Great Fishing – and Catching – at Hotel Palmas de Cortez

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Looking out over the balcony of our second story room, the Baja sunrise gleamed gold and orange over the calm Sea of Cortez. It was our first morning, and I was excited and anticipating a wonderful day of fishing out of Hotel Palmas de Cortez on Baja’s East Cape

Our group consisted of myself and Bridget Looney of Colfax, Dave and Wanda Barsi of Oak Run, and my brother Ken Kneeland and Dena Salazar from Merino, Colorado. We met in the large dining room overlooking the bay for breakfast just as the sun was rising gloriously in the east. “What a morning!” exclaimed my brother, “It’s great to be alive in Baja!”

The author and Bridget Looney with 68 and 45 pound tuna caught in the Sea of Cortez.

We had a hearty, buffet style breakfast and then back to our rooms to pick up our gear and head to the dock where we would board our 28’ diesel cruisers. Dave, Wanda, Ken and Dena were on one boat, and Bridget and I had one to ourselves. Our Captain welcomed us aboard and asked what we wanted to fish for? Our answer “whatever is biting!” So we headed south to find the schools of tuna that had been marauding the bait!

We stopped and got bait from fishermen in a panga, and I was glad to see they had sardinas, which are small 3 to 4 inch baitfish that everything in the Sea of Cortez loves to eat! We bought several scoops of live sardinas, and the mate also threw in a 5-gallon bucket of dead ones as well. I didn’t quite understand why we would want dead bait, but I was soon to find out.

It was a gorgeous day on the deep crystal blue water. There was a slight breeze from the northeast that kept us cool as the day warmed. We ran south until we found the fleet! As we slowly motored up to the group of boats, we saw several people hooked up, including Dave Barsi with a deeply bent rod and a big smile on his face!

Our captain slowed to an idle and the mate set up our rods with small sturdy hooks that he baited with a single sardina and tossed over board. We pulled line out of the reel so the bait would free line behind the boat and slowly sink out of sight.

When all our baits were out, the mate started throwing handfuls of the dead sardinas into the water. They sparkled and swirled and gradually sank like so many bright silver quarters. Suddenly, I felt my live sardine get nervous, and then my line started running quickly off the reel.

I put the reel in gear and reared back and struck hard! My rod was pulled back violently as a nice tuna headed for the depths. I was using a Cousins 7 foot graphite rod with a Shimano Trinidad reel loaded with 40 pound test Yozuri Hybrid line, and this fish tore line off the reel and headed straight down! Bridget let out a cry and I saw she was also hooked into a tuna. After several minutes of intense battle, we both landed tuna of 20 and 25 pounds. Hurriedly we tossed bait back into the water and were immediately hooked up again!

Fish Sniffer publisher Paul Kneeland with a 45 pound yellowfin tuna take on live bait in the Sea of Cortez.

This time, my tuna felt much stronger and heavier, and all I could do for several minutes was hold on tight as the fish tore 40-pound test off the reel and headed straight down. Bridget landed 2 tuna and 2 small bonito while I was just trying gain some line back. After a full 45 minutes, I was finally able to bring the big tuna to the gaff.

My arms were tired, my back was sore and I was sweating heavily – definitely time for the first cerveza of the day! Hours later at the dock he weighed 68 pounds! We caught several more tuna that morning, and weighed a total of 173 pounds on the dock scale.

Dave, Wanda, Ken and Dena had a very good day as well, with tuna, dorado and wahoo in the fish box. We all met at the lovely palapa bar next to the infinity pool and had wonderful margaritas and swapped tales of big fish from the Sea of Cortez.

We all went back to our rooms, took a short siesta, and went to dinner at the Bay View restaurant located at the south end of the hotel. Dinner was excellent, with choices from rib eye steak to coconut shrimp to fresh Mexican specialty dishes.

The next morning we were up and ready to go with another gorgeous day dawning brightly! Brother Ken and Dena joined us on our boat today, and we headed out for marlin and dorado. We had more than enough tuna to bring home. The captain headed in a southwesterly direction, and we started trolling after about a 40 minute run.

We started trolling with 4 rods out – 2 on outriggers and 2 off the stern of the boat. The mate set up ballyhoo bait on the Cousins live bait rod and left it in the bait well for when needed. We put out an assortment of the Cousins trolling lures and settle down to wait for the first strike.

We had been trolling for only about 20 minutes when the port side outrigger popped off and the Penn Torque 30 reel started buzzing like a chain saw. Dena was first up, and she

Ken and Paul Kneeland and Bridget Looney with the 280 pound blue marlin that died at the side of the boat.

grabbed the rod and was into a spirited fight! The fish tore drag like a tiger 3 different times, but then seemed to tire and Dena brought in a beautiful 30 pound wahoo!

Back on the troll, it was only a few minutes later that a long straight bill appeared behind the boat and slashed at the closest trolling lure! The drag screamed for a second and went silent as the marlin missed the hook! The captain immediately slowed the boat and the mate made tossed the ballyhoo out behind the boat, jigging it constantly. I could see the ballyhoo dart each time he jigged it.

Suddenly I saw a tall fin behind the swimming bait and there was a huge splash. The captain gunned the boat and the mate set the hook violently three or four times. Fish on!

Ken jumped up and grabbed the rod and held on. The 40-pound test line was burning off the reel at an alarming rate! Then, about 200 yards out, the striped marlin starting jumping and tail walking, skipping over the water in jumps that cleared at least 10 feet!

After about 30 minutes, we saw the dazzling electric blue stripes on the fish as it came to the surface, and the mate grabbed the bill of the 100 pound striped marlin in his gloved hand, gently pulled the lure out of his mouth and released him.

We were trolling along at the usual 8 knot pace when the lure on my heaviest Cousins rod with a Shimano Tiagra 2 speed reel was ripped off the outrigger and the 50 pound test line started screaming off the reel! Bridget grabbed the rod and was amazed when a long blue and silver bullet erupted from the sapphire ocean and skipped across the top of the water like a Corvette blazing off the starting line in a spray of boiling water! That marlin stayed out of the water for a good 100 feet before suddenly diving straight down toward oblivion!

The captain called out “Blue! Blue!” and we realized she was tied to a large, pissed off blue marlin! The captain had to back down on this fish three times before we actually started gaining line and stopped worrying about being spooled. Bridget sat in the fighting chair and fought the blue marlin valiantly. The sweat was streaming off her face and arms, and I told her she was glistening!

She looked sideways at me and said, “Don’t bug me!” and went back to fighting a fish longer that she is! After about 15 minutes of just holding on and slowly gaining line, she was getting worn out, so Ken took over for a while. The three of us took turns playing the fish, until after an hour and 30 minutes, the big fish suddenly lost its power and came right to the boat.

As he neared the surface, I noticed that he looked kind of gray, instead of the usual luminescent glowing blue. The captain slowly idled while the mate held the great fish next to the boat, trying to get oxygen into his gills, but the fish was dead – he had fought so hard and long, that he died at the boat. Back at the dock, he weighed 280 pounds and was almost 12 feet long! Marlin steaks for everybody!!

A gorgeous striped marlin about to be released.

Back at the hotel, we had our usual “margarita meeting” around the pool, and exchanged stories. Dave and Wanda had a great day, catching plenty of tuna for the icebox.

And they had an unusual story to tell as well. In Dave’s words,” We were in the school of tuna and I knew I had hooked a good fish as it peeled off line. I heard a shriek of excitement as Wanda hooked another hard-fighting tuna off the starboard corner. The captain and deckhand shouted words of encouragement to both of us as we did our best to control this double hook-up!

All of a sudden the captain voice came to a higher pitch as he yelled to Wanda, “Reel, reel, reel”! The deckhand jumped to Wanda’s side and began yelling “Reel, reel, reel!.”

As I looked into the crystal clear water—a shape about thirteen feet long with a huge hammer-like head just enveloped the twenty-plus pounder on Wanda’s line! She screamed an expletive as her line went limp and the deckhand and captain sighed in disgust. She lifted her rod to expose HALF of her hook! That damn shark bit through almost 1/4” of steel and stole her fish! I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it happen!”

The Sea of Cortez is one of the premier saltwater fishing destinations in the world. It offers great fishing for blue and striped marlin, dorado or “mahi mahi”, tuna, wahoo, roosterfish and a dozens other species. Hotel Palmas de Cortez is a beautiful hotel that caters to the needs of the fishermen and their families. It features large, spacious rooms with air conditioning, many of which look right out on the Sea. Great food at 2 restaurants and wonderful cocktails, snacks and hors d’oeuvres are all available at the beautiful bar over looking the ocean. Rates are very reasonable, with fishing packages starting at only $540 per person for 3 nights and 2 days of fishing.

For more information on Hotel Palmas de Cortez, see them at the Sacramento ISE show, visit their website at, or give them a call at (877) 777-8862