The best sport money can’t buy.
By Scott Sadil
We found the beach by accident. Hemmed in by bitter spring winds, a friend and I trudged across a mile of rippled sand flats exposed by newmoon tides, finally reaching the far end of the small bay where, back against the mangrove, we had camp set up on the lee side of a tiny island, with just enough room for tents and a table and shade canopy at high tide.
Even with Madrina, my shoal-draft beach yawl, anchored nearby, I wasn’t about to try to pass in and out of the shallow bay—not with someone else aboard, my friend Joe Kelly, and the need, each evening, to return to camp, outwitting both blustery winds and bullying tides.
Beyond the flats the shore bent sharply into a long, wide boca, fringed in the distance by the white lines of breaking surf. We skirted a steep berm that rose into a tangle of mangrove, its leaves raked free by heavy currents running in and out of the two vast bays east and west of our sheltered camp; if we fished too long, we’d be climbing those naked roots and gnarly branches—or bushwhacking through God knows what somewhere back from the reach of the tide. The shoreline this side of the boca faced directly into the wind—and the long even sweep of beach, bordered by near-vertical dunes, traced a channel of blue water that begged for a swimming fly.
We gave it our best shots. The wind on our noses, we waited that extra split second for backcasts to stiffen, already loading the rod, before driving pinched loops out across the chop, spilling gently as shore break onto the sand. We found a few small palometas and even some tiny bonefish, nosing about in the roiled water alongside the lapping waves. But for the most part this good water and remote beach seemed flush with promise, not fish—a disappointing slight that every angler who stalks the surf knows full well can change in a different season or even a different tide.
This one ended abruptly; we fished through slack low, rarely the best time to find fish in the surf, and as soon as we saw the water creeping up the beach, decided to start the long hike back to camp, uncertain what stage in the tide we’d be able to get safely around the point and back across the flats. Of course, had we been into fish—the sort of fish, that is, we both knew were possible off this promising new beach—we would have delayed our departure and worried about the consequences later.
Still, despite the listless showing, we were eager to return— sooner than later. Between forays into the mangrove esteros near camp, Joe and I retraced the tiresome march, pressing the margins of tides in hopes of finding fish on the move. By the end of the third hike, we concluded the season was just wrong. We’d seen very little bait, covered acres of good water, found nothing in the way of schooling fish—an assessment that did little to diminish our hopes for the beach, in part because of a lone halibut whose tail was now sticking out the top of my day pack, a beast shaped like a loaf of leavened bread, a meteor-like surprise that, once finally landed, had bottomed out Joe’s 15-kilo scale.
I returned in fall. Little in the way of wisdom is needed, of course, to head for the Baja Peninsula in fall. The stories are true. If you wait for the end of the hurricane season, sometime around the beginning of November, you’ll be safer—or at least less likely to be inconvenienced by heavy winds and torrential rains—but you’ll miss long stretches of ideal weather and the kind of remarkable sport for which the peninsula is rightly famous.
My bets land on the side of the best sport money can’t buy. I wait with family and friends in San Diego for Sergio to pass, a storm that heads halfway to Hawaii before pivoting east and following Rosa across the top of the peninsula, washing out roads along the northern reach of the Sea of Cortez. The coast finally clear, I drag Madrina down the length of the peninsula and launch at a ramp where, to this day, sailboats remain as rare as tropical penguins. I don’t get it—but I’m not complaining. I’m an old fart whom locals think crazy for wandering offshore without an engine on his boat. I know what I’m doing. They just don’t believe me.
What I’m doing this trip, among other things, is looking for the best tides and weather to see what might show up along the beach that Joe and I fished in spring. I’ve got hunches—but you never know. On prior adventures, I’ve fished a different shore along the same big boca, anchoring off the end of a long sandspit, then wading ashore and sticking a host of classic inshore Baja gamefish—corvina, palometa, three kinds of jacks, assorted pompano, ladyfish, the odd roosterfish now and then. The list might be longer but I’ve never been able to find a restful anchorage nearby; inevitably, sometime during the night, either wind or heavy tidal currents funneling through the boca give Madrina fits; after a couple of sleep-starved nights, I sail off, looking for shelter.
Both tides and wind grow so fierce, in fact, that at times I’m unable to reach the anchorage at the tip of the sandspit. Often, depending on what conditions dictate, I don’t know where Madrina and I will eventually end up. Hence, the reason I didn’t risk bringing Joe to the sandspit—and how we finally stumbled upon the new stretch of promising beach.