Stuck in a Maze of Fishing Nets!

If you had been following our inReach track today (https://us0-share.inreach.garmin.com/MVMissMiranda) you would have seen a funny course deviation and a doubling back, like this.

What the heck were they doing?

We left Chacala this morning to make the 45 NM run to Banderas Bay and Paradise Village Marina, our home for the next month. We wanted to have a look at the next bay South, Bahia Jaltemba, which is supposed to have a nice anchorage. We also wanted to have a look at the Gringo haven surf town Sayulita along the way, so we plotted a relatively near coastal route instead of heading well offshore.

It was a beautiful morning and we had some very large Bottle Nose dolphin riding along with us…. the biggest I’ve seen yet. There were a fair number of pangas out, and we suddenly noticed that we were approaching some net floats (which are often just empty translucent soda bottles, not fancy obvious floats like we see in the US) along our port side. We saw a flag marking the end a ways off, so we adusted course to go around the net. Well, we got to the flag, and found that it was connected to floats on both sides. So, we altered course some more to head seaward. Now, however, we started seeing net floats on both sides, and when we got to the next flag, we could see that we were well and truly hemmed in. As you can see in the voyager recording from our chart plotter below, we turned around to backtrack… a long way, and we eventually saw pangas near one of the flags. We sounded the horn many times and were studiously ignored. We drove right up to the pangas, and were still studiously ignored. We asked for help/directions in Spanish and got a vague arm wave seaward. So we turned seaward again, only to find that we were hemmed in again.

Our escape from the fish net maze. North is up.

By this time we didn’t know what to do. If I was confident in my line cutters, I would have just driven through, but the thought of fouling the stabilizers as well as the prop shaft had me really concerned. Finally, we realized that the net fisherman must avoid the shrimpers working close to shore in 80 to 100 feet of water. We backtracked some more to the end of yet another net and came around the inshore side, and aimed directly at the next shrimper we saw. That turned out to do the trick. As you can see, we backtracked for more than 4 miles and spent a nerve wracking hour trying to escape from the maze.

The rest of the voyage passed without incident, and we arrived here at Paradise Village this afternoon. This time, we earned our arrival beer.

Fishing Down the Baja Coast

As I mentioned in a previous post, I had a Tuna fishing rig made up for us by a commercial fisherman in Brookings, OR. He (and others) told us that we could troll behind the boat even at our cruising speed and have a chance to catch fish, provided that the water is warm enough (definitely over 60 degress). We did not fish at all on our passage down to San Diego, but planned to do so once we got into Mexican waters.

In San Diego, we went to a tackle shop for help with the appropriate setup. We had some rods on board from our feeble attempts at fishing up north this summer, but they were really not beefy enough for the job, nor did we have the proper rod holders on board. The shop suggested that we buy some hand line rigs. These consist of lengths of very heavy braided line that are connected by a big rubber bungee as a shock absorber. One end gets secured to the boat (on one of the cleats), and the other end attaches to a long, heavy, monofilament leader, to which you attach the lure. Then you simply toss it over the stern and wait.

Hand line setup. From right to left, short line that attaches to a cleat, rubber bungy to absorb shock, length of green braided line, monofilament leader, and cedar plug lure.

After purchasing Mexican Fishing licenses for everyone, we were ready to go. We had beautiful weather on the long run from Ensenada down to Turtle Bay, and decided to put lines in the water. We set out three hand lines, with one tied to the center hawse pipe and one each from the port and starboard sides. While Gwen took a turn at the helm, Sean and I worked the lines in the cockpit, which consisted mostly of eating snacks, drinking soda and chatting while trying to stay out of the sun. Suddenly we had a fish on… and I realized that we had not really prepared to CATCH a fish. We hauled it in, managed to gaff it, and got it into the boat. After some struggle (the cockpit looked like a crime scene), we got the small Bluefin Tuna ready to be cleaned and prepped. I had never cleaned a Tuna before but vaguely recalled having to bleed them before cutting filets. We do have the Crusier’s Guide to Fishing on board, and now that catching fish was a possibility, I actually went back and read the chapter on cleaning them. The next day we fished again, and this time were more prepared. We caught another Bluefin Tuna and made the proper cuts to bleed it. We even dragged it behind the boat for a few minutes, as recommended. We stopped fishing each day after catching one fish, wanting only to take what we would actually eat. But, before we were able to pull in the lines, we hooked up again… this time two at the same time. Sean and I each pulled in our lines only to find that we had Bonito on. These are good sportfish, but not good eating. We were able to realease them without bringing them into the boat, and managed to avoid getting too close to their mouthfull of sharp teeth.

It was clear from the radio chatter that there were boats in the fleet that had real fishermen on board. Lots of people were catching fish.Once we arrived in Turtle Bay, we went over to visit Alex on Bella Luna for some expert cleaning advice. Alex is married to Monica, who works for the Santa Barbara Harbor Patrol and checked us in when we arrived from our long run down from Oregon. Anyway, we were able to watch Alex clean a tuna, and learned where to cut the gills. He also showed us where and how to trim away the darkest red meat along the lateral line, which has a strong flavor.

On the next segment of the journey we were really prepared to fish, and the fishing was outstanding. We first caught a Bluefin Tuna, and then immediately hooked up with some Yellowfin Tuna. These were all small fish – probably in the 6-8 lb range, but plenty for good eating. This time, we actually had cameras ready and were able to document the catch.

Sean with a Yellowfin Tuna.
Larry with a Yellowfin about to go into the bucket.

We knew what we had to do with all of this fresh fish… Sushi! Gwen brought our little-used Sushi making supplies, so we put together some bluefin and yellowfin sashimi, nigiri and a couple of rolls. It was excellent!

A sushi dinner underway. Tough life on passage on Miss Miranda.

It may not be clear from the photo, but the flesh of the Bluefin Tuna is significantly darker than that of the Yellowfin. Both were delicious, if I do say so myself.

As we approached Bahia Santa Maria the next day, the water temperature continued to rise and soon there was chatter over the radio of the fleet catching Dorado. When Gwen took over from me at the helm around 9 in the morning, I decided to put the lines in and try our luck. In no more than 10 minutes it was Fish On! We had a Dorado on the cedar plug. It was quite feisty and took some effort to Gaff and bring aboard, but we had our system pretty well down by this time.

Dorado on board.

It was not a huge fish by any means, but between it and the Tuna, it was enough to feed us and guests for two meals on Miss Miranda. Some of the CUBAR veterans told us that the fishing was far better this year than in previous years. Many of the boats caught more and larger fish, including Marlin. We were very satisifed just trailing the hand lines at normal speed and pulling in a fresh dinner each day.

Here is how the pros do it. Saw the helicopter land on this fishing vessel as we were going by.

Mexican commercial fishing boat with helicopter on board.