Life on the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula has settled into cleanup mode after Hurricane Rick blasted over Baja Sur and its neighboring Mexican states in mid-October. But while the heavy rainfall caused a major headache for local residents, it's produced a windfall for anglers fishing out of East Cape: a DefCon 5 dorado and wahoo bite.
Just like in late August when the effluent from Hurricane Jimena kick-started a two-week dorado binge south Baja's fishing fleet is now focused on every piece of flotsam and jetsam in the Sea of Cortez, paying hide-and-seek around barrels, buoys, wood, weeds and various other floating debris, all of which draw dorado and wahoo like magnets.
"Anytime a storm comes through where there's any amount of precipitation that starts the runoff from those arroyos, all kinds of stuff comes out and the fishing gets outrageously good for dorado and wahoo around floating offshore debris," said Kit McNear of Van Wormer Resorts (vanwormerresorts.com), which operates four well-known fishing resorts between Las Barriles and La Riviera. "It's already been a banner year for wahoo, but having that debris in the water can make a difference between good fishing and absolutely outstanding fishing."
The East Cape "junk fishery" rears its head in the Sea of Cortez after every major tropical storm washes down the dry river/creek beds that empty into Bahia Las Palmas and Bahia Las Frailes. The late-October dorado and wahoo fisheries are typically very good anyway, but the food chain gets a major boost and the fishery becomes much, much easier whenever there's a collection of structure to target.
"Dorado like that floating stuff, and, depending on how far offshore you are, you can find blue marlin around that debris, too," McNeer said. "Blue barlin feed on everything that hangs around that debris, so it's really an entire food chain."
Unlike early fall hurricanes, though, the junk fishery of late October won't last as long. Prevailing northerlies, which blow here from November through March, will scatter the surface debris and break up the easy-to-find dorado and wahoo pods.
"It'll continue on for a few more days," McNear says. "We're settling into a north wind pattern right now, and any time the north wind blows, it disperses the junk. This (condition) won't last as long as it would when it happens earlier in the season."
The drill here is pretty basic: fish live caballitos and sardines when available, and rigged, dead ballyhoo when live bait isn't an option. Hardware options include blue/pink/silver or bleeding Mackerel skirted trolling lures.
San Diego: Bombs away for long-range wahoo
Pack your bombs and guard your crotch. It's wahoo season south of the border.
Of all the gamefish species that swim in the sub-tropical waters off the coast of Mexico, the wahoo is easily the most aggressive.
This time of year, with San Diego's long-range boats now dividing their schedules with two to three 10-day trips per month, the elongated, snaggle-toothed cousin of the king Mackerel becomes one of the glamour species of the fleet.
And also one of the danger species.
"There's no fishing like wahoo," said Capt. Justin Fleck, skipper of the 124-foot Excel, (www.excelsportfishing.com) the Bismark of the San Diego fleet. "When we get into a high spot where they're shown up in a big wave and everybody is hooked up to these big torpedoes, they do stuff like no other fish.
"When everybody has one on, it's a little dangerous. They'll come over the rail, mouth open, and take somebody's ear off chasing bait. They don't stop chasing bait for anything. We had one come over the rail and hit a guy right square in the crotch. Thank goodness the thing's mouth was closed ... "
Fleck's miniature floating city one of seven long-range boats running out of Fisherman's Landing (www.fishermanslanding.com) will run two 10-day trips to Alijos Rocks in November, and will make frequent stopovers at floating kelp fields, which serve as shallow-water umbrellas for dorado and wahoo.
"We'll pull up on a kelp paddy or a big piece of flotsam and wahoo will be right underneath it," Fleck said. "They'll be 5 feet under water, mixed in with big schools of dorado right in the middle of the kelp paddy. If you're lucky enough to find one individual floating kelp paddy out in the middle of nowhere, all the life within 10 miles will gather right there."
Wahoo like shiny, big-profile, fast-moving baits like Raider chrome/gold jigs, or the chrome-plated-leadhead/mylar-skirt flash of Wahoo bombs by Braid Products, Catchy Tackle and Burns Tackle.
"The faster you wind, the more bites you attract," Fleck said. "They want something shiny, and something that moves fast. They see that thing in the water and they grab it they're not interested in anything that moves slow."
Washington: Late Baywatch ends in Grays Harbor
Grays Harbor is the last bastion for coho on the Washington coast, thanks to a feeder system that includes an October/November run on their return to tributaries like the Humptulips River and the coho factories of the Chehalis River system.
This 12- by 17-mile bay, located in southwest Washington roughly 45 miles north of the Columbia River mouth, is already seeing a plunge in fishing pressure as the first significant storms of the season hit the Evergreen State, but the next several weeks will produce excellent fishing as coho bound for the tributaries of the Grays Harbor system.
"Do NOT give up on Grays Harbor," said Tony Floor, director of sportfishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association and a 25-year veteran of the fishery. "That bite runs all the way through October, easy, and usually well into November. You can catch coho in the rivers of the Grays Harbor system into January. As long as the commercial nets aren't choking it out and catching everything in the South Channel, that's a good fall fishery."
You can divide Grays Harbor up into two major fishing areas: a big trough in the Johns River estuary right where the river empties into the bay and a 2-mile troll from Stearns Bluff east into the South Channel, which runs along the south shore toward the Chehalis River mouth. Best fishing here is almost always on the flood tide.
"The predictable bite is always at the high water," Floor says. "When you fish the flood tide, you'll start at the entrance to Johns River and troll with the current along the Johns River estuary into the South Channel. You're fishing a trough, and coho tend to like the edge of the trough."
This part of Grays Harbor is a shallow-water fishery you won't fish any deeper than 15 feet and the gear is about as basic as it gets. Fish a 3- or 4-ounce lead dropper, a green or red Fish Flash, a 4- to 6-foot leader and a tight-spinning green-label herring on 5/0 or 6/0 hooks.
"You don't get bit here, you get crushed," Floor says. "It's like a lightning bolt hitting your rod. This fishery gets some big fish, too I won't be surprised if the state-record fish comes out of the Satsop, which feeds this system."
Editor's note: Based in North Puget Sound and operating from Alaska to Baja, Joel Shangle has been a news junkie on the West Coast saltwater scene since the 1990s, first as editor of California Fishing & Hunting News' and now as editor of California Sportsman, which hits newsstands in October. He's the host of Northwest Wild Country, a popular fishing and hunting radio show airing throughout western Washington, and has the deepest source list this side of the Library of Congress. In other words: if you're catching fish on the West Coast, just try to get away from him.