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For years I had had a rooster fish trip on hold, and when it seemed possible, Baja seemed clearly the place to go. How was I to know that in the 13 years since they had pushed a hard-top road all the way down the peninsula, the U.S. Social Security check would prove the biggest invader in these parts since the conquistadores?
We had started on our roosterfish trail not here at Cabo but a week earlier at Buena Vista, higher up the coast, on the Sea of Cortés side, where we had made reservations at a fishing camp. "Hey, listen," said Señor Jessie Maldonnado, in whose cab we rode there from the La Paz airport, "this country is so nice an' beautiful, American people really love it! They love it so much they all want to come and die here!"
Well, sure, you could see that. When we reached camp, we found that clustered around it was a heterogeneous mix of bungalows and peeling mobile homes. HOT A LOT ? a billboard inquired, a downbeat way to start. Undoubtedly, much of Baja—the interior, a great deal of the open Pacific coast—is still puma-and-eagle territory, where the lack of small precautions can bring death half a mile from the main road. But here in Buena Vista they were sticking the new American Riviera together with ticky-tack, and, as we checked in, the lead singer in the mariachi band in the bar, guaranteed straight from Guadalajara, was belting out "Twiss' an' shou'...."
That had nothing to do with the fishing, of course, we told ourselves resolutely, and it seemed a good omen when we met our neighbors in the next cabin, Robert Allison from Seal Beach, Calif., and his pal Cecil, who told us they had had four blue marlin hookups that day. But as their story unfolded, I began to have reservations.
They had hit the first fish as soon as they started, Allison said, and he had brought it to the boat. "The captain had the gaff in the fish, and the mate had hold of the bill in one hand and his billy club in the other," he said, "and the mate was trying to hit it over the head. But he drops the billy club in the water, and the skipper is so astonished that he lets go of the gaff and that disappears also. Just like the marlin, which takes a turn around the prop and swims off with a $30 lure in its mouth.
"The skipper climbed up top and looked into the water for a while, then he said, 'No más pescado.' Well, you can guess what that meant, and I am very pleased that Cecil here did not have his 12-gauge shotgun aboard, because he'd have blown that man right out of the flying bridge.
"Then we found ourselves a second marlin. This time—they had no ladder in this boat—the mate leapt down from the bridge, grabbed the rod before I could get to it and tried to set the hook with a couple of big yanks. Only he had neglected to set the drag, so that was the second fish gone.
"The third fish, well, that one just threw the lure, and it was nobody's fault. We thought, That's the end, but we actually meet a fourth marlin, which eventually I bring to the boat. Of course, we now have neither billy club nor gaff, so the mate is trying to hit it with a monkey wrench. But he drops this, too, and down it goes into the blue water. So I just keep the pressure on the fish while he goes off and finally comes back with a crescent wrench, a great big 14-inch wrench, and he beats the fish to death with that.
"I'm 60 years old," said Allison, "and that was my first marlin. And, 'I did it my way,' " he caroled.
He thought again. "No," he said, "let's be honest. I did it their way."