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: roadtrekker1@gmail.com

Mex 1 memories
During a guest appearance on Pete Gray’s “Let’s Talk HookUp” Radio show late last year, I donated copies of “The Sea of Cortez” written by Ray Cannon who first wrote the WON “Baja Column” decades ago to one of the callers as a raffle prize, as I had often done in the past.

Later, Gray shared a couple of emails he had received from winners:

“I thoroughly enjoyed your show with Gary Graham recently. I also won the “Sea of Cortez” by Ray Cannon and am in my recliner reading it right now! I first went to Tijuana and Ensenada in the sixties as a child; my dad took us fishing and we bought firecrackers and horseshit cigarettes and all that.”

PLAYA EL REQUESON, we awoke to discover we were next to the grave of a long-forgotten Vagabundo del mar, etc., etc.

“When I graduated high school in ’76, he came out from back East and took me on a road trip down Baja. I brought my 6-10 Liddle, we got a cooler of beer and stayed at several El Presidente Hotels in Guerrero Negro. We surfed a bit and surf-fished a bit, eventually making it down to Mulege where my dad had heard of the giant snook in the river there.”

“We didn't fish for the snook but hired a pangero and caught dorado and cabrilla and stuff. My dad seemed to know about the open door prison in Mulege and we enjoyed the concept I guess. I was 17, it was a blast and the book has all the photos I have in my head from that time. So I thank you and Gary very much for the prize. I appreciate it very much!” …Hills Sutton

Gray sent another: “December 25, 2015. I was a lucky winner a couple of weeks ago and I want to thank you and Pete.” “I've got it on my coffee table in front of my chair and am carefully working my way through it as I don't want the journey to end any time soon! I love Baja and the book is amazing; it reminds me to plan for retirement somewhere there if I can pull it off! I've been to Guerrero Negro and next time I'm there I intend to search out “Variety” for surf fishing. …Douglas MacAllister

If you are like me, and I suspect you are or you wouldn’t be reading this column, Mex 1 memories flooded in as I read these emails . . . all the way back to1975 and one of my early trips on Mex 1.

Two friends, David Lewis and James Sipman and I tentatively headed down past familiar surroundings until we came upon the migración shack in Maneadero south of Ensenada beyond the La Bufadora turnoff. We traveled in a pretty basic Dodge van with two bucket seats and a mattress along with an ice chest and a plastic milk crate filled with spare parts.

Meandering our way down the infamous Trans-peninsular, Baja Highway, Mex 1, then a narrow thousand-mile long ribbon of asphalt with no shoulders, few pullouts, a handful of gasoline stations that could test even the most seasoned back country driver. Mex 1 has come a long way from its much-heralded beginnings in 1973. Today, it is still not the four-lane highway that many had envisioned, but it is a reasonably well-maintained road that would only be classified as a secondary road in the U.S.

We arrived in El Rosario and stopped at Mama Espinosa’s for lobster burritos, beer and more beer before heading out to Punta Baja for the night.

From there we drove through a litany of curves, up and down through hills, some covered with boulders larger than the van, arriving at Catavina valley with towering cactus — some more than two stories high.

We camped at Scammon’s Lagoon where whales exhaled us to sleep.

At Santa Rosalia, we discovered the best bolillos in Baja.

Playa El Requeson, we awoke to discover we were next to the grave of a long-forgotten Vagabundo del mar, etc., etc.

All of these firsts were recorded in some corner of my memory bank awaiting some stimulus to cause it to flutter into my consciousness.

Years ago, as a 10-year-old sitting on the tailgate of my parent’s 1950 Ford Country Squire station wagon, a school chum asked, “Would you rather see where you’ve been or where you’re going? The answer often changes. But thanks to Hills and Douglas I’ve enjoyed their nudges which caused me to peep back where I’ve been.

So, here’s the deal: Email me some of your fondest Mex 1 memories and I will send the person who submits what I consider the best memory their own copy of “The Sea of Cortez” written by Ray Cannon.

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

Selfies to the Rescue
On June 1, 1898 – 117 years ago – author, sportsman and biologist Charles Frederick Holder landed a 183-pound bluefin tuna on rod and reel, literally establishing big game fishing in California as well as in the world beyond.

Holder’s catch resulted in the formation of the Catalina Tuna Club in Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, Calif., America’s oldest big-game fishing club.

Other notable rod and reel catches soon followed, including the first striped marlin in 1903 and the first swordfish in 1913.

THE "SELFIE" OFFERS a unique opportunity for angler and fish to remain in their respective environments while recording the catch with a much safer release and an optimum chance for survival of the fish.

As striped marlin fishing gained popularity in the 1960s and ’70s, sport fishing clubs prospered – partially bolstered by members competing for special buttons and trophies that recognized their fishing skills for the size of saltwater fish caught on various line classes.

When tag and release (T & R) was implemented, the concept was a hard sell. Early proponents met with strong resistance from clubs and anglers alike, distrusting how effective the program could be, how the data would be used as well as the survival rate of the released fish.

Early T & R pioneers persisted and slowly interest in the angler-based tagging and survey programs first implemented in the ’70s took hold. The trend toward the catch and release (and tagging) of striped marlin has also increased.

More than four decades later, estimates of striped marlin released off southern California have exceeded 80-percent of those captured. Annual marlin tournaments now award points to anglers who release fish; the first all-tag and release marlin tournament was held in San Diego in September, 2000.

Although releasing fish has gained acceptance, a disturbing trend of lifting billfish – and other large fish – out of the water for what has become known as a “hero shot” has grown; the compelling research that resulted from this practice has indicated that it is counter-productive.

Recent studies have revealed the actual time out of the water is critical to the survival of billfish. John Graves, chair of the fisheries science department at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, along with a team of scientists, planted pop-up archival tags in 18 white marlin. Seven of those were released after five minutes of being kept out of water in the cockpit; five after three minutes and six after one minute.

This resulted in the following: four of the seven five-minute fish died, two of the five three-minute fish died, and one of the six one-minute fish died. (The researchers commented that the released fish seen swimming away from the boat were not necessarily healthy.)

Underlining the importance of the study’s conclusions, in a previous study which Graves conducted, the marlin were not removed from the water at all. Of 59 marlin tagged and released in that study, only one fish died – a 1.7-percent mortality rate.

While those fish held in the air for only a minute fared better than those held out for longer, one of six not surviving equals a 17-percent mortality rate – hardly satisfactory, particularly when compared with the 1.7-percent rate for fish left in the water.

This clearly indicates that if it is the intent of the angler to release the fish to fight another day, dragging a large fish out of the water up onto the transom or even worse, into the cockpit, is defeating the purpose.

Chugey Sepulveda, Ph.D., Director, Senior Scientist, Pfleger Institute of Environmental Research (PIER), added, “Five minutes out of the water is a long time, especially if it follows a long fight. While out of the water, the fish cannot breathe and this lack of CO2 is taking place during a critical recovery time – critical because the fish is dealing with an oxygen debt and needs to process some of the metabolic by-products associated with the burst of activity (anaerobic exercise). It is likely similar to depriving a person of air, immediately after a sprint.”

“If the fish is lifted out of the water carefully for only a few seconds for a rapid photo, then carefully placed back in the water, coupled with some resuscitation (slow-walking) the fish likely has a good chance of survival. This again, depends on fight time, species, and any damage the hook might have inflicted. On the deck for more than a minute seems excessive in my book, as photos in my experience only seem to take a few seconds,” Sepulveda concluded.

Of course, as it was when T & R was introduced, there is plenty of “push back” from some anglers, charter operations and their crews who insist the practice is not harmful or that the paying customer is entitled to their “hero photo.”

With the recent explosion of smart phones and inexpensive waterproof digital cameras, along with a variety of camera mounts that can be attached to a myriad of different tag sticks, the “Selfie” craze has become the new normal. This may be the ideal solution for anglers and fish alike. The “Selfie” offers a unique opportunity for angler and fish to remain in their respective environments while recording the catch with a much safer release and an optimum chance for survival of the fish.

Tagged dorado dazzles the naysayers
When the Gray FishTag Research team introduced their new multi-species tagging program in the late fall, timing was ideal for the Pisces Sportfishing, Redrum Sportfishing and Go Deep Sportfishing fleets. Eager to embrace the program in Los Cabos, almost immediately the fleets began submitting report cards for the traditional billfish, plus dorado, roosterfish and jacks, in addition to a variety of other species which were also being tagged. The tag cards containing all the pertinent information were submitted for online reading for everyone to see.

LITTLE “WALTER,” OF Gray FishTag Research fame, with a chartreuse tag firmly affixed, was about to dazzle the naysayers.

Small dorado were commonplace throughout 2015, although, for the most part, larger ones remained scarce. Releasing was encouraged in order to avoid filling anglers’ limits before the larger ones showed up and introducing the opportunity to tag was an excellent alternative for some of the more reluctant anglers.

On Dec. 13, aboard Redrum Sportfishing’s "El Nuevo,” while fishing with Captain Alex and mate Christian, angler Kerri Persons of Bonney Lake, Wash., agreed to tag and release a 27-inch dorado weighing around six pounds. Persons named the tagged fish “Walter.”

“So what’s the big deal?” the question was asked by some with eyebrows raised. A few grumbled that the small dorado was hardly a mouthful for a billfish and wouldn’t last a week in the prolific waters off the tip of Baja; but little “Walter,” of Gray FishTag Research fame, with a chartreuse tag firmly affixed, was about to dazzle the naysayers.

Crushing his critics, Walter demonstrated once again that “dumb” and “small” are not necessarily synonymous. Most likely travelling south with the California current until Dec. 31, a 19-day journey averaging 26 miles a day at the very least, the small dorado managed to avoid becoming a predator’s meal. Following along the shelf edge or drop-off where water conditions were ideal for feeding, he escaped nature’s worst obstacles.

Escaped, that is, until he finally reached the West Coast of Mexico, 30 miles south of Manzanillo off of San Patricio, Jalisco. There, Walter swam into a gillnet – ironically the only hazard he could not escape or survive.

Captain Hernan Ramos, a lifelong fisherman fishing from his small commercial panga, “Wahoo,” earns his living by providing fish for the local open air market. When he hauled Walter aboard, he didn’t know what to make of the chartreuse-colored spaghetti tag.

MOST LIKELY TRAVELLING south with the California current until Dec. 31, a 19-day journey averaging 26 miles a day at the very least, the small dorado managed to avoid becoming a predator’s meal. Following along the shelf edge or drop-off where water conditions were ideal for feeding, he escaped nature’s worst obstacles.

When he returned to the dock that afternoon, the entire marina marveled to see the small dorado with the scientific tag attached. At first Captain Ramos was fearful that he might have violated some law forbidding the catch of a tagged fish.

Mike Costello, a local ex-pat, assured Ramos that not only would he not be in trouble, but instead he would be rewarded with a pair of Costa Sunglasses for cooperating with GTR. Costello assisted the captain in reporting the tag recovery via the online reporting system and explained the situation to Travis Allan Moore, Fisheries Scientist, with Gray FishTag Tag Research.

When captured, Walter had grown three inches. He was now 30 inches long, and weighed 6-pounds, 8-ounces, indicating an age of slightly less than one year.

Captain Ramos received his pair of Costa Del Mar Sunglasses, a Tag & Recovery Certificate, and Gray FishTag gear for reporting the tag recovery. The El Nuevo charter boat crew and angler who tagged Walter also received Gray FishTag gear for their efforts.

Ryan Donavan observed recently, “RedRum Sportfishing applauds Gray's for establishing the program. The more we know about the fish we are catching, the better we'll be able to tailor our conservation efforts. This program has made releasing an under-sized fish a really big deal for anglers and we are all about releasing under-sized fish. We are proud to be a part of GTR.”

Who would have imagined that a small dorado could endure such a long journey in such a relatively short period of time – surviving in the open ocean, avoiding a frightening list of threats, only to succumb to a man-made hazard?

The Gray FishTag Research program is an effective way to collect important data with the help of professional fishermen who are on the water day in and day out; collecting this significant data should assist scientists and local fisheries management organizations in determining how to manage their important marine resources for future generations.

Tags are provided free-of-charge to the collaborating professional and recreational fishermen in Baja, and the tag data is available to the public at www.GrayFishTagResearch.org

What would they think now?
“What impact would you say “El Niño” has had on waters off Southern California and Baja?” a caller recently asked me, and my immediate response was, “Unprecedented!”

Prodded by the caller who pressed for a more detailed answer, I launched into a litany of the extraordinary catches occurred — particularly here in California. I finished with the number and types of billfish, commenting that the California state blue marlin record, set in 1931, came close to being broken in 2015.

I WAS FORTUNATE TO be able to call all of the past (and passed) former WON Baja editors and columnists friends. From left to right, Ray Cannon, WON founder and publisher Burt Twilegar, Fred Hoctor, top right and Tom Miller, lower right.

Not satisfied, the interviewer followed with another question. “What are your predictions for 2016?”

Sputtering, I replied, “Did you hear my first answer . . . unprecedented?”

Moving on, as the New Year crashes in on us, I have found myself musing over what some of our past (who have passed on) WON Baja columnists —whose coverage of Baja spanned more than 50 years -- would have thought about Baja today.

I was fortunate to be able to call all of them friends . . .

Ray Cannon 1892-1977 —WON columnist for 24 years

Though our paths crossed often, I officially met Cannon at a Vagabundo del Mar gathering in San Diego in the 70s. His stories were centered on his cruises in a 16-foot outboard-powered boat from San Felipe to La Paz.

His weekly columns and later his landmark, full-color Sunset book, the “Sea of Cortez,” were filled with detailed lists of supplies and the difficulty of purchasing fuel on the trip down. Nevertheless his writings were all the encouragement needed to unleash a huge armada of trailer boats to Baja, both by land and sea.


I’m sure that he would be dazzled to see the number of marinas that have sprouted up in those deserted bays and coves where he once anchored and RV’d back in the day.

Cannon had a fascination with giant needlefish and spent hours fishing for them at East Cape; he often extolled their virtues in his writings. I suspect he would be flabbergasted that they never caught on as a game fish and that they are still considered a nuisance.

Tom Miller 1929-1993 — WON columnist 19 years

Tom Miller and I also met at a Vagabundo del Mar gathering in San Diego in the ’70s. We immediately become close friends.

The ultimate “Road Warrior,” Miller knew Mex 1like the back of his hand. His “The Baja Book...A Complete Map – Guide to Today's Baja California” published in 1974, was complete with NASA satellite images; for the first time ever in a commercial product, paving the way for NASA to explore new uses for their products. His book shepherded thousands like myself to confront the intimidating highway.

We made countless trips together and spent many a night around a campfire on deserted beaches as he rattled off story after story about his beloved Baja. When personalized license plates were offered by California, he was the first to purchase “SR BAJA” which still resides in a place of honor in his daughter’s home in Arizona.

Even then, Miller resisted the obvious Mex 1 improvements; now Miller would be disappointed that camping on deserted beaches has become unsafe and definitely not advisable.


Fred Hoctor 1930-2001 — WON columnist 14 years

Although I had met Hoctor earlier, I really came to know him by his sometimes cryptic and other times humorous emails, and of course his priceless book “Baja HaHa” published in 1984.

Of the three columnists, he was the only one to actually live in Baja — in his next-to-the-cliff Punta Banda house south of Ensenada. From there, he would venture down Mex 1, gathering fodder for his columns along the way, and as time went on he delved into more serious news stories on Baja fisheries and started gathering news reports by phone, radio, faxes and friends stopping by before the internet.

Sharing my interest in Magdalena Bay, he once emailed me several sketchy stories of monster snook in an estero in a remote corner of the bay. Nothing definitive, mind you, just a vague description of an estero inside an island that allegedly had produced a few world-record snook.

I began searching the esteros, but it wasn't until satellite maps became available online that I could figure out which obscure mangrove channel Hoctor could have been referring to on one of the barrier islands.

On an impromptu trip to Puerto San Carlos, where we completed a successful afternoon of fishing the first day, we ran 55 miles south in a panga to an esterothe following morning that I believed to be “Hoctor's spot.” Even with the detailed maps, finding the entrance to the channel he described was difficult. If we hadn’t seen a couple of kids walking their boat over a sandbar, it would probably still remain a mystery.

But it was worth the effort . . . we crossed that sandbar, and our tenacity resulted in our best single day’s catch of snook and mangrove snapper ever! One of the snook caught that day made the cover of my book, "Guide to Fly Fishing Magdalena Bay," published in 2001.

If Hoctor were around today, if asked, I’m pretty sure he would reply grumpily, “There are too damn many folks coming to Baja and I’m partially to blame.”


Depending on your perspective and I suppose on how long you’ve been coming to Baja, there have been many changes -- some good and others not so. In 2016 on your next visit to Baja, take a few minutes and try to put yourselves in the columnists’ shoes. Try to envision what they had to endure and enjoy what changes have been made. I suspect you may conclude that the improvements far outweigh the Old Baja.

Happy New Year.

SAC extends a hand below the border


Showtime on 1090

Under the leadership of the Board of Directors and President Ken Franke, Sportfishing Association of California (SAC) began an outreach program to below the border destinations in 2014. Their concept was to basically help promote the sportfishing as well as tourist-oriented businesses by bringing the SAC team on site with Pete Gray and Rick Maxa's popular Hookup 1090 radio show.

Their first destination, Marina Coral in Ensenada, was close to their home base in San Diego. The local group of officials and sportfishing leaders, and the SAC representatives were on-hand to answer questions to the call in audience and the reception by the local community and business leaders was overwhelming. Imagine an organization volunteering to offer that kind of support with no strings attached.

This was gratifying to SAC’s Board and Franke -- convincing them that they were on to something. In 2015, they hosted three trips: First, they went to Mazatlan in May, then returned to Marina Coral, and finally they went to Los Cabos last week.

The results were equally impressive. In Mazatlan, the SAC team was invited to meet with the Governor of Sinaloa and the Secretary of Tourism prior to the broadcast with the assistance of Juan Acereto, President of the Sportfishing Associacion of Sinaloa. Franke arranged for a security expert to visit the area resulting in Cruise Ships resuming visits to the harbor.

After hearing the recorded broadcast of the Ensenada program, I thought the SAC concept deserved a closer look and I decided to fly to Cabo to observe how the plan was implemented.

The team consisted of Ken Franke, president since 2009, and his staff, Kenia Zamarripa, Director of Marketing and International Affairs; Alayna Siddall, Director of Science and Communications; along with Pete Gray and his sound engineer, Rick Cutler, Hookup 1090 radio show; plus Sharon Cloward, President of the San Diego Port Tenants Association.

I caught up with them Thursday afternoon at Pueblo Bonito Rosé as they were in the midst of confirming guests and preparing the script of guests to be on the show.

That evening Juan Acereto, President of the Sportfishing Associacion of Sinaloa, along with the two Monica's -- his wife and daughter --joined us for dinner. Acereto had special custom shirts made for the entire team, as well as flags for the event. Plans for the lunch the next day which would include all local community and business leaders continued even throughout dinner.

The lunch on Friday at Baja Cantina included: Franke; Zamarripa; Cloward; Andrés Córdova, Director of Fisheries of Baja California; Enrique Fernandez del Castillo, Harbor Master at Puerto Los Cabos; Minerva Saenz from Minerva's Baja Tackle; Acereto; Jorge Tellez, Solmar Fleet; Carlos Narro, Pisces Sportfishing; Clicerio Mercado, Bisbee Tournaments; Gray, Cutler and me.

Franke opened the meeting, explaining that SAC's goal was to promote the local sportfishing as well as all the businesses associated with it. Zamarripa translated the schedule for the two-hour show in Spanish for the group. As lunch came to a close, many expressed their gratitude for the effort and expense that had been put into the project by SAC and their team.

In spite of a torrential rainfall during the night, the set and sound system was ready and waiting long before the scheduled show start at 8:00 a.m. The Royal Star had arrived from its multi-day trip at 4:45 a.m., off-loading passengers including co-host Rick Maxa, who had hosted the Hookup 1090 trip along with Royal Star’s Captain Tim Ekstrom, who also joined the show panel.

A telephone call from Los Cabos Mayor Arturo de la Rosa kicked off the show. "Thank you for providing a forum for us to talk about our wonderful Mecca of Sportfishing," de la Rosa began. “I can assure you with the help of many, Los Cabos has recovered from the damages of 'Odile' one year and three months after the event," he continued. "As an angler myself, I'm delighted to say that we can welcome anglers to enjoy our sportfishing.”

The two hours passed quickly as Franke, Cloward, Córdova, Fernandez del Castillo, Saenz, Acereto, and Ekstrom, along with Pablo Armenta Gutiérrez, representative in Los Cabos Tourism Secretary of State, Tellez, Narro, Mercado, and Steve Murphy, Pez Gato Marine Adventures, and Ari Kress, Boatyard, fielded questions and confided their personal and professional views of what Los Cabos offered to visiting anglers and tourists.

As Pete Gray signed off, there was a standing ovation for the panel, guests and SAC team. The consensus was that the "Los Cabos Story" had been well told during the two-hour show.

Later over breakfast, the entire team was in a celebratory mood. "I think that we have made progress through the common respect that has been shown while sharing our ideas for the fisheries; we are helping each other to find a common ground with the people of Mexico that is not competitive," Pete Gray added.

Ken Franke observed, "I think the show was well done. Now, they are going to get the rewards. I guarantee you folks will come visit Los Cabos because of this show and its message."

Ken Franke with his team representing Sportfishing Association of California have woven a message that seems to successfully resonate with community and business leaders as well as with the sportfishing associations in the various destination locations; and it seems to be working to restore regional tourism and to facilitate job growth on both sides of the border.

Acereto had special custom shirts made for the entire team, as well as flags for the event.


All on the show confided their personal and professional view of what Los Cabos offered to visiting anglers and tourists.


Hour 1 link https://youtu.be/6mv_U7gluP8

Hour 2 link https://youtu.be/75jFjTAiJtA

Sat, Oct 3, 2015 Let’s Talk Hookup 8-9am- Live Fron The Hotel Coral in Ensenada

Sat, Oct 3, 2015 Let’s Talk Hookup 8-9am- Live Fron The Hotel Coral in Ensenada

Sat, May 2, 2015 Let’s Talk Hookup 7-8am- Live from Mazatlan, Mexico with Captain Ken Franke from SAC

Sat, May 2, 2015 Let’s Talk Hookup 8-9am- Live from Mazatlan, Mexico with Captain Ken Franke from SAC

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