I’ve been coming to Baja for almost twenty years now. I love to catch all kinds of cool fish, but the main target is generally roosterfish. I take roosterfishing a step further and go for my roosters off the beach – sight casting only. It took me eleven days to catch my first quality rooster off the beach back in 1996. When I say quality, at that time quality was a rooster over 15lbs.
Back then was a learn as you go process. Roosterfishing was just getting popular and there wasn’t a lot of info on how to catch them on fly. Knowledge of roosters and strategies to catch them have improved greatly and 15lbers are now common. My friend and guide for the week, Grant Hartman, happens to have developed many of these techniques. Grant says it’s catching a 30lb plus fish off the beach that puts you in the elite club these days.
I have about 60 days of roosterfishing under my belt now. I’ve walked well over 100 miles of Baja beaches. Catching small roosters is easy and I’ve caught a lot more 15lbers. But for the last few years I’ve been in search of the monster. This pursuit hasn’t been easy. You don’t see the big guys often. When I have, I’ve screwed up plenty of casts. I’ve pulled the fly away from a few, spooked a bunch and the list of “why I didn’t connect” goes on.
When I woke up today I knew something was different. Often times there’s a “here we go again” lack of confidence feeling. But that wasn’t my thought today. When Sammy, Grant and I arrived on the first beach it was breezy and scorching hot. I was calm and cool. I immediately spotted four big roosters working just outside the surf and I knew I was going to catch one.
I was throwing my 9-weight Ross Rx rod. Normally I’m armed with a 10 however I stupidly broke that rod earlier in the morning trying to photograph ladyfish by myself. The ladyfish freaked out and took off at a bad angle with my rod laying in the sand and snap! My reel was an old standard Ross Momentum #6. This reel has been all over the world with me and caught a lot of good fish. Ross makes numerous improved reels these days but I’m attached to this one. And my line was a Scientific Anglers Saltwater Clear tip WF10F/S.
These roosters were patrolling about 100 feet out from the beach. Every once in awhile they turned in and swam within 60 feet of the beach. I can cast that far even with a huge fly so I tied on the biggest fly in my box, a 5/0 fly tied by my friend Mark Kuhn (milkfish). On my first few opportunities I landed short with my cast. Then on my fourth shot I landed my fly five feet in front of two of the roosters. When they got three feet away I gave three hard strips. Then stopped and three more. To my delight one fish raised his comb and turned on my fly.
I’ve had followers many times. Roosters are finicky but I kept stripping. Then just when my fly was getting too close to me the fish inhaled it. I strip set but felt nothing. I could see the rooster however and I knew he was coasting towards me likely tasting the hook. I stripped again and jabbed my rod to his opposite side. The rooster was on!
I bolted backwards up the beach to get high for a good angle. I wanted to see as much as I could to control the first run. It was a massive run peeling at least 100 yards into my 30lb backing. Then the fish stopped and swam parallel to the beach in the direction of Sammy and Grant.
Ten major drag testing runs and 30 minutes later I was still fighting my fish. By now Sammy and Grant were at my side cheering. Sammy, Grant and I have been together for the big rooster quest the last few years. I wouldn’t want to catch my first monster without them.
Like landing any monster fish, the final seconds are the toughest. It was a chore getting the hefty rooster up on the beach in the heavy surf. Scariest of all, several times he faced me directly and jumped all while head shaking violently. I was very afraid my fly was about to fly back at me and I’d lose him. After several tries I finally surfed him up and Grant grabbed him by the tail.
Roosters are one of those fish that actually look smaller in the water than out. I knew I hooked a good one but I was not expecting him to come out of the water this big. The striking looking fish was so big he was tough to handle. My first hold was nothing more than a bear hug. I couldn’t believe I had my monster. Then I got a good grip and after a pile of photos I released the long awaited fish.
As far as I’m concerned, my trip is complete even though it’s the first day. I can live with this roosterfish the rest of my life. I don’t care if I cast again the rest of the week. The only thing I want now is for Sammy to get a monster as well. Then this would truly be an incredible trip!