Valente Lucero

by Scott Sadil

This will be tough.

In news traveling the spurious byways of social media, yesterday I came upon a brief note, in Spanish, reporting the sudden death of Valente Lucero, senior captain in the crew of Lucero’s, out of Baja’s Agua Amarga, who have played such a central role in the development of fly fishing, especially for roosterfish, along the waters off Punta Arena de la Ventana, just south of Isla Cerralvo.

Shocked, I copied the note to an online Spanish-to-English translator, to make sure I was reading it correctly.  Then I phoned Gary Bulla.

“I fished with him Friday,” Gary said.  “At the captains’ dinner we sat in the kitchen and talked.  His wife said he got home and at ten lay down in front of the TV.  Then his heart exploded.”

Gary Bulla and Valente Lucero

Gary got to Valente’s house at midnight.  There were already close to 100 people there—more people, if you had asked me beforehand, than live in the entire pueblo of Agua Amarga.

“Sixty-two years old,” Gary said. “The doctor had just given him a clean bill of health, said he was the fittest one of the bunch.”

Gary goes back with the Luceros more than thirty years now.  From the start, Valente was the captain who seemed most intrigued by fly fishing, most creative when it came to catching tuna and roosters and dorado on the fly, quickest to assert which patterns did and didn’t work.  He was also playful as a puppy, rarely speaking a word of English while teasing clients, in the friendliest of manners, when they blew a cast or lost a big fish.

The Agua Amarga captains – with Valente in the middle

His nickname, Venado, meaning deer, came from a story, perhaps apocryphal, of the time Valente drank enough tequila that he jumped in or out of, I’m not sure which, a cardón cactus.

Most of the Lucero panga captains, it seemed, also played for the local baseball club, Los Tiburones.  For years, not surprising to anyone who knew him, Valente was the star pitcher, a lefty with some clever junk.

I’m not sure when I first fished with Valente.  All of the Luceros are gentlemen, fishy captains who know how to find fish and get you into them.  But Valente had that something else, not better, just different, that makes a day on the water stand out, sometimes weird and wonderful, always filled with a taste of the magic that makes a day of sport somehow memorable.  The captains, no doubt, all looked up to Valente—and when they first got radios in their pangas, and Valente refused to have one on his, you could see how much it bothered them, not being able to keep tabs on him. 

What’s he up to now?

Over the years I wrote a lot about Valente, including fictional panga captains inspired by Valente, his wit, his humor, his creative capacity to unlock the problems often associated with inshore, big-game flyfishing.  Like so many other anglers, I was delighted whenever I got a day in Valente’s boat—even the time, during a summer spent writing in La Ventana, when we went out and found nothing, a day Valente described as the worst day of fishing in his life.

With Valente and a nice one.

I was pretty proud of that.

Now he’s gone.  Gary said the captains asked to take a day off; Gary’s clients all agreed.  Still, when they did show up, the following day, at the boat launch, it was tough:  Valente’s panga was there, one he had just bought.  His hat, which he usually wore tied down around his face, a look all his own, was also there, sitting in the boat, right where he left it.

As soon as I got off the phone, I bought a plane ticket to go fish with Gary and the other Lucero captains.

You never know.

Gray’s angling editor, Scott Sadil, got a note from his nurse practitioner recently that advised him to “keep up the hard work of fishing.”