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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:

Paul Watson, my Renaissance friend
My first contact with Paul Watson was in 2011 via Facebook. Watson was founder of Marlin World Media Publishing House that published Marlin World Magazine, an online, a high-quality digital and print big game fishing magazine based in Madeira, Portugal in 2007.

PAUL WATSON ENJOYED a remarkable life – globe-hopping when not at his home in Funchal, Madeira, with his beloved wife Filomena.

We shared many common interests – sportfishing, writing and photography. But it was in 2013, when Wayne Bisbee, Bisbee Tournaments, and Watson announced that a new partnership had been established to publish an online and print magazine with the new name of "Bisbee's Marlin World" that Paul began spending more time in Cabo San Lucas and we developed a growing friendship that we both valued.

During the summer and fall Baja tournaments, we were together for the various events. It was then that we forged a stronger friendship wrapped in our common interests.

When the text flashed on my cell early July 13 requesting family contact information for Paul D. Watson, I was shocked to learn that he had suffered a massive heart attack and had been found in his condo in Cabo San Lucas earlier that day by the property manager.

The news was numbing. I recalled random times we had shared during the past couple of years as I slowly realized my knowledge about his life and background was embarrassingly inadequate.

Resorting to Google, something I had never bothered to do before, I discovered he was 57 years old, born July 12, 1958 in London. After completing his education and becoming fluent in English, Portuguese and Spanish, he began a career as an executive banker with Bank of America, Chase Manhattan and Citibank, traveling the world. In his mid-30s, he decided to trade his stress-filled life for one of an entrepreneur.

A British National Certified Skipper he took up residence in Madeira, Portugal, where he also became interested in photography, videography and writing and soon he turned these skills into a professional income stream. He became a freelance photographer in 1994.

His work was varied and he began publishing tourist magazines, calendars and websites. He continued to maintain contact with his colleagues in the hedge fund industry.

His pioneering efforts of digital page flip magazines led to the publishing of Marlin World Magazine, which grew into one of the most popular publications for the genre worldwide.

Bisbee's Marlin World, a new flip magazine and a joint effort, would continue to cover the International Big Game fishing scene plus include detailed information about the Bisbee tournaments. This conceived as a format that would include different language versions of each edition and offer subscribers the choice of a free online version or a paid-subscription print copy.

This gave a new dimension to our friendship, allowing Watson and me to expand our friendship into a professional relationship as well … one that prospered and benefited both of us.

We whiled away the hours with stories, ideas and laughter as we waited for a team with a fish to show up at the scales, always looking for that perfect photo or storyline.

In 2014, when I showed up at the Bisbee East Cape Offshore with a drone, Paul volunteered to edit some of the start footage for me. When the devastating hurricane "Odile" slammed into Baja, he was already in Cabo when I arrived.

We would meet each morning at the Baja Cantina before splitting up and heading out into the devastated Colinas (hills) surrounding the city to do whatever we could to help … only to return later that evening and swap stories and compare photos.

Paul Watson enjoyed a remarkable life – globe-hopping when not at his home in Funchal, Madeira, with his beloved wife Filomena. His long list of friends and companions as he frequently referred to them, literally circle the earth.

"Paul’s dry British humor, talent and friendship will be missed." Wayne Bisbee, acknowledged recently.

My friendship with Paul lacked complexity. It was a friendship offered and accepted without qualifications or expectations. Thinking back, to put it in his words, “It was just two blokes with a kindred spirit.”

Renaissance Man by definition is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas. By definition, my friend, Paul was certainly a Renaissance Man, but so very much more. He will be missed.

Where's Waldo
Eager teams began arriving mid-afternoon Aug. 4 for the Bisbee East Cape Offshore Captains’ Meeting, the Bisbee’s staff awaiting them at the check-in tables in the Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort dining room.

Until early evening, returning teams mingled with newcomers chatting and probing one another in a modified version of Where's Waldo? It boiled down to a variety of subtle – and not-so-subtle inquiries – about local conditions and where the best action might be. These questions were usually answered vaguely or perhaps honestly leaving both in doubt of the authenticity of their answers.

HOT ROD IS a 40-foot Cabo Flybridge, with Captain Eriberto Orozco at the helm, mate Ramiro Gonzalez in the ‘pit and Bob Garuvello the second angler.

Ken Matney, in his booth with a table laden with lures of every color and shape, was surrounded by anglers and crews alike. It was his suggestion, based on faith and experience, that fishing for blue marlin has always been best around high and low slack tides, and he vowed to keep track of the bites on "Catch Stat" and compare them with the tidal movement during the tournament.

Several locals volunteered that the blue marlin bite was wide open several weeks ago and seemed to unaccountably shut off recently. Discouraging news added to the recent poor showing of dorado and the disappearance of larger yellowfin tuna in the 50-mile radius in the tournament grid.

However, the crowd remained upbeat as Wayne Bisbee called the Captains Meeting to order welcoming the 61 teams and guests. “I’d like to thank everyone for participating and especially our host, the Valdez family and the Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort, as well Pelagic, Oilboom USA, Costa, National Car Rental, Sevenstar, American Fishing Wire/HI-SEAS and the remainder of our other great sponsors," Bisbee continued. He quickly reviewed the rules before announcing the total jackpots for the event would be approximately a half a million dollars for the first of the three 2015 Bisbee’s Baja tournament series.

Sixty one boats from the East Cape region, San Jose/Cabo San Lucas and other Mexican ports gathered at 7 a.m. Wednesday on the waters in front of the host Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort overlooking the Sea of Cortez.

The first day began with a roar as the boats at full throttle responded to the red flare streaking across the sky signaling the start. Quickly, the fleet divided directions between north and south.

ANGLER RANDY WICKWARD landed the second-heaviest and only other qualifying marlin, a 389-pound black, aboard the panga Ardilla Ciega, with Captain Gregorio Liera winning $11,049.

Throughout the day, Axel Valdez at Tournament Control fielded radio calls reporting hookups, losses, releases and catches of billfish and game fish. It was a slow day for both the billfish and game fish division with no billfish nor dorado weighed-in and only three qualifying yellowfin tuna.

Esteves, entered in the game fish jackpot aboard the Gaviota, brought in the first tuna exceeding the 40-pound minimum to the scale: a 57.6-pounder caught on squid.

Local tuna wiz Don Whittier, a frequent winner in this category, along with his teammate Gonzalo Castillo aboard the North Star, weighed in a 56-pound yellowfin and team Hook-up brought a 51-pound yellowfin to the scales.

Day two was more of the same except the tuna were fatter. Captain Carlos Beltran, member of the North Star crew scored top daily honors with a 156-pound tuna on a squid that was hooked while the rest of the team was fishing live bait. It took just short of two hours to bring the to the side of the boat.

In the Release Division, Team Reel Quest released three blue marlin earning them 900 points and placing them at the top of that division going into the final day.

Two other tuna were also brought to the scales Thursday that met the 40-pound minimum. Rudolfo Lugue, fishing aboard Fintastic, weighed in a 62.9-pounder, while Erick Esteves on Gaviota landed a 68.8-pound yellowfin.

Friday finally delivered more blue and black marlin to the scale than tuna. A seasoned Bisbee’s team member, John Peelman on Hot Rod outlasted a stubborn 409-pound blue marlin to take the largest prize of the event.

They were down to their last live tuna and had it on a downrigger, 70-feet down off San Luis when the strike came. With line slowly coming off the spool Peelman wasn't sure what they had hooked. And then suddenly the blue marlin broke the surface and went greyhounding toward the horizon.

TEAM FISHERMAN, Captain Jose Cosio, 170.3-pound yellowfin, $60,470 for the Day Three Daily and overall tuna prize money.

“That fish was a tough SOB and put up a good battle. We had it to leader eight or nine times before we could get a flying gaff into it and drag it onboard the 40-foot Cabo Flybridge,” Peelman reported.

Hot Rod had Capt. Eriberto Orozco at the helm, mate Ramiro Gonzalez in the ‘pit and Bob Garuvello was the second angler.

After the weigh-in, Peelman and his friend Bob Garuvello sweated out four other fish coming to the scales. The next fish was only 20 pounds shy of tying Peelman's catch.

Angler Randy Wickward, a member of the well known "Tiger Spirit" team from Cabo San Lucas, captured the second-largest marlin for the week, a 389-pound black that was landed aboard Ardilla Ciega.

After fighting the fish and bringing it along side the panga, he assisted gaffing and hauling the huge fish on board.

In an unfortunate turn of events, Wickward, 53, collapsed and fell to the deck and could not be revived by his teammates. Bisbee related that Wickward had told his "Tiger Spirit" teammates that he wanted to win the Bisbee ECO tournament on his own boat with them. His dream was to be on his own small boat, not a big sportfisher. He passed away after the fish was gaffed; at that moment, they were in first place, fulfilling his dream. There was a heartfelt round of applause as Trish Bisbee announced the fish’s weight.

Before the scales were officially closed at 7 p.m., there were four other under-sized marlin weighed that didn’t make the 300-pound minimum.

Pocket Aces missed the qualifying mark by two pounds. Hook-Up, Rehab and the tournament sponsor team from National Car Rental Company also weighed marlin.

Confirming my recent column, "Dorado Done Disappeared" no qualifying dorado (30 pounds) made it to the scales during the entire event.

Leaving tuna to dominate the game fish division, well-known big-tuna pangero Agustin Pino on Fisherman found the largest one overall, a 170.3-pound yellowfin while soaking a live skipjack over the Gordo Bank in a tug of war that only lasted 10 minutes on100-pound line.


•  John Peelman and Team Hot Rod owner from Fresno, California, 409-pound blue marlin, $366,531.

Team Fisherman with Captain Jose Cosio; 170.3-pound yellowfin, $60,470 for the Day Three Daily and overall tuna prize money.

• The two other tuna daily jackpots, which paid out $34,850 each, were split between Team Tres Amigos (Erick Esteves, 57.6-pound yellowfin) and Team North Star (Gonzalo Castillo, 156-pound yellowfin). Both fish were caught on squid.

• Angler Randy Wickward landed the second-heaviest and only other qualifying marlin, a 389-pound black, aboard the panga Ardilla Ciega with Captain Gregorio Liera; $11,049.

• Go Deeper Top Release Team, Captain Javier Alejandro Abaroa, skipper.

Team Reel Quest (Captain Ty Valli) 2nd release team

El Chupacabra (Captain Jesse Scarborough), 3rd release team

Totals: 62 billfish were caught by the 61 boats fishing the 2015 ECO, including 40 blue marlin, 13 stripers, five sailfish and four blacks. Ten yellowfin tuna were also brought to the scales.

The total purse in this year’s event, which was sponsored by Pelagic High Performance Offshore Gear, was nearly $508,000.

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.

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