The story begins as any good fishing story; in the pub. Legend has it, according to Bruce Hulett, that there's a place in Western Mexico that has a flat, clean, deep ocean that teems with huge, really stupid fish, and lots of them.
This all seemed way too much for the young, impressionable spearfishermen to comprehend, but the big pull is the small pile of dog-eared photos that Hulett is throwing around the top of the Mahogany Reef, he apparently has proof.
Now Hulett is the type of character from whom one has to demand proof in such situations, but it seems this time he might have been on to something. Not because of the size and number of the fish on the photos in his sweaty mit, but rather by the fact that we found ourselves looking at the Atlantic through a perspex window from 20 000 feet. With a gulp of distress, I suddenly realised that we had believed him.
Hulett's group flew in from the UK to LA, with the purpose of making arrangements for two boats to use in our deep sea forays into the Sea of Cortez, as well as procuring a suitable vehicle for the expedition. The South African contingent consisting of Roger and myself, flew into Colorado, where Roger's sister was living with the same plans in mind. With dealing and banter that would make a Tongaat veggie seller proud, we found ourselves seated in a Ford Bronco, with a Zodiac inflatable complete with motor, albeit 4 horses, stacked in the back.
The wildcard of the trip was Oogs, who, because of the combination of his dark complexion, dubious manner and terrorist sunglasses was denied a US visa and had to fly directly into Tijuana. The glasses came in handy to hide the obvious look of sheer terror of having to disembark at the above airport and navigate himself to a hotel; where he triple locked the door and got to know the national drink intimately.
The last word Hulett uttered to his South African team was "see you on the Baja" and as we left the neatness and efficiency of San Diego, and entered the absolute shambles of Tijuana, we realised that we had made no plans to meet up! I got the sweats at the sight of Tijuana and Ensenada, and we couldn't have left this area fast enough.
As the road broke east from the Pacific towards the Cortez side of the Baja, we entered typical desert. This must have been the scenery that inspired the Roadrunner and Wylie Coyote cartoons, and we even saw a few of the former tearing through the cacti. Our first glimpse of the Sea of Cortez appeared though the rocky landscape. Blue water with the finish of a mirror. The Bronco dropped a gear and we sped down into the Bay of Conception and proceeded to the Baia de los Muertos, where we bumped into Todd.
Now Todd is the sort of person, like Hulett, that you'd wonder about for the rest of your life. He obviously found reason to remove himself from the US and to settle in the middle of a desert, in a camp that would have made the set designers from "Cast Away" rethink the apparent authenticity of Tom Hanks' island home. Todd spent his days baking bread and getting very stoned, but I must say, he was a saviour to us when he mentioned to us that another group of South Africans had passed through on their way to Los Frailes, to which he gave us directions. He said that the vehicle they were in was "biscuit brown with no windows". Hell, I knew Hulett was cheap, but this was the last straw! It turns out Todd was quite right, the vehicle was a panel van.
Having to spend a night at Los Muertos, Roger and I decided that it was a good afternoon to test our boat and gear. The Suzuki motor coughed into life after open heart surgery and we putted out into the Sea of Cortez. The water here gets deep very quickly, and a few yards from shore we were in deep water. I swam down to about 20 meters and was welcomed by a shoal of Pacific Amberjack, which proved to be amoung the most stupid of gamefish I've ever encountered. I shot two of about 15kgs and was quite chuffed with myself until I got back onto the boat.
Roger had managed to shoot, subdue and boat a Roosterfish of about 30kgs! Little did we know at the time, but this was quite a difficult fish to approach, and I've yet to see a Rooster of this size anywhere!
The following morning, we left the packing a bit late and had to deal with the intense heat. Having packed the car, I went down to get the inflatable. To my horror, I saw that the boat had suffered an explosion, the intense heat causing the pontoons to expand and burst! We bundled the torn boat and motor into the car and headed south.
So 30 or 40 kms later we rolled down the hill towards the ugly Dodge van that was parked next to a ramshackle beach "palapa" that contained our long lost friends. Hulett's ocean going vessels included a seven foot "tinnie" with a Nissan 9 horse motor and a Hiawotha canoe with a small transom. Typical. The only bonus of this was that my 4 horse fitted perfectly onto the canoe, and pushed it through the water at an alarming speed!
This is how the following month went, wake up with the sun, launch the two boats and head around the mountain that plunged into the sea to the Pulmo Banks. Here we came across amazing fish, big 15kg Dorado, every day, shoals of huge Amberjack, some of over 50kg, lots of Wahoo, one of 35kg, and even a few Striped Marlin (never landed one!). On the way home we would dive the sheer wall at Los Frailes, and simply stare at the huge Pargo Snapper and Gulf Grouper that would literally crowd around you.
The nights were spent thinking of different ways of cooking (or not cooking) fish, drinking Balenha's and collecting rocks to throw at Raphael's cows when they sneaked into our camp to eat our pasta! It was all good times... dive early, back on the beach by 10am, send the fish up to Raphael, and sit still until 5pm to beat the heat. All our time here, we never saw a whitecap on the sea!
A classic desert and blue water safari. It was eventually the heat that chased us north, the days became so intensely hot that it was a battle to function and torture to venture out into the sun. We made our way up the long strip of desert that is the Baja, and back into the US. We went our different ways, and began puzzling for money for the next spearing safari.