By Kyle Banashek
Roosterfish (pez gallo) in my opinion, are by far one the hardest fighting and elusive fish that can be pursued with a fly rod.
Most of you by now have seen some type of video where anglers are cruising down the beach in a side-by-side or quad, sprinting along pristine desolate beaches to make a hail Mary cast at a rooster 15 feet off the surf and then sipping margaritas in the evening celebrating their victory of the day. Well, you know the saying ‘that only happens in the movies’…although it’s not 100% true in this case, however you’re damn lucky if you head down to Baja and land one without preparing for this pursuit. Just to be clear, I’m not claiming to be the authority on how to catch roosters. My intention is to share what I’ve learned in my experiences down on the east cape of Mexico chasing them.
To give you some background on how this obsession began, it wasn’t through any type of movie or social media pics of grandes (roosters 40lbs+) but actually through something I witnessed with my own two eyes. Back in May of 2012, my girlfriend and I had just broken up; so what better way to move on than a boys fishing trip to Cabo? With two of my more salt-worthy amigos on board, getting their passports stamped south of the border, coupled with the opportunity to land marlin, dorado, tuna, etc…it was game on. Since I was the one in charge of logistics I chose to stay just north of Cabo San Lucas in San Jose del Cabo so that we had fewer distractions from sleep at night, but was there if we “needed” it. Fishing with the Gordo Banks fleet, on our second day while at the dock one of the captains mentioned there were lots of roosters on the beach. Even though all of us had billfish on our cloudy sleep-deprived brains, we decided, “why not?” We trolled for them about 50ft off the beach using cabillito and landed a good number among the three of us. But on one our passes while trolling, I noticed something on the beach after the wave retracted. It was probably close to a 30lb rooster laying on the sand. For a second I wondered, was it dead?? And then the next wave came in and the mystery was solved as I saw four to five different sets of rooster combs going ballistic chasing baitfish onto the beach. And then again, one guy didn’t make the last call and was stuck waiting for the next wave to take him back to the lion’s den. I had never seen any fish exhibit that type of aggression, and at that point I remember thinking, “man, I bet they are fun as hell on a fly rod.”
In late spring, 2014, with a couple additional trips back to southern Baja under my belt, I decided that I needed more time to dedicate chasing roosters. So I moved down to Los Barriles, a small town about 70 miles north of San Jose Del Cabo, located smack in the middle of rooster alley for 5 months. Now that might raise some questions. I work remotely so as long as I have a stable internet connection with decent speeds, I’m good to go. With my quad that I had purchased back in San Diego rigged with rod holders and baskets for ample storage I was ready to tangle with some of those grandes on my 10wt, or so I thought.
Lessons Learned & Words of Advice
- Travel — Getting to the East Cape of Mexico is pretty straightforward and can be fairly inexpensive depending on where you are flying from. If you’re really adventurous, the drive through the Baja peninsula is something I’d recommend doing at least once in your life. From San Diego, it’s just about 1600 miles zig-zagging back and forth from coast to coast. Just make sure you’ve got a reliable car or at least one that has a working fuel gauge — unlike us. Blinkers are also a good thing to have, as well. If you do chose to fly, getting from the airport to basecamp does not require you to rent a car, in fact I’d say it really isn’t needed as the only required mode of transportation has to be able to drive on the beach (do not think renting a jeep will work). There’s a shuttle (EcoTours) that runs from SJD airport right into the town of Los Barriles that has AC and it’s usually a good time.
- Base Camp — Establishing a base camp on the East Cape just depends on what your creature comforts are. There are plenty of places for rent on VRBO, Airbnb, etc. as well as some really nice hotels within Los Barriles and just south in Spa Buena Vista. There are also some campgrounds on the north end of LB that would work for those not requiring a cool place to sleep at night.
- Transportation — As mentioned previously, the only form of transportation that you will need is an off-road vehicle of sorts. Whether it’s a side-by-side or a quad, it’s practically the most common way of getting around town but more importantly, it’s a REQUIRED tool to have in order to traverse the beaches to find roosters. There are a couple places in Los Barriles that offer rentals but make sure to book a couple months in advance.
- Solo/pair/group — The number of anglers in your group can make a huge difference depending on everyone’s skill level and experience. One thing for certain is that having another person with you provides tremendous advantages on numerous fronts. First, if you do rent a side-by-side, which is what I’d recommend, it provides your team the ability to communicate in an effective manner as opposed to being on two quads while driving down the beach searching for roosters. Second, it allows one person to concentrate on navigating some of the tricky terrain on the beach you will encounter while the other person can continue to scout. This is most common in areas where there are rocky points, and area roosters love to hang out in as it provides excellent ambush cover. Third, having sun protection provided by the side-by-side roof while patrolling the beach all day is just ideal.
- Fly rods/reels/lines/leaders — My rod weight of choice when targeting larger roosters is a 10wt with an 11wt as a backup. Keep in mind you’re not going to be throwing blind casts all day, you are sight casting to fish that you hopefully do come across and have the ability to cast at. For fly lines, I prefer an intermediate line, preferably clear in at least the part of the head section. Leaders, well I’m pretty simple and not going for any IFGA records, 36-42” of 40lb soft mono and 24” of 15-20lb. Or a standard saltwater tippet works just as well.
- Flies — You will want to have a pretty wide variety of fly sizes, colors, and types. The most important thing is to be able to match the bait that the roosters are feeding on. Clousers, crease flies and mullet patterns are the top three I would recommend.
- Spinning/teasing gear — If you’re fishing with a partner, having a large surf rod to tease the roosters in when they are out of casting distance is a must. A 9’-12’ surf rod loaded with at least 150 yds of line with a large surface lure, be sure to cut off the hooks to avoid a possible hookup as they will eat it if you’re not fast enough on the retrieve.
- Cooler — for beer right? Maybe a couple, but I would not load it down with a 12-pack thinking you’re going to be crushing Tecates all day. This is for water and lunch (or possibly dinner later that night)! I would say that you should anticipate bringing a gallon of water per person for a full day on the beach. Staying hydrated while chasing roosters is a must! You do not want to risk a leg cramp preventing you from running to make a cast at a 60lb rooster cruising 30 yards down the beach. Take this seriously…very seriously.
- Sun protection — I don’t care how many days you’ve spent on the Madison this summer, the sun down in Baja is ridiculously strong, amplified by the water you’ll be staring at all day, just waiting for a set of combs to rise. Long sleeves, pants, buff, polarized glasses, hat and sunscreen on the top of your feet — you know the drill. Sun poisoning is not fun, but you know what is? Having a shot at catching a roosterfish on all of the days that you paid to be in East Cape.
- GPS tracking — This is not a must, but you can find yourself in places that you will not see another person for hours. And depending on the time of day, it could turn into an overnight trip. Cell reception on the beach is nothing to count on, if at all. If you’ve got a device it’s not a bad idea to bring it, or if you have the extra coin, it probably wouldn’t hurt to pick one up.
- Vehicle recovery — If someone were to get stuck on account of their inability to judge a bank of sand and their quads capabilities. You might not always have access to one of the guys who works at Palmas Cortez with a backloader who will drag you out for 200 pesos. Having a shovel, tow rope and a couple pieces of small plywood is not a bad idea to carry with you.
- The majority of my rooster fishing has been by quad or side-by-side, however this is just my preference. There are some anglers who choose to sit in one spot and just wait for the roosters to go by but to me that’s just boring. I like to be actively on the hunt, taking in all of the beautiful and interesting scenery that the East Cape has to offer.
- You can also target rooster by boat, and in all honesty, your chances of hooking up on the fly are greater as you’ll be able to cover more ground and use live bait. This technique generally involves a ‘bait and switch’ technique in which you’ll troll a cabalito with the hopes of raising a rooster. Once in the spread someone will have to tease the rooster into casting distance, rip the bait out of the water and the angler then presents the fly with the hopes that the rooster has not noticed the clever trick you’re attempting to pull off.
I do a good amount of traveling and talk to whoever will listen to me about fly fishing. Over the last couple years when I mention my time in the Baja, a good amount of people have replied with something along the lines of “yeah I’d really like to get down there and do that.” While I certainly cannot question why one would not, there are some things to consider —and be truthful with yourself — before making the investment/venture. The following is what, in my opinion, you should be prepared for… please remember those three words.
- Hire a guide – This undoubtedly has been one of the most common misconceptions about heading down to the East Cape to chase roosters. You can just hop a flight, get a quad and just cruise the beach looking for a set of combs to throw at. If you truly want to be successful in your pursuit of catching a roosterfish, you should hire a guide teach you that, no matter how much research you’ve done, you would not have known. One thing to note is that some of guides will not take one-day trips because of the increase in DIYers over the last couple of years. The local guides live there and do this day in and day out, they know where the bait is, what it is and the flies to throw that will optimize your chances of getting an eat. On top of that, you will learn the safe way to traverse the beaches, which may not sound like a big deal right now but trust me…spend an evening waiting for the tide to go down and you’ll understand why I mention that.
- Physical & Environmental Demands – As I mentioned, there are some fairly significant physical demands that are required when pursuing roosters on the beach. Chances are you will have to bust out some wind sprints down the beach in the scorching sun. Hours upon hours in the sun riding down the beach will take a toll on your energy level.
- Mental Demands – This facet is probably one that is overlooked by most, but I can assure you that it’s one of the most important. Catching a roosterfish on the fly is challenging. Very challenging (to put it lightly). You have to be 110% committed to the pursuit and understand that there’s a good chance you’ll be flying home without anything to post on Instagram. It can and will happen unfortunately, however you have to be willing to take that type of blow to the ego and get up the next morning with the utmost resilience.
- Time Demands – I would say in general if you’re planning on a trip, give yourself at a minimum 3 full days. There are many factors that go into me saying this, primarily bait and weather. Having bait on the beaches is one of the biggest factors in having a shot at a rooster. The summer I was down there was a pretty bad year for bait, it wasn’t until Hurricane Odile came through and churned things up that we began to see decent amounts of bait showing up in the surf.
- Be honest with yourself – can you double haul a 10wt sufficiently enough with an intermediate line to lay out at a minimum 40ft? Is your health up to par to be able to withstand 8 hours in 90+ degree days on the beach?
- Brush up on your Spanish – although most people in the East Cape are somewhat fluent in English it’s never a bad idea to brush up on basic Spanish conversational skills. Trust me, it goes a long way and to state the obvious, it’s a show of respect which is appreciated.
- Be social – While it’s always nice to top off the day with a fresh margarita and fish tacos, I’ve picked up a good amount of intel while hanging out at some of the local establishments. This does not just entail fellow fly fisherman or even anglers. I’ve learned of where bait was from some of the most unpredictable sources one could imagine.
When people ask “How many can I expect to catch”…I answer bluntly…”Zero”. – Lance Peterson
- Do your homework
In the four months prior to my stay on the East Cape I read and watched whatever I could get my hands on regarding roosterfish, and the area in general. Here are some of the resources that I was able to find and believe to be extremely beneficial for anyone considering this pursuit.
- In Search of Grand
- Running Down the Man
- Fly Fishing the Baja and Beyond – Mike Rieser
- Fly Fishing Southern Baja – Gary Graham
- Angling Baja – Scott Sadil
- Fly Fishers Guide to Mexico – Phil Snook
- The Baja Catch – Neil Kelly, Gene Kira
- Understand the seasons/months – in general, late April to late September is going to be your best window of opportunity. BEWARE OF HURRICANE SEASON!
Roosterfish can be one of the most rewarding and adventurous fish to pursue on the fly rod, however it’s not for everyone. You have to be understand what this type of fishing entails, the preparation required and be ready for outright disappointment that it can deliver. However, if you enjoy high risk/high reward fly pursuits then this is probably right up your alley. I hope that my experiences have provided you with some insight into what chasing roosterfish on the fly in the east cape of Baja, Mexico, entails.
Tight Lines,Kyle Banashek Gink & Gasoline www.ginkandgasoline.com firstname.lastname@example.org Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter!