The recent discovery of a live oarfish on a Sea of Cortez beach may have reminded anglers that Baja California’s remote southern waters are full of surprises.
They travel to this part of Mexico hoping to battle powerful marlin, giant tuna, speedy wahoo, and acrobatic dorado – along with a variety of nearshore species. But not everything goes as planned; not everything appears as it should.
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The oarfish, found in mid-June on an East Cape beach and revived by brothers Noah and Jacob Thompson, was last seen swimming toward deeper water. The brothers had been fly fishing from shore near Rancho Leonero Resort.
The discovery brought to mind other weird catches or encounters that occurred fairly recently in the region.
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Perhaps most notable was the discovery in 2011 of what was described as a “one-eyed Cyclops shark,” a dusky shark fetus found inside the mother shark, caught by commercial fishermen near La Paz. For days social media skeptics cried hoax whenever the image would surface.
In 2012, farther north and across the Sea of Cortez near Guaymas, a great white shark reported to measure 20 feet was captured in a net and brought ashore to the astonishment of beachgoers. Adult great white shark sightings are rare in the Sea of Cortez, but scientists now believe parts of the gulf are utilized as a nursery.
The image showing the massive shark on the sand, distributed by Pisces Sportfishing, was widely shared over the next several weeks.
In 2010 off Cabo San Lucas, a Pisces Sportfishing charter group teamed to land what was described as an albino sailfish, which was released after it was photographed. There was some question as to whether it was true albino (with pink eyes),or simply leucistic, but it was rare nonetheless.
In 2011 off Cabo San Lucas, angler Chris Fuller caught what might have been the smallest sailfish ever landed on hook-and-line. The scrappy young billfish, weighing perhaps three pounds, attacked a hooked sardine on 40-pound-test line. It was promptly set free.
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In 2013, “Fish the Baja” host Dave Maynard and his group caught several Sea of Cortez dorado that were powder-blue instead of the typical brilliant greenish-gold. Mark Rayor, who runs Jen Wren Sportfishing, said this was uncommon but not super rare, and added, “Once in a while we get a silver one that looks really cool, too.”
In 2014, Rayor and his crew landed a roosterfish that looked as though it had swum through an oil spill. Roosterfish typically boast brilliant, symmetrical stripes and are among the most photogenic game fish caught in the Sea of Cortez. This blotched specimen, an ugly duckling, was promptly released.
In 2018 off Cabo San Lucas, the crew of Pisces Adriana collected a peculiar-shaped denizen that had been found on the surface. It turned out to be a pointy-nosed blue chimaera, a type of “ghost shark” that generally resides 10,000 feet beneath the surface.
Pisces described the chimaera as “one of the rarest fish we’ve ever encountered.”
A list such as this could go on and on, with each example supporting a cliché often muttered by anglers: “The great thing about fishing is that you never know what you might catch.”
–Images and credits top to bottom: Oarfish (two photos, Noah Thompson), ‘one-eyed Cyclops shark’ (Pisces Sportfishing), great white shark (Pisces Sportfishing), albino sailfish (Pisces Sportfishing), tiny sailfish (Pisces Sportfishing), powder-blue dorado (Dave Maynard), blotched roosterfish (MarkRayor/JenWren Sportfishing), chimaera ‘ghost shark’ (Pisces Sportfishing).