It was a walk of more than a mile from El Presidente Hotel near Loreto, Mexico to the bay where I had been hooking more good fish in an hour or two early each evening than I ordinarily caught in a month of hard fishing back home in Oregon. My companion was a stray mongrel named Roberto, who hung around my wing of the hotel. He had the pointed nose of a raccoon, the huge ears of a mule deer, the curly, hairless tail of a pig, a mangy brown coat and the body of a short-legged, underfed goat. Of course, he had no notion of what he looked like, so he was as happy as any pedigreed show dog. I fed him scraps, and he followed me almost everywhere.
Six or eight hotel employees had warned me about the approaching storm. Their English was no better than my Spanish—I'd taken two years in high school in the 1950s, and so far I'd had no occasion to ask anyone the location of his house or burro—and I hadn't been able to make it clear to them that I not only realized a storm was coming, I was looking forward to it. Abrupt changes in weather often improve freshwater fishing dramatically, so why not ocean fishing, too? I had a strong feeling that something exciting was going to happen. It was my third day in Loreto, and so far my angling instincts, developed on the coastal rivers of the Pacific Northwest, had served me well enough on the Sea of Cort�s.
On that walk to the bay, I thought back about all that had happened thus far on my vacation. Four days earlier my plane had landed 550 miles down Mexico's Baja Peninsula at Loreto Aeropuerto Internaci�nal, and no sooner had I arrived at the hotel five miles south of town than the negative news about the fishing began. Wherever you go—wherever I go, at any rate—it's always the same. You should have been here last week. You ought to plan on coming again next month. It's too hot, too cold, too calm, too windy. Loreto had been too windy, and fish just weren't hitting. This I heard from assorted guests, lounging around the lobby, who had arrived a few days earlier.
When I talked to one of the hotel's fishing guides, things got more specific. He told me that my light tackle was next to useless, that flies wouldn't work in November, that I couldn't hope to catch fish from shore and that releasing them was silly, because sooner or later they would die anyway. The proper way to fish was from a boat, with a stiff trolling rod and 40-pound-test line—all of which he would gladly provide, for $80 a day.
Despite the fact that I knew very little about ocean fishing in general and even less about this area in particular, I turned him down. I've always had a strong and, I realize, irrational reluctance to accept anyone's advice about anything.
I remembered the guide's supercilious smile when, four evenings later, I walked down the beach toward the bay, thunder rumbling a few miles behind me. Roberto looked up at me mournfully and whined at the sound. I turned to look, and a huge mass of black cumulus clouds with a solid sheet of gray rain below it was moving in my direction and would reach me within minutes. As I watched, a bolt of lightning split the cloud mass and the thunder rumbled again, and I felt the first stirrings of a fresh warm wind. All day long the sea had been fairly calm, but now, about a mile out, whitecaps began to show.
Roberto whined again, and I walked a little faster. Just ahead of me, to my left, in shallow water a few yards offshore, a school of baitfish exploded from the water, and I saw the dark, quick shadow of a large fish moving just behind them. I was tempted to try a cast or two, but I held off and kept on going. Now, from about half a mile away, I could see pelicans circling over the bay, a lot of them, more than I'd seen there before, and they were diving, so baitfish were showing there—and big fish were feeding. Thunder boomed again, louder, and the first drops of warm rain pelted my back as I hurried along. Roberto began to prance around in nervous circles. "It's lousy weather for dogs, all right," I said to him.
I had discovered the little bay on the evening of my first full day in Loreto. I'd decided to jog down the beach to a rocky point and back to justify the big dinner I knew I was going to have, and when I reached the point, I found that it was possible to walk all the way around it on a shelf of rocks that were exposed by low tide. On the south side of the point I found the bay, and I immediately knew I had to fish it. Protected by the point itself from the offshore wind, it was deep and clear, and there were huge schools of baitfish—anchovies, I thought—visible just beneath the surface, moving in slowly undulating silver clouds.
With barely an hour of daylight left, I ran back to the hotel, grabbed my fly rod, ran back down to the point and walked as far out onto the shelf as I could get. In 45 minutes I hooked 10 good fish and landed six of them, the smallest about four pounds, the largest more than 10. They were lovely silver things, bright as polished coins, with serrated backs, dime-sized golden spots along their sides and sharp teeth that made releasing them tricky. Later, at dinner that evening, I described them to a hotel guest named Gordon who had been to Loreto often, and he told me they were called sierra.
The next evening, fishing from the same rock, I caught barracuda, ladyfish and more sierra, up to eight pounds. All I really wanted after that was one fish of 25 pounds or more. I had no doubt whatever that if I had a chance at a fish that size, it would hit a fly, and I had little doubt that, once hooked, a big fish could be played effectively on light tackle from shore. And this, I was thinking now, was the storm that would make it happen.