MADE IN MEX­ICO

TWO ENGLISH KAYAK AN­GLERS FIND MAR­LIN, SAILS AND ROOSTERFISH IN BAJA CAL­I­FOR­NIA

Anglers Journal - - CONTENTS -

A cou­ple of mis­placed Bri­tons travel to Mex­ico to fish for striped mar­lin from kayaks. A dou­ble hookup by one of them re­sults in a high-oc­tane sleigh ride.

By IAN “DIZZYFISH” HARRIS

You might con­sider land­ing a mar­lin to be noth­ing spe­cial, but I am English, and this sort of thing just doesn’t hap­pen to an English­man, let alone to one fish­ing from a kayak.

There were two of us the day the whole thing be­gan, both of us mid­dle-aged gen­tle­men from a small town in the mid­dle of nowhere. It was Oc­to­ber in Eng­land, and it was rain­ing, as is the norm in our part of the world. The con­ver­sa­tion turned to fish­ing — kayak fish­ing, which is what we do. “I won­der if any­one from Eng­land has ever caught a mar­lin from a kayak,” Steve said.

He knew fine well where his mus­ing would lead, and so did I.

About eight months later we boarded a plane at Lon­don’s Heathrow Air­port and headed to Mex­ico, to Ran­cho Leonero Re­sort on the East Cape of Baja Cal­i­for­nia. And that’s where we met “Big Ed­die,” the man who ar­ranges the fish­ing at the lodge.

Steve is a stone­ma­son, and I work with com­put­ers. We are about as far from the Hem­ing­way stereo­type as one can get. We spent months pre­par­ing for the trip, in­clud­ing se­lect­ing a place where we could fish from Ho­bie kayaks, which we use at home. The fol­low­ing morn­ing, a pair of Ho­bies sat on the beach, wait­ing for the pair of crazy English­men.

Things be­gan slower than in our dreams. On our first day, we trolled div­ing plugs off the beach and over some small reefs from the kayaks, but they largely went ig­nored. The sec­ond day, we fished from one of the lodge’s pan­gas with a cap­tain, deep-jig­ging and slowtrolling bri­dled live baits. Much dif­fer­ent re­sults. We caught two striped mar­lin, a Pa­cific sail, and I landed a roosterfish that weighed more than 50 pounds. To my eye, roosterfish are one of the most in­cred­i­ble-look­ing fish

in the world. Their dor­sal fins bris­tle with at­ti­tude. It’s a fish I’ll re­mem­ber for a long time.

First Fish

We re­mained in­tent on get­ting back out on the kayaks and find­ing some ac­tion. The pre­vi­ous two days con­vinced us that the best plan would be to fish live bait sev­eral miles up the coast. Big Ed­die made that hap­pen.

The next morn­ing, while the rest of Mex­ico slept and the sun slowly eased it­self above the hori­zon, a skip­per hoisted one of the kayaks aboard his panga. We mo­tored along the coast to pick up live bal­ly­hoo and mul­let from lo­cal fish­er­men. Then it was on to an area where I caught my big roosterfish. I aban­doned the panga and added a few baits to the kayak’s live well. Steve and the skip­per waved good­bye and sped away, leav­ing us con­nected by por­ta­ble VHF ra­dio. I was a lit­tle ner­vous, but con­di­tions were per­fect. The sea was mir­ror-flat, with scarcely a breath of wind.

I rigged a mul­let and trolled it slowly be­hind the boat. I had seen a few fish break the sur­face, but for the next cou­ple of hours things were pretty quiet. And then out of nowhere a fish grabbed the bait and sped off with a power that was some­thing to be­hold. Well-hooked, it towed the kayak un­til, after what seemed like an eter­nity, I gained some line, only for the fish to dive un­der the boat and swim in cir­cles.

I was us­ing 30-pound-class tackle, but I strug­gled to con­trol the fish. What had I hooked?

After more than 30 min­utes the fish started to tire, and I worked it up to the kayak. I fi­nally slid a sil­very white-sided fish with a round head and a black spot on its gill cover aboard. It was too big to keep on the kayak, and it cer­tainly wouldn’t fit through the front hatch.

I ra­dioed the panga to ex­plain my predica­ment. From my de­scrip­tion, the skip­per guessed it was a big jack crevalle and said he was on his way to help. A few min­utes later, I glimpsed the panga. When the boat was about 100 yards away, I heard Steve shout­ing. He and the skip­per were wav­ing their arms. The panga speeded up as it ap­proached, and Steve shouted, “Get ready to jump onto the boat!” I re­mem­ber think­ing this was a bit odd, but there was an air of ur­gency in both of their voices, so I did as I was told. Steve grabbed my hand and hoisted me aboard.

“Look be­hind you!” he barked.

About 50 yards be­hind the kayak, a large shark was thrash­ing on the sur­face.

After I com­posed my­self, the skip­per asked, “Would you like to try for a mar­lin?”

“From the kayak?” I replied.

Dou­ble-fisted

I was ex­cited — this is what we’d come for. We were still close in­shore when we re­launched the kayak into the clear wa­ter with a splash. I jumped in and took both rods with me, as well as some fresh bal­ly­hoo. The tide was a bit stronger here, and I was trolling at a de­cent speed. Soon the panga was a speck in the dis­tance.

I was us­ing the lighter of the two rods, and I thought, after a time, that pru­dence dic­tated a swap to the heav­ier three-piece travel rod with 30-pound braid and a 50-pound flu­o­r­car­bon leader. I popped the lighter rod into the flush-mounted holder, with the bal­ly­hoo dan­gling in the wa­ter next to the kayak, while I baited the heav­ier out­fit. I flicked out a bal­ly­hoo and watched it start to swim. A few mo­ments later, it started mov­ing er­rat­i­cally. A shape ap­peared from nowhere, and a large fish snatched it. The reel was on ratchet but made no sound. Time slowed to a stand­still. I stared trans­fixed, my brain on idle. I could see the fish with the bait in its mouth, shak­ing it from side to side. My brain re­sumed nor­mal func­tion as the fish started to swim away with its prize. I slipped the reel into gear and, with a low drag set­ting, pointed the rod at the fish as it ac­cel­er­ated. The fish felt the cir­cle hook press home, and all hell broke loose. In a crescendo of glit­ter­ing spray, the sea opened, and a striped mar­lin thrashed it­self clear of the wa­ter, only yards from the kayak.

This was real. This was hap­pen­ing. The mar­lin and the English­man were con­nected by a short length of line.

As I tried to com­pose my­self, a com­mo­tion broke out at the side of the boat. I peered over just as my kayak was jolted vi­o­lently. A sec­ond mar­lin crashed into it, at­tempt­ing to grab the live bait left in the wa­ter off the lighter rod. This fish was so close I could have touched it. It grabbed the bal­ly­hoo like a crea­ture pos­sessed.

The first fish stripped line from the reel in my left hand, and the sec­ond mar­lin disap-

peared in the op­po­site di­rec­tion, bend­ing the rod in the holder.

There was no script for this. I was hooked into a pair of strip­ies! I eased the sec­ond rod out of the holder with my right hand and held both rods high. The mar­lin ran in op­po­site di­rec­tions. I must have looked like ac­tion fig­ure Stretch Arm­strong.

Sleigh Ride

As line emp­tied from the reels, I re­al­ized there was no way I could land both of th­ese pow­er­ful fish by my­self. I scanned the hori­zon and saw a few boats, but they were too far away to help. I wedged one rod un­der my leg and stretched to reach the VHF. I can’t re­call what I said, but it prob­a­bly made no sense. Within sec­onds, the clos­est boat rushed to­ward me.

As Steve came along­side, I passed him a rod and wished him luck. “See you later!” I shouted as the kayak twisted around and pulled away. I tight­ened the drag, and the kayak leapt for­ward on the start of a mar­lin­pow­ered sleigh ride.

The mar­lin breached again and again, shak­ing its head in an at­tempt to shed the hook. Some­times it seemed as if the fish hung in the air for an age. And it was in­tent on tow­ing me off­shore. At one stage, I saw a large sport­fish­ing boat cruis­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. I still re­mem­ber the faces of the an­glers star­ing at me from the bridge, look­ing on with a mix­ture of be­muse­ment, shock and amaze­ment as I waved and sped along.

After what felt like a life­time of hurt, I tight­ened the drag and started to gain on the mar­lin. Even­tu­ally the fish tired, and I felt I was win­ning. Now I had to fig­ure out how to land and re­lease it.

The panga reap­peared just in time. Steve had lost the other mar­lin at the boat, but he’d grabbed the leader, so it counted as a catch. I man­aged to get my mar­lin along­side the kayak. I grabbed the fish and eased it across my lap so Steve could take some pic­tures. I un­hooked it, and the skip­per helped re­lease it. I felt quite emo­tional as I watched the mar­lin re­turn to the depths.

I clam­bered back aboard the boat and slumped into a seat. The skip­per and Steve each shook my hand. I was ex­hausted. The fight lasted about 30 min­utes, al­though it felt much longer. The skip­per was ex­cited. I’m fairly cer­tain few cus­tomers have ex­pe­ri­enced a dou­ble striped mar­lin hookup from a kayak. The skip­per shrieked in Span­ish over the ra­dio to the other char­ter boats. He looked at me and shouted, “El Dizzy! Crazy English kayak fish­er­man!”

Steve had told him that my nick­name in Eng­land is “Dizzyfish,” and after that ev­ery­one called me Dizzy. El Dizzy was a name that would stick for the rest of our stay in Mex­ico. That evening in the bar, the tequila flowed, and there was a lot of talk about El Dizzy and his mar­lin. Even Big Ed­die was im­pressed.

A kayak an­gler moves in si­lence off Baja as the panga “mother­ship” de­parts.

Harris took a nice roosterfish (left) from a panga; the kayak fish­ing “fleet” at the ready.

In the dis­tance, a bat ray breaks the still waters.

“El Dizzy” and his im­prob­a­ble kayak mar­lin.

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