What to expect when fishing in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
One of the biggest questions about deep sea fishing in Cabo San Lucas is what to expect. What will the day be like? What kind of fish will we catch? What types of fishing methods are used? What happens after we catch fish? When is the best Marlin or Tuna bite in Cabo. I thought I would try and answer some of these questions and more, to make sure that everyone understands what happens on a fishing expedition in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Update…Amigos this was written for our guests fishing with Lands End Charters, this does not apply to all fishing fleets in Cabo San Lucas. We hope you choose to fish us, we would be thrilled to have you.
What happens on the morning of our trip when we arrive at the docks?
When you arrive to our location you will be expected. One of our fleet managers will find and greet you and take care of any balances due and make sure you have everything you need to go fishing. They will ask about your fishing goals and don’t be shy about being honest with what you are looking for (an easy day inshore or a hardcore..get me the biggest fish on the planet kinda day). You will be introduced to the crew as you board.
You might need to purchase a fishing license and wait in line to purchase it. This service is provided by the Mexican authorities and we are not involved in the process. Many times, because most charters leave around the same time, there can be a longer than usual wait. To avoid this, ask us about purchasing your license in advance.
Our start times are approximate. Every morning we have people show up early and some show up late. We understand, this might be your first time in Cabo, you might get lost, you might have had 1 too many cervezas the night before, no big deal you are on vacation after all. However, we help people as they arrive, we do our very best to get everyone out as close to the time they requested as possible. Most of the time we are very efficient, but if you are the type of person who likes things to be perfectly timed, let us know, show up a little early and we will do our very best, I promise!
You may also want to get something to eat and drink before heading out, there are convenience stores located near our gate or the captain will take you over to the fuel dock where they sell sandwiches, snacks drinks etc. You are welcomed to bring anything you like with you, the boats have coolers and ice on board. We will wait until you are ready to go, so don’t stress about the start time, we promise the boat won’t leave without you. Crews pack their own lunches amigos, no need to bring them food.
You may also choose to purchase a boxed lunch from us and it will be waiting for you on board. While we feel that our lunches are above average, we don’t personally prepare them and can’t guarantee the perfect amount of mustard or mayonnaise is provided, these are boxed lunches, not gourmet, chef prepared meals. If you have food allergies or require something special, please let us know at booking. You may enjoy drinks like Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew or fancy imported beers, these are not always available at the marina, so please let us know at booking that only Diet Root Beer works for you and we will do our best.
Frequently asked question? Is alcohol allowed on the boats?
Only if you share! Just kidding (sort of) Alcohol of any kind is allowed on your charter. The local convenience stores stock a wide range of beer, spirits and more. ***A little Kahlua and Coffee in the morning is said to attract big fish.
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What happens in the case of bad weather?
The Port Captain of Cabo San Lucas is responsible for making sure that you are not placed in dangerous situations while on the water. They determine If it is safe to fish offshore or not. If they feel that it is unsafe to head out they will shut down the port and no fishing charters are able to leave. Unfortunately, we very rarely get any advance warning. You may show up only to be told we won’t be able to fish. If this happens, we will do our best to re-schedule your trip for another day during your stay, or if no other options are available, we will refund 100% of any money paid for your fishing trip.
Good News: We average about 5 days a year when we are unable to fish.
Before heading out to open waters, you will make a stop at the port authority where the mate will hand the authorities your fishing licenses. This is required to keep a log of anyone out on the water and to ensure that you are properly licensed. All passengers over 12 years of age, whether they plan to fish or not, must have a valid fishing license.
Update: The port authority no longer has staff to check licenses before departing the marina. We are still subject to random inspection and a fishing license is still 100% required. The Port Captain may resume checks at any time and without warning.
LIVE BAIT – Your next stop will be at the bait pangas. We do not have a bait farm here and all live bait is caught daily and sold to all the boats heading out to fish. The live bait is included in the cost of your charter. 5 live bait are provided on 1/2 day charters and 10 for full day charters. This is standard for all charter operators in Cabo. These are not small anchovies, these are large mackerel or similar bait fish used for bigger fish. For bottom fishing trips, they are cut into pieces for catching fish.
There are times when live bait is gone, especially possible if you leave late (after 9 AM), other times when there are no specific types of bait like ballyhoo, anchovies for tuna etc…These types of bait must be prearranged and we will be honest if we are able to provide specific types of bait. You are welcomed to bring anything you have with you.
There are a few times a year when the Captain might suggest purchasing more bait, if the fishing for specific species like Yellow Fin Tuna. Roosterfish or others is really good and he feels you might need it. You are not obligated and can choose to go with the bait provided (As of early 2019, live bait was $3.00 U.S. per piece). Often very little of your live bait is used, the majority of our catches are made using artificial high speed trolling lures or other tackle. Live bait is used primarily when we spot fish on the surface or when there are large schools of fish and multiple hook ups are in order. This happens primarily during strong Marlin or Dorado bites. Fish here are often more attracted to the lures, feathers and other tackle we use to catch fish.
Please trust that your crew is extremely experienced, know what they are doing and know what to use in different scenarios. They want to catch something just as bad if not more than you do…their tips are a big part of their pay amigos. Getting skunked is never good for them.
Frequently asked question? Can we help set up or get involved with the bait prep or rigging process?
Absolutely. If you are an experienced angler, let your mate know that you would like to help or learn whats going on. They are more than happy to show you or let you do your thing. Please let us know when you book that you would like to be hands on, so that we can inform the crew. Tackle is pre-rigged on leaders, but live bait rigging happens live.
Once we leave port the distance we travel to the fishing grounds will be based on a couple of factors. Primarily the length of your fishing trip and fishing conditions. There is a protected area that runs 2 miles along the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez as we leave the marina, so we can’t fish as soon as we leave. Our maximum fishing range in Cabo San Lucas is about 40 miles max from port on a full day trip. This will depend on sea conditions and size of the vessel you charter. Please know that we have a large fleet that goes out everyday. Sometimes the fishing is good close to shore in the morning (especially if you ask for inshore fishing for Dorado, Yellowtail etc..) and we can have lines in the water in as little as 15 minutes, other times, especially if you are after bigger fish or during Tuna season, you might have to travel up to an hour before lines are out. We rely on the fishing reports from the previous days or simply on the crews experience ( Remember our captains average over 20 years fishing experience in Cabo). While you are traveling you might see the mates start to set up the fishing poles, prepare the bait, set up the outriggers etc. This is a good time to get your cameras set, slap on some sunscreen, have a cold one and enjoy the scenery, sunrises can be spectacular here.
Frequently asked question: Why do the captain and mates sit up in the bridge and stay there as we head out or while we are trolling?
The Captain and mate are doing everything they can to gather information. They may be monitoring the radio for reports of good fishing, setting GPS coordinates, checking the fish finders, water temperature or simply scanning the waters for active fish, dolphin, birds etc. The bridge is designed to be higher for spotting fish or other signs of good fishing from long distances, this is the main responsibility of the Captain of a fishing charter, and 2 or 3 sets of eyes are always better than one. He is your guide and while it might seem like he is just driving the boat, he is actively using his experience, crew and fishing knowledge to find fish. His primary job is to catch fish. If you would like to speak to him, just ask, he is more than happy to talk about what he’s doing, but he may not come down from the bridge during your entire trip. His job again, is to find the fish!
How is the fishing actually done?
If you have never gone deep sea fishing in Cabo, please read this part carefully. 99.9% of the fishing here is done using trolling methods. Most of the great pictures of fish you see on our fishing report page have been caught using trolling methods, with a few exceptions. Trolling is simply the boat pulling lines behind it with lures, live bait or teasers to attract fish. Some boats will have as many as 6 lines in the water at a time. Some are very close to the back of the boat, this might seem weird, but it is standard procedure. Some of these lines are trolling teasers or dredges, designed to simply attract fish to the surface so that they will bite on other lines that have trolling lures. People often think its just the crew being lazy since… what fish would bite that close to the boat? Again..it is standard procedure and designed to simply attract fish. The crew knows how to catch fish and everything they have learned over the many years fishing here is used during your trip.
Many people have fished in other parts of the world or watched shows on TV where the boats are anchored, lines are dropped and fishing happens. This is not the case here for the vast majority of the species that we catch. Even inshore fishing is done the same way, by trolling. This is the most effective way to catch fish here in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. There are times when we “live cast” meaning the mate or even you (If you are experienced and want to give it a shot, just let the mate know) will cast live bait at fish on the surface.
I don’t want to troll all day, do you offer other types of fishing?
Yes! Most people that ask this have either A. caught all the Bill fish they ever want to catch in their life or B. have spent a day trolling without ever touching a rod. We get it and understand, been there, done that! We offer bottom fishing trips, however you must consider a few things. Growing up in Southern California and as an avid angler, I have been on plenty of party or “cattle” boats to catch fish. These boats are designed to take lots of people out and drop lines over the rail to catch fish. We don’t have those types of boats in Cabo. Not just us, there aren’t any that I know of in the entire marina. The closest you will come is the 45 ft Picudo with room for 8 anglers. All sport fishers here have a cockpit with an area that is limited for bottom fishing. 3 maybe 4 lines down at a time. Why? Because if you have been on a large party boat, you know with any decent sized fish, you are running down the rail going over and under other folks lines. There isn’t room on a traditional sport fisher for this type of maneuver. More than a few lines down and lines are getting crossed, fish are being lost and it can truly become a mess. Also, we don’t have a lot of spots here with shallow enough structure to make this type of fishing effective. Yes, there are spots and some very good spots but not all the time. Why? Currents and conditions. A strong current can make bottom fishing impossible, especially in deeper water, and most of our water here is deep.
For fish like Roosterfish, Yellowtail, Snapper, Grouper etc. the best thing to do is charter one of our pangas or smaller boats. Why? They have the tackle and gear for this type of fish. Spinning reels, bait casters, jigs, irons etc…are mostly found on our smaller boats. The bigger boats are mainly geared for big game fishing with bigger set ups.
If you have children, and want them to reel in fish, we can do this. Any of our boats can make this happen. We love it and will work hard to get them a catch.
The best thing to do is to talk to us, ask questions and make it clear the type of fishing you are after. We will do our best to let you know whats going on and what is possible. Sometimes its just not possible due to conditions or time of year, we will do our best to let you know.
We do not: drop anchors for fishing, unless a pre arranged shark fishing expedition is arranged or there is another really specialized fishing trip planned.
Frequently asked question? What happens if the fish aren’t biting?
I would love to tell you that the fish are always biting….but here is the truth. Our crews are extremely experienced, they have most likely been fishing the same waters, in the same general areas with the same equipment and tackle for days. Because it is working and they are catching fish. It’s kind of like lake fishing, you go out 1 day and your favorite top water lure kills it, then again the second day, but on the third day suddenly it stops producing strikes. How long do you use the lure that worked great 2 days in a row? Do you switch to a diving Rapala? This is why its fishing, you can only do so much based on your experience. What color is the water? What depth are you fishing? What time of day? What moon phase? How are the currents…on and on. You might go an hour with no bites and start asking, why isn’t the crew changing tackle? Why haven’t they changed the live bait? Why do we seem to be going in circles?
Answer: The crews often have electronics that tell them that fish are in the area. Sometimes they spot fish, sometimes they see the birds or dolphin, sometimes fish strike the bait or lures and don’t swallow…..SOMETIMES FISH JUST DON’T BITE. I once had a client offer me $5,000.00 if I could guarantee a 200 pound Marlin during the height of Marlin Season. He went out and caught 3, did I take his bet and his $5000.00? Of course not…this is fishing and there are no guarantees (he did buy me a beer). Bottom line is this, we trust our crews, they know how to catch fish. they NEVER go out with a plan not catch fish. They work hard and once in a while it just doesn’t happen. You must know this is a possibility, regardless of who you fish with.
Whats the best time of year to fish in Cabo San Lucas?
Fish On! Now what?
When fish bite, you will hear the line scream from the drag on the reel. This will immediately get the crew in motion. The mate will grab the pole and set the hook on the fish with a solid tug (unless circle hooks are being used). They will then hand you the pole and you are one on one with the fish on the line. You may choose to stand and fight or have a seat in the fighting chair. The mate will help you out if you are inexperienced and might say things like “reel” and “pull”. If you plan to fight standing up, ask the crew for a belt or harness, all boats have them on board. It is very hard to tell sometimes what type of fish or size is on the line, the mate might make adjustments to the reel settings to help you land the fish. If you are on with a huge fish (which happens) and you just can’t or don’t want to keep fighting, the crew will be happy to take over or you can hand the pole to another angler. (Please note: In case of record fish, this may disqualify the catch from any IGFA records). Landing a fish is not easy, and fish do get away, it happens. Enjoy the fight, take your time and know that the crew is there to help.
Someone once asked…. Our fish got off the line, why was there was no leader?
Most of our crews use fluorocarbon leaders designed for offshore fishing, they are similar to regular fishing line (translucent) and meant to produce more strikes as opposed to steel leaders that are easier to spot. Tackle is very expensive and some type of leader is always used.
Frequently asked question? Can I set my own hook?
Of course! Just let the crew know that you would like to set your own hooks. The crews set hooks to give you the best chance to land the fish, improper setting of the hook is the #1 reason for losing fish. Even with an experienced mate, fish are lost during or before a fight. There is a science to setting a hook and your best bet is to let the mate do this, especially with Bill Fish.
Handling of fish
You landed your fish..congratulations!
So now what to do? Here are your options….
release the fish. Update as of April, 2018…..ALL BILL FISH are released 100% of the time on our charters. Learn more about this here. This only applies to Marlin and Sail Fish. All other species can be kept inside of established limits and slots.
You can also keep the fish. If you plan on keeping it, please know that as of 2016, we are no longer allowed to fillet any catch while at sea or at the docks. We are now forced to use a third party service to process your catch. Prices vary depending on size and amount of fish from $3.00 per fish for simple filleting to $2.50 a finished pound for filleting, vacuum sealing, freezing and storing your catch. The fleet managers or crew at the docks will be able to help you get your fish processed. We have been using Griselda’s Smokehouse exclusively for processing.
Reminder: Crews fish almost everyday and have freezers full of fish. Please do not keep fish for the crews sake 🙂 We are also strictly prohibited from selling, brokering or making any financial gain from your catch.
You can have your fish mounted. You can release a fish and have a replica made, the crew will measure the fish, take photos and inform the taxidermy folks to meet the boat upon arrival. We have world class taxidermy shops in Cabo that have representatives at the docks to help, we use Gray’s Taxidermy exclusively. The crew will also help before you get back, if you let them know that you are interested in mounting. Please note: mounting is not cheap and mounting big fish can cost thousands of dollars.
You can choose to have your fresh fish prepared at the marina. There are many great restaurants that will take your fresh catch and prepare a feast for you. This typically costs anywhere from $10.00 to $20.00 per person depending on the place. We recommend our amigos at Karlitos Cantina restaurant. Your catch is prepared 5 or 6 different ways, blackened, ceviche, grilled, fried etc.. it is a great way to enjoy your catch.
Frequently asked question? What do I need for transporting fish back home?
We have everything you need here amigos. Our fish processing partners will help prepare the fish for transport back on your plane from Cabo San Lucas. You will need to properly package your fish in a hard sided cooler. Our recommendation is to buy one here, we have a Walmart and Costco in town where you can pick one up. Most airlines now charge to bring yours down, which is often more than what one will cost here. Plus, you never know how much or if any fish will need to be transported. Your airline is used to having fish on as cargo, check with your airline for any specific restrictions, but most will allow transport for properly packaged fish. Again, we will be able to help with the process.
Be sure to keep your fishing licenses after the trip, Customs agents may ask for them at the airport. Shipping fish through a third party is not recommended.
We do our best to greet all of our guests upon your return. Sometimes all boats arrive at the same time which makes this difficult. If you have questions or need help, please ask the crew and there is always someone there that can help. The crew is your best source of information and help.
Should you have any issue, feel that something wasn’t right or have concerns. PLEASE, do not wait to get home to let us know. Our fleet managers are always available after your trip to discuss any issues with you. Simply go back to the check in spot and ask for the fleet manager. We are at the same place everyday if you want to come back the next day to talk, we know sometimes people get back tired. It’s very important that you address any concerns before leaving town. Not much we can do after you leave. Our crews are out everyday and reconstructing a trip a week later is always difficult. We are in the fishing business, we know there are times when fishing is tough, but if something wasn’t what you expected, please let us know. We take issues seriously and always aim to make your day a great one. Your experience is important to us and we care, we really do.
Frequently asked question? Who do I tip and how much?
The tip is given directly to the captain. He will decide how to distribute the money and will take care of this for you. If you would like to tip a mate a little extra, that is ok too, but please tip the captain first. This is just a customary procedure. The typical tip is 10 to 15% of your charter cost, if you have a great time and want to tip more… that is considered an honor for the crews.
Every morning we watch million dollar fishing yachts, with all the latest electronics, fishing gear, tackle and world class crews leave the marina. We also watch our good friends on the 30 year old wooden pangas held together with duct tape and a few rusted screws leave at the same time. Do you know that sometimes the big fancy fishing machines get out fished by the rusty old taped together panga guys? It happens…its fishing, the very best fishing crews on the very best days can have no luck. If you feel that not catching a fish, or a specific type of fish will ruin your entire vacation, please consider another activity. We will work hard, try our very best to land a great fish, its all we can do and all anyone in the fishing business can offer.
Good news: Cabo San Lucas is known for world class fishing and our fleet averages over a 90% catch rate every year…let’s go!
Update 2019: Don’t get scammed while searching for a Cabo San Lucas Charter Company!
A quick word of warning.
You might visit many websites comparing and searching for the company you choose to charter with. You might see what seems like a great deal and a website that looks legitimate and straightforward. We have seen many websites pop up recently, offering everything from FREE TACOS AND TEQUILA to charters on boats that don’t even exist or haven’t run since 2001. While we have many friends in the fishing business who are honest and reliable here, there are a few you must be wary of. Please keep the following in mind:
Is it a company actually based in Cabo? Is pricing clearly listed or do you have to send an email or call just to get a rate ?(salespeople make commissions and the more you pay the more they make, we have no salespeople and don’t play games with pricing) check out our rates here.
DO THE PICTURES OF THE BOATS THEY OFFER SHOW THE ACTUAL NAME OF THE BOAT? (if you don’t know the name, then any boat will do right?) Do they offer crew information? Do they have staff to assist you or are you just sending a PayPal deposit to someone hoping to get what you paid for?
If something isn’t disclosed on their site, if the deal seems to good to be true, or you just get a bad feeling because you are clearly talking to someone in Pakistan…look elsewhere! Doesn’t have to be us you charter with, but these folks give all of the legitimate operators a bad name and we hate to see someone get ripped off over trying to save a few bucks! Your vacation time is precious, and we respect that.
We provide a lot of information on our site, but If anything is unclear, we also have a live chat right at the bottom of this page to answer any questions (we won’t even ask for an email or phone number to chat) or you can call and speak to us on our toll free number.
We have been in business a long time, have hosted thousands of anglers and our reviews speak for themselves. We look forward to having you out with us!
Greg and Jenny
Lands End Charters