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Fishing yo-yo jigs using the Mexican rip is effective for both free-swimming school fish like the white bonita (left) or bottom dwellers such as whitefish (left).
Get Ripped the Mexican Way

by Dave Dixon

Sponsored by Pacific West Sportfishing.

A well-known 'iron expert' from the SoCal fishing scene once challenged a local Mexican for some head-to-head yo-yo fishing. The 'expert' used the standard SoCal technique of dropping down a blue and white jig for a 15-20 count, and then retrieving with a fast wind. This method, while excellent for the schooling pelagic gamefish encountered by SoCal fishermen, netted the 'expert' a single triggerfish in day's fishing. The local, on the other hand, knowing the details of the local inshore gamefish behavior and the typical appearance of East Cape baits, used a chrome jig, dropped all the way to the bottom (about 250 feet), and retrieved via the Mexican rip technique described below. For the day, he boated 6 fat amberjack, 2 cabrilla to 22 lbs, and 4 red snapper.

The lesson, kids? When in Rome . . .

The Mexican Rip
The particular lure under discussion is a heavy metal jig, known in Southern California as "iron", and in Baja as a "yo-yo" (for reasons that should become obvious soon). Some chrome jigs are shown in the title graphic above. The jig is specially shaped to have a swimming action when retrieved, and are "heavy", (generally from 4-8 oz.) to enable them to sink quickly. The general principle behind fishing these jigs is to drop them deep and then retrieve part or all of the way to the surface, covering a large portion of the water column. However, as our example above shows, details of presentation and color can make all the difference between catching fish and getting skunked.

The first step in Mexican yo-yo fishing is to drop all the way to the bottom, for the simple reason that oftentimes Baja inshore species are living on or near the bottom. This is in contrast to the usual Southern California technique of dropping to a specific depth based on fish meter marks. The difference is basic, but important. Fish like SoCal yellowtail are most often schooled up and suspended around kelp or other structure. As noted previously, Baja species are likely hanging around the bottom. That's not always the case, but if fish are not hugging the bottom, then they are likely "breezing" around the area, in which case you still need to cover most of the water column to find them.

The retrieval method itself is known as the "Mexican rip". It's quite simple:

  1. Sharply jerk up with the rod ("the rip")
  2. As you drop the rod tip back down, quickly reel up about five cranks
  3. Repeat until the jig gets near the surface

A few notes on technique: first, the rip should be fast and pronounced, but you don't have to overdo it. Jerking the rod from horizontal to about 45 degrees is plenty. Second, it is very important to reel up as you drop the rod tip, in order to keep the line taut. If you drop without cranking, the line will slack, and you may miss a hookup. Finally, just as in the SoCal "wind and grind" method, it is not possible to be too aggressive with your retrieve. Rip hard, reel fast, and you'll get more fish.

Given the Mexican rip presentation, reef dwellers like pargo will zip out of their hiding place for a quick meal.
Important safety tip:
don't use the Mexican rip all the way to the surface, You'll wind up jerking the jig out of the water, and possibly injuring someone with the hooks. In the beginning, be sure to keep an eye out for your lure. Once you can see it, drop it back to the bottom. After some practice you'll be able to feel when the jig is near the surface from the water resistance.

An oft-repeated mantra of SoCal iron fishing is that "any color works, as long as it's blue and white". And there's truth in this: of all jig-caught fish in SoCal, probably 50-70% are taken on blue and white. But it doesn't immediately follow that blue and white is the color of choice in Baja (and it ain't).

Let's quickly think about the blue and white jig, particularly its underwater appearance. Remember that of all the colors, blue light penetrates most deeply into water. Below 50 feet or so, most other colors are gone. A blue and white jig will thus show the maximum contrast between colors in deeper water, and that's precisely the point, because typical SoCal baitfish like anchovies and sardines have that dark above/light below coloring scheme. So the blue and white jig is most effective at mimicking these baits as they appear in deeper water.

Now take a look at some Baja baitfish, particularly common inshore baits like sardinas, caballitos, baracutas, and lisas. Compared to anchovies and sardines, they are have much less top/bottom contrast, and are a more uniform silver. It should then not be surprising that chrome is the color of choice in Baja. Chrome/blue and chrome/red also work well.

Why it Works
The "why" is really a combination of color and presentation. Obviously, chrome jigs are a better match to local baits. The Mexican rip also induces a "yo-yo" motion to the jig: it darts up, then drops back. When near the bottom, this mimics a baitfish zipping out of a hole, perhaps to grab some food. That in turn will stimulate fish like cabrilla, pargo, and yellowtail to run out of their hiding places for a quick meal. In open water, the "swim forward, fall back" motion is characteristic of a wounded bait, which stimulates the feeding response of species like tuna.

There's also a simple mechanical reason why the Mexican rip increases the percentage of hookups, that being that the ripping motion will often nail fish that charge the jig but don't take it in their mouth. On a recent trip, we were fishing the rare white bonito with yo-yos, and using the Mexican rip, about half the fish that got boated were foul-hooked, all in pretty much the same spot near the tail. This indicated that the fish charged the jig, changed their mind and rolled off, but still took it in the behind on the rip.

Quick Notes on Getting Ripped Offshore
Most people consider yo-yo fishing to be an inshore technique, but it can also be effective in offshore situations. Consider the famous shark buoys at the ocho-ocho: dorado, especially the larger fish, are often not near the surface, but hanging at depths of 100 feet or more. Try taking a few drops with a yo-yo. Even if you don't hook up, the yo-yo may lure the overly curious dorado nearer to the surface, where you can drop a live bait on it. Also, you may note that when billfishing, the skipper may sometimes stop the boat and drop over a live bait with some weight. This is because you are positioned over a canyon that's a known travel route for marlin and sailfish. Try tossing some iron - hooking up a marlin or sailfish on the yo-yo makes for a great story (and it really does happen). In both these situations, you don't drop all the way (you'll run out of line before you find the bottom), but you do want to go deep. Let the jig sink for a 30-count or more.

With some minor modifications, the yo-yo can be used for the bigger school yellowfin. Blue and white is a potentially good choice here, as it mimics one of the yellowfin's favorite food items, the flying fish. Chrome is also excellent. The best time to drop the jig is either immediately after a strike ("the slide"), or when the boat pulls out in front of a pod of dolphins. Again, drop deep, for a 30-count or more, but be sure to keep some tension on the line. Yellowfin will often hit the jig on the way down.

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