By Gene Kira, Oct. 16, 2001, as published in Western Outdoors Magazine:
One of the best things about my last trip to Baja Sur was getting in a beautiful morning of panga fishing at the Inner Gordo Bank off San Jose del Cabo, Baja California Sur, Mexico.
But the "best" part of the morning didn't have anything to do with fish. It came at the end, when I finally got to experience something I've been wanting to try for about as long as I can remember: panga sledding.
It had been a very good morning of fishing, too. No mistaking that. I was out with Eric Brictson's Gordo Banks Pangas charter service launching over the sand at San Jose del Cabo's La Playita beach, and we had scored on five species of fish during a couple of hours of soaking live sardinas over the high spot. This bajo is actually quite small, a few hundred yards across, and it rises to about 100 feet deep at a point six miles straight off San Jose del Cabo's famous Punta Gorda.
If you've ever fished the old sunken wreck at San Felipe, the feeling is similar, with a bunch of pangas clustered together about the same distance off shore, mountains rising on the horizon, and the larger buildings on the coastline still clearly visible. It's peaceful fishing, floating there, dropping bait, and waiting for something good to happen.
The difference is that here at the Gordo Banks you're not just catching mere corvina and croakers. Here, you'd better have some decent tackle in your mittens, because the Gordo Banks is one of Baja's most reliable fishin' holes for dorado, yellowfin tuna and billfish, including giant blue and black marlin that I'm sure will someday be caught at over 1,000 pounds (the current panga record at Gordo Banks Pangas' La Playita launching beach is a 993-pound black, caught by local guide Marcelo Gonzales).
Since the Inner Gordo is only 10 miles from La Playita, we'd arrived in a matter of minutes and pinned our dinky three-inch sardinas on 50-pound mono leader, not exactly "finesse" fishing. I started my wrist watch timer, and in exactly 12 minutes we had our first fish, a 40-pound yellowfin tuna. Exactly four minutes later, we had a nice huachinango, then a skipjack, then a dorado and some other kind of jack, and finally a big boil of mixed tuna and dorado that erupted all around us when we dumped our bait to go home.
My panguero guide, Marcelo Castillo Aripes, considered this a relatively "slow" day, since we didn't score on at least a couple of tuna over 50 pounds, but as an old San Felipe guy, I was in hog heaven.
Then, came the good part.
As we approached the beach of La Playita, I noticed, with a slight chill in my spine, that a tremendous surf had built up during the morning, caused by a tropical storm that was passing a couple of hundred miles off to the south, completely over the horizon, but strong enough to send swells far, far across the sea. This was not just shoulder-high surf, but the kind that looks like a waterfall, with big sheets of sand pulling up inside it, and giant puffs of trapped air exploding out of the soup when the water comes slamming down. Nasty surf. Eight-foot nasty surf.
I looked back at Marcelo questioningly. What the hell were we going to do? I had a plane to catch in three hours. I made "swimming" motions with my arms. Marcelo said "no" by shaking his head. I pointed at the anchor. Nope, no anchor.
Then, Marcelo pointed at the long row of pangas lined up high and dry on the beach (all the smart people were already ashore), and at a narrow gap in that line of boats. It was where our panga had been parked early that morning. I knew immediately what he was going to do.
Marcelo, I must add here, had impressed me as a very good panguero, but not a great one, you know, the kind that legends are made of. He was experienced and quite competent, but somehow I wasn't sure that I wanted to shoot eight-foot surf with him, especially with my brand new Nikon digital camera in the boat.
I had seen pangas shoot big surf plenty of times over the years, and I'd always yearned to do it myself, but I'd imagined starting off with, say, three-foot or four-foot surf, not this.
Nevertheless, Marcelo lined us up just outside the breakers and waited for his chance. I rolled my camera up in a waterproof bag and snapped it around my arm--just in case--as I thought about the worst landing I'd ever seen. It was at East Cape many years ago when a woman was thrown forward in the panga and landed on her face in the bow. She was a real mess. That was only five-foot surf. Another time, at Punta Arena de la Ventana, I saw a guy thrown so far out of a panga one night that he landed on completely dry sand and they had to go look for him in the dark.
Marcelo opened the throttle wide and we accelerated behind an especially big wave. I moved as far back as I could and clamped my legs around a seat. Faster and faster, headed right for the gap in the beached pangas. We passed the point of no return. Throttle wide open. I lowered my head down on my arms and braced for impact. Okay, I admit it. I think I closed my eyes.
Then...nothing. Our panga floated up through the soup with laser-perfect timing, made a completely smooth transition to damp sand, and slid another two boat-lengths, dead center, right into our parking spot. No kidding. I could have been drinking a glass of chablis and I wouldn't have spilled a drop. I turned around to congratulate Marcelo, but he was already out of the boat and chatting with some other pangueros.
Okay, now I've finally done it. And next time I fish at San Jose del Cabo--as long as Marcelo is doing the driving--I swear, I'm gonna do it standing up with no hands.
(Related San Jose del Cabo (Los Cabos) articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main San Jose del Cabo (Los Cabos) information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the San Jose del Cabo (Los Cabos) area in "Mexico Fishing News.")