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:

Mex 3 – 5: Roads less traveled
Several weeks ago on a Friday afternoon, Yvonne and I took our first trip through Guadalupe Valley. Kenia Zamarripa, SAC’s Director of Marketing and International Affairs, and Heidy Salum, Binational Liaison for the Government of Baja California Secretary of Tourism of Baja California, guided us through Guadalupe Valley to kick off a weekend trip to Ensenada at Hotel Coral and Marina with the Sportfishing Association of California President, Captain Ken Franke, and the “Let’s Talk Hook-Up” crew which included Pete Gray and his sound engineer, Rick Cutler, ( The SAC group was there to continue the very successful series of interactions between Mexican and American representatives from Government agencies, hotels, and fishing fleets, and on Saturday morning, the two-hour radio show shared information vital to anglers, tourists and boats cruising the waters off Baja’s coast.

KNOWING THERE WAS over 20 miles of dirt road ahead, I stopped and visited with "Coco" at his elaborately decorated (literally) “wide spot in the road” named appropriately "Coco's Corner."

Guadalupe Valley, with its many vineyards, restaurants and wineries was quite a pleasant surprise. It reminded Yvonne and me of Sonoma Valley in Northern California — certainly an interesting option for a weekend getaway. The sprawling vineyards with the beautiful mountains behind them made a picturesque backdrop for the unique selection of restaurants and quaint hotels. A bonus: there were menus to fit every budget.

Later that evening we had a great dinner at a small restaurant near the waterfront area with an unusual floor-to-ceiling back bar -- straight from the U.S. Prohibition years delivered from San Francisco by a two-masted schooner. We arrived in "Uber" taxis . . . yes, Uber . . . another surprise and convenience to find Uber in Ensenada!

After a quick buffet breakfast at the hotel on Saturday, Yvonne hitched a ride with the gang back to the border and I began my journey southward on several roads I had never traveled. The first was Mex 3.

Mex 3 is located on the south side of Ensenada where Mex 1 continued south. Meandering east through town before climbing into the mountains which looked similar to San Diego's East County. Eventually, the road descended into an agricultural area with more vineyards and farms, ultimately reaching the coast.

There it ran into Mex 5 heading south toward San Felipe. Up to that point, both Mex 3 and Mex 5 were in good condition and repair.

However, beyond San Felipe there were potholes and some of the worst dips I've encountered in Baja on a paved road. They would catch me unaware and even traveling at a normal driving speed, I could find myself airborne. I counted at least three damaged and abandoned boat trailers, apparently from the dips. TAKE IT EASY!

Once you reach Gonzaga Bay the road is new and in great shape.

LATER THAT EVENING we had a great dinner at a small restaurant near the waterfront area with an unusual floor-to-ceiling back bar — straight from the U.S. Prohibition years delivered from San Francisco by a two-masted schooner.

I spend the night in my Roadtrek next to a palapa ($20) on Gonzaga Bay Beach and resumed my trip the following morning. Knowing there was over 20 miles of dirt road ahead, I stopped and visited with "Coco" at his elaborately decorated (literally) “wide spot in the road” named appropriately "Coco's Corner."

He served me a cup of coffee and proceeded to give a thumbnail version of his compelling life story. Born in Tijuana in 1937, he first visited the area in 1966 during the first NORRA Baja 500. Overwhelmed by the area’s rugged beauty and remoteness, he returned several times and grew fonder of the isolation and solitude he enjoyed with each trip.

He lost both legs in an accident prior to1990 and was confined to a wheelchair. Upon receipt of a settlement and pension, in his words, he said "bye-bye Ensenada." Since that time, he has called that desolate corner his home, making infrequent trips to Ensenada in a specially equipped truck.

I asked him about the new highway being built through his home of 27 years. Either he didn’t understand the impact the new road would have on him or he didn’t mind.

His observation was that the completion would be three more years coming before the entire project would be completed. He also pointed out that work had stopped for a month and a half because of a lack of government funds and all the equipment 14 kilometers south was currently silent.

I had read in Baja Forum that Coco liked to read so I brought him some paperbacks and magazines. He seemed pleased to receive them. However, while he spoke English, he had friends translate and read the books written in English to him.

Beyond Coco’s Corner, a serious Baja Dirt road was littered with big and small rocks requiring speeds of less than 10 mph in many places. I encountered a number of large semi-trucks that seemed to prefer the new route already as well as a few passenger cars. The length of the dirt portion was about 20 miles which took me less than two hours to reach the junction onto Mex 1.

Undoubtedly, eventually the new route will change the face of Baja from a driving perspective, but for now, in my opinion, a drive on the less-traveled Mex 5 makes one appreciate Mex 1 more.

Keeper of the flame
I first met Pam Bolles when she invited Gene Kira, Lani Waller, Jeff Solis, and I to attend a fly-fishing tournament in 1996 hosted by her company, “The Baja Big Fish Company.”

Kira was introducing his latest reprint of “Baja Catch,” Waller was a fly-fishing guide, one of the most recognized names in steelhead fishing and angling travel, and Solis, also a widely recognized fly fishing guide was the owner of the San Diego Fly Shop. Yvonne and I also ran a guide company based out of Baja, “Baja on the Fly.”

INCENSED BY THE recent killing of a 100-plus pound roosterfish, Pam noted that “Roosterfish that large taste like bad cat food!” and she urged Captains, mates and anglers alike to practice CPR.

Since that time, Pam has assimilated the culture of Loreto, adopting the language and knowledge as her own, guiding several years before marrying and raising a family. All the while, Pam was running her business while working side by side with most of the sport fishing captains in Loreto.

More recently, she has been active in several fishing tournaments as well as continuing her guide/charter service business, and has even added the title of “naturalist guide” to her resume in the winter months. On her days off, when the weather is nice, you will find her enjoying her world — hiking, fishing or whale watching.

Bolles has earned the respect of the local sportfishing and tourism community over the years; she has recognized some of the current issues facing her community, sportfishing specifically, and she has become an authority on Loreto and its many resources. Her recent focus has been on the upcoming season and tournaments.

Simply stated, when Bolles speaks, not only her local community in Loreto but the fishing communities that lie beyond, listen as well.

Incensed by the recent killing of a 100+ pound roosterfish, Pam noted that “Roosterfish that large taste like bad cat food!” and she urged Captains, mates and anglers alike to practice CPR — Catch-Photograph-Release. (This popular dictum was originally coined some years ago by Photojournalist/Fish Biologist/TV Producer-Host Bill Boyce.)

“This season's pelagic fishery will be very challenging with the lack of sardina, squid and the sargasso that attracts the area’s most popular target, “dorado” during the summer months,” Bolles admonished organizers and directors of the upcoming Loreto tournaments in a recent email while she encouraged their participants to fish responsibly in order to manage the fishery.

Adding that local tournaments are an important addition to the town’s economy when managed properly, she continued that often a Loreto tournament is specifically for dorado or yellowtail and will only add an "other species" category when fishing is slow. It is with these other categories that the irresponsibility can occur.

The killing of a billfish or a roosterfish is bad enough, but weighing and displaying them is counterproductive. It provides critics to sportfishing (environmentalists) an argument to end sport fishing in our marine-protected area.

She proposed that all Loreto tournaments consider a proposal to add roosterfish, sailfish, marlin, spearfish and even sharks to a “release only category,” if included, in any event.

Concluding her email with, “I apologize for taking your time but on our capture of a very big roosterfish, I wanted to bring this to your attention.” Bolles offered to assist any of the Tournament Directors organizing tournaments this year the alternatives to killing these magnificent fish . . . “Fishing responsibly will be a win/win situation for all of us,” she avowed.

Pam’s plea has not gone unnoticed, and it didn’t take my friend, Juan C. Acerto Cervera, Director of the Sinaloa Sportfishing Association, long to respond. “I agree! We should continue to encourage “CPR” for all of the species you have mentioned Pam.” He continued, “We have commercial fleets fishing with nets from Sinaloa all over the area in front to Isla Ceralvo, Espíritu Santo and San Jose, 40 miles out. If I can be of any assistance please let me know.” Bolles is to be congratulated for having the courage to call the matter to the attention of tournament organizers in her community and beyond. With more than a half-dozen tournaments scheduled in and around Loreto throughout the summer, her plea could have a major impact on the fishery.

Pam, this keeper of the flame, is taking a stand in her adopted country to make it a better place for not only her angling peers, but for the future generations, her children and theirs.

We applaud your courage in standing up for what’s right Pam. You have come a long way and worked hard for this Baja that we both love. I’m proud to stand beside you and will find it interesting to watch the outcome.

A fiesta in the making
Pesca La Baja, a tournament series of five events promoted by SEPESCABC in its third year, is a unique concept that has established itself among the vast array of Baja sportfishing events.

Those events include the Bisbee’s Black & Blue Tournaments that began over 30 years ago in the Los Cabos region of the Baja Peninsula, which holds the record for the largest payout in sportfishing history, $4,165,960 was awarded to the winners in 2006.

BE PREPARED TO see local politicians, judges, business owners, farmers, cowboys, families, children and fishermen all gathered together for a fiesta – all free-spirited, laid-back and unpretentious . . . all having a great time.

Another event is the Stars and Stripes Tournament — the largest sportfishing and golf charity event in the Western Hemisphere that according to Tournament Director Richard Gebhart has raised more than $20,000,000 in its 20-year history for children on both sides of the Border.

Although “Pesca la Baja” cannot match the dollars raised for charity or the cash handed out to winners by some of the other affairs, or for that matter, even the numbers of participants or spectators, yet in terms of enthusiasm, and the unification of the locals with visiting anglers into a unique celebration of sportfishing in towns and villages throughout Baja Norte, “Pesca la Baja” carves its own niche!

These five events, held in remote towns on both the Sea of Cortez and the West Coast of Baja Norte, are inexpensive, local affairs sponsored by Sepesca Baja California.

The format at each venue is identical, beginning with a Friday registration, fishing Saturday and awards Saturday night. Entry is $600 pesos for adults and $200 pesos for children 12 and under.

Awards and cash prizes are given for both surface and bottom fishing species: Surface: yellowfin tuna, big eye, albacore, marlin, dorado, yellowtail, sierra and seabass.

Bottom: All species except ray, shark and protected species.

For those competing in all four events there is a special fish-off at the fifth and final event to determine the overall champions.

The first event — (San Felipe) — was held earlier in May, shattering attendance records with 138 participants according to the staff. There were many qualifying fish in all categories brought to the scale and the largest was also a record for the event – a 147.6-pound black seabass brought to the scales by angler, Ricardo Elizondo.

San Felipe – May 13 and 14. The remaining events include:

San Luis Gonzaga, B.C. — June 10 and 11

Bahía de los Ángeles, B.C. — July 15 and 16

San Quintín, B.C. — Aug. 19 and 20

GRAND FINALE Ensenada, B.C. — Sept. 23 and 24

The San Luis Gonzaga event will be based at Hotel Alfonsina's with registration on Friday, June 10. Boat departure: Saturday, 6 a.m. (beach front Hotel Alfonsina's). The scales open at noon and close at 4 p.m. followed by an awards ceremony at Hotel Alfonsina's at 6 p.m.

THERE WERE MANY qualifying fish in all categories brought to the scale and the largest was also a record for the event – a 147.6-pound black seabass brought to the scales by angler, Ricardo Elizondo.

For the uninitiated, attending even one of these affairs is an opportunity to become immersed in Baja’s rich family and fishing culture for a brief moment in time. Each venue, on both the Sea of Cortez and the West Coast of Baja Norte, offers a glimpse of its unique personality where residents share a fierce pride in their hometowns and lifestyles.

Grass roots affairs, the tournaments mirror the proud heritage and unique lifestyles of the Baja people seldom seen by the casual visitor. Resonating with a growing number of travelers who venture across the border, the popularity of the events has nourished camaraderie among the participants, forging lasting friendships for many.

For you who complain about the crowded, noisy and unappealing (your words, not mine) popular destinations in Baja, this is your chance to rub shoulders with the locals. Be prepared to see local politicians, judges, business owners, farmers, cowboys, families, children and fishermen all gathered together for a fiesta – all free-spirited, laid-back and unpretentious . . . all having a great time.

It’s an inexpensive opportunity for you to enjoy a peek at distinctly different, easily accessible Baja communities just a few hours from the border and it’s a great way to spend the weekend while making some new friends…

See ya there!

Road noise
When I made my first trip down Mex 1 in the early ’70s, “road noise” about the condition of that two-lane strip of asphalt winding its way well over a thousand miles down the Baja peninsula would have been welcomed and reassuring. At that time, large areas of road was full of potholes, or washed out from recent rains, and construction sites and detours were plentiful.

DURING THE 200+ trips I have driven over the past 43 years, changes have been astonishing.

During the 200-plus trips I have driven over the past 43 years, changes have been astonishing. Now, two Baja Travel Clubs have updated information on their respective websites:

Discover Baja — http://

Influenced by higher fuel costs along with lower airfares del mar

And through Social Media and blogs, you can usually find details of someone who has recently made the drive down the peninsula. There is enough “chatter” and road noise for you to plan your trip with advanced knowledge of road conditions … “to be forewarned is to be forearmed.”

Of course, Mex 1 is an integral part of my history. It is filled with shared memories of trips with family and friends, laughter and adventures, that will be treasured forever, changing “road noise” into my “Baja melody” as the miles flash by.

More recently, influenced by higher fuel costs along with lower airfares, my road trips have been reduced substantially. Now I usually drive down in the spring, leave the “Roadtrek” in storage and fly back and forth throughout the summer. Then after the WON Tuna tournament finishes at the end of the first week in November, I drive back to the states.

I still follow “road noise” throughout the year, however. Prior to departing for the summer season, I habitually turn to the internet resources for road updates, conditions and trouble spots.

For those of you planning your own drive down soon, here are some of the notable travel items:

Southbound travelers entering at El Chaparral San Ysidro border crossing: The usual entrance onto Via Internacional along the border fence is blocked for construction. Travelers are being rerouted to a nearby entrance.

Instead, remain in the left lane and follow signs for “CENTRO/ZONA RIO;” continue up the ramp following signs for “PASEO DE LOS HEROES/CENTRO;” stay in the right lane taking the ramp for “PLAYAS DE TIJUANA/MEX 1 ROSARITO CUOTA” leading onto Via Internacional to the toll road.

Mex 1 has potholes and worn roads from around Km. 133 north of Cataviña to Punta Prieta at Km. 280. Stretches of the road have been patched, but expect rough road conditions for about 90 miles.

Twelve miles south of Guerrero Negro, the road is under construction and detoured off the road for nearly three miles on a dirt washboard frontage road.

Then south of Vizcaino, traffic is being routed onto a dirt frontage road that is in good condition.

The road through Santa Rosalia is a mess until the south-side of town. After that, the road is in good shape until 30 miles south of Loreto before Insurgentes; there’s a new construction bypass with about three miles of a rutted dirt frontage road. Be careful, there are soft spots along this section.

The paved road out to Bahía Muertos is in bad condition with washouts and many potholes.

South of La Ribera, heading toward Cabo Pulmo, the paved road continues for about nine miles. However, the last six miles of the paved road are not usable and detours will take you on a dirt road alongside the paved road.

The four-lane bypass from Cabo San Lucas to Todos Santos is open.

The Cabo bypass is finished and drivable. This is a toll road with exits for Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo and the airport. The fees range from 32 pesos to 70 pesos depending on distance traveled on the road.

For those adventurous ones planning to use the Mex 5 route entering at Mexicali, the first 120 miles to San Felipe is in good shape. Beyond there, the paved road to Puertecitos is in rough condition. The road has been eroded in many areas and there are potholes. Be careful, there are numerous vados and dips that can creep up on you.

Mex 5 from Puertecitos to Gonzaga Bay is paved and in great condition. The paved road continues to Mex 1 for about 12 miles beyond that point.

The construction crews are actively working along the 18-mile section of dirt that leads to the Mex 1 Junction at Laguna Chapala to complete the paving to Mex 1, but the project will take time. Take care on the dirt road and only drive during daylight hours.

“Road noise” changes frequently! You are urged to check both web resources mentioned above before departing on your own Baja road trip. And I urge you to take time to enjoy the unusual constantly changing landscape of Baja.

Sportfishing Association of California revisits Mazatlán
Captain Ken Franke, Sportfishing Association of California along with Kenia Zamarripa, SAC’s Director of Marketing and International Affairs and the “Let’s Talk Hook-Up” crew which included Pete Gray and his sound engineer, Rick Cutler, ( was met by Juan Acereto - President of Sinaloa's Sport Fishing Association in Mazatlán on what would be a whirlwind trip leaving on Thursday, April 21 at 5 p.m. and returning Saturday, April 23 around 9:30 p.m. I was fortunate to be included in that group. Encouraged by the results of last year’s efforts, the goal of the SAC team was to promote sportfishing and other recreational opportunities available in the region using the same techniques as they had the previous year, when they successfully encouraged the return of the cruise ships and visiting yachts to Mazatlan.

WE MET AND then crossed at Cross Border Xpress (CBX) at Otay Mesa.

We met and then crossed at Cross Border Xpress (CBX) at Otay Mesa. I had heard many favorable reports about the facility and was eager to check it out for myself. I was impressed!

Since opening to serve the public on December 9, 2015, an average of 2,000 passengers per day have utilized the facility on a typical day, while approximately 5,000 passengers per day have used the crossing during peak holiday travel periods, according to Elizabeth Brown, spokesperson for CBX.

Traveling together in Franke’s truck, which he parked in the adjoining parking lot for $15 per day, we were soon unloaded and headed for the entrance.

It was a simple check-in process. After filling out an FMM, (no charge since we were gone less than a week), our boarding pass was verified, baggage was inspected, and we had a brisk walk across the enclosed pedestrian bridge -- approximately 390 feet long and 33 feet wide. Soon we were in the lobby of the Tijuana Airport and standing at the Volaris Ticket Counter -- the first line we had encountered since entering the building on the U.S. side. After checking our luggage we headed to the Boarding Gate with nearly a half-hour to spare before boarding our flight. All of this took about the same amount of time it would have taken to go to San Diego Airport, go through the TSA line and arrive at the gate for departure. Pretty remarkable!

We checked into the Pueblo Bonito, Emerald Bay later that evening and Friday morning held our first meeting/press conference. With Kenia Zamarripa translating, Captain Ken Franke, Pete Gray, Juan Acereto and Esteban Balderrama – Undersecretary of Tourism Promotion & Operation for the State of Sinaloa, all welcoming the local press and other guests.

ESTEBAN BALDERRAMA LEFT, Mario Aguilar, Captain Ken Franke and Pete Gray

Franke briefly described the goals and successes of the team’s prior visit in 2015, which had been to confirm with “Let’s Talk Hook-Up” radio show broadcast throughout the United States and beyond, that the Port of Mazatlán and surrounding areas had been renewed and revitalized. The beaches, restaurants and hotels are immaculate, and the Malecón has a lively atmosphere with artwork, fountains and palm trees. In addition, the Port of Mazatlán has all the facilities needed to serve cruise ships and visiting yachts but most importantly, the Mazatlán people were eager for them to return.

According to Alfonso Gil, General Director, Port of Mazatlán, there are currently over 90 cruise ships scheduled to stop in the Port, which is a remarkable improvement over the one cruise ship that visited Mazatlán in 2012."

On Saturday morning there would be a similar two-hour broadcast hosting guests Mario Aguilar – Commissioner of CONAPESCA, Alfonso Gil – General Director, Port of Mazatlán, Esteban Balderrama – Undersecretary of Tourism, Sinaloa, Juan Acereto – President, Sportfishing Association of Sinaloa , Jose Gamez – General Manager, Pueblo Bonito Hotels and Geronimo Cevallos – El Cid Marina Manager.

All described the many exciting and diversified sportfishing, recreational and tourism related activities found throughout the city and the surrounding areas and all added their view on the importance of the program, concluding with a robust question and answer session before closing. The attendees were invited to attend the broadcast on Saturday morning at the Pueblo Bonito, Emerald Bay.

The following morning the SAC group and special guests along with spectators and members of the press gathered on the sun bathed Pueblo Bonito, Emerald Bay terrace overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

During the first hour of the live call in “Let’s Talk Hook-Up” show, hosts Pete Gray and Captain Ken Franke welcomed Alfonso Gil, Juan Acereto and Geronimo who discussed sportfishing, tournaments, marinas, charter fleets, weather and the freshwater bass fishing available in surrounding area.

They were followed by Jose Gamez and Esteban Balderrama, who expanded on the number of airline flights available and the convenience of the Cross Border Xpress (CBX) at Otay Mesa.

The second hour was devoted to Mario Aguilar – Commissioner of CONAPESCA, discussing the importance of cooperation between his agency, SAC and National Marine Fisheries. He fielded many caller’s questions and comments, including a call from Scott Sherman, San Diego City Council, representing District 7 on behalf of the Honorable Mayor Kevin Falconer, San Diego. Sherman praised the Commissioner’s ongoing cooperation on behalf of the San Diego Unified Port District and U.S anglers visiting Mexico. As the program came to a close, Aguilar commented, “Twenty-nine- million visitors who come to Mexico every year can be assured that ‘Sportfishing’ is one of Mexico’s most treasured industries that we intend to protect and improve.”

Captain Ken Franke added, “Mazatlán is an important hub of sportfishing in Mexico and simply stated, SAC wants to ensure that U.S. anglers visiting the country have a memorable trip.”

In closing, Pete Gray observed that SAC has developed its website into an important resource for anglers and boat owners planning to visit Mexico in the future.

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