SI Vault
Clive Gammon
February 09, 1987
In Baja, Mexico's Lower California, the sun-broiled, mountain-spined peninsula that stretches 800 miles from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas, there are two worlds. This long morning Nick, Olto and I had spent in the first of them, riding the swells of a sea so mysteriously deserted that it might have figured in the log of the Ancient Mariner. For mile on mile inshore of us ran white, surf-battered beaches with, very rarely, lonely white ranchos behind them, half-hidden in the mesquite and the high cactus. And always, behind the surf, hung a backdrop of brown, baked mountains shimmering in 110° heat. Sometimes a reel would screech when a bonito or a sierra mackerel hit one of the trolled lures. But nobody walked on the beaches or came out of a ranch house door to stare at us.
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February 09, 1987

Combing Baja For Roosterfish

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"Hmmm," I said as he finished his tale. But Nick was strangely silent and thoughtful. I should explain that Nick is my son. He's 27, a painter who lives in Europe. He has fished all his life, but always in the cold North Atlantic. When the roosterfish trip turned out to coincide with his annual U.S. visit he was delighted. But now, I saw, he was going to be sidetracked. "Blue marlin," he said, a dreamy look in his eye.

"Listen," I said, "those guys were lucky. Somebody worked out once that it takes 11 days on average to catch a marlin, and you spend those 11 days in mind-congealing boredom, contemplating a chunk of plastic called a Tuna Clone bouncing in the wake. Also, even with the peso on the floor, this is costing you $250 a day, plus tips."

"O.K.," he said. But then I thought maybe this is the only shot at a marlin he will ever have. So next morning, there we were, lined up with the marlin anglers. Half an hour later we were dragging plastic. I was saying to Nick, "Only another 10 days, seven hours and 30 minutes to go..." when the starboard rod doubled and, within seconds, 500 yards away the water erupted.

Well, you'll have read this kind of thing before. It's sufficient now to say that less than two hours after starting out Nick had his first marlin nicely damped down at the side of the boat.

A blue, 300 pounds, approximately. "Hokay, my fren'," I said in the local patois, "that will do. From now on the roosterfish, yes?"

But that evening there were intimations that the way of the Baja rooster-fisherperson would not be easy, as I discovered when I went to the manager of the camp to explain that next day we planned to fish roosters inshore.

But of course, he said, there were people who went after roosterfish here sometimes. But not now. Not when the blue marlin were here. Pressed, though, he conceded that roosterfishing might be a possibility. However, we would have to take a big boat, a marlin boat, and a couple of men. So be it, we said. And in the morning, as all of the others sailed out for the macho glory, Nick and I found ourselves creeping along the coast in the disgruntled company of Arturo and Loco, who made it fairly clear that they felt more than a little demeaned by being selected to serve us.

We could live with that, we told one another as we picked up, at a dollar apiece, live mackerel for bait from one of the local panga men and headed out to what Arturo considered the local hot spot for roosterfish.

As indeed it proved to be. As soon as we started fishing, roosterfish began hurling themselves on the bait. We could see them in the water, combs raised angrily high. Unfortunately they were very small, maybe three pounds on average. And they just couldn't get their jaws around the bait.

"Lil' fish," said Loco superfluously.

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