Three months in, and we aren’t tired of fish yet! We have surprised ourselves with our trolling and speardiving success, and eat the freshest fish almost every day. Fishing from a cruising sailboat is different than most recreational or subsistence fishing, and we’ve been learning as we go. From free diving for ceviche to the catch and release of a 300 pound marlin, here I’ll tell our best fishing tales and break down how we fish on the boat.
Flashback to Fall of 2014, and due to my two years living in Hawaii and some modest experience big game fishing with an expert friend in Kona on the Big Island, I’m elected the one in charge of getting our fishing gear together. After listening to my stories of hooking up multiple 5 foot hawaiian mahi mahi at the same time and catching a 103 pound ahi tuna, Kristian shows me his scant supplies. A few handlines and random old lures indicate not much line fishing has ever happened on Aldebaran. Hawaiian slings have been the main source of spearing California reef fish.
I explain to him that we need at least $500-$1000 worth of trolling gear and he gulps. The Green Coconut Run boat repairs are already way over budget and this extra expense seems like a luxury. It will pay off in protein I say. Tropical waters are full of large pelagic fish we can catch and I’m willing to put in a couple hundred dollars. Coop member Matt Dobberteen, a fellow fishing enthusiast, comes to the rescue with the rest and after scouring Craigslist, local stores, and online, I’ve put together everything we need.
We have two medium class 30-50 lb trolling set-ups, three casting rods, dozens of lures of all types, line, hooks, gaffs, and a net. My last minute request for a fighting belt gets passed over in our final Westmarine order in San Diego and it takes a bit of convincing to assure the Captain it is a necessity, not a luxury. Ryan and I both also purchase spear guns to add to the hawaiian slings already on board.
Fish On The Boat!
Our first fish comes on the second day of the trip, as we pass an underwater seamount near Santa Barbara Island. The trolling rod zings and I pull in a five pound bonito – enough tuna to feed the entire crew.
I’m a bit rusty on the fish filleting, but the bonito is pretty easy to cut up. We discover an important thing about our designated fish cleaning station atop the aft cabin. We must always ask Kristian and Sabrina to close their windows so fish guts and sea water don’t spoil their sheets….
Trolling in the Channel Islands is somewhat frustrating with all the kelp, as there are many false alarms. The first couple weeks we mostly catch bonito, and they seem to get larger as we head into Mexican waters where we catch a 20 pounder off of Ensenada.
As the adrenaline of our largest catch wears off, we savor the freshest sashimi, thinking how this one fish will feed all five of us for several days. The fighting belt comes in very handy – it makes pulling in a large fish much easier by shifting the strain of the end of the pole to the legs while avoiding certain bruising.
Diving For Fish
The wilds of Baja prove to be plentiful grounds for spear fishing as well. The kelp forests and sea life are very similar to California, but larger and more plentiful fish are found. On my very first shot ever with my new speargun I manage to hit a nice opal eye and a couple weeks later end up getting a 12 pound sheephead off remote San Benito island. Ryan is a more experienced diver and has great success with his new spear gun. We catch fish every single time we go spear diving.
In sparsely populated Baja, we are primarily passing through pristine ocean wilderness areas, and most of the other human contact we have are with fishermen. They often stop to show off their catch or just chat it up for a while. When we go on shore we sometimes pass simple fishing villages. We have mutual respect for each other fellow seafarers.
Just south of Magdalena Bay, three quarters down the length of Baja, we are dodging lobster traps and our trolling rod zings. The line feels so heavy it seems like we’ve wrapped up in a trap and I curse and ask Sabrina to put it into reverse. Pulling, pulling, pulling and I feel some life on the other end and we catch our first non bonito on the trolling lines, a gorgeous 15 pound yellowtail.
That night we pull into wild and mesmerizing Punta Tosca and celebrate with a Japanese feast including the fresh yellowtail, also known as hamachi, a favorite at sushi restaurants.
The fish was caught with a simple wooden cedar plug, whose action must drive fish crazy as so far it has been our most prolific producer.
Finally In The Tropics
Rounding the tip of Baja, we are suddenly in tropical waters and all the sea life changes. Clearer water, colorful fish, and 75 degree seas greet us as we meet up with Eric and Brian, two very enthusiastic spearfishermen, who proceed to show us how it is done. The familiar fish of California are now replaced by a myriad of different reef fish and we continually have to consult the fish book to see what we’ve caught. No matter the fish, almost all of them are delicious and as fresh as can get!
In these tropical waters we start catching lots of small tuna in the 3-4 pound range, known as skip jack. They have a darker flesh and stronger taste, so often aren’t considered the prime tunas. However we find they are excellent grilled with BBQ sauce and the captain shows off his Brazilian heritage by putting them in an amazing coconut stew. The name “Sea Beef” sticks as we catch many of these small tunas, including four in one day that included an 11 and a 9 pounder. Good thing we had Brian with us, with an appetite for three normal people! Eric also brings down my mother’s luggage scale, which is the perfect implement for weighing fish. We have a grand time playing the guessing game each time we catch a memorable fish.
Fishing has been a fun surprise for most of the crew. Everyone leaps with excitement and adrenaline when hearing the reel zing. The wonder of pulling in the line and seeing what kind of jackpot we’ve won each catch is addicting. Feeding ourselves from the sea is a magnificent way to experience the fathomless and beautiful ocean and we give thanks to the fish that feed our adventure.
To Be Continued.…. Part 2 finds us in the tropical waters of Mainland Mexico where we encounter the 300 lb marlin, our first ahi tuna, and abundant dorado of Mainland Mexico.