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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:

“It's the economy stupid…” John Carville 1992
The year 2017 in Baja began with a Chubasco, of sorts. Beginning with a devaluating peso, (In 2015: $1 USD = 15.9311 Pesos MXN; today $1 USD = 21.1382 Pesos MXN) and then the deregulation of Mexico's fuel industry causing a 20 percent rise in fuel costs, (prices vary from station to station but average around $3.60/gallon for premium, $3.40/gallon for magna, and $3.65/gallon for diesel, prices converted to U.S. dollars). The common fuel shortages over the holidays combined with the heavy rains in Northern Baja fueled frustrations that often manifested in anger. Over-simplification perhaps, but a better explanation will have to come from someone with a higher pay grade than mine.

AND SO THE story goes, all the way down Mex One to the tip of Baja. Fuel shortages, long lines and angry protesters all seem to suggest avoiding driving in Baja for the next few weeks until the situation settles down.

The people’s exasperation and wrath has resulted in protests, picketing and road closures up and down the Baja Peninsula, as well as gas shortages in many areas. Although from the border through Ensenada everything seems to be normal and fuel is available according to recent reports, traveling farther south there have been protests as well as sporadic gas shortages in Camalu, Vicente Guerrero, Cabo Colonet and San Quintín.

One group headed south reported that traffic was completely stopped going both ways in San Quintín where protesters had blocked Mex One with tires and rocks. They were driving a SUV and were able to detour around the closed portion through river beds and back roads. However RV's wouldn’t have been able to use the detour because of the muddy conditions. Also the Pemex stations were surrounded and closed by protesters as well. No gas or diesel was being sold. There were many trucks parked on the side of the road in both directions awaiting the road to open.

Beyond there, the stations at El Rosario and Catavina were reported to be low on fuel, if not out. At Bahia de Los Angeles there wasn’t any diesel available at last report and again visitors shouldn’t count on any gasoline there as well.

And so the story goes, all the way down Mex One to the tip. Fuel shortages, long lines and angry protesters all seem to suggest avoiding driving in Baja for the next few weeks until the situation settles down.

Of course, there are many travelers who simply must make the trip down or back. One word of caution: Before you make a trip through Baja, you should get up to date information from one of the Baja travel clubs, either Discover Baja or Vagabundos del Mar.

MOST TRAVELING IN either direction are choosing to take the Mex 5, route using the turn-off at Laguna Chapala from the south or entering Baja via Mexicali.

Most traveling in either direction are choosing to take the Mex 5 route, using the turn-off at Laguna Chapala from the south or entering Baja via Mexicali. If coming from the south, don’t be discouraged by the first 20 or so miles of dirt road. After that it is paved all the way to the Border at Mexicali in less than 6 hours travel time. Thus far, gasoline supplies have been more reliable on this route and there have been no reports of civil demonstrations to contend with. However a word of caution, like in the “good old days,” if you see a gasoline station open, top off your tank!

Hopefully, by the time you read this things will be back to normal. Although some of the fundamentals dictate that costs are going up just as the fuel has. An example of this is the cost of an FMM has been increased already this year from 390 pesos to 500 pesos. At first glance a healthy increase, although when the exchange rate difference is factored in the increase only amounts to $1.14. Still another example, at the beginning of 2016 a one day fishing license was about $15 the current exchange rate. In 2017, that same license converts to less than $10. Good for U.S. travelers to Mexico . . . not so good for Mexican nationals.

It is ironic that many years ago it was common practice for some drivers to cross the border to take advantage of the inexpensive fuel prices. Now that has flipped and there is already talk of locals coming across the border to purchase our fuel. Times are a changing…

Monday Road Report

As of Monday, Jan.9, many gas stations in this area are closed or out of gas in Tijuana, Mexicali and San Felipe. However, there was fuel available at Vizcaino, Mulege, Loreto and farther south.

On Mex 1 below Ensenada to San Quintin, protesters have abandoned their blockades leaving the highway open to local commerce and are directing their protest efforts at Administrative Offices instead.

The entire Baja peninsula as well as the Mainland has been confronted by the “gasolinazo” problems, which will likely continue in the near future until the fuel supply is completely restored. Once again anyone planning a trip should check with reliable sources before departing.

Don’t look backwards. . .
RAIN .. Hmm . . . don’t get me wrong; the lake beyond the window is lapping it up as is the rest of Southern California. Is it too little, too late? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, the fact that the rain storm came from the south is unusual enough to make me wonder what may be in store for Baja anglers in 2017.

rainconstantCONSTANT FOR THE last 12 hours! PHOTO BY GARY GRAHAM

I was prompted to email, IM, call or check on Facebook with a few of my Baja buddies who often update me with photos and odds and ends about fishing in their area throughout the year — friends who share my passion and excitement for fishing cloaked in our fascination of Baja.

Each of their answers seemed to be filled with optimism along with a few caveats as they gazed into their own area’s crystal ball.

Captain Juan Cook , San Quintin, seems to have his game plan already laid out. He predicted good yellowtail catches holding steady in-between weather changes and storms, promising winter “tails” to 30-pounds,(mostly on iron) through late February; then moving into a windy period until June with bottom fishing for reds, lingcod and whitefish along with an occasional yellowtail for the persistent angler when the winds back off. June should bring white seabass, yellowtail and good bottom fishing, plus a good chance at halibut.

This should be followed by a summer yellowtail bite, with white seabass and bottom fish on the inside, plus a chance for tuna, dorado and striped marlin on the outside.

Captain Juan had a few other tips for Bahia de Los Angeles in June chasing cabrilla and ‘tails; then returning home to San Quintin for the summer before making another trip in October/November to Gonzaga Bay for cabrilla and grouper while looking for roosterfish and such.

Julio Meza, Fishco Tackle, Ensenada, was headed for La Bocana in early January to capitalize on the outrageous grouper/cabrilla bite that the area has become famous for, declaring that he anticipated another exciting fall season there for exotics offshore as well.

THE UNUSUAL CONDITIONS in the recent past few years which produced an odd combination of results, including the disappearance of sardina in most areas, along with fewer of some species and more of others throughout Baja, seems to dictate that we “don’t look backwards” but instead, look forward to the return of normalcy in 2017! The experts in the quotes above agree, but only time will tell.

Jonathan Roldan, Tailhunter International , La Paz, was very optimistic about fishing opportunities for 2017. Now that the experts have declared that the El Niño phenomenon, which has hampered the fishing for two years with unseasonably warm waters and unusual catches, is over, the primary issue is whether the return to normalcy also heralds the return of the live bait stocks which are the heartbeat of the fishing resource.

This could result in the return of the large dorado schools, but also the return of a great range of other species like the tuna, wahoo, and billfish which rely heavily on the presence of live bait such as Mexican sardina (flatiron herring), anchoveta, caballito and mackerel among others as well. Hopefully, this would also include the return of the squid stocks.

If all of that happens, we should experience one of the better fishing seasons in our waters that we have had in several years. ...

Mark Rayor, JenWren Sportfishing, East Cape, commented that experience proves that fishing cannot be wide open all the time and that conditions and the bite are cyclical. The Sea of Cortez is a prolific body of water which seldom disappoints. Often, tough days outshine many other popular fishing destinations on their good days, resulting in higher expectations by returning anglers. While fishing has been consistent, there is no doubt the influence of the extreme El Niño conditions of 2014 and 2015 causing crews to work hard to make it happen for their anglers.

While Southern California enjoyed epic fishing then, this year all the yellowfin and dorado that migrated north are now returning to Baja, resulting in outstanding fall fishing in Magdalena Bay for the first time in several seasons.

Hang on to your hat! The cycle is turning our way. 2017 is going to be the year to be out there…

Cabo. Tracy Ehrenberg, Pisces Sportfishing volunteered recently, “after experiencing unsettled conditions and sea-temps for the past several years, it seems that our inshore and offshore fishing is returning to normal. Assuming the baitfish return as well, 2017 could be a phenomenal year for our fleet.”

The unusual conditions in the recent past few years which produced an odd combination of results, including the disappearance of sardina in most areas, along with fewer of some species and more of others throughout Baja, seems to dictate that we “don’t look backwards” but instead, look forward to the return of normalcy in 2017!  The experts in the quotes above agree, but only time will tell.  

SAC doubling down…
The Sportfishing Association of California (SAC) led by Ken Franke, President since 2009, with Board approval expanded SAC’s efforts to encourage ongoing communication and cooperation between the local governmental officials in selected cities in Baja and Mainland Mexico and their sportfishing leaders.

SAC TEAM MEMBERS and local business and agency officials fielded many questions from callers on security, sport fishing, yachting and tourism while visiting Cabo San Lucas and Mexico.

SAC’s timing was ideal as in 2014 the Mexican Government began implementing a number of policy changes regarding angler access, licensing and bag limits.

In order to increase understanding and dialogue between the two countries, Franke scheduled a successful round of visits to Los Cabos, Ensenada and Mazatlán, Mexico as well as Mexico City in 2015.

They used the popular “Let’s Talk Hook-up” radio show, hosted by Pete Gray and Rick Maxa, as the catalyst for the visits and invited representatives from SAC, the San Diego Port District as well as San Diego Port Tenants Association to join with the local government, businesses and civic groups.

Franke, his staff and team, elected to continue the program in 2016 encouraging the local government, businesses, civic groups and individuals from each of the seaside port communities to attend in order that they could exchange ideas and assist them in promoting their respective businesses in San Diego and beyond.

During the visits each ports security measures were reviewed with the local port authorities to ensure the safety of the visiting cruise ships and private boats visiting from San Diego and beyond. Regulation changes pertaining to the tourist and boating community were carefully reviewed as well. A question and answer period was allowed for call-ins who might have questions that needed clarifying.

Last week, Franke led a team which included Kenia Zamarripa, Director of Marketing and International Affairs of San Diego, along with Pete Gray and his sound engineer, Rick Cutler, Hookup 1090 Radio Show; also attending was Dan Malcolm, Board of Port Commissioners; Bella Heule, Vice President/Chief Marketing Officer Port of San Diego and Sharon Bernie-Cloward, President of the San Diego Port Tenants Association. They were later joined by Captain Tim Ekstrom, owner of the sportfishing vessel Royal Star and vice president of SAC.

This was a whirlwind trip, departing Thursday and returning on Saturday afternoon.

Hector Montano, Port Director, Cabo San Lucas Marina, conducted a tour of the marina’s facilities on Friday morning and explained the amenities they had to offer their visitors. He was assisted by his Port Security Officer, Fernando Hoyos Romero.

Later that afternoon, Jorge Tellez, Solmar Fleet and Enrique Fernandez del Castillo, Harbor Master at Puerto Los Cabos, hosted a special sushi lunch at Tellez’ fabulous "Fisherman's Restaurant” on the Malecón, during which the locals and the SAC team compared notes in preparation for the radio show early Saturday morning.

When Gray and Cutler arrived the following morning to set up for the show, the Royal Star was already anchored in the outer harbor in front of the Puebla Bonita Blanco. Captain Tim Ekstrom, along with a crew member and Rick Maxa, trudged up the sandy beach after being delivered by a local panga.

SAC team members and local business and agency officials fielded many questions from callers on security, sport fishing, yachting and tourism while visiting Cabo San Lucas and Mexico. The two-hour program flew by.

A real shock to many anglers interested in the Baja region was the announcement on December 6th that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has established the Pacific Islands Biosphere Reserve -- a new 1.16 million hectare biosphere reserve -- off the west coast of the Baja California Peninsula in the Pacific Ocean. Different stories speculating on what it would mean to recreational anglers and sportfishing boats began circulating the next day with more opinion and few facts.

Fortunately, one of the panel members was CONANP Baja C South Representative Maria Josue Navarro, representing CONANP National Commissioner Alejandro del Mazo.

Navarro explained that after an 11-year, multi-stakeholder consultation and negotiation process, this newly created biosphere reserve represents a major effort to protect Mexico’s islands; Zamarripa translated.

Navarro continued. CONANP staff has been assigned one year to draft the management plan for the region for review. She forecasted that the agency hoped to have the first draft available in 8 months, at which time interested parties would have the opportunity to review, comment and submit recommendations.

The plan would address . . . bag limits, fishing methods, designated seasons and areas for fishing.

There will be three new CONANP offices established in Ensenada, Guerrero Negro and La Paz to monitor the program, she noted.

She suggested that the program would be similar to the wrist band method being used in protected areas like Loreto. However, there would also be a passport that could be purchased annually allowing access to the Biosphere areas similar to the ones currently available online.

She stressed the importance of not jumping to any conclusions until all the details were determined. Meanwhile, there is no impact on the areas included until all of the details can be decided.

Franke added at the conclusion of Navarro’s comments, “We sincerely appreciate you agreeing to appear on the show on such short notice; your information was very helpful and there is nothing like fact to ruin a good rumor!

The two-hour show offered a variety of important information on the different subjects and is available online for those interested in hearing the entire show.

The show online links are:

Gray Fishtag has a great day…
This year, just prior to the WON Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot, Tracy and Marco Ehrenberg of Cabo’s Pisces Sport Fishing, invited me, as one of their Advisory Panel Members to join the Gray Fishtag Research, Inc. (GFTR) group which included, Bill Dobbelaer, general manager of Gray Taxidermy, Pompano Beach, Fla.; Travis Moore, Gray FishTag Research Scientist; Dave Bulthuis from Costa Sunglasses, aboard the Tag Team, a 61-foot Viking with Captain Nayo Winkler; 1st Mate Mario, 2nd mate Dan Lewis along with Rogelio Gonzalez Armas, Ph.D., from Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas (CICIMAR).

THE STRIPED MARLIN named Tracy was outfitted with a prototype satellite tag on November 1 while fishing the Finger Bank offshore of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. In addition, the Red Rum fleet owned by John Donovan, and Captain Franky Abaroa of the Go Deep fleet, both from Cabo, have also agreed to be part of the program.

The group gathered at Captain Tony’s restaurant next to the Pisces Office on the Malecón at 5 a.m. before walking to the Tag Team. Our destination was the world famous Finger Bank, known for the extraordinary striped marlin pileup that happens this time of year. Tales of double-digit releases for the several weeks preceding were enough to convince Captain Nayo that was the place to be.

After introductions, we idled out the channel as Moore explained the purpose of our early morning adventure. Wildlife Computers, specializing in marine animal behavioral research through the development of tag and telemetry technology, had contacted him several days before his departure to Cabo San Lucas. They wanted to donate two of their satellite tags for deployment in striped marlin in the waters surrounding Baja’s tip.

Basically, before Moore’s departures several days later, Tracy had arranged for the Tag Team trip; the two $5,000 specialized satellite tags were delivered and we were headed for the bank – just a click over 50-miles north of Lands’ End.

As we turned the corner and went up on plane, heading up-swell into a building sea didn’t faze the 61-foot Viking; Moore showed the group the specialized tags explaining that each fish would have a small green Gray Fishtag Research tag as well as the Wildlife Computers specialized tag.

By 10 a.m., Captain Nayo had eased the throttles back as the spacious Viking settled into its ideal trolling speed and the crew set the trolling pattern as high flying frigates confirmed we had reached the southern end of the bank.

On the horizon, those high flying frigates became heat seeking missiles as they dived toward the telltale white water and the commotion caused by hapless baitfish fleeing the slashing bills of the predators beneath them.

Timing is everything! Suddenly the frigates, bait and predators met, with the Viking being one of the predators. First the stripers’ bills and then their dorsals, followed by their powerful tails, propelled them toward the lures bubbling in the wake behind the boat.

The captain’s screams of “drop back” reverberated in the cockpit as two live baits slipped into the water and slid back beyond the pursued lures. A visual “chomp” confirmed by the cry of “fish-on” was heard and the rest of the crew hastily cleared the lines. Bultheis settled into the fighting chair as he and the striper attached to his line become the center of attention.

Less than 30 minutes after we arrived at the bank, the historic first pop-up satellite archival tag (PSAT) was deployed on a striped marlin in Cabo waters. The tagged and released fish was named “Bill Gray” in honor of the founder of Gray Taxidermy. The bite was on and there was no time to waste!

Tag Team resumed trolling speed and the crew once again set the pattern. Heads spun as everyone searched for the high flying frigates and baitballs on the surface.

The second fish of the day was soon grey-hounding across the wake. Bultheis returned to the fighting chair where he began the pump-and-wind rhythm that served him well with the first fish. Before long, Moore has skillfully placed tags in fish number two. In less than an hour, their task was completed and Captain Nayo steered Tag Team back toward the IGY Marina. This striped marlin was christened “Tracy” in appreciation of all of the Ehrenberg’s support of Gray Fishtag Research, Inc. Outfitted with a prototype satellite tag on Nov.1 while fishing the Finger Bank offshore of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, itwas estimated at 79 inches (lower jaw fork length) and in excellent condition at the time of release.

As a footnote: Tracy, that same striped marlin, was recovered 72 hours later on Nov. 4, by the charter boat Mucho Bueno, captained by Ernie Cosìo Mijares and first mate Ernie, Junior. The recapture location was Golden Gate Bank, approximately 30 miles away from the original tag deployment location. The marlin put up a short fight and once Captain Ernie saw and realized that the marlin had a satellite tag attached to it, he promptly recorded the contact information and fish length, and then he released the fish in healthy condition.

Dobbelaer and his team’s two-year collaborative effort are already making a difference in the International Sportfishing Community. Less than one year old in Baja, the organization has assembled an impressive advisory panel of industry leaders – all game-changers in their own right – who recognize potential international possibilities that would combine recreational angling, sportfishing operations, scientists and researchers globally; as well as local fleets, Red Rum, owned by John Donovan, and Go Deep fleet, with Captain Franky Abaroa, both from Cabo, who have also agreed to join the program.

This information will provide data that could assist world leaders in making the best possible decisions in order to preserve world-wide resources for generations to come. In the first year, over 3,400 different species of fish were released in the Baja Sur region alone.

For more information visit

Listen, observe, and learn…
Over many years, I have spent the months of August through November at a procession of high-stakes fishing tournaments from East Cape to Cabo San Lucas where some of the finest anglers in the world compete. Their targets are species varying from billfish to tuna, with dorado and wahoo added to the list.

Along with many other tournament followers and actual competitors, chances are that much of our time was spent listening, observing and learning from the moment we arrived, and chances are better still that it made us better anglers, mates or captains, or at the very least, it gave us a more intimate knowledge of the fish being pursued.

THE WEIGH-INS for these events are open to the public, and a great learning tool for anglers who listen carefully to even the most guarded comments. GARY GRAHAM PHOTO

I caught my first calico bass on the Mascot III in the early 1950s but equipment, methods and techniques have since changed and are constantly changing in the angling world. Keeping up with those changes has always been an important factor for the competitive angler.

Relocating to Baja where the fishery promises big fish in bigger waters, anglers can often find themselves intimidated. A crash course, of sorts, that offers insights into who are the best local anglers, mates and captains, where they fish, best techniques, best live bait, lures, methods, (trolling; kites; downriggers, etc.), is information needed for the “newbie."

The weigh-ins for these events are open to the public. Providing a marvelous opportunity for anyone interested to add to their local fishing knowledge in so many ways.

Hanging around these tournaments each summer and fall, especially around the scales, the amount of information available is astonishing. The clever listener can come away with valuable fishing information not only from the teams who have fought the fish but from other spectators killing time while waiting for the next qualifier to arrive. In addition, most of the events have grid maps which require location be included with each hook-up reported, introducing “hot spots” for the new arrival to Baja waters.

Most major Baja tournaments post a complete roster of boats, owners, captain and crew for review. Often they include prior years archived; a little homework with those lists can give you an inkling of who are the local teams and captains (and visiting teams) to watch before the first fish is ever hooked — local teams usually have the advantage.

When a team arrives with a fish it gets interesting. Most events require that the angler bring the tackle used for the catch to the scales. The set up — line, top-shot, leader type, length, hook type, even the lure size, style and color — is there for anyone to see, a definite learning tool.

Chances are the weigh-master will interview the angler and team of qualifying fish — sometimes an awkward moment when the angler tries to respond and say something without saying anything; but listen carefully, in their excitement, a nougat of unintended but valuable information can slip out inadvertently.

At last week’s Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot on the first day of the two-day event, one team, while weighing in a 200+ yellowfin tuna was asked by Pat McDonell, Director, “Where did you catch your fish?” Obviously, he expected only a vague answer with one day left in the event.

We fished around a large group of boats for a little while before running straight out to sea; we only fished three hours.” the tired angler replied thinking he gave a pretty evasive answer.

However, he had offered several important clues. Interpretation: “Gordo Banks was slow (a large group of boats went to Gordo Banks) and the tuna was caught with porpoise way offshore (He drove straight out from Gordo Banks and back so the three-hours time gave everyone the approximate distance). The next/last day, the bulk of the qualifying catches came from offshore where his tuna had been taken.

I’m often told by anglers, “I have no interest in tournament fishing!” I get it. However listening, observing and learning from those who do can provide valuable insight into Baja sportfishing — well, it may be beneficial to you.

I’ve often told of fishing the beach at East Cape early mornings. Many new arrivals in outboard tin-boats would pass in front of where we were catching fish. We could hear the clicker on their reels howl when they were bit. We watched as they stopped to reel in their fish before trolling on down the beach. Several hours later they would return, trolling, and sure enough have another bite where we had caught fish all morning.

Listen, observe, and learn…

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