Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!
Usually this sound at four o’clock in the morning is the harbinger of some unpleasant task or onerous responsibility, but not today. Today this sound contained the promise of adventure, sunshine, and most importantly, the promise of HUGE FISH!!! I jumped out of bed as stoked as I have ever been that early, and threw on a pair of board shorts that I was to end up wearing for the next eight days. I checked my phone and had a message from the other HookBuzz guys telling me that they were pulling up to my house. Immediately I grabbed my three bags, which consisted of: a huge dive bag full of wetsuits, fins, float lines and all the other gear necessary for shooting big pelagic fish, a gun bag with four different sized guns (90cm, 100cm, 120cm, 130cm Riffe’s) and almost as an afterthought, a bag containing some clothes. We piled all the gear into the bed of the white Toyota Tacoma that was to be our home for two days of driving, and took off for the border. The group for this trip was legendary California spearfisherman Al Schneppershoff, HookBuzz.com founder Clark McNulty, spearo and former Marine Recon member, Brad Monclova, and myself. After almost six months of planning the day was finally here… the HookBuzz crew was off to Bahia Tortugas.
The next two days were a blur of never-ending deserts, Mexican taco stands, and Pemex gas stations. We passed the seemingly endless drive by swapping fish stories and speculating the fish to come. We each talked of the white seabass that we had caught this year, water temperature compared to the previous years, and where we thought the fish would be later in the season. Al regaled us with stories of spearfishing California waters 30 years ago with his Father, when limits were almost nonexistent and there were virtually no regulations. He also told us about previous trips to Bahia Tortugas (Turtle Bay), and how this was a world-class yellowtail destination. By the time he was done telling stories, we were so pumped that we could barely wait to get there and into the water.
After the two days of driving we finally arrived to our destination at around 3:00pm. Fired up from the stories over the last two days, we couldn’t wait for the next day’s boat trip and voted for a shore dive that night. We unloaded everything but the dive gear into the house and immediately piled back into the truck for the short drive down the coast. We arrived at the dive spot and since we were diving a shallow reef, Brad and me decided on small reel guns. Brad was using a One 90cm with a reel and I had my Riffe Euro 100 with a Riffe reel. Clark opted to film and armed himself with his Panasonic GF2 and 10Bar water housing including an 8mm dome port and fisheye lens. We climbed down the cliff and were swimming to the outside of the kelp, when out of nowhere a school of 30lb yellowtail swam by… in less than 10 feet of water!! Only minutes into the dive and we had our first sighting. Yeah, this trip was going to be good. After that no one wanted to shoot the calico bass and other reef fish that were in abundance, so we headed back to the house fired up at the prospect of huge fish.
As dawn broke over the point, each of us was already awake and loading up our gear for the coming dive. You could literally feel the excitement emanating from every member of the crew. Not many words were spoken, as each man was lost in a myriad of his own thoughts. The ride to the reef was short and as we motored up current I asked Al, “Is this place really as good as you say?” Al just looked at me with a smile and said, “Just wait, you’ll see.” We got to the spot and Al was the first one in the water and I was close on his heels. As soon as I hit the water, before I could even get my snorkel into my mouth, Al popped his head out of the water and shouted, “YELLOWTAIL! DIVE!” A quick jackknife into a smooth dive found me directly in the middle of a huge school of thirty or so yellowtail. I immediately lined up on the closest fish and pulled the trigger. BAM!! It was a solid shot right behind the gill plate and the fish took off like a bullet heading straight for open water. The fight was on!
As I came to the surface holding my float line, I looked over and saw Brad being towed through the water by his line. He was on a fish, too. This was insane! Twenty minutes into the dive and two of us were on fish. After a lengthy battle we each boated our fish, both of them around 20 pounds. Now that we had gotten the skunk off the boat, it was time to start looking for trophy fish. As we were both about to hop back in the water we heard Clark yelling, “I shot a big one, bring the boat.” Due to the fact that he was getting pulled under water every few words, we figured he had shot a big one. With a quick pull of the small outboard motor, it fired to life and we raced down current just as he was bringing a beautiful yellowtail to the surface. Our guess had been correct, and the fish he had in his hands ended up being the yellowtail to beat, weighing in at 40 pounds. A few more hours filled everyone’s limit of yellowtail and we decided to head back to the beach. The rest of the evening was spent around the barbeque retelling the best stories and drinking Tecate, the unofficial national beverage of Mexico.
We hit our limits every day. The fishing was fast and furious with yellowtail sightings every 5 to 10 minutes. On the second day of diving, I landed what was to be my personal best yellowtail at 35lbs. As I was lying on the bottom over the high spot in the reef, a single yellowtail appeared out of the blue directly in front of me, and presented an ideal broadside. I aimed my Riffe Euro 120 and nailed him with a perfect shot to the spine. After a few spasmodic twitches, the fish rolled over and sank to the bottom with me right behind him. It was an indescribable feeling to be able to shoot and recover my trophy fish in a single breath hold. Each diver had similar stories of perfect shots and amazing fish as well a few heartbreaking losses. By the fourth day of diving, two coolers were filled to the brim with vacuum-sealed yellowtail fillets, and it was decided that the final day would be spent hunting the big grouper for which Baja is renowned.
A unanimous decision was made to drive down the coast looking for reefs that had the potential to hold big grouper. After about an hour of searching, we came upon a previously unexplored reef that was located along a deserted patch of coastline. This previously unknown dive spot turned out to be exactly was we were looking for, with forty foot visibility and a reef that consisted of epic drop offs, deep holes, and wide sand channels. After a few hours of scouring the reefs, there were a few large grouper sightings but no one was able to land one of the massive fish. Exhaustion was starting to set in, so the three of us decided to make our way back in to shore. Swimming behind Clark through a sandy channel in the reef, I suddenly saw him extend his gun and dive to the bottom. Curious as to what had gotten him so excited, I swam over just in time to see him pull the trigger on a huge Pargo (Snapper). It was a textbook shot and he hit the Snapper just below the lateral line, right behind the gill plate. Clark made short work of the fight and got the fish to the beach in a matter of minutes. Tipping the scale right under 35 pounds, this unexpected fish was a perfect way to end five days of spectacular diving.
As we packed up our gear on the final day, the house contained an almost melancholy air that came with the knowledge of our imminent departure from this fish filled paradise. We knew that just over the border lurked the real world with all of its pressures and responsibilities. The long drive back up through Baja gave us a chance to review all the footage and photos taken over the trip and prepare ourselves to reenter the world. After crossing the border and a quick stop at In-N-Out, we made it back to our respective homes and unloaded the gear. Once inside, I found myself sitting on the couch thinking to myself, this was one of those trips that I would remember for the rest of my life. It doesn’t get any better than eight days of awesome weather, good friends, and big fish. Traveling with the HookBuzz crew was honestly one of the most enjoyable times I’ve had, and I am stoked to have shared such an epic adventure with them.