John, from previous stories, having had no prior experience at fishing under the conditions imposed at La Gringa, closely observed our tackle before making purchases of his own. The rest of us never clearly understood what it was he was scrutinizing, because he bought something completely unlike what the rest of us had.
Our standard operating equipment was a 6 to 6 1/2 foot Striker pole, rated for 15-40 pound test line, a 6 to 1 fast retrieve Shimano reel, 300 to 500 yards of 15 to 30 pound clear test line and a set of green and yellow and blue and white Salas jigs, a Rapala or two and a few lead-head feathers. When John first bought his equipment he did it alone. In a spring, before time for Baja, he quietly disclosed that he had some new gear. We thought maybe he had bought a few lures. But he had gone for a full set of fishing equipment. His basic gear, even though he would be using it under the same conditions as the rest of us, consisted of a 7 1/2 or eight-foot pole, green fluorescent 50-pound test line and a no-name reel he had bought from K-Mart on sale and with a coupon. Another pole was about five feet long and had a bottom grabber spindle on top. A lot of sly winks passed around the hot tub when John told the guys what he'd bought. But this was just the beginning.
Later that year on a guy's trip and early on a La Gringa morning, hung over and with no time for coffee, we poured from our beds and into the boats. It was time to fish.
We fired the engines and ploughed, with us and the engines coughing and sputtering, into the rising sun. We rounded punta La Gringa and skipped between the peninsula and Smith's island. In the saddle of Smith's, about a mile offshore and in the shade of the volcano, we stopped and dropped to the bottom for a trial run. The technique that usually worked in this area was to stop and drop to the bottom, and then crank in fast with our 6 to 1 reels. There were three of us in two boats and two in the third. We had been fishing for a few minutes without success and were about to leave when all three guys in one boat, Barsam, Dave and John, got hookups a few cranks off the bottom.
"Yeeehaaaww...Hookup!" Everyone in their boat shouted. The rest of us were encouraged to see bent poles and tight lines.
"Send some of them over here!" Peter yelled. The rest of us reeled in and dropped back down for another try. After a couple of drops we came in and maneuvered our two boats where we could help our three friends who all had good-sized fish on line.
"Pass the gaff over, Mike. I can get Dave's from here."
"Watch out, don't hit the boat."
"It's a burro!" John hollered. He'd heard burro meant large fish. None of knew where he'd heard the term.
So here we have a fourteen-foot aluminum boat, with three full grown guys, all of whom have hookups. Cool headed Barsam tells John to bring in his fish, while he backs off on his own reel, keeping his line tight, so they don't both hit the surface at the same time. Dave sees color first. "Yellow" he shouts. "A twenty-pounder!" Barsam grabs a gaff and is about to bring the fish aboard. But it was not to be so easy.
Barsam's arm is in mid-swing to gaff Dave's fish when John, between them, falls forward, into the path of the gaff. Barsam stops in mid-swing just in time to avoid John. Dave hauls his fish into the boat by grabbing the line and muscling it over the side. The fish, once in the boat, is flopping wildly with the treble hook flipping back and forth in its mouth. The three guys are ducking away from the fish.
Suddenly, something more is wrong. It's clear that something's happened with John's equipment, but his fish is still taking line. Watching from the other boats, trying to keep the outboards away from the lines, we finely got close enough to see that John's pole had separated from his reel. Dave, with his fish in the boat, has already noticed this problem. He grabs the reel while John has the pole. John is fighting the fish, with still a hundred feet of line out, with the 7 1/2 foot reelless rod in his hands, the tip of which the fish is pulling to and fro across the boat, making all the guys scramble for cover. Dave, with John's loose reel in his hands, is trying to bring in some of the line, but a lot of loose line is lying around the boat, along with the 20 lb. flopping yellowtail that doesn't like being aboard one bit. John's fish now realizes that something unusual is going on above and takes this advantage to dive for the rocks. John can only point the tip of the rod wherever the fish wants to go. Dave is trying to follow John, hold the reel in one hand and, with no leverage for balance or tension on the line, crank in some line from one pissed off fish. Barsam is busy trying to stay out of the way, manning the gaff in the unlikely event it'll be needed.
The rest of us in the other two boats were fighting to keep from falling overboard with the hilarious scene unfolding in the midst of an otherwise tranquil Baja morning. Not too much more could go wrong. There might have been a fire in the boat for all the flying gaffs, flopping fish and elbows. After several risky minutes the trio managed to get the fish a little more under control. The only other problem was created when John's long pole separated in two. Dave reeled while John and Bar coordinated pointing the two segments of pole in the same direction to align the line eyelets. The fish had quite a bit of spunk left and made a final run when it saw the bottom of the boat. But the guys were by now thoroughly experienced at this as yet unpublished new fishing technique. They soon reeled the yellowtail up and gaffed it into the boat. Barsam's fish had gotten off the hook in the ruckus. Any longer and the rest of us would have passed out from laughter.
We were spent from the over-adrenalined exertion in the one boat. The rest of us were just as spent from the hilarious scene we had witnessed for the better part of fifteen minutes. We shortly called it a day and headed back to camp, wishing we'd captured it all on video.