Destinations - Baja E-mail
Monday, 29 March 2010 00:00

I have to admit that I’m a Baja bum at heart.  I love the place.  BajaMap1_copy I spent three years in the mid 80s working in a caravan fishing business.  I logged several dozen trips anywhere from one week to a month or more each time.  The majority of it was spent in three places; Bahia de Los Angeles, Puerto Escondido and Cabo.  Also I fished from boats, never from a kayak.

Most kayak fishermen in the southwest are familiar with Baja.  Many have fished there too.  Baja, for those of you who don’t know, is the long peninsula just below California.  It is Mexico.  It’s almost 900 miles long and is surrounded by water.  The Pacific Ocean occupies its western boundary and the Sea of Cortez the eastern.  The two join at the southern tip in Cabo San Lucas.  The coast has over 1800 miles of shoreline, more than the Pacific coast of the continental USA!  Baja offers terrific fishing and more species of game fish than anywhere I know, including Florida.  I first heard of Baja in the 70s.  A good buddy who I grew up with in NJ moved to LA.  I suggested I come out on a vacation and we take his Jeep Honcho on a surf fishing excursion to Baja.  His reaction was he wasn’t going down there without a machine gun mounted on the hood of the Jeep.  Several years later I ended up moving to San Diego and I started fishing Baja.  All I can say is I sure wish I was a kayak fisherman then.  That’s because Baja offers more kayak fishing opportunities than one can do in several lifetimes.

Yellowfin tuna are a manstay on both coasts - pic Jim Sammons There are so many environments and micro ecosystems to explore full of fish; dozens and dozens of species.  What’s very unique is there isn’t much population throughout most of the peninsula.   The majority of people are either up north near the US border or way south in and about La Paz.  The middle region from San Quintin to La Paz only has a few areas of population.  Most of the region is desolate but the fishing isn’t.  Another attribute is Baja has very few ramps suitable for boat launching and while car topping offers more choices there are still an overwhelming number of places where you can’t launch a car topper.  However there are thousands of places where a kayak can be launched.  Whenever you can get away from waters that are readily accessed the quality of fishing becomes terrific.  Baja has great fishing near its major ports so folks don’t have the need to go remote, but as kayak fishermen we can access so many opportunities.

There’s a few ways to access the fishing.  You can go via boat, fly or drive.

Mothership Fishing: This is easy.  Hop on a boat that offers Mothership trips to Baja.  They come in two forms: day trips or multiday.  Day trips are to the Coronado Islands, which are just south of the US border.  Multiday trips go hundreds of miles south of the border hitting some islands and reefs.  The Qualifier 105 and Islander offer trips.  These trips look awesome but they’re not cheap.  An 8 day trip is going to run you $1995.  Accommodations are on the boat which is akin to a floating hotel.  Meals and bait are provided.  You supply the kayak and tackle.  Both the Qualifier and Islander run trips in the Pacific Ocean. Another boat, Tony Reyes offers trips in the Sea of Cortez and I discuss it further in that section.

Fishermen in southern California have easy access to Baja.  Many hop on a short flight and head to a resort.  Lots of Americans have second homes and keep kayaks there.  The other option is to go with an outfitter.

Guide/Outfitter: This is where you join an operation that supplies most of the gear you need.  There are two very different types of trips here.  One utilizes an all inclusive resort and the other involves camping.  I spent three years in the 80s fishing Baja while camping but all of it was from a boat.  However if I were to do it now I would do so using a kayak.

Resort Trip: The one trip I have taken kayak fishing in Baja was a resort trip with East Cape Kayak Fishing.  (Place link here to Baja article) Jim Sammons offers guided Mothership trips of a few to several days at two resorts on the East Cape; Hotels Punta Colorado and Rancho Leonero.   This type of trip is easy and can provide a great family vacation too.  We stayed at the Hotel Punta Colorado in air conditioned rooms with 3 meals offered each day.  The hotel is right on the Roosterfish from the East Cape of Baja water and there’s a swimming pool and long sandy beaches.  The hotel is about an hour from the airport and there isn’t much else around but that’s OK.  You’re in the heart of some of the most fertile and productive fishing waters anywhere.  Punta Colorado, the actual point, is dead center for some of the best Roosterfishing anywhere.  Blue water is literally only a few hundred yards off the beach.  Dorado, skipjack and yellow fin tuna abound and there’s plenty of billfish too.  Especially sailfish but both striped and blue marlins have been hooked here from kayaks also.  I don’t believe anyone has landed a blue.  You could be the first.

Camping: As the name suggests this is where you meet your outfitter and rather than stay in a hotel, you camp.  Gary Bulla offers a few different trips.  His original trip is to Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla San Jose, which are islands near La Paz.  The trip consists of a week of paddling and camping with your rod along on these beautiful islands.  Gary specializes in fly fishing.  If you don’t fly fish it’s a great place to learn or check with Gary about bringing spin gear.  Gary is now offering a remote beach camp trip on Magdalena Island on the Pacific side of Baja.  Many aren’t aware but there’s a huge bay/estuary system on the Pacific Coast.  The area is commonly referred to a Mag Bay, but also encompasses Almegas Bay too.

You can do a resort or camping trip on your own.  Kayaks are available at the resorts listed above and I’m sure at many others.

Do It Yourself: This is how most people kayak fish Baja.  Lots of anglers from southern California and Arizona go on trips as short as a day to a month or more.  Baja is big with snowbirds and there are lots of retired Americans and Canadians living there.   The longer trips tend to be comprised of people who come from farther away.

Day trips are to places usually below Ensenada and by anglers who live a reasonable distance from the border.  The fishing is similar to southern California but better.  More often these are weekend trips though.  A bunch of anglers hook up on the forums and drive down together.  Most camp but there is motels where you can stay too however camping will put you right on the beach with your kayak and gear.  This makes for a better experience.

The Regions

Baja is best broken down into regions, which is what I’ll do here.  There’s a lot of opportunity for trips and I’ll only mention some of the possibilities.  Your best bet to learn all that’s available is to get on some of the southern California forums and ask questions, or better yet hook up with a bunch of locals going on a trip.  If you’re interested in driving and fishing Baja I highly recommend ‘The Baja Catch’ by Neil Kelly and Gene Kira.  The book is written for car top fishing Baja, but anywhere you can get a car topper in the water you can launch a kayak.  It has lots of great information and maps.

The Pacific: I affectionately call the air conditioned coast.  That’s because the cool Pacific waters tend to keep the area near shore 10 to 30 degrees cooler than just across the peninsula.  While it can easily be 110 degrees or more in Bahia de Los Angeles in late summer just 70 miles away on the opposite coast it’ll be in the 80s.  I’m going to start at the US border and work my way down the peninsula.

Most of the fishing on the Pacific side is fishing the ocean.  This requires surf launches and while there are some points that will block the waves this isn’t the norm.  There are also some bays which for the most part are called esteros.  Again there aren’t any sheltered waters/esteros, until you reach the Guerrero Negro area and south from there.  Still there isn’t a lot considering all the coastline.

Tijuana to Ensenada: This is just like fishing southern California.  The same species as you’d catch there.  Expect yellowtail, halibut, white sea bass, calico bass, bonito and such.  However most anglers go a bit further south to the next zone.  Puerto Santo Thomas has camping for a few bucks a day and good fishing right there.

Pacific Cold Water Zone: Right around Santo Thomas you hit an interesting region.  It’s an anomaly because the area functions like northern California and Oregon.   The water averages 10 degrees less than southern California.  It’s caused by tremendous upwelling.  It’s as if someone dropped you off the Oregon coast except the weather’s better.  Surf perch and bottom rockfish dominate the catch.

El Rosario to Punta Eugenia: Once you get to El Rosario things start transitioning back to what you’d expect in southern California.  Except the fishing’s a lot better.  Highway 1, the road that runs the entire length of Baja, leaves the Pacific coast and runs down the spine Map of Baja from US to El Rosario of the peninsula for a couple hundred miles.  Access to the ocean is via dirt roads that are 30 to 60 miles or more to water.  This is a desolate region with only a couple pit stops along the way on the highway and virtually nothing on the coasts except some fish camps.  The commercial fishermen here are after shellfish; mainly lobster and abalone. It’s too far to market for finned fishes so it’s cost prohibitive to fish for them. Keep in mind it is illegal to take shellfish for foreigners in Mexico but you can either buy or trade for them. These fishermen are far from stores and supplies. They get tired of eating fish and canned goods and other foods make valuable barter items. The area has lots of points frequented by surfers.  You don’t hear much about the fishing but it’s superb.  If you’re going to access these remote spots you have to bring everything with you.  It’s best to have a few vehicles for safety.  The highway comes back near the water just above Guerrero Negro, which is famous for Scammon’s Lagoon.  Scammon’s is known for gray whale watching as it’s one of the places where they give birth to and raise their young.

One day I picked up an American hitch hiking and we talked fishing.  Sergio with a couple large white sea bass He told me that the surf fishing from El Rosario south was incredible.  He said he’d take a rod with a Hopkins and catch 5 to 30 pound white sea bass all day long.  He said there were lots of halibut too.  I never got to fish this region but when I first moved back to NJ I became friends with a surf fisherman from Mazatlan named Sergio.  He wanted to catch white sea bass on a trip where he was going to drive the entire Baja peninsula.  Just north of Guerrero Negro there’s an area you can reach by vehicle.  He sent me the pic below of a 38 and 28 pounder.

There’s a hotel just above Guerrero Negro where I use to stop and get a nice meal.  It would be a good place to stay if you didn’t wish to camp as it’s close to some excellent fishing at Punta Rosario and EL Morro Santo Domingo.

Besides white sea bass and halibut, you can expect yellowtail, corvina, corbina, croaker, barracuda and more.

The Northern Cortez: At La Chapala the road splits from highway 1 and heads to the coast and eventually Mexicali.  The first place where you can get to the water is at Calamajue and there are a few spots up to Puertecitos.  If you started in the US then Puertecitos would be your first stop.  I understand in the spring the corvina and white sea bass schools can be incredible.   In summer this is where yellowtails spend their time.  Pelagics make it up this far too and there are lots of big bottom fishes.  There’s a string of islands called the Las Islas Encantadas a few miles offshore.  Around them are lots of underwater pinnacles.   I’ve never fished there but I’d love to spend some time there late spring/early summer with a kayak.  A Hobie Adventure would be great as the prevailing afternoon winds are northeast and would blow you back to shore.

Further south in the Sea of Cortez, monstrous Isla la Guarda forms a string of islands that ends at Isla San Lorenzo.  The fishing can be spectacular out there but it requires Mothership access.  This is where the long range boats based in San Filipe head.  Tony Reyes has been running panga Mothership trips in the northern Cortez down to this island chain for 42 years.  I contacted them and they said kayaks are welcome.  It would be incredible.

Totuava - the largest member of the croaker family When I was in Baja the largest member of the corvina family, which includes weakfish, seatrout, white sea bass, etc, the Totuava was almost extinct. That’s because it spawns in the Colorado River delta. However the environment has improved and they’re making a comeback. They’re still protected but now they are available. What’s great is they use to reach weights in excess of 300 pounds! That’s one sea trout!


LA Bay: Just before Highway 1 heads back to the coast and Guerrero Negro there’s a turn off at Punta Prieta.  40 miles east is the next kayak fishing hotspot, Bahia de Los Angeles; called LA Bay for short.  From the US border it’s about 400 miles and can be driven in one day.  As you get close you hit a point where you can see the water and it is an incredible sight.  Your vista encompasses over a dozen Baja map El Rosario to Santa Rosalia islands and some days you can see across the Cortez to the Mainland.  The drab land and islands are contrasted starkly by the tropical colors of the water.  This is where I spent a lot of time.  I could write pages about the place but I’ll keep it short.  Spring there’s a run of white sea bass but the area can be very windy.  Summer is very hot with temps well into the hundreds.  Summer and fall is yellowtail time.  There are two main areas here.  The town is in the southern part of the bay and La Gringa is the point at the north entrance.  Depending on where you launch will determine where you’ll fish.  It’s a bit over a mile across from the outside of La Gringa to Isla Smith which has a number of good yellowtail and white sea bass spots.  Mackerel are readily available at first light for making bait.  When you are on the water just keep an eye on the horizon here and if you see some fuzzy stuff approaching head in.  That’s the wind coming and it can be fierce. If you can’t make it back to the mainland then hunker down on an island. Storms often form in the warm months called Chubascos. These are small, powerful storms that start over the water and can come to land. They can have winds in excess of 100 mph. You don’t want to be caught in it. If you embark from the southern part of the bay the fishing is usually best near the southern point. The road goes south and with a 4wd with big tires you can get as far south as Bahia San Francisquito.  You can camp anywhere you can gain access to the water along the route. The bays south of LA Bay see very few fishermen.


Pacific Transition Zone: This is where the kelp forests transition into subtropical waters.  It starts at Punta Eugenia.  Like all transitions it’s a mixture of the two environments.  By the time you reach Bahia Asuncion you’ve left the kelp for good.  Tuna and dorado become more common but there’s a lot of mingling of northern and southern species.  In this zone you might catch white sea bass, yellowtail, yellow fin tuna and dorado all the same day.  This region offers superb angling.  Broomtail grouper and giant seabass enter the fray.  Here you can easily hook fish you’ll never land.  Just drop a baitfish near the rocky reefs that abound in the area and hope you don’t hook one too big.  There are seabass as big as kayaks here.  The best places to base out of would be the towns of Bahia Asuncion and Abreojos or somewhere between.

I’ve communicated with Shari Bondy, a relocated Canadian woman who’s married to Juan, who’s a native from the area.  They have a bed and breakfast and offer a wide array of services from full house rentals, RV parking and tent camping along with panga fishing.  Some of the houses even include kayaks.  The prices are superb.  Shari regularly posts on the Baja Nomad forums and includes regular fishing reports there and on her website.

Mulege/ Santa Rosalia Area: After you cross the peninsula again you hit the Sea of Cortez at Santa Rosalia.  From here all the way past Conception Bay there are a lot of opportunities to kayak fish.  Conception Bay, just south of Mulege is one of the most beautiful places on the planet.  When you first see the bay from the north as you round a bend it literally takes your breath away.  The incredibly clear water and layers of colors is hard to describe.  The fishing in the bay is OK.  You want to be fishing on the outside in the Sea of Cortez.  The region has a reputation for some of the best middleweight fishing in all of Baja.  Yellowtail in the winter and tuna, dorado and sailfish dominate in the summer.  There are a lot of places to stay or camp here.

Loreto Area: This area has been a destination for a long time because there’s Baja Map Mulege to Cabo an airport just south of town.  I actually spent very little time in Loreto.  That’s because there’s a great RV park at Puerto Escondido, which is only a little bit further south.  So I fished this area more.  The southernmost part of the area is Aqua Verde.  I heard good things about the fishing but I never got there.  There are a number of places to stay and launch in the area.  There’s camping too.  There’s two seasons here.  In the warm months it’s dorado, tunas and sailfish.  In the cooler month’s yellowtail, leopard and gulf grouper are the dominant gamefish.  Most of the fishing is around the offshore islands and they’re a bit of a haul in a kayak. However off the beach at Juncalito you can catch roosterfish.


Pacific Mangrove Lagoons and their Ocean Region: Just past the turn off to Aqua Verde the highway heads back over near the Pacific coast.  If there ever was a place that has kayak fishing written all over it its Mag Bay, especially what is referred to as the panhandle.  This region consists of approximately 60 miles of estero that’s no more than a couple miles wide.  On the eastern border is desert with a few rivers that enter the area.  The western border is comprised of a few barrier islands.  Access to the ocean is via three bocas (what we call inlets).  The shore is lined with mangroves that isolate this world.  Interestingly the water is warmest in November and coldest in June.  Literally dozens of species call these waters their home.  Way too many to list but some standouts are snook, broomtail grouper, trevally, corvinas, pompano, sierra and millions of spotted bay bass.  In the ocean are many of the same but also tuna, bonito, amberjack, jack crevalle, roosterfish, white sea bass, yellowtail and giant seabass.  Offshore are some of the best marlin grounds in the northern hemisphere along with tuna and wahoo.

Many years ago I communicated with a fisherman who used to camp out on the barrier islands and fish the estero and ocean.  In the ocean they caught big roosters but were spooled at least once a day and left only guessing.  Jim Sammons and I spoke about this and we conjectured what could be spooling them.  In a region as remote and unfished as this it could be a lot of different species.  It could be monster roosters, amberjacks, sharks, who knows?   I’d like to be in a kayak there and find out though.   In the panhandle you have three places to embark from; San Jorge, El Faro or Puerto Lopez Mateos.  The latter two have towns.

This region also has flats and bonefish.  You don’t hear a lot about it because they really aren’t pursued but they’re there.  Almegas Bay has miles and miles of shallow, very difficult to access flats.  The difficulty is the nearest launch ramp is over 25 miles away across open water that’s prone to strong winds.  Also there aren’t any flats boats in Baja.  That’s because the area isn’t conducive to it.  However one could drive to southern Almegas and access the fishing with a stand up kayak.  It’s on my list.

Toney Reyes offers one week Mothership trips offshore of Mag Bay.  They will take you and your kayak for the same price.  Of course you have to get it to San Carlos first.

These businesses offer packages for kayak fishing on Magdalena Island or the waters offshore.

La Paz: Is the largest city in Baja Sur (southern Baja).  Offshore are some large islands and that’s where Gary Bulla offers his original fly fishing kayak trips.  There’s terrific fishing there.

North of La Paz there’s access points and the farther away you get the better the fishing.  The bottom species are pretty much locals but the pelagic are migratory.  It can be feast or famine with them.  Time it right and you’re in heaven but hit it at the wrong time and you’re stuck with reef species.  That’s not too bad as they’re great and there isn’t anything wrong with grouper, cabrilla, pargo, jacks and such and there are still going to be roosters prowling the sand.  Most anglers aren’t going to bother with this area though.  The East Cape is easier to access.  Highway 1 leaves La Paz and heads inland here so there isn’t much access until it heads back over.

The Southern Pacific: I couldn’t find any information on this region.  Highway 1 heads over to the Sea of Cortez at La Paz before it heads back to the coast at Todos Santos.   I mention it because I’m sure there’s some terrific fishing here and maybe someone who’s been there will write me.  The coast is extremely remote but there are roads that lead from the highway to the water.  I bet there’s excellent fishing for toro (jack crevalle), roosters, sierra and several other species.  From the states it’s going to be three days travel, one way to access beaches here.  Not many anglers have that kind of time to go somewhere so remote when there are so many easier places to reach with excellent fishing.  It’s the wide open Pacific too.  No esteros or protected waters.  So if the surf’s too big and unlaunchable you’re stuck fishing from land.  Still it would be very interesting to fish.  I bet it receives very little pressure for a few reasons.  Its isolation, also it isn’t very far from some of the best and readily accessible sport fishing in the world.  That’s the next section, Cabo and the East Cape.

Cabo and the East Cape: Cabo sits at the southern tip of Baja and while it is a terrific fishery its best left to the boaters.  When I spent time there in the mid 80s we’d camp on the beach for a few bucks a day.  Dorado are common in southern baja - pic Jim Sammons That’s when Cabo was a sleepy little fishing village.  Those days are long gone.  Where I use to camp on the beach is now filled with high rise hotels and resorts.  Cabo is now a jet set vacation and party town.  The fishing is still terrific but if you head a bit north there’s better kayak fishing.   That’s because once you leave the Pacific and enter the Sea of Cortez the surf greatly diminishes.  The stretch north of Cabo Pulmo is some of the best sport fishing in the world.  Pelagic big game is readily accessible to shore launched kayaks.  That’s because blue water comes within very close proximity to the beach.  How close?  Well in some spots only a couple hundred yards!  You can catch dorado, tuna and billfish from a beach launch.  There aren’t many places on the planet that can make this claim.  Inshore there’s terrific fishing for toro, cabrilla, grouper, amberjack, pargo and some of the biggest roosterfish in the world.  The resorts that East Cape Kayak Fishing uses for its trips are in the heart of this region.  There are places to camp too and do it on your own or you can stay at one of the resorts.  It’s up to you.

You’ve got a bunch of options in Baja, but no matter how you fish there it’s a destination worth the effort.

Resources: When I told the folks at Baja Almanac that I was doing a story about Baja and Baja Almanacwas interested in their publication they sent me a copy.  I love maps and this almanac is terrific. It reminds me of the US series from Delorme. It’s a topographic atlas and road map of the entire peninsula dividing Baja up into 22 separate maps, each of which encompasses 2 pages. Each page is 11 by 17 inches and the scale is an inch to five miles. If you’re going to be driving in Baja you’re going to want to have it along. I know I will.

Here are some additional helpful links.

Here's an interactive picture highway map -
A variety of maps that show different features of Baja -

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