Sunday, July 17, 2011

Extreme Roosters

Ranging from Peru to the state of Baja in Mexico, the roosterfish is one of the hardest fighting fish in the Eastern Pacific Ocean for the inshore species. A member of the jack family, by combining brute strength with a bad attitude, makes the rooster a world class game fish.
There are several ways to fish for Pez Gallo (Pez guy-yo), and most of them involve being on the back side of the breaking waves, which are crashing on the shoreline. The closer you can get to the breaking waves, the higher your probability of hooking up. Innovation, quality gear, and the ability of using multiple methods for catching these hard fighting fish should be on every serious rooster fisherman’s resume.
The methods to get a rooster are numerous. I have caught 6 roosters in one morning while fishing with Captain Margarito on the Gaby, a 30 foot cruiser. We were fishing conventional gear, with dead bait, rigged and trolled in the same manner you would for sailfish. These fish all averaged about 45 pounds, with the largest at about 52 pounds. But, the surf, being pushed by a tropical storm a 1,000 miles off the coast, was huge that day. It was a surfer’s dream come true.  However the surf was so strong, even the roosters were having a hard time with it, and chose to sit out in the 20 to 25 foot water; which is exactly where we were. Using a diving plane, we got the bait down to the middle of the water column, and scored big.
Usually the most accepted productive way is to fish for roosters is from a panga, and staying in the 10 to 16 foot water depth. A panga is more versatile than a cruiser, has more speed, and is definitely more maneuverable. This allows you to get in close to the waves and make your cast, or troll your bait closer to the “productive zone”. A wave starts to vertical, just before it forms its curl, in about 8 feet of water. In 6 feet of water, the wave is committed. When the roosters are actively feeding, this is where they will be. But, this is not where you want to be in a boat. The 6 to 10 foot wave would have your boat’s name plastered all over its face, and it would be a very nasty ride to the beach, causing possible injury, loss of gear, and damage to the boat and motor. And, if you are not too badly hurt, it is a long walk home.
Different methods to catch roosters involve trolling dead bait, slow trolling live bait, casting live bait, casting a surface popper, or using a kite with live bait. Anything you can possibly do to get you as close to the shore line and that magic 6 foot of water depth, will up your odds from either having a skunk day, or a great day. 
When cruising along in 12 feet of water, and casting a 4.5 ounce popper or lure will get you another 120 feet or so closer to the shore, but too often; this is not enough to reach the “zone”. The waves are usually setting up too far out, making it impossible to reach the foam. And, at the edge of the foam is where you want your hook to start out, for the retrieve back!
This brings us to Extreme Rooster Fishing. You actually go into the waves, make your cast, and then get out, as quick as you can. Whether you toss a popper, live bait, or any other artificial, the edge of the foam is where you want to make your cast. Extreme fishing for roosters takes you inside the surf break, so you had better have a captain who knows the local conditions. Plus, you need to have a lot of faith in the captain. A lot of faith!  
In Zihuatanejo there are a few captains with the skills it takes to time the larger wave sets, allowing the opportunity to get in close to the beach, and giving the angler a shot at a “cast into the foam”. I would list Adolpho and Cheva on the pangas Dos Hermanos I, and II as being the best. Arturo, on the panga Janeth is another, as well as Temo on the Sequestra Amor. Jose in Puerto Vicente Guerrero also does very well.  But, all of them are handicapped by the wood/fiberglass cabaña shade cover they have over their pangas. They understand their boat is a bit top heavy, and have to adjust the safety factor accordingly.
The last thing you need, when going up a developing 10 foot wave face at a 45º angle to the vertical, and on a 45º angle to the horizontal, is a top heavy boat with a cabaña, outriggers, etc. Regardless of the boat, when you go over the top of a near vertical wave, it is a bone jarring experience. The bottom of the boat just free falls forever, and slams into the ocean several feet below.
For real extreme fishing, use an open panga. This is where Ramon, Samba, and Adrian in Majahua, and Julio in Puerto Vicente Guerrero excel. Majahua is about an hour’s drive to the north of Zihuatanejo, and Puerto Vicente Guerrero is about an hour and a half south. Born and raised in their respective areas, they know every rock and sandy point better than anyone alive. They use open pangas, and as long as the fishermen are sitting down, they can actually be inside the wave break, and safely chase it out until they can pop over. Boat balance is everything. If you stand up at the wrong time, you are over the side.
These large waves are coming in from the open Pacific, and are not like the calm waters off the beaches of the Sea of Cortez side of Baja.  On the West Coast of Mexico, a 6 foot wave is average, with swells to 8 or 10 feet not being uncommon. With Cheva, on the Dos Hermanos II, we once went over a rouge wave with a face of at least 30 feet.
So everybody has to be tuned in as to the balance of the boat, the waves, and the fact the captain cannot help you fish. You are on your own.  But, that is what you wanted to do in the first place. You want to make the cast, make the hook set, and then fight your own fish. This is what it is all about.
 I have actually been inside the white water, with more waves rolling in on us, but the captain got us out. We were so close to the beach, the propeller was digging up sand. I had no other option than to make my cast parallel to the beach, and hang on. The captain has to be very intense as to what he is doing, as well as the angler. Each person has their responsibilities, and everything must be perfect for a successful chance. And, after the perfect boat position and the perfect cast, enters the factor the roosters may not have been there in the first place.  Now you have to do it all over. The captain watches for the large wave sets, which is what the surfers love, but a potential disaster to a panga. After the sets come in, the panga races into the skinny water again, you make your cast, and then get the Hell out of there.
After the cast, and while you are getting out of the surf zone, leave your reel in free spool when casting live bait. With lures or poppers, use a very light drag setting. You only want enough drag to set the hook. More drag than that and either the rod goes over the side, or if you hook a very large rooster, maybe even you with it. These are voracious bone jarring strikes. Be sure to have a minimum of 250 yards of line or backing on your reel. A big rooster wants to slug it out in the surf. It is not until he tires will he come out into deeper water. For safeties sake, you must fight the fish out beyond the surf break, and wait for the rooster to come to you.
When fly fishing with clients, I use a hookless popper, and leave the bail open on the spin reel. I do not start my retrieve until the boat is out in the safe zone again. The rooster, when he is really in the feed mode, will come out into the deeper water chasing the popper. In fact, you may only see one rooster on top, but two or three may be down below following the same popper. This makes for an easy cast and hookup for the fly fishing client.
Whether it is a hook-up, or a dry run, it does not really matter. The excitement is so intense, and with the shoreline scenery of palm tress, white sand beaches, and mangrove lagoons, the day goes by too quickly. The actual act of catching a rooster is just the justification of doing it again. However, it is best to have experienced the other methods of catching roosters before you graduate to Extreme Rooster Fishing like this, because it is not for the novice, nor for the faint of heart. But, be forewarned, you will catch more roosters by being on the inside of the waves, than by using any of the other methods.
Ed Kunze