Southern California native and host of The Kayak Fishing Show, Jim Sammons has been paddle fishing the Baja California Peninsula since before kayak fishing was invented. “When the waves were flat, we would paddle our surfboards out and catch calico bass,” he remembers. From the dawn of modern fishing kayaks, Sammons explored Mexico’s long, narrow peninsula separating the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez. After decades fishing, paddling and exploring the backyard getaway, Sammons says there is still more to discover.
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We filmed one of my favorite episodes of The Kayak Fishing Show during a road trip in Baja, Mexico. We spent a couple weeks driving, exploring and fishing parts of the Baja Peninsula with a side trip to Cedros Island. The trip was extra special because, after planning the itinerary with my friend Sean White, my daughter Kirstin demanded to join us.
Bountiful Baja Kayak Fishing
We zigzagged from one side of the peninsula to the other, fishing the wild Pacific and then the calm Sea of Cortez. We caught calico bass, yellowtail, white sea bass, grouper and halibut. In between, we explored caves with rock paintings, wine country, little historic missions and hit up every street food vendor we could find. The crazy part was passing so many places we didn’t have time to fish.
The highlight of the trip was ferrying our kayaks to Cedros Island and fishing with Cedros Outdoor Adventures. The lodge is on a bluff and every room overlooks the water. Everything was taken care of, we just had to concentrate on fishing.
Cedros Island is even more remote than the Baja Peninsula. Calico bass fishing was insane, my daughter scored the big fish for the trip, a 42-pound yellowtail. Another angler caught one of the biggest halibut the locals had seen in years.
The Baja Coast is Timeless
Fishing off Cedros Island, I couldn’t help to imagine how the California coast looked hundreds of years ago. The harsh coastline hosts incredible views. Anglers get shots at true trophy fish and a chance to paddle in huge pods of sea lions and elephant seals.
From the time I put my kayak in the water, I know each cast could bring the calico bass, white sea bass or yellowtail of a lifetime.
My favorite area to fish is in the boiler rocks. Water surges around the volcanic rocks creating an adrenalin rush like no other. Fighting a calico bass as it tries to pull me into the rocks is the whole point of kayak fishing.
A big calico bass trying to pull me into the rocks
is what kayak fishing is all about.
Fish Among the Mangroves in Magdalena Bay
Another highlight from the trip was fishing the famed Bahia Magdalena, better known as Mag Bay. The huge estuary is home to the largest mangrove forests in Baja. The area offers incredible fishing inshore and offshore. Unfortunately, wind kept us inshore, but we were able to score some nice-sized grouper.
We spent two weeks on the road, but you could spend six weeks and not see everything Baja has to offer. I’ve been traveling there for three decades, and still have a lot to discover.
Kayak Fishing in Baja California
To pull calico bass out of the weeds and rocks, I recommend a Okuma Komoda SS low-profile baitcasting reel with a fast retrieve and a seven-foot, heavy-action, fast-taper rod. Load the reel with 50-pound Seaguar braid topped off with 40-pound Seaguar Gold Label fluorocarbon.
Carry a few rods for yellowtail: one for surface irons and poppers, another rod rigged for trolling and a third rod for yo-yo jigs. It is almost impossible to keep a charging yellowtail out of the rocks. For a smooth drag with plenty of stopping power, I use a Seigler SGN to LGN with Seaguar hollow-core braid and a top shot of 40-pound Gold Label. To throw lures, an eight-foot rod will get the most casting distance. Troll with a seven-foot rod. Yo-yo jigging is easiest with a six-foot, spiral wrapped rod.
We were using Jackson Kayak’s Kraken because the boat is capable of surf launches, rough conditions and paddling for miles.
Where to Launch
Baja is a short drive from Southern California, there are hundreds of places to park and launch. I have surfed Baja for years, so I have many of these spots in my back pocket. The bible for fishing the area is a book called Baja Catch by Gene Kira and Neil Kelly.
Where to Stay in Baja
Cedros Outdoor Adventures is a full-service outfitter and lodging. Cedros Island is a short flight from California, or jump on a panga and ferry across from the mainland.
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What to Eat in Baja
Don’t pass up the great street food. One tip: go to the places with a line of locals, a sign the food is good and turned over regularly.
Be sure to explore ancient ruins, Mexican wine country and hundreds of little missions along the way.
This article was first published in Kayak Anger Issue 44. Subscribe to Kayak Anger and get the magazine delivered to your front door. Download the Kayak Angler Magazine+ app to seamlessly glide between the digital archives, the latest articles and videos or browse the digital archives for your desktop here.
From the calm Sea of Cortez to the wild Pacific, Baja offers diverse fishing opportunities. | Feature photo: The Kayak Fishing Show