ROOSTERFISH - Nematistius pectoralis
Roosterfish are native to the pacific from San Clemente, CA to Peru and the Galapagos Islands but rare north of Baha. We have tried for them in other places but this trip was just inside the Sea of Cortez north of Cabo and south of La Paz. The book says they go to five feet and up to 80 pounds. Attitude is not mentioned.
The fastest fish in the sea is the sailfish at 68 mph. Number ten on the list is a tarpon at 35 mph. Bonefish are in the middle with 40mph. Billfish, tuna, a shark, flying fish and Wahoo fill out the list. Missing, notably, in the top ten are the barracuda that chases down bones for a living, permit that go so fast they disappear and, the fish we just caught bunch of this trip; roosterfish. My guess is nobody could get a radar gun on a rooster going in a straight line. Come to think of it, who got what kind of measurement on any fish? If high "G" turns were considered, this fish might be right up there near the top. If it was a human it would be a punk rocker and the music it would have to would be heavy metal. The first time you see one in the bait, and then grabs your fly, might give you a heart attack. This trip was chasing the mighty rooster.
Last year this time, May 2012, we were licking our wounds over the first big fishing trip that we got skunked on…ever. The "we" was Scud Yates (me), Unk Smith and Justin, Scud's youngest son. We had fished out a fine little resort for roosterfish without luck. A story did not seem appropriate. The host, flabbergasted as he was, said that in twenty years of doing this trip that had never happened at least to that extent. There were four fishermen and none of us got a rooster… in a place that could be billed the finest place to find this "bucket list" fish. He offered a really good deal if we would come back and try it again.
What had gone wrong last year…sardines, the most important ingredient to the fishery, for some reason flat disappeared. They had been there a few days before we arrived but an early, very early, storm formed south of us in the Pacific. Although it was far south, something made the little bait leave the area. All we had left to us was to try without and that did not work. The most beautiful hotel and beach was a treat to play in but fish were missing. The resort was so neat, my son and I both brought out families along this year just in case the fish were not there again. Both the families and the fishermen were very happy in 2013. Unk joined again but without his girlfriend as she had a broken leg.
My son, his wife and 17 month old son flew in from CA. My wife and I along with Unk, good fishing buddy, came from FL. Unk got delayed along the way and the rest of us drank beer on his tab until his arrival… an old tradition. Our host came to greet us having dropped off some of his company folks for AM flights out. Gathering up folks from different terminals can be like herding cats. His phone and language abilities made it simple. We all comfortably fit into the van and 2.5 hours later we drove into the Gran Sueno hotel. Last year the desert was a dried up mess for the whole drive. Three years since the last rain did that. This year green and flowering cactus made the eyes feel better. The hotel was beautiful last year, having just ended its normal season, but this year was really special with it really bloomed out and colorful. The families said our pictures from last year did not do it justice. Hell, the web site is fantastic and it does not really show it all that well either. The baby, Leo, keyed in on the many pools and was in one in mere minutes after reaching the room. The rest of us went to the bar and started the tab for the stay.
James Shaughnessy, our host and the maker and owner of my favorite fly rods, Beulah saltwater rods (http://www.beulahflyrods.com/), leads this fishing venue yearly. He started camping and fishing down in the area 25 years ago and figured out the best way to capitalize on the resources to make this happen in a fantastic way. He made friends with the guides, the hotels and actually set up the bait catchers in the business to provide a venue that made the roosters the primary fish for the trip instead of an afterthought like other lodges. You can catch many other fish types up to sailfish, marlin and as exotic as milkfish, if you can make them eat… but the roosters are the draw.
I met James about eight years ago when he introduced himself on line asking if I would try out his rods. He had read my stories about our redfish and tarpon chasing and needed some pics with his rods and these fish. I was sent a rod to try. Interestingly enough, when I was pulling his "shop" rod, a three piece 8/9, out of the box in the driveway, I saw a herd of jack Crevalle, twenty pounders, roaring up my bayou. They would hit the end of it in a few minutes and have to come out again so I was trying to string up the rod to toss something at them and perhaps get the test started. In the rush to get the act together I finished tying the big fly on the leader and picked up the rod, only to notice the tip was broken. I probably did it in the rush but did not remember doing it. It was OK when passed the line and leader through. The fish got away and I had to call James and tell him what I had accomplished in the test world for him already. He laughed, and sent me another rod, this one new. I was the first guide in guide program. I have four of his rods now, from 7 to 11 weights and in three and four piece designs. Several friends use them now and a bonefish lodge in Andros has them for the guests who destroy their trout rods on bones. James is coming out with a new line of super light rods and I will probably "need" a couple of them. I have many other brands but really find his superior in most all ways.
James talked about the roosterfish trip back then but I think he said it was hot and they chased the fish down the beach on foot when they came along. I was not sure if that sounded like much fun for an old guy. He amended it a few years back to say we would stay in a five star hotel and climb into a panga boat outside the hotel bar and fish within minutes thereafter. The trip climbed up the desire list mightily. I had tried and failed at a couple other lodges to catch a rooster, this would be it. Then the first year problem set us back. We were really glad we came back.
A good ten weight rod with floating line, leader of 20 pounds and some minnow looking flies about four inches long will do. We took extra rods and reels as these fish break stuff. We also had the clear floating lines we use on tarpon but they might not be all that necessary
The standard 22-24 foot panga boat is used with a seventy HP motor pushing it. The seas are not all that rough and one guy stands on the nose deck and the other back behind the seats. The guide is in the middle scooping live sardines out of the live well between the seats. These things stand up to big water and probably could take a broadside from a destroyer.
The Gran Sueno ( http://www.gransueno.com/), "big dream," is just that. From food to toys it has it all. We were almost the only folks there as the season just ended. It is usually the hot weather time. This trip it was not hot at all. Al Gore has not adjusted it down there yet.
It started with my clock calling me an hour early. We had WIFI but no phone service so the phone was picking up data for nothing but that is not enough to adjust the time on it. This earliness meant I did find time to rig and enjoy the sunrise getting ready to fish. I had needed the hour. My son Justin and I in one boat and Unk with James in the other one had a gentleman's launch of 0730. James had beer, breakfast and lunch in the cooler and we just walked out to the beach and climbed on. It took us about 20 minutes on the glassy water to join up with the bait boats and have an offload of a few hundred five inch long sardines. We met them off the end of a fifty mile long island just off shore. The bait was caught on the outside of the island, about ten miles north of us. The bait guys went back for more bait and we went a mile out to a sea mount to find skipjack…tuna family like a bonito. The mount is a hill top 60 feet down where the bottom around it is 500+ feet deeper. Every fish in the sea treats the mount like Disney Land. The guide, Marco, said, "get ready," and tossed live bait a few yards out from us. Three handfuls and it started blowing up with the little "skippies." One toss and a few seconds to let it sink, then one slight strip sent my line flying out burning my finger. This first one took too much line, straight down, as I had too little drag set. They don't come up easy and Justin's rod bent in a minute…our first double of the day. With those in, it again happened almost too easily. I had eight and Justin four before we called uncle. We did not need any more of those guys. They came in five to fifteen pound sizes and anything bigger and I would have tried to break off.
Justin's Skipjack tuna
The bait guys topped us off and we went three miles away to a point with a beach where the roosters flowed by. Our boat was first and Marco tossed a few handfuls out and the big blow-ups started, only a couple fish but much water in the air. So much water flew it was hard to see the fish. When the depth charge splashes got close enough to throw and we could see the roosters were very fast and pretty darn big. We both got our flies in the water and one monster flew at Justin's fly and just inhaled it and disappeared into the depths. It ran off about hundred yards of line before Marco got more drag on Justin's reel. I just sat and watched as we motored out into the deeper water so Just could get the fight on the fly line and not the backing. After ten minutes with the reeling in and the fish taking it back, Justy asked if we "could make it a 'family' fish." I said, "No way, this all your pull." It took about 30 minutes and almost tore a strong man's arm off, but the smile was something else.
Marco and Justin Raspy but not toothy
Marco estimated it was 23-25 kilos, fifty pounds or there about. Back to fishing and trying to do it again, but Justin took a couple minutes off to shake it off.
The way the fish come up and thrash through the arena is pretty dramatic. The sardines hit the water and start joining up in little schools of up to six. In no time you have several schools in your area and they get noticed by the roosters…and many other fish kinds that are not all that useful in taking your fly. Some have teeth and cut leaders. You can cast and strip your fly fast through the bait of just wait until the beasts start slashing through. They come up from the depths, perhaps 10-20 feet down and just flat out murder the bait. The fisherman needs to land a pretty long cast out front of where you think these fish are headed. Throwing at the big bust can work as they turn around and look in the bubbles they created if they miss. A second or third fish can also be following. They change direction with nine "G" turns so often that sometimes it is just better to have the fly in the water…anywhere in the water. Not too many fish have taken the one in the boat or your hand.
I lost my first hook up and Justin had a couple hit but not stick. Unk and James were nearby and doing well also. James had one right off. With that much quick success, the other boats watched us and started closing in. Not everybody had an efficient way to get bait. The boat we get it from was outfitted by James and works for us primarily…they can sell to others but only if we are covered and they have extra.
We decided to move south a few miles to get away from the traffic as we were being pressed by about eight other boats who wanted to use our "schools" too. Several boats ran right through our fish while we were working them. All the guided boats are manned by relatives so there is not much animosity shown…at least while we are watching. We joined with the bait guys for another load and motored off to the south passing our hotel along the way.
The second spot or spots were up against the rocky shoreline of some mountains. We would motor and then stop and toss sardines. If fish came up we set up to make sardine schools. We saw many milkfish along the way. They are plant eaters and hard to hook but James had caught one accidentally the day before. It was a big fish and took a long time to land. He does not have a strategy to chase them yet but that fight may make it another target if thought through. He got the IGFA regulation data on the fish for a record only to find out there is no category for milkfish. Both big needlefish and a type of mackerel, Sierra, often hit our flies and they both have teeth. Than a few more hook-ups without staying hooked happened. We ran out of sardines about two PM and called it a day. We were not near the other boat and they did not squander their load as quickly and caught two more. They found more fish in what we later called the "honey hole." Unk got a forty pound one and said he was thinking heart attack the whole fight. It was a marvelous day and I was the only one without a rooster to the boat.
Upon arrival back at the hotel beach my grandson was doing full face plants in the surf scaring the mom and grand mom but making himself laugh. I mentioned I was heading for a shower and a nap and Kathy, my wife, said I needed supervision. The kid had worn her out already. A little sleep and then a great dinner and fine drinks made for an early evening. The eatery was a rich man's play room and the toys and trains that run around the upper balcony kept little Leo entertained to the max. The only thing making sleep hard was the sky view. Far from lights and no moon make the stars so bright you can almost read by them. If you got up to do old men things you were drawn to go and look up.
Unk and I could be found at 0515 sitting on his patio watching the sky. The Milky Way looked like overcast and shooting stars were flashing by. Sunrise was not until about 0620. It was to be somewhat a carbon copy start but we went, or were supposed to at 0615. Roosters, the birds, got the blame for not waking the guides up on time… we made it feet wet by about 7. We had a grand sunrise to keep us company. Because we had a report of big schools of busting jacks up near the bait catching we taxied up the outside of the big island and about five miles up, meeting the bait guys half way. No jacks found we went back to mount to see if something else might be there and found only the skippies again. A quick four or five apiece and Justy and I pleaded for a change. With an almost full load of sardines we started out for the beach of Justin's first catch. The fish were doing their thing but so were the other boats. They could not get close enough to us it seemed and were scaring the fish away. The frigate birds and pelicans were also pretty active. It is a real high threat arena for the little sardines. They get tossed in the water and the pelicans dive on them and then the fish come at them from the underside making them jump and those that clear the teeth and water get grabbed by the frigates. Justin got a line wrapped around a frigates wing and it had to be pulled in and released. Not one of Justin, Marco or the bird… was really happy. A little problem with getting another load of bait to go south came up when the bait boat did not show up to pass bait. James and Unk took off north to find them and we waited an hour off the end of the island for the two boats to come down and give us fish. James had some strong words with the guys, who probably sold all the fish that should have been ours and went back to get more…making the delay.
We made it to the honey hole, the farthest place south we fished and started the seeding of sardines. It got wild really fast. Fish were everywhere and not all roosters. Justin got another nice one and lost a couple for one reason or the other. He was putting more pressure on the fish and broke off one leader at the knot between the 30 and 20 pound sections. That would probably be the most likely place of weakness. Then he lost one to one of my hook knots. I had probably missed a loop in a complicated knot. It was exciting out there. I finally got a fish this day removing my virgin status. Justin landed another nice one and lost another also. Unk and James had a double, both fighting at the same time. About then all the other boats joined us. With a small area it would seem the more sardines tossed, the more fish would be attacking. All the motors running as people repositioned for better float lanes made the all-out attack of the roosters wane. We ran out of bait first and headed back toward the hotel. The bait catchers had come back to the hotel bay and left a bait tank floating off the launch area with enough for us to fish another period. My assumption was they went back up to the north to catch more bait.
When we grabbed the bucket, a barrel really, and were netting the minnows from the barrel to the live well, a small roosterfish attacked something along the rocks about 30 feet away from us. Then there were more on the attack and Justin pulled out his rod and nailed a little beauty in one cast. By the time the sardines were loaded and I had my rod out he had another. The bigger of the two might have gone four pounds but if you think the big ones were fast, these almost set the water on fire with their speed. As we pulled out to return to the honey hole, the other boat pulled up. We left as they were loading and casting.
Baby Scud's first
So the score in our boat was Justin with five fish and me with only one. Unk had probably three or four by now and who knows how many James had. He seemed to be hooked up all day. Back to the honey hole we went to find the other boats were just running out of bait. They don't throw it out as fast as we do because they pay a lot more for less fish. James gets the deal because he paid for the bait boat but that can bite you in the butt as we had seen earlier. The other boats had run out of bait and that was a good thing but the fish seemed to be "full" reported Marco. The needle fish were all over the place and seemed to enjoy not having the competition bowling them over. Justin lost another fish but this one just came 'unbuttoned" during the fight. That can happen if the hook is not in a good spot on the fish. The other boat came back but the two together forming schools could not catch another fish. We sauntered home and the other boat, with more sardines, checked some other spots along the way but found nothing compelling. We were back by two for a repeat of rescuing grandma from the little water baby. He was in the surf again and I tossed a sardine or two to him. One was dead and was kept out of his mouth by a quick grab from his mother and the other swam around him to his great interest. I will work with this start, he saw fish. I have plans for him poling my boat a few years from now.
The afternoon saw us midafternoon in the bar swilling great tequila drinks and an early dinner with James and his family, just arrived. His children, John 9 and Lila 5, took Leo in hand and made him a really happy kid. It was a great night.
The 0615 worked this day and we went way north to where the sardine boats were working for our first load. James and I fished together this day. It was windy and rough and Unk and I decided we each needed a young guy to stand on the little front platform while we tried to keep balance in the wide back area in front of the motor.
Tossing nets for bait
No jacks again and we managed to pass the mount and the skippy fest, thank God. The other boats were all over the sandy point so we passed them and headed for the honey hole again. I think they were without many sardines and saw us slip by. We did beat them to the honey hole and had the fish going wild very quickly. The waves and birds along with three kinds of fish made for a wild start. James and I quickly had a double and landed both. James dropped his pole and started shooting videos after we got the second double. Unk and Justin were also both hooked up. About this time the rest of the boats caught up and started getting the fish wary. We got plenty of more shots with me breaking one off and Justy doing the same. Both Unk and I were having a hard time standing in the rocking from the waves.
When we went back for a load of sardines at the ramp bucket, there were none to be had. Communications or marketing had James miffed again with the bait guys again. With high wind and plenty of fish already to the boat we went in a little early. No loss and playing with the family, naps and then a wine fest in Justin's room oiled us up for the dinner hour. Justin and Laurie had carried box wine to the games and a change from bar drinks and beer was welcome. At dinner, having had almost everything on the menu in the last two years, I asked if the cooks had any specialties they made… not on the menu. What evolved was a bevy of local specialties we truly had a ball eating. The wine start made for an especially early evening.
The wind was really up this morning and after going all the way north to find the bait boats we hit the sandy beach point for little try. I did get one big one to the boat but the wind and number of boats slashing around drove us to leave for the honey hole. The wind was out of the northwest and the sand point was very wavy. We had only a partial load of bait when we got there and the wind had shifted to the east so the waves were even worse, driving us into the shore on each drift. Justin got several on but had trouble getting them to stick. James and Unk headed for the bait bucket first and when we arrived they had James' son John on the front of the boat catching his first rooster. They had grabbed John off the beach on the way. He had a nice "stroke," but what do you expect from the son of maker of fine rods. John got his first rooster right then. They took the last little bait left from yesterday from the bucket and left, telling us to get a double load when the boys brought down a load and they would wait and get it from us at the fishing spot. We waited about ninety minutes until the bait boat came in… empty. They stated it was too rough to make it across the open water from the island, or to even toss nets with the east wind. We were not sure which but they really wanted to pull their boat out and be gone before the boss came back. Our day was done and James and Unk came in a little later after waiting for the bait for an hour. It was OK with me as getting beat up more in the waves to get more fish that tried to pull your arms out your sockets was not as high on my list as it had been days ago.
Dinner the last night was planned to be in La Paz, a forty minute van drive away. The ladies were a little bored of watching the grandson try and drowned in every pool… repeatedly. The four-thirty departure turned into drama when the van showed up with the back seat missing. Hurt feelings of a five year old and several other delays meant we started about five-thirty. World class speed shopping with several massive donations to the local economy ended with a tequila tasting driven by Laurie. Anything with "Don" in the name and older than a year won out. Some were good and others were great but the results were predictable…dinner was necessary.
In a nice eatery call Buffalos the ten of us sat. It was mother's day in Mexico so crowds were big. They have a lot of mothers down that way and all of them get taken to dinner. Somehow the Yates end of the table got talked into "a nice loin of beef for five." More drinks happened and then a small door with a man on each end brought the "little" piece of meat. Ten could have supped off that perfectly cooked pile of meat, potatoes and peppers. Stuffing as much in as we all could still left us about three pounds of perfect leftovers for the "dog." The drive home was short of unremembered with food coma spreading through the seats back to front.
The departure was sweet sorrow. Leo waved goodbye to this new friends and all the pools while the rest of made promises to come back…and we will. The airport run and flights home seemed to go well for all. Customs and TSA tried to spoil it but did not get the smiles off most faces.
So…is a rooster fish in your future? Toward the end of the year, I will start working with James for some dates in May next year. I am not sure what the prices will be but for the place and fishing, this is not a "big" one in price. I think the six nights in the lodge and four days fishing should come in at about three grand, plus or minus some a head for the fishers and much, much less for the camp followers. Please let me know or communicate directly with James at the Beulah Fly rod web page. I know he manages trips for large crowds. He had 12 Ukrainians coming a week after we left. Language was going to be his biggest problem…after the bait boat.
Captain Scud Yates