Friday, October 21, 2016

Blue Marlin Fishing

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

     be true.

     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.



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