An unseasonable north wind raged across the Sea of Cortez during the first two days of our visit last week to Rancho Leonero Resort in Baja California Sur's remote East Cape region.My brother Scott and I realized fishing would be tough, even after the wind subsided, especially at the offshore marlin and tuna grounds.
But we also knew we had arrived at one of our favorite destinations, regardless of conditions, and that all that was required to catch fish was some improvisation.
During those first two days we stayed ashore, snorkeling and casting over a reef that sprawls before a sleepy resort that rests atop a desert bluff overlooking the sea and its stunning aquamarine hues.
We saw plenty of colorful fish through our masks and didn't mind that we caught only a few small croakers and cabrillas with light-tackle rods. The sun kept us warm and the prospect of afternoon beers, poolside on the patio, kept us in a proper mind-frame.
On the third day, with the wind having laid down, we fished aboard a super-panga with a whistle-happy captain named Santos. Our goal was to stay reasonably close to shore and catch edible fish for dinner, then try for a few roosterfish to cap the outing.
Santos came through on the first mission. We used live mullet and jigged Krocodiles beyond the Lighthouse area to hook enough African pompnao and pargo to feed us and some friends we had made during our stay.
What few roosterfish we encountered were in a funk, however, and refused to even inspect our hooked mullet. But jack crevalles, stronger cousins of roosterfish, were visible in packs and we each caught a 15-pounder before calling it a day.
The pompano that night (pictured at left) was savory, more tender and sweeter-tasting than the pargo, but both were attacked with knife-and-fork by those sitting at our patio table. Life at "the Ranch" is especially good, indeed, when a plate full of fresh fish becomes part of the fare.
Because the sea needed more time to settle and warm we did not venture back out on a boat, but instead chose to roam the shoreline on ATVs during our final full day and last morning. We were fortunate that Gary Barnes-Web, the resort's general manager, had enough free time to serve as our guide. He uses a throw-net to catch mullet, and while that did not help us achieve our target of caching large roosterfish from the beach, it did enable us to land and release three more jack crevalles (see top photo of Scott's second release).
We also cruised to the north and visited the other small resorts dotting this Baja's eastern shore. Sadly, most are still reeling because of Mexico's war on drugs and associated violence, even though that violence has not occurred in southern Baja or anywhere close to the East Cape.
But business is better than it was at this time last year, so maybe people are beginning to feel more comfortable about traveling to certain destinations in Mexico and rediscovering their charm and allure.
Rancho Leonero, with its rich history and attentive staff, is one such destination. Scott and I plan to go back as soon as we can get away. After all, we each have a score to settle with some hulking roosterfish.
-- Pete Thomas
Photos of Baja's varied catch by Pete and Scott Thomas
Editor's note: Reports early this week out of the East Cape tell of a vastly improved roosterfish bite. Of course I am not surprised.