CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico — When the sun set on another day in the life of Jeff Klassen recently on a deserted beach north of town, it did so fittingly.
With the 6-foot-5 fisherman standing ankle-deep in wet sand, shin-deep in swirling surf, silhouetted against a purple sky and engaged in battle with a large, copper-colored snapper that would eventually become dinner.
After landing his prize, Klassen quickly carved it into fillets and, in the dim light of dusk, waded back out to rinse his hands, only to be sent high-stepping comically back to shore by a seven-foot hammerhead shark that brushed against his legs.
Perhaps this, too, was fitting, because although a day in the life of Jeff Klassen is usually a day at the beach, it rarely involves lounging in a hammock--and almost never is dull.
The southernmost beaches on either side of the Baja California peninsula are Klassen's home away from home, shunned by the masses who believe that the farther offshore one travels, the better the fishing must be.
Granted, you won't catch a marlin, dorado, or any of the so-called glamour fish walking the beach with Klassen.
But the world's most prolific beach fisherman--a Seattle resident who spends much of his summers here--can guarantee one thing none of the captains can: You will not get seasick.
You might shake loose a kidney bouncing across a snake-filled desert getting to the places he likes to fish, but you'll forget about that pain when your right arm starts to throb after your 83rd cast of a four-ounce surface plug.
But if alternative angling adventure is up your alley, track down Klassen--he's on the Internet at www.jeffklassenfishing.com--to see if he'll take you on a wild ride to the Henhouse, where getting lucky means getting your hooks into a 50-pound roosterfish.
He named the private beach after a small green house that used to stand where the desert meets the sea--and after the marauding roosterfish that patrol its shores.
Klassen, 37, says an underground spring enriches the tidal zone here, attracting thousands of bait fish, which in turn bring not only the really big roosterfish, but schools of dogtooth snapper, also called pargo, and jack crevalle.
During Klassen's most recent visit, he brought along a client named Dennis Spare, 53, a surfer from Vista taking a break to try something more relaxing.
Instead, Spare was handed a 10-foot spinning rod that had at the end of the line an estimated 70-pound roosterfish, which dragged the surfer 300 yards down the beach and sapped the life from his arms during an hourlong fight.
They hung limp at his side while Klassen's assistant, Tom Meyer, held the fish so Spare could pose for a picture. Meyer then hoisted the big rooster atop his shoulder and carried it back to the water's edge, where he spent 10 minutes reviving and releasing it.
The Roosterfish King
Klassen's personal best is the first rooster he ever caught, an 84-pounder he wrestled ashore after a three-hour struggle nine years ago below Frailes Point on the gulf side of the peninsula.
It was a classic battle that turned to Klassic comedy in the waning moments under a balmy night sky.
"The line breaks and the fish is just lying there on the wet sand, and another big wave is coming in," Klassen recalls. "So I dropped the rod, and myself and these three Mexican guys who were standing on the rocks--we just jumped on top of this fish the moment the wave crashed. One guy shoved his hand right through the gills of this rooster. . . .
"The wave just bowled us all up onto the rocks. And we were all cut up and beat up and everything, but we had the fish. It was 8:30 at night and it took three of us to carry him up the hill and put him in the back of the car."
Klassen releases his fish these days, keeping only an occasional snapper for the dinner table--or any fish that might qualify for the record books.
He has set eight world records from Baja's sun-drenched shores. Three still stand: an eight-pound-line record for a 34-pound snook he bagged in 1997; a 16-pound-line record for a 22-pound 8-ounce jack crevalle he caught in 1992, and an all-tackle record 21-pound 4-ounce leopard grouper he pulled from its cavernous world in 1995.
The one he wants most, though, is the one that keeps eluding him: the roosterfish record.
The 16-pound-line record is a 68-pound 12-ounce specimen caught off Costa Rica. Klassen's 84-pounder would easily have wiped that out, had he been thinking about records back then.
The all-tackle record is a 114-pound roosterfish caught in 1960 off La Paz. Klassen says he has hooked bigger, but without a boat to chase the fleeing beasts he has been unable to stop them.
"How many roosterfish have I caught in all my years down here?" he asks, repeating a question. "I've probably hooked up several thousand, but I've passed a lot off to clients. Myself? I've probably caught a couple thousand."
Lore of the Land