I was drinking a beer with Shane recently, thumbing through some of his old fishing pictures when I saw a photo that caught my attention. In the picture, a younger Shane appeared to be running through the surf with a fishing rod in one hand and the back half of a big ass fish protruding from under his shirt. I asked him about the photo, and he said it was a jack crevalle he’d caught back in 1997 fishing the southern tip of Baja California on the Sea of Cortez.
According to Shane, he and his buddy Mitch were down in Mexico for a couple of months, living in the Hotel Punta Colorado, splitting expenses and fishing night and day. They stayed out there as long as their jobs, and Shane’s ex-wife, would allow it.
The hotel was built a half mile from a 100-fathom drop off, which made Punta Colorado a popular deep sea fishing destination. But it was the surf fishing that Shane and Mitch loved about Punta Colorado, and they’d spend their nights planning fishing expeditions over pitchers of margaritas, and then traveling up and down the beach the next day, probing the coastline for big fish.
He said that one of their favorite tactics was driving along the beach in ATVs, hunting roosterfish by searching the surf for the long spines of their dorsal fins jutting from the water. On spotting the fins, they‘d pull over quickly and sight-cast at the roaming game fish, often landing chunk roosters.
Their morning routine consisted of eating breakfast with the other hotel guests in the large communal dining room that overlooked the beach. It wasn’t uncommon to be sitting there eating a meal and suddenly see the shadows of large jacks swimming in the surf, chasing bait fish. After breakfast, most of the guests would grab their fishing tackle and muster on the beach where they’d be loaded into pangas and ferried to the deep sea fishing boats anchored near the drop-off.
One morning as he was having breakfast with the other guests, Shane looked down and saw lots of big fish feeding right out in front of the hotel. “We immediately ran down to the beach,” said Shane. “I threw my cast net and of course the bait was plentiful.”
He dumped the live bait (surf perch) into a 5-gallon bucket and then started chucking them out there on his 11 ½ foot St. Croix, catching one fish after another. Seeing this, some of the other hotel guest decided to follow suit.
“A lot of them were getting ready to get on the boats anyway,” Shane said, “and so they just had heavy boat rods and sinkers with them…but it didn’t matter…everyone just grabbed bait out of my bucket and cast it with whatever they had… and they got hit.”
Before long, half the hotel guests were on the beach fishing from the surf, reeling in jacks of all sizes and an occasional roosterfish. Then Shane hooked into something big, and as the fish peeled off drag, Shane looked around and realized that the beach had suddenly gotten crowded.
“I had one guy who was hooked up with a big fish on one side of me, and I had another guy with a fish on the other side, and I was right in the middle. I needed to get my fish under control and get out of the fray or I was going to cost someone a big fish.”
Shane was able to horse the big jack crevalle a little closer to shore, and then he got an idea. He walked into the surf and dropped into a 3-foot gut, or channel, that sat several yards off the beach, and then he walked out in chest deep water to close in on the jack. His plan was to use his shirt to ‘net’ the jack.
“I made the two grabs for that fish and couldn’t get a hold of it,” he said, “and then it got real close and I pulled out my t-shirt and stuffed it over the fish’s head.”
Shane was on his way back up, out of the gut when the picture was taken. “You can see my right leg there in the gut,” he said, “and my left knee up on the sandbar.”
Later that night, under a full Baja moon, Shane and some of the other hotel guests gathered up at the poolside bar and recounted their stories of the feeding frenzy. After the bite died down, most of the anglers made it out to deep sea boats, but some of them had a better time, and caught bigger fish, on the beach with Shane.
One by one, the anglers thinned out as the night wore on, some tired from the long day of fishing and some just feeling the effects of the margaritas, until it was just Shane and Mitch again, looking out at the dark sea, marveling at how lucky they were.
Having the bar to themselves, they started planning for the next day’s fishing.
Lone Star Chronicles – Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Fish