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Sportfishing at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, is one of the world's great vacation travel experiences. Located at the absolute, extreme tip of Mexico's famous Baja California peninsula, "Cabo" is a magic vacation spot where sportfishing tourism is so intense that on any given morning it is often possible to see more than 200 charter boats leaving the crowded marina, carrying eager vacationers who have come from all over the world to catch marlin, tuna, sailfish, wahoo, dorado (also known as dolphinfish or mahi mahi), and dozens of other game fish species, such as red snapper, yellowtail, sierra, jack crevalle, roosterfish, groupers, and many, many more.
During Cabo's many annual sportfishing tournaments, such as the world famous Bisbee's Black and Blue Marlin Tournament, the world's richest fishing competition with its million dollar purses, and the huge Western Outdoor News Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot, Mexico's largest angling event in the number of boats chartered, the Pacific Ocean at the mouth of the marina is literally churned to a froth as scores of gleaming charter boats frantically charge out to sea in search of adventure, glory--and possibly, some very "big bucks" that may easily range into the six-figure bracket.
More often than not, these big time tournament boats, and also the huge armada of regular sportfishing cruisers and pangas (Mexican outboard motor powered skiffs about 22 feet long) that leaves the Cabo San Lucas marina nearly 365 days per year (with pauses only for hurricanes or other tropical storms!) will return in the afternoon with their outrigger flags flying, signifying another successful day in this, one of the world's richest sport fisheries, and also a modern tourist destination with a fascinating modern history that goes back half a century.
For vacationers of all persuasions, and especially mixed groups with some anglers and some who would prefer their fishing vacations to include exotic scenery, dining, beaches, pools, shopping, and nightlife, Cabo San Lucas truly "does it all." Here, in this glamorous Mexican vacation port of call, one could theoretically go for a morning walk around the beautiful marina, swim, snorkel, dive, parasail, catch a marlin or two or three, play a few holes of golf, grab a massage, buy a piece of decorative sculpture by a world recognized artist, have a blowout dinner of Japanese, Chinese, Italian, or of course Mexican cuisine, and then hit the nightclubs (adults only!) until the sun comes up the next morning and it's time to go fishing again!
The amazing year-round reliability of Cabo San Lucas' sportfishing seasons is exemplified by no species more than the striped marlin, Tetrapturus audax, one of the world's most highly prized gamefish. To quote the classic Mexico fishing guidebook, The Baja Catch, by Neil Kelly and Gene Kira:
"Cabo is in a class by itself when it comes to striped marlin fishing...there are more striped marlin caught within 40 miles of Cabo year-round than any place else. It's no accident. Cabo is the crossroads for most of the marlin that migrate through this part of the Pacific, and it is home base for a large school of resident fish that never leave the area..If you have never wet a line before in your life, and if for some strange reason you absolutely, positively, must catch a striped marlin before next Thursday afternoon, your odds are better in Cabo San Lucas than any place else in the world."
And continuing, The Baja Catch says, "When the bite is on in this part of Baja, you could hook a dozen striped marlin a day here...The odds are good that you would also run into tuna and dorado, maybe a blue marlin, and maybe even a wahoo. Cabo San Lucas fairly glitters with glamour fish."
Yet, most visitors to today's high-profile Cabo San Lucas are not aware that only a few decades ago, this place was literally nothing more than a sleepy village and a fish cannery. And ironically, one of the most important leaders of Cabo's thriving tourist industry today originally came here in the 1950s to manage that cannery. Cabo San Lucas', Luis Bulnes Molleda, owner of the Hotel Solmar at the extreme tip of the Baja California peninsula, counts his conversion from commercial fishing to the tourism from a day in 1955 when he saw a striped marlin caught by handline from the cannery dock.
Why are Cabo San Lucas fishing vacations so appealing and popular? First, the infrastructure has been beautifully implemented here to make a fishing trip go smoothly and enjoyably from beginning to end. From the instant your plane lands at Los Cabos International Airport, everybody understands that you are here to fish and have fun. Are you packing a 9-foot rod tube and 150-quart ice chest? No problema, senor! Here, they see that literally a hundred times a day. With no fanfare at all, you are whisked off in your van and within an hour are sipping your welcome margarita at your hotel.
If you are an old pro, you will have already have your fishing tackle set to go, and you will undoubtedly have made arrangements for the morning's fishing with your regular charter boat and crew, some of whom have been hunting this part of the ocean for decades and have caught literally thousands of marlin and tens of thousands of other gamefish.
If you are a first-time angler here, you have your pick of dozens of professional, highly reputable boats, crews, and booking agents at every hotel, and at several offices around the marina, who can arrange a boat that suits your budget and fishing goals. If in doubt, you can check the Cabo San Lucas fishing reports published every week in Western Outdoor News, the largest outdoor weekly newspaper in the United States, or online in Mexico Fishing News, the largest online resource for Mexico fishing vacation information. These standard print and internet resources can also provide you with handy tips and techniques for your first Cabo fishing adventure.
When choosing a charter boat at Cabo San Lucas, you usually get what you pay for. All other things being equal, the more pricey boats are larger, faster, and better able to get you fish if the water's a little rough or if the fish concentrations are located far from port during your vacation time slot. On the other hand, even the humble pangas with their Mexican panguero captain can catch you anything caught by a cruiser, when conditions are right. These amazing artisanal fishermen in their amazing boats have caught giant marlin nearly 1,000 pounds in weight, so if you are looking for an Ernest Hemingway "Old Man and the Sea" adventure, this is your spot!
You are free to bring your own fishing tackle, of course, but be forewarned, the specialized, heavy duty gear necessary for successfully landing offshore big game fish that often go well over 100 pounds in weight is very expensive! At the tip of Baja, virtually all charter cruisers, and most pangas, provide high grade tackle and all necessary accessories, lures, hooks, etc., at no additional cost. For those who arrive with nothing but their swimsuits, the better boats provide not only all the equipment necessary for a successful hunt, but all the knot tying, bait hooking and presentation, expert guidance, and every other type of assistance required to get even complete neophytes that fish of a lifetime.
However, you will need to buy your day's supply of live bait, and this is accomplished after you've boarded your boat at the marina dock, in the predawn, early morning light. Live mackerel or caballito baits are typically priced at what seems to be an exorbitant $2 each, but you must remember that those baits were caught one at a time by fishermen in skiffs who worked all night long for that purpose, fishermen who must split their income with the owner of the boat. Some nights they catch nothing. Nearly all of them also have daytime jobs ashore, and families that they are supporting on the mainland. Buy at least ten baits and give these guys a good tip! Without their valuable services, your boat could well be flying a skunk flag this afternoon!
But, tremendous infrastructure aside, what you really need for a fishing vacation is fish, right? And Cabo delivers big-time in this department as well. As your cruiser or panga leaves the marina, your captain has a truly critical tactical decision to make--turn left, or turn right? Seems simple enough, doesn't it? But you see, Cabo San Lucas sits at the very tip of the 700 mile long Baja California peninsula, and if your boat turns left, you are fishing on the magnificent Sea of Cortez. If you turn right, you are fishing on the vast Pacific Ocean. Sea water temperatures, wave conditions, and ocean currents are almost never exactly the same on both sides at the same time, and that's one of the "secrets" of why this is such an incredibly productive, unique, and reliable fishing vacation spot. If the fishing isn't so good on one side, it's probably good on the other. Left or right? Only at Cabo!
So, how good, really, is the sportfishing here? Amazingly, in typical, everyday Cabo San Lucas fishing action, charter boats average almost one billfish for every departure (striped marlin, blue marlin, black marlin, or sailfish) year round, plus several times as many tuna and dorado. Double, triple, and quadruple marlin release days are so common they do not raise eyebrows here at the "Striped Marlin Capital of the World." Yes, double-digits are entirely possible and scored by some lucky Cabo boats every year. When the fishing is really "on" here, you will probably beg your crew to quit before noon and your arms will be sore for a week afterwards. No kidding. (For actual weekly fish counts and peak seasons for all the major species, check in Western Outdoor News and Mexico Fishing News.)
But, win, lose, or draw, during your sport fishing vacation, please do not pressure your crew to keep fish that are more than you can eat. In today's conservation-minded sportfishery, virtually all charter boat crews will prefer to release billfish, and excess catches of tuna and dorado as well. (Release the hard-to-catch and delicious wahoo? No way!!!)
Today, the overall billfish release rate at very progressive Cabo San Lucas is estimated at more than 95 percent. But the final decision is yours, since you are the boss and your crew will do as you direct. By all means, keep a reasonable and legal amount of fish, which will be filleted and frozen to perfection for you as part of the service, but please, request that your crew release all billfish (they aren't that hot to eat, anyway) and all extra tuna, dorado, roosterfish and other species, to reproduce their kind, and fight another day. In doing so, you will help to assure that future generations, including perhaps your own children, will be able to enjoy the same thrilling Cabo San Lucas fishing adventure that you have.