I was afraid we'd have to cancel the Juneau Alaska Billfish Association's annual tournament this year because of Hurricane Ignacio. Fishing during a hurricane was not the issue; if the hurricane didn't die down before the tournament we simply wouldn't go. No, the issue was 50 miles of road between the airport at Los Cabos and Los Barriles on the East Cape, a road which passed through several river beds known to wash out after heavy rains.
After two days of trying, I finally got through to Martin Verdugo, the owner of the hotel that hosted the tournament. Martin said that the main body of the hurricane had missed Los Barriles and that the road should be open by Thursday, Aug. 28, when we were planning to arrive. After a few more calls to JABA members it was agreed that the tournament would go on.
My girlfriend and fishing partner, Barbara Shepherd, and I met with the other 10 JABA members fishing the tournament at the airport in Los Cabos, loading onto a small bus for the ride to Los Barriles. After a stop to pick up liquid refreshments for the ride, we headed off. The drive to Los Barriles was uneventful: We saw only a few downed trees and none of the river beds we had to cross held water deeper than about a foot. After we checked into the hotel, Barbara and I went to a market to get food for lunch on the boat: bread, cheese, tomatoes, avocados and a papaya.
We got up at 5:30 the next morning, had a quick breakfast then headed out to our boat, the Marisol, captained by Ronnie Verdugo. On our run out, we stopped to buy live bait, a couple hundred 2-inch sardinas and a half dozen 12-inch mullet. An hour later we started trolling the tide rips some 30 miles off shore. We kept an eye out for birds, flying fish, turtles, dolphins or anything that would indicate life and, hopefully, the presence of fish.
We expected fishing to be slow because we were fishing right after a hurricane, and it was. We saw nothing until 11 a.m. when the starboard outrigger snapped. I grabbed the rod, set the hook, and watched as a striped marlin greyhounded the surface and took out 100 yards of line. I landed the fish - as marlin go, a tiny one of barely 100 pounds - in about 20 minutes. After we revived and released it, we began to set out the lines when another rod went off. It turned out to be another small marlin, which we also landed and released. Two marlin on the first day: I knew we would be in the running for most fish in the tournament.
About 9 a.m. on day two we saw a huge flock of birds in the distance and ran over to investigate. They were working a school of tuna probably a quarter mile in diameter. They looked like small fish - in the 20- to 30-pound class - so we put down the marlin tackle and picked up lighter outfits, baited with small sardinas, and proceeded to land fish after fish for about 90 minutes.
When the action stopped, the deckhand Pancho put out the trolling gear and began to clean the tuna so he could put them on ice. But before he was finished, a sailfish came into the spread. It took the live bait we tossed out and proceeded to demonstrate why sailfish are thought to be the fastest fish that swim. The line smoked off my reel so fast that I was worried the guides on my rod would heat up. Fortunately, it also jumped 30 or 40 times and tired itself out. We released it after about a 15-minute fight. It was a large sailfish that Capt. Ronnie estimated to weigh 100 pounds.
Soon after we released the sailfish we saw something floating in the distance and trolled over to see what it was. It was a gruesome sign of Ignacio: A floating goat carcass, apparently washed out to sea during the rains. We circled the carcass and got a strike, which turned out to be a large dorado of about 45 pounds. Like tuna, dorado didn't count in the tournament but they are great on the table and we were more than pleased to catch one.
We didn't catch any billfish on day three, but got into another school of tuna. When we told Ronnie and Pancho that we already had enough fish to take home, they said not to worry, that they could use some fresh tuna. I think we caught 14 that day and, of course, the big one got away: I had on one fish that took almost 300 yards of line straight down. I got it almost all the way up before it bit through the leader. Next year.
We held the awards banquet at the only restaurant in Los Barriles, Tio Pablo's. I'm happy to say that Barbara and I did well, capturing the prize money for the most billfish caught. But the big prize went to Jim Westcott who caught the largest billfish in the tournament, a 180-pound striped marlin. His wife Patsy caught the second largest billfish, a 150-pound blue marlin.
Bill Brown is an avid fisherman who runs a reel repair shop in Juneau. He can be reached at 789-2448 or email@example.com.