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In 1940, in The Log from the Sea of Cortez, John Steinbeck wrote of Puerto Escondido, "If one wished to design a secret personal bay, one would probably build something very like this little harbor." It is indeed an ideal place for boats, well protected from weather by steep mountains behind it and islands just offshore.
Our boat was an inflatable, and our motor a 6 hp; they weighed a total of 147 pounds. We named the boat Zucarita, because Zucaritas, a popular frosted cornflake cereal in Mexico, were part of our early-morning routine. Every day my internal clock woke me up within minutes of half-past five, and I would roll out of the sleeping bag, awaken Hilde and then put a pot of water on the camp stove. We ate our Zucaritas outside the tent, watching the sunrise, our cups of coffee sweetened with Kahlua.
By 6:45 we would be fishing, trolling either bucktail flies or the blue-and-white vinyl squid lures I had bought at a discount store back in Oregon. Whenever we got into a good school of fish, we stopped the boat and cast streamer flies to them. We generally came in sometime after noon. In the afternoon, we ran a little on the beach or the Baja Highway, swam and dived, had a meal of fruit, vegetables and fish, read for a while and then went to sleep. It was an extremely pleasant routine.
Several days after I landed my dorado, Hilde still hadn't hooked one. The day before Thanksgiving she had a vicious strike. Her rod was yanked so hard that it swung over my head and knocked off my hat. I looked up just in time to see the sudden disappointment on her face: The fish was gone. "That was a big one!" she said.
"It had to be a dorado," I said. "Nothing else hits so hard and runs off at an angle like that."
"I doubt if I'll catch one," she said. "We only have a few more days."
"Sure you will," I said. "I'll rig up that nine-foot Cortland rod for you to use tomorrow." Hilde laughed. She knows I think that changing equipment, or even clothing, can change your luck. That's why I brought three hats. It probably has something to do with confidence, and confidence has a great deal to do with successful fishing. Someday, perhaps, a patient researcher will explain this by proving that fish have some mysterious sense that is attuned to the moods of people who try to catch them.
That afternoon I took Hilde's reel off the 10-foot rod she had been using and put it on the nine-footer. Then, as luck would have it, her confidence got a boost from an unexpected quarter. In the little grocery store near the campground we noticed a display of lures for sale. The sign read: CORTEZ LURES: DORADO LURES MADE ESPECIALLY FOR ESCONDIDO BAY. One of these lures, called the Willie Wonder, was identical to the vinyl squids that Hilde and I had been using all along. I was never able to find out how those squids got to Escondido, but I'm glad we saw them.
"You can't miss now," I said. "They're especially for Escondido Bay."
On Thanksgiving morning I woke up half an hour earlier than usual. Outside the tent window, stars shone brightly in a moonless sky. No wind rustled the bougainvillea bushes, and dew covered the grass—indications of calm weather. I made myself a cup of coffee, added a spoonful of Kahlua, then sat in a camp chair and picked up Ray Cannon's The Sea of Cortez. With the help of a flashlight, I found the section on dorado and read through it for what was perhaps the 10th time: