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Gary Graham – ROAD TREKKER

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Wednesday, January 23, 2019
SNOOKZILLA?
Friday, February 22, 2019
Weather, Great White and Whales


Mag Bay’s Bounty
The Sea of Cortez never ceases to amaze me. The first time I fished it was in 1956 in a 16-foot Wizard fiberglass trailer boat. My uncle, his friends and I trailered the boat from Sacramento, Calif., to an unforgettable little village, a very primitive Guayas, Mexico, where I caught my first sailfish.

My first long-range trip was made a decade later, on an equally memorable trip aboard Captain Bruce Barnes’ 85-foot boat, the “Qualifier.” We traveled to Uncle Sam’s Bank off the coast of Baja where I caught my first black seabass.


althoughitsnotALTHOUGH IT’S NOT a given that the billfish will go off every year, it often does.


From the small boat to the large yacht, those two trips were the beginning of my lifetime of many unforgettable boating adventures on the waters surrounding Baja and Mexico — traveling to Magdalena Bay, into the esteros (estuaries), Cabo San Lucas, up into the Sea of Cortez, La Paz, Mazatlán, Manzanillo, Zihuantanejo and the Revillagigedo Islands.


Traveling on a variety of boats, including my own 23-foot Blackman Center Console, trailered from 1977 until it was sold in the mid-1980s, plus as a guest on many different sports fishers ranging in size from 48-foot to 100-foot. Some of the names I’m certain many of you will remember: Ocean Pacific, Legend, High Life, Pastime, C-Bandit, Zopilote, War Eagle, SeaMark and Kingsway to name a few; there may be a few more that I’m not remembering.


I am always thrilled to be part of the ever-changing Sea, regardless of the means I travel or the species it coughs up. I’m always astonished at the fodder the Sea provides in the countless stories that become part of my memories and the fabric of my life. Like the time shortly after Yvonne and I were married in 1979 when the two of us brought Steve Cushman’s 48-foot Hardhead from Cabo to San Diego. Our deckhands were a young man in his late teens, Craig Miller, and Hector Gonzalo, an experienced deckhand from Cabo. Traveling at 8 knots, we left Cabo one gray morning in January 1980, keeping lures out just in case.


Not really expecting a bite, we were north of Cabo Lazaro at Magdalena Bay around midday when the clicker howled. Yvonne came out of the salon and grabbed the rod. It was a striper that had hooked itself near the Thetis Bank. Craig reeled in the second lure, which also had a fish on! Suddenly while they fought the fish, billfish began appearing as far as we could see. Throughout the afternoon we continued slowly heading north, traveling only short distances between bites on the two lures being trolled. By the time we finally drove out of all the feeding billfish, our release total was in the high double-digits.


When we arrived at C-Dock on Harbor Island several days later, a crowd of friends and onlookers welcomed us home noting our multiple release flags fluttering from our riggers.


Shadows of skepticism reigned as we told our tale of billfish as far as the eye could see. In those days traffic up and down the coast was light, except for the long-range boats that were more interested in yellowfin tuna, wahoo, dorado and yellowtail; they had little interest in billfish.


By the late 1990s, the Magdalena billfish pile up had been discovered. However, with few facilities, the fleet was limited to only a few trailer boats and sportfishers that had ample fuel and water makers, allowing them to stay for a length of time.


Although it’s not a given that the billfish will go off every year, it often does. 2018 was one of those years that was extraordinary for the small fleet that was there and there were many daily double-digit totals, as well as trip totals in the hundreds!


And all the while that area was going off, the Finger Bank, 50 miles above Cabo San Lucas, was experiencing very similar conditions beginning in early November. That was when Pisces Sportfishing and Gray Fishtag Research deployed satellite tags aboard “Strictly Business,” which were donated by Victor Johansen.


That billfish bite has remained consistent for nearly three months. David Brackmann recently observed that there were lots of sardine there in the beginning, which has now rolled over to mackerel. He also commented on the different size classes of striped marlin this season. Early on, there were many small fish and fewer larger ones on the Bank. Then there were a few days when it was almost all large 120 to 180 pounders and no smaller ones. It was as though they were moving in migratory batches of a majority-size class.


With many 15- to 30-pound fish at the Lighthouse taken by trolling ballyhoo but no larger ones there over 100 pounds; this year is the largest number of juveniles they have seen. There must have been a good spawn offshore and the currents moved the smaller ones in.


According to recent reports, in the past several weeks, the billfish schools have been sliding farther down the coast to the area outside the Lighthouse at Cabo Falso.


Once again, going back to the 1980s when we fished billfish every year in Southern California, we would try to locate the line the fish were traveling, starting up inside Catalina Island. Usually we would find a current break where they were. We would mark where we started each morning and where we left off each afternoon, noting the line that the migrating fish traveled each day and its direction from top to bottom; this allowed us to follow the school down the coast over several days, all the way below the border.


With today’s sophisticated SST (sea surface temperature) charts, it is easier to determine the course that the river-like current break travels down the coast at varying distances from the shore.


Ultimately, that river-like current, regardless of distance from the coast, often sweeps past the tip of Baja all the way to Mexico’s mainland.


Putting all of this in perspective was a conversation overheard on the VHF radio among a contingency of boats that had traveled all the way from Los Suenos to Magdalena Bay: “Wow! This is the new Los Suenos!”


Some of the regulars who have been coming to Mag for decades rolled their eyes, but I was not among them. I silently watched as 35 years later, Mag Bay showed off her bounty once again!


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