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Mothership Mess at San Felipe


Photo of San Felipe panga mothership, Erik.

The panga mothership, Erik, based in San Felipe, Baja Cailifornia, Mexico.


By Gene Kira, July 15, 2002, as published in Western Outdoor News:

If you have a spot reserved to fish on the San Felipe panga mothership Erik this season, you should call Gustavo Velez of Baja Sportfishing, Inc. immediately at 800-770-2341 to make sure you haven't been caught in a bad situation.

In recent weeks, several anglers have attempted to confirm their fully-paid trips on the Erik, only to find there was no record of their names or payments.

Last week, unbeknownst to the crew, two anglers without reservations actually showed up at San Felipe, boarded the Erik, and went to the Midriff Islands. Their presence was discovered only after the boat was underway. They were allowed to fish for the week, even though Velez says he never received their payments and never knew they were coming.

Velez says he knowingly allowed another group of 12 persons to fish, although he never received their money. At least 22 more people may have paid money that never reached him, Velez said, due to an accounting disagreement with his former booking agents, Gordon Byrne and Ernie Penaloza, doing business as a separate company, "Baja Sport Fishing Tours." Velez said emphatically that he cannot honor any more reservations made through Baja Sport Fishing Tours that he has not been paid for.

Velez said that he's retained an attorney and intends to start legal action to recover money he feels may be owned to him.

Gordon Bryne of Baja Sport Fishing Tours said he dropped out of day-to-day management of the business in December due to health problems, and his partner, Ernie Penaloza is now responsible for operations. According to both Bryne and Penaloza, they have "not one penny" of Velez' money, and have paid all funds due to him.

Penaloza said that as of the second week of September, he and Byrne, as Baja Sport Fishing Tours, will become the exclusive booking agent for the Capt. Villegas, the other steel-hulled San Felipe mothership. For several years, the Capt. Villegas has been booked by Jigstop Tours, whose owner, Larry Burson, died last year.

Burson's daughter, Cathy Burson Ward, who is now running Jigstop Tours, said she was unaware of any exclusive arrangement with Baja Sport Fishing Tours, and was due to meet with boat owner Hector Villegas next week. "People are still calling and sending me money," she said. "The last I heard, Hector was still looking at it."

Penaloza said he has bank records of his payments to Velez, and as far as he's concerned, the disagreement can be settled in court. He said he is doing his best to take care of people caught in the mixup. "I've called as many people as I could," he said. "If you paid us and can show us a bank statement or contract, then we will try to put you on the Capt. Villegas. If you paid Gustavo, then you should contact him."

Penaloza's number at Baja Sport Fishing Tours is 800-526-3009.

This whole situation hurts sport fishing, it hurts much-needed tourism, and it hurts the people of Baja. I am thinking especially of the many Mexican families that depend for their weekly livelihood on these boats and their American clients.

There is nothing worse for the Baja sport fishing industry than the lack of credibility and confidence that a mess like this creates.

I would hope that the parties involved--Gustavo, Gordon, and Ernie--sit down, compare accounts, and settle their differences as quickly as possible, before real damage is done to the reputation of the great and wonderful San Felipe mothership tradition.

Meanwhile, if you have a reservation for the Erik this season, you'd be well advised to confirm it right away with Gustavo Velez, 800-770-2341, before you load your tackle boxes and head south to San Felipe.

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