Swimming With Giants
Mag Bay’s striped marlin are easy . . . if you can find them.
By Pat Ford

In any conversation about striped marlin, Baja Mexico’s Magdalena Bay comes up. It’s located about five hours (driving) north of Cabo San Lucas and the closest town is Puerto San Carlos, which has four paved streets, no marinas and bad gas. The Bay is about 20 miles across, but the real magic lies beyond the entrance to the actual bay, about 30 miles out in the Pacific. Each fall, schools of migrating striped marlin collide with schools of Spanish sardines and mackerel creating a feeding frenzy of unimaginable proportions.

These marlin averaged between 80 and 150 pounds and we often found them working under birds. When they separated a sardine from the school it was instantly eaten. These images demonstrate how close we were able to get to these fish and also what your prop wash looks like from the fish’s perspective. On days when we couldn’t run 30 miles out to the marlin we took time to swim with humpback whales.

When this happens, multi-million dollar sportfishing boats run up from Cabo and chase marlin for as many days as their gas supply allows. In 2019, Anthony Hsieh brought his mothership and Bad Company, his 92-foot long sportfisherman, to Mag Bay for the sole purpose of setting records. He wanted to see how many striped marlin could be released in a day….the answer was 300! That tally would have been higher, but they lost almost three hours running back into the Bay to get more bait.

I’ve been to Mag Bay three times, but I’m on an appreciably lower budget. Our primary purpose on my most recent trip last fall, was to take underwater photographs of marlin chasing and feeding on baitballs. We spent a few days fishing with Joe Zaragosa’s Salt Junkies and caught our fair share on marlin on the fly. But the real magic was under the water, watching this force of nature unfold.

Striped marlin show up outside Mag Bay in late September or early October and stick around until December. You can catch them on a fly, but you need a bit of luck. They move around a lot and sometimes seem to disappear for a week or more and then reappear, seemingly out of thin air. Birds help you locate packs of marlin but, sans birds, you can tease them up with a hookless bait, just like you might for sailfish in Guatemala.

Spanish sardines are big baits. So are Pacific mackerel. When teasing, fly-fishers should cast oversized (10 inches-plus) baitfish patterns. Must cast 10-plus inch flies. These are difficult to cast very far, even on a 14-weight billfish rod. If frigate birds are working the bait we prefer a rod that is castable, and will use a smaller fly to make the system work. We pull up to a baitball and cast directly into it. We don’t cast to specific marlin; we cast to the bait. Then we make two strips and let the fly sit. A striped marlin, which range to 150 pounds, will simply swim up to it and suck it in—when these fish work baitballs, they are ravenous and will eat almost anything. It’s a sight to behold.

Pat Ford
Pat Ford honed his sports photography skills at Notre Dame. His first article for Saltwater Sportsman appeared in 1969, and he has shot and written for every major fishing publication since that time. He has held more than two dozen IGFA line class records and now, as a retired Miami trial attorney, spends his time writing books and traveling to exotic locales. See more of his work at