Gary Graham – ROAD TREKKER

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Thursday, November 14, 2019
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It Took a Village
If you spoke with my English teacher in the Christian high school I attended, Mrs. Helen Olafson would tell you the chances of my being a professional writer were slim to none; only because she liked me did I pass her class. (From the year I graduated, I took her roses on her birthday … even after her death.)

I knew my limitations. My passion was deep-sea fishing – not writing. My first Mexican billfish was caught on a trip to San Carlos, Mexico when I was 16. Next, I traveled with my 8-year-old son Greg to the Flying Sportsmen Lodge in Loreto, BCS; we fished for a variety of species for a week, which allowed us to enjoy the adventure thoroughly.

THIS WAS GREAT because they were all willing to share their knowledge and insight into their professions for my Baja local knowledge.

In 1973, two buddies and I couldn’t resist the lure of the newly-finished Mex 1 and drove the entire road from border to Cabo San Lucas and back. In 1974, Tom Miller, WON contributor, published “The Baja Guide.” I purchased a copy and became friends with him and his wife Shirley. I was fortunate to be an occasional co-pilot on some of his frequent road trips, where he regaled me with his many fishing stories.

Over the years, I met many of the principal Baja writers beginning with Ray Cannon, and of course, Miller, who assumed the WON Baja column upon the death of Cannon in 1977. In 1984, Fred Hoctor published “Baja Ha-Ha” and became the Baja columnist for Western Outdoor News the following year. Later in life, when pressed, he described himself as a "bon vivant, raconteur, fishing guy," according to Gene Kira, who became the next WON Baja Columnist beginning in June of 2000 after Hoctor retired and subsequentially passed away in July 2001.

Kira and I also became friends and traveled extensively in Baja. He occasionally dropped by “Rancho Deluxe,” our home on the beach at La Capilla, and we frequently met for sushi lunches in the U.S.

It’s odd how fate intervenes, and doors of opportunity swing open.

In 1995, I received a phone call from Kira suggesting that I write a feature for “Big Game Fishing Journal,” an East Coast saltwater fishing magazine. Aside from fish reports, I had never had anything published. I pushed back. I didn’t believe I had an ounce of skill or aptitude for writing. After a lengthy discussion, we agreed that I would write the story and he would edit before submission. Years later, he admitted that he wouldn’t write the story because they wouldn’t pay him enough.

When the check arrived, the die was cast! I began seeking writing assignments for myself.

Since Yvonne and I owned other businesses, we called our friend Bennett Mintz, a longtime publicist, writer, writing collaborator and editor and we formed a team. We three sat down to determine how a latecomer like me could gain a foothold in what appeared to be a very crowded field. Ultimately, we came up with a plan.

#1 Never fail to meet a deadline;

#2 All work submitted would be reviewed and edited by Yvonne and Ben;

#3 Never turn down an assignment in an area I had expertise in, regardless of the deadline; and

#4 Never accept a project we didn’t believe in.

With more than 20 years of driving up and down Baja exploring and fishing at that time, I certainly didn’t lack for stories that seemed to be in demand.

Baja periodicals, newspapers as well as a variety of publications in California and beyond were eager for the material.

Of course, our “Baja on the Fly,” one of the earliest fly-fishing outfitters established in Baja Sur, was a magnet for outdoor writers and photographers like Brian O’Keefe. This was great because they were all willing to share their knowledge and insight into their professions for my Baja local knowledge. Our timing was perfect — with digital cameras just beginning to emerge, it was the ideal time to learn from the ground up, like others, even expert photographers, were relatively new to that game as well.

The requests for features were encouraging as my writing and photography improved. This allowed me to provide most of the images needed to enhance my writing.

A significant breakthrough came when WON Editor Pat McDonell asked if I would be interested in writing a regular column for the paper. Baja Road Trekker began in 2008. It alternates every other week with Jonathan Roldan’s popular “Baja Beat” in Western Outdoor News.

Additionally, there were books about fly fishing in Baja, the No Nonsense Guide to Southern Baja, which is in its second printing, and the No Nonsense Guide to Fly Fishing Magdalena Bay as well as columns and articles in major sport fishing magazines and newspapers.

That would not have happened without the encouragement and input of many over the years, and the passing grade Mrs. Olafson kindly gave me.

The bottom line is that my passion for fishing led to my fascination with Baja and my many friendships and encouragement with the Baja writers. Imagine embarking on a never-dreamed of career in writing and photography at the age of 55. Wouldn’t Helen Olafson be proud?

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Reader Comments
Thanks Gary, I enjoyed you story, and mused over some parallels in our lives. Fishing has been my passion since I was 3, and my grandmother helped me catch my first trout. I was hooked. Over the years, I have fished all over Europe, the Middle East, in the Himalayas, China Sea, Indian ocean, and since 1963, in the Sea of Cortez. I am still devoted to fishing today, and trying new methods, hoping that that the fabled "Golden Horseshoe", will provide the luck I need.. Thanks again for sharing.. from a devout follower Russ Fritz
Russell Fritz
What an encouraging article, Gary!!! I want to share this with my children. The roses are very touching. Thank you for honoring my grandma this way!
Lana McGlennon
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