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This is our quarry! A fish so elusive, chasing them is reminiscent of the old Boy Scout "snipe hunt". This big exotic cousin of the yellowtail and jack crevalle migrates into the Cortez in spring and moves up and down the shoreline in small schools (pods) in search of their favorite forage. May to October you will find the king of the inshore fishery holding court in and around the shallow sand and rocky bottoms of the East Cape. The shallow waters of this exotic locale are so clear you can see these big game bullies stalking, then devouring their favorite prey. As soon as they grab that morsel, they head for cover. This is one of the characteristics that makes them so elusive and difficult to pattern with any consistency.

Once they are hooked, especially with 15-pound mono or lighter, hold on to your sombrero! These fish will jump and flip, then head out to deep water. They'll charge and swim under your boat, wrap your line around boulders or run right onto the beach, then roll around and flip back into the surf line. Most first-time roosterfish anglers liken them to a runaway freight train that is quite capable of spooling your reel, cooking the drag washers or even outright busting your rod!

Most roosterfish are released, as their meat is generally considered untasty. Further, roosterfish are fairly rare compared with other species, so conservation is important to preserve this wonderful game fish. Note that this fish is being released without handling. As with all fish, the less they are handled the better the chances for their survival.
Another aspect that contributes to their elusive presence is the simple fact that roosterfish are very rare. They are literally unknown in other parts of the world. They are caught exclusively along the Pacific shorelines of Mexico and Central America, with the majority of the catch taking place in the Sea of Cortez. This includes the current IGFA all-tackle world record. This south Baja residence for this cagey, deceptive and difficult-to-catch fish, is second to none! From Punta Arena de la Ventana in the north, to the light house at Punta Arena off the south, just north of the famous Cabo Pulmo Shoals, you will find this worthy gamester see the Fishing Map). This 50-mile stretch of beaches is considered by many as the "Roosterfish capitol of the world", because there are more pods of them found here then any other place in the Western Hemisphere.

The Hunt
Going after roosters is a specialized form of angling, not unlike stalking bonefish or redfish in the Florida Keys. While this concept is somewhat contrary to the standard philosophy we normally employ at the East Cape, (fish for what's biting), it is an exciting way to test your skills, equipment and vessel. Targeting pez gallo does not allow for the incidental catch of a dorado or wahoo, as when you're chasing schools of tuna. This brand of hunt, chase and reward, requires a full commitment. There is no other way to fulfill the tasks and eventual goal of landing one of these beautiful creatures. Accepting this reality and making the commitment necessary to capture this exceptional prize will help maintain your focus.

Every good hunter knows you must start in the areas that are most likely to reveal the targeted species. Please note, in this case, reveal, not produce. The more reliable zones for an encounter are the beaches over shallow sand and cobblestone shoals that extend from Punta Arena de la Ventana, south to Ensenada de los Muertos and the sandy areas just north and south or Punta Pescadero. This is prime roosterfish territory. The secondary locations are the beaches stretching from the Hotel Buenavista Beach Resort to Hotel Punta Colorado and the light house at the other Punta Arena (south), curving in and toward the Cabo Pulmo reefs This is your second best bet. Check out the Fishing Map to locate these areas.

The waters of these inshore habitats are no more than 10 to 25 feet deep. However, they offer the papagallo enormous advantages over the angler because of the rubble rock and volcanic reefs. These naturally formed rock piles and mini pinnacles provide substantial cover and very sharp edges that can cut you off in the blink of an eye.

Very rare and elusive, there is no more prized inshore game fish found in Mexico.
So, now you know where to look. What is the best strategy to initiate an encounter? Well, the next matter to consider in this multifaceted foray are the indigenous baits of the area. Many Baja anglers familiar with this species of jack know that the bait of choice is the striped mullet, (Mugil cephalus), also known as the Lisa or Liseta. The drawback to this bait is its availability. This inshore baitfish may only be harvested by the local bait fisherman when there is a big run of roosters. Otherwise you must gather this prime specimen with a throw net or attempt to snag them with a Lucky Joe bait rig. This will obviously take up the better part of the fishing morning, that is also the prime time to stalk this magnificent gamefish.

There are two other baits that are more readily available for purchase, and have worked well for many an angler seeking the roosterfish. They are the mackerel or macarela, (scomber japonicus), best size about 7 inches. This size is very common in the Cortez and can be made easily with Lucky Joe rigs fishing 100 to 150 feet deep. You can either use a chart or gather information as to the more productive locations to make this bait.

Most roosters are taken on live bait. In addition to sardinas, macarela, sabalo, or chivato will also do a good job.
The other, is the sardina, that isn't a sardine at all. It is actually a herring of the family (Culpeidae). This super hardy baitfish is the backbone of the available live baits in the Cortez from Mulegé to Cabo San Lucas. There is one drawback. While this great bait is available for purchase, the past two years, primarily because of the El Niño phenomenon, it has been in short supply. A second and equally important factor, the size has been less then two inches, where it is normally 4.5 to 6 inches. In order to get the fish interested, it must be at least 4.5 inches in length to be an affective bait. Unfortunately this is not conducive to hooking up one of the larger roosterfish.

Rounding out our gallery of roosterfish baits, are two inshore species that the local Mexicans consider the best for tracking down the evasive pez gallo. Not all visiting anglers are aware of the catching power of these baits. This is where speaking and understanding some Spanish can really help your hunt.

The first of these lessor known baitfish is the bonefish, (Albula vulpes), commonly called the sabalo or quijo. This powerful offering is not at all like the bonefish caught in the Atlantic. It is brownish/silver and white below and feeds on clams, crustaceans and small baits on the bottoms of inshore areas. It reaches the size of three pounds, but is normally a pound or less. The second of these obscure species is the goatfish, (psudupeneus grandisquamis), common name, chivato or barbon (bearded). The body is greenish with yellow body stripes on it's sides, is a bottom feeder, has a fleshy barb on it's chin and is very durable for multiple casting into visible feeders or enticing them out of their cover.

What makes these baits so different and more effective than the others? The latter will swim on the surface to five feet below it, when cast into feeding schools of our quarry. The sabalo and particularly the chivato will dive down into the lair of the roosterfish when back hooked behind the head. This gives us a very natural approach and a different strategy then those utilizing more conventional baiting methods. All these baits should be cast with the hook tied directly to the line, no sliding egg or rubber core sinkers. Just flyline with the clicker off.

The Chase
Now, armed with the knowledge of where to look and what to use in terms of live bait, let's look at the strategies for bringing roosters to the boat for a photo-op and release. Although the majority of roosterfish are caught on live bait, it is not uncommon to hook them on artificials. The use of lures/jigs is the very best way to begin your hunt and chase, so as not to use up or kill off your precious live bait supply. The trick here, is to use artificials that mimic the size, shape and colors of the baits available to the predator.

This rule of thumb applies in most all angling endeavors. Catching a roosterfish requires strict adherence to this rule. The ratio of fish caught on lures, jigs or spoons is roughly two of every 10. Therefore, your success with artificials is contingent upon this fundamental rule. Simply stated, "match the hatch".

When you arrive at the fishing grounds you have targeted, begin by slow trolling artificials like the Rapala CDll and CD14, in green, blue or purple mackerel and the new mullet color in the same sizes. Rapala slivers, (jointed tail) work as well. Another excellent swimming bait for this application are the Bonita trolling lures from YOZURI, in the 5 5/8 or 7 inch sizes. This trolling tactic should be augmented with the use of soft plastic surface swim baits like II Sharp Slammers or AA Soft Plastics in silver to light blue in 5 to 7 inch sizes.

Troll two soft plastics on the outside, and two hard baits off the corners. This way you cover more of the water column as you troll, surface to about five feet, in 10 to 25 feet of water. While slow trolling, you can alter the depth of the swimming soft plastics from surface to a foot or so deep by changing the weight of the lead head from one quarter ounce to three-quarters of an ounce.

The premise for this trolling pattern and menu, is to present a natural and visual stimulus. The task at hand is to trigger the inherent predatory response mechanism, through illusion management. If you are able to sustain attraction to your lures, you will be in a position to quickly drop back or cast a live bait. Your opportunity for a hookup at that moment is significantly improved. Many times with this first hookup, along with additional baits and lures being cast, you'll find multiple hookups become a very real possibility. Key to this scenario, is adequate planning and preparation. In other words, have equipment setups to accommodate trolling and bait or jig casting readily available.

A portion of your success is dependent on you and the other anglers and the boat. This occurs by first duping the fish into reacting to a bait ball that has been created through your prop wash and turbulence with trolled surface and diving lures followed by the indigenous offerings trolled or cast. Why this approach works has to do with the inherited hunting traits executed by roosterfish. As they cruise along the beaches foraging amongst the reefs and bars they are looking for bait schools. When they chance upon a swarm of baitfish, they herd them into a ball and go into a feeding frenzy. This is the illusion we try to create.

Critical to your success, is knowing that these predators are very wary and spook easily. Troll your lures and soft plastics as far back as possible, at no more than 4 knots, better at 3 knots. They are spooked by boats! Here again, we are departing from the norm of trolling closer to the boat in the white water or no more than 4 or 5 wakes back. When you see the fish working the surface, solo or in schools, your job is to work quietly, making long casts toward the beach from a still boat. Most of all exercise patience!

If you are able to bring fish up with your artificials, or if you spot breezing or feeding fish, change over to the live baits. Attack the feeders by casting to them or maintain your slow troll tactic, but with live bait! Should you be fortunate enough to have some chivato (goatfish) or sabalo (bonefish), hook one up and cast it out. As these trick baits seek shelter in the reef, they will inadvertently swim right into the backyard of the predator they work hardest to avoid.

This tactic works very well against the breezers. As you are already aware, these fish pod. So, if you see one on the surface, it's a good bet that there are others about and close by. You just don't see them. But, they will see the diving baits trying to get to cover when you place them in their general area. Shotgun spread your casts and cover more water. This can also improve your chances for a hook up.

Once you've hooked one of these great fighters with light line, try to force it, or as in most battles, chase it with your boat into deeper water or where there is more of a sand bottom. This will aid in preventing the fish from getting fouled, snagged or cut off on any reef or cobblestone piles. The fish will try to use the deeper water to its advantage, so the greater swimming area works to your advantage by tiring fish out a little quicker.

The rationale for incorporating light line and tackle is the result of many hours chasing these fish, making numerous casts and presentations, without any results. Learning the hard way that papagallo is very wary, boat and line shy is no way to broaden your knowledge. Your choice of tackle, for casting live bait and artificials, consider either the Penn 965, 525 or 535, Shimano Calcutta CT700 or CT400 using 15- or 20-pound mono, with 7-foot rods like the Penn Sabre 270 or 870, Cal-Star 700L or 700M. Trolling, use either a Penn 25GLS or a Shimano TLD 15. Fill either with 20- or 25- pound line. Trolling rods for this application, try the Penn Sabre 665C made for 20- to 50-pound Line. Choice of line try Maxima, Berkley, Ande or Soft Steel.

Best boat option
For general fishing on the East Cape, Cabo San Lucas or out of San Jose del Cabo we always recommend the cruisers. But because this is a specialized type of fishing, we will recommend that you charter a super panga! Yes you can get roosterfish on a cruiser, but what we seek are the most appropriate craft to sneak around the shallows smoothly and quietly. The super panga has the openness both forward and astern to allow for all the casting necessary to make a good bait presentation to the roosterfish. There will be no outriggers to get a cast line fouled in and you can get to the fish from anywhere on the boat. You just don't have that kind of freedom and mobility on a cruiser. Range is not an issue either because most of the roosterfish are within 5 to 10 miles of any of the resorts on the East Cape.

The Reward
Well it is pretty simple. Your reward is using your acquired skills and information in a hunt and chase that will result in an exhilarating, intoxicating experience in one of the more prolific fishing grounds of the world. Additionally, you will become part of the fish catching elite. Not many can boast of catching the elusive, one-of-a-kind, world class Pez Gallo.

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