Tuna Strike in Baja

Tuna Strike in Baja May 21, 2024
Gordon Cruise McBride holding the catch of the day.

Often overlooked, below the border offers great deep-sea fishing. 

By Gordon Cruise McBride

Living in San Diego, I hear a lot of people complaining about the fishing: “It’s not like it used to be” or “We were out for 10 hours, spent $500 on gas, and didn’t catch one fish.”

My only recommendation to these people is to spend a bit of money on gas for their car, load up and head down to Bahía Asunción in Mexico. It’s a hidden gem kept secret by avid anglers who head down the Baja coast for its bountiful deep-sea fishing opportunities.

I just returned from a five-day fishing trip with two friends from San Diego. From the time we wet our line to the time we packed up the van and headed home, it was nonstop action on the water.The fishing boat on shore as the sun rises.

In Bahía Asunción, the sun-drenched coastline framed by rugged cliffs and azure waters sets the stage for an unforgettable adventure awaiting all dissatisfied anglers. We hired a local guide to take us out for three days of fishing. Mind you, this is not your comfortable Marina del Rey, Calif., fishing outing on a 70-foot yacht with a hostess on board and a helper to reel in your catch if you get tired of fighting a 50-pound yellowfin tuna.

For $350 a day, our guide Miguel picked us up at our nearby campground before the sun rose, and we watched in awe as he gently pushed his 28-foot boat into the water as the sun broke over the horizon.

Bahía Asunción, with its nutrient-rich waters, is a haven for a diverse array of marine life, making it a coveted destination for anglers seeking a challenge and a reward. The deep sea here is teeming with an abundance of fish species, each with its own unique characteristics and allure.

Gordon Cruise McBride holding a yellowfin tuna in a blue fishing boat at sea.
Writer Gordon Cruise McBride hooked a yellowfin tuna while fishing in Bahía Asunción.

One of the most sought-after catches in Bahía Asunción is the majestic yellowfin tuna. These powerful and swift predators roam the depths in large schools, making them a prime target for anglers seeking an adrenaline-pumping battle. The thrill of hooking into a yellowfin tuna, feeling the line sing as it cuts through the water, is an experience that leaves an indelible mark on any angler fortunate enough to encounter it.

The Journey Begins: San Diego to Bahía Asunción

The drive down from San Diego or Los Angeles to Bahía Asunción is an odyssey in itself, adorned with captivating landscapes and enticing pit stops. Leaving the hustle and bustle of San Diego behind, rather than deal with the hours-long traffic jam at Tijuana, we chose to cross the border in Mexicali, a pleasant two-hour drive from San Diego.

There was no wait at the border, and we were soon on our way down Highway 5, an interesting 8.5-hour drive to our destination. We passed San Felipe, a lovely coastal town on the Sea of Cortez, that has great restaurants that serve up fresh seafood. San Felipe is also the place to stop if you need to stock up on any equipment and supplies.

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The drive provides some beautiful views of Baja California.

En route to Bahía Asunción, the drive offers opportunities to explore hidden gems that add layers to the journey. Road conditions on Highway 5 are surprisingly good, and any family car will make the journey without problems. The highway has handy mile markers, and on the way down we could see the impressive Picacho del Diablo (“Devil’s Peak”) off to our right. It is the highest peak on the Baja California peninsula, measuring 10,157 feet.

We passed Playa Polaco, a traditional vacation spot for Polish tourists who have been gathering at Thanksgiving since the early 1980s. Mile marker 74 treats travellers to two hot pools with the incoming tide and hot springs, a great spot to stop and relax. And keep an eye out at Marker 100 as you round the bend because you will be distracted by the beautiful views of the Sea of Cortez and the adjacent islands.Photo Nov 30 2023, 8 30 15 Amw

Heading past Marker 150 you come to an impressive cactus forest that stretches for miles. There is another “forest” at Marker 170, a great photo opportunity to record your trip in the Mexican desert.

Everyone we spoke with advised us against driving at night, because there is a very good chance that you can literally run into a herd of cows on the road. (We almost did just that when rounding a corner before a hill!) 

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Bahía Asunción camping and fishing

The first glimpse of Bahía Asunción’s cerulean waters signals the beginning of a maritime odyssey. The town is a mosaic of vibrant colours and friendly faces, with a few street restaurants and a well-stocked grocery store.

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It’s time to enjoy some fresh fish after catching snapper, grouper and yellowtail.

We arrived just before dark, and set up camp at Campo Sirena, a local campground that includes electricity, water, wireless internet, laundry, a clubhouse with a bathroom, shower, library just off the beach. You can pull your vehicle onto the pretty packed sand/earth. It doesn’t have organized “sites,” so it’s first-come, first-served for $15 night. It is only a couple blocks to stores, restaurants and a gas station.

The next morning Miguel picked us up in his truck before sunrise, and we pushed the boat into the water with the truck. As the sun lifted higher on the horizon, we headed out into the water and north along the Pacific coastline, and Miguel pointed out the maritime lookout posts that house watch-keepers who surveil the ocean for vessels. I believe he told us that they earn $100 a month.

Photo Feb 29 2024, 2 13 35 Pm (2)w

I boasted to my buddies that I would catch the first Mahi-Mahi, or dorado, as the locals call this strikingly colourful sport fish. Known for their vibrant colours and acrobatic displays, the elusive dorados are a favourite among sport fishermen. The challenge lies in their unpredictable nature and lightning-fast strikes, requiring skill and finesse to successfully bring one on board before they throw your lure back to the ocean with a jump and a shake of their head as they clear the water.

Bahía Asunción’s underwater world also hides the enigmatic marlin, a symbol of power and strength in the open ocean. The sight of a marlin leaping from the water, its dorsal fin slicing through the air, is a spectacle that leaves observers in awe. We did not see any marlin or swordfish, but we were greeted by a pod of huge grey whales that frolicked in the water around us each day.

Our guide told us that the day’s catch might include snapper, grouper, and yellowtail, which are abundant in the rocky underwater terrain, providing a delightful addition to the day’s bounty. The diversity of fish in Bahía Asunción ensures that every angler, regardless of skill level, can find a worthy adversary beneath the surface.

Our first stop was for yellowtail, which you catch by dropping weighted lures to the bottom of the ocean and then reel in as fast as you can. The yellowtail grabs your lure as it speeds to the surface, and the fight is on. We pulled in 15 good-size yellowtail, in addition to 20 bonito. Bonito is good to eat, but not a favorite of many anglers.Photo Feb 29 2024, 2 13 35 Pmw

After a few hours of speed-reeling, we headed further offshore to look for yellowfin tuna, and it did not take long trolling at 7 to 9 knots before we came across a school of hungry tuna. The deep-sea fishing grounds of Bahía Asunción are renowned for their mighty yellowfin tuna. Anglers from around the world are drawn to these waters, lured by the promise of a battle with one of the ocean’s most powerful predators. The yellowfin tuna, with its sleek, torpedo-like body, patrols the depths in schools, presenting a formidable challenge for those seeking the ultimate trophy catch, and we were not disappointed.

If it’s your first time fishing yellowfin tuna, be prepared for the first strike, a surge of energy transmitted through the line, signalling the beginning of a dance between man and fish. The yellowfin tuna’s speed and strength are unmatched, testing the limits of angler and tackle alike. If your drag is set too tight, they will snap the line immediately. If too loose, they will run all your line off your spool before you have time to react, so it is a good idea to ask your charter captain for assistance if you are unsure of your reel settings.Photo Feb 29 2024, 2 13 35 Pm (6)w

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Once back on shore, the crew started filleting the yellowfin tuna catch.

With Miguel’s expert eyes, we were able to land 15 yellowfin on the first day, each ranging from 30 to 48 pounds. The second day of fishing we retraced almost the same route, landing another 15 yellowtail in the morning before trolling for yellowfin and dorado. We stopped fishing when we all agreed that we could not fillet and freeze any more fish, and headed back to camp where Miguel and his young assistant filleted the fish for us, which we subsequently vacuum-sealed with the machine we had brought with us.

Our camper had three small chest freezers that were filled by the end of the second day’s fishing. It was time to call it a day and head back to reality. After a BBQ dinner of fresh yellowtail, we called it a night, and were on the road the next morning as the sun was coming up.

A straight run back up to Mexicali, an easy border crossing, and enough fish to last us until next year, when we head back down to look for that elusive marlin. 

Miguel’s Sport Fishing Charters, +52 646-290-7270
Campo Sirena Campground, +52 615-155-7197

Photo Dec 01 2023, 6 56 17 Amw
In addition to excellent fishing, Bahía Asunción offers incredible sunrises and sunsets.
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