STORIES THE VIEW UPSTREAM By: Keith 'Catfish' Sutton, WorldFishingNetwork.com Mexico Fishing Destination: Visit Mazatlán for Hard-Fighting Mahi-Mahi Mahi-mahi is one of the hardest-fighting, best-eating species in saltwater, and they can be found in good numbers off the coast of Mazatlán, Mexico Astounding power, high jumps and delicious flesh make the mahi-mahi a favorite wherever it is found. (Keith Sutton photo) On a July day in Mazatlán, Mexico, anglers have hard choices to make. Offshore from this 500-year-old city in southern Sinaloa, in the warm tropical waters of the western Pacific, an amazing variety of hard-hitting, fun-to-catch sportfish tempt those who visit here to fish. But because each species must be targeted in certain waters using specific baits and tactics, one must decide before casting off, “What do I want to catch most today?” Many anglers travel from homes thousands of miles away for a chance to fight marlins at “The Billfishing Capital of the World.” Two species—blue and black—are plentiful offshore from May through December, and if you hook one, it might easily weigh 200 to 500 pounds. A few have been caught that were close to half a ton in size. The warm waters of summer abound with Pacific sailfish, too—powerful, high-jumping beauties that become favorites of all who catch them. Yellowfin tuna to 200 pounds follow abundant schools of baitfish, waiting to wrench the backs of any fishermen daring enough to try landing them on rod and reel. Wahoos aren’t as plentiful as some other species, but if you catch one, it likely will exceed 50 pounds. Giant mako sharks swim here as well, including some exceeding 10 feet and 500 pounds, which may take hours to land. My son Zach, pondered the choices. We had just spent several days fishing on nearby El Salto Lake, and both of us had landed 10-pound-plus largemouth bass, our biggest ever. He wanted his Mexican saltwater experience to shine as well, and when our host, Chappy Chapman, told him the hottest thing going was mahi-mahi fishing, that cinched it for him. No billfish, tuna, wahoos or sharks for us. We would target the colorful powerhouses Chappy described as, “Pound for pound, one of the hardest fighting species in saltwater and definitely the best eating.” “There’s a good chance you can land a real trophy weighing 50 pounds or more,” Chappy said. “And you’re almost certain to catch lots of 10- to 30-pounders. No fish are more beautiful or fun to catch. I guarantee you’ll like fishing for them.” I had traveled to Mazatlán and El Salto annually for several years to fish, but always before in the company of my wife, Theresa. This time, as a combination graduation/birthday gift for Zach, she had stayed home so he could travel with me. “If you get a chance to fish for mahi-mahi, you should,” she told him before we left. “We caught so many one day, I thought my arms would fall off, even though they were small. Best of all, they cooked them for us at a local restaurant. They were delicious!” The guide with whom Zach and I would fish was the same guide I always fished with in Mazatlán —Chalio, a deeply tanned, fifty-something Mazatlán native who bought his first boat and started guiding fishermen at the ripe old age of 12. There are many excellent charter services operating out of Mazatlán, but Chalio is, and always will be, my go-to guide when visiting the “Pearl of the Pacific.” He’s funny, hard-working, keeps his boats in tiptop condition and knows as much about Mazatlán sportfishing as any man alive. He has put me on good catches of everything from roosterfish to red snappers, and he proved his ability to locate and catch mahi-mahis on the previous trip with Theresa. (Chalio doesn’t have a website or email but can be reached by calling his cell phone at 669-920-3511.) As my son and I climbed aboard his boat, a traditional Mexican panga, Chalio grasped Zach by the shoulders and looked him sternly in the eyes. “So, Señor Zachary,” he said. “You ate lots of huevos rancheros for breakfast, right? You will need all the energy you can get to outlast the fish whose home we visit today.” Zach assured him he had, then Chalio’s son and first mate, Alex, released us from the dock, and we were off. The mahi-mahi, also known as dolphinfish or dorado, can be enticed with a wide variety of lures and baits. On this day, we would coax them from the depths with teasers trolled behind the panga, then try to hook fish we spotted using live mullets skipped across the surface. This required a stop at Isla de Venados, Deer Island, so Chalio could catch fresh baits. He jumped into deep water 100 yards offshore, then swam to the shallows with a bucket and cast net in hand. We watched, enthralled, as he threw his massive 16-foot net again and again. Then when he had captured enough mullets to last us through the day, he swam back through the powerful surf, climbed back aboard and hit the throttle. “Time to fish!” he said, smiling at Zach. “Hold tight so I don’t lose you!” As we motored out on a calm sea, we thrilled to the presence of other dolphins, the bottle-nosed mammalian kind that swam alongside us in the panga’s wake. There were sea turtles, too, some as big as dinner tables. We had little time to enjoy the local wildlife, however, because only minutes passed before we reached one of the offshore buoys where Chalio wanted to fish. Mahi-mahis are open-ocean fish, but they often swim close to floating weeds and debris. Chalio’s buoys, situated 7 to 10 miles offshore, attract them just as a bit of flotsam might—or so we hoped. Chalio put out the teasers while Alex rigged hooks in the mullets. Soon everything was ready, and Chalio started the outboard again. We then started trolling the teasers in big circles around the buoy as we watched for signs of our quarry. It wasn’t long before they showed themselves: big hump-headed fish with long dorsal fins racing behind the colorful lures. Chalio showed Zach how to release a mullet so it drifted back to the racing predators, and quicker than it takes to tell it, my son had one on. “Set the hook hard, Señor Zach,” Chalio exclaimed. The rod bowed. Line burned off the reel. Zach struggled to maintain his grasp on the tackle. Then, suddenly, the fish soared. It leapt high above the water, kissed its tail and dove again. Eight more times it jumped, but I knew in my heart this denizen of the deep stood no chance against a high-school graduate with determination in his heart. I remember most the vivid colors. Crystalline water like molten sapphires. Gold, emerald and azure glistening on the sides of a fish so beautiful, it was breathtaking. Those astounding hues are burned into my memory. Zach struggled to reel the dorado near enough for Chalio to gaff, but he fought the fish well, gaining inches, then feet. After 15 minutes or so, he was victorious in a battle he will never forget. The fish beat a tattoo on the deck as our jovial guide heaved it aboard. “Ohhhh!” Chalio gasped. “That’s a big one, Zach. I haven’t seen one so big in many months.” He estimated its weight around 40 pounds, maybe more. Zach was elated. During the next few hours, we caught many more mahi-mahis. I lost count after a dozen, but a conservative guess would be 15 apiece, each between 10 and 25 pounds. Zach’s 40-pound bull was the day’s biggest. “You know what the name mahi-mahi means?” Chalio asked my son as we motored back to Mazatlán’s Golden Zone. “It is Hawaiian for very strong. This fish has a good name, huh?” “Yes, a very good name,” Zach replied. “I never hooked anything that fought like that before. I don’t understand how something that weighs just 40 pounds can fight so hard.” “Huevos rancheros,” Chalio said. “They eat a big breakfast so they can fight long and hard. I’m glad you ate more than they did so you can win these battles.” We had left the dock at 6:30 that morning. Now it was lunchtime. All of us were famished. “Now we do your father’s favorite thing,” Chalio told Zach. “We clean these fish and take them to the restaurant so they can cook them for us. We will meet there in two hours and drink beer while the chef cooks our catch. Then you will learn another reason why we like to catch the mahi-mahi. There is no fish more better to eat!” After a quick shower at our hotel, Zach and I caught a ride on a pulmonia, a little golf-cart-like taxi that whisked us down the Malecon, Mazatlán’s main beachside thoroughfare, to the Mariscos El Camichin. Chalio, Alex and Chappy awaited us in the open-air restaurant where our fish was grilling over hardwood coals. As we waited to eat, we watched, astounded, as a local fisherman, grasping its sword, pulled a 100-pound marlin past our table. It, too, was destined for the grill. “Are you ready to try for one of those, Señor Zach?” Chalio asked. “I’m not sure there are enough huevos rancheros in all of Mazatlán,” Zach replied. Everyone laughed. Then we ate and talked and laughed some more. It was, for all of us, a memorable day.