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Marty Graham noon, Oct. 20
The Mexican government has gone to great trouble and expense to insure that the picturesque toll road linking Tijuana with the Ensenada is kept in as good, and often better shape than many highways found north of the border. Travelers on this scenic artery can expect to encounter breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, as well as an occasional line of pelicans casually gliding only a few feet above the surface of the water.
The drive toward Ensenada is punctuated by an increasing number of condominiums and other developments designed to cater to Americans seeking a weekend or retirement villa south of the border. Once past Ensenada, the main highway becomes a 2-lane road.
Without a doubt, sport fishing is one of the most popular pursuits enjoyed by both residents and visitors to this area. But many tourists fail to take advantage of one of most traditional methods of angling that has been relied upon for countless decades ...fishing from a Baja panga!
The panga is a sturdy, dory-like boat made from wood and fiberglass, and has been used successfully in most of the small, rural fish camps located along Baja California's remote Pacific and Cortez coasts for generations. They measure approximately 22 feet in length, and feature a high bow with plenty of freeboard to accommodate the rough water situations in which they must often operate. Intrepid, commercial fishermen have braved the ocean with these tough, seaworthy vessels for decades, and consistently manage to return to port with a surprisingly large bounty for such relatively small craft.
Over time, many of these panga camps have developed the additional enterprise of providing boats and guides for recreational anglers. Those who take the time to enjoy this more primitive method of inshore angling are usually rewarded with better fishing, bigger fish and a greater degree of personalized service than is generally available on many of the larger, commercial ‘cattle boats’ that work out of Ensenada’s harbor.
This often-overlooked style of sport fishing has been stocking the freezers of happy anglers for well over 40 years, and the time has come to alert those who have yet to try it of the great fun and opportunity that they have been missing. Most of northern Baja’s panga camps are located in areas that lie within 150 miles of the International Border.
Operations in places like Punta Banda, Puerto Santo Tomàs and Erindera have worked hard to build a long-standing reputation for being able to 'fill the burlap' of their clients with a broad array of both inshore and deepwater species. The average price of a trip is fairly reasonable, running about $35.00 to $40.00 a head, based on 4 to 5 anglers per panga.
Reservations are nearly always a must, since a panga skipper will need to be retained prior to your trip. Plan on bringing your own gear and tackle, since only a few of these camps have a reasonable selection of the hooks, weights and lures that may be necessary when you are out on the water. Almost all of the camps, however, feature modest, overnight lodging; but you might want to bring along a flashlight, and many of the personal items, beverages, bottled water and snacks that you would normally take on a camping trip. Also, be sure to pack warm clothing, even if your trip is in the middle of summer. Intense, inland temperatures on the eastern side of the Baja peninsula will often pull in a thick, unseasonably cool marine layer along its Pacific Coast, particularly during morning hours.
VONNY’S FLEET – Punta Banda Of all the panga camps on Baja’s Pacific coast, Ivan Villarino’s Vonny’s Fleet, just south of Ensenada, is perhaps one of the best equipped, as well as one of the closest operations to southern California’s vast angling population. The fleet’s sturdy pangas launch from the beach at the calm, southern end of Bahia de Todos Santos, and fish the turquoise waters along Punta Banda’s northern shore, and just off the rocky tip of the peninsula near La Bufadora. The Vonny Fleet pangeros are excellent, with lead Captain, Beto Zamora, being acclaimed as one of the most productive skippers in their area. As with many of the northern panga camps, the Vonny Fleet’s primary focus is on lingcod and other rockfish. From spring through fall, however, it is possible to also catch a wide variety of popular gamefish like yellowtail, calico bass, halibut, Sand bass, white sea bass and large bonito. Website: http://www.vonnysfleet.com/index.htm, Dial: 011-52-646-154-2046, Email: [email protected],
PUERTO SANTO TOMAS – Santo Tomas Located south of Maneadero and Puente de las Animas, Puerto Santo Tomas offers some of the most remote, and untapped sport fishing in the region. Once the long, dusty drive along the graded road between the main highway and the coast has been negotiated, visitors to this primitive area can relax and enjoy some of the most profuse assemblages of local marine life that can be accessed on Baja’s northern Pacific Coast. Because of the lack of heavy angling pressure, many of the fish taken in this area are often larger renditions of their species than are generally found in more populated regions.
Getting there can be a bit tricky, but follow these directions and you should be in great shape.
Between Kilometer Markers 46 and 47 you will see a road sign on the right that reads "Puerto Santo Tomas". Proceed approximately 150 feet past the road sign and make a right turn (west) onto a gravel road. (Note: If you reach the village of Santo Tomas on Highway #1, you've gone too far.) Continue on the gravel road for 18 miles. There will be forks in the road, but remember to ALWAYS keep to the RIGHT and you'll be fine. At the end of the road, you will come to the coast. Veer to the right and climb the small hill, heading north. Go north along the coast for approximately 3 miles, and at the end of the road you will have finally arrived at Puerto Santo Tomas! Web: http://www.puertosantotomas.com/ , Dial: 011-52-646-1549415
CASTRO’S CAMP – Ejido Erendira
Castro’s Camp is one of the longest running panga operations on the Pacific Coast, and is an ongoing favorite of numerous ‘old timers’ who began fishing the area over 40 years ago. This is the original Baja fish camp that inspired so many stories of small groups of gringo fishermen who would end up catching so many rockcod and other local species, that they would each return home with several large coolers filled to the brim with the delicate, iced-down fillets. Luckily, most anglers today tend to limit their catch for the sake of the resource, but the fishing out of Castro’s Camp is still exceptional, and even offers the opportunity to hook up with a big, white sea bass between spring and fall.
The turn off for Ejido Erendira is 180 km south of the border and at the 78 km marker south of Ensenada. Erendira is 12 miles down the asphalt road. Continue through the village toward the coast until you see Castro’s sign on left. Email: [email protected], Dial: 011-52-646-176-2897, FAX: 011-52-617-72585
Irrespective of the location that you ultimately select for your panga fishing trip, you are bound to encounter a truly different kind of angling experience; one which removes you from the world of electronic fish finders and GPS waypoints, and briefly whisks you back to the days when those who fished were much closer to the elements that made their sport worthwhile.