One fish I have for a long time admired, but never thought I would ever catch, is the rooster fish – dashingly handsome and by reputation electrifyingly fast. If this were not enough, being a member of the jack family (which also includes the giant trevally/GT), the ferocity of its fight is legendary.
It was with great anticipation therefore that my young fishing pal, Ryan, and I recently found ourselves en route to the Baja Peninsula in Mexico, one of the few places in the world where it is possible to catch a rooster by fly casting from the beach.
Jeff DeBrown, our excellent guide, had been in touch with Ryan with the great news that the Rooster action had been “as good as it gets” for two or three weeks, so as you can imagine we were feverishly excited when we finally arrived at Rancho Leonero – a wonderful hotel right on the shore of the Sea of Cortez. I say “eventually” because thanks to a “cock-up” by British Airways, with which I won’t bore you, we were 24 hours late. This was disappointing to say the least, but our enthusiasm was undaunted as we set up our 10/12-weight rods and brand new classy looking Airflo “V lite “ reels.
Jeff explained our fishing options, namely offshore “blue water” fishing for striped marlin, which was producing one or two fish per boat per day; inshore boat fishing for skipjack and yellowfin tuna, which were apparently plentiful; and, lastly, beach fishing for roosters using quad bikes.
There was a stiff onshore breeze and, anxious to get a bend in our rods, we elected to try for the tuna on day one. The sea was unusually rough and we were soaked to the skin within minutes. With the temperature at well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, this was no big deal but, at the same time, it was slightly annoying, considering I had a waterproof jacket in my bag! What a prat.
Anyway, personal discomfort was soon forgotten when we located a huge shoal of tuna by slow-trolling our flies. Once found, the skipper would throw out a handful of live sardines (poor little sods!), which were eagerly devoured on the surface while we cast our flies at the boils. Though not huge at about 8 to 12lbs, it was great sport as neither of us had previously caught tuna on fly and I must say that they really can pull! Just think of a 10lb mackerel!! Jeff said that they were a perfect size for our fly rods, adding that when they get to 25lbs and more it ceases to be sport and becomes hard work, and I can well believe it.
We boated half a dozen each and retained just one to take back to the hotel. The ever-helpful staff there served it up that evening, firstly raw as “sushimi” – thinly sliced with spices and soy sauce as a starter, and later grilled as a main course. Both ways they were scrummy and the sushimi was descended on by several of our fellow guests like vultures! It was gone in minutes!!
It had been good fun but it was not why we had come, which was, of course, to try for roosters from the beach. We decided to concentrate on that for the next three days.
The skills for successful rooster fishing soon became evident:
Firstly you need good eyesight; secondly you have to be a reasonably good caster – into the wind if necessary; and last but by no means least, you need to be able to sprint like Linford Christie!! Without doubt it is the most challenging form of fishing I have ever encountered, not helped by the fact that the shore-patrolling baitfish, mainly sardines and mullet, seemed to have become far less numerous than they had been in those previous weeks (perhaps due to the unsettled weather?). Without the bait fish there in numbers there is obviously less incentive for the roosters to hit the beach.
Ryan started off on the pillion of Jeff’s ATV, while I took the second one on my own with many miles of empty beach to patrol – scanning for fish.
For a couple of hours I saw very little, and at one stage was staring slightly despondently at the waves when, without warning, two big roosters, one of which I guessed at 40lbs-plus, streaked past me no more than five metres away. In the gin-clear water I could see every detail of them, as if they had been swimming in fresh air, and although I was completely alone I shrieked out a loud oath, as they disappeared before I could even think of making a cast.
Some initiation and there and then I determined that I just HAD to catch one!
The order of the day became to drive the quads up and down the beach until fish were spotted. Once they were in sight, we should get 60 or 70 yards in front of them and leap off, running down to the water while stripping line off the reel like a madman, trying to make an effective cast to intercept them. It’s not easy, as they move so very fast and sometimes change direction, heading back out to sea, and bear in mind that you must allow 4 or 5 seconds for the fly to sink before you start to strip. The stripping action itself can hardly be too fast and running back up the beach while stripping like a lunatic is a helpful option. A further difficulty is that they can be very fussy indeed, racing up to the fly then refusing or “tweaking” it, and disappearing in a flash!
We each had a few chances (or “shots”) that first day but blanked, the nearest I came was an “on and off” which almost stopped my heart! If you can get it right the result is just so spectacular! They are already travelling at speed but, if they see the fly and want it, they turn and come after it like a torpedo with that beautiful dorsal fin (or comb) erect and slicing through the surface like a rapier! It has to be one of the most thrilling sights I have seen in all my fishing life!
Each day we saw fewer and fewer fish and I must admit it became a slight case of “you should have been here last week”; but I am delighted to report that both Ryan and I managed to catch one rooster each, and therefore achieved our aim – mine being about 14 lbs and Ryan’s a beauty of probably 22lbs. This was poor by normal standards – Jeff’s best day’s catch for two clients being 15 roosters (mind boggling!); but we enjoyed it immensely, and will most surely return in future for another try.
Our new Airflo reels performed very well with their smooth, sealed drag, and my TFO 10/12-weight rod was perfect for the job.
The accommodation, service and food at Rancho Leonero was absolutely A1 and we met many people who had been going there for years, enjoying great sport and really good value. If you’re thinking about a rooster trip yourself, I can thoroughly recommend this one. I can’t wait to get back there for another visit!
I would also strongly suggest you kit yourself out with similar gear to mine. Even a 10lb tuna will pull harder than you can possibly imagine, and a 10/12-weight rod is the least you will need. What’s more, it’s a complete waste of time to bring anything but a serious salt-water fly reel. Most of your standard UK trout and salmon fly reels will literally explode when these fish take off (trust me, it’s happened to me), so you need to get something substantial. There are plenty of options on the market, but generally I think it’s worth investing in something decent (it should last you a lifetime if looked after properly).
If you do decide to try for a rooster, let me know. This was my first trip after these beauties and I could definitely be tempted to try again. Tight lines!