When you’ve had enough of the cold, rainy, windy days of winter and you find yourself looking online at destinations like Hawaii and Mexico, know that many of us are right there with you. If you haven’t been to Mazatlán, Mexico, I highly recommend it—it’s easy to fly to, accommodation is very reasonable, and the fishing is great. You may stop me here and ask if Mazatlán is really a fishing destination. Yes, it is. It’s the same latitude as Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands and has approximately 313 days a year with temperatures exceeding 27° C/80° F. It’s also known as the Shrimp Capital of the World. And if you don’t believe me that this is good fishing destination, then I suggest you ask Jose Cuevas Molina, known as Pepe, second-generation owner and operator of Pepe’s Fleet, which has been in operation since 1961.
Pepe was suggested to us by a friend of my father, who’s used him on more than one occasion. Plus, he’s close to where we stay, which made for easy travel in the early morning. His charter operates in the beautiful Marina Mazatlán which is situated on the Northern side of Mazatlán. Pepe has super panga (large open center console) options at $275 USD and $575 USD for a 31-ft Luhrs Cabin Cruiser.
From a guide or charter business’s perspective, it’s seriously tough to be on the receiving end of a booking from people not familiar with an area or who haven’t been on many charters. Tourists who expect a catching fish guarantee are tiresome. And no matter if it’s an adventure on Vancouver Island or abroad, it’s the same. Guests expect fish, and they often don’t respect just how hard charters work to ensure guests have a good time and are both safe and comfortable. And while the goal post is always to catch fish, something Pepe said to me when I met him confirmed that I made the right choice—he told me that we may not catch fish. He then went on to explain that some of these fish are really big, and it’s better to let them go than to kill them and waste them if you can’t table it all during your stay. Here was a guy I could relate to—he had me at “we may not catch.”
When to Fish for What
My family often heads to Mazatlán in December for the Christmas-New Year’s break. The chart below shows you seasonally what to expect to fish for. December offers great fishing but is the tail end of dorado, black marlin, and blue marlin season. On this trip, we were thrilled to pick up dorado (mahi-mahi) for dinner.
The Day Out
In December, you don’t have to go far—7 to 16 miles offshore for chasing big game in blue water. You know you are on the right track if you are fishing north of Mazatlán, off Mármol de Salcido. But like anywhere, it’s a matter of finding the fish.
Since we were after marlin and dorado, we rigged up mullet and ballyhoo baitfish. Ballyhoo is most common for targeting dorado and sailfish, while mullet is popular for targeting all marlin species. A good tip for rigging ballyhoo is to remove the halfbeak (elongated jaw), remove the eyes, and thread your line through the sockets for extra stability. Threading a blue and white hoochie in front of the baitfish is also a popular setup.
As an attractor, the guides put together a double squid dredge with 14 10-oz cuttlefish weights—8 on top, and 6 on the bottom. We also ran some large marlin trolling lures bouncing on the surface as additional attractant.
Trolling (técnica del curricán in Spanish) along at an average 7 to 9 mph, it wasn’t long before the first dorado hit and came in the boat. And not long after another—the bite was on!
Dorado is an outstanding eating fish, especially if you catch it yourself and eat it the same day. Males grow bigger than females (most 25-lb fish and larger are male) and have the distinctive flat forehead. They typically have a lifespan of about 5 to 6 years and top out at 90 lb. It’s also true that the intensity of a dorado’s colour changes according to its mood, and you really have to see it in person as you play the fish. They start to fade pretty much as soon as you get them on board.
Experiencing the fight of a dorado is really something, but you need medium-weight tackle to really get the most out of it. When you are chartering, you often are set up for marlin with heavy tackle that outmatches the fish. We were reeling the Shimano Tiagra 30s and 50s with 80-lb test. It’s still a gas, but playing one on a lighter saltwater bait casting setup would be quite the memorable battle—they do not come easy! Imagine even jigging one of these colourful beauties up.
A big thanks goes out to Jose and his team at Pepe’s for taking us out for a great day on the water. If your travels take you to Mazatlán, be sure to contact them for a trip. They’ve got super clean boats and a terrific staff willing to teach—a great bunch of folks happy to take you out for an experience on the water. Look them up at www.pepesfleet.com and tell them we said hola!