Feeding ourselves from the sea: Big tropical fish of Mainland Mexico… Part 2

The cove at Isla Isabel, a Mexican National Park. Fishermen have permits to fish here, "grandfathered" due to years of fishing. They come from San Blas on the mainland coast.

The cove at Isla Isabel, a Mexican National Park. Fishermen have permits to fish here, “grandfathered” due to years of fishing. They come from San Blas on the mainland coast.

Catching dinner has surprised us with some of the most cherished memories of our adventure.  Cooking from scratch for 4-6 hungry crew means that we are all eating better than any other times of our lives. Luckily we have plenty of fresh fish, and time to make homemade yoghurt, oven baked bread, kim chi, and ahem…. brownies!  

The vast coast of Mainland Mexico provided the fish stories for Part 2; you can read about Baja fishing in Part 1.

Sabby was reeling in a skipjack tuna but he got away. Many sailors use heavy duty hand lines to catch their meals, but rod and reels with lighter duty line gives the fish a better fighting chance... we think it's better sport!

Sabby was reeling in a skipjack tuna but it got away. Many sailors use heavy duty hand lines to catch their meals, but rod and reels with lighter duty line gives the fish a better fighting chance.

The incomparable Isla Isabel... Aldebaran is anchored in the far right side of the frame.

The incomparable Isla Isabel… Aldebaran is anchored in the far right side of the frame.

One of the most special places we’ve visited was Isla Isabel, known as the Galapagos of Mexico.  This small volcanic island has a Jurassic vibe with rivers of birds continually flying above.  A national park protects large populations of nesting frigate birds and blue footed boobies, and abundant iguanas and other colorful lizards skitter about.  Underwater is a thriving ecosystem, with schooling fish galore and large predatory jacks patrolling the depths.  In this abundant zone we speared an incredible pelagic predator: Pacific crevalle jacks, 16 pounds of darting fish to handle. (Check out the rest of our visit to the gorgeous Isla Isabel in our post.)

Still dreaming of large tropical fish like yellowfin tuna and dorado, we talked to local fishermen in Mazatlan and discovered they likely wouldn’t show up until later in the summer.  They also mentioned that as we headed south we’d have a better chance of finding these warm water species.  They explained that Cabo Corrientes, south of Puerto Vallarta, is kind of like the Point Conception of Mexico, a geographical dividing point; upon passing it tropical game fish might be found.

ryan yellowfin tuna

This is one of the most prized fish for the dinner table: yellow fin tuna. This is the “ahi” sushi that you are familiar with at Japanese restaurants.

As we rounded Cabo Corrientes the water temps shot up into the 80s and that night dozens of 4 inch squid jumped onto our boat.  We collected them all, 40 in total and saved them for bait.  I awoke the next morning before dawn to shouts.  Ryan had woken at first light, baited a rod with our squid, and caught a gorgeous 20 pound yellowfin ahi tuna before sunrise, our first one! 

Sushi roll smorgasbord at Chamela Bay with the yellowfin tuna.

Sushi roll smorgasbord at Chamela Bay with the yellowfin tuna.

Leaving Chamela Bay we had a two night sail in front of us, and the second day, 20 miles offshore, I spotted some birds on a floating log.  A couple dozen turtles also lounged, and knowing that flotsam like this creates its own eco-system, I jumped in.  An underwater wonderland with 100+ foot visibility greeted us and for hours we dove what came to be affectionately known as “The Magic Log”. 

Schools of thousands of tropical fish swirled around, dozens of turtles visited cleaning stations, where scores of fish cleaned them, and small sharks patrolled below.  Hundreds of small dorado and skipjack tuna flitted in and out of the scene.  We couldn’t pull ourselves away until finally, sunburnt and cameras “full”, we departed from the wonderland of the magic log.

One of the turtles that clued us into

One of the turtles that clued us into “The Magic Log”

Our biggest fish story happens just south of Zihuatenejo at Rocas de Potosi, a chain of guano encrusted rocks which look like a herd of white elephants heading out to sea.  After a successful speardive, we sailed south at sunset when we heard yet again the cedar plug zinging.  The line pulled heavy and low and as I tightened the drag something kept pulling line off the reel with strong, regular pulls. 

Marlin struggle, as seen from the mast. We had a tough time removing the hook safely from this large a fish.

Marlin struggle, as seen from the mast. We had a tough time removing the hook safely from this large a fish.

The reel was getting hot with all the friction when finally I was able to make some headway, pulling line in and then 100 yards behind the boat we saw a full size marlin surface.  We all stared at each other in amazement and worked as a team to keep the marlin on the port side of the boat so we could tire out the muscles on one side, making it easier to bring him near.

300 pounds of marlin is a gorgeous sight I'll never forget

300 pounds of marlin is a gorgeous sight I’ll never forget

This is a prize fish that always deserves to be caught and released. We tried to remove the hook and release him.  I brought him to the boat twice over a half hour, each time we leaned over to try to get the hook out and release him he suddenly tugged away, stripping line with steady, rhythmic pulls.  Finally Kristian had a go and brought him to the boat a third time. 

tail view

Tail view of the marlin! We brought him to the port side of the boat each time because his muscles tire on one side of his body… but then he regains his energy with incredible speed.

As we tried to free him he broke the line and swam off into the depths.  He must have been hooked near a sensitive spot, the only reason we could have brought him to the boat so many times with 30 pound test line.  Marlin stun prey with a hit of their bills, so perhaps he wacked the cedar plug and by happenstance struck the tender flesh near his eye.  He was huge, and the hook was probably just like a splinter to him, released soon by the sea. It was a dignified ending to a cedar plug that had brought us so many memorable fish dinners.

The crew post battle... we felt privileged to have an encounter with such a magnificent fish, a true king of the ocean.

The crew post battle… we felt privileged to have an encounter with such a magnificent fish, a true king of the ocean.

We spent our last month in Oaxaca, and finally came across dorado (AKA mahi mahi).  These highly prized sportsfish gleam gold and green, leap acrobatically in the air and have a sweet white flesh which our fishing book proclaims “Food Value: None Better.” 

Colorful dorado jump acrobatically as you bring them in.  They are even more delightful in the pan

Colorful dorado jump acrobatically as you bring them in. They are even more delightful in the pan

The Mexican ones have been smaller than the 4 foot, 25 pounders I’d often catch in Hawaii and a local fisherman explained that in the winter they catch large ones, which he thinks come to mate off the coast.  Every February they start catching little ones, which just get larger and larger as the year goes on.  Dorado amazingly can grow to 20 pounds in one year and reach sexual maturity after 6 months.  They are highly fecund and are thus a very sustainable (not to mention great tasting) fish to target.

While we love to surf, dive, fish, and explore, the Green Coconut Run is also sailing to spread awareness of the importance of Marine Reserves and sustainable fishing.  In order to avoid the collapse of fish stocks, scientists suggest the use of marine reserves to provide habitat for mature fish to grow and reproduce plentifully. By ensuring fish can reproduce, it allows future generations to also enjoy seafood and sustains fishing livelihoods.

Check out our blog on a man who is crowd funding a new marine protected area in Mexico.  We will continue to highlight success stories like this throughout our voyage.

Angelica's first fish caught ever was our first barracuda - very tasty on the BBQ

We met Angelica in Mazunte, in the state of Oaxaca. This was her first time fishing… what a great first catch! 4ft+ barracuda – very tasty on the BBQ

3 thoughts on “Feeding ourselves from the sea: Big tropical fish of Mainland Mexico… Part 2

  1. Pingback: Feeding ourselves from the sea: Un mas pescado, Baja California… Part 1 | Sailing Green Coconut Run

  2. Hi….Go to my Facebook page: “Thoth Al Khem” and look at the squid boat that crashed into my docks and destroyed the docks north of the small travel lift pier and through my sailboat around. It is documented in photos and my old company cleaned up the destroyed docks and we will have to build new ones….I aint goin to mexico anytime soon as my sailboat got hauled out yesterday for repairs. Also, the small travel lift concrete pier had 6 pilings cracked and the whole pier moved south 6 inches.
    Love you guys
    Mark

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