In search of dorado

Fly fishing the Sea of Cortez

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— When a fisherman is able to bring a dorado alongside a panga in the Sea of Cortez, the fish's bullet-shaped body flashes iridescent shades of aquamarine, jade green and yellow.

Suddenly, it glimpses the human holding the fishing rod and streaks off on the third reel-smoking run of the struggle.

Mike Rieser of Craig has seen it all hundreds of times since he first began probing the waters off Mexico's Baja Peninsula in 1972.

Today, Rieser is the principal in a travel tour company called Baja Fly Fishing Company with colleagues Larry Henderson of Craig and John Matson of Driggs, Idaho.

They work closely with the operators of a chain of fishing-oriented hotels on the Sea of Cortez (bordering the eastern shore of the peninsula), Baja Resorts.

Rieser said he and his guides, together with the boat captains and mates of Baja Resorts, have the potential to put fly rod anglers into several of 30 different species of fish over the span of a five-day trip.

"I'm confident I can get people into fish if they're wide open to catching species like roosterfish, jack crevalles and Sierra mackerel," he said.

Dorado up to 50 pounds, but most often smaller "schoolies," and striped marlin are also a very realistic possibility on stout fly rods.

"When the fishing is good in the Sea of Cortez, it is righteous," Rieser said.

Rieser recalls one incredible week when his boat experienced 17 bona fide hookups on striped marlin in a week.

And 40-dorado days are not unheard of.

But those are the extremes.

Riser said many of his clients prefer to balance the time they spend searching the ocean for billfish and dorado with time spent closer to shore looking for the dramatically combed roosterfish, pompano and speedy sierra mackerel.

"Last fall, we'd often catch five to six dorados by 11 a.m. Instead of searching for more, we move into shore and fished the reef structure," Rieser said.

Schools of yellowfin tuna are also thick in the Sea of Cortez.

Rieser's captains practice conservation and all billfish are released back into the ocean.

In fact, when the big marlin dive deep, the crew will often inform their clients it's time to cut the line, rather than harm the fish.

Dorado are most often released.

And because the yellowfin rarely survives a bout with an angler, Rieser cuts his clients off at one or two tuna.

"When you've landed two tuna, you've had a full day's fishing," Rieser said.

The tuna lurk 50 feet beneath the surface and one of Rieser's favorite ways of fishing for them is to tie on a weighted baitfish imitation like a Clouser minnow.

He lets it sink and waits for a strike. The tactic works because big tuna often linger beneath a school of tiny fish that is being attacked by other fish and sea birds.

Inevitably, crippled fish drift down to them and make easy pickings.

Pulling a muscular tuna up from the depths is enough to wear out a fly fisherman.

One of the biggest challenges in saltwater fly fishing off Baja is the need to retrieve the fly at an extremely rapid rate, Rieser said.

Anglers must learn to tuck their rods under their arms after casting and strip the fly line in with both hands.

There may be a trick to stripping the fly, but the advantage of fly fishing from a 22-foot super panga in the Sea of Cortez is that stellar casting abilities are not a necessity.

The boat typically maneuvers into easy casting range.

Riser has given never-ever fly casters a short lesson and helped them to hook fish.

"If you can cast 30 to 40 feet, you're in there," he said.

Baja Fly Fishing Company offers a variety of packages to the Sea of Cortez both at Punta Colorada and nearby Palmas de Cortez.

Fly fishers with a little bit of saltwater experience can opt for an introductory package that includes a five-night stay with one day of fishing escorted by Rieser's staff.

They'll also enjoy two days of panga fishing on their own with a trained captain.

Rieser said one of the key services his company provides is speaking with each captain in the morning before they set out, to match his clients' wishes with the captain's up-to-date knowledge.

Rieser's full escort panga package is priced at $1,250 based on double occupancy, and is virtually all-inclusive.

It covers a five-night stay with three days of escorted fishing on a super panga.

Also included are flies and tackle, bait, all meals, airport transfers and one day of beach fishing.

The only additional costs the clients must bear are their roundtrip airfare, daily tips to the crew and alcoholic beverages.

Steamboat Fishing Company is organizing a trip to Punta Colorado with Baja Fly fishing April 1-6, 2003, and some spots are available.

Rieser can be reached at 824-2919.

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