Species, Tackle & Tacticts
The Seas of Cortez offers a wide variety of game fish along the East Cape. Included here are some our experiences with several of the more prominent species available to the fly fisherman, the flies, tackle and the techniques that have proven successful.
The Dorado is a very popular fish in the Sea of Cortez. In other waters it is known as the Dolphin fish or Mahi Mahi. Dorado is an aggressive feeder, taking flies and poppers readily when in the mood to eat. They are strong fighters on fly tackle, usually displaying numerous jumps followed by strong runs. Typical school sized fish run 8 to 12 pounds and may number into the hundreds of fish. The Bulls (mature males) run large in the East Cape, often weighing over 70 lbs. Fish over 50 lbs have been caught by fly fishermen.
Rods: A nine weight is the minimum recommended sized rod and is adequate for smaller school size Dorado when casting small flies on calm days. The ten through twelve-weight rods are better suited to fishing off shore considering the strong possibility of larger fish mixed in with feeding schools.
Reels: A good quality salt-water reel that holds 300 yards of 30 lb backing is recommended. Large arbor reels have a decided advantage in the rate of retrieve of line as well as maintaining consistent drag pressure. As a note for all species, we normally set the drag between four and six pounds of pull, then palm the rim during the fight to vary the pressure on the fish.
Fly Lines: A full-length intermediate line is a good all purpose line for Dorado, being easy to cast and easy to handle. Shooting heads or full length integrated sink tip lines in class IV to class VI sink rates are an ideal all species off shore species selection. These lines offer maximum capacity for backing, with minimal belly forming in the line while playing fish. The high density sinking lines are a must for most tuna fishing situations, knowing that both species are often available at the same time and place.
Leaders: Keep it simple. A six-foot leader built from two pieces of mono looped together is all that is often needed. We usually build our butt sections with two feet of forty lb soft mono with perfection loops at both ends. To the butt section we join, via a loop to loop connection, the class tippet of eight kg (17 lb) test for ten weight rods and ten kg (22 lb test) for the twelve weight rods. Several knot work well to connect the class tippet to the loop in the butt section. We have had very good luck forming a large loop with either a Spider hitch, or the bimini twist. The large loop is doubled back on itself and a smaller double looped is then formed using a king sling or double surgeons knot. A non loop connection can be used to join the butt section to the class tippet using a double surgeons knot. This connection is fast to build, but gives up some knot strength. We have not found a bite tippet necessary while fishing for Dorado. However we often add 24 inches of forty or 60 lb. test soft mono to the class tippet to facilitate landing fish we intend to release. We grab the sturdy bite tippet and the tail of the fish or use a Boga grip. Several knots work to connect the tippet to bite section including the Hufnagle, Albright, double blood knot, double surgeons or our favorite the Yucatan knot. The final connection to the fly depends on whether a bite tippet is added or not. We use a loop knot, such as a Lefty’s loop to connect to the bite tippet. This allows the fly to swing better on the stiff mono. If the fly is attached directly to the class tippet a knot that breaks close to 100% should be used such as a double clinch, Eugene bend, San Diego knot (tuna knot) or a five turn Lefty’s loop knot..
Flies: The key to fly selection is matching size and color of the fly to the natural food being eaten. In most cases that means imitating the sardine. This small baitfish is usually two to four inches in length and white under olive, or white under tan in color. The tan or olive backs will often have a grayish cast to them. We have caught a lot of Dorado over the years on olive/white Clouser minnows tied on 1/0 to 3/0 hooks. In recent years the Mosca Magic has become a dominate pattern creating a whole family of variations, including the Clouser Magic, Crease Magic, Rasta Magic and Billfish Magic. Other patterns that are effective include variations on the Sardina, such as, Sea Habits, Bucktail Deceivers, and various poppers and crease flies. All of these patterns work well in olive/white, tan/white, chartreuse/white or blue/white, tied on 1/0 to 3/0 hooks. Squid also make up a good part of the Dorado’s diet and a few squid patterns such as the Tres Generation squid in white or pearl can save the day.
When natural bait is absent we often try large attractor patterns in Red/white, purple/black, chartreuse/white and yellow/green. The Mosca Magic excels as an attractor pattern as does large Clouser Magic’s, the Rasta Magic and Large Bucktail Deceivers. These flies are often trolled in order to locate schools of fish. Large flies and poppers work best early and late in the day, while smaller and sparsely dressed flies seem to be more effective during the middle of the day.
Tactics: A number of approaches work at different times and under different circumstances. A favorite method is to look for floating debris such as logs, Sargasso weed, dead whales, and shark buoys etc. Usually a few live sardines are thrown close to the debris. If feeding swirls occur, the angler throws a fly and gets ready to set the hook. Another method that pays off well is to look for feeding fish, birds or Porpoise as an indicator of the presence of Dorado. In this case the boat is positioned in front of the movement of feeding fish; live chum is thrown over board to supplement the feeding frenzy. Flies are then thrown close to fish feeding on the live chum. The third and often the most common way to locate schools of Dorado are to troll flies. Once a fish is played to the boat, live chum is thrown into the water to attract the main school to the hooked fish. We usually keep the hooked fish in the water until more fish are hooked, or the live chum has attracted the school to the boat. The live chum and hooked fish can keep large schools of Dorado close to the boat for up to an hour on some days. Several keys are important to getting hook ups. The timing of throwing bait into the water and moving the fly as fast as you can strip. In most cases the fish will be fairly selective to size and color once live chum is thrown into the water. Fish can also get stale on seeing the same pattern over and over. This is a good time to try poppers, a different pattern or go to a dead drop presentation.
For sheer pulling power the tuna is probably tougher than any other fish commonly caught on a fly rod in the Sea of Cortez. The fight starts with an amazingly fast first run that goes well into the backing. Following the first run tuna tend to go deep and circle under the boat.
Rods: We recommend 12 weight and larger rods if you are targeting tuna.
Lines: Our favorite lines are fast sinking shooting heads or full length integrated sink tips in the 400 grain to 800 grain range. Intermediate sink lines come into play when chasing fast moving schools of tuna that are feeding on the surface with porpoise.
Leaders: The leaders should be kept short on the sinking lines. We build an 18 inch butt section of 30lb. soft mono and loop it to 24 inches of either 8kg or 10 kg class tippet. Tuna tend to be leader shy; therefore we seldom add a bite tippet. At times we extend the tippet length to four feet or more if the tuna appear to be leader shy.
Flies: The same flies that work for Dorado are effective on the Tuna with perhaps an edge given to smaller flies that have flash and motion when fished on the dead drop. The Clouser magic and Clousers tied with marabou are favorites of ours.
Tactics: Tactics for tuna take two main forms: Chumming fish up from deep structure; and finding fish feeding under porpoise.
When fishing over structure the Captain positions the Boat over structure such as a seamount while the deck hand tosses live and or dead chum over board. When the action is hot, Fish are often caught just under the surface by a fast retrieve. More often then not the most effective approach is to cast a weighted fly into the direction of boat drift and let the fly sink deep. The drift of the boat acts to deep mend the line. Greater depth can be gained by stripping additional line off the reel allowing the line to sink down to fifty feet. The deepest point of the drift occurs as the boat passes the line off the stern or bow. From this point the boats drift will start to plain the line back to the surface. Once the line is at its deepest point, rip the line with a long hard strip. Let the line fall back and rip again. If you haven’t hooked up with the rips, then strip the fly back to the surface and start again. Hits will often occur while the fly is on the dead drop. It is important to minimize line slack by keeping the rod tip close to the water.
The other common method involves locating feeding tuna often found with large schools of porpoise. The Captain positions the boat in front of an approaching school of feeding tuna while the angler quickly casts and retrieves the fly with single or double handed strips. Surface poppers can be quite effective in these situations as long as the retrieve keeps the fly moving fast. This is the place where an intermediate line is an aid to picking the line quickly off the water in order to reposition the fly in front of fast moving fish.
Nothing quite represents the East Cape better than chasing roosterfish with a fly rod. With out a doubt the roosterfish is one of the greatest prizes in fly fishing. The juveniles are relatively easy to catch, but become very fickle as they mature. They are often compared to the permit as a tough adversary to fool.
Rods: Appropriate rod size will vary by size of fish in quest. We fish nine and ten weights on the beach for the smaller to medium sized fish. When the grandes are present we step up to the ten and twelve weights, especially when throwing the larger flies that capture the interest of the bigger fish.
Lines: We find that a clear intermediate line is the best all around line for roosters and will cover all applications including fishing with poppers. Floating lines are adequate in most cases, but will give up some distance and control in cross wind situations.
Leaders: We modify our basic Dorado leader system to include a longer butt section (four feet) of 30 or 40 lb. Soft mono. We like the loop to loop system here as well as it affords the quickest change of fly and leader combinations. We build four to six foot class tippets in 6 kg, 8 kg and 10 kg, with out a bite tippet. A standard salt water tapered leader also works fine for the roosters.
Flies: Match the hatch can be critical to catching roosterfish. The small to mid sized fish are often found feeding on sardines and small needle fish. The same fly selection that worked for the dorado and tuna work here as well. The larger roosters prefer bigger meals such as mullet, lady fish, mackerel and caballitos. At times the ballyhoo move inshore and create some incredible feeding frenzies. For these larger fish we cast big bucktail deceivers, rastas, Clousers, Clouser-hoos, crease flies and sea habits in sardine, ballyhoo or mullet colors. A mullet pattern with a spun deer hair head has proven very effective for big roosters on the beach and from the panga. In all cases the size of the fly should match the natural food source, with the larger patterns running approximately 5 to 8 inches in length.
Tactics: Beach fishing for big roosterfish is the ultimate challenge on the East Cape. This is not the pursuit of the sedentary. Physical fitness, stamina and the ability to cast quickly and accurately are decided advantages when in quest of large roosters. These fish move constantly along the beach in search of prey and afford small windows of opportunity. We patrol along the beaches looking for fish cruising, or hopefully fish feeding. Once the roosters are spotted we move quickly to intercept their movement and try to place the fly directly in front of the fish. The best angle is dead on the nose so that the fly is pulled directly away and in line with the movement of the fish. Both double hand strips and fast single hand strips are both effective as long as the fly moves fast and steady. We go back and forth on the type of retrieve to find their trigger point. Getting roosters to follow a fly is relatively easy. Getting them to eat it is the skill.
Fishing for big roosters by boat offers several advantages including the ability to cover more water and to tease up fish using live bait. We rig a spinning rod with a live mullet, caballito, mackerel or large sardines by either sewing the leader through their lips or using a snap swivel. The live teaser is then trolled slowly through good habitat. When the rooster shows behind the bait the teaser is kept just out of reach. Once the rooster shows that it is ready to pounce, the teaser is pulled and the cast is made to the fish. As with beach fishing the retrieve is very fast, accelerating the fly away from the fish when he shows interest. Big roosters have a tough mouth, so be sure to use sharp hooks and a strong strip strike to bed the hook home.