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CALIFORNIA'S ONLY SPORTSMAN'S NEWS SINCE 1953

Gary Graham – ROAD TREKKER



ROAD TREKKER /
WON News Column by Gary Graham

Gary Graham's published credits would fill many pages, two books on saltwater fly fishing, and hundreds of feature articles.

His  current leadership activities in the sportfishing community include: Avalon Tuna Club, member since the 1980s, San Diego Marlin Club, International Game Fish Association (IGFA), Baja California representative; Federation of Fly Fishers (FFF), certified fly casting instructor; Outdoor Writers of California, president; Outdoor Writers of America.

Gary Graham can be reached at: roadtrekker1@gmail.com

September Outlook
For many years, because September was considered the heart of storm season, anglers avoided the month for Baja fishing. Now it has become somewhat of an “insider’s secret” by savvy anglers who have discovered how good the fishing can be then … lighter crowds and more fish seem to be a welcome formula for more and more visitors.

However, this time of the year, hurricanes, chubascos – or as the local’s call them, “tormentas” – are part of the fabric of Baja. So it’s important to keep an eye on the weather when planning your spur-of-the-moment trip.


More often than not, by the time they hit land, chubascos are just a nuisance and have already become tropical storms, both messy and inconvenient … but at other times, they can be devastating!


onaug27
ON AUG. 27, 1989, Hurricane Kiko made landfall on the Gulf of California side of the peninsula, causing heavy damage, but no deaths. However, high winds gusting at more than 109 mph brought down numerous trees and power lines.


Before we go any further, this is not a “how-to” in preparation for one, although there is a link at the end with several handy websites that will provide you with that information. This is just recounting our personal experiences with the Baja chubascos.


Rancho Deluxe, locatedon the beachfront just south of Hotel Buenavista Beach Resort at East Cape, was our home from 1989 to 2005, during which time 25 tropical storms, or chubascos, occurred. Of those, 14 had a direct impact on our home and those of our friends. I have not included the countless others I experienced over my 40-something years of traveling up and down the Baja Peninsula by both sea and road … (from 1969 to the present.)


There are plenty of reliable sources on the Internet providing early warnings of approaching storms now, but it wasn’t always that way. After Mex 1 was completed in 1973, it was not unusual to have surprise encounters with storms or the leftover results.


It was common to come upon raging waters too deep to cross, filling an arroyo or a washed out bridge with a long line of cars, RVs, trucks and busses stopped on each side, or sometimes, barely passable, depending on the clearance of the vehicle. Sometimes, a courageous driver would venture across and the wait would be shortened as one-by-one the line of vehicles slowly followed suit or a detour would be found around the obstruction. Other times the wait could stretch into delays lasting hours … or days.


We learned early. After our first standard van, we switched to a high-clearance one-ton version that allowed us to make it across deeper vados. We learned that if we could draft a semi-truck or bus, they would create a “bow wave” effect, allowing us to make it through.


Our first experience with the impact of a severe hurricane on Rancho Deluxe happened before we moved in. After leasing the house at La Capilla in the East Cape area from the owners (Rancho Buena Vista Hotel) in May, we left a list of items to be repaired or replaced before we took possession in September. By mid-August the work had been completed and we eagerly made plans to move in on our targeted date.


On Aug. 27, 1989, Hurricane Kiko made landfall on the Gulf of California side of the peninsula, causing heavy damage, but no deaths. However, high winds gusting at more than 109 mph brought down numerous trees and power lines.


Rancho Deluxe, a beachfront 4-bedroom house facing north, suffered the brunt of the storm. Plate glass windows were blown out while others were sand blasted so badly they appeared to be frosted like bathroom windows. The four-foot block wall fence had disappeared under a layer of sand. Filled with water, the house was uninhabitable … delaying our move-in by a month.


Later, Jack and Shirley Bowman, owners of “Casa Bowman” next to Palmas Hotel, described how they had ridden out “Kiko” huddling in their bathtub as the winds ripped through their home. Shirley said it sounded like a freight train rumbled overhead and all around, as she heard her glass doors shatter and felt her whole house shake.


Though we never experienced another Kiko over the 18 years, we often had guests when a chubasco would occur. Oddly enough, most greeted the event with enthusiasm — excited to have the opportunity of experiencing the fury without understanding the consequences and inconvenience’s that came with them. Only after, when they dealt with sweeping out water from the tile floors, the loss of electricity, rationing of water, food, and gasoline plus dealing with the no-see-ums and mosquitoes, did they feel the real impact of the lesser chubascos/tropical storms.


Often, Mex 1 would be flooded at the arroyos at both ends of the East Cape area, preventing supplies from being delivered as well as making it difficult for visitors and hotel guests to depart.


After one storm, the only way our son Geoff could get to the airport was by water. A panga took him to La Ribera beyond the Las Cuevas arroyo that was filled with the storm’s runoff, where he met a shuttle that carried him to the airport.


From now until late October is usually considered the most critical time of the entire year for tropical storms. They can be dangerous and can cause long-lasting consequences that shouldn’t be ignored.


There are ample weather sites featuring the tracking of current threatening storms as well as social media and local web sites providing literally instant information of conditions in Baja and Mexico. If you are planning to take advantage of Baja’s best kept insider’s secret, don’t ignore these valuable resources to help make your trip a success.


A good place to start is: http://www.discoverbaja.com/baja-california-information/hurricane-preparedness/


Dorado Dilemma
In 2016, most of the tournaments featuring dorado – or tournaments that had categories including them – were won with “dinks” by most standards.

The popular Van Wormer Dorado Shootout, as an example, was won with a 12.6-pound, a 7.1-pound and 6.7-pound dorado in the first three places, respectively.


This year was far better, according to Eddie Dalmau of Baja’s Van Wormer Resorts. “When the first dorado I weighed at 1 o’clock this year was over 30 pounds, I thought it would be the winner.”


“However,” he added, “by the end of the day, the top three finishers were:Joe Feeney, 61.4-pound dorado aboard Don Julio; John Churchill, 57.3-pound fish on the El Regalo; and Joel Mendoza, brought in a 52.5-pounder on Amante.”


During late July at the second annual Sport Fishing and Golf Tournament 2017 hosted by Villa del Palmar at Loreto, many small dorado also dominated the event with the three winners weighing only 25.3, 14.3 and 13 pounds.


Then, at the Serial Dos Mares Gran Finale held last weekend, the dorado were even smaller, with the top three not exceeding 16.1 pounds, and with many much smaller ones brought to the scale.


According to the reports, from Bahia de Los Angeles to the tip of the Baja Peninsula, anglers reported seeing and catching many small dorado which seem to infest the entire Sea of Cortez.


Before my departure from the Serial Dos Mares Gran Finale tournament, I had a discussion over lunch with local Loreto resident Rene Olinger, owner of “Baja Peninsula Adventure Tours.” We discussed the predominance of dinky dorado everywhere in the Sea of Cortez. “There seems to be plenty of bait around for them to feed on,” she observed. “As quickly as they grow, why aren’t we seeing more large ones?” She questioned. I agreed, and I too was at a loss for an answer to the question.


I recalled that my friend Captain Ray Rosher of Miami had caught a young male dorado weighing approximately 6 pounds, and placed it in captivity in December, 2014. Nine months later the fish weighed in at 56.4 pounds … a remarkable example of their extraordinary growth rate under ideal conditions! This was just one of the many stories I had both read and written of the rapid growth rate of the dorado.


Early the next morning, I fired off an email to my old friend and “go-to” fish expert, Steve Crooke. Before he retired, Steve worked for the California Department of Fish and Game for 38 years and was involved with the live bait fleet, commercial mackerel/sardine fleet, rockfish life history program, Ocean Resources Enhancement and Hatchery Program, recreational angler catch program; and he co-chaired the Highly Migratory Species Plan Development Team for the Pacific Fishery Management Council. Currently, Steve provides biological assistance to Sportfishing Association of California for both state and federally managed fisheries.


I was scheduled to attend a SAC meeting later that same morning and left for the meeting prior to receiving his answer. Crooke happened to be at the meeting as well. Delighted, I cornered him with my “Dorado Dilemma,” asking him about the lack of growth of the dorado. He questioned the size, quantity and type of bait available before he answered my question with still another question.


“You’re aware there is a sub-species of dorado common in the Sea of Cortez?” Stunned, I shook my head no. “Sounds like the dorado you describe may be ‘Pompano dolphinfish.’ Send me a couple of photos for confirmation.”


Later that afternoon after sending him the photos, Crooke emailed. “The fish on the left looks like a Pompano dolphinfish … not sure about the one on the right.” Adding, “They seldom are larger than 5 pounds, so they are not commercially worthwhile.”


A quick online search produced a comprehensive overview:


Pompano dolphinfish


The pompano dolphinfish (Coryphaena equiselis) is a species of surface-dwelling ray-finned fish found in tropical and subtropical waters. They are one of only two members of the Coryphaenidae family, the other being the mahi-mahi or common dolphinfish . [2]


Pompano dolphinfish have a lifespan of three to four years. They are often mistaken for juvenile mahi-mahi; they are somewhat smaller than their mahi-mahi cousins. They have compressed heads and dorsal fins extending the entire length of their bodies. Their backs are a brilliant blue-green, and their sides are a silvery-golden color. Mature males develop a protruding forehead, but not to the same extent as male mahi-mahi. When they are removed from the water, the fish fade to a muted green-grey upon death.


Crooke’s confirmation of the existence of this sub-species only underscores the damage that has been caused by rampant commercial overfishing of mahi-mahi/dorado for decades, which seems to have allowed pompano dorado (much smaller in size) to become the dominate dorado in the Sea of Cortez.


theleftfish
THE FISH ON the left looks like a Pompano dolphinfish.

The Fundamentals
As I wandered through the crowd of anglers who were registering for the Bisbee East Cape Offshore tournament recently, eavesdropping on some of their discussions about conditions, techniques, bait, etc, I was reminded of some of my tournament days in the 80s.

theteamanglers
THE TEAM (anglers alternated occasionally) on my boat, the “WaterCloset” spent most of our summers and falls chasing striped marlin off the Southern California coast.


The team (anglers alternated occasionally) on my boat, the “WaterCloset” spent most of our summers and falls chasing striped marlin off the Southern California coast. Usually every spring before the offshore season heated up, some of the fishing clubs would host “Marlin Seminars” with a panel of Professional Captains mixed with those very knowledgeable few who ran their personal boats: Captains, Gene Grimes, Peter Groesbeck, Mike “The Beak” Hurt, Steve Lassley, along with private boaters, Mark Josepho, John Tanner and others, including myself.


There was usually standing room only, as eager ‘newbies’ were joined by seasoned veterans in search of ways to improve their catch. Most expected secret tips that would transform them into instant high-liners, although the reality was that the information was mostly about fundamentals … the basics.


This season, as a photographer on a number of boats, I’ve noticed that many of the fundamentals that were almost always automatically applied back then have been lost.


I have had the privilege of riding with many of the world’s top fishing Captains and without giving any secrets away, the most important lesson to learn from them is their attention to detail. Captains and crews alike do sweat the small stuff.


Every fishing day begins as a blank slate. Sure, the web or friends may have provided some possible intel based on prior trips, which can be important, but even more important, most days, the blank slate should be filled with the following:


• Temperature changes and current breaks,


• Kelp paddies, Sargasso, floating objects and bait,


• Feeding fish, sleepers, porpoise, birds,


• Bites,


• And anything else that you might want to return to later, no matter how trivial it may seem.


ALL of the above should be marked on your GPS, even it is just the MOB button, and then it should be labeled after everything settles down. Also, turn on the tracking which will simplify knowing where you have been. These items are a piece of the day’s puzzle that may be important later that day or even on the next trip.


IF you are trolling and that sometimes long-awaited strike finally comes, don’t touch the throttle until you have assessed what is happening. If the fish is hooked, slow the boat gradually; do not pull the throttles back abruptly. Either way — hooked or not -- mark a waypoint on your GPS. If the fish falls off, continue trolling in a gradual circle back over the area of the bite.


Another tip: mark the area where the event took place with a paper plate; this will give you a visual reference to work from.


During the course of the day, as your number of waypoints grow use them to create the parameters of the area you are working. Be aware of not only the directions you tack but also which ones you have the most bites on. Up swell, down swell or cross swell … all have an effect on how the lures swim.


Lure placement in the pattern can also be a factor. Count from the corner of the stern when setting up the pattern and remember placement can vary with sea conditions.


A very essential key to success is your crew and how you communicate with them. In the midst of an event there is a fine line between speaking loudly enough to be heard over the engine noise, and yelling. When an event happens, everyone’s adrenalin is coursing through their veins … no need in adding to it!


Avoiding chaos in the cockpit is a huge advantage. I’ve seen operations that seem to thrive on just that and do very well. However, the operations that avoid that distraction seem to be flying more flags at the end of the day.


If your crew alternates, it is critical to fill them in on the way out to the fishing grounds on what is expected of each member. The worse time to have a conversation about who will do what is after the clicker sounds. Be sure that each member understands their role prior to the beginning of the fishing day. Who is the angler, who clears the tackle, who does the drop back, etc. Knowing this in advance will add to your ability to achieve your goal.


Last, tackle and equipment storage: In the midst of a hookup, having crew members floundering around trying to locate a butt plate, gaff or other necessary items can be annoying; they should be stored in their proper place and team members should be told in advance where they are located.


Put the same effort in planning your fishing day as you did in planning your fishing trip. Apply these fundamentals and it won’t be long before you and your crew will earn the title of “high-liner”.


The largest and the smallest…
Here we are at the midpoint of 2017 in Baja and already there have been some unparalleled occurrences that have astonished Baja veteran anglers… one that has left them shaking their heads in awe and amazement; another causing quite the opposite effect… disgust.

Nearly three months ago, in mid-April, a trickle of early roosterfish catches were being reported by anglers fishing close inshore as well as from the beach beginning at Baja’s tip all the way up to Loreto, almost unnoticed and somewhat localized.


johnirelandowner
JOHN IRELAND, OWNER, on the morning of June 19, e-mailed a photo of Bart’s catch with a note saying, “Bart swears it was over 80 pounds. You be the judge…”


Sardina (and mullet, another commonly used bait fish) which often frequented Baja beaches in years past and was a primary food source for roosters and other inshore fish, had all but disappeared and had been almost non-existent for several years.


It seemed odd that the roosterfish would suddenly show up with little or no bait around; however, the most astonishing fact wasn’t even the lack of bait but rather was the size of the rooster being caught, as well as the length of time and the consistency of the bite of the larger fish.


The bite began in April with a few 15 pounders, after which came reports of fish that were caught and released that were at least double the early weights with confirming photos as proof.


Adding to the enigma was that the larger fish were everywhere… from Loreto to La Paz, Las Arenas, East Cape, San Jose, and Cabo, and even up the Pacific side. And the size continued to climb during the month of May.


By June those pesky cool currents which often find their way down the Pacific side, bringing green, off-color murky water, had arrived. They shut down the offshore action for several weeks, which seemed like months to many.


And yet, the numbers of large roosterfish continued to climb… and they just kept coming.


Bart Hall, during his annual visit to Rancho Leonero, tied into a whopper! John Ireland, owner, on the morning of June 19, e-mailed a photo of Bart’s catch with a note saying, “Bart swears it was over 80 pounds. You be the judge…”


Owners of larger Yacht Sportfishers had heard about the epic bite and insisted that their Captains check out the inshore prior to heading offshore.


I bumped into Captain Horace Barge of “Reel Energy” at ICAST recently and he said, “I couldn’t believe it! We would slow the boat down in a hundred feet of water, hang a couple of 50-pounders, and then head offshore. It was weird!”


Captain Mark Rayor, East Cape, recently had a day when he had first-timers aboard “Vaquera”. “We hooked 13 large roosters and legitimately released 9 … best single day of rooster fishing I’ve ever had!”


On a personal note, I’ve been fishing in Baja since 1969 and I recently commented to several other old timers that I couldn’t remember a season ever with the number of large roosterfish caught and released as this year. They all agreed as we tried to figure out an answer as to why it is happening this year.


The disturbing part is: no one is seeing very many of the school-sized fish… just the “Grandes.”


And now the other side of the spectrum: There are a preponderance of small dorado in Southern Baja waters these days … many weighing less than a couple of pounds.


The good news is after several years the popular Dorado Shoot Out Tournament hosted by Palmas de Cortez at Los Barriles produced a handful of trophy fish ranging from 25 pounds to the winner, a 61.4-pound whopper caught aboard the “Don Julio” by Sean Feeney in a field of 141 boats.


As Boat Dispatcher Anibal Miranda gleefully posted on his Facebook page when the first 50+ arrived at the scale… a 52.5-pound bull dorado, “No more 12 pounders!” underscoring the shortage of larger dorado over the past several years.


Dorado are near the top of the list as one of the most sought-after game fish on the planet… attracting conventional, light-tackle, spinning and fly anglers. However, the current crop of dorado is small and the larger models are scarce.


When they have warm water in which to thrive, and plenty of food, dorado grow at an astonishing rate. It takes only 40 hours for a fertilized dolphin egg to become a free-swimming larva; then the fry begins to feed and grow in earnest. At 15 days, the little dorado has attained about one-half inch in length and already has the blunt snout of an adult. By 30 days, the fish has doubled in size.


Finally, knock off the “Hero Shot” photos with the small dorado that have become so popular recently. Leave the little ones in the water and let them go. I don’t want to embarrass anyone with an example.


If you leave the smaller fish in the water, eventually the better quality ones will show up. Remember, Mexico has a two-fish limit for dorado. Don’t waste it on the dinks!… just sayin’.


Baja’s Wild Side exposed
Rumors of an impending book, Baja’s Wild Side,reached my desk recently and I was eager to learn all I could about it. I immediately called an Outdoor Writer (OWAC) buddy, Diana Lindsey, owner of the Sunbelt Publishing Company and publisher of Baja’s Wild Side,to get the scoop on the impending publication.

She was as eager to talk about as I was to hear about it. While I had never met the writer, PhD shark biologist, Daniel Cartamil of Scripps Institute of Oceanography personally, his reputation preceded him.


bajawildside
“BAJA’S WILD SIDE”, with its 100 spectacular photographs of remote landscapes, wildlife, and cultural treasures, along with observations and stories, reminds us there is an unexplored area of Baja’s Pacific coastline all begging to be explored.


An enthusiastic photographer and passionate conservationist, Cartamil’s research brought him to one of the wildest and most remote pieces of Baja California’s Pacific coast regions, one seldom visited by many tourists. There he developed a unique relationship with a local fisherman providing him unparalleled access to natural places still untouched by the progress of many parts of Baja.


On a personal note, on my very first drive down Mex 1, shortly after the road was completed with a couple of buddies and after a longer-than-it-should-have-been lunch at Mama Espinosa’s restaurant in El Rosario, on the recommendation of Mama Espinosa, herself, https://www.wonews.com/Blog.aspx?id=3472 we ventured west on a marginal dirt road toward Punta Baja to camp overnight near a local fish camp. Arriving at dusk we turned southward and camped on a deserted beach.


Baja or not, the early morning was overcast and chilly … not exactly what we expected. However, we did warm up to the view featured on the https://www.bajaswildside.com/ as well as page 49 of the book, Baja’s Wild Side, before we resumed our Baja adventure south on Mex 1 in search of the Baja sun we had been promised.


Like many others, then and now, good fishing and sunny days were the nirvana sought; like horses headed for the barn with blinders on, so it was pedal to the metal until we found it! In our case, Loreto and Nopolo Cove satisfied our blended expectations that first trip.


Sure, there were a few side trips, here and there … Laguna Manuela for one, plus Magdalena Bay.


Next it was Cabo San Lucas (Santa Maria Cove) and camping on the beach when it was still pristine, long before it was developed. We ended up leaving my 23-foot Blackman skiff in Cabo for several years and flew back and forth to enjoy Baja.


That was, until we settled in the Buena Vista area and ultimately at Rancho Deluxe at East Cape in the late eighties. Still speeding to our destination and ignoring the many side trips other than Magdalena Bay.


It wasn’t until 2007 that Rancho Deluxe was purchased by a developer and we purchased the Roadtrek. At last, we began slowing down and exploring interesting side trips off the familiar beaten path of Mex 1.


Cartamil’s Baja’s Wild Side,with its 100 spectacular photographs of remote landscapes, wildlife, and cultural treasures, along with observations and stories, reminds us there is an unexplored area of Baja’s Pacific coastline, from the high sierra, to the ancient cave paintings hidden deep in the desert, to the surf-pounded Pacific, all begging to be explored.


For those of you who are still in a rush to get to your favorite spot at every opportunity, I get it. I’ve been there, done that … and would do it all over again if I had the opportunity. But I recommend you pick up a copy of Cartamil’s Baja’s Wild Side for your coffee table for future reference when you slow down a tad.


This is a “show and tell” book that will remind you that you are missing out on a very unique part of Baja to the west as you zoom by El Rosario, seeking more of the Baja you’ve learned to love.


Regardless of your personal favorite, one thing is certain; it has changed dramatically since you first discovered it. Don’t miss the opportunity to view some of the Baja coastline although threatened, still remains pristine by comparison: Perhaps, first by picking up a copy of Daniel Cartamil’s magnificent contribution about a relatively small, seldom-visited part of Baja’s west coast.


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