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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:

Pesca La Baja Tournaments, forging friendships
In a mere four years, Pesca La Baja SEPESCABC has established itself as one of the “must-attend” family tournament series in Baja – not only drawing residents of communities where they are held, but also a growing number of anglers from California and beyond. What’s not to like? A competitive event wrapped in a fiesta is a proven formula attractive to both locals and visitors.

DON'T MISS THIS opportunity to participate in these memorable events held throughout northern Baja.

The first of the 2017 series begins with San Felipe on the Sea of Cortez at the local dock this week – May 19-20 – and continues monthly throughout the entire summer. The second will be held at San Luis Gonzaga, June 16-17 and based at Hotel Alfonsina’s, followed by Bahía de Los Ángeles, July 21-22 at the local launch ramp.

Then, the location moves west across the Baja Peninsula to Pacifica at Ensenada, Aug. 25-26 at API Sportfishing Docks before the fifth and Grand Finale, Sept. 22-23 at the Old Mill Hotel in San Quintín.

While most tournaments in Baja have a “cause,” Pesca la Baja simply celebrates sportfishing and the individual communities of anglers who share a common passion for the sport, of course merged with the challenge and rewards of winning.

“The Pesca La Baja Series has been a very fun set of tournaments. I have been fishing them since the beginning and they are well run in really nice locations,” Chris Wheaton, from Orange County, an IGFA Representative and World Record Holder, marveled recently.

The numbers of participants or spectators has grown every year as has the enthusiasm for the event. It manages to blend local and visiting anglers into a unique celebration of sportfishing in towns and villages throughout Baja Norte where “Pesca la Baja” thrives.

Total immersion comes in many shapes. Fishermen from outside Baja and beyond who I’ve spoken with over the years delight in the chance to share their passion for fishing with local anglers, in many cases creating lasting bonds of friendship during these two-day events that have allowed an introduction to Baja’s rich family and fishing culture. Of course, under normal circumstances, this is often something that can only be accomplished after years of residing or traveling and exploring the rugged coast of Baja.

This weekend’s event at San Felipe, only 124 miles below the border, is a great opportunity to view one of the tournaments without driving too far. Don’t miss this opportunity to participate in these memorable events held throughout northern Baja. You won’t be disappointed. Often it takes a long time “to know what you don’t know” but in this case you can find out in only a couple of days.

Rules, schedules, places of registration of participants, meeting of captains, time of departure and arrival of boats, weighing of species and awards of the tournaments, are established by local conditions and facilities available.

The rules are straightforward with the competition divided into two categories of heaviest fish:

Surface: Corvina, yellowtail, dorado, sierra, billfish, yellowfin tuna and albacore.

Bottom: All species excluding rays and sharks.

Entry fees range from $700 MXN pesos for adults to $150 MXN pesos for children under 12. US ($38-$8)

Cash Prizes range from around $25,000 MXN pesos to $3,000 MXN pesos for heaviest fish, either surface or bottom. US ($1,350 - $55)

Award for the champion and accumulated best scores of all the series:

Grand Prize: Suzuki outboard motor, 115 hp, plus $30,000 MXN pesos in cash accumulating a total of $ 260,000 MXN pesos in prizes. US ($1,386)

2nd Place: $50,000 MXN pesos in cash plus registration for the Bisbee's Offshore Tournament in Cabo San Lucas. US ($2,666)

3rd Place: $30,000 MXN pesos in cash. US ($1,600)

Captain Jesus Araiza, a Baja Legend
I began writing my “Road Trekker” columns in 2008 and Jesus Araiza was often mentioned in them; several times he was even the main topic. Sadly, he passed away at the age of 79 on April 8, quietly at his home in Los Barriles, BCS, surrounded by family members.

THIS ACCOUNTED FOR the fact that he was mentioned in most of their writings over the years: Ray Cannon, followed by Tom Miller, Fred Hoctor and then Gene Kira, who assumed the Baja column upon Hoctor’s death. Photo credit Jonathan Roldan

One of oldest remaining charter boat captains in Baja’s East Cape Region, Jesus held a remarkable front row seat to the evolution of Baja sportfishing stretching back to 1955, the early days of Rancho Buena Vista Hotel; his journey was well documented and filled with fascinating tales that only being there could provide. Not only was he one of the first “Tag & Release” captains in the East Cape area, he was also awarded the High Skipper Award for “Tag & Release” 19 different years during his career. His reputation as one of the top captains at the “Ranch” was legend and he was so popular that he was often booked several seasons in advance.

It’s no wonder he fished with so many of the WON Baja columnists throughout their careers and was acquainted with the others. This accounted for the fact that he was mentioned in most of their writings over the years: Ray Cannon, followed by Tom Miller, Fred Hoctor and then Gene Kira, who assumed the Baja column upon Hoctor’s death.

Jesus retired in 2008 from Hotel Buenavista Beach Resort, a neighboring hotel, leaving the day-to-day fishing to his sons; today his grandson, Tony, captains the “Retriever” a 66-foot Viking fishing out of Cabo San Lucas.

Jesus could often be found each afternoon in the front yard of his corner family compound sitting beneath his favorite shade tree enjoying the afternoon breeze.

Last summer, I visited Jesus for the last time. He seemed happy, quite content, and of course we shared many of our amusing East Cape fishing tales.

I’m honored to have been Jesus’ friend over the past 37 years. I always enjoyed seeing him and learning his perspective about the many changes in East Cape and beyond. In addition, his sportfishing experiences had earned him the respect and admiration of the many friends and acquaintances we shared and we had many stories to compare, both on the water and off.

The news of his passing reverberated throughout Baja in general, and specifically among his many friends and admirers in the sportfishing community.

“He was a great man. I was very lucky to spend time on the water with Don Jesus. The stories he told of the golden age of East Cape fishing are burned into my brain forever! Gary, you may recall when you had your tackle stored at Jesus's house in Los Barriles? There was a real Baja treasure in that storage room. Jesus's dog eared copy of The Sea of Cortez, signed to Jesus by Ray Cannon and Harry Merrick.”… Lance Peterson

“R.I.P. Jesus.”… Bill Harris

“I just wanted to tell you how much the article that you wrote meant to our Captain Tony Ariaza, his grandson and the family. They were astonished to learn things they didn't know.”… Martha Macnab

Vaya Con Dios Sr. Araiza! … Tuna Dave

“Very upsetting. I lived across the street from him a few years ago in Los Barriles and remember when I first arrived there I would see him out in the yard, just sitting there for hours on end with his dog.

“After about three weeks I finally went over and introduced myself on my way out to the beach. On my ATV was my fishing gear and he proceeded to ask me where I was going to fish?

“From that day on I would stop by on my way out or in and listen to one of his stories or pieces of local advice about fishing. Occasionally, I would take him some mahi fillets or cabrilla that I would catch on the beach. He will be missed and may he rest in peace.” … Kyle Banashek

“Great guy and a great fisherman.”… Andrew Hughes

“I remember this very distinguished man. I never knew him. I could tell, by looking at him, that he had a rich history. So sorry to hear of his passing.”… Diane Staley Aerts

I had the privilege to know and fish with Jesus. He was my skipper in 1963 at the Ranch when I caught my first marlin when I was 5 years old, unassisted. He had me bear down and do it by myself. R.I.P. Jesus. You will be missed by all.”… John Duckett

“Amazing fishing family.”… Thomas Neikirk

Araiza’s sportfishing legacy is secure in the family dynasty of 7 children, 14 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren, some of whom work within the recreational sportfishing industry which will benefit from his heritage; the Araiza family will continue to influence East Cape and Baja for future generations.

Links to prior stories

Jesus Araiza, Captain with Class,-captain-with-class.php

Unexpected Encounters

Baja's Feliz Navidad spirit sparkles

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.

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.

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.

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.


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!

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