Enjoy The Wonders of Being Out On The Water

Charter Boat Fishing in Cabo

BY CAM RENAUD

If you haven’t been deep sea-fishing in Cabo you have yet to experience one of the most exhilarating and memorable events of your vacation and quite possibly your lifetime. I’ve fished Cabo for the past 15 years and can say without a doubt it just never gets old and never will because it's different every time. Like a 5-year-old kid on Christmas eve I wake up every hour the night before fishing, look at the clock and try to get back to sleep while my mind races thinking about what I’ve forgotten, even though I have a standard list and everything is ready to go.

The first thing you’ll need is a boat and a captain. You’ll see a lot of advertising, but I suggest heading to the marina at Cabo San Lucas or Puerto Los Cabos (in Playita just east of San Jose) around 1 p.m. to see which boats are bringing in fish and what they’re catching. As you look at the boats and fish also chat with the guests coming off of them about their experience.

Normally charters run from dawn until you start heading back in around noon; you can book full days but the wind typically comes up in the afternoon and most boats head in to avoid the rougher water.

There is a wide variety of boats to charter, from a 20ft panga (an open boat that may or may not have an operational shade canvas and the toilet is a 5 gallon pail) up to large 50+ ft cruisers with beer fridges, bathrooms and an air conditioned cabin. More than 2 guests in a small panga is crowded; for 3 guests a “super panga” (averaging 26 ft) is good as it’ll handle rougher water and be more stable. For 4 or more guests you’re looking at cruisers, pricier, but certainly more comfortable.

If you’ve never been ocean fishing you’ll soon learn if you have “sea legs.” Even when the sea surface is calm there is “swell” the natural tide-driven roll of the sea. Wind adds waves and chop to the swell and a panga will feel it a lot more than a larger boat.

Being sea sick is said to be a fate worse than death. If you get sea sick and your companions don’t, you may suffer for the duration of a 6-hour trip. The good news is as soon as you step back on the dock you’ll be fine, really.

Prices for boats vary from as low as $150 USD for a small panga to more than $1000 USD for the big cruisers. That’s just for the boat, a captain/deck hand(s) and fishing gear; bait is usually extra, and you’ll need cash for tips and a fishing licence (purchased at the dock in the morning). Bring lots of pesos as the extras can easily tally to 25 percent more, especially if you caught loads of fish and the crew was really busy. They’re not paid much, so they’ll work hard for that tip.

Charters require a cash deposit when you book the trip. Get the captain or booking boss to give you his business card with the amount of your deposit written on the back and take a picture of the boat and captain so you know what and who to look for in the pre-dawn morning. You have to find your charter the next morning when the docks are busy with crew loading gear and guests onto boats in the race to get out. Be on time, early if you need to buy a licence, and if you don’t see your charter ask or show the card to one of the other locals, they’ll point you in the right direction.

Although gear is included, you’ll see some gringos (like me) bringing their own. Sometimes with the small pangas the gear may be older, not recently serviced, and therefore not in the best shape. Before I had my own gear, I lost some nice fish because the reels malfunctioned and locked up or the line was old, stretched out and chafed and broke off. The big cruisers usually have newer and more expensive gear in top shape simply because they can afford it, the small operators not so much.

Now down to actual fishing. The fish you see at the marina depends on the time of year, the water temperature, and available bait. The warmer the water the better, as many species migrate to take advantage of schooling baitfish like sardine or chehuella (pronounced chee willy) – small baitfish that form large schools in the open ocean and can be caught on a small handline.

Another baitfish, Cabalito, are netted in the marinas and can be purchased in the mornings. Cabalito are good for slow trolling as anything will hit them. If sardines are available you purchase them on your way out of the marina. We always go out with at least 3 kilos (7 lbs or more) of slab squid (calamari) to chum with and set out a drift line for anything hungry. On our final trip last year a 9ft Hammerhead took my drift bait. After a half hour I reeled it up to the boat and cut the leader only a foot from his mouth to release it. No one wanted to get their hand any closer to his mouth … go figure. You can never have too much bait if there’s fish to catch and you never want to run out when the fish are biting.

Because the surface fish migrate (tuna, dorado, wahoo and marlin) they aren’t always around. In cooler water- winter months or early spring -you may have to resort to bottom fishing for snapper, grouper, amber jacks or yellowtails (not yellow fins). It’s lots of fun and steady action providing great eating fish. I say this to manage your expectations and don’t expect a bunch of yellowfin tuna in mid-February, they just aren’t around.

Lastly, like any 6-hour desert adventure, be prepared. Long sleeve cotton shirts and wide brim hats are sun protection basics and sunscreen is essential for direct and water-reflected rays. Bring a cooler with lots of cold water, Gatorade, snacks and sandwiches (we always share with the panga captain). As serious fishermen we postpone the alcohol consumption. Getting pasted on your fishing trip shows poor judgement as accidents can happen quickly on a boat and medical assistance isn’t close. Also, an empty cooler at the end of the trip is good for taking home your catch. Oh, one last thing, never bring a banana fishing or you may get tossed in the water along with the chum. It’s bad luck.

Good luck catching, stay safe, have fun, and remember to take pictures to share the entire event – including the whales, rays, turtles, dolphins, and even the unwelcome sea lions (lobos) who try to steal hooked fish. 

It’s always a good time, so just do it.