Two-taco dorado

"You can't … always get … whachoo wann," sang Chalio Ortega ???, my captain for the day, in a thick Hispanic accent as we pulled away from a buoy anchored by sandbags nine miles off the coast of Mazatlan, Mexico.

The buoy had giant palm fronds attached near the surface of the Pacific Ocean, which attracted baitfish, thereby attracting predator fish. The predators we were targeting were dorado. And although we caught four off this particular buoy, they were not the size our captain was hoping for.

"This time of year, we usually catch the five-taco size," he grinned, meaning fish in the 10- to 15-pound range. This day, casting with bass tackle (Shimano Curado 300s, G.Loomis GLX rods, 50-pound Power Pro braid, Rapala Subwalker), we were hooking fish in the two-taco range (4 to 7 pounds).

"I don't need a monster Chalio, just a dorado willing to play!" I returned.

So, we rushed to the next buoy a mile away. These buoys, placed by Inside Outside Charters, my host for this trip (www.insideoutsidecharters.com), were set in three distinct lines ranging from 140 to 200 feet of water. There were 18 in all, and represented the only structure within hundreds of miles of ocean. Schools of dorado would lap these floating fronds while waiting for bait to congregate around them. The captain would make a milk run from one buoy to the next, identifying the markers holding the most fish.

Although the second buoy didn't have a school of dorado utilizing the structure, we did catch six triple tail by casting the Subwalker to the limbs and very slowly twitching it back to the boat.

"The dorado like the fast movement, the triple tail like the slow movement," explained Chalio.

Just prior to my last cast at buoy No. 2, the water erupted 200 yards distant. It looked at though a geyser had blown in the middle of the ocean.

"What in the world?!" I asked.

"Whale," Chalio answered.

And as I looked beneath the boat, a school of 20 giant rays flapped silently by.

"It's like Wild-freakin'-Kingdom out here!" I replied.

"There is much to see right now. Rays, whales, billfish … we even saw a giant sun fish on one of the buoys last week!"

A sun fish is a prehistoric looking creature with giant dorsal and anal fins, but no tail to speak of.

"You never know what the ocean will give you during a day of fishing," the captain continued.

"You don … always get … whachoo wann," he sang again, as we scooted to the next buoy.

According to Chalio, my mid-May trip was just a little early this year. Generally, the dorado are already thick around the buoys, and the average size is in the double digits. Twenty- to 30-pound fish are available with the occasional 50- to 60-pound bull being thrown in the mix. The captain expects these sort of fish to be off the Mazatlan coast by mid-June this year.

Buoy No. 3 looked promising, as a frigate bird was circling nearby. Where one finds a frigate, one finds a dorado, I always heard.

And it seemed to hold true here. Just before I made my first cast, a school of 15 or so dorado flashed beneath the boat.

"Cast in front and move 'Muerte'very fast," instructed Chalio.

"Muerte" was what Chappy Chapman, owner of the charter boat, had dubbed the Subwalker. It means "death" in Spanish, and according to Chapman, the bait is killer on just about every species of saltwater fish he's offered it to.

As my bait hit the water, the school turned and started to rise. I cranked and twitched as fast as I could, the bait sometimes breaking the surface during its rapid dog-walk retrieve. A flash of gold and a screaming drag told the tale of success.

"'Muerte' strikes again!" Chalio said.

Although this dorado, too, was small, it was quite an experience casting to structure with light tackle for this saltwater species.

"Only two-taco size, Chalio!" I said. "But very, very exciting!"

His response was musical:

"If jew try sometime … you might fine … jew get whachoo need!"