Roosterfish! Exotic Fishing Photos from Baja Mexico's Sea of Cortez

The first time I saw a photo of a roosterfish, I couldn't believe my eyes. They looked like the world's weirdest fish!
About ten years ago I found out about them on the internet. I was thrilled with the fact that they get huge (the world record is over 100 pounds) and are caught in ultra shallow water. I became obsessed with catching one. Eventually I got into kayak fishing in the East Cape of Baja and learned how to catch them by trolling live bait like mullet or sardines behind my kayak. Here is a photo of the biggest one I ever caught, almost ten years ago. It was about 50 pounds.
 It was a tricky proposition because I had to keep the live bait in a bucket that I'd drag behind my kayak, and every time I'd let out a bait, I had to worry that the ravenous bandito needlefish were going to eat it. I kept two sardines pinned on hooks, and let them swim just off the side of my kayak so the pesky needlefish wouldn't venture too close and eat them. When I saw a rooster pass by me, I'd let a bait out.
Here's a photo I took of a smaller rooster that I released after catching it mere yards from the shoreline.

This was tons of fun but very hard work, and the equipment that I was using was rather primitive compared to fishing from boats. I even wedged the rods beneath my legs in lieu of rod holders.
Half of the battle was keeping covered up, surviving the blistering heat and sun, and keeping my bait alive.  In August the Sea of Cortez is so warm that I got little relief splashing ocean water over my head, so I had to take a cooler of ice and stuff it in the back of the yak.After much effort and patience I caught and released some big roosterfish (pez gallo in Spanish) and wrote many stories about my time on the water chasing these wonderful fish. Click here if you want to read one of them: Kayakfishing for Roosterfish Story

Years later I put down the rods and switched from kayak angling to big fish fishing photography for magazines, travel bureaus, and calendars. In fact, my new 2012 Offshore Angler Fishing Calendar published by Willow Creek Press is now available online and in stores, and here is what it looks like:
In any case, when I took up fishing photography, my interest in roosterfish returned. Once again I became preoccupied with these elusive, wild looking sea creatures. This time, however, I didn't want to just catch and release them from kayaks, I wanted to capture them on camera. A return trip to Baja was needed!

I hadn't been to the East Cape of Baja in many years and it was great to see all of my old friends. Luckily for me the roosters were around and biting, and I was able to get a lot of photos. Fishing photography requires a lot of luck, and I have taken many trips that have resulted in nothing. This time I hot the jackpot! Here's a big roosterfish looking at me like he's ready to pounce. This is probably the last image that many baitfish saw before they were eaten!
Below is a shot that shows how close they get to the beach. People even catch them from shore. That's one thing I have yet to do. Imagine hooking a 70 pound gamefish from shore! In fact a fellow named Gary Barnes-Webb, one of the world's most experienced roosterfish anglers, was spooled by a monster roosterfish while angling from shore while I was there. That means the fish emptied all of the line from his reel and kept on going! This one below has his trademark dorsal fins swept back.
Below is a roosterfish picture you're not likely to see often: two roosterfish in one image! Keep in mind each one was over 40 pounds. 
Some photos in this blog have blue water while others have green water because the fish were caught in different depths and locations. In my experience, blue water is usually clearer and better for fishing. If you show up for a fishing trip and they tell you the water is green, that's not good news. Then again this may not be true in all areas, just in the following areas I have fished: California, Mexico, Hawaii, Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica, and Guatemala.  If green water means good fishing where you live, contact me, as I'd be interested in hearing about it.

What do roosterfish eat? Well, as you can see in the above photo, I got to swim in the middle of a school of baby caballitos and I'm sure a roosterfish would have dined heartily on these tender morsels. This bait ball was feeding ravenously on small red pieces of spongy material that was so brightly colored I thought it was going to sting me. Look at how the bait is making the water boil at the surface. Pretty cool, huh? I was so stoked to be in the middle of all of this that I forgot to take my lens cap off and took about 150 shots with it on. Thanks Gosh I realized my mistake!
In addition to roosters, I got photos of some other interesting fish. Here is a underwater photo of a bull Dorado that ate a "hoochie" lure:
There were also plenty of Pompano. These fish are medium sized and fight dutifully for about 5 minutes. They'd be perfect for kids to catch because unlike roosters, they don't take a lot of muscle and strength to beat.
In addition to Roosterfish, Dorado, and Pompano, I also caught a striped marlin. I found that in some ways, they are harder to catch on a boat than a kayak. Pretty strange, huh? Years ago I hooked, fought, and released a bunch of striped marlin from kayaks on National Geographic TV's "Hooked: Monster Fish II" (click here to see Jon Schwartz on Nat Geo), and now that I have caught one from a boat, I can compare the two experiences.

Although each one of the marlin I caught from kayaks gave me a good workout, I don't remember feeling as exhausted and drained as I was after I caught this one from a boat! I'm embarrassed to say it took me over an hour. I wasn't using very heavy gear and the fish and I were locked in a stalemate. By the time it surfaced I was spent but I wanted some pics so into the water I went with my camera.
Interestingly, when I dove in with the marlin, I noticed that it has a tag in it. It had already been caught, tagged, and released by another angler. Below is a picture that shows the tag that was placed in him by another angler at an earlier time. Who knows when that was? Months? Years?
After we removed the hook, we sent the striped marlin back off to the briny depths from whence it came, a fitting end to another spectacular Baja adventure.