Gary Graham – ROAD TREKKER

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Thursday, January 23, 2020
Catching vs. wishing

Ever-changing field of dreams
This column is about changes – not only in my life, but in the lives of others who, like me, sought their own field of dreams and discovered Baja.

My first memorable fishing day was from the shore of San Diego Bay on Harbor Drive — long before the San Diego Airport, and Harbor Island had even been conceived. Riding my bike to and from our family home in Mission Hills, on that first foray, I caught four bat rays weighing up to 60 pounds, and I was hooked on fishing!

Ray Cannon, John Steinbeck, Zane Grey, and Earl Stanley Gardner discovered Baja at a time when Mex. 1 was just a dream — and although Baja was a field of dreams for many, the stories each wrote fed the flame of interest for others … and for me.

I became an avid fan of Ray Cannon’s stories on Baja when he began his Baja Sportfishing column in Western Outdoor News in 1953 when the first issue of the paper was published, around the same time I caught my first bat rays. Cannon’s writings convinced me that my life would not be complete until I had fished the waters and shared the adventures that he described so artfully.

My first Baja adventure was a father-son affair with my eight-year-old son Greg in 1968. We flew from Tijuana to La Paz and hired a taxi to take us to Loreto’s Flying Sportsmen Lodge, often mentioned in Cannon’s columns. That week's visit to the Lodge whetted our appetite for a lifetime of Baja exploring.

I made the first road trip down Mex. 1 in one of my company’s no-frills vehicles with two friends. The van had a bare floor, two bucket seats, a few folding aluminum chairs, a cooler, and sleeping bags, but it served its purpose. My buddies were as eager as I to share the Baja adventure, and we beach-hopped down the new highway, checking out the different destinations mentioned in Cannon’s columns, catching fish from shore at every stop.

Then, in 1974, Tom Miller published The Baja Book ... A Complete Map - Guide to Today's Baja California. At one of his book signings, I met Tom and his wife Shirley, who shared a passion for Baja — the fishing as well as the beaches. We soon became good friends.

Miller traveled alone on many exploratory trips, and because I could drop everything and go at a moment’s notice, he often invited me to ride shotgun.

We frequently camped on beaches on both the west and east coast of Baja, and we shared many firsts — first white seabass, first yellowtail, and even first dorado from shore, among others.

In the mid-70s, Vagabundos del Mar Boat and Travel Club gathered at the new hotel on Harbor Island, and members Tom and Shirley invited Yvonne and me to attend. Ray Cannon, who was a friend of the Millers, was there as well. This was the ideal time to chat with Cannon and let him know how much his writings had meant to me.

When Cannon died in 1977, the field changed, and Tom assumed the WON column. Frequently, when the fishing was good offshore in San Diego, he and Shirley would join Yvonne and me aboard our boat, the WaterCloset to chase whatever was biting. Eventually, we became partners in a Mexican Auto Insurance business. The four of us remained friends until their deaths.

From then until 1986, when he left for health reasons, Tom wrote the WON column. He and I continued to sneak away occasionally to check out one hot spot or another that he heard of, or when he was visiting some of the many remote fish camps that dotted the peninsula for a story or a survey for the Mexican government. The more time I spent in Baja, the more I loved my adopted home.

Then, once again, the WON column changed hands. Fred Hoctor assumed the stewardship of the Baja Sportfishing Column that had become one of the most popular features of the still-growing newspaper. Although Hoctor and I never fished together, our interest and our continued fascination with Baja and its beaches, molded our friendship, and we spent many hours talking on the telephone.

Often, we would exchange intel, gossip about local developments, or swap fish stories and recent hot bites. He once told me a story about a world-record snook caught in Magdalena Bay that piqued my interest. The information he received was sketchy but credible enough; yet, it didn’t include where the fish was caught. Years later, after satellite maps became available, he and I figured out the location.

In 2001, after a 15-year stint as the third writer of the WON column, Hoctor suffered a heart attack at his home at Punta Bunda. Replacing him was the writer and publisher of the popular Baja Catch series of fishing guidebooks, my good friend Gene Kira.

Kira had been a frequent guest at our home, “Rancho Deluxe,” at La Capilla in East Cape. We introduced him to fishing ATVs on the beaches of East Cape, which ultimately became a fundamental part of Baja on the Fly, a fly-fishing company Yvonne and I had started.

It was with Gene’s encouragement that I began writing in 1995, never dreaming that it would become a new career of 25 years (and still counting).

When Kira retired, Jonathan Roldan took over the column, and since 2008, Jonathan and I have shared the WON Baja Sportfishing column spot introducing our own respective columns, Road Trekker and Baja Beat. We have had mutual respect for one another’s skills and offerings. I am honored to have been included among these very talented columnists of this fine newspaper for the past 12 years.

But one thing this Baja field of dreams has taught me and so many others is that it not only is a world of changes, but it also offers an abundance of opportunities for those who reach out to receive them. I have enjoyed every moment of my travels and discoveries in Baja in the Roadtrek and the columns it spawned. I retired the van last year, and the time has come to retire the column as well.

It's time for “That Baja Guy” to pursue new adventures in Baja’s ever changing field of dreams.

• • • • •

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