Shrimp goes after the marlin in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Taking some time to work on a project. Meanwhile, here’s a revised version of my adventures in Cabo San Lucas, when this shrimp decided to go marlin fishing years ago. First published in The Denver Post. Not a lot of pics because, as you’ll see, I was out of commission part of the time.


“You’re going marlin fishing?” Raised eyebrows and snickering.

Ernest Hemingway, I’m not. Not even a little. If he was the old man and the sea, I was the aging yuppie and the Jacuzzi. All 5 feet of me. Most fish he’d ever tangled with made me look like a shrimp.

The only fish I had any real experience with was Charlie Tuna in a can. And the mere thought of bobbing around in the deep made me woozy.

So what brought this on? Well, I’d long heard about a place at the tip of Mexico’s rugged Baja Peninsula: Cabo (The Cape) San Lucas, surrounded by the exotic-sounding Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean.  I was told it was one of the best places in the world to go big-game fishing, and anyone could.

I was also gently coaxed by John Steinbeck. In his book The Log From the Sea of Cortez he wrote, “The atavistic urge toward danger persists, and its satisfaction is called adventure.”

I’d already conquered freeways and TV news deadlines. Time for a reel, back-to-nature challenge. Time for the shrimp to meet the marlin.

I should say that though I detest hunting and should be a vegetarian, I make an exception for poultry and fish because I don’t do well without either, though I don’t feel great about that.  Unfortunately, whether I fish or not, it’s still going to go on. So I reluctantly took the plunge.

They say the odds of hooking a marlin are better in Cabo than almost anywhere. There’s a good reason: it’s at a rare crossroads, where the sea and Pacific Ocean collide. That makes for a fishbowl which, at the time, had more than 850 kinds of fish.

A local marine biologist tells me the time is ripe for marlin. And what’s so great about marlin? “It’s the top-of-the-line fish. You catch one, you’re a fisherman.”

The day before the trip I notice marlin being hauled to the dock by greenhorns like me. (The dozens of excursion companies will make a big ceremony out of weighing your catch.)

Roger’s the name of the skipper who will be showing me the ropes and fishing lines. He’s an ex-pat from chichi Sun Valley, Idaho, who came to Cabo years ago and “just ran out of highway.”

Roger might have been in a Hemingway novel if they’d ever crossed paths. He’s a Mexican jumping bean who makes entrances by somersaulting through doors.

But once aboard at 6 the next morning, he’s all business. I, on the other hand, am sleeping with my eyes open. If this is the seafaring life, I’ll take Manhattan.

But this is no time for sissies. I’m stuck with the big guys now: Roger; his longtime buddy, George; and the rest of the crew. Once the boat clears the dock, no turning back.

I slap on some wrist bands. Sea Bands. Remarkable Sea Bands, the package says. They’re supposed to ward off seasickness, which I’ve always been plagued with.

“What’s that”? Roger asks suspiciously. George, seeing I’m a bit jumpy about the whole deal, starts brushing his teeth with beer in an attempt to keep my spirits up and my food down. It works. For a while.

Captain Juan keeps his eyes on the road, a stunning expanse of navy-blue water. Roger says it will take a good three hours to get to marlin territory. “Pace yourself,” he says. Unsure what to do, I take a deep breath.

Since he and George have lots of fishing trophies between them, I need to know their secret. Sheer luck. “It’s like Vegas,” said Roger. “When it happens, it happens.”

The marlin, he explains, is a billfish. Its main weapon, besides its massive size, is its bill, which looks like a built-in spear.

And that, Roger says, is why fishing’s all about the machismo of matching wits with a rival. But he’s meticulous about where he hooks the creature because the objective is to free it after it’s caught. “With so many people fishing, we’ll run out of fish if we don’t. It’s better for the environment,” he explains.

[This was 20 years ago. He was sadly right about the environment. These days, there are big restrictions on the number of marlin and other fish caught for sport. Most must be released. Can only hope those laws are strictly enforced.]

Back to the past: Roger is a Vietnam vet who would rather not talk about the horrors he saw; and instead takes each glorious Cabo day as it comes. His buddy, George, from tony Santa Barbara, California, is trying to forget about a divorce. Lots of clowning around by us three stooges.

“This is happening,” says Roger, spreading his meaty arms. Almost on cue, porpoises frolic with tuna. Real, live tuna — no can.

“Time to fish,” he says. I help him lure the marlin with what look like plastic squid. The live mackerel bait are waiting on deck. I secretly feel sorry for those guys, staring at me. As if reading my mind, Roger gently explains about the food chain, and how all fish stand a good chance of being eaten by larger fish. OK. I guess.

Back to business. “That marlin’s one hungry dude,” says Roger. “The bait’s like an ice-cream sundae — he can’t resist.” Scavenger birds gather overhead. Where there’s birds, I’m told, there’s more fish.

Roger and me. I’m not well.

I try like heck to concentrate on the horizon while the boat lurches and races around. But my nausea is quickly gaining the upper hand. So much for Sea Bands.

I stumble to the bathroom, where I proceed to lose last night’s dinner. My crewmates offer sympathy; then pull out the video camera to capture my plight through the bathroom window. Not cool, I tell them. They stop.

I manage to recover as a marlin takes the bait. I help hold the heavy reel, coming face-to-face with a live one. (The fish, not Roger.) But the marlin gets away.

Birds get the leftovers. I know; that’s life.

Hours later, it’s Pacifico (a local brew) time at a local watering hole. My appetite’s finally returned.

I leave Roger dancing with a mop. Don’t ask. He’d confiscated my Sea Bands. Used them as ankle bracelets. Said that was all they were good for.

Though the big one got away — and I’m glad it did — I did catch a raging case of Cabo fever. I got hooked on a feeling. I miss the place and the people. The fishing? Not so much.

I won’t step foot on a boat again without ear patches or Dramamine.

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2 Responses to Shrimp goes after the marlin in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

  1. Robert F. Campbell says:

    I love this and when Bob wakes up I’m sure he will too. Thanks, great post.

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