We’ve heard a thousand stories about fishing in Cabo San Lucas over the years. Perhaps the most accurate of them all is this single, century-old quote:
“Nine Yellowfin Tuna, four over 150 pounds and the others around 100 pounds, in one day, for two anglers fishing within two miles of the shore. Repeat that for three days and you have a fishery unequaled anywhere.” – Zane Grey, Novelist
That is how Zane Grey, master storyteller and IGFA Hall of Famer, described the sportfishing potential of Cabo San Lucas some 100 years ago. The southern tip of Baja California has a longstanding tradition of leaving its visiting anglers breathless, as anyone who has fished here already knows. No matter how experienced you are, these waters will change the way you think about fishing.
Much has changed in the region since the days of Zane’s century-old Yellowfin frenzies. In those days, the only way to reach Baja’s fishing grounds was by setting sail and venturing south aboard your own vessel. Since then, an entire maze of roads, airports, and hotels has transformed Mexico into one of the hottest vacation spots in the world.
You’d be hard-pressed to find many similarities between the Mexico of today and what the country looked like in the 1920s. However, we’re pretty sure that Zane Grey would be pleased to know that the sportfishing grounds of Cabo San Lucas have remained virtually unaltered.
Every year, endless schools of anglers flock to Cabo’s welcoming shores. But unlike many other fisheries, these waters don’t seem to be affected by the crowds. Fishing in Cabo is as good as it’s ever been, and we’re about to show you why.
Destined for Fishing
The southern tip of Baja California is world-renowned for its pristine beaches. And thanks to premium scuba diving locations like the El Arco rock formation, Cabo is also the favorite front-page choice for countless travel brochures.
Fishing in Cabo San Lucas
When most people think about fishing in Cabo, the first image that comes to mind is usually a grander Marlin leaping out of the water. And for good reason; the city is home to the highest-paying Marlin tournament in the world. This place has probably seen more Billfish record breaks than any other location on the planet.
However, just as fishing the Riviera Maya is about much more than just Bonefish and Permit, Cabo has a whole lot more going for it than giant Billfish. Read on to find out exactly what makes Cabo San Lucas one of the most well-rounded fishing destinations in the Pacific.
Fishing Seasons in Cabo San Lucas
Cabo doesn’t really have a slow season. No matter if you’re an inshore angler or an offshore fisher, something’s always waiting on the other side of that line. Take a look at the seasonality for some of the most popular local gamefish here.
Deep Sea Fishing
Offshore fishing in Cabo is one of those things you’ve got to see to believe. With waters rife with just about every big game species you can think of, and new critters coming in each month, “slow season” seems to be a foreign concept in these parts. Let’s see which species you can catch in these deep waters.
Fishing for Striped Marlin
For ages, Cabo San Lucas has carried the title of “The Striped Marlin Capital of the World.” A tall order for sure, but boy does Cabo have the numbers to prove it. According to billfishreport.com, 2018 was an amazing year for Stripes, with a number of local captains tallying more than 50 Striped Marlin releases per day!
That’s a lot of Marlin. If you’ve never experienced the joy of catching one, all we can say is you’re in for a treat.
Known for their acrobatics, Striped Marlin are among the most active fish you’ll have on your line. The sight of them jumping out of the water is something you’ll never forget. And if the acrobatics aren’t impressive enough, just keep an eye on their bodies. When roused, Striped Marlin will put on a show by lighting up their stripes in brilliant shades of violet!
The peak season for Striped Marlin in Cabo runs from November to March, but you can catch them pretty much throughout the year. When we spoke to Jack Vitek, World Record Coordinator for the IGFA, he picked Cabo as one of the best Marlin fisheries in the world.
Trolling live bait is the method of choice for Striped Marlin. As most (good) guides will tell you, using circle hooks is a must. Circle hooks cause less damage to the fish, increasing its chances of survival post-release.
Want something a little more hands-on? Try fly fishing! Catching such a powerful fish with just a light rod in hand isn’t something many anglers are willing to try. However, to say that it’s rewarding would be an understatement. Thanks to the sheer number of Stripes in the area, there’s no better place to give this technique a try.
The offshore waters of Cabo San Lucas are home to many other Billfish. One of the fastest swimmers in the ocean, the Pacific Sailfish (Pez Vela) migrates through the area between January and March. Sails are pretty common in the 80–100 lb range.
And then there are the big boys. Blue and Black Marlin typically make their appearance between July and October. Mainly keeping to the Pacific side of the peninsula, these guys are frequent visitors to hotspots like the Golden Gate and San Jaime Bank.
Most Blue Marlin in Cabo San Lucas are males between 250 and 350 pounds. Fly fishing for a “grander” Black Marlin (over 1000 pounds) is obviously not feasible, however, you might want to keep an eye open for “rats” – Black Marlin weighing below 200 pounds. Anglers have reported concentrations of these fly eaters around Cabo several times before, so fly enthusiasts – take notice.
Obviously, not everyone is a Billfish enthusiast. Thankfully, Cabo’s got plenty of other fish roaming its waters.
Summertime in Cabo is the perfect opportunity to catch a Tuna or a Dorado. Yellowfins average between 8 and 30 pounds, but monsters in excess of 200 pounds aren’t uncommon at all. Heck, anglers come down all the way from San Diego searching for these guys.
As any seasoned deckhand will tell you, schools of diving birds are the tried and true sign that a Yellowfin school is close by.
Mimicking Cancun‘s seasonality, Dorado fishing peaks in July and August. Hungry Mahi often follow baitfish schools right into the shallows, so don’t be too surprised if your inshore trip ends with more than a few of these delicious fish in the bucket. Everyone’s favorite bycatch, Wahoo, patrol the area during the Summer and Autumn months.
While most traveling anglers will go offshore for their catch, exploiting the fertile inshore waterways is easily just as fun. Moreover, for families with kids, this might be the perfect way to get them into fishing.
The most coveted inshore catch in these parts is the Pacific Roosterfish, or as the locals call it, Pez Gallo. A member of the Jack family, the Roosterfish is endemic to the tropical waters of the Pacific and can grow in excess of 100 pounds.
Just as Cozumel is world-renowned for its perennial Permit fishery, the waters of Cabo are brimming with Roosters. If Cabo’s guides are to be believed, the local Pez Gallo population is greater than in any other fishery on the planet. Even Costa Rica.
True or not, there’s no denying this fish is extremely fun to catch. Whether you’re using light tackle or catching them on the fly, Roosterfishing is a blast. Although present year-round, the best time to target Roosters is in the summertime. Roosterfish like herding schools of baitfish against the beaches, so this is your best opportunity to catch them.
Another champion of the shallows, Sierra Mackerel, is a schooling fish best known for the explosive splashes it creates while hunting. The commotion draws the attention of various types of birds, which can serve as natural fishfinders.
A typical leader is probably not going to last very long next to Sierra’s razor-sharp teeth, so a wire is more than recommended.
Another reason for the Mackerel’s massive popularity? It’s often the main ingredient in “ceviche.” This seafood delicacy is best served with a side of sweet potatoes, avocados or plantain, and seasoned with chili pepper and citrus juices. Bon appetit!
Jack Crevalle, or Toro (Bull) to the locals, is perhaps one of the most overlooked inshore species. Be that as it may, the Bull is known to put up quite a battle on the fly. December through July is primetime for Jack Crevalle fishing. Toros between 7 and 20 pounds are regular catches, although 30-pounders aren’t uncommon on a good day.
Much like offshore fishing, there’s no off-season for fishing the shallows around Cabo. The rocky outcroppings are a great place for targeting the likes of Snapper, Hogfish, or Grouper. These guys will claw their way back into their lairs if you let them, so you better keep your guard up.
Cabo Fishing Grounds
Fishing-wise, Cabo couldn’t have asked for a better position. To the left, you have the bountiful Sea of Cortez, with its warm waters teeming with fish. To the right, you have the Pacific Ocean, a venue for the most spectacular angling you’ll ever see.
Both options boast equally exciting prospects for angling. Although you’re never going to find a line that separates the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific, the disparities between the two fisheries are more than obvious.
Let’s have a rundown of the major hotspots each side has to offer. We’ll cover species and seasonalities for each of these locales so that when the time comes to wet your line, you’ll know exactly where to head.
The Sea of Cortez
The Sea of Cortez is home to one of the most diverse marine ecosystems on the planet. Over 5,000 species of invertebrates and countless schools of alluring baitfish live in these temperate waters. Critters like Shrimp, Squid, Herring, Sardines, and Mackerel swim here in their millions.
To you, that might not sound like much, but to the local game fish, that’s like a feast in a 5-star restaurant. Close to shore, you’ll find plenty of Roosterfish, Snapper and Amberjack. Just a little further out, things get serious with offshore stars like Wahoo, Dorado, Tuna, Sailfish and Marlin.
Appropriately dubbed the “Wahoo Banks,” this has traditionally been one of the most popular fisheries in all of Baja California. Doubling as a terrific snorkeling site, this fishing gem is as close as 5 miles from the coastline. Located to the southeast of Cabo, the Gordo Banks are actually two fishing spots: the Inner and Outer Gordo Banks.
The former lie within easy reach of local pangas – sturdy (and cheap) open skiffs ranging in size between 20 and 28 feet.
The Outer Gordo Banks (about 10 miles out) are among the most productive spots in the area. Here, you can catch your fill of Dorado, Wahoo, Yellowtail, Jacks, Pargo, and Grouper. Big game anglers can expect to catch Tuna, Marlin, and Sailfish.
Peak migration times usually occur between April and November. However, thanks to the nearby Sierra Madre mountain range, big winds are not that common. This allows good fishing opportunities during the off-season as well.
For those determined not to leave Cabo without a story to tell, the 1150 Bank is the perfect choice. The bank lies 20 to 25 miles offshore, and sports a winning combination of underwater structures and baitfish, ideal for big game fishing. A great spot for both Marlin and Tuna, the 1150 is regularly frequented by several species of Sharks as well, particularly the Mako.
Santa Maria Canyon
A little closer to home, Santa Maria Canyon lies 9 miles due south of Cabo. The canyon is a common gathering place for Dorado, Tuna, and Billfish. Thanks to its proximity to Cabo San Lucas and San Jose Del Cabo, the Canyon is a great choice for when the seas are rough.
There’s much more to fishing in the Gulf of California than heavy-duty trolling for Billfish. Nowhere is that more apparent than around the Vinorama Canyon. Situated northeast from the Gordo Banks, this canyon does require a longer boat ride. But boy, is this place worth it.
Schools of Yellowtail mark the beginning of the year at Vinorama, with Dorado and Tuna taking over in early spring. What sets this place apart is that you can catch loads of reef fish here as well. Snappers come here throughout the year, so if you’re HEADING to Vinorama, get your coolers ready.
The Pacific Ocean
Take a right from Cabo, and you’ll quickly find yourself in the middle of the open ocean. Here, the Pacific currents bring the big and powerful of the game fish world. As many as 70 world records were set in these very waters.The best Cabo San Lucas fishing spots in the Pacific are:
45 Spot and the Cardonal Canyon
Just 6 miles west of the famous El Arco, the 45 Spot lies at the tail of a 600′ ledge of the Cardonal Canyon. The great thing about this spot is the ocean floor plummets to almost 3,000 feet, allowing for some truly spectacular big game fishing.
San Jaime Bank
If you ever wanted to fish in waters 3,500 feet deep, this is your chance. Located at the edges of the Tinaje Trough to the northwest of Cabo, San Jaime Bank is an underwater plateau featuring 3 seamounts which rise up to 150 feet. These seamounts lure schooling baitfish, which, in turn, attract great numbers of Tuna and Marlin.
This is Grander (1,000+ lb Marlin) territory, so you better bring your A-game if you want to catch these Billfish here.
Golden Gate Bank
Stationed north of San Jaime on the other end of the Tinaje Trough, Golden Gate Bank is often considered one of the best Striped Marlin hotspots in all of Mexico. Here, the Striper bite is traditionally red hot during winter and early spring.
For those of you who’d like to have their cake and eat it too, this is one of the best spots for Yellowfin Tuna fishing. Yellowfins over 100 pounds are common around the bank, and you can catch them from September through December.
If you’re the type of person that finds the prospect of double-digit billfish action appealing, you might want to check out the Finger Bank. The bank lies 50 miles from the Cabo San Lucas marina, and is a quintessential Marlin fishery.
To reach it, you’ll need to go past San Jaime and Golden Gate Banks. It’s a long voyage, and one that not a lot of anglers are willing to embark on. However, Finger Bank is precisely where the majority of those 100-Striper-a-day outings happened. Think about it. Yes, you’ll spend a longer time getting out there, but this place will give you 10 days worth of fishing on a single outing!
Fishing Regulations in Cabo
The waters of the Mexican Pacific boast an impressive diversity of both offshore pelagics and bragworthy inshore fish. Before you can wrestle one of these guys, you’re going to need a fishing permit. By law, any non-resident needs a valid Mexican Sportfishing License to fish from a vessel, regardless of age.
Roosterfishing inshore, deep dropping for Snapper, or overnight runs for Marlin all fall under the same set of rules put forward by Conapesca.
If you’re booking a fishing charter rather than operating the boat yourself, there’s a chance that your captain will cover the license for you. The larger vessels are more likely to operate in this way compared to the smaller pangas. Still, to avoid any unpleasant surprises on the day of the trip, you should make sure to ask your guide whether the licenses are covered or not.
In case your license is not included, you can easily purchase one online. Fishing from the shore doesn’t require a license. However, you must keep a safe distance of at least 250 meters (around 800 feet) from any swimmers. As far as other regulations are concerned, you may only have a single rod in the water at a time. For bottom fishing, you may use up to four hooks on a solo vertical line.
A daily bag limit in Mexico is 10 fish per person, with a few exceptions. You better get your calculators out for this one. You may keep no more than five specimens of a single species, and only one Billfish. That means that a single Marlin, Sailfish, or Swordfish count as half of your daily limit.
Similarly, you can’t boat more than two Mahi, Roosterfish, Tarpon, or Shad, which also amount to half of the daily limit.
In other words, although you may land up to 10 fish in a single day, it’s very important to note which fish these are. Theoretically, you max out your limit out by catching a single Marlin and two Dorados. Or just by catching a Sailfish and a Swordfish.
Of course, as long as you practice catch and release, you can have as much fun as you want. In fact, many local captains advocate catch and release fishing, especially for Billfish. Conservation is a big deal around here. It’s actually one of the main reasons why the fishery was able to retain its premier status for so long.
The Before and After
Cabo San Lucas is one of those places every traveling angler should have on their bucket list. Few fisheries on the planet will let you experience so much, so quickly.
With offshore monsters and inshore fighters aplenty, this place doesn’t make you choose between quality and quantity. Instead, Cabo lets you openly explore its plentiful waterways, no matter when you decide to do so.
By the time you’re done, this fishing town will see you off as a completely different angler. And those bragging stories you’ll have sure won’t hurt, either.
Got questions about fishing in Cabo San Lucas?
Don’t know which rod to bring, where to buy the best inshore lures in Cabo, or wondering about the best time to go after that Grander Marlin? Don’t hesitate to ask! We’re always happy to discuss fishing in Cabo.
Sean is an optometrist who left day his job to write about fishing. He calls himself a lucky angler because his favorite fish, Mahi Mahi, can be found almost anywhere – even though he’s lost more of them than he’s willing to admit. Obsessed by all forms of water sports, you’ll find him carrying one of three things: a ball, a surf board, or his fishing rod.