The goal - an enjoyable, refreshing father-son getaway filled with fish, old friends, and laughs - seemed simple enough, you might say. However, in this day and age, such a retreat is hard to come by. Vacation spots and resorts tend to be glorified adaptations of everyday life, giving constant reminders of the ever-present rat race. Rather than being the quiet escapes they were intended to be, lodges and hotels run amuck with the fast-paced life that vacationers intend to flee. The secluded getaway is a lost art, and a dearly missed one at that. But one on the East Cape of Baja, overlooking the stunning Sea of Cortez, such a place indeed thrives.
Ryan Lawler with roosterfish prior to release. This year has been one of the best on record for big roosters, pargo, and pompano.
Our arrival at Rancho Leonero brought with it the immediate and exquisite feeling of peace and relaxation. Within an hour of arriving on the beautiful grounds, the four of us, (myself, my dad, Drew Lawler, and Ryan Lawler) had eaten our share of chips and fresh guacamole and had sunken into the trance that "The Ranch" affects on you. Although only a short two-hour plane flight complemented by a 45-minute bus ride away from home, we felt as if we had traveled back in time. Work, school, stress, etc. was all forgotten in mere instances. I was passed-out asleep on the breathtaking beach in front of the hotel, Ryan was alongside me, reading, Drew had already taken to a kayak, patrolling the shoreline waters for whatever he could find, and my dad had donned a mask and snorkel and a sling to explore the nearby rock formations that the beach front offered. And the day was finished off with The Ranch's famous Saturday night family-style ribs.
Owner John Ireland purchased the property known as Rancho Leonero in 1981 after falling in love with the personality and scenery of the East Cape. It originally consisted of simply the main house, now the dining and bar area. Since then, 34 rooms have been added, but its original rustic feel remains to this day. Classic palapa roofs, stone walls, and tile flooring give visitors an immediate feel for the character of the place. Ireland is intent on keeping the resort intimate and personal, focusing on superb service and home-style atmosphere. he claims to have no intention of expanding Leonero beyond its current size. Rooms are simple and well kept, there's no TV other than the community one in the dining area, and meals are served there three times a day, announced by the throwback dinner bell. Ireland himself can often be found walking the grounds, mingling with guests and eating in the communal dining hall, adding to the overall homely feel of the place. It is not uncommon for visitors to interwine and share tables at meals, reliving the fishing experiences of the day and many times sharing the very fish they caught. This is a unique, special and rare atmosphere.
When the dinner bell rings (literally), the dining patio provides sunset views and sumptuous meals. Guests often dine on fresh fish that other anglers bring in daily
We were on one of the Ranch's cruisers by 6:30 the next morning, intent on hitting some dorado. Our captain said the dorado bite had been slow lately so we decided to stay close to shore in the morning, hunting for roosterfish, jacks, and sierras while paying close attention to outside radio chatter pertaining to dorado. All morning we had a blast on light tackle, reeling in rooster after rooster, with an occasional sierra and an isolated jack. My dad had the steals of the day, pulling up the largest rooster as well as the only jack. Drew was excited about notching his first-ever roosterfish. Roosters were extremely pretty and thrilling fish to watch in action, with their infamous dorsal fins protruding from the water as they chased out live bait. Even the smaller ones provided to be an engaging fight on the light tackle we were using. But roosters could only entertain us for so long.
Around noontime we decided to thy our luck outside with dorado and marlin, despite the absence of any significant radio indications. Since it was a good hour trek out to blue water, Ryan and I took advantage of a nap opportunity.
In the distance we sighted one or two marlin jumping, as well as some flying fish along the way, but no such luck with dorado. We patrolled around for another hour or so without seeing so much as a floating stick. It just wasn't our day for dorado. As we got back in close to shore, Ryan insisted on hunting some bottom-dwelling pargo, so we tossed our anchor and threw our links in. Luckily for us Ryan proved to be the pargo king, reeling in fish after fish that would later serve as our dinner. When he'd had his fill, we called it a day, heading back to the cool respite of Rancho Leonero.
Don't forget to thumb the reel! Roosterfish pull harder and faster than you'd imagine.
I truly believe that a good fishing trip is characterized not only by the amount of fish reeled in, but the way the day is concluded. Rancho Leonero is a picturesque place to end a good day of fishing. We relaxed on the hammocks, jumped in the pool, sipped cokes, and ate homemade chips and guacamole as we awaited dinnertime. The cook prepared our pargo and sierra fresh for us, much of which we were able to share with our fellow guests. After more good company and a few laughs, we turned in for the night, completely satisfied and excited for the next day's adventures.
The following day we were set up on Ireland's personal boat for more rooster and jack hunting in the morning. But the bite started out a bit slower than the previous day, and the sierra began living up to their pesky reputation. We lost lines galore to the sierras' viciously sharp teeth before the roosters returned. Ryan and I got hot early and had hooked up on four or five roosters before the Dads' luck caught on. About eight fish in, I hooked up on a rare pompano - a beautiful, good-sized, delicious fish - that proved to be the catch of the trip.
All morning we stayed inside, waiting, hoping for a good dorado report that never did come. Fortunately, Rancho Leonero has more to offer than just fishing. So the four of us spent all afternoon venturing up and down the beautiful coast on the Ranch's ATV's. We had a blast exploring, ending the day wondering how such a stunning area had been able to stay so secluded and natural for so long.
Impressed with our experience at Rancho Leonero, we left for the airport that evening. This trip had proven to be exactly what we were looking for: the perfect spot for a father-son getaway. Secluded, peaceful, and renewing. The Ranch offers a lost-and-forgotten form of vacation. Fishing was great, and the experience and refreshment we encountered was even better.