Escape Winter: Budget-Friendly Ocean Fishing in Puerto Penasco
Do you find yourself staring out your office window at the snow and gray sky day-dreaming about fishing on the ocean in your flip-flips with a cold beer? Is your dream squashed when your bank account balance doesn’t support pricey winter fishing hot spots like San Diego and Florida? If so, I’ll fill you in on a little secret of mine.
210 miles south of Phoenix is a sleepy little fishing village on the Sea of Cortez called Puerto Penasco or “Rocky Point.” This small desert-meets-beach town is just a 90 minute drive from the Arizona border and is easily accessible with your own vehicle, RV or by renting a car when flying in to Phoenix or Tucson. The majority of larger rental car companies like Hertz, Budget and Dollar will allow you to take their vehicles across the border. Mexican auto insurance (highly recommended) is easily accessible online, through the rental car company or at a handful of businesses that dot AZ-85 on your arrival to the border town of Lukeville.
The majority of tourist accommodations are actually owned by Americans (mostly folks from Arizona) and provide you with the option of high-rise condos on the more populated Playa Bonita and Sandy Beach or homes and casitas (guest houses) that line the usually barren shores of Las Conchas, a gated community with 24 hour security located about 10 minutes from the city center. Most of these homes rent for less than $100 USD a night with a 2–4 person occupancy.
During the months of October through March anglers can expect to catch pinto, rock and sea Bass; triggerfish and red snapper off the bottom about 12–15 miles off shore while larger species of fish like grouper and yellowtail can be reeled in 19–22 miles out. Esther Santiago, the American owner of Santiago’s Ocean Services, said, “ The fishing in Rocky Point is always plentiful and most guests leave with an oversized cooler of fish to take with them. Having fished these waters since 1995 we know the spots to find them. It’s never a dull day fishing!” Fishing excursions are available for $80 USD per person for the shorter distance 6 hour trip and $150 for the 9 hour “Big Boy” trips as Esther calls them.
While fishing you’ll likely encounter a pod of dolphins swimming by, large sea turtles bobbing in the azure water and Pelicans patiently (or sometimes not so patiently) waiting to gobble up the fish heads thrown off the back of the boat while the crew filet your catch en route back to shore. If you visit between February and mid-May there’s a decent chance you may spot a grey, fin or killer whale.
Just a short distance from the marina to downtown you will find six seafood stalls that serve as the local fish market. Here you can purchase fresh flounder, scallops and large shrimp from the local’s daily catch. (Be sure to smell it for freshness, barter among the stalls and watch the scales as they’ve been known to pull a few fast ones if you don’t keep an eye out!) Prepare a seafood lover’s delight with the fish you’ve caught while sipping on a margarita and watching the sun set over the ocean. Not a bad way to end a perfect day of fishing! Rocky Point boasts some of the nicest grocery stores I’ve seen in all of Mexico. Prepare some, or all of your meals, and watch how quickly you can save some extra pesos!
When you’re taking a break from fishing don’t miss the oyster farm about 20 minutes outside of town. Bring some saltine crackers and sample the local hot sauce with a few dozen oysters pulled out of the water right in front of you for less than $10 USD. It doesn’t get any fresher than that! A mile or so inside Los Conchas, CEDO (Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans) has on display the full skeleton of a fin whale that washed ashore in 1984 in the nearby estuary. Definitely worth seeing and best of all, it’s free! So quit day-dreaming and go pack your bags for Puerto Penasco! If I don’t happen to see you down there don’t forget to send some fishing pics!