NORTHERN SEA OF CORTEZ SPEARFISHING TRIP
May 12-15, 2005, Eric Friedrichsen, Gonzaga Bay, San Felipe, Baja California, Mexico Spearfishing and Diving Report:
I had been planning a trip for the slack tide period this month to get south and do a little spearfishing. First of all I would like to thank my crew, the highly-skilled Brandon Wahlers and soon-to-be-famous Ryan Moore. These guys threw in on this trip at the very last possible moment and made it all happen. I learned more about hunting Leopard Grouper on this trip from Brandon than I already knew. Ryan is pretty amazing in his own right as every time he shoots a new species for him it seems to be a trophy.
The trip south was pretty uneventful. We picked up one of those famous Baja Arrowheads in the tread of a trailer tire. We discovered this as we pulled up to Cowpatty in the northern suburbs of Puertecitos. Luckily for us we were referred to the local tire shop via VHF by Panama Jay while we downed our Cowpatty dogs and beers. The tire shop guy was pretty borracho when we got there, so I had to help him break down and remount the tire, but I will say that he patched it all by himself. I fumbled in my pre-launch checklist and somehow forgot the bilge plug. This became evident immediately by the fire hose gusher the bilge pump was generating from the starboard corner. I looked back to the ramp to re-load the boat on the trailer, but Brandon in all his efficiency already had the rig nearly parked. As I removed my cell phone and digital camera from my pockets the bilge pump actually caught up, and the flow paused momentarily. Panic gone, I dove in and installed the bilge plug. When I picked up Brandon and Ryan at the launch ramp they commented on how hot I must have been as it seemed that I just couldn't wait to take a swim.
We headed south, and it was pretty late, so we only had time for one stop. I put us on a spot that I found on a little 2-day shore dive getaway back in February where I had seen some nice Golden Grouper. Brandon was in the water hunting Leopards and strung some beauties at this first stop.
I was checking the caves trying to make the re-acquaintance of an old friend. I did not run into him this time, but we did see some really cool Pargo Lunarejo and Pargo Amarillo. I took one of the Amarillos for dinner. Ryan shot his first Pargo Coconaco (Barred Pargo) which at that moment in time was the world record Barred Pargo. It was his first trip to Baja, so he didn't really know any better. Brandon and I suggested that he might just want to slow down a bit on shooting up the world records, or he would soon run out of reasons to keep coming back to Baja. We continued south to our destination for the evening and arrived after dark. It is fortunate that I have navigated these waters before, because the GPS is off by up to a half mile in this part of the world. Navigating at night here is not for the timid.
We arrived at the beach in front of our hotel around 8:30 p.m. We probably looked something like a Navy Seal team coming out of the darkness onto the beach in our camo wetsuits. Dinner hour had passed at Alfonsina's, and the kitchen was closed. To make matters worse, our reservation had been given away, because I had called earlier in the day to confirm that we would be in about 7:00 p.m. and not to give our room away. Apparently, they took me a bit too literally. We stood bravely at the bar in our wetsuits facing our fate as I sipped a tequila and the boys had a cerveza. After the traditional sufficient BS-ing with Antonio the proprietor about how's the family, etc., he remembered that there was some machaca in the fridge. A few tequilas and cervezas later and he also found a room to put us in for the night. We enjoyed our machaca burritos as the fleeting moment of victory passed, and we were informed that we would have no room for Saturday night.
The first night with the boat riding the anchor out front is always tenuous for me, so I was up early to check the boat. The boys were apparently catching up on their beauty sleep, so I went for a run and prepped the boat for the day's voyage. Just after they came down to the boat Ryan saw some Humboldt Squid
I grabbed the pole spear off the deck and dashed down the beach, ran into the water and thunked one in the head. Wow, we had chum! Ryan followed up by spearing another, and we threw them in the bait tank and headed south across the polished mirror surface of the wonderful Sea of Cortez. On the way to our first stop for the day Brandon informed me that his goal for the trip was to break the Leopard Grouper world record and set a Barred Pargo world record. I was a little bit dismayed, because that was also my goal, but I had been keeping it a secret up to this time. We discussed what size Barred Pargo would be worthy and agreed that since there was no record, Ryan's 12-pounder would be more than sufficient, backed up by Brandon's verification that it was the biggest he had seen. At our first spot, I ran into the biggest Leopard I have ever seen on the bottom at 47 feet. He had to have been at least 30 lbs. I was using a Riffe torpedo float on the end of my 50-foot Riffe float line, and I had unknowingly hooked the float line under a rock as I cruised to my holding position on the bottom. I tried to slowly raise the Riffe MT3S with enclosed track and breakaway ice-pick tip that I had borrowed from Richard Lacey, but the gun came to an early and abrupt stop. Dammit! Here I was having a pleasant little parlour chat with the world record Leopard Grouper, and I could not raise the gun to put a cap in his butt! I reached back and tried to pull the float line, but it was caught fast. I tried to back away slowly to get some slack and BOOM!, he was outta there. Aggravated and dismayed, I swam back to the boat, and we moved to our next stop.
Ryan had apparently not retained his lesson from the previous evening, because there he stood with his first Gulf Grouper of 45 lbs!
As if that wasn't enough he soon followed it up with a 37-? lb Yellowtail, also his first!
Brandon took a little wind out of Ryan's sails with a pair of Barred Pargo, one of which set a new potential world record mark at 14 lbs.
I shot another stupid Pargo Amarillo and a smallish Leopard. I felt like Charlie Brown - "all I got was a rock".
We moved on to our third and last stop for the day where we all slayed with abandon. Both Brandon and Ryan got nice Golden Grouper.
Brandon also got a nice pair of Gulfies.
I switched to my Rob Allen double-band 80 rail gun and started using Brandon's approach of making really long bottom holds and using cover and waiting, waiting, waiting? I finally got the little gun down and stoned every fish I shot there. Thank you Mike Damms for helping me through that difficult learning curve. I had a nice mixed bag of Barred Pargo, Leopard Grouper, Yellowtail, Yellow Snapper, and Triggerfish.
We used up the whole day and arrived back at the hotel nearly at dark again. This time we didn't miss dinner, and we were told that we would have a room for Saturday night.
Our second morning we started out heading north and then decided to try south again. At our first spot Ryan shot a nice Bumphead Parrotfish.
We decided to continue way south, but our luck soon gave out when the Yamaha outboard stuttered, surged, then stuttered again. I thought we might have hit an unseen rock and shut down immediately to check for damage. After seeing no visible damage, I decided that it might be a fuel problem and went through the filters one by one then tried to restart. No go. Brandon used his Spanish-speaking skills to call in an 80-foot Mexican shrimper that ran 14 miles north to pick us up and then towed us an additional 15 miles north. The crew was very kind and accommodating. We gave them some cold beers and a big bag of Hamachi sashimi, and Brandon also threw about a 20-lb Leopard Grouper on their deck. They asked for nothing more and wished us luck as they dropped us off. Brandon and Ryan could not be roused from their afternoon siesta, so I put on the long fins and swam the boat in the last 100 yards myself. When I got to the beach and was sitting there in the water taking my fins off some guy walked up and started talking to me about bad luck. I was starting to get a bit aggravated until I turned and saw that it was Dale of Gone To Baja Adventures. Dale said that he was down there filming a documentary about the hunt for the world record Leopard Grouper. Spearfishing legend Julie Riffe was there with him. Dammit! How many people were trying to get MY damned world record fish?!? I gratuitously invited them to tag along the next day with us so they could see us get it! Dale offered up his very competent mechanic Nati who tore down about half the motor and found a loose connection at the fuel pump harness.
The next morning found Dale's boat high and dry on the beach, so I repaid the karma and pulled the film crew's boat off the beach, but not before wrapping the tow rope in the prop. After untangling the mess we were on our way for our last day on the water in the magical Cortez. Feeling a little overconfident I ran through a narrow passage on the way north and whacked the skeg and prop on a rock that was just a few inches too shallow. Luckily Brandon had vice-grips in his bag, and we were able to straighten the prop enough to get all the vibration out. We made an unscheduled stop on a pinnacle where Ryan and I each shot nearly identical 15-lb Azure Parrotfish, breaking the current IUSA world record by two pounds!
Brandon and I also shot Sierra there, and I got a double in one shot along with more Leopard Grouper and Barred Pargo.
We made one more stop back at my Golden Grouper spot where Brandon took down what should stand for a long time as the IUSA world record Barred Pargo at 20.12 lbs!
Oh well, we did not get that elusive 26-lb-plus Leopard Grouper to break the world record, and I have yet to shoot a Golden Grouper. That just gives us an excuse to go back again!
(See "Mexico Fishing News" online for current fishing reports, photos, weather, and water temperatures from San Felipe and other major Mexican sportfishing areas. Vacation travel articles, fishing maps and seasonal calendars, and fishing related information for San Felipe may be found at Mexfish.com's main San Felipe page.