CHASING THE ELUSIVE COW TUNA ABOARD THE CHARTER SPORTFISHING BOAT LORENA
Nov. 1, 2006, Dan Yates, fishing aboard the charter boat Lorena, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico:
This account might be helpful to a first time fishing visitor to Puerto Vallarta in search of that big cow tuna.
As we learned, fishing for the big tuna can be a “grande or nada," “big or nothing” choice.
We had some “big” on day 2. We had some “nothing” on day 3. By day 5, we had to make a decision about how to proceed on our last day of fishing at Puerto Vallarta. We were happy with our decision and the outcome, but it might help the next guy to think about these options before heading south for that big tuna fishing trip.
My son Daniel and I fished October 22-26, 2006, out of Puerto Vallarta on the charter boat Lorena, chartered through PV Marlin Sportfishing.
Our captain was Felipe Magaña and our deckhand was his son Felipe II. We fished 5 days. Days 1, 2, and 5 were 12-hour days. Days 3 and 4 were 10-hour days. Our top target for this trip was cow yellowfin tuna.
Puerto Vallarta water temperatures were 86 to 88 degrees. We had rain on day 5, but no precipitation the other 4 days. Sea conditions were calm on days 1, 2 and 5. Tropical Storm Paul, though a hundred miles away, caused moderate to heavy swells and tough fishing conditions for us on days 3 and 4.
Puerto Vallarta Fishing Day 1:
We fished 12 hours at Roca Corbeteña. We were prepared to go to El Banco, but the big tuna were around Roca Corbeteña. Great news for us! One hour closer to the fishing! We met at the marina at 0530 and by 0600 we were headed out to Corbeteña. We arrived at Corbeteña a little after 0800 and quickly started pulling in bonitas. Within 30 minutes we had 4 lines loaded with bonitas, one on a downrigger and 3 on the surface. We had 2 more fresh bonitas in tubes. Felipe II also tossed out 2 other lines with caballitos.
After about an hour of trolling, one of the bonitas was pounded. I saw the splash about 100 yards behind the boat and the captain sounded the marlin alert. Felipe II set the hook and handed me the pole. I headed for the fighting chair ready to take on my first marlin. But something wasn’t right. The 2 Felipe’s were yelling at me to stand up and put the fighting belt on. I insisted that I wanted to fight the fish from the chair. I have 2 bum hips and I feared that my leg strength and balance would not last in a battle with a big fish. While I was fumbling with the fighting belt, in and out of the chair, the marlin made 3 fast runs at the boat. With each run I reeled as fast as I could while Captain Felipe pushed the throttle hard forward. We managed to keep the line tight on the first 2 runs, but on the third run I couldn’t keep up with the slack and the marlin spit the hook.
I was thrilled to get an early first hookup, but I had a knot in my stomach wondering if I could manage a battle with a big fish from my feet. Upon further inspection I discovered that the fighting chair was broken. I figured I would find out if I could handle the fight from my feet.
We fished Corbeteña hard all morning without another hit. In early afternoon, the tuna were rolling on the surface everywhere, but they just didn’t want our carnadas. The 2 Felipe’s kept fresh bait on the lines, but the fish just weren’t eating.
There were around 20 boats at Corbeteña and some reports of 100-200 pound tuna being caught so our hopes were high.
Around noon, I climbed up and talked to the captain. He said they had caught a marlin and 4 dorado one day earlier. I asked him where they had caught the dorado. He said it was on the way back to the marina, about 7 miles from Corbeteña. He asked me if I wanted to go chase dorado. I said that I was “tranquilo” and that he would know better than I would what we should chase.
About that time, a report of another tuna hookup on another boat came over the radio. Captain Felipe said we should stay at least another hour since the tuna were rolling again and at least one was hungry. That sounded good to me. It takes 2 hours to get back to the marina from Corbeteña, so our 12 hour day would allow us to fish until about 1530. We kept offering the finest and freshest bonita to the tuna until about 1400, but they still weren’t eating.
Around 1400, Captain Felipe asked me if I wanted to chase the dorado. I said okay. That was an “okay” I regretted before the afternoon was over.
On the way back to the marina, we caught 2 dorado about 35 and 40 pounds. At least we didn’t get skunked on day 1!
I spoke in Spanish with Felipe II quite a bit each day. On our way back to the marina, Felipe II was severely lecturing me about leaving Corbeteña too early. I told him his father must have misunderstood me. I had no idea what the best strategy would be; that is why we hired them. He told me that shortly after we left, the tuna started hitting and I should have been more patient. I was a little puzzled about being “guilty” for that decision, but I made it very clear that I would have nothing to do with tomorrow’s schedule. I was paying these guys because they know what they’re doing, not me.
Puerto Vallarta Fishing Day 2:
We fished a 12 hour day at Roca Corbeteña. The 2 Felipe’s were on a mission today. We arrived at 0530 and within minutes, we were on our way out of the marina. Before 0730 we were at Corbeteña and had bonitas coming in left and right. Before 0800 there were 6 lines locked and loaded, 4 with bonita and 2 with caballitos. We also had 2 fresh bonita in the tubes.
Within 30 minutes a large marlin crushed the bonita furthest back from the boat. With a bit of dread, I put the fighting belt on and readied for the fight from my feet. But Captain Felipe was yelling at me to sit down! I looked at the chair, which had been broken yesterday, and discovered a perfect, new fighting chair. I was thrilled.
I quickly got comfortable in the chair and the fight was on. Other than the brief hookup yesterday, this was the first time I’d battled anything larger than a sailfish. Within 10 minutes, I knew this was a whole different battle from a sailfish.
Today’s marlin didn’t make any runs at the boat. Instead he ran away from the boat peeling line when he wanted and I took it back only when he let me. Felipe II had told me that the harness is a better way to fight big fish. He explained that my arms would get more tired in the chair. With the harness, I could use my legs and my back and rest my arms. I stayed with the chair, but he was definitely right about the arms.
The marlin did what he wanted and I had to keep constant pressure with both arms to keep the line tight. Gradually, as the fish tired, I worked him closer to the boat. It was a long, steady battle after the first 20 minutes. My left arm grew tired and I developed and then wore off a silver-dollar sized blister on my right hand along with a small blister on my right thumb. Fishing gloves might have been a good idea for my “Microsoft” hands. Slow and steady ruled the last half of the fight. I’m 49 and in pretty good condition, but at 5 foot 3 inches and 160 pounds, I didn’t have the muscle to bring the marlin in quickly. It seemed longer, but after nearly an hour the big blue marlin was at the surface next to the boat. I guess my slow approach took a toll, because he rolled onto his side in exhaustion.
Felipe II worked to revive my victim, but he couldn’t be revived. I had my first marlin, but he wouldn’t be released. The captain assured me that the meat would definitely be eaten and appreciated. We hauled the 575 pound blue marlin onboard and Felipe II quickly had all the lines out again.
Within an hour, a 40 pound dorado ate a caballito. Daniel quickly hauled in the dorado. A few hours after that, we had another marlin hit. Daniel took the pole and used the fighting harness. He is stronger than me and within 15 minutes he had his blue marlin to the boat. Unfortunately, this marlin was foul-hooked and also had to come into the boat. His blue marlin was 550 pounds. Daniel said he really liked the harness. He was able to use his legs and back and rest his arms as he wanted. What a day! We had 2 blue marlin and a dorado in the boat and it was just after noon.
Now if we could just find that cow tuna. The tuna were rolling on the surface occasionally throughout the day, but they just didn’t eat our bait. The tuna were here at Corbeteña because there was plenty of food, and since there was plenty of food, getting them to hit our bait was a tough assignment.
But the 2 Felipe’s stayed after them all day. We had passed the time limit for the return on this 12-hour day, but the tuna were still rolling and Captain Felipe was still on a mission. The last few minutes of fishing were wild!
Just before 1600, a dorado hit the downrigger and spit the hook as he jumped about 4 feet above the water. Almost simultaneously an aggressive sailfish surfaced and attacked 2 of the baits on top. The sailfish and dorado both disappeared below the surface and the trailing caballito was hit hard. We had the sailfish on! Or so we thought.
Daniel grabbed the pole and started reeling. The fish held steady, pulling back hard. Captain and son were arguing about what we had. The captain said it was the sailfish, but Felipe II said it was a tuna. The fish took the line straight down below the boat. Daniel hung on for dear life. He was struggling with the fish and trying to find a place to stand without stepping on marlin. Both Felipe’s now agreed that we had a tuna. Daniel asked for the harness. With the harness on, he quickly muscled the tuna from the depths. He would pull with everything he had 2-3 times, take a short break, and then pull full throttle again. After a short 10-15 minute and very physical battle, we had our first tuna, not the cow but a 150 pound “calf." Daniel said the 150 pound tuna was more work than his 550 pound marlin. It made us both wonder what that 300 pound cow would do to our arms! We discovered that the tuna was filled with squid. I guess that’s why they weren’t so hungry.
The Lorena rolled proudly into the marina a little behind schedule this day. We were flying 2 marlin flags, a tuna flag and a dorado flag. What a great day of fishing! The fish weights were estimated by the Captain Felipe at the marina when we hoisted the tuna and the smaller of the 2 marlin up for the photo. We didn't tape them.
Puerto Vallarta Fishing Day 3:
This day was for 10 hours at Roca Corbeteña. We were all a little sluggish, and probably overconfident, after our great second day of fishing. We didn’t head out of Puerto Vallarta marina until nearly 0630. We arrived at Roca Corbeteña at about 0830 and quickly had 6 lines out with 4 bonitas and 2 caballitos. The swells were moderately high in the morning.
Ominously, there was also a commercial fishing ship complete with a helicopter flying the entire area looking for their haul. Fortunately, within a few hours the commercial fishers had disappeared. Unfortunately, as they day wore on, the sea conditions worsened. Hurricane Paul was about 100 miles to the north causing no weather issues, but definitely stirring up the seas. By early afternoon, we all realized that the sea conditions weren’t going to cooperate. We hadn’t had anything hit all day. Captain Felipe suggested that we head back closer to shore where other boats were heading and reporting a good dorado bite. We all agreed and we headed back toward shore. We trolled all afternoon without any success. Captain Felipe asked if we wanted to extend this 10 hour day into a 12 hour day to keep looking for dorado. We decided to save remaining 12 hour day for a shot at the big tuna and headed back to the marina.
We had been skunked!
Puerto Vallarta Fishing Day 4:
This was for 10 hours at Roca Corbeteña. At the end of day 3, we told Captain Felipe and PV Marlin Sportfishing manager Danny Quinoñez that we wanted to move this day to Friday or Saturday. The sea conditions on day 3 were bad and getting worse due to the hurricane. We had planned this trip with 2 open days for this possibility. Both Captain Felipe and Danny said that the seas should be fine and that we should show up and get the forecast that morning, no need to move the day. We reluctantly agreed and showed up with great eagerness over the forecast. Danny met us first and stated that the sea conditions were calm. Captain Felipe confirmed this forecast.
We boarded and were headed out of the Puerto Vallarta marina by about 0600. Less than halfway out, it was obvious that the forecast was wrong.
Captain Felipe had to back off on the throttle because we were slamming the hull hard into the heavy seas. It normally took 2 hours to get to Roca Corbeteña. Today it took over 3 hours. The sea conditions were very rough. I asked Captain Felipe about the forecast and he reassured me that it was supposed to get calmer as the day wore on.
After an hour of struggling against the waves, we only had 2 bonitas. We finally put our lines in the water after 0930, just 2 lonely bonitas this time and 2 caballitos. We could only put 4 lines out. The downrigger wouldn’t hold and the other lines kept crossing due to the heavy seas. On the other days, I had counted 15-20 boats at Corbeteña. Today, there were only 3 of us.
Just before noon, we had to give up and head closer to shore. We salvaged the day by catching a sailfish and 2 dorado close to Punta Mita.
Daniel and I had a long discussion on the boat ride back to Puerto Vallarta marina. Fishing days 3 and 4 were bad. We had come for cow tuna and hadn’t achieved that goal. We were miffed that we didn’t get day 4 rescheduled. We both felt like we had squandered a day when we shouldn’t have been out.
We debated our options for the last day. We really wanted another shot at the cow tuna, but we didn’t want a repeat of days 3 and 4. Those two days weren’t fun. We even considered canceling our planned day 5 of fishing.
Very reluctantly, we decided that we would give up on the cow tuna. We wanted to end the trip on a positive note. We would spend our treasured last 12 hour day closer to shore chasing dorado. We’ll never know if it was the best decision, but fortunately, day 5 was a fun and relaxing day just as we had hoped.
Puerto Vallarta Fishing Day 5:
We met at the marina at 0600 instead of 0530 as we had on our days for Corbeteña. We could leave a little later since we were staying closer in to chase dorado.
On the ride out, I asked Daniel if he had any regrets about not chasing the cow tuna on our last day. The last 2 days were still fresh in his mind and he quickly replied “no!” He said a 9 dorado day would be perfect. I told him I was thinking an 8 dorado day would be great, but I’d take 9.
By about 0730 we had 7 lines out for dorado just past Punta Mita. Today was our only day with rain while on the boat. Around 0800 a downpour hit, followed immediately by a dorado hit. I reeled the 35 pound dorado in and got a “free shower” as Felipe II explained.
By 1400 we had caught 7 dorado and 2 sailfish. We still had 3 hours of fishing left plus the 1 hour ride back to the marina. We agreed that we would be happy with an early end to the day. We told Captain Felipe that we could head back after one more dorado or one more hour, whichever came first. Within 20 minutes, we had dorado number 8.
I said “great work, let’s go home!” But Felipe II had other ideas. He had spotted another dorado and he said “uno más!” Felipe II tossed a fresh caballito to the dorado, got the hit and the dorado spit the hook. Felipe II would not be deterred. He still wanted “uno más." The dorado hit the 2nd caballito with the same result. Felipe II fished out the last caballito and we all knew there would only be “uno más” cast. On the final cast, the dorado hit hard and leapt, but the light casting line broke and we missed the last shot.
Felipe II worked hard for number 9, but it was “only” an 8 dorado and 2 sailfish day. It was a relaxed ending to our 5 day trip and it put the fun back into the fishing experience for us.
(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.