WHAT ARE THE TRUE SIZES OF YELLOWTAIL AND CABRILLA IN
THE SEA OF CORTEZ MIDRIFF AREA TODAY?
By Gene Kira, November 24, 2003, as published in Western Outdoor News:
Almost by accident, this year's season-long, panga mothership yellowtail/cabrilla fishing tournament out of San Felipe, Baja California, Mexico, has performed an invaluable service for Baja anglers, because it gives us the first well-documented, credible snapshot of what you really catch when you fish in today's Midriff.
This tournament covered upwards of 100 San Felipe panga mothership departures, and say, 9,000 angler-days of hard panga fishing, throughout the Midriff Islands and shorelines, using both live bait and lures, jigging, trolling, chunking, flylining, casting, and every other possible method of sport fishing, guided by skilled mothership captains and experienced pangueros. Fish weights were taken accurately at the dock in San Felipe. I don't think you could get a better picture of what sizes of yellowtail and cabrilla are really caught in the Midriff, and the results are thought-provoking:
The largest fifteen yellowtail caught during these roughly nine-thousand angler-days weighed, in pounds: 43.50, 39.13, 36.60, 34.03, 34.01, 33.40, 33.00, 32.05, 32.00, 31.00, 31.00, 30.00, 29.80, 29.14, and 29.00.
The largest twelve cabrilla (leopard grouper) weighed: 22.50, 18.50, 18.00, 16.20, 16.00, 15.80, 15.00, 15.00, 14.00, 14.00, 14.00, and 11.80.
The average yellowtail among this year's biggest fish weighed 33.18 pounds. The average leopard grouper on the list weighed 15.9 pounds.
These are respectable enough fish, but frankly I'm surprised that three sub-30-pound yellowtail and a sub-12-pound leopard grouper made it onto the list, especially when you consider that these numbers represent the equivalent of one guy fishing the choicest parts of the Midriff Islands every single day for about 25 years. Fishing this much, all over the Midriff--and mostly with live bait in the case of these mothership pangas--I should think that you'd certainly be justified in expecting more than one yellowtail over 40 pounds and more than one leopard grouper over 20 pounds, in all that time, but alas, that was not the case, at least not this season.
Admittedly, 2003 has not been a banner year for many areas of Baja, and the Midriff was no exception. But the truth is that these tournament results were not entirely unexpected. As mainstream, resident "fillet" species such as yellowtail and cabrilla become increasingly depleted by Mexico's commercial fleets, sooner or later we can expect a general paradigm shift in who goes fishing and for what purpose.
Eventually, the 150-quart ice chest crowd must certainly become discouraged, and it will be replaced by anglers who fish not mainly for meat, but for the aesthetics and challenge, the closeness to nature, the hunt for new species, and the enjoyment of catching many different types of fish, rather than always the same old standbys.
San Felipe's venerable four-ship fleet is not alone in its contemplation of changing mores foisted upon us by changing conditions; there are sportfishing operations in every area of Baja that still keynote "full ice chests" in the forefront of their promotions.
Baja sport fishing has, since it's earliest beginnings, been based on the hardcore fishing tradition that is by neccesity being gradually surplanted in this modern era of conservation ethics, catch-and-release, and anglers who chose to keep less than their legal limits.
But old traditions--especially when whole industries are wrapped around them--cannot adapt themselves easily to changing times and conditions; attempts at alternative marketing have usually proven unsuccessful. How much longer can the old traditions prevail, as the most popular resident "fillet fish"--hammered by uncontrolled commercial fishing--become steadily smaller and fewer?
For San Felipe's panga mothership fleet, and for many other fleets of all types, all around Baja, this year's Midriff tournament results may be a foreshadowing of changes that have been coming over the horizon for many years.
(Related San Felipe articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com'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.")