I awoke to a cell phone alarm in the dark at 5am in a strange place on a uncomfortable mattress, I peered around a small room, everything tasted vaguely of tequila. I stared up at a ceiling fan, it spun slowly with a slight wobble suspended from a wooden beam ceiling. “Oh right” I thought “I’m in Baja” Next to me in the dark my father rolled over and picked up the offending phone and silenced it. “Why do fish get up so damn early?” he asked out loud. “Because they hate us for what we do,” I replied. Unbeknownst to us, we became the subject of some fascination for the local guides. They don’t see much fly fishing in the Sea of Cortez. This is because fly fishing intentionally makes everything more difficult; making things more difficult is not the Mexican way.
We were staying in a small resort which had just the right amount of Baja funkiness to it. No pool (but they are building one), no room service, but fair prices and great hospitality. We had rented a small micro house called a casita which featured a bathroom, a swamp cooler, three twin beds, and a bar fridge. With three grown men sharing a poorly ventilated bathroom in Mexico, the amount of funkiness in the bathroom regularly escalated to way too funky. I’m talking George Clinton levels of funk. If we got to James Brown someone might die. We headed off into the predawn gloom and walked down a dirt road to the cantina that served as the nexus of all things at the resort. Inside we met our fellow bleary eyed fishing buddies and a pack of Brazilian spear fishermen. They looked at our fly fishing tackle and giggled. They did not believe in making fishing more difficult, they believed in turning it into hunting. After a light breakfast we walked down to the beach to meet our pangas. A panga is a small, mass-produced fishing skiff with an outboard motor and a mexican fishing guide with a nick name. They all had nick names, and part of the fun was trying to figure out how they got them. Our first guide was called “El Cebollo” which means “The Onion.” I kept wondering if maybe the guy was an onion farmer in the off season, or maybe he ate a lot of onions, then I spent a few minutes in very close proximity when it was hot out…mystery solved. The other guide who’s nickname was confusing was “Chameleon.” That one revealed itself because throughout the day he would change his shirt three or four times, and create different combinations of his long sleeve, short sleeve, bandana, no shirt options. We spent the days in hundred degree heat on small boats with two guys fishing and one guide per boat. We caught and released dozens of fish, and sweated and cursed together in Spanglish about the heat. The guides found our fishing odd. In addition to using improper tackle and only feathers tied to hooks, we didn’t want the fish to be gaffed, or clubbed and dumped in the boat, we just enjoyed the challenge of catching them on strange tackle. Fly fishermen are to fish what alien abductors are to country folk who’ve been into the moonshine. One minute they are afraid for their lives, the next they are in a weird foreign vessel and someone is coming at them with tools. Then splash back in the water a little worse for wear. I picture these fish being social pariahs after that. “Oh shit look busy, here comes Bob and you know he’s going to start with that whole I’ve been on a boat malarkey again,” the fish will say. Every other person who visits the resort and hires the guides to take them out hopes to come back triumphant with a game bag full of fish to show off, and maybe even eat some. The guides are accustomed to getting a cut of the fish for their own dinner tables. The resort itself caters mainly to spear fishing, which is pretty much the polar opposite of fly fishing. Every time a guide would gently unhook our fish and let it slide back into the water to tell crazy stories, they would sigh and look at us. We made sure to tip them well to keep everybody happy. One night over post fishing margaritas in the cantina the owner of the resort offered up a bit of converation. “It took me a while to convince the guides to toss your fish back, then it took another conversation to get them on board with the whole no gaffing/clubbing thing, but now they mostly get it. But,” he said… “they have a name for you guys.” “What is it?” A guy from our party asked. “Los hombres que juegan con la comida.” He said. “The men who play with food!”