Gary Graham's Blog

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:

Hotel Rancho Buena Vista resurrected
Hotel Rancho Buena Vista was brought to life in 1952 when Herb Tansey began transforming the “goat farm” into a fishing destination. After several trips with his pal Ray Cannon, retired U.S. Army Colonel Gene Walters bought the 12-room hotel, expanded it and turned it into the resort of choice for his friends from Hollywood, including Richard Boone, Chuck Connors, James Garner, John Wayne, and even Dwight Eisenhower after he was no longer President.

Located on the shore of the Sea of Cortez south of La Paz and north of Cabo San Lucas, the Ranch offered some of the finest fishing in the world.


MARK WALTERS, OWNER of Rancho Buena Vista and grandson of its founder, with bartender Tony Marron.

The hotel thrived, adding rooms and the first portable pier, thanks to the ingenuity of a transplanted MIT graduate, Ted Bonney, who escaped the U.S. and made his home at the Ranch until his death; plus generations of local families who were employees of the hotel… captains, waiters, cooks, and maids. And there were the three generations of Walters: the Colonel, then Chuck and Mark.

Then, in 2008, with Mark Walters as the on-site manager, Seby R. “Russ” Jones, President of Davidson and Jones Corporation of North Carolina, elected to take out an option to purchase this quiet, successful fishing lodge with the intent of turning it into something first-class, something grand… the first of its kind in East Cape. But they didn’t succeed.

In 2011, Jones announced via e-mail the permanent closing of Rancho Buena Vista Hotel, noting that, “RBV has aged well, but we no longer foresee the ability to keep the hotel in good enough shape to offer that experience. So, after six decades of operation, it’s time to say goodbye.”

This was quickly followed by a second e-mail from Mark Walters, a partner of Rancho Buena Vista Hotel, and grandson of the Colonel, and third generation Baja entrepreneur. Paraphrasing Mark Twain, Walters wrote, “The reports of RBV’s closing are greatly exaggerated.”

He continued, “The Davidson and Jones Cor­pora­tion has been managing/operating the hotel for the past few years and has decided to call it quits. The actual owners, the Hermosillo family and myself, are currently reviewing our options. The hotel will be closed only temporarily.”

Since 2011, Rancho Buena Vista with Walters as on-site manager, has confounded the dire predictions of the U.S. businessman by going back to the basics of capitalizing on existing assets.

On a recent visit to RBV, I was pleased to see the seaside pool surrounded by both Mexican and American families taking advantage of another sparkling sunny Baja summer day. Kids and adults alike plunged into the pool to cool off in the afternoon heat.

Later, I caught up with Mark in the palapa-covered bar overlooking the Sea of Cortez.

“Have a seat,” he beckoned, pulling out a leather-woven rattan chair. “Join me for a virgin Bloody Mary? I hope you like Tabasco sauce!” he grinned as he ordered a couple from Tony Marron behind the bar.

In answer to my question of what he had been up to, Mark replied, “Still playing lots of golf and tennis.” Tony set the drinks on the leather-topped table and Mark continued. “I’ve also been playing quite a bit in our band, ‘Skeleton Key.’ We’ve had 50 gigs since last November,” he said with an infectious grin.

“Aside from that, it’s business as usual, more or less, since the Davidson and Jones Corporation group fled in 2011. The Hermosillos and I first decided to reopen the bar, which was always popular. Next, we started renting rooms on a nightly basis. The basic difference is that while the kitchen is operational, it is used only occasionally for private parties.”

“RBV has become very popular with locals, with relocated foreign retirees, as well as with many of our former clients. We have 25 rooms available during the week and during the summer months they are very popular with both working and professional families and with groups from Cabo and La Paz who just want to get away for a weekend.”

“On weekends, all those barbeques you see out there around the pool are in use. We even added a DIY barbeque where folks in the bar can cook their own hot dogs and hamburgers. My wife Jesi came up with that idea and it was a good one,” he said with pride.

“Jesi and I often stop by in the afternoon when different groups are serving everything from carne asada to ceviche. They often invite us to sample their fantastic dishes. It’s great! We also host weddings and parties, you know, everything from birthdays to anniversaries. It’s all a lot of fun! We even offer two 31-foot Island Hopper sportfishers for our guests now.”

They recently re-listed the hotel.

“If it sells, Jesi and I will simply build a new house on some property we own and remain in the area. This is our home and we just want to live happily ever after.”

Not only is the hotel back and thriving, so is Mark Walters.

“You know, I almost killed myself with addiction by the time I was 38. Now I look back at all the fun I’ve had from then to now, and I’m so thankful that I had friends who stood by me through that period of my life,” Mark concluded.

Although the “suits” decided to decline on their company’s option to purchase RBV and were willing to walk away from six decades of history, Mark Walters and his partners, the Hermosillos, went back to basics and breathed new life into the old girl; RBV seems to be thriving once again.

As we departed, the laughter and shouts echoed in my ears as Mark and I walked past the pool. Then we headed to my Roadtrek, strolling past the famous rock table still sitting in its place of honor on the long porch where hundreds if not thousands of card games had taken place, on past the scales where an equal number of trophy fish had been hung and photographed during the past seven decades.

The historical significance of RBV surrounded us like the cool breezes that were blowing across the sea. I carefully stepped across the cattle guard as Walters commented, “We have had many great folks visit Rancho Buena Vista throughout the years; I miss seeing them, and mourn the loss of the ones who are gone forever.”

But Rancho Buena Vista endures.

Back on the road again
When I arrived in Los Cabos Airport this week, the entire area was engulfed in torrential rains. Some folks were drenched to the point that they were actually wringing out their t-shirts while standing in the immigration line. Even the luggage in the brief trip from airplane to baggage area was soaked.


TO SEE MORE of my “Doing the Drone” photos from my travels, watch Graham’s Facebook page.

John Ireland of Rancho Leonero offered me a ride to Buena Vista with him and I was soon back in my trusty "Roadtrek" and parked in my usual spot at East Cape RV. It’s always great to meet up with long-time friends when traveling, making airport waiting time and the travel time go so much more smoothly as you “catch up” on events.

The following day, Tuesday, Aug. 5, was registration for the Bisbee East Cape Offshore which was another great opportunity to catch up with old friends. It was also a wonderful way to practice "Doing the Drone" throughout the day … one of my favorite past times these days as any of you who follow me on Facebook knows. I got some great shots that day, and picking up the theme the next morning, the start of the first day of fishing, I did fly the drone from the Awesome 2 provided by owner, Theresa Comber. Needless to say, using the boat for a platform and flying over water without the security of solid terra firma for my landing, added stress to the enterprise. Along with the help of a few assistants, this flight resulted in the renaming of the drone to "PT," short for "Pucker-Time.”

After carefully catching "PT" in air rather than landing it on deck, with a deep sigh of relief I packed it away safely in its case and headed to breakfast with the start boat crew and dignitaries. Among them was Diputado Local (State Legislator) Carlos Castro representing District 7 from San Jose to Buena Vista and Jesús Ceseña, FONMAR - Los Cabos Director, along with Clicerio Mercado, Wayne Bisbee, Trish Bisbee, Carey Bisbee, and Paul Watson, publisher of Bisbee's Marlin World magazine.


BISBEE ACKNOWLEDGED CASTRO'S interest and continued support.

Carlos and Wayne were deep in a conversation regarding a legislative bill that Castro had entered for the consideration by the full House of Representatives a declaration that the Bisbee Black and Blue be named a treasured and valued resource of the entire state of Baja California Sur for their dedicated and continued promotion of sportfishing and conservation.

In an impromptu discussion around the table, the consensus was that Castro's idea had merit and would be beneficial to Baja Sur to continue to support and encourage the Bisbee’s Black and Blue through this bill. Bisbee acknowledged Castro's interest and continued support.

And he added, "The Bisbee's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Fund, Inc. has a planned involvement with Ducks Unlimited to be implemented soon to fund assistance in the preservation and restoration of the habitat and esteros along the flyway down both Baja's and Mexico's West Coast."

He then volunteered to show them a one-minute video about another project the Foundation was funding: “The Second Ark Foundation,” a non-profit organization which promotes the conservation and well-being of species, both exotic and native to the United States, as well as working to repatriate endangered species to their countries of origin.

Ceseña volunteered to provide any information regarding Magdalena Bay as well as other esteros in Baja. This stimulated an interesting discussion about sardine quotas and tuna pens as well as the impact of commercial fishing on Magdalena Bay.

The Bisbee East Cape Offshore wraps up Saturday night with the Awards Banquet and I'll be heading on to my next ‘on the road’ adventure. Off to Loreto for the Grand Finale of the Serial Sepesca series: Project Sport Fishing "Contigo" 2014, with a guaranteed prize of up to $50,000 for all those teams who win any of the first three places in any of the official qualifying tournaments or those who participate in at least one of the members of the serial tournaments that are held in each town.

Doing the drone
There’s no doubt that 2014 will go down in history as the “Year of the Drone" within the fishing community. Forget the latest and greatest tackle innovations or super-duper electronics. Nope, this year the buzz is definitely about drones and who can take the most awesome photos with them.

The list of people who have purchased the flying cameras is growing faster than I can keep up! So far, my WON column partner, Jonathan Roldan, and Ali Hussainy, President, BD Outdoors; Erik Landesfeind, and Barry Brightenburg all determined they had to have one. If you search the web, you’ll find plenty of entertaining videos that were shot with drones by crews and anglers on the sportfishing fleet.


EVER SO CAUTIOUSLY, I moved the left stick forward and watched as it leaped into the air.

I, too, couldn't resist; mine arrived in mid-May. By the time it actually got here, I had watched hours of U-Tube videos on quad-copters in general, and had logged in many how-to hours on the DJI Technology Phantom 2 Vision Plus website, the drone that I actually ordered.

The day it arrived, I cautiously unpacked the carton and followed directions, being very careful when I assembled the Quad Copter. That’s probably not an accurate statement since all that was required was that I tighten the self-locking propeller blades and charge the battery before it was ready to fly. But truthfully, I wasn't quite ready! I felt a little bit intimidated by this 24- x 24-inch bundle of technology resting on our coffee table.

I studied the instruction manual from cover to cover – all 75 pages – for several days. I devoured the information on the camera, Wi-Fi, GPS, software and cell phone app – all of which needed to be understood before I took on the challenge of flying this machine that had set me back about $1,500. I had not been this nervous about taking control of boats that had cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and yes, a few owned by others that were even more dear than that!

Okay, call me crazy, but the only thing I had ever flown was a model airplane tethered by a control line which I flew in a circle … often crashing it before the full circle had even been completed.

Early one morning, after days of procrastinating, drone in tow Yvonne and I walked across the street to the park. Going through the checklist printed on the underbelly of the unit as carefully as a 747 pilot, with great trepidation I turned on the controller, and started the drone. Ever so cautiously, I moved the left stick forward and watched as it leaped into the air. Thank God I knew to let go of the stick so it could spring back to the center! It hovered at 30 feet or so and I began "Doing the Drone" for real.

For the next few weeks, I flew at the drop of a hat, taking off from my front yard overlooking the lake. To begin, I flew pretty much straight up and down, and then slowly, as my confidence grew, the flights extended farther. I flew it to the edge of the lake, as well as a block or so in either direction, going higher and higher until I sent it to 250 feet and lost sight of it.

There were remarkably few mishaps. I discovered the dreaded death spiral when I descended too quickly causing the drone to drop like a stone! I was in luck! My error was high enough for me to slow the drone’s descent down so instead of a crash, well, we will simply call it a hard landing. No fault, no foul, aside from a nicked up prop or two that a little sandpaper took care of. It was ready to resume training, but the question is, just who was training who?

Then it came time for me to head to Baja. I safely stored it in the trusty Roadtrek for the drive down to East Cape in its own custom case in early June.

Upon my arrival, I flew it often. Mark and Jennifer Rayor's beachfront home; at Rancho Leonero; at East Cape RV and then I headed up to La Paz for WON Panga Slam.

Jonathan Roldan, Tailhunter International, my WON column partner, and I flew them together at Muertos and Balandra Bay. Swapping tips we began to grasp the possibilities that the drone offered. Some of our Drone images ended up in the La Paz Panga Slam story. I even had the courage to fly it out for the beach shot at Chileno Bay at the Stars & Stripes tournament’s shotgun start.

Jonathan had two clients who attempted to use theirs from a panga and ended up float-testing them (by the way, they don't float). Both were a total loss; however, one was insured.

At this point, almost every flight drew a crowd full of questions. The best description I've come up with is that it’s like an incredibly stable tri-pod in the sky with the difference that the drone will hover in the same place when you release the two joy sticks until you sort out what you want to do, sort of like a “pause” button.

"Doing the Drone" has gained momentum within the fishing community. It has added a dimension that has been missing in this serious challenge of fishing. Find a drone overhead and you’ll find grown men once again playing with their toys.

A hero's gift
I recently attended the Stars & Stripes Fishing, Golf and Music Concert, a charity event, and one of the largest children’s fundraisers of its kind in the world. Seven hundred people not only fished, but also participated in the Golf Tournament and other activities, and participants stayed in the host hotel, the Hilton Los Cabos Beach and Golf Resort. The 33 boats and 180-plus anglers departed each day from Chileno Public Beach, one of the most picturesque bays in Baja.

I had been part of the crew who had worked on the event the year before, and had looked forward all year to once again being involved in the excitement and wonder of the many events this year.


SOON, THE BOAT he would be fishing, the Yahoo, arrived, and Mike Hahn and William “Bill” Wagasy gently lifted Masson and carried him across the sand, onto the portable pier, and then into the cockpit of the waiting sportfisher, without a hitch.

As I unpacked my cameras and my new DJ1 drone, Tournament Chairman Dick “El Dicko” Gebhard hurried by on one of his missions. “John Masson and his family are going out today; be sure to take lots of photos!” he excitedly called over his shoulder as he headed over to greet them.

Master Sergeant John Masson had served in the U.S. Army in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm with the 1st Armored Division. Additionally, Masson served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring freedom as a Special Forces Medical Sergeant with the 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne).

On Oct. 16, 2010, while conducting Village Stability Oper­ations in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, Masson stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) losing extremities to preserve freedom for us. With the immediate knowledge that he had lost both legs and his dominant arm, he aided his fellow medical sergeant and teammates in treating his wounds — actions which clearly saved his life. Masson received the Purple Heart for his injuries, and a second Bronze Star for his actions in combat.

From Fayetteville, North Carolina, he and his family had been invited by Stars & Stripes organizers to attend the event as an Ambassador of the Gary Sinise Foundation. In addition to the trip, a “Smart Home” was being built for Masson by the Gary Sinise Foundation, for his wife, Dusty; son, Jonathan; daughter, Morgan; and son, Ethan, designed to ease the day-to-day challenges they face. It is scheduled to be completed this November.


ALONG WITH THE rest of the family, they headed out into the Sea of Cortez.

Soon, the boat he would be fishing. The Yahoo, arrived, and Mike Hahn and William “Bill” Wagasy gently lifted Masson and carried him across the sand onto the portable pier, and then into the cockpit of the waiting sportfisher, without a hitch. Along with the rest of the family, they headed out into the Sea of Cortez.

It wasn’t long after lines were put out, that 10-year-old Ethan was hooked to a fleeing, jumping striped marlin.

“Pretty amazing, a 4:30 wake-up call, being carried to the boat at 7 a.m. In no time at all, Ethan is fighting a fish twice as big as he is,” Masson related later that afternoon. “It took him 45 minutes to catch and release him!

“We saw other fish, and a few hours later, Shea Elledge hooked up another one, which she fought for a while before it came off the hook. She commented later that it was the largest fish she had ever fought and she couldn’t believe how hard it pulled.”

When they returned to the Hilton that afternoon, Gebhard greeted them, bouncing with excitement and hugging Masson in elation that they had done so well for the day.

After the Awards Banquet that evening, and before the Sinise and Lt. Dan Band Concert, Gebhard invited Ambassador Masson to join him on stage. As he made his way up, Gebhard introduced Saul Contreras, who has been with him since he began “Stars & Stripes” 18 years ago. “He is a dear friend… why, we have even peed in the bushes to­gether,” he continued. “And he has learned English much better than I, Spanish.”


a 4:30 wake-up call, being carried to the boat at 7  a.m. In no time at all, Ethan is fighting a fish twice as big as he is,” Masson related later that afternoon. “It took him 45 minutes to catch and release him!”

“I had never met John Masson, and I called him and asked what he would like to do while he was here, and what did you answer, John?” Gebhard asked.

“I want to go fishing!” he replied.

“Then I told him that was fine, we could do that. We will take you to Cabo; take you down the dock and you can board the boat and you can ride up to Chileno… or (this word always gets me in trouble). We can carry you across the sand to the portable pier and load you on a panga and take you to the boat. Which would you like?”

“Living on the edge, that’s how we roll,” he replied. “Carry me.”

“Then my dilemma was old boat/new boat? I worried all night, and the next morning on the beach, John was adamant, old boat!”

“Saul, tell everyone what happened next.”

And Saul took the microphone. “I was riding with Señor Gebhard back to the hotel, when I received the call on the handheld VHF at 7:23 a.m. that they were hooked up. When I told “El Dicko,” he pulled to the side of the road and wept with joy!”

With that, Shawn Parr, Emcee and Auctioneer, held up a custom red, white and blue Fender Stratacaster guitar signed by the entire Lt. Dan Band which would be auctioned off with the proceeds going to the Gary Sinise Foundation. In short order, the beautiful guitar was bid up to $15,000 and sold.

Formalities over, the entertainment began; Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band had the crowd dancing in front of the stage and in the aisles.

With silent and live auctions and live music concerts on the beach, the event raised over $2.7 million during the four-days, increasing the total amount for the past 18 years to over $20,000,000. This is the largest amount ever raised for children’s and other charities by a sportfishing-based tournament.

This is one story of what can be done when a dynamic group of interested volunteers, coupled with the enthusiasm of supporters and sponsors, get together to make a difference in someone’s life. Now multiply that by thousands and more whose lives have been touched, and you have to realize there are many heroes in this story.


AFTER THE AWARDS Banquet that evening, and before the Sinise and Lt. Dan Band Concert, Gebhard invited Ambassador Masson to join him on stage. As he made his way up, Gebhard introduced Saul Contreras, who has been with him since he began “Stars & Stripes” 18 years ago.


WITH THAT, SHAWN PARR, Emcee and Auctioneer, held up a custom red, white and blue Fender Stratocaster guitar, signed by the entire Lt. Dan Band, which would be auctioned off, with the proceeds going to the Gary Sinise Foundation.

Don't ignore conditions – confront them
While many are spending their time arguing about the reasons for the lack of sardina in Baja Sur, they should be making adjustments to make better use of the baits that are available ... big baits, little baits, dead bait and, in some cases, cut bait.

Sure, we have had temporary gaps when the sardina disappear mysteriously only to return later in the same fashion. Thus far this year it seems different and is lasting much longer than even Baja old timers can remember.

DEAD BALLYHOO ARE an excellent  bait when rigged correctly, which isn't simply pinning them on a hook and trap hook and dragging them bouncing on the water behind the boat at trolling speed.

While all of us are accustomed to jumping in a boat and finding the local bait guy – and then paying him a good chunk of change to top off the tank – and then go fish. So far this year, if you do find a bait man, the fish in the bottom of his panga are likely to look like they came out of someone's aquarium. Last week, fishing at Las Arenas, I don't remember seeing one sardina.

Our bait selection included ladyfish on the large side and 5-inch live ballyhoo on the small side and a lot other kinds in between. All these baits required not only different techniques, but different style of hook as well as sizes.

Ladyfish, as an example, as most anglers know, are like candy to roosterfish … BIG ONES. The grandes have been more common throughout Baja Sur this year according to the glowing reports. However, hooking a small, let’s say 3/0 J hook through the bait’s nose and expecting consistent hookups may be a tad optimistic.

Those in the know from experience opt for an 8\0 circle hook with the offset flattened and dental flossed to the top of the nose for best results.

Dead ballyhoo are an excellent bait when rigged correctly, which isn't simply pinning them on a hook and trap hook and dragging them bouncing on the water behind the boat at trolling speed. A small egg sinker sewed beneath the chin and perhaps covered with brightly colored skirt will undoubtedly increase the number of bites. Taken a step further, if the backbone is removed, they will actually swim enticingly.

Enough about bait rigging. Tackle and techniques can be modified to fit whatever kind of bait is available. In Southern California, the buzz has been about sardines disappearing and the smaller anchovy replacing them as the common bait. So, suddenly many are considering spinning or lighter longer rods to cast the smaller baits. Perhaps similar adjustments should be a consideration in Baja.

Adjustments may be as simple as letting a fish run a little longer because of larger baits. Tackle stores are filled with a plethora of different top water and swimming artificial lures that have proven productive. If you don't believe it, the next time you see some fly-fishers casting from the beach, more than likely one on them will be flinging a hookless lure to tease the fish closer for his buddies’.

I had clients show up with squid in their cooler because they heard there wasn't any bait. Good thinking; but these days you can buy squid in some of the local markets. What about cat food? That same cat food that is used to chum up mackerel will set off a pretty impressive dorado feeding frenzy.

Experienced anglers are all about adapting and when faced with unfavorable conditions seeking ways to work around them and drawing from prior experiences that may be modified or improved upon to improve their chances now.

Sportfishing is all about challenge that doesn't begin when you hook up. Adapting to conditions has always been an important part of being a successful angler. We've all been confronted by unfavorable conditions and found ways to work around them … not just blithely accepting them as today's norm, but relying on our past experiences to find a way to overcome them.

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