Magdalena Bay is a 50km long bay along the western coast of the Mexican state of Baja California Sur, located on the Pacific Ocean side of the Baja peninsula of which the closest port would be San Carlos. On one of our earlier trips there during the 1990s, we (myself and a team of fly fishers from London) flew into La Paz (where we met up with my good friend Trey Combs) and took a taxi mini bus across the peninsula to San Carlos to meet up with our mothership, Shogun (all 92ft of her, with a 29ft beam she creates a very stable fishing platform!). The main focus of this trip in particular was to fly fish for striped marlin off Mag Bay, an area which is generally considered top of the tables worldwide for fly rod sized striped marlin, where you can find sizes up to 170/180lbs generally in the low to mid hundreds. Trey Combs had previously fished on the same boat that we chose, and with his recommendation we chose Mag Bay, with Trey coming along as our “on board coach”. The fishery out there is so diverse, if you are fortunate enough to locate a kelp paddy, you will see basically an entire ecosystem on one floating kelp paddy, with micro bait fish feeding on the crustaceans within/on the kelp, which in turn attracts larger fish as well as creating shade in the water. Wahoo and dorado are but to name a few of the fish that might be attracted to the kelp paddy’s, which is something that we saw on our time out at Mag Bay. Inshore that rocks and beaches are inhabited by jacks and roosterfish, basically it’s every fly fisherman’s dream.
The image to the right is a tremendous picture that Trey took on one of his fishing trips, bait balls happen when schools of bait fish are hounded from marauding predators either birds, seals, dolphins or other fish as a method of defense. The bait forms a tight ball for safety which moves together around with the current in the Pacific ocean. Another one of nature’s beauty!
To locate the marlin, you have to look out for working bird schools over baitfish, the birds work in unison with the marlin, seals, porpoise, tuna and sometimes even whales! As well as in amongst the marlin schools you would see yellowfin tuna of sizes up to 3 figures… Truly a spectacular sight! Your marlin fly outfit consisted of a #14 or #16 fly rod with a suitable sized reel to match, the most popular was fly to use was Billy Pate Bluefin, as well as an IGFA legal leader. From the bridge of Shogun we would look out for working bird schools, once sighted marlin we would motor over towards them trolling teasers, hookless, fishing lures to raise marlin. When a marlin was on a teaser, the lure would be worked on a rod, if the fish lost interest in the initial lure, a second one would be cast out to keep the fishes attention, this second lure would then be wound/worked back in towards Shogun, therefore drawing the marlin in closer. Once the fish was close to the transom of Shogun, we would feed with live chum (generally mackerel) to hold them there, this was really a team effort with all the teasing etc, not a trip for the lone-ranger types, lots of pairs of hands are needed when dealing with marlin! Once the marlin were lit up and free swimming at the transom of Shogun, they were fired up enough for a fly to be presented to them. You would be allocated your spot at the rail when the marlin were ready for the fly, after taking a full deep sea line with a 1000yds GSP backing. Once in your spot you would trip enough fly line off your reel to be able to roll cast your fly to the free swimming marlin, this technique is called sight casting to free swimming marlin, that we most generally lit up the striped and with pectoral fins electric blue, an amazing sight! The marlin would take the free swimming chum (mackerel), so the idea was to work your fly to imitate the mackerel… generally diving down a little to avoid marlin on the surface and taking the mackerel just a foot or so under, all totally visible from the deck of Shogun. Once you had enough line off your reel, roll cast your fly out, the idea was to work the fly back and forth, constantly keeping a tight line in touch with your fly, so when a marlin took it was generally visible, consequently you would hang on taking any give out of your set up, setting the hook as the fish pulled. (“hang on” meaning – keeping a tight line between reel and fly aiding hook setting rather than striking as some people think is generally the case, striking can create slack line!). Once the marlin felt the hook all would break loose, feeling similar to hooking a Ferrari in first gear and flooring the accelerator, (plus the exhibition of surface greyhounding – when the fish jumps along the surface of the water, similar to the movement of a greyhound when running). As soon as a fish was hooked, the angler would transfer to a small rubber skiff to follow and fight the fish, keeping a tight line to fish with the line constantly over the fishes back. Tiring the marlin out, the skiff would keep a comfortable distance, so as not to spook it and/or make it sound (meaning to avoid the marlin dropping deeper, you want the marlin on the surface making it easier and faster to land). Using this process correctly you should be able to land a 100lbs+ marlin in 15 minutes! This method of playing fish was developed by a good friend of mine Trey Combs, to fight and land fish in as short a period as possible. Once the marlin started to thrash on the surface it was a sure sign that it was done and ready to be released, we would generally bill the marlin along the skiff, rarely bringing them onto the skiff, the fish could then be released alongside the skiff, to swim off and fight another day!
This form of fly fishing is without doubt the ‘Formula One Racing’ of fly fishing and as most, if not all, is visual it only adds to the enjoyment! Watching a lit up striped marlin in excess of 150lbs inhale your fly is as good as it gets, then once you have hooked, fought and billed a fish to watch it swim off majestically adds a happy ending to the whole experience!
- Typical mag bay striped marlin caught on fly, just about to be released. 2.Bait ball created by dorada, these are most likely sardines. 3. Trey combs with a lovely magdalena bay stiped marlin prior to release. 4. A beautiful semi lit up dorada caught on fly on a long range trip. 5. A fisher goes off following his hooked up fish, guided by the skiff captain. 6. Female Angler with a magnificent fly caught wahoo, on a long range trip. 7. Striped marlin billed at the rear of the mothership prior to release.