What is “the Ranch”? Is it part of an old western movie? Is it a cattle spread in Montana or Wyoming? What exactly is this “Ranch”?
It is the place where you go to decompress. It’s where when the anxiety of modern western living is sapping your strength and endurance you go to recharge. It’s a place that is as beautiful now as it was hundreds of years ago. It’s a place unspoiled by urban sprawl. And, if you are lucky enough to go to this place, you will instantly take a breath, be captivated by the surroundings, and if you are really lucky, you will slow down and finally “smell the roses”.
Welcome to Rancho Leonero…where old Mexico still exists. Just 90 minutes from Cabo San Lucas by car, Rancho Leonero is also a century away from “Los Cabos”. The people that call the region around Rancho Leonero their home are all tied, in some way, to the Sea of Cortez and all of its majesty.
As you leave the highway and make your way down the rutted, hard-packed sand road towards the Ranch you will drive through cactus, mesquite, Mexican cattle, white wing doves, a cattle ranch and some really nice Mexican homes. Then, finally, just past a small cemetery, you’ll glimpse the Sea of Cortez in all of its glory. Nestled on the shore of the “Sea” is Rancho Leonero. Your driver will take you up to the Palapa covered driveway and the office where you will check in for your stay.
When you step out of this office you are now entering “the Ranch”. The artistic work of Mexican stone masons assaults your senses. As you walk through the small but open central courtyard there are cabins with palapa roofs stretching out to the ocean to your left and right and a more traditional two-story hotel-like setting behind you. Just beyond the fountain in the center of the courtyard is an outside grill, again set in more stone with a palapa roof and directly behind that is the bar, the inside dining area, the patio dining area and the pool. And all of this wide-open space is set fifty feet above the shoreline of the Sea of Cortez. As a matter of fact, the new rules in Mexico would prohibit anyone from building a new restaurant so close to the ocean.
This area is always beautiful, but I like to get there about 1 hour before sunset and watch the day end and the evening unfold. As the sun lowers in the western sky it cast its rays above the Sea of Cortez coloring the clouds, the sea and the warm air with pink and gold and magenta hues. This is your setting for dinner. Warm air, ocean breeze, unlimited views and good home cooked meals served in a restaurant without walls. This is also my favorite spot for breakfast when the sun in the east barely peeks over the confluence of the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean.
In my opinion, all of this is reason enough to pack your bags and head off to Rancho Leonero…however as the TV commercial says, “but wait…there’s more”. And in this case, so much more. You would be hard pressed to find a better, more consistent warm water fishery anywhere in the world. Over the years, the Fred Hall Crew has caught marlin, sailfish, yellowfin tuna, skipjack, yellowtail, amberjacks, rooster fish (BIG roosterfish), pargo, cabrilla, wahoo, dorado, olive grouper, LARGE triggerfish, African pompano, needlefish, sierra, ladyfish and some things we couldn’t identify.
Every year the Fred Hall Crew takes two vacations together. One is a warm water fishery, and the other is a cold-water fishery. We decide where to go. Every year we decide to go to Rancho Leonero. Because of conflicting schedules sometimes there are a lot of the Fred Hall Crew that attend and sometimes there are only a few of us. 25 years ago, this started out as a “guys only” event, but over the years it has evolved into a “couples” gathering. This year there were only 3 couples.
The first morning after our arrival we booked one panga because only Dave Mandagie, Rick Gaskins and I were fishing. However, in my opinion, it was the best panga. It was newly built and the successor to the famous “El Guapo”. My favorite Sea of Cortez skipper, “Santos”, was proudly at the helm of his new boat. I have fished with Santos many days. He has never failed to put me on the fish. I’m certain that part of the reason for that success rate is that I never tell him which fish to put me on. I leave it up to him. He knows the Sea of Cortez better than I and he and I allow that Sea to dictate what we fish for.
Last year, just before we arrived at the Ranch, we had all had very successful tuna fishing trips. Our freezers were full of tuna. So, on this first day on the Sea of Cortez, when Santos asked us if we’d like to go tuna fishing, we all said NO in unison. We simply said, put us on the fish and if we get tuna fine but let’s target something else that we might be able to catch. So, Santos rigged some wahoo jigs and we set off trolling for wahoo. It was a beautiful morning. Warm but not hot. The Sea was glassy calm. We trolled for three hours and only had one wahoo strike. Not only were we not upset by the lack of activity, but we loved every minute of it. We spent the time talking about old times, new times, hopes, fears and goals. We all agreed that it was one of the best days we have ever had on the water.
So, then we turned to Santos and said, “let’s get some fish to take back to the Ranch for dinner”. Two hours later we had enough fish to feed everyone having dinner in the restaurant that night. The Rancho chefs took our pargo and sautéed it, they took the dorado and grilled it over mesquite wood, and they took our trigger fish and used it for ceviche and then took the larger fillets and cooked them in garlic and butter. If you’ve never had trigger fish fillets sautéed in garlic butter, then you are missing out. (My youngest son, Travis, likes trigger fish so much he thinks there ought to be a trigger fish flag to go along with the marlin, tuna, dorado, etc. flags that the boats fly to announce their catch as they return to port).
The following day, Ginny and I rented a car from John Ireland at the Ranch. It cost $50.00. We drove to a golf course we like near Cabo San Lucas, played golf on the Pacific Ocean, and then returned back to the Ranch. It was a great day, but while we were gone Dave and Barbie Mandagie and Rick and Janet Gaskins went tuna fishing with Santos. They left about 7:00am and had caught limits of yellowfin tuna by 11:00am. For the first time ever, they were back at the Ranch for lunch on the patio with limits of quality fish by noon.
This is what you can expect from Rancho Leonero. The atmosphere cannot be matched and, sometimes, the fishing is so good it is hard to describe. If you let the Sea of Cortez dictate what you will catch that day, it will be very difficult to have a bad fishing day at the Ranch.
Ginny and I give thanks to John and Jennifer Ireland for keeping this piece of “old Mexico” alive and well. We look forward to another great year at the Ranch in 2020. Stop by the Rancho Leonero booth at the Fred Hall Shows and ask them about the “Ranch”. (you also might want to ask to see my giant roosterfish picture)