Baja’s Rancho Leonero Resort remains a kayak angler’s best option for exotic action.

by Paul Lebowitz for Western Outdoor News Summer 2010

EAST CAPE – Rancho Leonero Resort put kayak fishing on the Baja map all the way back in 1996. Considering kayak fishing’s meteoric growth in the past decade, most of the people who now call themselves kayak anglers had yet to discover the sport when John Ireland invited the pioneering Dennis Spike down for that first exploratory trip.

Ireland’s foresight and Spike’s promotional activities were instrumental in founding an incredible East Cape kayak fishing legacy. Just as Hollywood legends such as John Wayne and Bing Crosby did in the early days, this is the place to battle bruisers, to push personal limits, blow off steam and get away from the everyday grind.

Notable East Cape kayak catches include yellowfin up to 70 lbs, roosterfish in the same class, and the first widely known leadering of a blue marlin. Although that powerhouse didn’t make it to a scale, it was ball parked at 300 lbs.

Of course most kayak anglers who make the trip set their sights lower, either by aim or intention, on 20 to 40-lb dorado, tuna, and jacks. Between May and October there’s usually something that passes for a glamour fish for ‘yakers.

I stopped by recently to check out Rancho’s nearly 15-year-old kayak fishing scene, fortuitously bumping into resort manager Gary Barnes-Webb at the classic tile bar. Everyone who visits should perch there for an hour or two to get into the proper Baja state of mind, and key into the rhythms of life at the resort.

• PADDLE FISHER’S PARADISE – Rancho Leonero’s rustic rooms rise on a point overlooking the often morning placid and fish-rich Sea of Cortez. The Resort’s kayak fleet is in excellent condition, just waiting on the beach.

• YOU CAN’T GET THIS JUST ANYWHERE - Kayak caught tuna are hard to come by. At Rancho Leonero they are a realistic possibility. I’ve hopped rides to the zone before wetting a line, but others have found tuna success paddling out from the beach.

It took only minutes chatting with the affable South African to learn why the kayaks on the beach are in near-pristine condition. The fishy mix includes Ocean Kayak Prowler 15s and 13s as well as Hobie Quests, Outbacks, and even a couple of fully rigged Pro Anglers. Barnes-Webb is a frequent kayak angler himself. He knows what visiting kayak anglers want and expect in order to fulfill their fishing goals.

I can’t stress that enough. When you come here, you won’t have to worry about basics such as whether that rental kayak will float or come with a seat that still has its straps.

That attention to detail is found throughout the resort. Oh, its still Baja rustic, quiet and calm, but a clean and well oiled apparatus. The basic rooms – and they’re all roughly the same except for the views – are thatch roofed and blessedly lack televisions. Meals, included in the price, are served on a terrace overlooking the beautiful sea of Cortez. They’re quite tasty, so much so that Saturday’s rib night pulls in locals from all around the East Cape. The hotel is suitable for families too, with a gorgeous pool, that lovely beach, and excellent snorkeling just offshore.

Kayak anglers have two basic options when they visit. You can toss a couple of ‘yaks into a panga or cruiser and run between likely areas, or paddle out from the beach to fish the nearby zone.

Lacking time and with tuna a good hour’s boat ride south in Frailes, I jumped on a cruiser crewed by Flaco and Juan. This could be an uncertain proposition in other places that aren’t used to dealing with kayak anglers. Not in this case. The guys knew they were there as a support boat and water taxi, to put me into position to succeed or fail on my own in the best kayak style. They get it.

I had to put my time in on a picky bite on scattered fish, but sneaking off away from the boat fleet eventually paid off with a drag-ripping, wake-throwing sleigh ride. When that was followed by the tight spirals of a vertical battle, there was no doubt I’d up my kayak yellowfin count. If you haven’t had the experience, there just isn’t a better place to check off that box.

Those who prefer to stick with the purist route, to paddle out from the lovely crescent of sand that fronts the hotel, enjoy several options. A series of reefs extends out from the point. Beyond that are boat moorings that hold dorado at times. Jacks seasonally patrol the beaches. Those who look can find isolated and rarely fished structure along the deep water drop off. You might run into amberjack, jack crevalle, or even a bonus-sized rooster that doesn’t know it should be up on the beach instead.

Now that Spike’s gone off to Central California in semi-retirement, Rancho Leonero’s kayak fishing trips aren’t advertised as prominently as they once were. Don’t be fooled. They are just as available and productive as always.

The East Cape remains the best exotic fishing destination, easily accessible and still surprisingly affordable when compared with other blue water offerings. With an unparalleled 15 years of kayak fishing experience, there isn’t another resort in the world that can match Rancho Leonero. This place has truly grown up with the sport. For big game kayak anglers, it’s a must visit.

Gearing up for the East Cape

Kayak anglers headed to the East Cape don’t need to get too fancy. The same gear that produces in La Jolla will do the job. With no kelp to tangle in, and generally few other structures to deal with, the East Cape is a light liner’s paradise.

Most important is a 30-lb trolling rig, preferably a lever drag that can control a big live bait. Mullet are the primary fin bait used to tantalize the roosters. A high-speed 5-1 or better reel on a 25 to 40-lb rod will be nearly as indispensable for jigging yo-yo irons and Megabait-style lures for tuna, snappers, and other deeper water fish. For gamesters such as smaller jacks and triggerfish, you’ll want a lighter setup suitable for casting spoons and other hardbaits. Krocodiles, Kastmasters, smaller Rapala CountDowns and the like are great for casting from the beach or over shallow water reefs. The rest of the tackle you’ll want is basic, a wide variety of baitholder and circle hooks, fluorocarbon leader material, and extra line to respool your reels.

If you’re particular about your paddle or PFD, consider bringing your own. Round out your kit with a gaff, pliers, a fish stringer, a paddle leash, and a knife. Portable fishfinders are essential for finding isolated structure – strongly consider bringing one, along with a portable live well. For your personal comfort, pack a good hat and sunglasses and strong sunscreen, and use them.