El Nino Blue Marlin
From the window of our plane we saw the Baja Peninsula rising
from the sea below us like a a writhing red dragon with the
Pacific on one side and the Sea of Cortez on the other.
Only the hardy survive in the Baja's harsh beauty : sharp
spined cactus, armadillos wearing suits of armor, swift
roadrunners. Life on this rugged peninsula brings one close
to the struggle for survival: armor, weapons, cunning, speed.
It is likewise in the seas offshore Baja. Few people
find it an inviting place except for the hardy fishermen
for the waters offshore Baja teem with sea life of various
kinds. Donning a mask and flippers, I entered its clear
water and found a small fish resembling a dead leaf, a
skittish school of large fish that streaked away before I
could get a good look, and strange puffer fish covered with
spines like the cactus in the surrounding mountains.
El nino, a change in ocean currents had brought a surge
of warm water to the Pacific coast of Mexico and to the Sea
of Cortez. The warm water had turned the fishing upside
down. El nino means the child and is associated with
Christmas time since it occurs around December and brings
gifts from the sea in the form of tropical species.
Perhaps the captain of the fishing boat we chartered was
born during an El Nino for like the child, his name was
Jesus. Jesus Ariza. Due to El nino, the unexpected was
about to leap up everywhere.
Away from the shallows where I snorkeled, the water
drops off rapidly in the Sea of Cortez and has a hard black
and white glitter like a chipped obsidian spear point due to
its great depth.
I sat on the upper deck and chatted with the captain
while gazing at a panoramic view offshore of Beuna Vista. As
the mountainous shore receded I imagined fish below us like
armored, colorful warriors equipped for battle with lances,
spears, sharp fins and teeth--ready for fight or flight.
In their submarine world, great billed and sharp finned
fish were cruising the dark waters: sailfish, marlin, dorado,
tuna in all their shining splendor. Trailing from the deck
below were three fishing lines rigged with artificial squid,
red, green and black. It wasn't long before we saw tuna
leaping and Jesus circled around while our deck hand Luis
threw out a bait fish to tempt them. We were rewarded by a
tug on the line and our fishing companion Ben pulled in a
yellow tuna with its vivid blue and yellow racing stripes and
bright yellow sawtooth fins protecting the underbelly. The
others in our party, Norm, Charlie, and Jean took turns
pulling in fish and by ll:30, we had boated three yellow
tuna, and one striped marlin with the help of Luis, always
quick to dash down the ladder and cast out a bait or gaff a
fish. Luis moved like quicksilver as he expertly rigged lines
and tossed them out nonchanlantly.
During a lull, the boat rocked gently as Jesus spoke
Spanish to another boat captain on the marine radio. His
alert eyes scanned the water for leaping tuna or marlin. He
had grown up on this sparsely populated coast and knew the
sea and its inhabitants intimately. His steel grey hair
curled around his weathered face. Jesus put the radio
receiver down and chatted with me companionably about his
fishing career on the Baja while we waited for another
"I started fishing commercially for shark with my father
at age eleven. At fifteen, I started working on a
sportsfishing boat and have done this for the past 30 years.
I had no chance to go to school," he said.
"Do you like your job?" I asked.
"Si" he answered.
"I know a lot of people who would like to trade jobs
with you," I said scanning the water for leaping tuna, the
telltale scythe like fin of marlin, or perchance, a whale.
"There's a sea lion," Jesus noted. Rocking gently in
the sea with its flippers pointing toward the sun as if
receiving a boon, the sea lion basked, oblivious us,
perfectly at home in the Sea of Cortez named after the
armored conquistodor who discovered it, then ravaged much of
Mexico. Above us black frigate birds gliding on the wind
searched the water for small fish below them, or other sea
birds they could steal fish from. Frigate birds are the
pirates of the air.
Thinking this would be a good time to eat lunch, I
pulled out a chicken stuffed tortilla. "Pass me some of that
hot sauce," I asked. Norm handed it up from below. Norm and
I had never fished for marlin before. We had fished the
Great Lakes fresh water for coho, chinook, and pink salmon as
well as lake trout, steelhead and football sized brown trout.
A marlin had just been a dream until our friend Charlie
introduced us to his favorite place on the Baja, Spa Beuna
Vista, and his favorite captain. It was easy to see why
Jesus was much sought after. He was unfailingly considerate
and usually found fish. The results today were in the fish
For some weeks before we arrived el nino had been
blowing. This was fortunate for us we were told, since
el nino blows across the Baja every three or four years and
is likely to bring good deep sea fishing. The day, February
26, was sunny with a breeze blowing, not too rough, not too
calm, a perfect day for fishing. The previous days had been
too windy for comfort causing the boat to pitch drunkenly.
Even so we had caught three yellow fin tuna and had seen ten
marlin near the surface. This day was perfect. I was happy
to be on board.
At high noon suddenly, out of the black and white sea, a
magnificent fish struck--Norm grabbed the rod from its holder
cranking the reel. He knew the fish was hooked well on the
artificial lure. Within seconds it stripped off hundreds of
feet of line, rocketing out of the sea, and splashing down
again and again.
I caught my breath at the sight of the fish leaping so
far ahead of the boat. Could this really be the same fish on
the line? It was too far away from the boat. It didn't
behave like the other marlin. Even from a distance I could
see its lance like snout, its large dark eyes its scimitar
shaped tail and its flying grace as it arced back into the
water. I could see that Jesus was excited. "It's a blue
marlin," he shouted turning the wheel of the boat.
"We are lucky today," he said. "It is early in the
season for a blue marlin."
Luis reeled in the other lines to keep them clear of the
great fish on the other end of Norm's line. Norm played the
fish in a welter of waves amid our cheers and whoops. The
marlin sounded tugging the 80 pound test line, down, down,
down. Again the great blue broke water as Norm played it.
It ran with the line and he played it, letting it take its
time, reeling, playing it out. At last he reeled it in close
the boat and we caught sight of the marlin's luminous
markings, periwinkle blue shading to violet fins appeared
above the water, and Luis gaffed the fish grabbing it by its
lance like bill. He lashed it securely to the stern of the
boat with a rope. Blue marlin are so highly prized for their
white flesh that a fish like this was a bonanza for our
captain; it would feed a lot of people in a country that is
none to prosperous. If this were not so, we would have
released the fish.
On our way again, Charlie said he'd like to catch a
dorado so we begin trolling again. Jesus observed seven
marlin fins nearby. The fish were basking, enjoying a fine
day. Luis threw out a bait fish to interest them and one of
them hit his line, but the reel fouled. We tried again. All
about us we saw marlins leaping, tuna leaping. At his
vantage point on the upper deck Jesus could see 360 degrees
and never missed any movement on the water.
"Why do fish leap?" I asked.
"Because they are happy," Jesus replies. It seemed to
Another marlin struck and this time Ben grabbed the rod.
After another leaping, heart-catching battle, he landed a
striped marlin, then released it back into the sea.
"I want to see a whale," I say to Jesus. At this time
of year and through the month of March, humpback whales breed
in the warm waters off the Baja peninsula. The words were
barely out of my mouth when the leviathon materialized,
leaped high in the air right directly in front of the boat.
I let out a cheer that brought the rest of the crew topside.
The whale leaped again and sounded leaving a dark blue hole
in the black waters. Awesome.
"Where did he go?" We all peered in every direction.
Then we saw him spout and the great back curved gracefully
beneath the water, its rakish tail, grey on top and white
underneath, disappeared as I wondered if the whale was as
interested in us as we were in him. He seemed in no hurry to
leave, but after he did, we decided to call it a day.
Back on shore, the crew hoisted the blue marlin onto a
scale and it weighed in at 356 pounds. The striped marlin
weighed l65 pounds and the three yellow tuna about 60 pounds
a piece. That evening the dining room at the resort Spa
Beuna Vista served us a delicacy, suchi, thin slices of red
raw tuna dipped in soy sauce, and the piece de resistance,
the fine white meat of the blue marlin a dinner fit for the
most finicky gourmet.
El nino gifted us with a tremendous boon from the sea.