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Pelagic Expedition Trip Report

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It is always a nerve racking thing organizing pelagic expeditions, because you have no idea what to expect. You plan it during a time of year when you know the animals normally run through the area, but ultimately, it is left up to nature and the ocean what you will see out there. For this trip, we were after marlin feeding on baitballs. We were also hoping to see other open oceans animals like; whales, mola molas, turtles, sharks and the big O! There is a resident pod of orcas that frequently visits the area and we were hoping for a shot at seeing them as well.

During the month of November the pelagic activity is extremely good around Puerto San Carlos off Baja, Mexico. And after a few years of watching and waiting, I pulled the trigger in February of this year and organized our first trip out to the area to find those fish…at least I hoped we would.

A week before we arrived, there were reports of marlin baitball activity. That’s exactly what you hope to hear, marlin was our main goal of this trip. But that was a week before our trip. Anything can happen in a week. I was a nervous wreck. Which is typical of me on any trip I run.

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On the first day of the expedition, expectations were high. We headed out to the area where they had been seeing the baitballs…and nothing! There was no bird activity, which is what helps us find the baitballs. No birds, meant, no sardines and sadly no marlin. We searched the area for a couple of hours. We found a small school of young mahi mahi that we jumped in with for a few minutes. But other than that we had zero signs of life, so we opted for plan B. Plan B was to cut the motors, drop some chum and hang baits and wait for sharks to show up. After 3 hours, we decided to call it a day. No sharks either. Day one was a bust. I was worried but not gutted, We still had 4 more days to find them. Which is why you plan these types of expeditions over several days, to give you the best opportunities to succeed. 

We finished the day with a visit to the shark fishing camp. It is never fun, but it is always good to see what is happening out there. After seeing all the sharks they brought in, it was not hard to wonder why our chum slick was left unanswered. 

When we got back, we heard reports that the marlin had moved on to another area, which was about 45 miles away from where they originally were. The following morning, we woke to clear and sunny skies. The weather was favoring us, and so we buckled in for a long ride out to the area where they had been spotting them. 

 Image by Marty Wolff

Image by Marty Wolff

As we were heading out, we spotted some porpoising dolphins in the bay. The dolphins were feeding on sardines and they were joined by tens of thousands of pelican, sea gulls and cormorants. This was easily one of the coolest natural predation events I have ever witnessed. The pelicans were dive bombing the ocean, Gulls were trying to steal away the sardines, the cormorants were diving down to prey on the sardines. We were surrounded by birds. It was an insane spectacle. 

 Bird baitball...Image by Marty Wolff

Bird baitball...Image by Marty Wolff

We left the birds and continued to motor out. After a couple hours we found the spot. There was several sport fishing boats in the area, some with marlin on their lines. But still no birds? The marlin were here, but we had no visible signs of birds trying to feed on the sardines that the marlin round up. I was worried that we were in for a second day of skunking. 

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We motored around for a little while with no luck. Finally we ran into one of our captain Gabino’s local fishing buddy. He asked if they had seen any baitballs. They said, “oh yea, there are thousands of them over there.” Pointing to an area about a half mile away. We motored over to the area, scanning the skies but still no birds. However as we looked at the ocean’s surface it was boiling over with activity. There were marlin jumping, chasing sardines all over the place. We found an oasis! Strangely there was no birds out there taking advantage of these baitballs, so we had to find them the old fashion way, which is normally really hard to do. Thankfully, because there were so many baitballs everywhere, that made it easy to do.

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We jumped in, photographed and filmed baitball after batiball. It was insane. The marlin were on fire and so were we. We even had some bottlenose dolphin join in for a couple of passes. It was such a great day and everything we had hoped for. During the ride home, I sat back with a huge relief washing through me. I was grateful the fishermen were out there, it would of been very hard for us to find them without there help. It was so weird that there were no birds. Frigate birds are how we normally find these types of feeding activities. Yet, they were not around?

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Day three. We headed out for more marlin.  This time the frigate birds were around, making it much easier to find the baitballs. Again, we spent an amazing day with the marlin. 

Towards the end we were all pretty tired, to the point where we skipped turns in the water. We were about to call it a day, when a brydes whale broke the surface  nearby to catch a breath of air. We motored over to where we saw it drop. We cut the motors and scanned the area. It broke the surface about fifty yards away from our boat and was swimming in our direction. We geared up as quickly as we could and silently slid in the water for a shot at seeing the whale. It was diving down and I swam toward it snapping away. There is no greater feeling in the world than when you get to share the water with one of these animals. They are just massive and so breathtakingly beautiful.

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Sadly the weather changed and for our last two days, we were not able to get out to the area where the marlins were, so we stayed local to see what we could find. We chummed again, but no sharks showed up. We ended up spending some time in the bay, checking out the bird action. There are so many birds here, it is unreal. We also set up a photo session with the pelicans which was a lot of fun. 

The trip ended for us and I am so damn happy to report that everyone left happy. The marlin performed like rock stars and if the weather hadn’t turned on us, we would of been able to spend all week with them. We only spent two days with them, but it was enough time for everyone to leave the trip satisfied with the week they spent here in San Carlos. For me the trip was amazing. The ocean life, the birds, the people. It is everything I want from an adventure. I am already excited about next season and the unknown surprises it will bring us. Hopefully, it will be with more marlin, more whales, more birds, lots of sharks and that pod of orcas we so dreamily hope to encounter?

Until then...


Trip Photo Gallery


Birding Images from the Trip