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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:

Dorado done disappeared
Throughout the spring and into the summer, weekly reports have been filled with complaints about … first, the lack of dorado … followed by grumbling that most being caught were the small schoolie-sized fish. They provided plenty of action for the light tackle and fly-guys to be sure with, in some cases, triple digit scores of released fish.

There have been a few bulls here and there. The Pisces fleet just reported catching a huge dorado that they think might have been a new IGFA World Record, but since it was filleted before it could be weighed, so it will remain a woulda’, coulda’, shoulda’ story.

throughoutthespringTHROUGHOUT THE SPRING and into the summer, weekly reports have been filled with complaints about … first, the lack of dorado … followed by grumbling that most being caught were the small schoolie-sized fish.

In the past several months, Baja has hosted the usual list of dorado-specific tournaments from Punta Chivato to Los Barriles including – Punta Chivato, "Bulls Only"; Mulege, "Bart Santos Memorial Dorado Tournament"; "Fishin’ for the Mission" in Loreto; Tripui Sports Fishing, "Dorado Tournament"; Puerto Escondido; and the "Dorado Shootout" at Los Barriles.

All shared a common theme — poor results. As an example, the most recent "Dorado Shoot Out" at Las Palmas in Los Barriles recently, reported 86 teams, consisting of 264 anglers, an impressive turnout by anyone's standards. The results, however, were dismal with only 6 dorado brought to the scale and the winning fish weighing a mere 12.9 pounds in the dorado category. The wahoo and tuna category was won with 2 wahoo that weighed 37- and 35.2-pounds.

All this only adds fuel to the ongoing debate among recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, marine biologists, local watchdog organizations, local government officials and international marine scientists as to why the "dorado done disappeared!"

Of course, there are as many opinions as there are the few dorado to go around. It begins with El Niño and its impact on the fishery as sea temps climb. All this leads to the observation that the sea temps in both the Sea of Cortez and the Eastern Pacific remained unusually warm all winter, which prevented the growth of the sargasso that seems so essential for a good dorado bite. Additionally, there’s the possibility of impacting the bait supply of both sardina (flatiron herring) in the Sea of Cortez and sardine up the West Coast of the Baja Peninsula.

Others are convinced that the demand for sardine/sardina to feed the fish in the explosion of tuna pens in the waters surrounding the Baja Peninsula is the culprit.

Add to that the local bait entrepreneurs that have become mobile with pick-up trucks designed to transport sardina caught in remote areas back to marinas where the demand is highest. When the sardina do appear, a fleet of pangas inevitably pounces on the hapless baitfish leaving only scales by the time they are finished.

There is no denying that all of the factors mentioned may be a significant part of this story. However, on a recent visit to La Paz, I sat down with Michael McGettigan – Founder of Sea Watch – an organization established in 1993 by a small bi-national group of Americans and Mexicans who shared a common fear that if left unchecked, many of the seemingly inexhaustible resources in the waters surrounding Baja and Mexico's mainland would in fact, be exhausted.

His view on the "dorado done disappeared" stretched back to the mid-1980s when 200 permits were issued initially in Manzanillo to longline sharks. The panga longliners began with 4 kilometer longlines and quickly realized that fishing during the day on the surface for sailfish and dorado was much easier and profitable. Within the year, they were landing between 150 and 200 tons of sailfish fillets monthly plus an unknown amount of dorado.

This panga longline fishery had over 700 boats working it by the late-1980s and along the coast of Sinaloa and Sonora hundreds of tons of dorado and sailfish were landed daily. During this period, between 80 and 100 tons of dorado were landed each day in Guaymas. Read that again: Each Day!

“During the height of the Guaymas-based fishery, the approximately 70 pangas in one local cooperativa were bringing more than 80 tons of dorado per day to the beaches located near the navy base in Guaymas,” McGettigan said. There were 10 times that many boats (700) working dorado just from the Kino to Guaymas area. “Seven years of illegal fishing by over 1,000 pangas had decimated the dorado fishery in the Sea of Cortez” and now 25 years later, dorado populations continue to decline in the Sea of Cortez. More information can be found at:

On my most recent trip to Baja Sur, the lack of dorado was evident everywhere. And when they finally showed near the tip of Baja, the small yellowfin tuna were greeted by a fleet of seiners ready to scoop them up … regardless of size.

All of the above leads to the obvious conclusion that the commercially viable food fish are clearly suffering from overfishing; while other species not as tasty or more difficult to commercially fish, seem to be holding their own.

Hobie Outback, delivers a magnificent marlin moment
Early in my fishing career, there was a select group of anglers who had caught a marlin while alone on their boats – Skelly Wilbur, aboard his boat, "6-Pak;" Bill George, aboard "Misty Bill;" Robert Newton on "Bob ’n Round" and Don Abrego on his "Jamie lll" Their exploits become my Holy Grail.

These men were rebels in a sense of the Satellite Outlaw Radio's motto, "No fences, No badges" – proudly flaunting their ability to do something that the tricked-out sportfisher crowd with their hired-gun-crews couldn't or wouldn't do.

LOOKING BACK, I saw the marlin attached to my line headed for the horizon; using the joy stick and pedals, I quickly pointed the bow of the Outback toward the fleeing fish.

When I caught my 232-pound swordfish alone on my Blackman skiff, I was certain I would never again reach that high. The heroes became my friends and we all cherished the Mexican Silver Dollars we were awarded when we joined the exalted "solo" billfish club.

Our paths crossed often through the years as we each pursued our own lives, and the coins served as a talisman signifying the strong bond that tied us together throughout our lifetimes.

Recently, I was in Loreto with the Hobie fishing team of Morgan Promnitz, Chris Holmes, Jeffrey Fortuna and Doug Olander (Senior Editor of Sport Fishing Magazine) and friend Rob Sherman. We were hosted by Ana Gloria Benziger, general manager of Hotel Oasis, the beautiful, unique traditional hotel overlooking the Sea of Cortez.

On a mission to explore the Sea of Cortez and the many islands that surround Loreto, we carried six Hobie kayaks – four 12-foot Outbacks, two 13-foot Revolutions equipped with bait tanks and several outfitted with Lowrance Depth Sounders.

We accomplished all we set out to do and that story will be told another time; however, this is about my unanticipated encounter with a striped marlin aboard one of the Hobie Outbacks. I had spent 13 months planning and arranging the trip down to every little detail, including coordinating the logistics. The notion of targeting a billfish or actually catching one during the trip never crossed my mind.

My experience on a Hobie was limited; the time I have fished from them, I have found them to be an ideal setup for an angler … being able to maneuver the kayak while having your hands free to fight a fish is a huge advantage and should not be overlooked.

When the opportunity presented itself, I couldn't imagine not trying. It was one of those signature, Sea of Cortez oily-slick, calm days. There had been several billfish hooked and more seen, so I navigated my Outback farther out into the channel. I pinned a caballito from the live bait tank on a circle hook attached to my Penn spinning outfit and dropped the squirming live bait into the wake of the kayak.

As luck would have it, the billfish popped back behind me … closer to Isla Coronado. Francisco, one of our pangueros, had already spotted some and Morgan was closer. He was searching for the fish Francisco had spotted and I pedaled back in his direction.

Pedaling the rig is less strenuous than peddling a bicycle on a flat surface. As a side note, I fished four days in the kayak, pedaling and trolling most of the time without any hint of sore muscles.

I didn't have the clicker turned on the Penn Spinfisher V, so the first sound I heard was a loud splash. Looking back, I saw the marlin attached to my line headed for the horizon; using the joy stick and pedals, I quickly pointed the bow of the Outback toward the fleeing fish.

The drag was set light and once the fish finally quit leaping about, I began adjusting the drag tighter and tighter until the marlin was quietly towing the kayak.

It then became only a matter of my being able to pedal fast enough to begin regaining line. When the direction of the marlin’s course changed, it was easy enough to adjust the direction of the kayak and I continued to edge the Hobie closer and closer to the marlin.

During the entire half-hour, memories of my old buddies from the "solo" billfish club – sadly, now all deceased for many years – flooded through my thoughts and I paid mental tribute to them for a few fleeting moments as I released the striped marlin.

I'm not sure if it was my imagination or just wishful thinking, but I felt as though all of my old heroes were right there, cheering me on and savoring the event.

With nothing but the sound of the water slapping on the bow and the sounds of the splashes when the fish jumped, this was awesome … one of the best experiences I’ve had … a fantastic do-it-yourself event that I will cherish forever, even if I did earn the dubious distinction of being the oldest person on the planet to catch a striped marlin from a Hobie Outback.

Good Baja Day... with a twist
The new Destination Baja Sur crew — Bill Boyce, Darryl Van Slack, Nick Verola and Brian Solomon, the Associate Producer, invited me along for the day last week to go fishing with them to film an East Cape segment of their series which will be aired next year.

We had spent the morning slow-trolling small blue jacks a mile or so off of Rincon near the Lighthouse at Punta Arena. The roosterfish provided a memorable morning … the bite had been brisk and by mid-morning it was a wrap, which captured a handful of bites … including a triple of two 50-plus-pound roosters and one 25-pound jack crevalle that we CPR'ed (catch, photograph and released).

THE FISH CLEANER had his knife poised and ready to fillet the “butt-ugly” creature when I arrived.

It was later in the morning that we began to troll for billfish, and when the wind freshened and the seas became grumpier, John Ireland pointed the bow toward the channel at Cabo Rivera. Since the film crew had been successful catching billfish several days before aboard Hotel Buenavista Beach Resort’s boat the Dottie B, with Felipe Valdez, owner, they had more than enough footage for the East Cape Show.

Cruising down the channel into the Cabo Rivera Marina, it was evident that the new owners were beginning to make some headway. A dredging barge was being moved into position to dredge the channel of quite a bit of sand that had accumulated from last year’s storms — plus a large fuel tank was being installed underground for the fuel dock. The rumor is that construction will soon begin on a new hotel.

Later that afternoon, I was sorting out my photos after an exciting and productive day aboard Rancho Leonero's newest flagship a 31-foot Luhrs sportfisher — the El Jefe.

It was while I went through my photos of our “take” that Ireland called to request that I hurry down to the cleaning table at Rancho Leonero before they cut up an unusual catch made by Lee Jon Sien, of Austin, Texas.

The fish cleaner had his knife poised and ready to fillet the “butt-ugly” creature when I arrived. With a red head like a lingcod and a brown, tapered body and tail similar to that of an eel, the angler was adamant that the fish was to be cleaned because he had heard that it was very good eating! I wasn’t sure how he could know that when no one seemed to even know what it was, but on the other hand, I didn’t know that it wasn’t good eating.

The angler went on to say that they were deep-jigging in 600 feet of water for black cod when he caught it! He thought it looked prehistoric, and I had to agree with him.

ANOTHER SKINNY TAIL plus the big eye seems to be a clue that it lived at an extreme depth.

Plus Captain Alonso was ecstatic because this was the second fish of that species that had been landed on his panga, Mosca Magic during his career of 55 years of fishing in East Cape.

Armed with photos, I posted one on Bill Boyce's Facebook page. The responses were quick and varied:

"Head structure like a jewfish, pectoral fins like a ling cod, and a tail like a coelacanth. I don't have the slightest clue," hedged Marine Biologist, Boyce.

Lance Peterson, local fly-fishing guide, well-versed in local knowledge, volunteered that it was a Pacific Bearded Brotula (Brotula clarkae), followed by Chris Wheaton, newly appointed International Game Fish Association Representative, who stated, "There is no current world record for that species; it is vacant. Fishbase lists it as reaching a max length of 115 cm so any fish over 23 inches would qualify as a new IGFA world record for that species.”

During Lee Jon Sien's week-long trip, he and his group racked up an impressive list of species a plethora of fish: red snapper, green pargo, black cod (grouper), skipjack, brotula, dorado, bonito, trigger, pompano, golden trevally, a huge cubera, wahoo, striped and blue marlin, plus yellowfin tuna doing their own thing and taking advantage of the techniques that worked for them while moving on if something didn't work.

I always look forward to hearing and seeing his photos of his latest catches. At the end of his trip his group had already booked a return in October, as well as they had begun quizzing at length about the best months for a 2016 spring trip.

Since we have been speaking of odd fish, Gary Barnes-Webb passed along this photo of one found on the beach near Rancho Leonero Lodge. Another skinny tail plus the big eye seems to be a clue that it lived at an extreme depth. Any of you out there that are familiar with the critter, please email me the name.

Rooster surprise
This is about the fishing in Loreto – a destination that built its reputation on dorado stretching back to the glory days of Ed Tabor and his Flying Sportsman Lodge and Ray Cannon, the original Baja editor for Western Outdoor News, who helped make dorado the town’s summer time poster child whose articles attracted anglers literally from around the world. Of course, there were other popular species, yellowtail, and billfish and somewhere down a ways on the list would be roosterfish … particularly trophy-sized ones.

Confounding the story further, Loreto Sea and Land's owner Captain Juve Orozco (with 40-plus years of Baja ocean and land experience) guided Stephen and Cheri Sankey from northern California on an overnight camping/kayaking trip to Carmen Island in May. After paddling most of the day, the couple decided to hop on the support panga with Captain Juve and kick back for the rest of the voyage to the island. 

CAPTAIN JUVE OROZCO struggles with the grande pez gallo before its successful release.

Captain Juve suggested they troll a couple of lures as they made their way along the southern tip of Carmen Island, thinking they might catch a cabrilla or pargo for fresh fish fajitas and triggerfish ceviche dinners.

While cruising off the palm trees at the tip of Carmen Island, they spotted a commotion of splashes and diving birds. They ran to the spot, slowing down as two cabrilla rigs went in the water. Steve's rig was the first to get hit as they trolled near the battle zone. In a few minutes, he landed a 24-inch Pacific dog snapper and he was stoked. Living in northern California where the stocked trout are less than legal and this fish was five-times larger than any other he had ever caught; its teeth amazed him. What a thrill!

Wisely, the captain made a circle, returning near the spot where they had the pargo bite. On the second pass it was Cheri’s turn. The clatter of the reel’s clicker startled her as the rod bent practically double.

The three gasped at the line as it disappeared from the Penn 500, fueling a discussion on what they had hooked. Was it a snagged turtle or manta ray? When nothing showed on the surface after a few minutes, the air breathing turtle was eliminated.

With light line, the chase was on with the "follow-the-leader game" nearly halfway across the channel to Danzante Island before turning back toward Carmen Island. When, finally at 20 minutes or so, the unmistakable roosterfish comb-like dorsal appeared slicing through the sea’s surface.

It was touch and go for the next 90 minutes as the three collectively held their breath while the angler desperately tried to stay connected to the tiring monster. Captain Juve put on a boat handling seminar, maneuvering the steering wheel back and forth as they followed the fish until it was on its side alongside the boat.

Quickly removing the hooks, it took the skipper three tries to lift the huge rooster for a couple of quick photos. Within a few minutes, the rooster was back in the water and revived. As soon as the kick returned to her tail, she was off swimming for deeper, darker water and finally disappeared from sight.

So how big was that roosterfish? Captain Juve commented later that it weighed about "100 pounds … maybe more."

All of that certainly puts it in the trophy category by anyone’s definition. Regardless of your tackle persuasion – fly, spinning or conventional – long overlooked roosterfish or pez gallo as the locals call them, may be a worthy addition to your bucket list when planning a dorado trip to Loreto during the summer. I'll bet Ray Cannon and Ed Tabor didn't see that coming!

The Malecón Miracle
In January, "Circuito Cultural Cabo Marina" began appearing on social media sites and in a few press releases. As months passed, more and more intriguing images of crowds strolling along a stretch of the malecón fronting the IGY Marina on Saturday afternoons appeared, and a closer look showed canopies sheltering local Mexican artists displaying their unique creations.

Brian Solomon of Solomon's Landing Restaurant was one of the names mentioned in the press and media as a supporter of the "Circuito Cultural Cabo Marina," but peeling down through a few layers of rhetoric, I discovered Solomon was more of a ringleader.

Timing my last trip to Cabo so that I could see this phenomenon for myself, I wasn't disappointed. I arrived early on Saturday and found my friend Solomon already prowling the malecón, animatedly chatting with exhibitors as they set up their displays and visiting with the organizers and volunteers as they set up the stage in front of the towering blue marlin statue.

underliningtheeventsUNDERLINING THE EVENT'S success is the continued growth in the number of exhibitors, performers and spectators in the first five months. PHOTO BY JOE TYSON

Brian proudly introduced me to one of the coordinators, Robert Schultz, a retiree from the Bay Area who has been involved with the project from the beginning.

"The "Circuito Cultural Cabo Marina" isn't just about art," Solomon elaborated. "It's much, much more – the event provides a glimpse into the culture of Baja and beyond for both locals and visitors.”

WOW! I was impressed!

Local dancers in authentic costumes twirled, snapping their fingers and stomping their feet to the rhythm of the music as spectators crowded close, clapping in time while cheering on performers. Dancers were followed by Mexican “

Los Novios de Mariana (Mariana's Boyfriends).” One in particular thrilled the crowd with their pitch-perfect renditions of the "Bee Gees" favorites. The sounds of the Mexican Variety Show echoed throughout the marina well into the evening.

Tables laden with hand-crafted jewelry, colorful hand-painted plates, vases, sculptured items, easels and backdrops covered with paintings and unique photographs stretched along the Malecón with pangas, sport fishers and mega-yachts creating a stunning backdrop.

As the afternoon faded into evening, Solomon explained how he had come to realize how few of his Mexican clientele visited what many consider to be one of the most beautiful public areas in all of Cabo.

With that in mind, Solomon contacted Wyndham Hotel, and Hector Montanya, API, about the possibility of having an "Art Walk" once a week which would target the Mexican people, providing entertainment, dancers, music, free food, and real artisans selling their work. It would offer a taste of Cabo’s cultural origins and artistic expression with exhibits by visual artists, workshops for children on painting, sculpture, reading and much more. There would also be presentations by musical groups that would encompass folk dances, theatre companies, poets, and writers … something for the entire family to enjoy.

His suggestions led to more meetings resulting in the formation of a formidable group of believers which includes Solomon, Adrián Luna and Clicerio Mercado, along with additional individuals and institutions like director of API Hector Montaño; Blanca Hernández, Castro Professor of Department of Culture, professor Armida Castro Economic Development and Canirac, Chamber of the Restaurant Industry, Administration Plaza Marina, Lic. Diana Garza and Sr. José Luis Salinas, Manager of Wyndham Hotel.

We visited with the exhibitors along the walkway, edging our way between customers who were excited to have the opportunity to display and sell their creations, and who expressed gratitude to everyone involved for implementing the plan and their hopes that the event would continue throughout the year.

Everyone – exhibitors, locals, visitors and volunteers alike – contributed to creating an unexpected unique synergy at one of the most beautiful marinas in Mexico in a drug-free and safe environment where Mexican families, tourists and locals alike are welcome and can enjoy.

The event has become a success, silencing the naysayers and beckoning visitors and locals who haven't already taken the time to embrace the wholesome atmosphere that has replaced the unsavory scene of the past. According to their website, the events will continue each Saturday until the last week of July, from noon until 11 p.m.

Underlining the event’s success is the continued growth in the number of exhibitors, performers and spectators in the first five months. Local businesses surrounding the IGY Marina agree that the project’s positive impact on the area is truly a Malecón Miracle.

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