By Stan Gabruk of Master Baiter’s Sportfishing and Tackle

The more things change, the more they stay the same

The inside story of the Puerto Vallarta fishing scene, living in the middle of it gives me a unique view of a world only those in it will ever see.  I see what is happening in Marina Vallarta every day. I see all the boats, I know all the captains one way or another. The things that happen on the docks can affect the charter you reserved six months or six hours ago. There is a sub culture in these Mexican Marinas. Not everyone is a good guy, not everyone is a bad guy. Most have families, children, parents and lots of brothers and sisters. These families live and grow up in the Marinas and on the beaches. Puerto Vallarta is a small town, that may feel big, but is going through some growing pains. Big money problems, small minded solutions, and opportunities you can step into easier than a hot tub. Welcome to the real Marina Vallarta….

When you open the fishing magazines, you see pictures of large fish, Blue water, and expensive boats. This is the fantasy, but these fantasies sell Magazines. Rich guys who have a money machine in the garage can live these fantasies, but what is a real world guy who loves fishing supposed to do? Well unless you have four thousand bucks to blow on the Magazine guys, you better get in touch with what is happening in the Marina you’re visiting on vacation. I am now speaking of Marina Vallarta of course, but the rules are the same in all the Sportfishing Marinas around the world.

Say you’re ¨Joe Average Guy¨, you live in the real world, that means you save your nickels and dimes, go without that little extra that cost stupid money like Latte’s or morning donuts. Save that cash and in three months you will have enough to go out fishing on a Super Panga for 8 hrs, targeting Sailfish, Dorado, and Moby Dick! Get a buddy and hit El Banco for Marlin and Yellowfin Tuna in the Summer Months. That is how the real world, real guy goes out and hunts Monsters.

Now lets assume you have that hard earned cash you hid from your wife for the last year. Now you’re on vacation and ready to go fishing for that Finned Fantasy you´ve been thinking about since the first time you saw a jumping Marlin on the Wide World of Sports! How do you find a company that will deliver the truth, not the crap you want to hear about the fishing conditions and the catch. That guy you will be talking with wants that commission or charter. He is motivated to tell you whatever it takes to get you on that boat. If you catch fish is a secondary concern to him. He wants to sell the boat that gives him the biggest commission! You know you are not going to like the price, but at least you want to be told the truth before you drop a thousand dollars on the barrel head! So you better do some research amigo or you will be fleeced like a baby lamb.   

Now if this is your situation, the last thing you want to do is drop a thousand bucks down on some guy who is referring you to his brother in laws, uncles, cousin who owns this boat somewhere around the marina who will get you fish and get you a great deal. Now you would be amazed at how many times this happens. Disasters every one of them. It’s like they volunteer to be taken advantage of. Can you say Baaaaaaaaa like a sheep being fleeced?

So how are you going to go about finding the right captain, the right boat and the right captain? Well, some go by word of mouth, which is a good way to go. Happy customers are always good for business, this is stupid simple. Go with those guys. If you don´t know anyone, ask the concierge in the hotels, they will direct you to people like me. People who know the guys on the boats and the boats themselves. Everyone knows who’s boats are healthy and which ones are sick… and which ones are terminal. So lets look at this a little deeper….  

Word of mouth can be misleading also. The good captain that caught you or your friend fish last time is probably on another boat now, in maybe another marina. If he is any good at all he could be working now for a private boat owner and pulling down great money, even for an American it would be great money. With the changes that happen around here, if you can´t keep up with things, you can’t operate a business. The captain on your boat can hold its financial success or failure in his hands and as a boat owner. Now that can be scary since there is no perfect captain, no matter what I do, some stupid stuff is going to happen… and I mean stupid stuff! If your word of mouth contact had a day like that, then you got bad information. So you have to get to a person who knows the local boats and who will tell you the truth. That guy would be me, that is if you want to go out fishing. I have this belief that people will appreciate the truth and ultimately tell their friends that I suggested you not go out today or postpone for a few days. I have had this bite me in the back side watching a guy I told the truth to just to find a guy who will give him a stupid price and tell him whatever he wants to hear and bingo.. There he goes. Now I could do that, there are times when things are dead where it would be to my benefit to do so, but as an American I can’t just do that. So I will tell it to you as straight as it can get. Believe me or not, I appreciate your business, but I would rather keep my return clients and not screw up my reputation over a few bucks.

 As a boat owner, the impossible goal is to find a captain that speaks English, is reliable, friendly, of course catches fish, won’t steal, shows up on time, doesn’t call me at three o’clock in the morning to let me know he drank all the fuel money and needs another $350.00 usd before 6:30 a.m. , etc. But yes buckwheat, there are captains that will fill the bill. But back to the question: Who do you go with Captain and Boat wise?

Enter the local talent, the guys who grew up on the docks and have forgotten more than that new guy from Florida will ever know! So lets talk local guys, the Captains and crew ¨Joe Average¨ is looking for. Well as you can imagine, Puerto Vallarta is full of them. Those who know enough about the area, will know the names of the captains before they know the name of the boat the fished on last with this guy. These are the guys you want to hunt down.


So lets talk about one of the local guy grew who grew up in the area. I should say more than grew up in the area, they were breast fed on the docks while the mother was making crevice. Take Capt. Armando, His family had eleven pangas that were commercial fishing boats. They would catch fish like Dorado (aka Mahi Mahi or Dolphin) and sell them at Market. Imagine Tropical settings on the beaches before Buceras had many buildings, a true sleepy little fishing village. Capt. Armando and his family, especially his father saw Sportfishing grow in Puerto Vallarta as one of the early charter captains in Puerto Vallarta. Armando was his deck hand and later first mate.

Now Capt. Armando is not one of those pretty Mexican Captains. He is missing a few teeth, he is kinda portly, but is absolutely one of the best people I have ever had the pleasure to know, let alone have as a Captain in Marina Vallarta. His ship is El Duende and is an older, 31 ft Bertram classic that is not exactly something you’ll find on ESPN. You see,  it´s not exactly pretty, but it is a fine working fishing platform that comes well equipped with top of the line equipment and tackle like Shimano Reels, CalStar Poles and Hi5 lures, etc. There is plenty of shade, a private head, and plenty of ice and bait. The boat is fast and everyone speaks English. More importantly he catches fish! Plain, Simple and uncomplicated. High technology to Capt. Armando would be the simple graphics of his onboard electronics. A guy like Capt. Armando knows what the area has to hold from experience. When you have the electronics, you can see why he has hit a certain spot for years and won’t share this information but with a selective few…. Unlike many captains, he can perform from visual navigation points in the bay.  

With Mondos experience.. that’s what I call him, if you are looking for Rooster fish, Sailfish, Marlin, then he’s your man. I have never seen a better Captain inside the bay and finds fish when nobody else does. Now you will come back happy, and think Capt. Armando is the greatest fisherman you have ever seen. I consider him a friend.

Now I can put Mondo in a beautiful boat and I would have to charge a lot more money since the boat would be new and the insurance is high, etc. But that does not mean he would catch more fish. He would be more comfortable, but we’re looking for real world captians now, not fat daddy/ flashy television clowns.

So the guy(s) in the Magazines are really no better than Capt. Armando. Remember, like I said earlier, The boat does not catch the fish, fish go for the bait, the boat means nothing to the fish at all.

To give you an idea, Capt. Armando has captained El Duende for about four years now. Mondo was one of my best Captains we ever had when it comes to reliability, catching fish, customer support, and supporting the common goals of maintenance and fuel usage. He was great and if you are looking for some real world fishing and not that fancy smancy crap they throw out there, then Mondo is your guy.


I am going to start putting up profiles of the local captains worth their salt who are the unsung fishing heroes of many a vacationing angler to Puerto Vallarta.

So the next time some guy walks up to you on the boardwalk in PV and tells you he has twelve boats and he can beat any deal. Remember, the money you just saved will almost guarantee no fish. You see guys like Capt. Armando work full time on real boats. Not a part time captain who is hired when they ¨get¨ someone who may be interested.

So remember, buy the captain, not the boat. Purchase experience, not B.S….. Catch Fish!

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