I don't think I got less than 20 jumps from 4 out of the 6 fish--and I mean "jumps" like nothing I've ever seen! Several times they shot 10 feet straight up and somersaulted over in midair, only to do it all over again as soon as they hit the water.

I had been hoping for a rematch with the big blue marlin on this trip, probably the last for my dad and me together, but the striped marlin are so tough and spectacular, and so unbelievably beautiful with their glorious rays and electric-blue fins and tails, they lose nothing against the bigger blues. They are hardly a "consolation" prize.

I've never had so much fun in my life. All we did, all day Saturday, was chase and fight marlin. Who the hell can beat that?

This was my third straight Chuy's tournament win at Buena Vista Beach Resort. With 2 successful title defenses and 2 free trips for 2, all expenses paid, for 4 days and 3 nights with 1 day's charter fishing on the deluxe cruiser of my choice, I have elected to donate this year's prize to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. I want some child, who is battling a life-threatening illness, to experience the same thrill I have been treated to so many times, and maybe take away a few memories to give him or her renewed hope and spirit to keep fighting. I will try and persuade Make-A-Wish to pick up the tab for a second day of fishing, just to give their recipient the best possible shot, and I will try to book them on the Eclipse!

It was a small tournament field this year, only 12 teams competing, but there was the usual wonderful camaraderie. A handful of tuna and a pair of nice dorado rounded out a fairly quiet event fishing-wise, but everyone wished each other the best, and the full moon rising pink over the Sea of Cortez wove its own magic.

The humidity that weekend was "awful" though. Afternoon thundershowers treated us to rare displays right over the hotel instead of staying over the mountains. The wind did a weird shift for both days, from west to east. Combined with the over-saturation of the air, I got the feeling that some tropical system was trying to get itself organized to the south, but never quite made it, thank goodness.

Chuy, Esaul, Axel, Hortencia, Captain Jesus and mate Mauricio remain some of the nicest people I've ever had the pleasure of a few days with. Jesus, Mauricio and my dad and I have a special relationship after many trips together. We are just four friends who love the game and work as a well-oiled and unbeatable team together. Whether we catch fish or not, that kind of friendship is special. Those two guys are my brothers.

This was the 10th anniversary of the contest, which made it special. I won in 1999, and 2000 before. This was the marlin trip of a lifetime, with that kind of crazy action as solo angler, but I still have a rematch with the big blues to get under my belt before I hang it up for a while!

There are only two fishing days in this tournament, October 7th and 8th. The winning dorado in the jackpot was a nice 42-pounder, with a 36-pounder nailing down second-best. The winning yellowfin tuna, I'm pretty sure, was 53 pounds.:

(See "Mexico Fishing News" online for current fishing reports, photos, weather, and water temperatures from East Cape and other major Mexican sportfishing areas. Vacation travel articles, fishing maps and seasonal calendars, and fishing related information for East Cape may be found at Mexfish.com's main East Cape page.