Category Archives: Palapas Ventana

Fly Fishing Baja in La Ventana

9-26-22 to 10-1-22

More Lessons Learned from a novice getting better.  More guidance and Techniques for Success

It's hard for many to believe we catch and release these.  Also notice my lucky University of San Diego Toreros hat.
It’s hard for many to believe we catch and release these. Also notice my lucky University of San Diego Toreros hat.

For the 2nd straight year, I got to go to the SDFF annual Baja trip at the Palapas Ventana Resort an hour south of La Paz.  And for the 2nd straight year I had an awesome time.  This year, though, I wasn’t a total beginner.  This year I:

  • made a lot less mistakes
  • was a lot more comfortable on what the hell I was doing
  • learned a lot more from the experts on the trip.  My fishing partner was none other than Kai Schumann.
  • had a lot more success… I caught over 20 dorados!  Releasing the majority of them.  Giving the captain a couple each day for him and his family.
John Ashley, the mastermind of the annual SDFF trip to Palapas Ventana in the pool just outside the bar / restaurant after raling dorados all day

So I am no longer a beginner at this baja fly fishing thing.  But, I’m no expert for sure.  I’d call myself an intermediate….which might even be generous.  It took me 25+ years to be comfortable calling myself an expert at the trout thing.  It’s going to take much more experience in the salt water before I can claim expertise in baja.

You can read about my introduction to baja fly fishing from my trip last year here if you’d like.  In that article I documented a number of guidance items I learned the hard way from a beginner’s perspective.  It is my intention to add to my lessons learned from this trip in this article.

There’s me and Kai battling another double. On this trip i lost count of how many times Kai and I were doubled up.

Here is an abbreviated version of the most relevant guidance pasted from the article of last year’s trip:

  1. The Double hauling 60-80 feet I was doing over and over is just a wasted workout and burn of calories. When I finally did look over at what mike was doing; he was not doing what I was doing. And having a lot more success. I was basically “hero casting” blind and he was targeting and being efficient about it.  I got the guidance from John and Kai before we left, “a simple 20 foot cast is all you need.”  For some reason I did not think that through.  While I was literally huffing and puffing double hauling casts over and over 60+ feet into the abyss, Mike was waiting for the right moment to cast a 30 footer right into the fish he was targeting.  Duh…  I was dragging the fly through the bait and feeding predators too late.  This was a sobering blow for me when we got back to the resort and in the bar I heard all the success my buddies were having…who simply could not cast (or chose not to cast) over 30 feet.
  2. The fly really does matter – How many times in trout fishing do we say something like, “the fly really doesn’t matter. Your placement and the drift matter a lot more.”  Well, in this type of fly fishing the fly really does matter.   Even the color matters.  The size really matters too.  But, what matters the most is that the fly rides correctly in the water imitating a baitfish as best as possible.  If you half-ass drunken fly tying in your man cave and your fly spins you don’t get takes.  My first two days I was fishing big heavy clousers with big beaded eyes.  Not only are they are they a tough cast but, the jigging thing those eyes produced were not producing as many strikes as mike.  Mike was fishing smaller deceivers (and similars) unweighted flies and killing.  He was in the right part of the water column; I was not.
  3. Knots Matter – This is the most painful lesson for me. I have been trout fishing so long.  I tie 5 different knots 95% of the time and 95% of the time in 3x and 5x. I can tie them all blind folded.  I haven’t failed a knot in years.  Well, I had no idea how differently 5x knots up than it does with 30lb flouro.  I had no idea that you have to wear gloves and yank those knots as tightly as your strength can handle… no idea.  I had no idea that you have to inspect your saltwater knots closely because the heavy flouro doesn’t just slip into place and knot-up like the light stuff does.  I learned that the hard way.  I lost a big dorado on a rapala knot that simply failed because it was not pulled tight enough.  I didn’t even look at the knot after tying it.  but, you can sure as hell tell a knot has failed when looking at the flouro after losing the fish.  and miraculously I also lost a big rooster on a perfection loop knot I tied for the flouro leader.    That is a first.  Some huge rooster swam away with my entire leader hanging out of his face… simply because I didn’t pull the knot tight enough.  Uggghhh…  30+ years of fly fishing and I am failing knots. I suck.  Don’t worry about me; a number of margaritas later that night at the bar fixed everything.
Such an amazingly fast fish…fooled by a popper of all things

And this is what I learned on this year’s Palapas Ventana Trip:

Fly Design – Tying and selling thousands of flies each year… Well, let’s just say I know my way around a fly-tying vice.  My mistake last year was designing and throwing hugely, weighted clouser style flies that worked great on a kayak in the mangroves of Punta Abreojos… totally different fishing; totally different fish.  But, did not work so well at all off Ceralvo Island in the Sea of Cortez (La Ventana). Last year I did catch Dorado, Jacks and Roosters.  But, not in abundance like this year.  Last year I found my fly being stripped just below the water column I needed to be in…no matter how fast I stripped the fly.  Depending on leader length, I found my fly cruising anywhere from 1-3 feet under the surface. To be totally successful catching Dorado (and conceivably Roosterfish) in this world, I found you need to be in the top of the water column; like in the first 1-3 inches of it.  Which explains why poppers work so well (for Dorado).  Success also means throwing unweighted flies typical of a Deceiver.  Lastly, it also means the casting is so much easier double hauling an unweighted fly.  And of course, I still haven’t met anyone that doesn’t adore fly fishing on top.

The Baja Sardina, a Flatiron Herring. notice in this juvenile state (1-2″) it does not have a false eye yet

So, in the weeks before the trip I started “interweb studying” the Mexican sardina (Flathead Herring) in all it’s stages of life and the fly designs out there for the Mexican Sardina.  I knew I wanted to design a fly with congo hair (poor man’s EP fibers).  I just love the way congo hair saturates and moves in the water.  Then dries in the air on the double haul.  Congo hair doesn’t shape as well as bucktail when you haircut it.  But, congo hair does take shape in the water well.  And it is durable.  I also have this thing for tying in a bleeding gill plate.  It might be psychological thinking that it helps.  Lastly, I have just become enamored with these modern-day thin epoxies that are cured with an ultra violet light.  I used Loon thin for this batch of sardina patterns I designed.  But, there are plenty of worthy competitors.  Epoxy provides a durable head to the fly…which is really needed because these fish have teeth and bite hard.  It also provides a great way to “cement in” the eyes securely.

This is the Sardina Pattern I designed and used at the 2022 SDFF Palapas Ventana Trip

But my epiphany came when watching Guy Allen tie his sardina pattern for Baja.  It wasn’t his pattern that caught my attention as genius as much as it was two of his tying techniques that struck me as absolute genius:

  • Technique 1: The first thing Guy Allen does is tie 5-10 strands of crystal flash on the back of the hook for the entire length of the fly.  He lathers those strands in epoxy then cures them rigid in line; in parallel with the shank of the hook.  Why?  With that rigid line of crystal flash running down the middle of the fly in line with the hook it helps tremendously in not fouling the hook.  I had a ton of trouble last year fouling hooks with congo hair.  When it doubles back, it catches easily on the hook (or barbell eyes as was the case last year) causing the fly to swim improperly.  Genius.  Oh yea, a little flash in a saltwater fly never hurts. 
  • Technique 2: Shaping the first third of the fly body with epoxy.  It’s a totally messy process.  But, this technique gives the fly the form and structure of the natural sardina, yet allowing it the free flowing movement of the last 2/3rds of the fly, imitating the tail movement of a fast swimming sardina. Guy Allen is a Genius.  You can watch the youtube video of his sardina fly construction here.

I also caught plenty of Dorado on poppers.  I used the Crystal Popper by Solitude Fly company in both small and large sizes with both silver and yellow bellies and both worked great for me and Kai.

My favorite story from this years trip: Our Captain yelled “Dorado!  Big dorado!”  and pointed directly out the stern (back) of the boat.  I could see the dorado in frenzy feeding about 50 feet away.  Well, Kai was screwed because he was on the bow (front) of the boat.  But, I was screwed too because that fish was directly behind the boat 50 feet away.  And I had a popper (heavy) on.  I’m left-handed.  If I casted from the port side, my not so tight loop would wizz by and hook kai in the face.  If I casted over my right shoulder on the starboard side my not so tight loop would hook the radio antenna which goes about 10 feet tall next to the console on a panga.  So, I roll casted as hard as I could… almost like throwing a fastball.  The popper, mostly because of the weight, only made it about 20 feet.  A feeble attempt.  But, it plopped on the water from about 10 feet high with a thud.  Strip, strip, Whack!  The thud on the water (maybe because these fish are used to these panga captains throwing sardines in the water) caught the dorado’s attention.  They are so lightning quick, that fish made it from 50 to 15 feet in as fast as I could make two fast strips.  Unbelievable.  I believe Kai saw the whole thing and said something sarcastically like, “Oh my god…”   

I also caught 4 dorado on a few of the kinky muddlers I tied (on another absolute expert, John Ashley’s advice) for the cherished and protected fantail grouper from the mangroves of Punto Abre Ojos on the annual baja camping trip.

And lastly, just because I wanted to prove it would work…  I did catch a dorado on the Huck Huna I designed for the Fly Fishing in Hawaii.  I tie and sell a ton of them.  It imitates the Banded Coral Shrimp (Opea Huna), which is the most common of the reef shrimp in Hawaii. – a shrimp that the blue finned trevally love.  Unfortunately, my Huck Huna is not durable enough for the jaws and teeth of the dorado.  That dorado I caught on the Huck Huna just destroyed it.  Making it one of those “one fish flies”.  Huck Hunas are a pain in the ass to tie with expensive materials so I didn’t throw any more at the dorado.

The Huck Huna – check out that 3 bead “anchor” that keeps the fly swimming right, but even more importantly provides the clicking sound that that natural shrimp makes

Let me elaborate a caveat:  Kai and I saw very few Roosterfish this year.  I can only remember casting at a couple of them.  One of them I hooked and it immediately came unbuttoned.  So, the flies and techniques I describe above for the top of the water column may just be successful for dorados.  I’m told dorados are the only fish to take poppers which would support the argument.  Only next years’ trip will tell….assuming the roosters show again.

Observation – This year I spent a lot more attention watching the experts and watching those who were not doing so well.  Even at the expense of my own fishing.  Of course, it helped a lot to be fishing in the same boat as an expert for 4 days (Kai). 

Luck – Like in any type of fishing there is a component of luck & karma to this type of fly fishing.  And it starts with the captain finding the fish.  If you get a clear shot at a dorado or rooster with out pelicans (pinchi patos) or needlefish or other fish in the way consider yourself lucky. 

Naivety – on one of the particularly good days, I hooked and lost 7 dorados in a row before I realized a prior landing of a dorado straightened the hook on me.  Duh.  I guess that is ignorance, not naivety. It was on the little sized poppers… which is a bit disappointing.  Another lesson learned.  Just like in trout fishing you need to check the fly after catching a fish.  Duh.

Line Strategy – When the Dorados weren’t around… which was few and far between when we were hunting for them… we did fish the reefs a little and did blind cast bouys that held fish like green jacks.  In those times Kai was outfishing me 2 maybe 3 to 1.  I didn’t think anything of it at the time.  He’s an expert.  It wasn’t until the last day that I found out he was throwing an intermediate sink line in those scenarios.  I was fishing the top of the water column with a floating Rio Outbound tropical.  Those smaller fish don’t really dig coming up on top with so many predators in the air above them.

Leaders – Of all the thought leadership from the experts that i listened to, read, etc. the fly was first and foremost discussed and the leader was 2nd.  But, the most NOT agreed on was the leader.  I found the discussion and disagreement fascinating. On this trip I heard John Ashley asked how long the leader should be.  I listened intently when he said, “this much.” as he stretched your arms open to max.  I’m much smaller than John.  So, I settled on between 4 & 5 feet of straight 30 lb flouro. Many, if not most, use a tapered leader in much larger lengths. I don’t need a tapered leader because I’m a pretty good cast.  I don’t need a tapered leader because I use such a short leader (4-5 feet).  I don’t need a tapered leader because I concentrated on that first strip as soon as the fly hit the water.

“An 8 weight is Stupid.” – It’s just not enough for this type of fly fishing.  But, after breaking both my 10 and my 12wts, I had no choice for my 2nd rod.  I caught 4 dorados on my ancient Sage Fli 8wt rod.  But, each time it bordered on calamity. With anything lighter than 30 LB flouro as a leader there would have been no way i could have landed those Dorado.  And that is because I had to straighten the rod so many times to prevent it from snapping.  In particular I did catch and release a big dorado on an 8 wt.  but it wasn’t pretty.  After wrangling it to the boat after a battle that had me drenched in sweat and huffing and puffing, the captain missed landing it by trying to grab it by the tail.  That pissed the dorado off and it dove straight down.  I had no choice but to point the rod straight down and tighten up the drag to max.  I then literally reeled him up, rod pointing straight down saying to myself, “if he breaks me off then that is fine. Because using an 8 wt for this is stupid.”

Notice i am using a stripping guard. I strip the line on the last segment of my middle finger. and when hit hard it always cuts my finger open. having a bleeding cut on the finger when stripping a line soaked in saltwater is not fun.

Rod & Stripping techniques – I have already elaborated how much success is generated by striping the fly as quickly as possible.  This year I found I could out strip the speed of the needlefish.  Any needlefish I did hook this year was foul hooked.  Last year I caught a ton of them.  And I caught a ton of pelicans last year.  This year I only caught one pelican and that was a cast that struck a pelican in the air.  I cannot out strip the pelicans.  They are too fast.  But if a pelican grabs your fly and you stop stripping, it’s smart enough to drop your fly.  To my discredit there were drastically less pelicans this year.  I cannot help but think they may have been terminated at the hands of the local commercial fisherman.  I hope not.

Also, this year I worked really hard at stripping the fly immediately when it hit the water.  And that paid dividends in spades.  I don’t typically do that when I’m making big casts over 50 feet because, obviously, if the line is shooting across your hand instead of dangling freely there is going to be some friction causing the fly not to go as far.  But, I found great success with a strip immediately on impact.  If you think it through, a sardina flying through the air doesn’t lay there stunned after it hits the water.  It immediately darts away.

Calamities

  • I broke two rods.  That is the bad news.  The first was my 12 wt TFO BVK (an older rod which is superseded by the Bluewater SG) and it was totally my fault.  It was a big dorado I brought up to the side of the boat to be landed, pictured and released.  These captains are fool proof at gaffing.  But, grabbing a pissed off dorado by the tail in the water so it can be released is not so easy.  When the captain missed, this dorado dove too quickly for me to react…snap!  The second break is just a bye product of having so many rods on a panga.  A drift boat has a place for fly rod storage that protects them.  A panga does not.  Both Kai and I had our rods snapped on the same day by a captain leading with his knee trying to land a fish over the side of the boat by grabbing it by the tail.  This snap was my favorite TFO Lefty Kreh Ticr2 300-400gr (an older model which could be substituted for the TFO BC Big Fly.  The good news?  It’s TFO: An awesome company with awesome service.  $50 each to repair/replace.  I received the brand-new ones less than a week after leaving baja and sending them to TFO.  I could name a certain Montaña based rod maker of which I have two expensive rods, that charges $175 to repair a rod and makes you wait six months… but I don’t want to get whiny….err….

    Ideally, now that I have done this twice, it is of my opinion that you would bring 3 rods on the panga if you are willing to take the risk of breakage by accident. This is what I will do next year:
    • 10 or 12wt with a floating line armed with a popper for the dorado
    • 10 or 12wt with a floating line armed with a fly that is stripped in the top 1-3 inches of the water column for the roosters, big jacks and dorado
    • 8 or 10 wt with an intermediate for full sink line armed with a weighted fly like a clouser for the reefs to catch some of the exotic species like pargo, sierras, popano, etc.
  • Montezuma’s revenge – damnit it happened to me again.  I’m sure it’s my fault because I wasn’t careful.  Tequilla makes me drop my guard. 
The beach at the Palapas Ventana Resort as we load up on the pangas at sunrise

Palapas Ventana – Fly Fishing from Pangas near La Paz

October 4-9, 2021

Hey that’s me with a huge jack crevalle! Mike in the background cerebrating.

Who knew you could have so much fun with a 10 wt TFO fly rod?! That is the line I used when I did the “Old-guy Instagram” thing from the Palapas Ventana resort in Ventana, Baja, Mexico.

On October 4-9, 2021 the SDFF club assaulted the Palapas Ventana Resort near La Paz with more salt water flies, flouro, and fly rods than God.  This is an annual trip that the club has been doing for a few years lead by fearless leader, John Ashley.  For years these guys have been telling me, “If there is anyone who would enjoy this trip, it’s you, Huckaby.”  They were right.  I had a ton of success; some real bucket listers.  But, I paid my dues in mistakes for sure.  I learned a lot on this trip.  I can’t wait to get back there next October with the club.  I’m actually trying to figure out how to get there in the late Spring it was so fun.

Steven with a big ass rooster

The Fishing

I’m an old trout guy with very little ocean experience (fly or conventional).  This was my first time doing the fly fishing thing from a Panga.  In the myriad of guidance and preparation communications before we left my takeaways was: “It’s two people in a panga; one in back and one in front.  What a learning experience it was for me!  And man did I make mistakes for the first couple days before I got it dialed in.

Fearless Leader John Ashely with a nice dorado

What the captain (by all means not a guide) does is make bait with impressive throws of a bait net; sometimes in total darkness.  I was wearing polarized lenses and many times I could not see the bait balls the captain was throwing that net at in broad daylight….without wearing glasses….so impressive.  So, typically you start early as the sun comes up.  Then, with the live bait in the bait tank you zoom out to where the game fish are (dorado, roosters, jack trevalles, and even trevally….along with 25+ other species).  Cerralvo Island is a fairly short run across the sea of cortez and that is where most of the boats go.  The captain starts winging the live bait into the water with a cut out Clorox bottle.  The gamefish come up to the surface and go crazy in a fish feed.  You throw your fly into the chaos hoping to fool one of them.  When you catch them, you have the option to let them go, bring them back to the restaurant to compliment the night’s gourmet meal, give it to the captain to enjoy with his family, or have the Palapas Ventana resort vacuum seal, freeze and pack your fish to take home.

So many species to catch with the fly rod. That’s Jim Castelluzzo, the SDFF club president with a pompano

Let me try to define a panga.  A panga is a skiff; a modest-sized, open, outboard-powered, fishing boat common throughout much of the developed world.  The panga is not one of those super nice boats they use in the Bahamas where the fly fisher in front and in back have plenty of room on a casting platform to ensure a long cast.   The bow (front) of the panga has plenty of room for a fly caster and relatively nothing up there to grab a fly line.  But, it’s not a casting platform; it’s the bow of the boat.  The stern (back) is a challenge….at least it was for me.  If you cast from the deck in the back, you must heave a heavy weighted saltwater fly over the boat’s sides or the engine or the captain.  I’m a pretty good cast and I even hit the captain once.  Guess what?  “Oww!” is the same word in Spanish as it is in English.  Ultimately, I ended up just climbing on top of the rails in the back of the boat to get some height and balanced myself there; sometimes actually standing in the bait tank with the live sardinas.  That allowed me to double haul from a height advantage….or seeming advantage…more on that later.  And when the seas got rough, I had to lean against the engine itself.  So, when the captain turned the boat my ass turned with it.  It’s a miracle I didn’t fall into the water.  But, I am pretty agile for an old guy.   Being perched high meant I could double haul a cast 60-80 feet….which I learned after a couple days of struggling is not really an advantage.  Also, every panga seems to be different.  Some are newer and slightly modern.  Some have years of stories behind them with some impressive “Magiver-ing” of a bait tank.

Notice mike battling behind me. Double Hookups were common on this trip

As mentioned, I was told before the trip is “The captain throws live bait in the water and that makes the fish come up and go crazy.  Then it’s a simple 20 foot cast into the madness.”  That is kind of true.  Just like in trout fishing where there are great guides, good guides, and average guides.  The same thing goes for the captains here: some are awesome, some are not.  None speak fluent English.  Each captain and boat is different and fishes differently in terms of where…and sometimes even how.  Mike Hillygus (Montana Lodge owner where we do the annual SDFF trip, and friend of the SDFF club) and I fished 4 days with 4 separate captains and boats.  I love that Tim from the Palapas Ventana resort each night at the restaurant does a blind draw on which captain you get each day.  One day Mike and I stayed within a mile of the resort near the shore all day.  one day we did 10-1 more moving around than fishing; moving from fishing buoy to buoy.  There are a number of fishing buoys that have been strategically placed throughout the area that hold fish.  two days we ran over to Acervo Island and pretty much fished in the same location all day.  Mike and I traded getting the bow each day.  Mike out-fished me every day.  And it wasn’t until well through the 3rd day that I figured out why.

You don’t have to fly fish; a few of the group fished conventionally and did well…including a couple marlin.  This is Mike Rundlett with this big rooster.  but, look closely at the captain’s hat – making a bold prediction of the braves making the world series in early october is uncanny…

The School of Hard Knocks

I really don’t know why it took me two days to figure this thing out.  It may be so obvious to you Saltwater guys and gals with this type of experience. But, it was not to me.  I wasn’t without success.  In fact, I had a lot of success.  my mission was to catch a big rooster on a fly.  I ended up catching a lot of big roosters on the fly.  One of the roosters I landed was too big for me to hold to take a trophy shot with it.  I had the captain hold it for me.  But, now that I know (and now you know), I will be so much more successful on next year’s trip.  So, hopefully my malfunctions will serve as guidance for the trout anglers that want to do this type of fly fishing:

  1. The Double hauling 60-80 feet I was doing over and over is just a wasted workout and burn of calories. When I finally did look over at what mike was doing; he was not doing what I was doing. And having a lot more success. I was basically “hero casting” blind and he was targeting and being efficient about it.  I got the guidance from John and Kai before we left, “a simple 20 foot cast is all you need.”  For some reason I did not think that through.  While I was literally huffing and puffing double hauling casts over and over 60+ feet into the abyss, Mike was waiting for the right moment to cast a 30 footer right into the fish he was targeting.  Duh…  I was dragging the fly through the bait and feeding predators too late.  This was a sobering blow for me when we got back to the resort and in the bar I heard all the success my buddies were having…who simply could not cast (or chose not to cast) over 30 feet.
  2. The fly really does matter – How many times in trout fishing do we say something like, “the fly really doesn’t matter. Your placement and the drift matter a lot more.”  Well, in this type of fly fishing the fly really does matter.   Even the color matters.  The size really matters too.  But, what matters the most is that the fly rides correctly in the water imitating a baitfish as best as possible.  If you half-ass drunken fly tying in your man cave and your fly spins you don’t get takes.  My first two days I was fishing big heavy clousers with big beaded eyes.  Not only are they are they a tough cast but, the jigging thing those eyes produced were not producing as many strikes as mike.  Mike was fishing smaller deceivers (and similars) unweighted flies and killing.  He was in the right part of the water column; I was not.
  3. Knots Matter – This is the most painful lesson for me. I have been trout fishing so long.  I tie 5 different knots 95% of the time and 95% of the time in 3x and 5x. I can tie them all blind folded.  I haven’t failed a knot in years.  Well, I had no idea how differently 5x knots up than it does with 30lb flouro.  I had no idea that you have to wear gloves and yank those knots as tightly as your strength can handle… no idea.  I had no idea that you have to inspect your saltwater knots closely because the heavy flouro doesn’t just slip into place and knot-up like the light stuff does.  I learned that the hard way.  I lost a big dorado on a rapala knot that simply failed because it was not pulled tight enough.  I didn’t even look at the knot after tying it.  but, you can sure as hell tell a knot has failed when looking at the flouro after losing the fish.  and miraculously I also lost a big rooster on a perfection loop knot I tied for the flouro leader.    That is a first.  Some huge rooster swam away with my entire leader hanging out of his face… simply because I didn’t pull the knot tight enough.  Uggghhh…  30+ years of fly fishing and I am failing knots. I suck.  Don’t worry about me; a number of margaritas later that night at the bar fixed everything.
  4. Needlefish – I knew about these slimy creatures going in. if you see a needlefish following your fly you simply stop stripping and they will stop the chase.  But, if you are hero casting beyond what you can see you inevitably catch them.  And you can’t really do a damn thing about it.  and the poor captain has to figure out how to release them without getting bit by razor sharp fangs.  I’m a conservation guy and feel slightly guilty about when mike and I giggled watching one of our guides twisting the neck of the needle fish killing them so he could safely remove the fly.

Tom and Doug Rundlett with another fly fishing double. notice the PInchi Patos in the background

  1. Pelicans – “pinchi patos” I laughed out loud when our captain yelled that as I caught my first pelican. I speak decent Spanish and that loosely translates to “f-ing duck”.  Pelicano is a beautiful word in Spanish.  The captains don’t use that word.  they call them “pinchi patos”.  Btw, there is competition and hilarious chatter on the radio between the captains.  At one point, laughing, I said in Spanish, smiling, to our captain, “you do realize I understand what you guys are saying, right?.” He laughed …because there was a comment about one of my buddies in a different boat not having enough manhood to fight the fish he hooked.  I’d write what he said in Spanish here, but common decorum precludes me from doing it here (god, I hope someone gets that animal house reference.)  But, my god the pelicans.  On the day that our captain stayed on shore within a mile of the resort the pelicans followed us the entire time.  It was fairly frustrating.  Those birds have become accustomed to the captains throwing bait in the water and intercepting that bait.  which means they have unnaturally flourished in population because of it.  at points I had to pinpoint cast a 2 foot window through the gauntlet (50 or more) of pelicans with no way to strip the fly back without the pelicans taking it.  if you see a pelican take your fly you learn quickly to stop stripping.  They spit your fly out if you wait; which is excruciating if the fish are going nuts.  But, if you strip too quickly after that you risk them grabbing it again.  and then there is the good chance of simply leg hooking them as you strip your fly back; many times with a fish chasing.  On that day I caught ~15 pelicans.  Let’s just say the captains don’t really dig pulling a barbed fly out of a pelican’s mouth or leg.  Pinchi patos.

The Palapas Ventana Resort

I am no stranger to fly fishing lodges; I have been lucky.  Let me just start by saying the Palapas Ventana resort is a fraction of the cost of the high-end lodges in Alaska, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.  Remember that I was joined by a Montana Lodge owner, Mike Hillygus from the Stillwater River Outpost Lodge and the Clark Fork Outpost Lodge.  Mike was surprised at what a deal it was. It’s Mexico.

For the SDFF club trip we had two people in each Palapa; Mike was my roommate.  These are not really palapas at the resort; they are so much better. A traditional palapa is an open sided cheap building with the thatched roof.  These palapas are stand alone buildings with a large bedroom and separate large bathroom…. With air conditioning; key for this part of the world.

Right?!

“They have a bar.”  That is the line I usually start with when describing this place.  I love bars and I’m not shy about it.  they also have a complimentary restaurant that goes with the bar.  But, this isnt’ just any Mexican restaurant.  Each night we were served a gourmet quality meal.  One night we had a Japanese themed sushi and sashimi set of dishes that riveled anything I have had in the states…. Or in the Japan for that matter.  You don’t go back skinnier on this trip; the food is that good.

Within steps of the bar is an Endless Pool where you can stare at the ocean.  Imagine fishing for 8 hours and battling big fish on your 10 weight to come back, grab a beer, walk into the pool and just stare at the ocean while saying things like, “this is the good life”.

I love this picture that Mike Rundett took.  That’s Tom Rundlett on my left and Stan on my right….. after a long day of battling big fish.”

They focus on service – Tim and his partner have trained his seemingly enormous staff well.  From the groundskeepers to the servers to the bartenders to the financial manager.  They are friendly and attentive.  On the first night he introduces his generals to the entire group.  It’s a classy move.  When you leave you end up hugging these people they are so awesome.

I should mention that Palapas Ventana is not soley a fly fishing lodge.  In fact, Ventana is more famous for it’s wind surfing and scuba diving.  Both those are options at the resort.  Also the resort provides snorkling equipment for free while you are there.  It’s a tropical fish and coral paradise in front of the lodge.  It just so happens that if you are tropical fish you have to always be on the lookout for that patrolling roosterfish.  Yea, it’s conceivable to DIY the roosters right from the shore like you see on those fly fishing shows.

Every night Tim from Palapas Ventana arranged some type of fun event for us. This was from “hot dog train” night.  Just imagine this train blowing through the tiny town of Ventana with everyone aboard holding a beer hooting and hollering.

Getting there: I believe the cross border exchange (CBX) is the best kept travel secret in the united states.  It consistently shocks me that even San Diegans still don’t know about it.  in their description it is “A faster, more comfortable, one-of-a-kind way to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, exclusively for passengers of the Tijuana International Airport.”  Basically, you drive to the border in otay mesa, park in a huge parking lot. show a passport and plane tickets in a completely uncrowded modern building.  then walk across the border on a 200 meter air conditioned covered bridge that drops you right into the Tijuana Airport.  It’s $35 and worth every penny.  They even have a bag drop.  You don’t even need to check in with the airline at the airport. This allows you to fly from TIJ on a number of Mexican airlines for a fraction of the cost of flying from San Diego.  My round trip flight to La Paz was around $100…not kidding.  In La Paz the drivers from the resort are waiting for you with a sign to make the hour drive to the resort.  Simple and painless.

It wasn’t like it was not fun watching Mike Hillygus catching all those fish…

Summary

I know my way around a trout stream…that is for sure.  You learn a bit when you do it for 35 years.  What the many experts in the SDFF club have taught me…and continue to teach me, is the fly fishing saltwater game.  Let me tell you it’s compelling. I watch all the fly fishing shows on TV and it is frequently mentioned that catching a large roosterfish on the fly is in the top ten of fly-fishing bucket listers.  I caught a bunch of big Roosters and from what I wrote above you can tell I barely knew what the hell I was doing.  In the bar after that first day of fishing I told my fly fishing compadres, “I had no idea how fast those dorado swim.”  When you hook up with a Dorado you watch the entire thing… they are so colorful and beautiful.  It’s almost surreal how quickly it happens when they take your fly.

Complimenting this awesome fly fishing is simply an awesome resort at Palapas Ventana.  It’s run so well with awesome food and service.  They make you feel like family when you are there.  Did I tell you they have a bar?  I am definitely going back to Palapas Ventana.

I think this is Aaron. I do know that is a big rooster with a fly hanging out of it’s face