At the tip of Baja, going chic to chic for a week, and learning the wahoo Watusi
“You see, Sweetheart, you can always tell where the fish are by looking at the birds. You find fish where they are diving into the water. Ricardo is probably taking us where those birds are over there.” The sun rose from the water, as it does here on the Sea of Cortez in the morning. From the waterproof speaker I brought along, Bob Marley sang “Jammin,” and I was feeling good about our chances of catching a nice fish or two. I was sharing with my wife my game-fishing wisdom, as we trolled for dorado and wahoo and whatever else might bite on our lines in the waters just north of San Jose del Cabo. We were the only two passengers on the 26-Foot “Lidia,” captained by Ricardo, a third-generation fisherman with Abigail Sportfishing out of La Playa. Ricardo’s family has lived and fished here for over 50 years. He is a no-nonsense fish captain, speaks good English, keeps his deck, cushions and bait tanks clean, his reels polished and oiled. He works swiftly, operates his boat with precision, and he is dead serious about catching fish.
We came to Los Cabos to see what the area has to offer OC families, both as a trip with kids and as a couple’s getaway. In a span of a week we visited and dined at four all-inclusive resorts spanning from the Pacific side of Land’s End (the tip of Baja) to Sea of Cortez side—Grand Solmar at Land’s End, Grand Solmar Rancho San Lucas, and Grand Velas. I wouldn’t recommend resort-hopping like this if you want to relax, but I get a case of what my wife calls FOMO (fear of missing out) when traveling.
If you are not familiar with the “all-inclusive” term, it’s a plan that offers room, dining and drinks for one price, which is great if the food and drink selection is at your level of preference. Not only was this the case at each of these resorts, but the dining at both the Grand Solmars and Grand Velas is world-class.
At the Grand Solmar Land’s End Resort, we dined at La Roca, which sits on the beach and is perhaps the most grand and beautiful oceanfront setting in Cabo, while Executive chef Alberto Collarte narrated each plate as it was served, sharing his knowledge of the local fish and even how it should be killed when caught—with a knife blade through the brain from the top of the head, shutting down the hormones to keep the meat from going sour. Collarte actually went out with the local fishermen who provide to the restaurant and showed them how switching to this method would result in sweeter fish that would bring them a better price.
At five-star Grand Velas, which is jaw-dropping luxurious and arguably the finest resort in Los Cabos, the signature restaurant, Cocina de Autor, is helmed by two-star Michelin chef, Sidney Schutte. The Autor experience is an 8-10 course tasting menu showcasing the finest fresh produce and local meats and seafood, with a wine pairing. Six other restaurants join Autor at Grand Velas, featuring everything from indulgent tomahawk steaks (Velas 10) to delicate French cuisine (Piaf). Check the website for foodie events during your visit.
Villa del Palmar is representative of a number of the more value-focused resorts for families. While it is a couple of tiers below the level of the Grand Solmar properties and the exquisite Grand Velas, it is priced with all-inclusive starting at around $160 per person, per night, and it won’t disappoint for a family stay due to its consistent food and drink, its proximity to a swim beach and a pool with an orca slide, a grotto and a waterfall.
I golfed on the newest course in the area, the Greg Norman-designed Rancho San Lucas, where the highlight for me was the multiple refreshment huts with complimentary tequilas, cocktails and food, all part of the green fee. And we fished the waters off Los Cabos in a panga (a small open boat) on one beautiful morning, spotting humpback whales and catching some very fast and very strong fish. More on that later.
One tip on the fishing: have a plan as to how to get it home. We improvised, but got it to Orange County and still have filets in the freezer. Bring an ice chest and ice with you when you go fishing, and utilize the guest freezer at your resort. If you are wondering, children are allowed out fishing (check with the captain before you make your reservation), but they should stay seated (everyone should most of the time), and I wouldn’t recommend kids under 9 years on the small pangas that can get frenetic when a fish is hooked.
Most all of Los Cabos is family friendly, with some caveats. Pick your beaches carefully. The surf on the Pacific side of the tip is not recommended for wading or swimming, due to strong undertows.
The whole family will still spend plenty of time in the water with all of the spectacular pools at the resorts. Most places have a family pool and a quieter adult pool. Some have pools with sandy beaches, pools with swim-up bars, pools that border guest-room patios. At Grand Solmar Rancho San Lucas, a mini waterpark features corkscrew slides and a rope swing. If you want to paddle board or kayak you can—in a saltwater lagoon that winds through the Rancho San Lucas property.
Most resorts have kids clubs. Grand Velas has a Kids Club for ages 4 to 12 and a separate Teen’s Club, where 13-18 year-olds dance until midnight, drinking stylish mocktails, singing karaoke, playing billiards and ping pong.
When folks think of Mexico getaways, Cancun and Cabo first come to mind. They are very different from each other. Cancun has a greater diversity of activities all around the Cancun/Riviera Maya area, but Los Cabos, which is comprised of Cabo San Lucas and the quieter community of San Jose del Cabo, is more accessible to OC. Cancun is a four-and-a-half-hour flight from LAX to Cancun. There is no direct flight to Cancun from John Wayne/Santa Ana Airport, but there is a direct flight to Cabo, and it’s only a 2:15 flight time. Then there’s the weather. Unlike Cancun, Cabo never gets humid, as it’s basically a desert that meets the sea. The best time to visit Los Cabos is between spring break and June, before the seasonal storms arrive.
Meanwhile, back on the boat…
“Ricardo, is that a bite? I asked as one of the poles at the rear of the boat—one of 6 poles we have in the water—bends and wiggles.
“Wahoo,” he says, cutting the motor and clutching the pole in an instant, waiting for another strike, then the pole tip dipped again and Ricardo set the hook with a good yank. “Take it,” he said.
“Sweety, why don’t you take it. I’ve caught fish before, and this could be our only one.”
“No, go on and take it. I know how much you’ve been wanting to catch a fish.”
“Somebody take it,” Ricardo said.
Wahoo. It’s a fish whose name describes the experience of reeling it in. It’s not the biggest fish out here, but pound for pound, it’s one of the best fighters because it is lightning fast. With speeds topping 60 mph, this torpedo with fins can get your reel screaming, and yards of monofilament can spin off in seconds if you don’t take command.
I took the pole and began a strange dance, a sort of wahoo Watutsi, with Ricardo calling out my moves like a deejay. My flip flops slapping on the boat deck, shuffling to the left, shuffling to the right, the small boat rocking with my shifting weight, tip up, tip down, shuffle left, shuffle right, the butt of the pole digging into my thigh. I did as Ricardo ordered, “Keep the tip up. Crank it. Don’t let the fish get near the engine. Pull the rod back. Reel it in as you go down. Look at your line. Don’t let it go out when you crank it.” I knew these things, but in the excitement in catching my first wahoo, I forgot how to fish. I knocked the ratchet switch on the reel as I was cranking, and the line began spooling out. “Give it to me,” Ricardo shouted, as he grabbed the pole, reset the switch and took over for a moment to save the fish, before handing it back. “Here,” Ricardo said, “Don’t hit that switch again or we lose the fish.” After a 5-minute struggle that felt like a 12-round fight, I got the wahoo to the side of the boat and Ricardo gaffed it aboard and organized the catch. “No more music when we have a fish,” said Ricardo. “You need to fish only.”
“You get the next one, Honey,” I said to my wife, sitting down, my ego smashed like guacamole. Ronda caught a nice dorado, making it look easy, and I had the fish of the day after her, a big dorado that fought with spectacular aerials. Ego restored, for now, at least.
Written & Photographed By Randall Tierney