MEXICO Steve Henline

Bahia Keno, Sonora.
In the late 60’s I started to travel to Mexico to fish the Sea of Cortez at Kino Bay or Kino Viejo. The old town was a quiet fishing village with dirt streets and shacks made of corrugated metal and sun aged wood. I drank cold cervesa and hot tequila with the Mexican fishermen under tin roofs in tiny cantinas. I didn’t know much of the language and they spoke little or no English, but it didn’t matter. We all entiende la pesca. Spoke of fish.

The recently built Nuevo Kino or New Kino was a haven for expatriated Americans mostly from California. They had found this isolated paradise and moved there in custom built home decorated in the Mexican style with a lot of tile and handcrafted rustic furniture. All were hospitable. I preferred to spend my time in Old Kino with the Mexicans or alone on the beach.

Bahia Kino – Nuevo Kino from the water

There were no charters then. Fishing consisted of locating someone with a boat, promising to pay for the beer and the gas, which at the time sold for about 2o cents a gallon.

There was beer on tap, but seldom cold. Better to buy the ice and chill your own.

The beer was cheap and so was the ice. For 10 to 15 dollars a day you could fish, but you were at the mercy of the boat owner as to the specie and the location where you would fish.

Tiburon Island, Sea of Cortez

West by Southwest in the Sea of Cortez is the island of Tiburon which means shark in Spanish. It is the largest island in the Sea of Cortez and a sanctuary of some sort.

The Seri Indians had the run of the island and it was said. that as late as 1905 they had killed and eaten some Mexican fishermen or miners looking for gold on the island.

Whether or not there is any truth to this story is still a mystery, but the Indians were very primitive and everyone knew to stay the hell away from Tiburon. In fact, at the time it was forbidden by the Mexican government to set foot on the island unless you were a Seri. Even the Yaqui Indians were afraid of the Seri’s. I was bulletproof in those days and being around the Seri’s delighted me. Ignorance is bliss, they say, and I was quite blissful in the scorching desert sun with the former cannibals.

Seris from the Sea of Cortez

I fished with the Seri Indians a time or two. They lived a nomadic life. Vagabondo Del Mar! The real ones with centuries at sea, fishing for sharks, which they would dry and salt. I would buy a bottle or two of whiskey and then set out in my Jeep Wagoneer to locate their camp.

My jeep didn’t have seat belts, although they were optional. It did have a compass which was invaluable for wayward fishermen like myself

Seri camp near Bahia Kino

Driving along the beach, I would eventually find them, generally within 20 or so miles from Kino, up an old jeep track through desert sands. They would look at me suspiciously until I broke out the whiskey. Into the crude tents made of driftwood and discarded cardboard boxes we would go, seeking relief as the hot desert winds whipped up the sand.

Seri’s at their camp near Kino

I would drink with the men, dark brown like the ironwood they made into beautiful carvings to sell to the gringos.

Seri Ironwood carving

Their faces were as tough as the Granite Mountains that arose from the sea. The sun had eroded their skin. Their needs were simple and I remember that they showed great affection for their children. They ignored their women completely while I was with them.

Their boats were open craft, pangas. Much like a big Polynesian war canoe, some squared at the stern. Some were fitted with outboard motors that had served their usefulness with the Mexicans and Norte Americanos alike, their skilled hands kept the motors alive, but they smoked and groaned like some fire breathing dragon.

Seri with turtles

When I fished with them I generally stayed in my jeep wagoneer, sleeping in the back. Before dawn there would be a knock on the glass and always before I could clear the cobwebs from my mind and sit upright the indian was gone. Coffee was grinds thrown into an old can and boiled until it was about the same color as the Indians. We would drink it down still boiling hot and head out to sea.

We would push the pangas through the surf and all jump in. They would row until the head Indian or the capitano, I suppose, would fire up the outboard. After much choke adjustment and pulling on the starter the motor would finally come to life. No one but me was surprised.

Fishing was accomplished with heavy line held in their hands. The hooks were the first circle hooks I had ever seen. They probably traded or pilfered them from the commercial long liners that inhabited the Sea of Cortez. Baits were salted flying fish or some kind of little mackerel they called, sardinis. Every Mexican in that part of the Sea of Cortez called their bait sardinis, regardless of the specie.

They caught shark of several specie; sand, tiger, juvenile hammerheads and others I wasn’t familiar with. They supplemented their shark harvest with turtles.

Even then the loggerheads and green sea turtles were protected by international treaty. The Seri‟s didn’t know Christ about the treaties and killed the turtles for food. Protected or not, they were good eating. It was a history that went back a long, long time. I saw many of the protected turtles in the back of pickup trucks heading for Hermosillo.

Seris with turtles

Several times I took friends from my hometown in Utah with me to share the beautiful Sonoran Desert and the Sea of Cortez. My camp would be a large tent staked on the beach near the Caverna del Seri, Cave of the Seris. A gas burning stove, cooler, coffee pot, an aluminum pot to boil the shrimp in and a few frying pans completed the camp.

I would stay on the beach sometimes for weeks fishing. The others I took with me must not have been able to appreciate the living quarters nor the bare necessities, as none of them ever lasted the duration. All went back to their boredom in civilization early.

Down the beach a hundred yards or so was a bar and restaurant also called Caverna del Seri. Its owner was named Santiago Garcia De La Garza. Santiago was an amiable young man whose father was professed to be the largest landowner in Sonora. The apparent heir to the De La Garza estates was seemingly content to run the trailer park and bar.

After a short period of hanging out in his cantina he would leave me the keys when he left for home in Hermosillo. All he asked was that I locked it up when I left and to put a few pesos in the till to cover my expenses and those who chose to join me. True to my word I always left a few pesos. Few is the optimal word for this endeavor as that I didn’t want him to come to believe that a swing shift would be profitable and stay all day and most of the night in Kino when he should be home with his senora and little ninos.


During my stay I would fish in the surf that pounded the rocks. The fish would be of species unknown to me, most broke off in the rocks. Whatever I caught and that the Mexicans said were “buen alimento “ were boiled in a driftwood fire, dipped onto garlic butter and eaten. No plates, no silverware, just salt, lemon and cervesa.

Occasionally a shrimper would dock in the bay. I would go to town, buy a quart of Canadian Club whiskey and hire a small boat to take me to the side of the trawler.

Shrimper in Bay

The men of the crew would look over the side at me and I would hold the whiskey up for them to see and show them a 30-gallon plastic garbage can I kept on the beach. Soon, after a little consultation, a rope net was lowered. I would place the whiskey in the bucket, place it in the net and it would be hoisted aboard the trawler. When it returned it would be filled with fresh caught camarones that had been iced. 20 or so kilos of shrimp for a four-dollar bottle of whiskey. I’d split the shrimp with the small boat owner and return to my camp on the beach. I’d take the greater part of the remaining shrimp to Santiago in the bar and keep about ten to 15 pounds that I would place in my cooler and cover with hielo from the ice house.

A fire built on the beach with driftwood would soon have the big pot filled with salt water, seaweed and the tiny hot peppers, the street vendors sold, boiling. In would go two or three scoops of shrimp. Next, out of the cooler would come a cold Pacifica awash in a icy brine of hielo, and the freshly harvested shrimp. Delicato.

Cooler full of shrimp.

When the tide was out I would go to the mangroves in the estuary and gather huge oysters from the mangrove roots. Back at camp I would shuck them and eat them fresh from the shell with lemon and hot sauce. Washed down with shots of agave tequila and cold beer I would gorge myself until I fell into a fit sleep under the Sonoran stars.

Mangrove Oysters Kino bay

I was at home with the majority of Mexicans I had met in Kino and the surrounding desert country. They would haul me around showing off the sights. Occasionally they would come to the bar after Santiago left for home and we would sip icy cervesa con lemons while I told outlandish lies about my prowess as a fisherman. More than once, one of them promised to give me a hacienda property so I would move down to Sonora. I knew at the time that the land they were offering me was not theirs and it belonged to Santiago’s father. They only wanted my night time access to the bar.

During a Pez Vela (sailfish) tournament in 1976 a newly formed friend from San Carlos, located South of Kino named Fausto Ybarra had his 40’ boat brought up from Guaymas for me to use during the tournament . I was working for ABC television at the time and I had the whole sports crew from KTVX television there with me. During the tournament I had a huge Dorado hooked on 4 pound line, but the mate broke him off when trying to get the gaff into him. That fish would have been a tournament winner for light tackle to say nothing of some great eating.

The second day of the tournament my wife Judy was with me on another boat. She had insisted on going out to sea in spite of it being very rough the day before. We were fishing with a crusty old salt from Arizona whom everyone called Happy Frank. We hadn’t left land by 10 minutes when Judy got seasick. Frank wouldn’t take her back to the dock and she spent the complete day emptying her stomach overboard, even the bile was gone. Poor woman.

That night when we returned to the Hotel in San Carlos she was so dehydrated that the hotel manager became alarmed and called a doctor from Hermosillo to see her. He had his own airplane and flew to San Carlos to see if she truly was about to die. His name was Dr. Bebreaska and he was definitely trained in Southern California as he prescribed lemonade, red wine (Sangria, as I recall) and Mangos and melons. This was all she could hold down for a week and it wasn’t without difficulty that she accomplished that. Even today, 50 years later, I feel guilty for not taking her back in, but never have admitted it. She only recovered when the Aeromexico Airline flight home crossed over into Arizona airspace 6 days later.

Posado de San Carlos Hotel, Sonora

I went back to Sonora a few times after that fishing with Johnny Montgomery aboard his 19-footer the “Misfit”. To me Johnny was an old man, but thinking back he was probably only in his early 60‟s. His father had been the sheriff in Cochise County Arizona at the turn of the century. His father had known Emilio Zapata and Poncho Villa, heroes of the revolution to all Mexicans.


Johnny and I would go to the estuary and have a Mexican hook up to the boat with an old tractor and launch us off the steep dirt launch ramp. From there we would head for the South end of Tiburon Island to fish the rips for yellowtail and grouper. The currents in the rips at the end of the island washed food up to the yellowtail. We would use heavy chrome spoons dropped to the bottom and then reeled in as fast as we could. We would catch yellowtail until the Lord would have no more of it. In the evening as the sun settled in the west Pacific like a drop of blood, we would filet one of the yellowtails and eat it raw with sea salt and lemon.

When night would come we would anchor on the leeward side of the island and light a Coleman lantern and rig it to a special rod that he had built. The lantern would ride above and beyond the deck of the boat. The small 10 to 12-inch flying fish would be attracted to the lanterns light and sail into the boat crashing on the deck. We would snatch them up and store them in a cooler for sailfish bait the next day. I fell asleep listening to the waves lapping at the boat and the quiet hiss of the Coleman lantern. I would almost be asleep and a flying fish would land on me causing much anxiety as I thought about what types of monsters must lie below us in the now black seas. When sleep finally came I would have nightmares of giant manta rays chasing the flying fish into the boat.

Manta Ray out of the water. You don’t want one of these jumping in your boat!

We fished days for sails and marlin. Occasionally we would have a hookup on the light tackle he kept aboard, but never landed either species. I was beginning to think that billfishing was simply trolling around drinking beer and dreaming about actually catching one. If I had to fish as many hours for a trout without catching one as I had for billfish, I would have given up on the trout a long time ago. All I had to show for many hours off the Sonoran coast was a great sun tan.

I knew from talking to fishermen and reading that Kino was a little far North of the really good fishing for sails and marlin until the heat of summer, but Mazatlán, which lay South of Kino and was a good sailfish location wasn’t my kind of town. I was in love with Sonora and especially the little fishing village of Bahia Kino. In those days all I wanted was to find a way I could live in Kino, but my love for Judy was much greater and I let the dream lie dormant and unfulfilled.

The last time I was in Sonora, I stopped in a little bar in Nogales that belonged to Tommy Jamison. Tommy was an old man then and a legend among fishermen on the Sea of Cortez. He had gone to San Carlos and Guaymas early after WW II and established San Carlos as a Sportfishing town.

Nogales, Sonora Mexico in the old days. It didn’t look much different when I was there

We drank shots of tequila and talked of marlin and sails. Tommy had a tiny marlin mounted behind the bar. The fish was about 12 inches long and the old man told me the small ones were very scarce and a great trophy. I drank my tequila and could only nod. What did I know of marlin?

I didn’t go back to Kino. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s like a lover you desire but finally realize that she is impossible. I still think of the quiet little village in my dreams. I drink the cold beer in the cantinas with sand floors, but in my dreams Johnny and I catch the sails and jerk the giant groupers from their rock hiding places deep in the blue waters of the Sea of Cortez and the mantas don’t chase the flying fish into the boat.

This postcard shows the trailer court near the beach that I always camped on and the vast expanse of white beach. I can promise that it doesn’t look like that today.