Ponga

A Trip Back In Time – Fishing Bahia Asuncion

Ponga

Eating ceviche and drinking a Corona last week made me reminisce about my trip down to Bahia Asuncion I took a couple years ago, during my pre-blogging era. I have always wanted to journal the trip, but never really got around to writing anything down so I figured now was as good a time as any. The following is a recap of my trip to the lovely fishing village of Bahia Asunción, Baja California, Mexico in October of 2010.

First off, it is important to note that my parents retired down in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico over a decade ago. White as white can be and barely habla-ing a lick of spanglish, they moved down to a small community of mostly expats a few blocks from the beach. While living there for 10 years or so, they still can barely speak enough Spanish to just get by, but they have made many friends with whom they play bridge, throw cocktail parties, and travel around with to other beach towns. Rough life, I assure you.

Over the years, I have been down to visit them a few times – with the family, by myself, and with friends. For this particular trip, I flew down to San Diego with a buddy of mine and we drove down to Ensenada the day before we planned to set out to Bahia Asunción. It is a pretty long trip – possibly 15 hours from Ensenada to Bahia Asunción depending on stops and traffic issues.

It is worth knowing ahead of time that there are several military stops throughout the entire road trip. Heading south is pretty simple and moves fairly quick; however, heading north is a different story. On several occasions we had to get out of the car and let the Policia inspect the car. This makes sense though because the drug trade flows north, not south.

On the day of the trip, we took off around 8am with a few of my Dad’s friends that were joining us so there was a total of 6 of us in two cars making the trek.  We drove until lunch time stopping in El Rosario to grab a quick couple tacos. The original idea was to caravan for safety’s sake, but I quickly realized the other driver, my Dad’s “friend”, was a cranky old guy in a hurry and he was gone with his 2 car mates before we even stepped out of the restaurant. This ditching us actually happened over and over to the point it became the running joke for the rest of our trip.

After the quick pit stop for lunch, we drove non-stop until about 5pm in Guerrero Negro to stay the night at one of the hotels there. This is the best place to stop and stay the night as continuing on from here is a bit hairy and you don’t want to try it after dark. Guerreo Negro is one of the larger towns for hundreds of miles so there are a couple hotels and a few restaurants, not the Ritz Carlton by any means, but nice enough to enjoy a hot shower and relaxing dinner with wine.

The next morning we stopped by the local grocery store in Guerrero Negro. The store here is nothing like Gigante in Ensenada. While they do have a decent selection of veggies and protein, it is pretty small and is what you would expect a store to look like this far into Mexico . It is also much harder to find people that speak English this far down so don’t expect much help if you don’t speak Spanish.

From Guerrero Negro, the trip turns west towards the ocean and there is little in-between. About 2 hours before the coast, the environment turns into salt flats and then a very, very long dirt road. Salt FlatsA very bumpy dirt road that is tricky to navigate in a car. My buddy waited until we were done with our trip to educate us that lowering the tire pressure can actually improve the ride on a bumpy dirt road. Obviously, the locals knew this because they sped past us. Supposedly though, the roads have been paved since we made our trip. That would certainly reduce the time it takes to get there and make it a whole lot less stressful.

Pulling into Bahia Asunción is like taking a step back in time to the wild west, with the only thing missing being horses. My guess is that is only because horses would die of starvation as the entire area is pretty barren. There are a couple little convenience stores and a liquor/beer shop in “town”. There is a main street that runs from one end of the town to the other, with side streets spreading out that are lined with a few houses.

Desolation

All the way out that main street lives the couple that runs a camp and fishing tours, Shari and Juan. Once we met up with Shari, we got situated in our “camp”. Camp is actually a couple of houses with bathrooms and kitchens that we had pre-arranged reservations for. Around the houses are areas where people actually do camp in tents and RV’s. The house I stayed in has a bedroom that faces the ocean – maybe 100 yards away. It is a beautiful view out this window. Inside the house, not so much. No drywall, just studs, open cabinetry, and no frills. Definitely better than camping in a tent, but not to be confused with a romantic ocean getaway.

The first night we were there we walked out to the beach and threw a fishing line right off the shore. Within minutes we were pulling in more halibut than needed for our dinner. I got a quick education on how to clean these fish from one of our expert fishing companions who turned out to be an avid cook as well. Nothing better than catching your own fish and cooking it up within an hour of taking it out of the water.how to cut halibut

The next day started early with a 6AM wake time to get ready and head over to our guides.

dawn

Mornings are cold but sunny so we layered up and headed over to meet the fishing guides for the first time. When we arrived at Juans house, he and the other guide were already making the final preparations of our two boats. As advertised, our boats, pongas as they call them, were a simple hull with an outboard motor on the back. No frills here either.

From here it is straight over to the dirt road boat launch where it is already getting busy as many other fishermen are starting their workday. We get both boats in the water within just a few minutes and, after our guides catch up with the locals, we are out in the Pacific and on our way.

Within 10 minutes we are dropping our first lines in the water to troll for Bonito. I am told we will use this fish as bait to catch the fish we really made the long trip for, Yellowtail Tuna. Within minutes we have our first Bonito on the line and then a second and, once we started back up, we quickly catch our third and fourth. No messing around with these guides, they’ve got this down to a science.

With fresh bait now in the cooler of our hull, the guides take us out in search of the big catch. I would like to say they do this by listening to the crash of the waves or measuring the knots of a rope, but they do it the old-fashioned way – sonar fish finder. That and sometimes the seagulls or dolphins give it away. After traversing a few miles over six-foot swells we found a good spot not too far off shore and slowed down to a crawl.

While boating to our spot, our fishing buddies had been preparing the poles so, once we stopped, we immediately dropped lines. The idea here is to take a heavy weight and speed the line to the bottom of the ocean floor, hit, bounce, jerk up and reel back up fast. If everything goes as planned, you get a strike on the jerk up or, at worst, within the first couple feet you are reeling up. When they told me this was the plan, I had a good laugh. I have been fishing plenty of times and it never went like that. Rather, it was cast a line, drink a beer, wait an hour and hope you feel a nibble.

Sure enough though, we dropped our lines and within a few quick reels up the other boat had a fish on. These fish aren’t the I think I felt a nibble fish either, this is the I am running with the line, sweet sound of the reel spinning a hundred miles an hour fish. BaaaaaaaZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. After a good fifteen minute plus struggle, they landed the first Yellowtail, about a 25-30lb beauty. From then on, it was a pretty steady, “FISH ON!”, other lines in, fight fish, land fish, repeat.Fish On

That first day we (technically, “they” as I wasn’t catching much for some reason) caught more fish than I ever imagined was possible and that was just a half day excursion. At one point, I felt like we were being overly greedy and did not even think there was a reason to bother pulling more in. We had our share and it is pretty difficult to yank one of these fish off the bottom of the ocean, wearing them completely out on the way up, and then expect them to swim away if you throw them back in. I imagine at some point, they will have to lower the catch limits as things like a paved road make it easier for more tourists to get here.

fishnabucket

Around 11am things did slow down so we headed back in. When we returned to shore the guides had a connection with a couple of kids that cleaned our fish for us and later delivered it back to our camp. We spent the next few hours vacuum sealing our catch so we could freeze it and bring it home. Even after giving some fish away to other campers, we still had the maximum allowable for luggage 50lbs of cleaned fish and that was just from that first day.

dock

We took a planned break from fishing the second day we were there so we could rest our bodies from fighting fish the previous day. It sounds wimpy, but tugging on a fish for up to thirty minutes at a time while sitting in a tin can boat is exhausting. So instead, we spent the day strolling around town and hanging out by the beach.

I also wasted hours in an endless loop of technology hell. I needed to pay for our rentals and the fishing so I set up a pay pal while I was there. It got flagged as being fraud since it originated in Mexico and it was downhill from there. In turn, my credit card got flagged too. My phone was unable to make calls out from Mexico because my admin set it up wrong. And you can’t undo a flagged pay pal online from Mexico. Luckily, we worked it out by getting my wife to use her pay pal account, but it was tense there for a bit.

The next day we were up at the crack of dawn again to meet up with the guides. We pretty much followed the same path we did the previous trip out. The only difference is that I finally got the hot hand in the boat and was the one catching the most fish. Bonito, yellowtail, whitefish, and even this ugly little sheepshead…I was on a tear. Sheepshead

Again though, to the point I finally stopped casting and just enjoyed taking in the scene.

viewmarinaPelicans

One other change we made on this trip was that we took a different route back to shore. This time, we drove through an area with the most seals I have ever seen in my life. It was pretty surreal actually, even more so because of the way they were playing with each other and with us – swimming right next to the boat and jumping all around. Very, very cool.Seals

The rest of our trip in Bahia Assuncion was just a matter of trying to figure out just how little could we do. Of course, I had to make at least one fancy meal there to prove that I could cook great food in any condition. So I made some fish tacos with our fresh catch and whipped up some tortilla de patata. By this time, I start to understand why none of the locals were interested in our excess fish – that’s all they have there. I looked in the little grocers there and beef or chicken was scarce at best. I laughed to myself that if I ever came back, I would travel down with a full butchered cow and would probably be able to trade my way to 3 months of free living.

From then on, we killed more Coronas than fish and spent most of the time chilling by the beach or playing poker. And rather than go out for 1 more day of fishing as originally planned, we decided to part ways with my Dad’s friends and headed home a day early. We figured the curmudgeon would ditch us again somewhere along the way anyways so we ventured solo. I had enough of the simple life and figured we would get back in time to show my buddy the night life in Ensenada.

The trip back was uneventful except for the repetitive military stops and the one instance where my Dad misunderstood the direction to, “Get out of the car”. He politely told the armed guard, “No”, which didn’t sit well with him so we got the extra attention and had to crack open our ice chest and explain in detail where we went. A little uncomfortable, but after 10 minutes or so we were on our way.

We stopped again in El Rosario and stayed the night at the Baja Cactus hotel there so as not to be on the highway past dark. We probably could have pressed on and made it home, but better safe than sorry. It actually turned out to be a lucky stop since we were able to trade stories and some of our fish for some fantastic home smoked salmon with a group of Alaskan fishermen heading south. They were an interesting group, a couple of families with children, that lived a fairly nomadic lifestyle trekking back north and south annually. Follow the fish, I guess.

While I wish there was some grand, climactic closure of our trip to share, there really is not. After making it home safe and sound the next day, we did spend the evening in downtown Ensenada, drinking our weight in beer and whiskey (I don’t do Tequila). And we spent a little time in the dive bar around the corner from my parents place, listening to a cumbia band and watching the locals yuck it up. Other than that, it was just another flight home and back to the reality of work.hussongs

All-in-all, it was a fantastic trip – great to spend time with my Dad and friend, awesome experience of fishing that I doubt will ever be trumped in my lifetime – just an all-around, good, old-fashioned mancation. I am definitely more of a sit by the cabana and have a waitress serve me fancy cocktails kind of guy, but it is nice to man up once in a while and rough it. I am not sure if I will make this exact trek again, but I am very glad to have done it at least once in my life.Dad