Puerto Vallarta, Mexico



July 31-Aug. 2, 2006, Merle Erickson, Yellowfin tuna taped at 315 pounds aboard the Puerto Vallarta charter boat Marla II:

I flew into Puerto Vallarta on July 30, 2006, from Chicago and stayed at Paradise Village in Nuevo Vallarta for this trip.

I contacted Capt. Danny Osuna of Marla's Sportfishing upon my arrival in Puerto Vallarta and we met that evening to discuss the next three days of fishing. I fished with Danny for two days in June when the big marlin came through Puerto Vallarta, but we didn’t catch a fish although we had two hookups, one on a black marlin estimated at 650 pounds. I was impressed with Danny and his mate Albino on that trip, and have heard great things about him over the last few years of fishing in Puerto Vallarta, so I had high hopes coming into this trip.

Danny said that fishing had been tough prior to my arrival due in large part to bad weather and the presence of massive amounts of red crabs at Roca Corbeteña and El Banco (red crab in Spanish is apparently "p_nche jaiba," as Danny and Albino kept saying that a lot and pointing at the red crabs in the water). The big fish were around, but they were plugged with red crabs and not taking caballitos or the live skipjack that are the typical baits for big tuna in the summertime. On several of my prior trips to Puerto Vallarta, a couple of good lively skipjacks almost guaranteed a bite from a big tuna, but not this year.

Danny did say that a few tuna had been caught recently, and those that were eating the live skipjack were 300 pounds and above. Danny’s brother Scott Osuna got a 320 pound yellowfin tuna two days prior to my arrival, and I told Danny, one of those would make the trip. Danny showed me the photo of Scott’s big tuna and I said that kind of fish would definitely make the trip. Danny said we probably would not get many tuna bites, but if we did, the fish would likely be in the 300 pound class. Danny and I discussed logistics, and agreed to depart at 5 a.m. the following morning, July 31, 2006.

July 31, 2006:

When I boarded the Marla II on Monday morning, July 31st, Danny said that we’d fish Roca Corbeteña today. We bought 40 caballitos from the bait fisherman and made our way to Roca Corbeteña, arriving there shortly after 7 a.m.

The mate on the Marla II is Albino. Making live skipjack for bait was no problem the entire trip, and we did so quickly.

At about 9 a.m., we had a take down, but the fish didn’t run off and we were not sure if it was a strike or not. We retrieved the live skipjack and, upon inspection, it was clear the bait had been swallowed by a marlin and then spit out. Danny said the marlin sometimes take the skippies and sulk without running off, and this fish had likely done just that so it was not apparent that the bait had been taken. The bottom line is that I missed a good bite.

About an hour later, the left rigger bait started freaking out. Danny starts screaming from the bridge that there is a marlin behind the live skippy. I turn and look and see a massive dorsal fin out of the water right behind the skippy. The skippy is freaking out and jumps out of the water twice. The big black marlin swam around the skippy a couple times, but didn’t eat it. On the second pass, both the dorsal fin and the tail are sticking up in the air and it is clear that this is a huge marlin. Danny and Albino were both going crazy at the sight of this big fish in our baits just behind the boat in the morning sun at Corbeteña. For a fish to get these guys excited, it’s got to be something truly large. The big marlin sunk out and that was the last we saw of her.

We kept trolling with 3 live skipjacks, and within about 10 minutes the left rigger bait starts to freak out again, and Danny yells that there is a boil behind the bait. I run to the rod and get ready for a take down, but the marlin swims by the bait 3 or 4 times without getting the skipjack, which is absolutely freaking out trying to get away.

Finally, there is a big flash of blue and green where the skippy was and the line pops out of the rigger clip and the clicker on my Penn International 50SW sings.

I grabbed the rod from the holder, pointed it at the fish as Danny had instructed me to do, and counted to five before putting it in gear. We were fishing circle hooks exclusively, Eagle Claw 9/0, black, and I brought the line tight and the circle hook stuck.

Within a few seconds of the line coming tight, a black marlin exploded behind the boat and made two spectacular leaps. On the second jump, it came totally out of the water a good 5 feet, in full profile, and turned its head slightly toward us, the shiny black back and the gold body reflected in the morning sun. I’ve never caught a black marlin, and have not seen one in person jump clear of the water like this. I can tell you I will never forget the image of that marlin hanging in mid air in the morning sun with Corbeteña in the foreground.

Albino and Danny were screaming "Black Marlin! Black Marlin!" and scrambling to clear the other lines. The fish hit the water and took off on a blistering 200 yard run. I watched the P-line Spectrex melt from the reel in awe. After the run, the fish went deep, and Danny started to back down on the it. He speaks English fluently, and he told me exactly what he was going to do with the boat and what I needed to do. Danny communicates extraordinarily well with his anglers, and this not only makes the angler’s life easier, but it also makes for a more enjoyable experience and removes some of the anxiety that can arise in pressure situations on a big fish.

We fight the fish for about two minutes, and the hook suddenly pulls. I retrieve the line, and there is no cut leader, the hook simply pulled. I feel bad that I farmed the fish and ask Danny about the size of the black. He says probably a little north of 600, but he can’t be sure. On the jump behind the boat, he said he could tell the fish was fat, but he was not sure how fat.

We tried chunking for a while at Roca Corbeteña, and also flew the kite fishing caballitos underneath it. We didn’t catch anything other than 3 big rainbow runners for our efforts. Danny and Albino worked their butts off chunking, flying the kite, catching fresh skippies, trying everything to get me a shot at a quality tuna or marlin.

About seven other boats were fishing near us, and I think only one or two marlin were caught by all those boats, with many boats getting skunked for the day.

At about 4 p.m., Manny on the Pacifico calls Danny and says he’s found a small school of 100 to 150 pound class tuna working bait just a mile north of Corbeteña. We run over there and pitch some caballitos into the melee along with three other boats.

Albino hooks up right away and I reel in a 50 pound class yellowfin tuna. We follow this school of tuna for about 15 minutes and land two football tuna to go with the 50 pounder. We give up on this school of fish and go back to Corbeteña to troll for bigger fish. We don’t get another strike and call it a day, arriving back at the Puerto Vallarta marina at about 7 p.m.

Danny fishes a long full day on the Marla II and does not watch the clock. On the ride to the Puerto Vallarta marina, we discuss the day’s fishing, and I said I thought we’d had a great day. We hooked a big black, saw another bigger black marlin on our baits, and missed a second marlin bite earlier in the day. I explained to Danny that I historically farm more than my share of fish and tell him I’ll try not to miss the next trophy fish that he raises behind the Marla II. He laughs and tells me not to worry. I remark that life is pretty good if my biggest problem on a Monday is that I farmed a 500-plus pound black marlin. He nods in agreement.

August 1, 2000; Roca Corbeteña and El Banco:

We left Puerto Vallarta at 5 a.m. and start out at Corbeteña. We are the first boat to arrive at the Rock as the day breaks and we quickly caught a batch of live skippies filling the tuna tubes on the Marla II and making enough for a full spread.

As we slowly troll north of the Rock, Danny spots a log floating in the water. We work our way toward the log and I point out a big kelp paddy floating near the log. Danny trolls toward the kelp and as we get closer, we see that there is a line of kelp paddies off of Corbeteña. Very fishy looking situation, and we are the first boat on the scene.

As we pull by the large kelp paddy, the skippy on the right rigger gets knocked out of the rigger clip but the fish drops the bait.

The left rigger bait starts to get nervous and Danny shouts "Huge Dorado" as the dorado boils on the skippy on the left rigger. The hook doesn’t stick, and Albino pitches a caballito behind the boat and hands me the Shimano 25 TLD 2-speed so I can try to bait the dorado. Danny retrieves the skippy closer to the boat as I drop back the caballito.

I get bit, let the fish run, put the reel in gear and get the hook up. A big bull dorado jumps behind the boat in the morning sun and Danny and Albino both shout that this is a big dorado. We fight the fish for about 20 minutes and Danny instructs me not to use too much drag because we are fishing light leader. We get the fish boat side and Albino gaffs the big bull and drags it into the boat. Biggest dorado I’ve caught or seen. I ask Danny how big the fish is, and he says he thinks 70 to 75 pounds. Albino picks up the bull and says he thinks it is 60 pounds or a little more. We measure the fish and it is about 69 inches from head to the tip of the tail. When I hold it up, it is just a few inches shorter than I am. Nice fish.

We pull the skippies around Roca Corbeteña for another hour, but there are bits of kelp everywhere and the kelp catches on the hooks and leader, and Danny decides that conditions might be better at El Banco, so off we go.

We arrive at El Banco about 10 a.m., and easily make fresh bait. There are several large schools of skippies working the bank, light wind, active birds and only two other boats fishing. Danny says he likes the look of things.

We troll baits around for a few hours and at about 2 p.m. we get a huge tuna boil behind the short flat line. Danny saw the fish coming for the skipjack and says the tuna’s back and sickle fins came out of the water on the attempted strike. He calls it a "huge tuna" and we can’t figure out why it missed the skipjack on such a violent and aggressive strike attempt.

We don’t have much action for the next few hours. Around 6 p.m., we see some tuna boiling and Danny decides to shut off the engines and drift while we chum some of our dead skipjack mixed with live caballitos. We see several huge tuna boils within 50 yards of the boat, but we don’t get bit. We call it a day and head for the barn.

Josh Temple of the boat Prime Time released two marlin today at Corbeteña. At El Banco, we watched the Princessa Azul catch a 400-plus black marlin, and kill it, and we also saw the WildCat, a 32 foot Topaz, hook up with a tuna within a few hundred yards of us. The anglers on the WildCat were in radio contact with Danny and land the estimated 225 pound tuna around 3 p.m. These anglers were from Ventura, California and also got 3 quality dorado for their efforts at Corbeteña earlier in the day. I met some of them at the end of the trip, and they were great guys who obviously knew how to fish. Rod Washburn was the angler on the 225 pound tuna. About half of the boats at El Banco today got a marlin, and WildCat got the only tuna at either Corbeteña or El Banco out of about 15 Puerto Vallarta boats fishing. Some other boats picked up good sized dorado and I also heard of a few good sized wahoo taken at Corbeteña.

August 2, 2006:

As I climbed off the Marla II on Tuesday, Danny said he wanted to be at El Banco before dawn and that he wanted to leave at 2 a.m.

Danny said that he knew the big tuna are there, and thinks they might bite in the dark of the night. I said that the early departure was okay with me, so there I stood at 2 a.m. on August 2 as Danny and crew pulled up to the dock at Paradise Village.

Danny brought his friend Carlos along to help out and share driving duties in the dark. We bought 100 caballitos this morning, 50 for us and 50 for the WildCat, and we make it to El Banco around 5:30 a.m.

I caught some rack time on the run out, so I didn’t feel too bad when I woke up. The crew looked pretty beat.

We started drifting over the pinnacles at El Banco with our live caballitos and it was not long before we had several hook ups. We landed six horse-eyed jacks in the 15 to 20 pound class and then caught 3 football tuna. Lots of action, but not the 200 pound class tuna Danny thought we might find on the chew in the dark.

Danny was fishing a live skipjack that Albino caught on the iron when he got picked up. Danny hooked the fish, and handed the rod to me. This fish was clearly not a football tuna, and made a good account of itself. After about 10 minutes, we saw the fish in the boat’s lights and realized we had a big pargo. Albino gaffed the fish and pulled it over the transom. The crew put the dogtooth snapper at 60-plus pounds and it is my biggest pargo to date. Awesome fish. The Pisces Fleet office in Cabo has one about the same size mounted, so if it’s a trophy fish in that place, it’s a more than a quality fish for a mediocre crappie fisherman from the Midwest.

At this point, the sun is starting to rise, and we decide to start trolling the live skipjack.

The WildCat arrives at El Banco and comes over to get the cabbies we picked up for them this morning at Puerto Vallarta. Danny and the crew are hurting, so the guys on the WildCat pass over three coffees in bottled water bottles for each of the guys and we wish each other luck in the day’s fishing.

We troll our live skippies around El Banco all morning without a knockdown. Conditions are perfect, with a light wind, blue water, tons of bait everywhere, and birds working.

Danny can’t understand why we are not getting bit. The other 6 boats at the bank are periodically getting bit. The WildCat got a hookup around noon and drifts off as they fight the black marlin they’ve hooked. Several other boats also catch marlin. As the day wears on, we experience that frustration that comes when boats fishing near you are getting bit, but you are not. The WildCat radios Danny that they’ve just released a 750 pound black marlin. Wow! Those guys were the hot boat during my trip.

Danny comes down and checks the bait, and then we try to make new bait and change the live skippies with new fresh bait. We are doing everything right. The live baits are swimming beautifully behind the boat and periodically get nervous. We are all confident that we’ve had big fish window shopping under our baits, based on the way the baits act, but we are not getting any of them to strike. Danny shrugs his shoulders at the whole thing and I tell him that I know he has done everything possible to get me a shot at a quality fish, and that sometimes you do things right, but don’t get bit. That’s just the way it goes.

Around 3:30 p.m., we see some bullet tuna jumping. There are a few porpoises swimming with and around the bait ball that we are approaching. Danny has been trying to catch one of these this afternoon, but with no luck. He tells me that the big tuna love these baits. He comes down off the bridge to work the hoochies himself. I grab one of the bait rods with another hoochie on it and he tells me to put it back in the rack and to be ready in case we get a take down.

I turn and put the bait rod in the rack, and just as I do, the right rigger goes off and the clicker on the Penn International starts to sing. I ran to the rod, pulled it from the holder and pointed the rod at the fish as the line peeled from the reel. I counted slowly to five, and put it in gear and started reeling.

I didn’t even get a crank before the line came tight and the fish started pulling drag. This time the circle hook found its mark and the fish didn’t like the sting. The first run was a good 350 to 400 yards and the P-line Spectrex melted from the reel quickly. I got on my Smitty spyder harness and plate, and settled in for the fight.

Danny was on the deck getting me settled in with the harness, and talked me through the first few minutes of the fight. We backed down on the fish to get back the line we’d lost and got to the 100 pound P-line mono topshot in about 10 minutes. When we saw the topshot connection, Danny said "Get the knot through all the guides at once if you can." I waited for the right opportunity and got the knot on the reel as Danny had asked, and the fight continued. Danny didn’t say anything about the fish, whether it was a tuna or marlin, whether it was a big fish or a 100 pound tuna. But the way he was acting made it clear to me that he felt this was a quality fish. I finally asked if it was a marlin and he said, "No, it’s a tuna." He said he saw the boil on the strike and left it at that.

Danny went up to the bridge and sent Albino down to work the deck. Nothing was said about the size of the fish, but it was clear that the crew felt I was hooked up to a quality fish.

It was the typical situation at El Banco in the late afternoon, bright unobstructed sunshine, light wind, high humidity and scorching hot on the back of a boat.

The tuna was punishing me and the 25 pounds of strike drag that Danny had preset on the reel was hurting me more than I thought it would. Some 48 hours later my legs are still sore from pulling on that tuna.

We slowly made progress and Danny circled the fish trying to plane it up. After about 45 minutes, Albino yelled that he saw color. I looked down in the water and could see that this was a quality tuna.

As we continued to circle, the fish surged to the surface about 25 feet from the rail and we got our first good look at the tuna and her big sickle fins.

Albino turned to Danny and yelled "Tres ciento, tres ciento."

I knew I was on a good fish and was concentrating hard so as not to make a mistake. We’d been fishing hard for three days to get a shot at this fish, and now we had color. The fish took off and pulled 40 yards of line off the reel and I wondered if it would be another hour until we got color again. I was pretty sure I didn’t have another hour in me. I heard Danny talking to the guys on the WildCat on the radio. He quietly said, "We got a huge $#!% tuna!"

Danny calmly looked down at me a few minutes later and said I could increase the drag if I felt comfortable, and I said okay. I pushed the lever past strike a little ways and this allowed me to pull a little harder on the fish and make progress.

Another 15 minutes or so, and Albino got a hold of the 200 pound P-line fluorocarbon leader for the first time. The fish surged away again, and three minutes later, Albino got the leader again.

Danny jumped off the bridge and was down alongside Albino on the rail and stuck the gaff in the fish. Carlos stuck a second gaff in the fish and there was a lot of shouting.

I could hardly stand up and was totally exhausted. The guys pulled the tuna around to the transom and tried to pull it into the boat. I put the rod down and joined the other three guys and helped them drag the big tuna into the boat. We eased it down onto the deck and everyone started high fiving and shouting.

Of course, the question now was how big was this fish. These guys catch big tuna day after day and year after year, and have a pretty good idea of what a fish weighs based on that experience. I asked Danny and he said, "Around 300." I asked Albino and he said he thought it was 330. I’ve only caught a few big tuna in my life, and have only seen one big one weighed, a 298 pound tuna that Josh Temple got last year. My fish looked just a notch bigger than the 298 Josh weighed last August.

We take a few minutes to get pictures, and Danny does a great job getting good photos of the fish, and takes great care in doing so. He wants me to balance the fish by myself in the photos, but it is just too heavy for me to control and balance and I’m exhausted to boot.

Albino helps me hold the fish for the photos, although he almost gets knocked overboard by the weight of the fish. These photos are the trophies from the trip, and the fact that Danny takes an extra few minutes to get really good photos for his clients is a huge bonus.

The guys on the WildCat brought over the tape measure that Danny lent them to tape their tuna yesterday. We do the measurement and the math and Danny says it is 315.5 pounds.

The tail was extremely fat. The base of the tail was thicker than my leg at the knee. Very fat and thick fish throughout. The head was huge and the photo does not do that part of the fish justice.

The tape numbers were 79 inches long by 56.5 inches of girth. I watched them do it, and they were careful to get it right and pull the tape tight.

I keep looking at the fish in disbelief and think, "It can’t really be over 300 pounds." I just simply cannot accept the fact that I’ve actually gotten a tuna that large. We hold the fish up for the guys on the WildCat and they take several photos. They shout encouragement and congratulations to us. They all have become big fans of Danny and know how hard he worked to get me a chance at this fish. They have a lot of admiration for the guy and they don’t try to hide it.

Albino and Carlos start to clear the deck. I’m soaked from head to toe with sweat and drink a Gatorade and 2 bottles of water in the space of about 3 minutes. I grab a Corona and hand one to Danny as we head for the Puerto Vallarta marina.

On the run back to Puerto Vallarta, Danny tells me that he was concerned that we were not going to get a big tuna or marlin and I said, as I had for most of the day, that we’d had good shots at big fish for two days, and the same was true in June. He can’t do any more than that. He put me in a position to catch the fish of a lifetime on several occasions. If I farm the fish, then that is my fault and not his.

I had more shots at trophy fish in the five days I fished at Puerto Vallarta with Danny this year than I have in 10 years prior with a number of other good captains. And we got the one fish that I really wanted and came for.

For our three fishing days, we got 6 horse-eyed jacks, 3 big rainbow runners, 6 small tuna, a 60-plus pound pargo, a trophy dorado in the 60 to 70 pound class, and a giant 300-plus pound yellowfin tuna.

I get personal bests on pargo, dorado, and tuna on this trip. Danny and Albino worked their butts off for me. I’ve NEVER fished with anyone that worked as hard as those guys did. The only one who is close is Peace Marvel in Venice, Louisiana. I also have never fished with anyone who I believe is more skilled and knowledgeable than Danny. On top of the hard work, skill, and the fact that we got the once-in-a-lifetime tuna, Danny is a very nice guy. I now see why he has built and is building such a loyal following. I know that in future years, it is going to be even harder to book a trip with Danny because he will be in such demand. But I’m going to try. Obviously, I recommend him highly. No matter what, I will always remember the afternoon of August 2, 2006. Thanks to Danny and Albino. You can reach them at www.marlasportfishing.com.

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