There are times when some of us guys got the itch for Baja sooooo bad, but just couldn't get away for a long weekend, sometimes just a regular one. Maybe on a Thursday night the phone would ring and Barsam or John or Peter would announce that a bullet trip was in the works. We'd throw an extra pair of jeans and shorts in a duffle bag and whatever toilet articles we needed. Pulled together whatever minimum fishing gear and ice chests. Oh, yeah, sandals, too.
We'd all go to work Friday and get off as early as we could, throw our stuff in the common car, pile in and be off in a cloud of dust, racing for Tijuana. By 7 Friday evening, we'd hit Ensenada and scarf down 3 or 4 streetside fish tacos each, stop at the Corona distributor for as many cases as we could fit. Only one needed to be chilled.
If we hustled along the highway, climbing and dropping south of Ensenada through Santo Thomas, San Vicente, Colonet and Camalu, to the flatter road as it entered the Valle San Quintin, we might make El Rosario by midnight. By then, of course, the cool case was history. We'd either rent a room at the Sinai for $10, total, or just sleep curled up in the too-small seats of the car for a couple hours. At 2 AM we'd pile out, stretch, find a bush and be back on the road. By 4 we'd fly by Catavina, around 5 the turnoff and before 6 arrive at the Diaz Ranch in Bahia de Los Angeles. We'd secure the best guide available, gather our fishing stuff and pile into the panga.
By the time the sun was rising over the saddle of Smith's we were jigging 6x Salases off the bottom on the west side of the island. We'd listen to the stories from Pepe about where the recent fishing was good and if our favorite holes and reefs didn't turn up serious fish we'd try whatever was working.
By eight the sun pounds down and we've motored around to the cove at NE Smiths. Here we get a mess of hookups, all at once. There's a boil on the surface and we cast into it and immediately we're all fighting 20-30 lb yellows. Hit the line and head straight for the bottom. Hit it hard. Wrap around whatever rocks you can find, devilfish, snap the line, double over the rod. Pure pandemonium is loose in the boat with one guide and 4 guys with fish. "Who's got the gaff?" "Behind you." "I'm almost in!" "Me too." Butts scramble to give each other space. "Watch the treble!" One fish running wild in the bow, two in the stern, thrashing, flipping. "Smack those guys. They're throwin’ muck." Someone picks up the ball bat and wallops each fish in the head several times. This quiets things for 6 or 7 seconds, until the next fish is drawn in.
Now the new fish arrive just as the first batch, slamming the bottom of the boat and throwing up not just muck, but this time lots of blood. Soon we're covered at least with red spots from head to tow. Birds are working the bait like crazy. The sky is almost dark with birds. You could walk on the surface it's so full of fish. Twenty minutes later the boil drops from the surface and the explosion we've been lucky to stumble on is gone. We've got twenty fish. Tired, we head for shore. Pepe's pleased with his short day. We throw fish, whole, ungutted, in the rickety old Diaz freezer that doesn't. We rent a room from Chubasco and cast sheets, like nets on the water, across oversized burlap hammocks. We lay swapping incidents of the morning. Cold ones from the ice chests, boisterous conversation, ribald humor. We recover and wander over to Las Hamacas for a bite. Best pescado empanizado ever. No turtle steak since the early seventies. Back to the room, test the hammocks, brief reading and conversation. By early afternoon we're all snoring, a medley, an orchestra tuning fine instruments. By 4 we're all groggily awake. More beer. By 6 a bottle of rum floats up and cokes are passed around. Plastic cups for Cuba libres. Dinner just before the restaurant closes. Chili Rellenos are the thing. Relaxing around the room Saturday evening, early bed.
Fishing on Sunday is the same as Saturday and we make the same killing. By 10 we're back and organizing for a hasty departure, wrapping fish in newspaper and stuffing them upright into ice chests, tails wagging in the air, cramming all this and our gear into the too-small car, piling in, stopping for lunch, driving back up the long road we had just driven down 30 hours earlier. Four groggy eyes in the front seat keeping each other sharp. Four closed ones in back. Tape deck playing something lively. Gas up in El Rosario and we're back in L.A. by Sunday midnight or 1 AM Monday morning. Break up and go home. Sleep. Get up and stagger to work Monday at 6.
"Hey, Mike. What hit you?"