By Gene Kira, January 6, 2003, as published in Western Outdoor News:
An atypical warm-water yellowtail bite popped up at Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, last week, and who knows, maybe it was an early sign that 2003 really will be an El Niño year.
Early one morning at Ensenada's Punta Banda, Vonny's Fleet guide Beto Zamora was driving his panga around the kelp between the point and Isla Todos Santos, looking for the usual bottom fish in 58-degree water, when he hit a warm patch that was later measured at between 62 and 64 degrees.
Beto--who has osprey-quality eyeballs that must have been polarized at birth--spotted something unusual in the water that looked like a rolling yellowtail. But...in the last week of December at Punta Banda?
Instinctively, Beto launched a lightweight aluminum Salas 6X at the apparition, and ¡Hola! he hooked up a real live jurel, and a pretty big one too. He quickly handed the fish off to his delighted clients and called the Vonny's Fleet office on his cell phone to let Ivan and Martha Villarino know what was going on.
As it turned out, they landed seven surface yellowtail that morning, from 18 to a hefty 28 pounds, all on iron, and all by sight casting at boils and fins, and the mini-miracle chew lasted four days before it finally petered out.
This Sunday morning, Vonny's Fleet was looking for more jureles but had not found any by about 10 a.m., and Ivan Villarino was ruminating about what a rare thing it is nowadays to see so many winter yellowtail on the surface at Punta Banda.
"It's kind of unusual," he said, "very unusual. We don't see them like that in five years. Oh, they were nice! I've been making my Mexican-style sashimi. With the chiles. Had to have some beer with it, you know?
"It's very unusual to see water that warm out there," Ivan added. "They say there's an El Niño coming. Maybe that's what's happening. I just hope it keeps going. But so far, we've never had the season open in January."
Whether or not this bite was part of an approaching El Niño, the warm water found last week was notable for Punta Banda, which normally has one of the strongest cold-water upwellings on the Baja coast. In summer, it's not unusual to see a full ten-degree temperature difference between, say, 67-degree water inside the bay, and 57 degrees at the point. Sometimes, this temperature break is so sharp and strong, it causes a local fog patch to form. One summer, as an experiment, I made a special drive all the way down to Cabo San Lucas, beach and panga fishing, and measuring near shore water temperatures on the north and south sides of such points as Punta Banda, Punta Eugenia, Punta San Hipolito, Punta Abreojos, and so forth. The biggest temperature drops were at Punta Colonet and Ensenada's Punta Banda.
Last week, Jim Harer of San Quintin's Old Mill Hotel also reported excellent yellowtail action in much warmer than normal water temperatures, up to a really balmy (for San Quintin in December, anyway) 68 degrees--so, could it be that this is the early edge of a developing trend?
Will this really be an El Niño year?
If it is, we can look for about 500 miles of northward displacement in fish migration patterns on the Pacific side, as warm currents bring a bonanza of "Baja-style" fishing north of Punta Eugenia and into Southern California waters. On the Cortez side, seasons will be somewhat confused and earlier than usual, and very warm water temperatures may accompany a "summer doldrums" flat spot during August and September.
We'll have to wait and see.
(Related Ensenada articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main Ensenada information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Ensenada area in "Mexico Fishing News.")