Rancho Buena Vista — An Iconic Resort

Iconic: Having the characteristics of an icon! Icon: something of well-known significance, something that through historical, cultural or economic influence “represents” an idea or, in some cases, an industry. By whatever measurement, Rancho Buena Vista has earned its title as an icon for recreational fishing in the East Cape region of Baja.

That fact was reinforced by a visit to the lodge in May 2010 that followed an Outdoor Writers Association of California conference in La Paz. As writers scattered to a number of different Baja, Sur lodges and resorts following the conference, two—Jack Holder and myself—were lucky enough to visit Rancho Buena Vista.

In many ways the visit fulfilled a life long dream. Growing up in the 50s and 60s, I remember reading about the resort at Buena Vista and the fabled fishing waters of the East Cape. Giant marlin, sailfish, wahoo, roosterfish, dorado, and all manner of exotic species were to be found in the local waters and some writers claimed it was the best saltwater fishery in the world. Ray Cannon, an iconic figure himself, spread the religion about Baja, its fabulous fishing, and his favorite resort—Rancho Buena Vista. It was a place I dreamed of visiting.

But like many who have such dreams as youth, the actual visit never took place. Something always seemed to come up to prevent a visit and as the years turned into decades Rancho Buena Vista seemed to fade. Now I would have two nights at the lodge and be able to spend one day fishing on one of the resort’s boats.

The resort is found roughly 70 miles south of La Paz, or 40 miles north of the large San Jose Del Cabo Airport. Following our conference, Jack and myself spent the morning in La Paz before picking up the rental car and heading out to Highway 1, the Trans Peninsula Highway. Exiting La Paz the highway cuts inland and then meanders south over desert, arroyos and the Sierra de La Laguna Mountains. Along the way the road passes through a couple of impressive old mining towns, San Antonio and El Triunfo.

We stopped for pictures at El Triunfo, checked out some really interesting cactus, listened to piano music wafting from the “Museum of Music,” and headed out of town as soon as a wandering flock of goats agreed to move off the highway.

I spent much of the trip watching the dry desert, cactus and skinny cows that too often seemed to be on the wrong sides of the fence. Just before Los Barriles the highway returns to the coast and all of a sudden the traveler is presented a picture postcard view of a lovely bay and anchored boats (more or less boats depending upon the time of the day). The view seems appropriate since Buena Vista (Beautiful View) is just around the bend. The waters are those of Los Barriles and Buena Vista, the sister villages that sit roughly two miles apart. The road dips down to Los Barriles then back up the hill. Soon after, a small, too easily missed sign points toward Rancho Buena Vista. Turn left and a short drive down a dirt road brings you to the lodge.

The Buena Vista Lodge was one of the first fishing resorts on the cape. It was built back in the 1950s and, in truth, is not the place for some. The rooms are large, comfortable, clean, and air-conditioned, but there’s no TV and no phones.

There’s a lovely pool, a new hot tub, and a comfortable palapa bar (think palm leaves), but no infinity pools or fancy drinks.

There’s a large and comfortable dining room with good food, but no imported chef serving up exotic, gourmet meals. The help is second or third generation, friendly and helpful, but there’s no sexy waitresses in short skirts (at least we didn’t see any).

It’s a resort designed and built for fishermen, it’s not a party central. Want to party? Go an hour or so down the highway to Cabo San Lucas.

Once the reigning queen of the Cape, the resort was a destination for movie stars such as Bing Crosby and Chuck Connor. Today Buena Vista shares attention with younger, prettier companions, at least prettier for some. For Jack and myself, nothing could have been better than what we found. The lodge retains the feel of a fishing resort, it has an “old time” feel, and topic number one remains fishing. People who come to Ranch Buena Vista come for one reason—to fish. It’s prime fishing territory with good boats and good guides.

The lodge isn’t large, containing only about 40 rooms, and there are a variety of rates. For those who really want to “feel history,” rent the round house, the former home of Ray Cannon that sits right on the water. Casa Cannon has seven bedrooms and is great for groups. One price basically includes everything, both the rooms and the excellent meals that are served family-style at large communal tables (and the cooks will cook up your catch if you wish). Boats and their costs are extra.

Josh Martz is the general Manager of the resort and he met us at the front desk. He’s young, and fairly new at the resort, but he had all the answers for our questions. He’s also an occasional guide at the resort and told us he would be talking us out the next morning in his own boat. Amazing considering Josh is a product of Boise State and both Jack and I live in Fresno where our Fresno State Bulldogs are, or at least were until recently, one of the biggest rivals of Josh’s Broncos (except in football where Boise regularly crushes the Bulldogs).

After checking in, and putting our bags and equipment in our rooms, Jack and I both headed down to look at the beach. This is the East Cape, an area that stretches from Punta Pescadero in the north to Bahía de Palmas in the south. It’s a land of beautiful beaches, beachfront fishing resorts, and some of the best fishing in the world. The scene was one of calm waters, a narrow beach, and invisible fish; I think we were both imagining the next day’s trip and the fish we would catch. We decided we would have an early meal and get in a little surf fishing before it got too dark.

We shared our table that night with Mike and Sheri Moody, a couple from Lone Tree, Colorado who had gone out that day and caught a marlin and a Humboldt squid. Humboldt squid, the four-foot-long creatures from the deep? Yep, baitfish had been missing, so the solution was to go out and catch a big squid to use for bait. The marlin was caught on squid.

Mike Moody’s Striped Marlin

The Moody’s Humboldt Squid

As we sat at the table eating our steaks we also kept an eye peeled on the surf and soon we spotted small roosterfish attacking “something.” Their dorsal fins high in the air, the fish couldn’t have been in more than nine inches in the water; it was easy to see why they’re called “roosters.” Then, a few minutes later, Josh comes tromping out of the surf. What? He was in a wetsuit and carrying a large African pompano that he had speared. Jack and I finished our meal at a record pace, said a quick good-by to Mike and Sheri, and headed to our rooms.

Josh Martz and an African Pompano

With only a short time to fish, we quickly grabbed rods and reels, some lures, and tromped down to the beach in shorts. The water was warm but the fishing was a little cool since the fish just weren’t biting. When a Krocodile failed to produce a fish, I switched to a Rapala. It immediately began to be followed by a slim little trumpetfish that followed the lure to the beach time after time. But nothing larger appeared until the sun was almost down. Then I had a strike, struck the fish and had a short but spirited fight. It was a snapper, reddish-orange with narrow stripes, but only a youngster maybe 15” in length. I unhooked it and gently returned it to the water. The roosters would have to wait.

Then it was one those nights. You know, the kind where you can hardly sleep because you’re thinking of that monster fish you expect to catch. You’re also worried about the alarm and afraid you’ll miss the boat. In my case it also meant would I get seasick? I had not gotten seasick on two trips out of La Paz but my ear patch was on day four when three days was supposed to be the max. I would see what happened.

The night also gave reflection upon the history of the lodge. Herb Tansey opened Rancho Buena Vista in 1952 but it wasn’t exactly an instant hit. In fact it almost closed in 1957 before being discovered by Ray Cannon, the Baja Editor of Western Outdoor News. His stories, and those of other outdoor writers who visited the lodge, soon gave it legendary status. Rancho Buena Vista was considered one of the best fishing spots in the world and a trek to the lodge was almost mandatory for saltwater fishermen seeking large fish. Two-dozen boats anchored in the waters out from the lodge and most days the number of marlin exceeded the number of boats.

In those days boats rarely needed to travel more than a few miles from the resort and it was common to catch several marlin on a trip. Boats of the fleet have caught marlin exceeding 1,000 pounds, dorado exceeding 70 pounds, roosterfish exceeding 90 pounds and swordfish exceeding 300 pounds. The chance to catch large fish was one attraction; the sheer number of fish was another.

Although somewhat bleary-eyed, I was up early the next morning. I didn’t need to worry about being late. Jack was in hammock seemingly praying to the “Fish Gods.”

Jack Holder “praying” for some fish

The various people staying at the lodge all met for breakfast and then we headed down to the portable dock that had been pulled down to the beach. Josh brought the soft drinks and lunches we had ordered, we hopped in the boat, and we were off.

Josh wanted to catch some fish. That was made clear when we headed up the coast all the way past Punta Pescadero to pick up some live sardinas. That roughly ten-mile journey north was followed by a full speed 25-mile journey south to where boats from both the East Cape and Cabo San Lucas were concentrated.

Luckily our boat was a Super Panga that was both fast and comfortable and the sight of jumping manta rays, and a couple of marlin, added excitement to the trip.

Josh was optimistic since we would be the only boat with live bait (the rest settling for squid). Rumor was that some tuna had been caught so as soon as we joined the thirty or so other boats in “the area” we dropped our sardinas over the side. Equipped with a Fin-Nor Offshore OFC16 reel and Fin Nor Offshore rods, we were ready for whatever would decide to take our bait.

Unfortunately although the bait was lively neither our boat nor the others showed a fish. Where did the fish go? Eventually Josh pulled out a spinning reel and dropped down a Shimano Butterfly Jig. I wasn’t sure what fish was expected but within a fairly short time a large triggerfish decided to grab the lure and Josh handed me the rod to bring in the fish. Surprisingly the husky fish gave a strong fight but it was soon over. It would be saved for cerviche.

The tuna seemed absent and we finally decided to head inshore for a try at roosterfish. Unfortunately about ten minutes after reaching roosterfish territory we started to hear chatter on the radio and Josh announced that four tuna had been landed in the area we had just left. Twenty-five minutes for roosterfish without a bite and we headed back out to the tuna area. Porpoises were showing and we tagged along hoping for some yellowfins, but again it was not to be. After another half hour of watching the birds, porpoises, and more manta rays, we once again headed inshore.

Part way in, Josh spotted some activity on top of the water and we slowed. He said it was dorado and soon after I had a strike—which I missed. New bait was put on and a new dorado showed. This one would take the bait and put up a fight that mirrored the beauty of the fish. Acrobatic jumps and strong runs but slowly the fish was brought to the boat where it was landed with the skillful assistance of Josh. As always, the dorado was a beautiful gold and green that shined in the sunlight. It was a bull that Josh said was one of the larger dorado landed to date and though it wasn’t weighed we guesstimated 29-pounds (give or take a few). Another dorado had showed during the fight and briefly grabbed Jack’s bait but they were biting light that day and the fish wasn’t landed.

KJ and Dorado

Further attempts at the dorado proved fruitless and we finished moving into the shallower inshore water. We began a slow troll that paralled the beach.

The weather was beautiful, the coastline was stunning, and the mountains were intriguing, but the fishing for half an hour was dead.

Finally, Josh says to get ready, “roosters are heading toward the bait.” Shortly thereafter I had a strike and then Jack followed with another fish—a double hookup. They weren’t big roosterfish, but they gave the strong fight that seems to define the species. Both were landed and both were returned safely to the water.

Jack Holder and KJ with Roosterfish

With that adrenaline rush, hope and excitement was restored and we wanted a few more roosterfish. But instead, long, skinny shapes, looking a lot like water snakes, started to appear from different directions—needlefish that had spotted our bait and wanted an easy lunch. After stealing a couple of our baits, Jack finally hooked one of the four-foot-long fish whose mouths are long and filled with sharp teeth. Jack skillfully brought the fish to the boat where Josh carefully removed the hook and released the fish to fight another day. More sardinas were thrown out as chum but as we watched, it seemed even more needlefish were headed in from every direction. The chances of a roosterfish getting to the bait first seemed slim and none and finally we decided to move. Josh revved up the motors, moved down the beach a half-mile or so, extended the sunshade on the boat, and we started to troll once again. As it turned out it that would be our last fish for the day.

Although the action was slow it presented an opportunity to hear the story of the lodge, sight see some interesting areas, and even see some beautiful beachfront homes. One home belonged to one of my old football heroes—Lance “Bambi” Alworth, former Charger and a member of the Hall of Fame.

So, no time was wasted even if the fish were not cooperating. Some days are just like that and we appreciated the fact that Josh had tried just about everything he could do to get us some big fish. After unloading on the dock we returned to our rooms and some short naps before dinner.

Different boat, same unloading dock.

My Dorado — too bad the color fades so quickly after death.

Rancho Buena Vista from the water

Over dinner it was discovered that the fishing had been slow on most of the boats. Whatever the cause: lack of bait, tidal conditions, or simple early season blues, all of the stories were about the same. It had simply been a slow day. The one exception had been Mike and Sheri who had grown tired of trolling for marlin and convinced their skipper to move inshore and go after some smaller fish. They had spent several hours catching the small stuff—needlefish, small jacks, ladyfish, and even pargo. They said it was fun to catch some fish no matter the size. Over fresh dorado from our boat, Jack and I wondered if we should have brought along our light tackle and tried for some of the smaller fish? Hindsight is almost always 20-20.

The next morning we had to leave but as we bid adieu to Josh and the lodge we wished we had about three more days, What if we had tried some light tackle on the boat? Or maybe tried some different lures in the surf?

What we did agree upon was how much we had enjoyed the visit even if the fishing was a little slow. The facilities matched our expectations, as did the service at the lodge. So too the effort expended by Josh in trying to find us some fish. That’s all you can ever ask for—an honest effort. We knew that later in the year the fishing would be improved. Now that we had a taste of what to expect, and a taste of what we might try next time, we knew it was only a matter of time before we returned to the “Icon of the Cape”—Rancho Buena Vista.

Rancho Buena Vista Resort

Telephone: 011-52 (624) 141-0177.

Toll free: (800) 258-8200.

U.S. (805) 928-1719.

Email: info@ranchobuenavista.com

Mail: P.O. Box 1408, Santa Maria, California, 93456.

(2014) — Contact information may have changed. The resort was closed briefly but it now open once again. Check the Internet.

2 Responses to Rancho Buena Vista — An Iconic Resort

  1. Scott Parker says:

    How is the fishing right now? We were thinking of coming in a week or so.

    • kenjones says:

      Scott,

      Sorry but I do not have any connection to the resort. You would need to contact them yourself to get up to date information.

      Good luck,

      Ken

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