CALIFORNIA'S ONLY SPORTSMAN'S NEWS SINCE 1953

Gary Graham's Blog



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

Moon Baja: Tijuana to Los Cabos
I first met the Kramers . . . Hugh and Carol and their children, Jen and David . . . as they explored the Baja peninsula in a VW camper. Our paths would cross over the years as I also traveled those same roads and beaches.

Hugh’s first trip to Baja was in the mid-sixties. After he and Carol were married in the early 70s, their shared fascination for Baja became the foundation for a lifetime of adventure exploring the deserts, mountains and pristine beaches found there.


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FORTIFIED BY HER knowledge and based on her many years of travel throughout the land, Jennifer’s passion for Baja is apparent in this extraordinary guidebook.

They established “Discover Baja,” a family-owned and operated club in 1991, allowing them to share their knowledge of the Baja Peninsula, its people, culture and nature wonders with their growing membership.


Fast forward to a few weeks ago … I received a copy of “Moon Baja: Tijuana to Los Cabos” by Jennifer Kramer – yes, the same Jen, daughter of Carol and Hugh. Not only was I impressed with the way Jennifer shared her perspective on Baja, steering the reader from the border to the tip on a remarkably detailed and memorable experience, but she also provided expertly crafted maps, gorgeous photos, and her trustworthy advice, providing the tools necessary for planning an exciting tailor-made Baja adventure.


Whether you want to taste your way through wine country, are looking for info about the most productive fishing hot spots or the region’s premier surfing spots, this 400-page, up-to-date guidebook covers activities and must-have information for every Baja adventurer all in a travel-sized handbook to carry for easy reference (also available in Kindle format).


Jen is a “Baja Babe” through and through, getting an early start before she was out of grammar school. Sending out membership renewal mailings, helping out at club events, and, of course, traveling all over Baja with her parents, she even wrote the “Jenny’s Jaunts” column for the newsletter more than 20 years ago, chronicling the Baja peninsula from a child’s perspective.


At 18, she headed to the Big Apple to study journalism at NYU … about as far removed within the U.S. from the Baja of her childhood as she could be. She became immersed in the fashion industry, working for a variety of magazines such as Marie Claire, W, Vanity Fair and InStyle. During the next decade, she fine-tuned her writing and editing skills while still longing for her family and her beloved Baja. Ultimately, she discovered she could take the girl out of Baja, but she could not take Baja out of the girl.


Joyfully, she returned to the West Coast in 2013. She is now the marketing director for Discover Baja, where she edits and writes the monthly newsletter and coordinates special events.


She met her husband Chris Mejia while still in New York and discovered that he was also a child of Baja; they were brought together by that common thread. He was introduced to Baja at an early age by his family as well, and their passion for the peninsula runs so deep that they chose to exchange wedding vows in the heart of the Valle de Guadalupe in 2015. They now call northern Baja home.


Their company, Baja Test Kitchen, leads custom wine, beer and culinary tours of the Valle de Guadalupe region. Jen continues to write about her beloved Baja; stories that have appeared in Yahoo News, San Diego Reader, San Diego Red, and Discover Baja. Additionally, she writes a blog, “The Other California,” where she recommends Baja restaurants, wineries, breweries, hotels and other interesting places.


As for her book, Jennifer writes, “My promise to you with the Baja Moon handbook is to bring you the most up-to-date information possible with the best places and hidden gems along the peninsula; to enhance your travel experience and bring you closer to Baja’s beautiful culture and people; to tear down walls, prejudices, and discrimination. The more we travel, the more we open our eyes to the outside world and to humanity in general.


“I hope that this book gives you useful information to use on your journey, and, more importantly, I hope it inspires you to get out and explore more of Baja. I grew up traveling and loving the peninsula and wanted to share that enthusiasm with everyone by presenting some of Baja’s best treasures in this book. As it is an on-going project with updated editions that I’ll be working on in the future, I welcome your feedback and suggestions for subsequent editions,” she concluded.


Fortified by her knowledge and based on her many years of travel throughout the land, Jennifer’s passion for Baja is apparent in this extraordinary guidebook.


Normalcy…the state of being usual, typical, or expected
For several years now, Baja Sur and the Sea of Cortez have been suffering from a lack of baitfish in general —  specifically, sardina, (flat-iron herring), sardine and mackerel, all of which are usually plentiful.

hopefullythecurrent
HOPEFULLY, THE BAIT availability will continue throughout the season.

“This is the first year of “normal spring weather” in the past three years. During February 2016, the water was 76 degrees; this year it’s10 degrees cooler,” John Ireland observed in East Cape’s Rancho Leonero Resort’s first report of the year in early March.


Since then, other areas have joined the chorus; Rick Hill, Loreto, “Yellowtail and sardina romping in the surf! We haven't seen this many sardina on the Baja coast for several years. It could forecast a fantastic summer season with dorado and billfish.”


Jonathan Roldan in La Paz had a similar observation.


Although offshore action for billfish and tuna has been lethargic thus far, this is still exciting news about the fledgling 2017 season which is just beginning throughout Baja. The inshore has exploded from the tip all the way up into the Sea of Cortez as far as Loreto!


However, even with all of the favorable reports, don’t forget the lessons learned over the past few years. While bait shortages were reported and causes discussed on various forums and reports, it was astonishing how many anglers still arrived for a fishing trip only to find out that live bait consisted of mainly larger bait and little if any sardina.


A bit of advice: Scour the WON weekly Baja reports to plan for an upcoming trip and be prepared for any abnormal conditions that crop up . . . in addition to bait issues. The clues buried in weekly reports often reflect changing techniques and methods and may offer hints of possible strategy adjustments to be considered to compensate for the bait shortage. Techniques such as kites, downriggers, dredges and daisy chains are a few that come to mind which may improve the overall results of the trip.


•  “Troll with rigged ballyhoo or drift-fish with caballito and moonfish,” advised one report.


•  Another told of using a mix of whatever bait is available – live or dead – could bring good results.


• One recommended using strips of squid.


• And another suggested trolling Rapala-style lures or hoochies.


Hopefully, the bait availability will continue throughout the season. However, if bait becomes scarce again, it’s important to know your options. Let’s explore some techniques by merging old lessons learned with modern technology, seasoned with a little common sense, which could increase your odds tremendously!


San Diego’s Tommy Gomes has built a thriving business on his fish attractant — “Unibutter,” made from the discarded pieces of sea urchins. Another “fish attractant” is Berkley Gulp!® that boasts on its label, “Out fishes ALL other bait (even live).” It might be worthwhile to add a couple of packages of Unibutter or Berkley Gulp!® to your tackle bag.


Recently I asked Captain Jimmie Decker, “Considering the recent sardina shortage, how would someone adjust their tackle box for a Baja visit?”


His answer: “I would recommend a good supply of WarBaits, paired with MC and Pearl Swimbaits, along with some Diawa SP Minnows in laser ghost; plus carry Sardine or LuckyCraft 120 pointers in the same color with upgraded stronger hooks and rings -- if they fish the LuckyCraft, one more good bait from the bass box is the new WarBait, 1oz. spinnerbait; this thing is much beefier than a freshwater bait and has really been productive catching a variety of species. Another would be the “Rattletrap” and “Sébile Magic Swimmer” – small – to medium-sized for the surf or the larger ones for trolling.”


For the lure-chuckers with a bucketful of old iron jigs that swim perfectly – in fact, they swim so well, numbers of fish were convinced they were the real thing — and the paint has been chewed off, you might send some of your favorites to Rich Whitaker’s “Bait Wraps.” He will refurb them with new wraps in any color combination you like for a very reasonable price. He even includes new hooks and rings. Just remove the old rings and hooks and sand them down before sending to him. Turnaround time is about six weeks. He has new lures for sale as well.


While we are on the subject of lures and such, although sardina were practically non-existent last year, there were some small ballyhoo available. That prompted the large number of visiting fly-fishers to rethink their fly patterns for the trip and they adapted a new version of fly that resembled both shape and color of the small ballyhoo; those not fishing fly are prepared to rig the ballyhoo in the most effective way possible to guarantee successful trolling.


Fresh or frozen squid is a viable alternative to bait but not all of the bait sellers offer squid. However, most Mexican markets do sell squid at reasonable prices and if live bait is in short supply, it might be worth your while to load up a soft-sided cooler the night before your trip.


Although doing your homework and being prepared are important traits for anglers traveling to a different location, the most important two traits that separate the casual angler from the extraordinary one is, regardless of the conditions, being prepared to adapt and remain flexible.


The final chapter of the show season
The 71st annual Fred Hall Shows will soon be history as the last one of the three takes place on March 23 – 26 at Del Mar.

Although few have a reason to attend every show, many in the industry do and the reviews have been stunning. The behemoth Long Beach show is held first in early March and according to the staff, the show was a complete “Exhibitor” sell-out which in itself seems to speak to the health of the industry.


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WAHOO TAKEN SOUTH of Frailes on a CD-18 Rapala by angler Chris Kirkwood, Orange County while fishing aboard a Rancho Leonero boat.


By all appearances the spectator turnout was equally impressive. Day One, the line to enter the show formed and continued to grow long before the 1:00 p.m. opening. When gates opened, the aisles filled rapidly and they remained that way most of the day. The true test of the crowd was simply attempting to move easily from one booth to another.


By Sunday afternoon, many exhibitors shared Doug Kern’s, of Fisherman's Landing Tackle Shop, observation that “ This was our best show . . . ever.”


Of course, the fact that there were more than a dozen Baja and other below the border groups represented at the show was great for me, allowing me to catch up on all of the latest “Baja and Beyond” news.


For the first time, added to the Fred Hall Show line-up of shows was the Fred Hall Central Valley Sports Show; it is the largest show of its kind in the Central Valley on the Kern County Fairgrounds. The three-day event was spread out over three buildings with many of the same exhibitors plus others from the central and northern part of the state.


This excellent show features Fishing, Hunting, International Travel, Boats and acres of RV’s. As was typical for all three Fred Hall Shows, there was a full day’s worth of family fun activities; however, the Bakersfield show offers some fun events that are only available at this unique site with almost unlimited outdoor space.


In addition to the popular “Duck Races” and “Dock Dog Jumping competition,” there was a huge custom car show, the 4th Annual Southern California National Tractor and Truck Pull and Bako Sand Drags. If you missed it this year, don’t miss it in 2018…it’s a hoot!


So it boils down to this. The final, final Fred Hall show in going on right now at the Del Mar Fairgrounds . . . and it is also bigger than ever and promises to be as exciting as its predecessors. Four days filled with fishing and “how-to, where to go” seminars, Paul Bunyan Lumberjack show, Great American Duck Races, Ultimate Air Dogs, Sporting Chef Café and much more.


For my “Below the Border” bunch, Baja is going to be well represented by exhibitors, some of which are offering show specials and the latest up-to-date information on their respective areas:


• Baja Fishing Convoys

• Baja's Van Wormer Resorts

• Cedros Adventures

• Cedros Kayak Fishing

• Cedros Outdoor Adventures

• Clark’s Outdoor Sporting Adventures

• Rancho Leonero Resort

• Pesca La Baja Secretaria de Pesca y Acuacultura de B.C

• Tailhunter Sportfishing

• Tony Reyes


In case you don’t make it to the show, here’s a quick update on the fishing and upcoming season.


NORMAL!


So far that seems to be the refrain I’m hearing. Yellowtail boiling on the surface at Loreto; dorado, a few roosters and jacks already in the counts at La Paz. Down at East Cape, the season has exploded out of the gate with wahoo, 100-plus-pound tuna, and sierra chasing sardina schools along the shore. This is just a sampling of the fishing news filtering in now.


The north wind, always a winter factor in the Sea of Cortez, seems to be blowing itself out a little early. This may account for a few scattered reports of swordfish sightings at East Cape and farther down on the Gordo Banks where the first cow-sized yellowfin tuna have already come over the rail.


This is enough good news to replace the dreaded “Cabin Fever” with excitement and anticipation.


I will be at the Del Mar Show every day. If I’m not roaming the aisles, I can be found in the International Game Fish Association Booth. Stop by and say ¡Hola!


‘If I Could Turn Back Time’
Remember back when many of us camped along the Sea of Cortez enjoying the isolation? Often there wouldn’t even be another soul as far as one could see; we would have the entire beach to ourselves. I can still imagine I hear the sounds of that Baja, fish fillets sizzling over the crackling campfire and the Sea of Cortez gently slurping against the coarse sandy beach.

Then supper finished, fire reduced to embers, surrounded by silence broken occasionally by one critter or another asserting itself, our gaze would be drawn to the heavens where the moon and stars, along with a planet or two, seemed so close if felt like we could’ve reached out and touched them.


LATER THAT NIGHT as I sipped my final, final for the night, I gazed at the starlit Baja sky.


That was many, many years ago and it served as the foundation for much of our family folklore. Too many of those spots are gone, lost to developers who believed they could improve on nature with their hotels, housing developments, RV parks, marinas, etc.


One of our favorite spots in those days was Santa Maria Cove, nestled between the iconic hotels, Cabo San Lucas and Twin Dolphins. Eventually there were two-story condos built behind the berm in the cove.


Today, even those seemingly state-of-the-art developments have been demolished, falling prey to the new gangs of developers who attempt to improve nature with their vision of the better mousetrap.


But in our early Baja history, camping out in the middle of nowhere and fishing uncharted waters was not considered risky . . . not by our family and not by most who traveled the newly completed Mex 1; unlike the present, when few are willing to risk their safety to bask in the isolation that drew many early tourists to Baja, when they can locate such spots of isolation.


Baja has certainly changed over the past 40 plus years of our travels. More and more tourists discovered the wonders of Baja and Cabo San Lucas went from a small village to a large city, as did San Jose and La Paz. With their growth, the remote isolation that was such an attraction, dimmed. Literally, the bright city lights dimmed the star-filled heavens to a mere shadow of what they once were.


Last summer I fished in a Dorado tournament out of Villa Del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto located approximately 30 miles south of Loreto.


I had passed the entrance on numerous trips just before where Mex 1 turns westward near Ligui towards the grade that leads up toward Villa Insurgentes, but I had never turned in to check out the property.


Described in their brochure as a luxurious 181 room hotel set on an astounding natural setting along the shore of Danzante Bay, it is part of a 4,447-acre resort that features unspoiled beauty. It offers three different restaurants, five swimming pools, a 39,000-square-foot luxury spa, tennis courts, miles of hiking trails, glass-bottomed kayaks, sport fishing, and a nearly finished Rees Jones-designed golf course — in short, every modern amenity a Baja Tourist could hope for.


What struck me when I drove past the Guard Shack and entrance was that the description seemed similar to many luxury hotels that have sprung up in and around the larger cities in Baja Sur.


However, here there were no neighboring developments. It was literally in the middle of nowhere, by itself. Reminiscent of some of the isolation of the old camping spots we frequented many years ago, yet I have to admit combined with all the creature comfort features and amenities, it seemed appealing.


Here I was in a remote location on the shores of the Sea of Cortez with an uncrowded beach with all the water toys one could imagine; plus just a few miles up the road was Puerto Escondido where both pangas and cruisers could be chartered for fishing trips.


That first evening after an excellent dinner at one their three restaurants, I strolled past the various pools to the almost deserted beach. There, out in the middle of the small bay, were several SUPs with people slowly paddling them across the bay. Not so unusual you say? These were the coolest SUPs I had ever seen, equipped with underwater lights. Though I lacked time on that trip, my next visit will definitely include a little night fishing on one of those tricked-out SUPs.


Later that night as I sipped my final, final for the night, I gazed at the starlit Baja sky. I saw the same sky that I remembered from years past and was delighted to realize a Baja remote destination, with the proper vision, could be mixed with amenities without diminishing either.


I guess you might say I found a place where I could turn back time…


Snook, Robalo or Snipe?
Recently, in one of those “Show Me Your Favorite Fish” challenges on Facebook, (bear with me, I know many of you who read this column don’t know Facebook from a good book), I was tagged and chose a photo of a black snook that I had caught in 2010 while fishing with Dennis Braid when he was shooting an episode of his “Monster Fish” series. The photo drew lots of attention.

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RECENTLY, IN ONE of those “Show me your Favorite Fish” challenges on Facebook, (bear with me, I know many of you who read this column don’t know Facebook from a good book).

Beginning in the mid-’70s, snook has often been the topic of conversation in columns written by Ray Cannon, Tom Miller, Fred Hoctor, Gene Kira and Neal Kelly. Their ‘intel’ was sketchy as only Cannon and Kelly had actually caught snook; the others had written stories that were basically hearsay.


Nearly three decades ago, I journeyed to Puerto San Carlos in search of what some considered Baja’s version of snipe, determined to prove snook’s existence in Magdalena Bay.


I stayed at Brennan’s Hotel and was very fortunate to hook-up with Enrique Soto, a local bi-ingual guide who had spent his life fishing those waters. Ed Brennan assured me that Enrique knew the local mangroves like the back of his hand and was the go-to guy to help me find the elusive snook.


Enrique had an amigo, Ramon, a commercial diver, who was familiar with the areas where snook resided. Would Ramon be willing to share the location? Fortunately, because I was fly fishing and not fishing with conventional tackle, he didn’t consider me much of a threat to his livelihood, especially when I explained that I would release every fish I hooked. (I have to this day never tasted snook.)


After a lengthy conversation with Enrique and Ramon, I struck a deal that Ramon would show me his most productive spots and Enrique would provide the panga for the trip. In return I would pay them separately and after being sworn to secrecy on the actual locations, we were off.


For three days we zipped up and down the mangrove-lined channels, some so narrow I could touch the overhanging mangroves on both sides, while others were wider than Interstate 5.


In retrospect, Ramon was generous with his knowledge of Magdalena Bay and didn’t hold back any information. Talk about a crash course in Snook 101, Ramon would motion here and there and Enrique would expertly guide his panga to the spot, interpreting as he explained the attributes of one spot after another.


We looked south to Isla Creciente north up to Devil’s Curve and above. He even allowed me to make a few casts here and there to confirm that the spots were fishy.


It became clear that the hundreds of miles of mangrove channels contained in the 132-mile long Magdalena Bay created by five barrier islands held many secrets and only begrudgingly offered almost-hidden clues on how to master and understand the fishery.


Those three days were priceless and the knowledge that the two guides were willing to share provided a foundation for me to build on.


One of the interesting observations I learned while spending the three days looking at Ramon’s hot spots was a stark clue that could have easily been missed; tidal influence on the bay is significant and is always a consideration throughout the entire year.


Not always, but often enough to merit investigation, I noticed that many of those hot spots shared several similarities. The bottom would drop off rapidly from the bank caused by how the tidal flow current had eroded the shore; a hint that might be missed is that tops of the mangroves in that location are often silver instead of the usual verdant green because of the constantly exposed roots.


Once while fishing in the Florida Everglades with a local guide, I told him the silver top story and he had a puzzled look as I finished. I asked if that were true in Florida as well. “We usually keep that tidbit to ourselves,” he mumbled.


Since that first fateful week with Enrique and Ramon, many assumptions and absolutes have demanded reconsideration over the years. The entire area continues to be assaulted by commercial overfishing, beginning with sardines and working all the way up to gillnetted swordfish.


That said, Magdalena Bay still is my favorite fishing hole in Baja. While most know of the incredible offshore fishing found there in the late fall, the mangroves in late October and early November offer some extraordinary opportunities for trophy-sized snook.


Finding the snook is only one small part of snook fishing; catching them requires both patience and finesse.


It’s no secret that Baja snook are one of my favorite fish to catch. For the first time in a number of years my schedule will allow me to be there myself this year. See you there?


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