Burning Sand

My son Blake has been itching to try the Baja beach roosterfish gig. I told him that it’s the toughest thing you can do in fly fishing. I told him that roosterfish can make permit look like inbred aquarium drones. I told him about friends (accomplished anglers) who have made 3-4-5 trips to Baja without catching one. I told him about the sprinting and tangling and flogging and cursing and sweating and huffing. And I told him that the best way to handle the rejection and frustration of roosterfishing is to go there expecting defeat.

On August 3rd, Blake and I walked into the bar at Rancho Leonero where his eyes immediately locked onto the mounted rooster hanging above the neon Corona sign. I could see the wheels turning in his mind and I hoped that the iniquitous idol of painted fiberglass wasn’t sending him solicitous vibes that would taint his carefully groomed expectations.

With clouds hanging over the East Cape on our first two days, guide Jeff DeBrown suggested that we hop a panga and noodle about in deep water. “No point fishing the beach when you can’t see,” he said. With rods rigged for pelagics, we had a great time trolling meat and lures with fly rods at the ready. On our first day we got into a mob of bonito hanging around the squid boats and wrapped it up with a big bull dorado that snuck in while we were fighting a smaller one on a trolling lure. When Blake dropped the fly in view it was blasted on the surface and taken away at high speed.

On the second day we rigged for billfish and trolled teasers but a honking south wind finally stacked up the swells to the point of abuse. With a tank full of live caballitos we decided to swing inshore to try and raise a rooster on the trolling rods. With the day winding down and the hotel in view, a gallo grande picked up Blake’s bait and he got to hold and admire the fish that would taunt him for the next two days.

Days three and four dawned clear and still and hot as a kiln. Roosterfish conditions. The first one that we spotted was slow-dogging down the beach and gave Blake plenty of time to set up and take a good shot. Of course the bastard didn’t eat. From there things took a typical turn. Over the next two days Blake had lots of shots. Some were tight to the sand, others at the fringe of his casting range. Most were hauling ass. He got tangled and winded and hot and flustered, but he kept at it and the learning curve finally began to flatten. I wish I could tell a story about a heroic victory in the final minutes of the last day, but it didn’t happen. Jeff worked his butt off to get us on fish; and Blake made a lot of great shots, turned several fish, and got an eat from a big one, but the ultimate prize remained inches out of reach.

In the airport, waiting for our flight back to Austin, I asked Blake what he thought of roosters on the beach. “I hate the f#$%ers, but I’ve got to come back and catch one…”

To see more images from this shoot, please click here.

Rancho Leonero at daybreak

Loading the cruisers

Santos looking for the bait boats

Blake bowed up

His big bull at boatside

Lots of bonito around

The stage is set; viz for miles

Sand sprints

Jeff spotting, Blake shooting

(L) Roosterfish about to not eat a fly (R) Hopeful angler

But, they will eat a livie

Hasta luego, Leonero

7 Responses to “Burning Sand”

  1. Mike Sepelak says:

    I hate the f#$%ers, too… And I’ve definitely got to go back and catch one. Thanks Tosh, for the painful, and joyful, reminder.


  2. Scott says:

    Back in about 1990 when I spent a winter/spring working in Cabo for a fly fishing company, (the only fly fishing guy down there I might add) we walked into a bar in Los Brailles (sp?) on the east cape and saw a mounted Pez Gallo pushing 100lbs and my jaw dropped.

    Getting them to eat flies? Locals said its couldn’t be done, babies maybe, but not ‘real’ ones.

    Back then it was mostly bait and switch, but watching the big comb slice through the water as they approach in attach mode will forever be etched in my mind, and soon locals wanted us to charter their boats to see what the Mosca Pesca boys were all about.

    Good times

    • Tosh says:

      Scott – I fished at Buena Vista several times during that same era. The Dorado on fly game was epic back then but most of the panga guides would laugh or shrug if you mentioned roosters on flies.

      There was one guide, though, named Mickey (he had really big ears) that was into the fly and we tried it a few times with him using live sardinas for chum. Lots followed the fly but no takes. Turns out we weren’t moving the fly near fast enough.

      While the dorado fishing isn’t as good now, I’m happy to see the roosters held in such high regard. Most that were caught trolling were gaffed and killed 20 years ago, those days seem to be over.



  3. Kent Klewein says:


    GREAT Read and wonderful photos. I think I would have to train for a year exercising to get ready for that trip and I’d still huff and puff. I hope to make this trip at some point.

    Kent Klewein

    • Tosh says:

      Kent – make sure you drag 80 feet of fly line with you on those training sprints. Then have someone yell, CAST! CAST! CAST! while you practice the one-legged line dance.

  4. Jeff deBrown says:

    I was happy to be a part of it. We will get him one Tosh. I promise.

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