Zihuatenejo and Ixtapa, Mexico
A Fish for all Seasons
Text and photography by Mary L. Peachin
Waiting their turn to board chartered boats anchored off the Paseo, eyes snap open as eager anglers awake to the action-packed scene. Women sit on the dock selling Big Eye scad and corineros, a small, hearty green jack used as an excellent trolling bait. Feral cats rest patiently as if trained to wait for any leftovers. Captains, and a few gringos, pause at a stall to load up on coffee, burritos, and tortillas.
As the sun rises over the Pacific, the departing fleet of fishing boats turn either north or south for inshore fishing or westward, motoring approximately ten miles toward blue water to troll for billfish, dorado, and tuna.
It’s a rare treat to be ocean fishing with my family. Both my husband David and daughter Suzanne are mas o menos “faint of stomach” so we follow the shoreline in hopes of catching a rooster fish, a lofty goal since they tend to frequent Ixtapa’s breaking surf in early summer.
Trolling less than a mile offshore on super panga Dos Hermanos I, Captain Aldolfo Espinosa of Ixtapa Sportfishing Charters tells us that we are liable “to catch anything.” The area’s abundant schools of sardines and anchovies attract many species of fish. For several hours, we troll rapalas reeling in a dozen or more Spanish mackerel, bonito, and skip jack. Adolpho provides Sea Ray and a Cabela rods with Shimano reels loaded with 30 pound test Spectra Power Pro braided line.
Ixtapa Sportfishing Charters also does a significant amount of saltwater fly fishing, and although they offer rental gear, they encourage anglers to bring their own rods. Inshore, they use long cast spinning reels including Shimano Spheros, Stratic, and Sustain as well as Daiwa 5500 Emblem Pro mounted on eight foot rods. Spinning rods with casting pencil poppers are used for roosterfish and jacks.
Owner Stan Lushinsky highly recommends the braided fishing line because it has a high breaking strength and doesn’t stretch, two attributes that he feels allows a greater hook-up ratio with fewer break offs. His captains use 30 pound test with the diameter of eight pound monofilament. “Thinner diameter lines allow for longer casts, which is an important safety factor when you are fishing roosters near breaking surf.”
With plenty of fish to catch, it’s more difficult to be distracted by the beauty of the area. As we circled Potosi’s rocky islands, we admired saguaro-like cardon cactus. Frigates glided on wind currents, while brown-footed boobies nested on the island. Waves that pound remote beaches could be a surfer’s paradise.
Captain Adolpho’s Dos Hermanos 1 twenty-five foot super panga is powered by a single 75 horsepower Yamaha Enduro engine. Adolofo prefers the faster response time of its tiller steering over the usually preferred side console. It’s better for maneuvering between breaking waves, a definite skill required for roosterfish
The fiberglass panga has cushioned gunwales and two mounted fighting chairs. A shaded covering protects from the sun, an open air head, tucked behind a panel near the bow, is an added convenience. Adolpho proudly maintains and annually overhauls the 50 year old boat formerly used commercially by his father.
Ixtapa Sportfishing Charters super pangas are custom constructed of fiberglass over wood. Some have interior variations, but most include a siesta seat, if there ever happen to be a break in the fishing action. A live well for bait is located on the stern.
Mackerel and bonito, who typically don’t do well in wells, are kept alive in Tuna Tubes. Water flushed through a PVC pipe forces water through gills to keep the fish alive. Soon after exiting the harbor, anglers are able to catch a few bait to fill the tubes. The Tubes coupled with a Zwing hydrodynamic depression planer, allow bait to be trolled alive at four knots all day long.
These are not the typical pangas found throughout Mexico, they are faster, more comfortable, faster, and overall more efficient.
While ocean conditions are usually calm in Zihuatenejo/Ixtapa’s waters, we awoke for our second day of fishing with gusting winds and a weather prediction for ten foot swells with chop. My family quickly bailed on me.
Meeting Captain Aldolfo on the Paseo, we motored more than an hour to reach blue water. While his boat is smaller than many of the more luxurious yachts available for charter, he can run a lot faster. The chop and big waves on bounced us like kids on a trampoline. Gaviotas or gulls swooped around us as Adolpho rigged the outriggers with “big eyes” dressed with a plastic pink lip, just an added attraction for the bill fish. We trailed two squid teasers.
Stricker Classic series rods with Shimano 25 two speed reels holding 30# test were ready for any blind strike in the rough water. As a school of dolphin circled the boat, Adolpho rubbed his nose so I would know they were bottle-nosed.
It was hard to believe that Adolpho’s GPS read that we were 24 miles from shore. Near a shipping lane, we watched cargo loaded freighters heading to and from the Panama Canal. Zihuatenejo’s larger, but slower yachts appeared to be staying closer to shore.
Within minutes, the outrigger snapped. A Pacific sail, weighing about 100 pounds, performed multiple jumps before I brought it to the boat. Adolpho doesn’t back the boat down on fish so I had a 25-minute workout. Before he released its bill, he asked me to feed a bait fish to the sail. “I want the sail to have good thoughts and return another day.” Ten minutes later, Adolpho looked at his watch then grabbed his GPS. Dos Hermanos I had drifted an additional five miles, and we were now 29 miles from the dock. Before we could pull in the lines, both outrigger lines zinged, a “double” hookup. Adolpho placed one rod in the holder as I grabbed the other, reeled in a 105 pounder, then picked up the second rod to release a even larger sail. What a way to end a day of fishing.
During summer months, casting a pencil popper toward a comb-like fin weaving through breaking surf is likely to produce a fifty pound roosterfish. Early winter into late spring, schools of black and blue marlin and large yellowfin tuna arrive. Resident Pacific sailfish sometimes take a migratory break during March and April. Snook anglers will sweat it out fighting the tasty fish during warm summer months into fall. Schools of dorado, while less frequent during spring, and for some unexplained reason seem to disappear during October, are usually caught offshore. For anglers, who just want to catch fish, annual species include grouper, barracuda, bonito, and shark.
When you are fishing the shoreline one day, then tolling miles off the coast in blue water for billfish, and have the opportunity to catch multiple species year round, the question raised is what attracts so many different fish to the adjacent fishing villages of Zihuatenejo and Ixtapa’s in Mexico’s southwestern state of Guerrero?
Rich nutrients attract bait to inshore waters, plus the area where deep and inshore waters merge make an ideal habitat for game fish to feed and congregate. Underwater, within 25 miles of shore, a curving 1000 foot fathom drop creates a “highway” for migrating species. Shoreline rivers and lagoons provide an ideal environment for juvenile growth. Most of the productive fishing range is located between five and 15 miles offshore, which eliminates long runs to the fishing grounds.
What angler doesn’t relish easy access to deeper water, calm seas and an abundance of species? And, comparatively speaking, the quality of boats and tackle is at an affordable cost.
Zihuatenejo and Ixtapa simmers with 300 annual days of sunshine and its waters are typically calm. In these stable conditions the fishing often sets up quickly and patterns tend to hold consistent throughout the season. Of course, there are brief transitional periods in late August and September, and those occasional days when strong winds create rough water and make fishing difficult.
Sidebar: About the Twin Cities
- The name Zihuatanejo is a derivation of the Nahuatl word “Cihuatlán”, meaning “the place of women” so named for its matriarchal society. In pre-Columbian times, Tarascan leader Calzonzin frequented the area from the region of Lake Pátzcuaro. A disputed legend suggests that Calzonzin constructed a rock barrier to protect the half moon-shaped Playa Las Gatas adjacent to La Ropa. The beach was named for the nurse sharks that used to be found there, and still provides a sheltered swimming area and beautiful harbor. Spanish conquistadores, who arrived in 1522, changed the name to Ciguatanejo. Zihuatanejo’s current name form has only been in use for the past couple of centuries.
- As Zihuatenejo continued to develop as a tourist attraction in the mid-90’s, Fonatur (Federal Bureau for Tourist Development), the agency that developed the hotel zone in Cancun, attempted to expand Zihuatanejo. Locals soundly rejected the idea of changing the appearance of their fishing village by developing high rise buildings that would block views of the bay. In 1968, Fonatur expropriated a coconut plantation near Zihuatanejo to create the first Ixtapa resort, which opened in 1971. Historically speaking, both towns have always been fishing villages.
Sidebar: When to Catch Them
- Pacific sailfish are caught year round with fewer reports in March and April. Blue marlin are found in February, March, April, May, while blacks are targeted between March and June. Large yellowfin tuna arrive in December then migrate north in the spring as smaller tuna move in during the summer months. Dorado school most of the year disappearing between March and May, and for some unknown reason, are scarce in October. Peak times for big numbers of roosterfish begin in May and last throughout the summer months. Summer months attract snook that feed along the estuaries that dot the coastline. Shark and barracuda, and grouper are found all year around
Where To Stay
Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, is located on Mexico’s Pacific Ocean coastline, 143 miles north of Acapulco. The twin cities are a 45 minute flight from Mexico City or two hour non-stop flights on US Air from Phoenix or Continental from Houston.
Hotel Avila, www.ixtapasportfishing.com/avila, located on Municipal Beach in El Centro or the old downtown, this well-known Zihuatanejo landmark is a basic hotel with 27 terraced rooms, nine of which face the bay.
The Tides Zihuatenejo (formerly Villa Del Sol), www.tideszihuatanejo.com, This upscale hotel’s 70 rooms and suites on La Ropa beach are individually designed colorfully-painted adobe villas set in a tropical gardens. All rooms offer a private terrace or balcony and either garden or bay views. Suites include an open air living room with an infinity soaking pool.
La Casa Que Canta, www.lacasaquecanta.com, An intimate property considered the most upscale, exclusive resort in the area. It has received top awards from Travel & Leisure, Robb Report, and Conde Nast magazines as the top hotel in Mexico.
Adelamar Bungalows, www.ixtapasportfishing.com/adelamar, offers eight modern efficiency apartments on La Madera Beach. Affordably priced, the property is just a few short blocks to town. This is a good choice for anglers seeking a taste of Mexican culture.
Casa Buena Ventura, www.casabuenaventura.com, Located on La Ropa beach, this small boutique hotel with moderate prices has six suites.
Meliá Azul Ixtapa, www.meliaazulixtapa.solmelia.com, Overlooking a wide spanse of the Pacific Ocean with rocky formations jutting out of the bay, the resort has a new 138 room tower offering luxury ocean view rooms. The 400 room all-inclusive resort offers half a dozen restaurants, five bars, and a wide range of activities in addition to sport fishing.
Barcelo Ixtapa Beach, www.barceloixtapa.com, this resort, located on Palmer Bay, allows the option of non-inclusive packages. This is another large 341 room property with multiple restaurants, activities, and room options.
La Quinta de Don San Andres, www.laquintadedonandres.com, located on La Madera Beach area has moderately priced rooms and villas that are walking distance to Ixtapa’s town square.
Where to Eat
The Tides Zihuatenejo or Casa Que Canta on La Ropa beach are noted for their fine cuisine. Kau-Kan, www.casakaukan.com/kaukan, a small restaurant overlooking the bay serves Mexican food. La Casa Vieja in El Centro, www.restaurantlacasavieja.com.mx/index2.html, has been serving authentic Mexican cuisine for the past decade.
Inexpensive meals offered near the pier include Sirena Gorda and Tatas, which is located in the Avila Hotel. Both of these restaurants will prepare an angler’s catch for a nominal charge.
Beccafinos and Buccaneros restaurants, the latter noted for its homemade pasta, are located at Marina Ixtapa. Bogarts, a restaurant offering international cuisine is located in the Nh Krystal hotel. Overlooking Ixtapa, El Faro restaurant in the Pacifica Hotel offers great views while dining. The romantic setting of Villa De La Silva restaurant, located near the Las Brisas hotel, was designed by renowned architect Diego Villaseñor.
Fishing Charter Operators
Ixtapa Sportfishing, www.ixtapasportfishing.com, offers eight 25 to 42 foot custom cruisers with either single or twin engines, live well and complete navigational systems. Costs range between $295.00 and $445.00 per day.
Let’s Go Deep Sea Fishing, www.letsgodeepseafishing.com, Captain Poli and his crew have more than 15 years of experience. They offer a choice of three boats holding up six anglers which can be chartered for six hours starting at $395.00.
Ixtapa Zihuatenejo Sportfishing, www.ixtapatours.com, offers fly fishing as well as offshore and inshore fishing with six boats that chartered for $200 and more.
Ixtapa Mexico Flyfishing, www.ixtapaflyfishing.com, has five boats starting at $190.00. They also offer conventional sportfishing.