Dorado dreams on the Sea of Cortez

Frank Zaworski By Frank Zaworski, 17th Nov 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Travel>North America>Mexico>Baja California & The Pacific Northwest

Fly fishing for dorado and other species in the southern Gulf of California draws anglers from around the world. Stunning vistas, incredible wildlife, and fast fishing action provide indelible memories.

Athletes of the sea

The drag of the fly reel zings as a bull dorado in the 15-20 lb. class dashes for the horizon in the blue waters of the Sea of Cortez. Into the backing in mere seconds, the vividly-colored fish punctuates its long run with a series of high-flying and jaw-dropping leaps. As the fish turns to port, precious backing is recovered to the large arbor reel before another run peels the line out again. A quarter of an hour later, a tiring but far from exhausted fish is brought alongside the panga, gently unhooked, and sent swimming away as an angler, dumbstruck by the beauty and fighting spirit of such a fish, sets down the 8 wt. 9-ft. rod and silently thanks Mother Nature, and any other deities within earshot, for providing Planet Earth with such wonderful creatures.

Fly fishing for dorado (known as mahi mahi in Hawaii) in the southern waters of the Gulf of California is a terrific challenge for those anglers more accustomed to chasing trout in North America's wild rivers and streams. Salt water fly fishing requires similar skills, but demands the use of stouter tackle and large flies designed to mimic the look of bait fish such as sardines and ballyhoo. Gear and flies will be addressed in more detail later. But first, a brief discussion of the waters surrounding Baja California Sur is in order.

The world's aqurium

The Gulf of California (also known as the Sea of Cortez) separates the Baja California Penninsula and the mainland of Mexico. The gulf is 700 miles long and from 30 to 150 miles wide. The sea's warm water waters harbor what is estimated as the world's most diverse accumulation of life, prompting famed ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau to dub this magnificent body of water "the world's aquarium".

Lifeforms inhabiting the gulf range from the titanic in the form of grey whates, to more than 5,000 species of micro-organisms as estimated by the International Hydrographic Organization.

In between the gargantuan and the minute exists an inspiring array of sport fishes including the aforementioned dorado, marlin, sailfish, tuna, roosterfish, and wahoo to name just a few. All are fair game for the fly fishing enthusiasts who flock like geese to these warm waters when snow and ice put a lid on piscatorial action in the northland.

Set your sights on La Paz

Fishing opportunities abound along the entire length of the Baja California Penninsula, both in the Sea of Cortez on the eastern side and along the shore of the Pacific on the west.

But if the angler is looking to combine marvelous fishing experiences with some very pleasant amenities such as superior lodging, great food and traditional culture, La Pa (pop. 250,000), the capitol city of the state of Baja California, is an excellent destination.

Some anglers claim, this writer included, that the Baja's best fishing opportunities can be found in the stretch of sea that lies between La Paz and the tourist mecca of Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip of the Baja penninsula. Known as the East Cape, the region provides both deep water and inshore opportunities to hook and battle a broad sampling of gamefish.

Accomodations in and around La Paz range from the four-star Costa Baja Resort and Marina and the Hyatt Place to the less spectacular but still comfortable La Perla Hotel which is perfectly located on the city's malecon (seaside promenade). For the budget minded, a good number of small hotels dot the city and provide great opportunities to sample the local culture.

Getting to La Paz is simple, just fly into the airport in La Paz from a flight that connected the US or Canada through Mexico City or Guadalajara. Or, fly direct from many locations in North America to San Juan de Cabo at the tip of the penninsula.

Another alternative is to take a jolly drive on Mexico Highway 1 which runs the length of the penninsula from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas. Tips on driving Highway 1 are plentiful on the internet. Study them carefully. Do not drive at night. Good luck.

Getting on the water

While the Baja's endless beaches provide plenty of opportunities for shore casting, an angler's best bet for success with hooking larger game fish is to secure the services of a local guide. Several fleets of guides operate in the environs around La Paz and will they typically host two or three anglers for a day's fishing in their 20-foot pangas.

The fishing day generally begins with pangas setting out at sunrise and returning to home about 2 pm-3 pm. The daily cost for a guide and boat varies but normally runs about $150-200 (US) per day. Anglers are responsible for their own beverages and food. Remember to bring enough to share with the guide. A tip of 10% is appropriate if the angler thinks the experience is worth it.

Many vendors in the La Paz area provide guiding services with Jonathan Roldan"s Tailhunter International Sportfishing ( being one of the more popular. The outfit's Tailhunter Restaurant and Fubar Cantina on the malecon in La Paz is a good place to revive one's energy following a day on the water.

A handsome fleet of guides operates out of Bahia Los Suenos (Bay of Dreams) about a one-hour drive from La Paz. From this location, and depending on the season, anglers have the opportunity to hook dorado, roosterfish, marline, sailfish, wahoo, yellowtail (amberjack), yellowfin tuna, and more.

While dorado are usually plentiful throughout the year, roosterfish start to appear in shallower water in March-April. Roosters are a fly fishing delight and will amaze the angler with their lightning fast strikes of a moving fly and their even faster runs once the sting of curved steel is sensed. Wahoo can also be picked up at this time over deep water on fast-trolled flies.

Fishing action in the Sea of Cortez accelerates as water temperatures start to climb in late spring. Migrating blue and black marlin, as well as tuna, follow the warming waters with the action for these guys reaching a peak between late September and November. As this period is also the peak of the hurricane season in these parts, a keen eye on eastern Pacific storm activity is advised.

What to bring

Just as your guide will be happy to supply you with the broom handle-type rods and saltwater reels needed to haul in big fish quickly, a fly fisherman's needs also run to the heavy side of the scale.

Leave the 5 wt. fly rod at home and bring a 9-foot rod or two in the 8 to 10 wt category accompanied with a large-arbor reel that is spooled with 150 yards of backing and a weight-matched fly line. Tippets should be of 30 lb test. Many anglers prefer a 10-12 foot leader of straight 30 lb monofilament as a tapering leader seems to be irrelevant, mostly, to hefty dorado and bruiser-class roosterfish up to 40 lbs and beyond.

Critical to fly fishing success in the Sea of Cortez is a fly box filled with things that resemble what the fish are used to eating, which means sardines and their long lower lipped relatives the ballyhoo. Some of the minnow-type flies you might know from bonefish hunting will work, but think big. Flies should be tied in hook sizes 1 to 4. Useful color patterns are black and white and blue and white. A bit of tinsel resembling a midline on a baitfish will at least please the angler's eye, if not the eyes of the quarry.

Fishing from the shore in Mexico is free to all and does not require a license. Step in a boat, however, and a Mexico Sport Fishing license is required. Fishing licenses are only available online and cost US$15 for a day or about US$25 in 2014. One site you can visit for licensing and information is


Sight casting and trolling flies are the two common methods used when fly fishing in the Baja for dorado and most other species. While trolling allows the angler to cover great expanses of water, casting to observed fish is perhaps a more pleasing activity.

Schools of baitfish, commonly referred to as bait balls, attract ocean predators and are prime locations for presentation of your artificial offerings. In open water, they can be noticed from some distance as frigates, gulls and pellicans dive at the fish while irridescent fins of dorado and other predators slash at and through the balls.

There are two techniques that prove productive.The first technique involves casting your fly to the middle or the edge of the bait ball and allowing the fly to drift down in mimicry of a dead or injured bait fish. A dorado will often readily snap up this morsel and take off like rocket, producing that high-pitched screee! sound from the reel as fly line and then backing vanish in seconds from the arbor.

The alternate technique is to cast to the bait ball or to a sighted fish and try to entice the critter into striking the fly by stripping in the line. Many experienced saltwater fly fishers employ the two-handed strip which somewhat resembles a boxer working on a speed bag.

Go now

However you get to Baja California Sur and the warm waters of the Sea of Cortez, no matter what you bring or where you stay or what time of year you come, the point is to get down here and enjoy some of the best fishing of your life.

I did. I stayed. And I am never going back.


Adventure, Fishing, Fly Fishing, Travel

Meet the author

author avatar Frank Zaworski
Veteran journalist living in Baja California Sur, Mexico, focuses on the topics of fishing, kayaking, golf, agriculture, purebred dogs, energy and petrochemicals.

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
19th Nov 2014 (#)

Thanks for this share - exciting place indeed - siva

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