Fishing for Tacos

With a Carlos’ Baja Handline
BY: CAPTAIN CHARLIE

Times have changed in our beautiful Los Cabos since the spread of the Coronavirus here and around the world.

When I viewed the silent Bahia of Cabo San Lucas from the Costco parking lot the other day, its tranquility and inactivity reminded me of the view of the very port where I first dropped anchor in 1975.

As we work through this unexpected personal and economic setback, it is important we still have our sea, our climate and the kindness of our hard-working and resourceful community. New challenges call for new responses, new ideas and new activities as we navigate these unknown waters.

One idea I came up with before all of this began, is a fun experience that is hardly new but can provide inexpensive fun for you, your family and friends, and may help to put food on the table as local sources run low. Said simply: Let’s go fishing for Tacos with a Baja Handline.

Today, when you walk the streets of Cabo San Lucas, it is hard to imagine less than 50 years ago this town was a sleepy fishing village with no marina, a dockside commercial cannery and a single hotel on Medano Beach. The lure, if one can use the term, of visitors at that time was fishing from the open waters of the Pacific to the Sea of Cortez, and at the fish camps on the East Cape.

At the time, this off-the-grid retreat, in close in proximity to California, provided a great escape for Hollywood stars and wealthy adventurers hoping to hook a big blue marlin or spirited dorado.

Charles-Baja-Handline.jpg

Today, though sport fishing competes with world-class golf courses and fine dining as tourist attractions, it is still a major draw that brings anglers from around the world to test their luck and skill in the beautiful waters of Los Cabos. At first glance, a stroll on the marina would have you think your only option available to get a fish on the line is to charter one of those expensive multi-deck sportfishing yachts or the classic open panga. Given our current times and out of my budget and possibly yours, I am here to report the Baja Handline is an easier way to get your hook in the water at a much lower cost while having a lot more fun.

As you consider this inexpensive alternative method of fishing with a handline, the most important thing to remember is that “the fish doesn’t know” if the bait on your hook is at the end of a line that leads to a fancy rod on a mega yacht or panga, or if it leads to your fingertips as you shore cast your handline while standing excitedly in a foot of warm water on a beautiful sandy beach.

I can’t say I’ve fished from a million-dollar yacht, but I can say over the years I have chartered out of the East Cape fish camps, launched in many a panga off the beach in La Playita before the marina and surf fished with a rod and reel from the shore at daybreak. Each one is a unique experience, but the one that puts me closest to nature and the sea is when I am using my Baja Handline from the water’s edge.

Local Mexicans have used traditional and near primitive handlines to catch fish from the shore for generations, giving joy as they provide for their daily food needs. Even today you see the locals using a simple stick or bottle wrapped with fish line that has a hook with some bait and at its end, a sparkplug or rebar providing the weight needed for casting into the sea.

When we moved to San Jose Del Cabo, I brought along a fancy new shore casting rod and reel with the high ambition of living off the land, or I guess in this case the sea. Before departure, a friend wisely suggested I forget that plan. “All you need to do is find a local fisherman on the beach who has a pile of fish and do what he does”.

Well, I must now admit he was right. Among the different homemade handlines we have seen along the beach, I was particularly attracted to one that had been made from a simple piece of PVC pipe. Wanting to replicate and improve this unique fishing device I went home and came up with my own version of “The Carlos Baja Handline”. 

Simple in construction, my Baja Handline has provided many fun outings on my own and with family and friends. And now, in current times, it can be done with “social distancing”, in the clean sea air, and on a lucky day can provide some nice sized fish for a tasty taco dinner.

So let’s be clear, you are likely not going to hook a blue marlin or a 40-pound dorado with your handline from the beach, but what you will do is have the time of your life casting from the shore, feet in the sand and feeling that tug on the line that motivates and captivates fishermen worldwide.

The added good news is that you can make your own Carlos Baja Handline in less than one hour for less than 100 pesos using the following 5 steps:

1. Find or buy a short piece of PVC pipe and cut it to a 4-inch length.

2. Take any small piece of wood and cut a half-moon shape to fit inside your PVC to act as a handle. Secure it by drilling 3 screws from the outside of your handline.

3. Drill a small hole from the outside of the PVC and insert the end of a spool of 50-pound test fish line securing it from coming out with a knot on the interior.

4. Wrap the balance of the line on your handline on the outside of the PVC (clockwise for right-handers and counterclockwise for lefties).

5. Tie a 2-ounce weight at the end of the line. About 14 inches up from the end of the weight to hold your leader and hook, tie a piece of line for your hook and bait. Don’t get lost in the terminology. The leader is a short length of line that you attach your hook to on one end and tie the other to your fishing line above the weight at the loop knot. Wind her up and cast her into the sea!

Now you are ready to “have fun fishing”. Knowing you might not get the largest fish at the water’s edge, we normally keep the fish large enough for fresh dinner tacos and “catch and release” the others for another day. With several of us, it is fun to compete for first, largest and most and the kids have the most fun with their own personal handline.

For greater detail on creating and using your Carlos Baja Handline you can go to my Facebook or YouTube sites “Carlos Baja Handline”.

One item of caution is to be very aware of the wave and shore conditions when surf fishing with your Baja Handline. You will be tempted to get as close to the water’s edge as possible so you can cast your line out as far as possible (think 100 to 120 feet). Remember that waves come in sets and that the wave size you see arriving at the beach may well change with tide changes and wind conditions. One wise piece of advice for handlining or any beach activity is “never turn your back to the sea”. Enjoy your fishing but you will want to err on the side of caution.

From our experience, the best season for handline surf fishing along the corridor and up the East Cape is during the winter and spring when the waves from the south are minimal and the wind is predominantly out of the north. These conditions allow you to cast your handline further offshore with a tailwind and not have the surf washing your weight and bait towards the shore.

As we work through these difficult personal and economic times in our Los Cabos community, many are suffering from a lack of basic food needs and traditional joy in being and working together. With the kids out of school and social distancing called for, maybe a family or friends fishing trip to the beach might be a joyful release. In the open air and on our beautiful beaches you can cast your line into the sea. I know you will have fun, and with a little luck, there might be a fresh taco dinner for all.

Speaking from the wise words of Maimonides: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

“Captain Charlie” Bogue is a life-long sailor who, after departing Sausalito, first anchored off the beach in Cabo San Lucas in 1975 on his 32-foot wooden ketch. He has raced, been a charter Captain and taught sailing on the San Francisco Bay. He and his wife Helga are permanent residents of Mexico in San Jose Del Cabo where he writes, goes fishing and looks for any opportunity to be on the water. (Contact “Captain Charlie”, charlesburtonbogue@gmail.com).