Editor's note: ESPNOutdoors.com Fishing editor Ken Schultz also is a commentator for "BassCenter," which air Saturdays on ESPN2; look for his "Reel Speak" segment.
PUERTO VICENTE GUERRERO, Mexico There is nothing that this writer likes better than to find in the first hour of a fishing trip that everything he's been told about the great angling at that destination is as good as it was claimed to be.
Especially when the destination is as little known as the area near this tiny village on the southern Pacific mainland coast of Mexico.
One hundred miles north of Acapulco and 40 miles south of Zihuatanejo, Puerto Vicente Guerrero has had no publicity and scant angling pressure. There's no fleet of sport-fishing boats, and only one modern guesthouse.
So on the first day of a trip in late June, when I caught a 35-pound roosterfish and my fishing partner Phil Shook followed with a 31-pounder and I followed that with a 20-pounder all before 9:15 in the morning I thought that this outing was made no matter what was to follow in the ensuing two days.
In fact, the 35-pounder was about the fifth rooster that had streamed out of the shallow sudsy surf wash in our first 45 minutes of fishing, attacking my red-and-silver topwater spoon. The others had slashed and missed, or merely followed, which always elicited shouts of excitement from me, Shook, mate Jesus Juarez or our skipper, Adolfo Espinoza, the undisputed roosterfish king in his home port of Zihuatanejo.
Espinoza has caught more roosters than probably all of the other captains in that port combined, a lot of them without the normal tactic of trolling or free-lining a live caballito, or bigeye scad, instead employing one of the most exciting of sport-fishing methodologies. That tactic involves casting a surface lure from a boat into a rollicking surf, then skipping it over the surface as fast as you can reel, which draws roosters into chasing and sometimes explosively striking.
But when Espinoza says he's found a better place than his home port, this warrants checking.
Trouble is, it isn't practical for him to make the 2½-hour one-way run from Zihuatanejo to Puerto Vicente Guerrero for a day of fishing with his 25-foot panga. And they don't trailer fishing boats in most of Mexico, because panga captains often don't have a car capable of towing a trailer, even if they had such a luxury as a trailer, or a car.
So Espinoza has to drive his boat down the coast to meet you for a few days of fishing. And you have to drive by car from Zihuatanejo Airport for about an hour along Highway 200, which is good because it takes you away from the crowded city and the tourist spots into rural, agricultural areas where cattle roam and mango and coconut plantations abound.
The hillsides are said to have lots of marijuana plants, but you can't see that far and you'd rather hear about smokin' reels. And besides, your driver says that, these days, as a crop, marijuana is out and mangoes are in.
The highway also takes you along the coastline you'll be fishing, where there's virtually nothing but uninhabited beaches interspersed by rocky cliffs and points and a couple of small rivers, which at this time of the year are just starting to show their muscle, as each afternoon brings a thunderstorm and shower.
And it takes you to Casa Las Brisas (house of breezes), a delightful, modern beachfront oasis with four air-conditioned rooms, satellite television, swimming pool and two refrigerators loaded with cold beverages.
Long casts, rolling seas
The beach near Coyuquilla River, a few miles south of Puerto Vicente Guerrero in Bahia Papanoa, turns out to be a hotspot. It's no more than a 20-minute boat run and the sun hasn't lifted over the Sierra Madre del Sur peaks before you're making the first cast.
There's not a soul around in three days we saw one other boat, two people walking the beach and one man on horseback the air is still and humid, and the rolling waves crash onto the trough in front of the beach like muted thunder, a spray residue hanging in the air over the surf-sand line.
The boat is positioned parallel to the beach, about 300 feet away. Struggling to get your sea legs on the bow of the panga, which is a seaworthy craft but has less than 8 feet of beam, you pick up a long rod with a large, fully spooled spinning reel and heave a long surface-skipping popping plug or spoon as far as you can, then reel it back to the boat as fast as you can.
Time after time.
For hours on end.
You have to cast as far as possible hopefully into the trough or onto the back of a wave breaking on the beach because the roosterfish hunt in water that is just deep enough to cover their backs.
So if your lure lands in that area and immediately starts sliding down the back of a wave and skipping frantically to sea, a roosterfish just might see and chase it all the way to the boat.
When it chases there's a moving bulge in the water behind your lure, and often the sickle of a seven-spined dorsal fin the roosterlike comb from which this member of the jack family gets its name waves in the air like the periscope of a charging submarine.
If you're lucky and the fish gets really angry, which it's more likely to do if there's another roosterfish around for competition, the surface explodes with a strike.
Big, tough fish
But your job isn't done, by any means. All of that line on your reel isn't just for casting great distances. Once hooked, these fish, especially if they weigh 20 pounds or better, run for the beach and there's nothing you can do to stop them. They run so far so fast that it looks like they'll catch an incoming wave and be deposited up on the sand.
And when there's 200 or 300 feet of line out you wonder how you'll ever get that fish out of the surf, how you'll ever bring it to the boat, where you can admire its unusual features and malevolent eye and black-and-silver body before you snap a few photos and let it go.
It's exciting, and hard work. And since roosterfish are basically only found from northern Mexico to Peru and usually are not abundant in any of these places, catching one per day on a surface lure is a pretty big deal; catching three or four by any means is a great day. Based on our results, Puerto Vicente Guerrero might be the unheralded center of the roosterfish universe.
All right, that's a little extreme, but the fact that we managed to land 22 roosters in three days, the largest being 40 pounds, and all of them on cast surface lures, screams about the potential of this place. And that's not to mention that we had twice that many fish chase but miss or fail to strike our lures!
Espinoza says that we caught it at the beginning of the best fishing period. June through December is prime here, with the bigger fish being more likely in November and December, so there's plenty of time to get into this action this season.
"Bigger" in Espinoza's vocabulary means more than 60 pounds. He has caught a half-dozen between 70 and 80 pounds on surface lures, plus a 104-pounder in 2004 (it took 2 hours to land), which is 10 pounds shy of the all-tackle IGFA record established off Cabo in 1960.
Having caught a 40-pounder on this trip, and three more over 30 pounds, not to mention plenty of equally truculent 15- to 20-pound jack crevalle, I cannot imagine what it would be like to catch a roosterfish twice that class in the pounding surf on a spinning rod and a surface lure.
But this is one heckuva place to give it a try.
If only there was a masseuse at Casa Las Brisas to rehabilitate your arm.
Species: Jack, crevalle (Caranx hippos).
Other names: common jack, crevally, toro, trevally, horse crevalle.
Species: Jack, Pacific crevalle (Caranx caninus).
Other names: toro, crevally, cavalla, jiguagua.
In general: These two members of the Carangidae family are almost identical in appearance and formerly thought to be Atlantic and Pacific versions of Caranx hippos. But differences documented by scientists have led to the classification of the Pacific crevalle jack in recent years as a separate and valid species from the crevalle jack.
These jacks are popular sport fish and among the toughest of all inshore fishes, though not highly valued as table fare.
Identification: Both the crevalle jack and the Pacific crevalle jack are bluish-green to greenish-gold on the back and silvery or yellowish on the belly.
They are compressed with deep bodies and a high, rounded profile as well as a large mouth. The tail and anal fin may be yellowish and the ends of the dorsal and upper tail are occasionally black. There is a prominent black spot on the gill cover and another black spot at the base of each pectoral fin.
Young fish usually have about five broad, black bands on the body and one on the head. The soft dorsal and anal fins are almost identical in size and there are 18 to 21 soft rays in the dorsal fin and 16 to 19 gill rakers on the lower limb of the first arch.
The two species are only distinguished externally from each other by the presence of a larger maximum number of scutes, up to 42 on the Pacific crevalle jack, as opposed to 26 to 35 on the crevalle jack.
Size and age: Averaging 3 to 5 pounds in weight and 1 to 2½ feet in length, the crevalle jack can weigh as much as 10 pounds on a regular basis, while the Pacific crevalle jack is usually smaller. The all-tackle world record for the crevalle jack is a 58-pound, 6-ounce fish taken off Angola, while the record for the Pacific crevalle jack is a 39-pound fish taken off Costa Rica.
Distribution: In the western Atlantic, crevalle jack occur from Nova Scotia south through the northern Gulf of Mexico to Uruguay, including the Greater Antilles. In the eastern Pacific, Pacific crevalle jack occur from San Diego, California, to Peru, including the Galapagos Islands.
Habitat: Both species are able to tolerate a wide range of salinities and often inhabit coastal areas of brackish water and may ascend rivers, frequenting shore reefs, harbors and protected bays. Small fish are occasionally found over sandy and muddy bottoms of very shallow waters as in estuaries and rivers.
They are common in depths of up to 130 feet and often move into cooler, deeper water during the summer.
Life history and behavior: Spawning occurs offshore. Young fish occur in moderate to large fast-moving schools, and crevalle jack occasionally school with horse-eye jack, although larger fish are often solitary.
Food and feeding habits: Voracious predators, they feed on shrimps, other invertebrates and smaller fish. Crevalle jack will often corner a school of baitfish at the surface and feed in a commotion that can be seen for great distances, or they will chase their prey onto beaches and against seawalls. Fish of both species often grunt or croak when they caught.
For more fish species information, see "Ken Schultz's Fishing Encyclopedia," available through www.kenschultz.com.