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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:

Newton nuances
Hurricane Newton developed into a high-end Category 1, sweeping up over the tip of Baja including Los Cabos and La Paz, before careening up and across Baja’s midsection in early September 2016.

Apprehensive locals feared the worst as the storm approached that night. In the wee hours of the morning there were power outages and flooded streets were reported via social media outlets as the eye hovered over Cabo.

IN THE COMMUNITY of Santa Rosalía, the seat of government for the Municipality of Mulegé, dozens of houses and vehicles were buried in rocks and dirt as a result of the torrential rains that accompanied the hurricane.

“I have no internet or power at my house but power is back up in many places. My generator is doing its job except for AC — very little damage around town. We should be back up to almost normal in a couple of days. Many stores and taco-type restaurants are up and running. For the most part everyone is fine, so no worries; it could have been a lot worse.”…Mike Tumbiero

Mexico is considered to have one of the best hurricane-preparedness processes in the world, so they were ready for Newton. Luckily, the hurricane remained a Category 1, the lowest, on the Saffir-Simpson Scale.

Palm trees were toppled along Cabo San Lucas' coastal boulevard and some windows were broken. Army Colonel Enrique Rangel said "There is only minor damage — fallen branches, some fallen banners, some cables... But there was calm in the city as firefighter’s cleaned refuse from the streets during the day.”

Later that week, Pat McDonell, WON Editorial Director, confirmed. “Hurricane Newton was a direct hit last Tuesday but with little lasting damage . . . just water and mud; the Cabo port was closed through Thursday even though it was flat calm with flat seas...”

Jonathan Roldan, my WON column partner in La Paz, also took to social media to reassure everyone that they made it through the hurricane fine, thanking everyone who had asked! He even went so far as to post a video admonishing everyone to, “turn up the sound to get the full effect of the hurricane!”

Conapesca, the National Aquaculture and Fishing Commission, confirmed that five people aboard the shrimp boat Mariano Pérez X died. The vessel was traveling from Ensenada to Mazatlán when it was caught in the hurricane.

However, as the hurricane travelled over land during the day, up the east coast of Baja to Punta Chivato, videos of waves crashing over the sea wall on the Malecón in Loreto, posted mid-day confirmed Newton wasn’t done yet. Mulege, Punta Chivato and Santa Rosalia were in its path before it barreled across the Gulf of California in the dark. The town of Hermosillo, 60-miles inland from Bahia de Kino, reported wind gusts of 80-mph as Newton went past. The former hurricane continued across the Sonoran desert up into southern Arizona on Wednesday night.

Initial reports said damage from Newton was light, but that was before heavy rainfall took its toll.

Mexico 1 is washed out in three places between San Ignacio and Mulegé. Expect delays and detours.

In the community of Santa Rosalía, the seat of government for the Municipality of Mulegé, dozens of houses and vehicles were buried in rocks and dirt as a result of the torrential rains that accompanied the hurricane.

Judging from reports and photos of damage to Mex 1, from Santa Rosalía south the road is passable all the way down the peninsula, but there are a few areas where delays and detours should be expected.

Highway 1 from Santa Rosalia to Mulegé is in rough condition with many parts of the road washed out. It’s passable but be patient and expect delays and detours.

Santa Rosalía, Mulegé, and Punta Chivato experienced heavy flooding and roads washing out, causing difficult access. However, roads in and out of Lopez Mateos and Puerto San Carlos are open and passable.

Scorpion Bay: The north road remains impassable. There is access on the south road for four-wheel drive vehicles with high clearance. Drive with caution as there are many washouts and rough spots.

There is construction between Ciudad Insurgentes and La Paz with a six-mile bypass that is now washed out around Km. 60. Expect delays and detours.

Jennifer Kramer, Discover Baja Travel Club, recently warned, “Drive with caution and during daylight hours; it takes longer for damaged roads to be repaired in Baja than people are used to in the U.S. Unfortunately the areas in the middle of the peninsula often suffer the most after a disaster because they are farther away from the larger cities and resources.”

The fall season is always a popular time for many to travel down Mex 1on the Baja Peninsula. In years past, information about the effects of the weather on road conditions was tough to come by. Social media has been a welcome addition, allowing Baja travelers to be better prepared for their own Baja adventures by paying attention to the sometimes slightly different or varied accounts of recent events that might affect their travel plans.

Putting a spin on it
For most of my fishing career (which began in the mid-forties), conventional tackle was the tackle of choice. The first time I even remember seeing a spinning reel was in my early 20s.

My Dad and his buddies who fished on half-day boats were first in line to buy the new spinning reels. They were using live anchovies that were difficult to cast on conventional tackle and they found they could cast them twice as far with that “contraption.” For that reason, the reel gained popularity and became a common sight on the old Mascot III and Warrior VII out of H&M Sportfishing. They soon earned the derision of most fishermen because they were poorly designed for salt, and when drags failed, they were often referred to as “coffee grinders.”

THESE TOUGH FISH with their bulldog mentality were just what we were looking for to test the strength and durability of these spinning reels.

But most reel manufacturers continued to improve their various models and by 2012, several different ‘media types’ were invited to test the Penn Spinfisher® V at Crocodile Bay Resort in Costa Rica. I was one of the media who received an invitation.

Boasting a 50-pound drag system, the Penn Spinfisher® V raised eyebrows until we were on the water and the yellowfin tuna appeared stage left. The Spinfisher® V strutted its stuff! These tough fish with their bulldog mentality were just what we were looking for to test the strength and durability of these spinning reels. Of course there were also sailfish, roosterfish, pargo, snapper, grouper, and even a small snook caught one evening from the long pier in front of the lodge.

After three days of hard fishing, everyone agreed the new drag system performed flawlessly and remained as smooth as silk. Receiving high marks for the amount of pressure that could be applied during battle, it provided plenty of fish-stopping power which is needed for large and tough fish. No one disputed that the new Penn Spinfisher® V was “the toughest spinning reel Penn had ever made.”

All major manufacturers have continued to improve and fine-tune their spinning reels, as well as rods, to match any fishery. Walk down a Baja beach and spinning outfits with huge reels filled with braid, clamped onto beefed-up rods — some as long as 13-feet, are as common as sea shells.

Of course, we’ve all heard of the unprecedented successes in Southern California using similar spinning outfits with poppers on both bluefin and yellowfin tuna.

Stories of subduing monster tuna weighing up to several hundred pounds are not uncommon, creating a seismic shift in attitudes toward “ spinning tackle” for most anglers.

However, most of the focus is on heavier applications and huge fish. Heavier rods with bigger and stronger reels seem to receive all the attention these days.

Last weekend, I attended the Tuna Club’s annual Avalon Benefit Tournament.

The “Flying Fish,” owned by Greg and Michael Stotesbury, along with team members, Greg Stotesbury, Dave Pfeiffer, Jack Rainwater and Steve Behrens, won High Boat and Greg Stotesbury won High Angler with a single striped marlin caught on 12-pound Dacron. “It was a pair of tailers that ignored the baits cast from the bow with spinning gear before sliding into the wake and eating my drop back bait on Talica 10/Terez-custom combo,” filled with 12 Dacron he confided.

Later I asked my long-time friend Greg about his tackle choice; his answer may surprise you.

“We started using spinning tackle two years ago specifically for fishing 8- and 12- pound Dacron in the Tuna Club Albacore Tournament,” he confided. Adding, “We could cast farther, the drags were incredibly smooth and we could easily change out spools of line when we got spooled (frequently on 8-pound!). We landed a number of 8- and 12-pound Dacron fish on the Stella spinning reels and Terez spinning rods with no problem.”

Hmmm, so the ‘bigger is better’ fad that engulfed spinning tackle has other possibilities?

While I have often mentioned spinning tackle for use on Baja beaches, now would be an excellent time for the Baja bunch to consider all the information available regarding spinning tackle options, both heavier and lighter versions.

Greg’s comments certainly would indicate that using lighter spinning tackle could be an interesting option for fishing from a boat. The concept of being able to cast farther and with better accuracy is always compelling.

Like everything else, fishing tackle technology continues to change. It’s interesting to me that several folks that I have suggested the consideration of spinning tackle in one application or another, have reacted by rolling their eyes with a horrified expression on their face as they sputtered, “No way! No ‘coffee grinder’ for me!” — that of course shows their age. Sort of the same way, my peers, many years ago adamantly insisted they would never drive a car with an automatic transmission.

Putting a spin on it may be just the ticket to improve catch rate and at the least, increase your fun fishing ratio -- just sayin’. . .

Being Prepared
I received an IM from Russell E. Fritz recently about his personal ‘best catch’ at East Cape — a 110-pound wahoo. He questioned whether it would have been a record on 30-pound test continuing that it wouldn’t have mattered because the scale was an old sliding weight scale, probably not calibrated since manufacture, and wouldn’t be certifiable. It had been used for weighing cows after slaughter.

HE QUESTIONED WHETHER it would have been a record on 30-pound test continuing that it wouldn’t have mattered because the scale was an old sliding weigh scale, probably not calibrated since manufacture, and wouldn’t be certifiable.

As it turned out, the current IGFA World Record is held by Dean Ettinger, MD, who spends quite a bit of time at Los Barriles and has fished there for years, evidenced by the date of his record which was caught in 1994 on 30-pound test and weighed 127 pounds.

Back to Fritz’s wahoo: “The fish measured 5 feet, 11 inches long, from the nose to the fork in the tail, and was 34 inches in girth at the midsection. My reel is a Penn 16 two-speed, with over 300 yards of 50-pound Spectra, with a top-shot of 200 yards of 30-pound Ande mono. The lure was a Billy Bait black & purple, Shake Rattle & Troll — 10-inch long Mylar skirt, with a heavy head.” He further mentioned that his 30-pound top shot had been attached to the 50-pound spectra backing.

I explained that because the two were attached, the heavier line would have been the line class used to determine the IGFA World Record.

He responded with a question. “Is that true for fly fishermen who use a 10-pound tippet and 50-pound backing? The logic seems a bit contrary, to count the backing as the line test, when the lighter line is what the fish is being fought on, for most of the fight. I know I’m showing my ignorance, and a bit of old age crankiness and no harm is intended. Very little of today's world seems to make sense to me anymore. I do not wish to tilt at windmills...”

I referred Fritz to the IGFA Rules:

Conventional Tackle

If the fishing line is attached to backing, the catch shall be classified under the heavier of the lines.

Fly Tackle

Any type of fly line and backing may be used. The breaking strength of the flyline and backing are not restricted. Only the leader (tippet) breaking strength matters.

Since I’m often asked about fishing in a small boat at East Cape, at my request, Fritz shared the details of his fishing day in his small boat out of La Ribera. Here is a synopsis of his day:

He and a buddy left from the La Ribera Marina before sun up. After paying their launch fee and collecting some bait at the receiver, they cleared the jetty around 6 a.m.

For several years, Fritz and his fishing buddy have been targeting wahoo, trolling fairly fast (14 mph) on their way to wherever they plan to fish. This particular day, it was off Los Frailes where they would bait fish for yellowfin tuna on the drift, then troll for wahoo on the return trip.

According to Fritz, they trolled with heavy-head, large feather jigs, rigged with short wire, and long 300-pound mono, purple/black with chrome Mylar in one corner. His choice as he followed the old rule: 'Dark day, dark lure." The opposite lure was dark blue/white with the same chrome Mylar. However, they had no bites as they ran down to their tuna spot.

The return trip to Punta Arena was the same until they were above the Lighthouse where they landed a 16-pound dorado in 170 feet of water. After several circles of the area, they headed for the Marina. Approximately one mile south of the entrance in 80-feet, they had a rod doubling strike that peeled off nearly 350 yards of line! No jump — so they assumed the fish was either a wahoo or large jack crevalle. Even after several more runs, they still had no clue as to what it was. Repeatedly, Russell could feel the head shake, and the line shudder, but not the pump… pump… pump of a big tuna!

The first time he brought the fish to the boat, his fishing partner, Boney, saw that the mono leader was in his mouth and spoke very rapidly in Spanish, with Russell catching only one word "Toyota"... indicating a prize-winning fish. Boney gaffed it behind the head, and held it while Fritz got a second gaff in, and together they pulled the large wahoo over the rail and into the fish box.

“This fish swallowed almost 18 inches of lure and leader, and had the 300-pound mono in his jaws. Why he did not snip it off, I will never know!”… Russell E. Fritz

When I shared the story with Michael L. Farrior, IGFA Trustee and experienced world angler who was inducted into the California Hall of Fame recently, he advised. “Be prepared…IGFA World Records are one bite away!” He added, “I cannot overemphasize the importance of reviewing the IGFA Rules and Regulations and making sure ones tackle is in conformance before that world record catch comes along!”

Baja children discover Sport Fishing
Beach trips have always been part of the Baja families’ routine . . . particularly in the dog days of summer when an afternoon outing on a beach is a welcome way of cooling off for adults and children alike. Often they are multi-family affairs that include not only kids, but parents and grandparents all enjoying each other’s company and camaraderie. Of course fishing from the shore is always a welcomed and popular pastime.

WAYNE BISBEE GAZED down the long line of children and instructors and murmured, "What a great program for the kids; our foundation can and will help in the future."

Sunday afternoons seems to be the favorite time and day for the outings and you can see clusters of people, both young and old, frolicking in the water, or hiding from the sun under blanket-canopied shelters. Often the youngsters hand-line fish, using a soda can with line wrapped around the can with a hook tied onto the end of the line.

Once, as I was riding on the beach on an ATV, I spotted a bent rod in a family group ahead of me. I slowed to a stop to watch as an older Mexican clutched his spinning rod, turning the handle very slowly. This seemed pretty normal until my eyes followed the line coming off the tip of the rod which a youngster was retrieving hand-over-hand. The team effort was a success and a nice-sized jack was soon flopping on the wet sand.

For a number of years each June now, a group of local men offer a shoreline sportfishing clinic for children from 6 to 12 years-old — the goal is to teach the boys and girls how to set up a rod and reel for fishing from the shoreline. Originally conceived by Captain Lorenzo Bello, the clinics became so successful he turned to Stephen Jansen, the Navy Base and API to assist him in pulling off the event.

This year’s event was held on July 30 from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on the Black Coral Beach, behind the old Cannery. Kids began lining up early and by 8 a.m., there were over a hundred youngsters eager to learn how to fish from shore.

They were divided into groups of 10 and were matched up with volunteer instructors. The eager young students listened carefully as Lorenzo Bello, Stephen and Monica Jansen and other instructors outlined the finer points of fishing from the beach…covering tackle, knots, baiting hooks, casting, and reeling ’em in. Soon the excited future anglers were ready to get their fishing rods and reels and put into practice what they had been taught. 

everyonegatheredaroundEVERYONE GATHERED AROUND the tables heavily laden with 50 rod and reel combos donated by Stephen and Monica Jansen. Captain Lorenzo Bello, joined by the representatives of the Navy Base and API invited Clicerio Mercado to assist in passing out the combos and other prizes to the thrilled winners.

For the next two hours shouts and laughter could be heard over the gentle sound of the waves lapping along the sandy beach. Cries of “hookup” and “I’ve got one” periodically echoed up and down the beach as the kids’ enthusiasm became infectious. Instructors “oohed” and “awed” over the catches and sympathized with the lost fish or missed bites.

After two hours it was time for awards. Everyone gathered around the tables heavily laden with 50 rod and reel combos donated by Stephen and Monica Jansen. Captain Lorenzo Bello, joined by the representatives of the Navy Base and API invited Clicerio Mercado to assist in passing out the combos and other prizes to the thrilled winners. Combos that were left over were raffled off at the end of the day.

One of the mothers at the kids’ tournament commented to Stephen Jansen: “Super cool! You’re a natural teacher, Stephen. What a great way to pass on your legacy and passion for the sport!”

Wayne Bisbee and Mercado joined in the fun, watching the budding anglers demonstrate what they had learned in their respective classes earlier in the morning. Bisbee gazed down the long line of children and instructors and murmured, "What a great program for the kids; our foundation can and will help in the future."

The smiles of the kids and parents were more than enough reward for all of the organizers, whose smiles mirrored the joy of the kids.

This sums up how significant these types of clinics are to the future of sportfishing for Baja and beyond.

ICAST — a daydreamer’s paradise…
California was well represented at the 2016 ICAST and International Fly Tackle Dealer Show in Orlando recently. On a whirlwind trip of only two, tightly packed days, I ran into the Fred Hall Gang including Bart and Ginny Hall, Mike Lum and Tim Baker — Mike and Tim were organizing the 2016 ICAST New Product Showcase for the 12th year. There were a number of other California’s in the aisles and booths.

ICast Show

In the Orlando Orange County Convention Center Marine Accessories Pavilion, which encompasses 650,000 square feet in the West Building of the OCCC, ICAST hosted 552 exhibitors in 1850 booths, with an overall, combined exhibitor count of more than 700 . . .impressive.

I faced a daunting task of trying to visit all the booths in my two days with more than 1,000 tackle products and accessories entered by 240 plus companies into 24 “Best of Show” categories in the New Product Showcase, all vying for the overall ICAST 2016 “Best of Show” award.

Aisle after aisle of booths exhibited their latest and greatest new products and I didn’t want to miss any of them. While walking with Wanda Taylor, Temple Fork Outfitters, one afternoon, she asked if I had a gait that wasn’t “run.” Each time I would slow to her pace and a few seconds later, I would find myself six or eight booths ahead of her. I didn’t want to miss one booth!

Many caught my attention. The Hobie Kayak, with its innovative pedal drive, has been a favorite of mine since I first tried it in 2009. I still carry my Hobie inflatable in my “Roadtrek” on my Baja trips.

Pedal Drive

Pedal Drive — Doug Skidmore - President of Hobie (worldwide), assisted by Morgan Promnitz, introduced the biggest evolution for the Hobie’s Mirage Drive propulsion system for kayaks first introduced in 1997.

Three years in the making the new patent-pending Hobie MirageDrive 180 forward-reverse propulsion system is a game-changer that will be integrated into all of the year 2017 model Mirage kayaks. It allows anglers to pedal their kayaks either forward or backward by a pull of a cable. 


AquaDronE — Of course, I couldn’t resist the new AquaDrone that the developer promised is 100 percent fully-waterproof and capable of landing and taking off in fresh or saltwater without harming the drone or its accessories.

A unique innovation is the quick change accessory pods that can be installed or removed with the just a twist of the wrist. FIND POD: A sonar fish finder pod that can send the fish finder’s image to your smartphone or Wi-Fi-enabled tablet, providing a full-color sonar image, water’s depth and temperature via a free app. FISH POD: A line flier pod that allows you to carry and drop your line to inaccessible and remote waterways. This pod can also be used for skip bait fishing across the water’s surface. CAMERA POD: A waterproof camera takes still and video images from above or under the water’s surface with the 100 percdent waterproof, 360-degree 4K camera (according to the manufacturer). Plus the “follow me” features that have become so popular make this drone a “must see” for anyone in the market for a drone.

Aqua View IBall

Aqua View IBall — Aqua View IBall Wireless Trailer Hitch Ball Camera — I don’t have a trailer boat anymore, but I promise you if I did this is definitely an aftermarket item that would be on my rig. The screen plugs into the 12v receptacle on the dash and the camera has a magnet for mounting on the rear of your rig and is operated with a rechargeable battery.

Like the Fred Hall Shows earlier in the year, ICAST ignites the imagination. Many of the items are not quite ready for the beasts of Baja, but probably soon will be. I was like a kid in a candy store. I couldn’t get enough and I don’t have sufficient space to write about all of the great items I found.

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