El viento del Norte

On the Baja, when the wind blows from the north, fishing is a non-starter
baja beach hammock
Photo: Zach Dischner / cc2.0

It's a theme with me, unfortunately. If the weather can suck, it will.

I’d been looking forward to an early spring trip south to the Baja. It was a bit early for the big, close-to-shore schools of roosters and jacks, so, more than anything, the idea was to just get out of the last thrust of a Rocky Mountain winter and into some sunshine. The fishing would be a nice, added bonus — no pressure. Just chill.

But it never works out that way. As an angler, the fishing is never just a bonus.

As I walked out the front door of the bustling airport in San Jose del Cabo, I visibly basked in the desert sun. At home, it was likely in the 40s, and it was very likely cloudy. When I boarded the plane in Idaho Falls, I got a few funny looks from other frequent travelers. The fishing pants and the flip-flops gave my intentions away. I wasn’t going to Chicago or New York. I was headed south to some destination where this was the accepted footwear, and where the smile on my face would match the weather. Some of my fellow passengers nodded and smiled knowingly. Others were a bit hostile.

Suck it, peeps.

I navigated the hoards of rental-car schleppers and found my reserved vehicle — just a simple, white sedan, and pointed its grill north to the fishy East Cape. As I neared my destination, I found a rustic little mini-super and popped in to stock up on the necessities. A bottle each of tequila and rum — I’m not a big tequila guy, but it felt wrong to ignore the clear liquor as it sparkled under the fluorescent lights of the store — and a few cartons of fruit juice, some fresh fruit and some snacks. I also grabbed a couple bags of ice and a little foam cooler. I generally had my afternoon all planned out.

I checked into a sweet little resort that seemed to capture and hold on to everything 1978 had to offer. The room’s decor was all done in shades of brown and gold, and the ceramic tile floor was a rusty red. The wallpaper — yes, wallpaper — was a textured mesh of bronze and baby-poop burnt sienna. I opened the curtains that seemed to contain the essence of old cigars and young tequila within their dark threads, and was greeted with a vision I’ll never forget.

Through the heavy sliding glass doors, the Sea of Cortez glistened in the afternoon sun, and, quite literally, strung between two palm trees 20 feet from my room was a hammock that just called for my oversized American frame. Clusters of coconuts clung to the trees, just barely out of reach.

Time to chill.

All the way from Idaho

On the Baja, it’s common knowledge that when the wind blows from the north, the fishing is pretty much a non-starter. The north wind pushes big breakers from the Sea of Cortez up against the abrupt edge of the coast, churning the green waters into a froth and generally making a mess of things.

And so, because I had taken a week away from the unsettled “spring” Idaho offers up in hopes of finding some sunshine and generally better weather, the wind blew from the north. It blew so hard that the fishing guides at the Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort simply gave me sympathetic looks as I wandered down the beach at the crack of dawn nursing my hangover from my afternoon in the hammock the day before, hoping against hope that I'd be able to convince something to hit my fly before the wind got out of hand. The looks were telling. That poor bastard ... all the way from Idaho, and then ... this.

No bueno.

Before the gusts got too bad, I managed to convince a gullible pompano to hit the fly, and just as the wind really started to howl, I caught a first for me, a Mexican lookdown. But soon, the waters of the Gulf of California whipped into a foamy chop and blew me back to the resort and into the helpful grasp of Robin, who, for the purposes of this tale and in keeping with the resort’s steadfast 1970s theme, will adeptly perform the role of Julie McCoy. (Ask your dad. He’ll know.)

Fishing was done for the day. But there's more to the East Cape than finned critters, I soon learned. Robin piled three of her guests (me included) into a resort taxi, and off we drove into the Sierra la Laguna Mountains — a north-to-south series of rugged peaks that serve as the spine of the Baja. Some of the mountains top out at 6,500 feet — significant elevation when you're starting at sea level.

We ventured to the off-the-beaten-path village of Santiago, and then took a rugged dirt track into the high country, winding up at Sol de Mayo, a small ranch situated above a desert oasis seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

Robin led the way form the ranch down a rocky trail lined by giant cardon cacti (the largest cacti on earth) leading into the desert and it wasn’t long before we arrived at Cañón de la Zorra, a gorgeous desert spring complete with a real live waterfall — in a place as dry and arid as the Baja, it was quite the treat. The wind up in the high country was virtually non-existent, and the group of tourists who came for the saltwater beach and fishing experience marveled at this out-of-the-way spot well away from the coast.

We wandered around the cool spring for an hour or so — some welcoming locals arrived and even got a couple of us into the water for a quick swim, where I got an up-close look at some unique desert fish and lots of little frogs and tadpoles. Colorful tropical songbirds flitted from the reeds along the water’s edge to the rocks well above the oasis that, once it tumbles over the rocks and leaves the natural pool where we swam, seeps into the desert and disappears. It was heavenly.

mountain spring
Photo: Chris Hunt

No, it wasn’t the signature East Cape experience where you’re staring into the waves hoping to see cruising fish and then trying to thread the needle with a perfect cast while sprinting to keep pace, but it was exactly what I needed, and it came exactly when I needed it.

We headed back to the ranch and enjoyed maybe the best shrimp tacos I’ve ever eaten before trundling back down through the mountains to the vintage resort. Using a fly rod tube, I managed to knock a coconut loose from one of the palm trees outside my room. I succeeded in opening it up, and I dribbled a little coconut milk from the big fruit into a glass, dropped in a couple of ice cubes and then splashed the whole concoction with a generous pour of rum.

Back in the hammock, the north wind continued to blow, and the forecast called for at least another day of it.

Whatever would I do with myself?