Cedros Outdoor Adventures: Pure Baja Magic!


thelodgeWON’s Island charter trip with Cedros Outdoor Adventures turns up 20-, 30- 40- and even 50-pound yellows in afternoon surface melees, dorado, plus big calicos; the big star of the show is the new 8-room lodge that brings the operation to whole new level for up to 18 guests

BY PAT MCDONELL/WON STAFF WRITERPublished: Oct 17, 2013

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THE LODGE CONSTRUCTION, sturdy and stylish, took 3½ months, a minor miracle in Baja. It has eight rooms for up to 18 guests, three decks for sitting and dining, and an outdoor/indoor kitchen. It’s open-air design is perfect for the lee side of Cedros that gets little rain, enjoys wind protection from the mountains, and cooler temps by far than the peninsula.

PUEBLO CEDROS, Baja California — At one time Cedros Island of the coast of Baja, halfway down the peninsula, was unattainable for 99 percent of Baja enthusiasts. Yacht owners and long range boaters and a few hardy types were the lucky ones who would take their boats over from Santa Rosallita 50 miles to the north and Turtle Bay 30 miles due west to make the run. Commercial lobster fishing and storage of salt barged from the flats of Guerrerro Negro were the primary industries of generations of island families.

But the stories of epic fishing filtered out, either from yachties or those who fished multi-day boats out of San Diego. But for those without boats? Forget it. There was just no infrastucture of pangeros and transportation, but it had the elements there. A small hotel that took in visitors to the salt operation, a marina, and pangeros.

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THE PANGAS, MOST of the new, are powered by recently purchased 115 and 150 hp Yamaha outboards. The pangas have bait tanks, too. PHOTO BY FRED FAUSTINO

Less than 10 years ago, that changed when Jose Sanchez-Pacheco, a marina biologist, offered outdoor excursions and fishing to a few groups at first, and each year doubling as new guides and boats were added. A local hotel in town housed and fed the anglers, and Jose and his wife Melanie Lagamay used it as their base of fly-in panga operations. Another operation with a similar name came into the picture, and the operations have grown rapidly as the word of the island’s prolific yellowtail and bass fisheries — and it’s mild Baja weather — have become stuff of legends.

The WON trip for 11 anglers did nothing to tarnish that reputation. Despite some nasty winds during the two full fishing days, the island’s calm, protected lee side and coves proved bullet-proof on big calico bass, and slashing 15- to 50-pound yellowtail under bird schools, plus there were dorado in the mix.

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BIRTHDAY GIRL AMOR Sayler of Santee not only showed off her new Costas she won, but she’s enjoying the view from the deck of the Baja Magic Lodge. She was on the trip with her husband Bill, who in the other photo had just caught this yellowtail, one of their smaller fish. Most were in the 25 to 35-pound class.

Perhaps the biggest “star” of the trip and others before ours was the new 8-room cliff-top lodge with spectacular views of the coastline. Dubbed the Cabo Magic Lodge, it offers accommodations for up to 18 guests, with a three view decks, one for each floor of rooms, and the other for dining next to the indoor/outdoor kitchen.

“It took us 3 ½ months to finish,” said Jose. “I never want to go through that ever again the rest of my life, but we did it.” The concrete and wood lodge is built to last with a great style, and some of the wood used in the deck area and on one vertical beam were massive old beams with true Baja character that washed up on the other side of the island. But all else used in construction were new materials, much of it brought in from the mainland by pangas. He said the final screws on the door hinges on the final room were put in as the truck pulled with the Reebs Lures charter group that kicked off the season.”

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JOE GUMASKAS WITH of our group’s forkies.

“Let me tell you, it was great before, but look at that view. The rooms looking out to the ocean, and the decks are fantastic. It’s just a whole new experience,” said Mark Snitow of Lake Havasu City, a retired law enforcement officer and a bassin’ enthusiast who has fished with Sanchez’s operation the past four years (twice with WON). He had a personal best for yellowtail, a 35 pounder and a 7- to 8-pound calico on his very first cast of the trip. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said of the first-cast calico experience.

The third annual trip went flawlessly from start to finish. Well, almost, George Large of all people, who was on his second Cedros trip with WON and traveling with good friend Frank Yerich of Houston, Texas, forgot his passport back in Florida at the airport, but George was assured by Cedros Outdoor Adventures that while it was going to take some sweet talking with Mexican immigration officials at the Ensenada airport, he would very likely make it through the trip but would have to let the transportation staff and Melanie work it out with officials. No problemo.

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INDY, ONE OF THE five pangeros with Cedros Outdoor Adventures, holds a yellow and poses in front of unloaded yellows back at the marina. PHOTO BY JOSE SANCHEZ

The U.S. Border agent at San Ysidro was also forgiving, especially when George remembered his passport number. Who can do that? For most of the trip we joked that the motto of the day was “Lyin’ and Flyin.” That was, of course, not true. The key is just to tell the truth. If you I left it home, say it. If you say you lost the passport, especially when you are at the U.S. border, they cancel it. You don’t want that.

Why bring that up? Well, that just shows it pays to go with a reputable operation that works closely with Mexican officials and is there every step of the way. Our trip started as all Cedros excursions do, by meeting at Starbucks in San Ysidro, loading up the two vans with gear, and then caravaning two blocks in our vehicles to park in the secure $7-a-day lot. From there we crossed over and paid the $25 travel visa (good for 180 days) at the modern, new immigration and customs office.

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GOING ON! The bird schools of fish under the rampaging birds often resulted in an eruption of big yellowtail slashing after bait, then after lures. The afternoon action was quick and furious. WON PHOTOS BY PAT McDONELL

Then it was a one-hour ride to the Ensenada airport where Melanie was waiting for us. There was the unloading of our gear, inspections of bags and the successful effort to get George on the plane. Within 90 minutes were in the air and headed to Cedros Island, although we knew we’d only have two hours of fishing time at the most. We hardly had time to store away the beer in the fridge and admire the clifftop lodge before we were whisked off the awaiting boats.

We made use of our limited time, because the yellows were under the birds. Within 20 minutes our panga had three 20- to 25-pound yellows, one for each of us, that ate the iron and especially George and Frank’s Yo-Zuri hard baits, the sinking Sashimi Slider in the mackerel pattern slider that just killed it on every species. That was just a taste of it for us, and the other boats did as well or better than us. And among the bass fishing gang, it was a one-hour slam. Mark was almost delirious about that big first-cast calico. A great start!

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aseal1A SEAL JUST wouldn’t let go of this yellow that was at the side of the boat on the gaff being gill-bled by Indy when it attacked. Alas, Indy lost the tug o’ war but got the gaff back, a little bent from the 30 second battle.

We returned to a fantastic Mexican style dinner as the sun set over the island’s steep mountains behind us, the Pacific to the south shimmering in front of us with the help of a full moon. It is truly a spectacular setting on that outdoor dining (and drinking) deck. Each room has its own deck chair, as well, if you just want to chill, put on the headphones and read the Kindle. The lodge has 24-hour web access, too. The wives should be advised that even if they don’t fish, it’s old Baja in a new light.

That night this writer handed out the welcome packages to anglers made up of Yo-Zuri lures, hats, and their great pink flourocarbon line, all of it brought down by George, who is the VP of Yo-Zuri, so you can imagine how much stuff he brought!

The final night, as we celebrated a great trip and Amor Sayler’s birthday, we held drawings for Costa sunglasses, Lazer Sharp hooks packs, eight Turner’s Outdoorsman $25 gift cards and a mega $500-value Yo-Zuri product package made up of all the sponsors, which was won by Mark Snitow. Amor’s husband, Bill, ended up with a pair of white-framed Costas with 580 lenses, and he gave them to his birthday girl. This was their fourth trip to Cedros with Jose and Melanie. They had limits of yellows each day, some nice dorado mixed in you don’t usually see (I haven’t in two previous trips) and big calico bass. Amor says Bill enjoys long ranging, but Cedros is HER fishing spot. The fish are close, the seas are calm, and now the lodge.

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JOSE SANCHEZ AT the marina as he welcomes back and assists the group each day.

One trio of pretty good sticks who are ardent freshwater bass anglers got a full taste of the island’s prowess. They limited out on the yellows and decided that Jose was right, just release what you can’t bring home. Protect the fishery. Thus, Joe Gumaskas of Ventura, Timothy Weiss of Simi Valley and James Milbrand went out the final day and the next morning and just slammed the big bass and yellows.

“No point to killing them,” said Joe. “We had all the fish we can bring back that first day.” He said they had 20s, 30s and some 40s every day. And there was one big one on the last cast of the first full day. It was crazy.” That big one Joe mentioned was his 50 pounder, weighed at the dock. It was every bit of 50 and it was not easy for Joe, lifting it up for photo ops.

If there was a problem of the trip, besides the fish-stealing seals, it was that wind was a factor and on the second day, the gusts made it tough to get to deep-water bass spots like the first full day. When we left, the weather had changed and the conditions on all sides of the island were typical Cedros glass. The biggest calling card of Cedros, and there are a lot of them, is that the summer temps are 20 degrees cooler than on the Baja coast and Sea of Cortez and with the high mountains, fishing is done in protected lee-side waters and coves around boilers on the western shore. Most days, the kelp-laden reefs inshore and just off the island are a calico angler’s dream. Big bass, and lots of them.

A few more notes or observations about the operation: The beds are new, doubles, and good quality, with nice thread count linens. Hot water in the shower is “immediate” to conserve water. The “help” is everywhere. This isn’t roughing it. Fish is all filleted and frozen for free. Vacuum packing is $1 a bag, a nice option. Breakfast is ready before you leave, they pack a lunch and you can add to it if you like, and they can adapt to your tastes.

Also, the crew carries rods and packs to the truck that takes you to the marina, and puts the gear on the boat for you with coolers of drinks, and when you return, they grab all tackle bags and rods for the ride home. Rod racks are outside the rooms and the outfits are gently washed and wiped down. Nice. First class. Finally, if you like peace and quiet, no roosters and dogs, you are going to like the Cabo Magic Lodge. It’s on the edge of Pueblo Cedros.

Indeed, we looked forlornly at the island as we flew past the marina. Another great Cedros adventure with a top-notch outfit. A new group was coming in as we were getting off the plane with our packed fish bags at Ensenada, and we told them they were gonna have it all: Perfect conditions in Baja’s best playground for yellowtail and calicos.

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As usual, we had a great group. Anglers on the trip were George Large of Yo-Zuri and Jensen Beach, FL, and co-host Pat McDonell of WON, Frank Yerich of Houston, TX, Joe Gumaskas of Ventura, Tim Weiss of Simi Valley, Jim Milbrand of Van Nuys, Mark Snitow of Lake Havasu City, George Peterman of L.A., Fred Faustino of Garden Grove, Michael Morton of Big Bear City, Bill and Lourdes (Amor) Salyer of Santee, and Steve McKay of Santee

Many thanks to the staff of Jose Sanchez Pacheco and wife Melanie Lamaga who own Cedros Outdoor Adventures, our great lodge manager Orchid Martinez, and kitchen and lodge staffers Fatima Maldonado and Juanita Maldanado who created fantastic authentic Mexican cusine. Our hard-working, enthusiastic pangeros were Indy, Dengue, David, Castor and Jose.

More info, contacts for Cedros Outdoor Adventures

Cedros Outdoor Adventures is much more than just fishing trips. Jose Sanchez is a marine biologist and has studied the flora and fauna of the unique island and takes people on tours on foot, by car, by kayak and boat. See the website for the particulars.

There are some spots remaining the last two months of the season at reduced rates by $200 a person. See the website for details at cedrosoutdooradventures.com or call Melanie Lamaga at 1 (619) 793-5419.

If you are interested in next year’s WON trip this same time next year, call Mike Flynn at WON at (949) 366-0921.

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THE 13-SEATER plane and the WON group just before the flight back to Ensenada. You are limited to 50 pounds, and no rod cases. You pay a $1 a pound for overages both ways, so pack light!

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FAREWELL FROM afar as the group heads home.

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FILLET O’ FISH! These guys just look tough. They’re a good bunch with a soft touch and sharp knives for the filleting. You can take partially frozen fillets home in baggies or for one dollar per bag you can get them vacuum-packed.

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MARINE BIOLOGIST AND owner of Cedros Outdoor Adventures, Jose Sanchez, jokes around as he is asked to pose with his new 8-room Cabo Magic Lodge he and his wife Melanie built in the offseason.

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BY GEORGE! Yo-Zuri VP and co-host George Large caught this 40-pound forkie on this sinking Sashimi Slider hard bait in the mackerel pattern. The Slider with its “walking” motion outperformed all other artificials, such as surface and yo-yo iron and also caught dorado and even calico bass inshore and under the bird schools. Very versatile in all areas, and fun to fish with on quality spinning gear.

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THIS AVET/GRAFIGHTER setup, the author’s favorite for yo-yoing, caught a lot of fish iron, but after a slimy slip of the hand, now sits on the bottom of the ocean. Finders keepers, losers weepers.

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MARK SNITOW WAS mainly after bass, but this 35-pound yellow he said “Nearly put me in the hospital.” JOSE SANCHEZ PHOTO

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THE ROOMS ARE BIG. This is a panorama shot, obviously. The view from the rooms can be seen in the second photo.

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