Picture this; it’s a 75°F day in November, the sky is blue, and you’re with your best fishing buddy, 20 miles out in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in the center of the Mexican Riviera. As you peer across the water, you see thousands of birds feeding on millions of small bait fish as they are driven to the water’s surface by larger fish from below. With acres of bait fish breaking the surface, the entire area, as far as you can see, has an oily sheen and the smell of a fish factory. As thousands of dolphins are playfully flipping and twisting while feeding in this orgy and larger game fish are joining the birds in this feeding frenzy; it’s time to strap yourself in and get ready for action!
As 22 year residents of Vallarta, we’ve often had the privilege and good fortune to have been there and done it. If you’re a fisherman, life just doesn’t get any better. Before we go fishing, let’s first check out the marina. In the well protected Puerto Vallarta marina, you will see in excess of 400 beautiful boats including multi-million dollar mega-yachts from throughout the world, million dollar fishing boats, and many sail boats from around the world. Circling 80% of the marina’s perimeter, you’ll find over 100 fine boutiques and five star restaurants. Behind and above these establishments are condominiums, all having magnificent views of the marina with its colorful array of boats; what a glorious site!
Due to the popularity and explosive growth of Vallarta, this marina has been unable to meet the demand of the boat owners traveling to or retiring in Puerto Vallarta. Therefore, 40 years ago, Nuevo Vallarta, five miles north, was developed around an upgraded 230 slip marina for moorage of yachts up to 130’ long.
During the past decade, the popular Nuevo Vallarta marina has also become so busy that another marina and ship yard in the La Cruz de Huanacaxtle area, seven miles further north along the Banderas Bay shoreline, had to be designed and built. The La Cruz Marina project cost in excess of 50 million dollars and has slips for an additional 340 yachts, up to 400´ long. This marina is also home to a bayside promenade, restaurants, shops, condominiums, and even an outdoor theater. Of course, like the other marinas, it is also surrounded by luxurious condominiums.
Realizing that in a few short years, the above marinas will be filled, the Mexican government (fonatur) has defined the ten year plan for the Nayarit Riviera, about 25 miles north of PV and just outside of the Banderas Bay. This plan incorporates a 30 mile stretch of pristine shoreline on the Pacific Ocean and includes another world class 150 slip marina for yachts and sailboats, as well as three new golf courses, shopping districts, hotels and condo complexes, restaurants and boutique shops, and even a theme park modeled after Xcaret in the Cancun area. The infrastructure and the first Greg Norman golf course are currently in place, therefore we can estimate that the marina will be ready within five years.
If you’re fortunate, you’ll be able to rent or purchase a slip for your million dollar yacht in one of the marinas mentioned above, housing over 1,200 million dollar plus yachts. As they say in Vallarta, if you’re really fortunate, it’s your best buddy that owns the million dollar yacht or fishing boat! Of course, if your boat is like most of ours, there are thousands of small slips available in the Vallarta area and many dry dock storage areas.
Okay, back to the fishing, now that we have a place to dock the boat! Although the large blue and black marlin run in the summer months, so do the gringos; they usually run to the north or to Europe because summer humidity and temperatures in Vallarta are similar to those in Houston.
Most of the serious fishing starts in November when the annual Sailfish Tournament is held. Fishing continues throughout the seven month “high season”, during which time the average daily temperature is 73*F with virtually no chance of rain. We have fished every year for the past twenty plus years and can tell you that fishing success varies significantly from year to year, depending on ocean water temperatures and currents. Fifteen years ago, it was not uncommon to land ten to fifteen 100 pound sails a day. During one outing, we had three on simultaneously, all “walking across the top of the water“, heading in every direction imaginable–what a catastrophe that was! Most often during the “high season”, catching one to three sails per trip would be considered typical. On the other hand, marlin are much more unpredictable during the “high season”. They’re out there but are few and far between. When you do hook-up, it’ll be anywhere from 600-1,000 pounds and will test your stamina.
Talking about testing your stamina, try landing a 300 to 400 pound yellow fin tuna! When the tuna are running, and they do every year during the winter months in the Pacific Ocean just outside of Banderas Bay, you’ll be able to test your fishing prowess as well as your physical condition! The smaller ones, in the 30 to 70 pound range are fun to catch and will provide you plenty of entertainment. When they range from 100 to 200 pounds, they head south as soon as hooked and the fight begins. Be prepared for a one hour struggle getting them to the boat, after which you’ll be needing a cold cerveza and an hour of rest! There will be a period of time almost every year when the big fellows show up. They are in the 300 to 400 pound range, approaching world record sizes. These monsters head out and deep as soon as hooked and hopefully, as your reel is spinning and your line is evaporating in front of your eyes, you’ll have time to get harnessed into your chair. You are getting ready for the three hour fight of your life when you’ve hooked a 400 pound yellow finned tuna. If you are a normal retiree, you’ll never get it in alone without having a cardiac arrest! We’ll usually have to rotate positions every half hour or so in order to land one of these monsters. Landing a 700 pound black marlin is a job, but landing a 350 to 400 pound tuna is life threatening!
Probably the most popular fish in the Vallarta area is the dorado. They are very edible and beautiful game fish ranging from 20 to 80 pounds. Dorado are plentiful, fun to catch, and considered by many to be the best eating fish in the sea. There are numerous other game fish in and around Banderas Bay as well as great bottom fish such as huge red snapper.
If you’re not fortunate enough to own a million dollar fishing boat, there are many charter boats that cost from $300 to $500 per day. There are also hundreds of pangas that can be chartered for bay fishing at about $30 per hour. Banderas Bay is approximately 25 miles in diameter and one of the deepest bays in the world. Therefore, catching a 100 pound sail fish or a 50 pound dorado 300 yards offshore while fishing in a panga is not uncommon. Seldom will you ever get skunked when fishing in the beautiful Vallarta waters. Also, since almost every fish that you catch is desirable for eating, most of the restaurants in Vallarta will be pleased to prepare a wonderful dinner for your entire family using your “catch of the day” as the main course.
During the “high season”, weather conditions are always perfect for fishing. Winter storms are virtually nonexistent and the ocean water is generally quite calm. Perhaps once a month, the ocean might be choppy enough to prevent you from safely leaving the 25 mile bay,however the chance of catching a thriller 20 miles out, but still in the deep bay water, always exists.
As a secondary benefit to all fishermen, the scenery from offshore with the Sierra Madres as a backdrop, has to be among the finest on the planet; always take a camera when fishing in this area. The Mexican shoreline along this Riviera is as beautiful as Pebble Beach and it seems to run forever. If you have the opportunity to take an overnight fishing trip, in all probability you’ll anchor in one of the many inlets or coves along the Riviera. As you gaze into the evening sky, you’ll see more stars than you ever dreamt existed; it’s absolutely incredible. With a perfect climate, a magnificent shoreline, and an abundance of world class game fish, Puerto Vallarta offers what many consider to be.