Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Municipal Pier

 Going fishing for your first time here
All sport fishing leaves from the Municipal Pier in Zihuatanejo. If a captain, travel agent, hotel, or coyote on the beach tells you they have a great rate for a sport fishing boat in the Ixtapa Marina….It is illegal.
The normal time of departure for the fishing boats at the Municipal Pier is between 6:30 and 7:00 in the morning. Leaving your hotel at 6:00, or a little after, will get you to the pier in plenty of time to pick up a couple of sandwiches and even a cup of coffee or tea, wander around a bit and enjoy the overall scene as boats and their clients get ready to go out for the day, and make it to your boat to make your departure.
Remember, all of mainland Mexico, other than the Border States, is in the Central Time Zone. For most months of the year, it is just starting to get to be a bit of grey light in the East by 7:00 here in Zihuatanejo. Realistically, we should be in the Mountain Time Zone, so daylight here is an hour later in the morning than most areas. 
Arturo's corner store, with fishermen buying their lunch
 Once your taxi brings you into the parking lot, walk straight ahead about 30 feet. On your left, after you pass the small white guard shack, is Arturo’s corner store. You can get water, beer, sodas, snacks, fruit, and most anything you will need. In front of his store, the girls have tables set up for making Mexican style sandwiches. Pay Arturo inside the store first, and then go back outside and tell the girl how many sandwiches and/or coffees.  It is excellent traditional food, stuffed into a fresh hot Mexican bread roll (bolillo…pronounced bow-lee-yo). The bread is still warm and only minutes old. Three balillos will fill up a very hungry large man...for a cost of less than $4.00. You can also get coffee, orange juice and breakfast rolls.
Bolillos on the left, and a selection of fillings on the right
After you have your lunch, turn around and walk on out to the pier. Just across from the Port Captain’s office, on the left side of the pier is another table set up for selling sandwiches and coffee. This is where most of the captains and deckhands get their lunch from. The food is basically more traditional for what they are used to eating, where Arturo’s is more set up for the North of the Border tastes. I usually get one from each. (Sometimes the captain’s location takes Sunday or holiday mornings off, so everybody buys from Arturo’s store). The cost is the same at both places (currently 15 pesos a sandwich). Also, the food is very safe at both places, because they want you to come back. Their livelihood depends on it.

Where the captains and deckhands get their lunches
Just past this second table, and again on the left side, is a woman sitting the on the curb selling bait to the captains and deckhands. They are usually 6 to 8 inch goggle eyes (ojotones) and maybe a few green jacks (concineros). The dead bait used for trolling is furnished by the boat. However, if you get into tuna or dorado, or even sail fishing with a spin rod, buying some live bait is cheap insurance. The bait is bought off one of the pangas out about 100 yards from the pier and you pick it up on your way out. Two dozen goggle eyes are only 100 pesos (less than $10). The panga’s bait tank hold the two dozen bait well, but a cruiser may need two day’s notice, so the captain can have a bait tank rigged, pump repaired, etc. The client pays for the live bait.

However, live bait may not be available if sold out prior, or commitments have been made to other captains. It is best to tell your panga captain a day ahead of time you want live bait, so he can have it reserved. Another couple of reasons live bait may not be available is if a full moon scatters the bait, or a hard rainstorm the night before made it too dangerous to catch bait.
You will note the cats waiting there for a handout. On the pier, there are several generations of cats that have gotten their main meal of the day from the people selling bait in the mornings.

 Plus, from there is a good vantage point to see the night fishermen running their pangas up onto the beach about 100 yards away. They have been out fishing all night and usually return about 6:30 in the morning. They run their pangas up on Playa Principal, and then sell their catch in the open air market just in front of the beached pangas.
Selling fresh fish from the beach, with the
Municipal pier in the background
For a better view of all the above photos and descriptions, please review Tom Branoff's excellent video:

Looking up ahead of you on the right, you will now see the cruisers backed up to the pier. They are also backed up to the pier on the left side, but down past where the pangas pick up their clients. The boat names are painted on the stern in big letters, so it is easy to find the one you want. When you get to the boat, just go down the stairway to the landing nearest your boat. The deckhand will pull on the mooring rope, and bring the boat in close to where you can get in by stepping on the stern and into the boat.
 Handicapped people and those with a disability may be a bit nervous by our methods, but we all pitch in, and have yet to have a problem of any kind.
If you are fishing from a panga, up ahead of you, and just past the woman selling the bait, is a fenced in area. They built the fence when the tender boats brought in people from the cruise ships. It was easier for them to keep the cruise ship people lined up like cattle. Anyway, stay to the left and go into the fenced area. The pangas pick up their clients at the first set up steps you come to. The names of the pangas are painted on each side of the boat, and usually on the fiberglass shade cover, near the rail of the boat. 
Gate to the fenced area. It is only closed when cruise ships are here.
If you see your panga, just raise your arm, call out the name and get his attention. Otherwise ask any Mexican captain there on the pier, tell him the boat name, and he will whistle him in for you. The deckhands usually get the panga ready for the day’s fishing, and the captains will often wait at the stairs to greet their clients.
Santiago and Arturo waiting for their clients
You will return about 2:00 in the afternoon, and it will be hot. A cool one with the captains or your friends in Lilly’s (next to Arturo’s store) is a good way to wrap up the day. There are always kids waiting to help you come off the boat. They expect a 10 peso tip, for just reaching out a hand. Make them work for the money and give them 20 pesos. Have them take your gear or your pack to the parking lot for the return trip in the taxi, or Lilly’s restaurant. These young kids will be your future deckhands and captains…so do not let money be too easy for them.
If you are fishing inshore that day, and catch a lot of the poor eating jack crevalle and black skipjack tuna (barrilettes), which the captains call bonitos for your benefit, do not worry when they keep them in the boat and do not release. When you return to the pier, the captains give them to the many people who want them for dinner, and are glad to have them. They will also be asking for any remaining baits…which they also will eat. Black skipjack tuna are a member of the tuna family, but please do not try to cook one up. The heavy oils from the dark meat…hence the name, will get you thrown out of the kitchen. But, when fresh caught that afternoon, they are excellent as tiritas. Use onion and lime to cook out the very thin sliced tuna, and add catsup or soy sauce, then eat with tortilla chips (totopos) or saltine crackers (galletas). Just don’t try to cook them.      
If you caught a dorado, yellowfin tuna, or some sierra, and want it cooked up fresh that night for dinner, you can’t go wrong with taking it to Lety. Lety’s restaurant is the No.1 seafood restaurant in the Ixtapa / Zihuatanejo area. (She will not cook sailfish or marlin...it is illegal) To get there, just walk across the pedestrian bridge at the North corner of the Municipal Pier’s parking lot, and her place is in front of you. The restaurant is up on the second floor, but she will be in the kitchen, on the left, at the 1st floor entry. Just give her the fish and tell her how you want it cooked, how many people, and what time. She speaks English well.  Plus, for 30 pesos, you can use one of those kids to carry the fish to Lety’s with you also.
The pedestrain bridge over the lagoon,
with Lety's in the background
One final thing: A lot of people want to bring down an ice chest to take home fillets. That is fine and good, but it will be charged as extra luggage in this new era of price gouging. If you get a couple of huge dorado, use the savings of not bringing an ice chest down with you. Just buy it here at the local Commercial Mexicana or the Bodega. All boats have ice chests and ice, so you will not need one unless you get enough fillets to justify the expense.
Enjoy your stay and your fishing experience. I hope this little article will help you get dialed in easier, and things go well for you.
Good Fishing
Ed (IGFA Representative - Mexico)
Remember: Kill a bill fish…NO Tip!
The last several afternoons I have been on the pier watching the boats come in, I noticed several boats with 1 or 2 dead sailfish. I believe there are two causes for this. 1) The first problem is the captains who practice catch and release are releasing their fish for the most part. But, they still use the archaic “J” hooks, which inherently will get stuck in the gills on too long of a free spool drop back, or a very aggressive fish. This can be eliminated by the use of the proven circle hooks. 2) The second factor is because most tourists are not experienced at fishing for billfish. They will not even want to spend a couple of hundred dollars and go fishing, unless the reports are where they have a great chance of catching one. Then they charter a boat from a coyote on the beach, or a travel agent in the hotel, who knows he will never see them again. In turn, the coyote then gets the cheapest boat he can find, in order to maximize his commission. The pangas generally charge about $150 to the coyote. They go fishing, and in order for the panga captain to have a decent day, he must kill a couple of fish and sell them for about $30 each, and then with a decent tip, he is back to getting what the better captains who do not use coyotes (and release their fish), charge for a day of fishing.

The only way to stop the use of “j” hooks or intentionally killing fish is to hit the captain in the pocket book. Kill a fish…No Tip!