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:

Mex 1, a Road Warrior’s update
Moving the Roadtrek to Baja came early this year. Normally I would move the van later in the year, just before the tournaments begin, so I could move my “home/office” from spot to spot, but this year I decided to attend the 6th Annual Cabo Marine Show held in the IGY Marina in Cabo San Lucas right after the first of May. So for those of you who want to know about the condition of Mex 1, here is the 2015 Road update.

Since the Mex 5 pavement project is not quite ready for prime time, I stuck with my usual route, beginning at the Tijuana border crossing.

OVER THE YEARS Mex 1 has been bookended by heavy traffic in both directions. From the border through San Quintin the traffic is still heavy. The good news now is after you pass El Rosario to the south, you travel long stretches with not much traffic to contend with until your reach La Paz -- which now has traffic even worse than Ensenada!

Driving alone, I arrived at El Chaparral about 5:45 a.m. and parked in the Inmigración lot before crossing the line. Both the bank and FMM office were open. In less than 15 minutes, I had paid for my FMM, ($22), exchanged American dollars for Mexican pesos, (15-to-1 exchange rate), was back in the van, across the border, through secondary, and on my way just as a light rain began to fall.

The signs to the Mex 1 Toll Road are easy to follow … just keep to your right as you come through the gate. Tolls for my one-ton Dodge van were less than 100 pesos total through the three booths to Ensenada. I usually take the street fronting the waterfront through town; however currently it was under repair. So when you reach the traffic signal where you would normally turn right, continue straight through several stop signs until you reach a busy intersection, then turn right to continue south toward Maneadero and beyond.

Over the years Mex 1 has been bookended by heavy traffic in both directions. From the Border through San Quintin the traffic is still heavy. The good news now is after you pass El Rosario to the south, you travel long stretches with not much traffic to contend with until your reach La Paz — which now has traffic even worse than Ensenada!

Having said that, I departed on a Saturday and the traffic was remarkably light the entire way! Not sure if that was just a fluke or normal for a Saturday as I don’t often leave on a Saturday. The drive was uneventful and I was soon at the first of at least five Military Checkpoints and two fruit and vegetable inspection stops — Camalu, El Rosario, Jesus Maria, Guerrero Negro (fruit and vegetable inspection), San Ignacio, Loreto and El Centenario, (fruit and vegetable inspection).

When arriving at a checkpoint or stop, open your window before approaching the Inspector; if you are not comfortable speaking Spanish — don't! A big smile and simple hello is much better. When asked where you are going or what you are doing? Name your destination and say vacation, if that’s the case when traveling south. Traveling North? Just say — returning from vacation and name your destination.

Saturday's drive ended at the Cuesta Real Hotel and RV in Mulege around 7 p.m. They had been hit pretty hard by storms last September/October and their Wi-Fi had been down. Wi-Fi is essential for me and theirs was now up and running. As a side note: It was windy all the way down the peninsula and much cooler than normal for May. Everyone from Santa Rosalia to East Cape commented about the need for jackets or sweatshirts in the evening.

The following morning I headed to Loreto and ran into roadwork at the entrance into town. After making my scheduled meeting with Ana Gloria Benziger Davis, manager of the Oasis Hotel to discuss a Hobie Kayak event in June, I headed south, encountering the last bit of road construction, a detour approximately one mile long, about 10 miles north of the final inspection point near El Centenario.

I have driven Mex 1 hundreds of times since its opening in 1973, and Mex 1 has come a long way. Wider by a 1/3 in many areas and reasonably well maintained, it used to be that often local traffic along the road moved slowly and created a hazard. Seldom are these hazards found now. Most of the traffic travels at near highway speeds found on a secondary road in the states. Added to the mix are more than enough service stations, some with convenience stores and many more small roadside motels with Wi-Fi have added to the Baja traveler’s ability to drive the Baja Peninsula from border to tip with more ease and comfort than ever before.

Fusion in Mexicali
The recent chatter about Mex 5 soon being paved to meet Mex 1 below Catavina reminded me of my trips in the late 70s to Mexicali for Chinese dinners.

The first of these was made with Tom Miller, close friend, WON Baja editor and columnist, and avid fisherman — a quickie fishing exploration trip.

THAT SOPHISTICATION PROBABLY comes from decades of people eating Mexican-influenced Chinese food.

"Ever had Chinese food in Mexicali, buddy?" he asked hunched over the wheel of his Subaru with his "Senor Baja" personalized license plate.

“Nope,” I responded glancing over at him dubiously to see if he was serious.

He was. Sure enough, as we crossed the Calexico-Mexicali border, he drove into the center of Mexicali, pulling into a crowded parking lot in front of a Chinese Restaurant! It was apparent this wasn't his first visit. He waved away the menu and our table was soon loaded with a variety of dishes of every description. The owner and his family hovered over us and beamed when we complimented them on the wonderful meal they served us. It was some of the best Chinese food I had eaten!

I couldn’t wait to return and it wasn't long before Yvonne and I made a weekend water-skiing trip to the Salton Sea. As day one of our trip came to a close, we excused ourselves from the frolicking group of family and friends, and I treated her to one of the best Chinese meals she had ever eaten.

The history of this town, perched on the U.S. border, is fascinating. It seems thousands of Chinese laborers were imported into the United States during the latter part of the 1800s to put the nation on iron wheels.

When the train track was completed, the workers were to return to China, but many wanted to remain in what is now Imperial County and opted not to return to China.

Spurred by anti-Chinese laborer sentiment among American workers, the 1882 law banned immigrants from China from entering the U.S. Tens of thousands went to Cuba, South America and Mexico instead. The Mexican government welcomed the Chinese immigrants in the sparsely populated border region to work on farms and in the mines and canals.

Settling along the U.S./Mexico border, they became grocers, merchants and restaurant owners, while others managed to return illegally and make lives in the U.S. — including Imperial County.

According to historians, the Chinese invented undocumented immigration into the U.S. from Mexico. They were smuggled in with the help of guides hired to lead them across the border -- smuggling across with false papers, on boats and trains -- the infrastructure being invented by the Chinese.

These restaurants that we enjoy are remnants of the Chinese population that filled the U.S./Mexico borderlands in Mexicali and in Baja California.

If you question people in the city of Mexicali about their most notable regional cuisine, they don’t say street tacos or mole … they say Chinese food! In this city of nearly one million, the number of Chinese restaurants is near 200.

In the kitchens, the cooks speak to each other in Cantonese — with the waiters they may communicate in Spanish and English; and the waiters? They usually communicate in both Spanish and English.

Restaurant owners in Mexico claim their customers are more sophisticated about Chinese food than those in Imperial County.

That sophistication probably comes from decades of people eating Mexican-influenced Chinese food. Once, it was a necessity: Chinese cooks used Mexican ingredients like chilies, jicama and certain cuts of meat because that was what was available. Now it's part of a culinary legacy.

There's a new dish at El Dragon, one of the oldest restaurants there — arrachera beef (skirt steak), served with asparagus and black bean sauce. A clear Mexican influence … asparagus could be both Chinese and Mexican, but the sauce, the black bean, that's Chinese.

Locals say people still come from China to work in Mexicali restaurants, and sometimes move north to work in Chinese kitchens in Imperial County. Their goal is to provide better opportunities for their families, better educations and maybe to earn dollars instead of pesos.

In other words, the same reasons that drew their ancestors here from southern China 130 years ago.

These days, anytime Yvonne and I travel through Mexicali, it has become a tradition for us to enjoy a lunch or early dinner along with memories of other meals in the area we have shared with friends over the years. With Mex 5 soon to be completed, I suspect that we will be sharing some of our favorite places with many Baja travelers taking the new route who won't be able to resist the opportunity to sample the marvelous fusion of Mexican-influenced Chinese food found in Mexicali.

"Buen Provecho!"

Mex I, here I come
Preparations for my annual Baja road trip is already underway.

Out comes the tattered checklist that resides in the driver's seat pocket — ranging from mundane items that need to be restocked to van maintenance — the result of countless Baja road trips spanning forty-two years. At the bottom of this printed list of the usual items are the hastily scribbled notations of parts that need to be replaced or repaired.

Soon after the road was connected in 1973 between Baja Norte and Baja Sur, I made the first of my many trips with two friends, Jim Sipman and David Lewis, both from San Diego, in an old Dodge van equipped with two bucket seats plus a few chaise lounges, a couple of fold up beach chairs and a shower curtain separating the cargo area which was filled with enough supplies and food to last a couple of weeks.


AT THE IGY Marina filled with mega yachts and custom sportfishers of all sizes which will provide an exciting backdrop for the largest event of its kind in Baja Sur.

Talk about brand loyalty … these days, it's still a Dodge van though aside from the name, nothing is the same. Now it’s a one-ton Roadtrek with more modern conveniences than my first bachelor pad – coffee pot, microwave, toaster oven, refrigerator, television, bathroom, queen bed, and yes, a real stove and oven. It even has a desk/table for me to work on.

These days restocking is narrowed down to fishing tackle, clothing, a few snacks and ample Starbucks coffee to last the entire seven months the Roadtrek will remain in Baja. Much easier than driving back and forth, leaving the Roadtrek in Baja saves wear and tear on me as well as the van.

This year's Baja adventure will begin a month earlier than usual with a departure coinciding with Cinco de Mayo. Accepting the invitation of Sergio Igartua, founder and organizer of the Sixth Annual Cabo Marine Show held Thursday, May 14, through Saturday, May 16, my ultimate destination will be to attend the Show in Cabo San Lucas which will also include the popular used-boat market, local and domestic yacht brokers, marine products and services and recognized activities tour operators along the Malecon. At the IGY Marina filled with mega yachts and custom sportfishers of all sizes which will provide an exciting backdrop for the largest event of its kind in Baja Sur.

I am looking forward to catching up with Brian Solomon, owner of Solomon’s Landing Restaurant while I’m in Cabo. Solomon has announced a new TV series entitled, "Destination Baja Sur" recently at the weekly meeting of the "Knights of Cortés," a group of local business owners and community leaders.

The ambitious project is programmed for a total of five years, eventually covering the entire Baja Peninsula according to Solomon, named associate producer of the project.

The series will be filmed with Bill Boyce, Executive Producer and host. Boyce is a marine biologist, pro-angler, long-time Baja resident and a well-known TV host of several award-winning television productions who will be exploring Baja Sur in 13 episodes of prime TV.

The ambitious project is programmed for a total of five years, eventually covering the entire Baja Peninsula according to Solomon, named associate producer of the project.

The half-reality/half documentary series will begin filming in June 2015, exploring remote fishing locations, the Mexican culture and Spanish history throughout Baja Sur and will be aired from January - June, 2016 to over 128 million homes in the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America on NBC Sport Network, the Pursuit Channel and the World Fishing Network.

Another novel idea that was added to the Marina earlier this year by "Knights of Cortés" is the Cultural Circuit Tour around the Cabo San Lucas Marina which has become a popular weekend event for both locals and tourists alike where local artists, craftsmen and entrepreneurs display and market their works. I look forward to seeing the popular weekly event while I'm visiting Los Cabos.

WOW! If the first month is any clue, my 2015 Baja Adventure is going to be a busy one. My June the calendar is filing up. First an Outdoor Writers Association of California Conference in Big Bear mid-June where I will compare notes with Ingrid Niehaus from Hobie Kayaks and where we will work out the final details of the Hobie-Loreto trip. Immediately following the conference, I will be flying back to Baja Sur for the Stars and Stripes Tournament, the largest Charity tournament of its kind in Cabo. Then backtracking to Loreto for the Hobie trip with Morgan Promnitz, Hobie, Fishing Product Manager and Doug Olander, Sport Fishing's editor-in-chief.

Once again, I'm looking forward to the upcoming trips with as much enthusiasm as I had 42 years ago on my first road trip. How lucky am I to have found such a cool place so long ago?

Heads up as spring training begins
April is usually the transition month when north winds subside and water temperatures begin to climb – but not this year. 2015 seems to be the "winter that never happened!"

All winter, the Baja's West Coast – from the border to the Viscaino peninsula – has been kicking out some lunkers for local and visiting anglers. During the just completed Fred Hall Shows, it seemed as though everyone from those areas had cell phone photos to illustrate their fish stories of their personal best yellowtail, white seabass and calico bass. 

AT THE FRED HALL Show last week, Chris Wheaton, IGFA Representative, huddled with Jonathan and Jill Roldan, Tailhunter International, pouring over the 2015 IGFA World Record Book.

All of this while most of Baja Sur remained silent. Then several weeks ago, someone flipped a switch and suddenly the Sea of Cortez lit up.

Gary Black sent a text from Punta Chivato: "Yellowtail were wide open and large … most hitting the 30-pound mark, confirmed with a photo of a buddy with a fat mossback."

Loreto also seemed to shake off the winter doldrums as the yellowtail began to chew.

Limits of yellowtail – most averaging 25 pounds – have been the norm for most days. …Rick Hill

Pam Bolles, Baja Big Fish Company, added, “Yellowtail fishing is very good – they're moving around some.”

“Most boats are getting them off the northern portion of Carmen Island from La Cholla to Perico. They are also way north off El Pulpito. Females have been full of eggs, but still eating. Fishing is deep with 10- to 12-ounce weights, 20-feet of 30-pound leader and a 50-pound main line. We expect great yellowtail fishing as the Hotel la Mision Classic Yellowtail Tournament nears April 23-25 and it should continue into June,” she smiled.

At the Fred Hall Show last week, IGFA Representative Chris Wheaton huddled with Jonathan and Jill Roldan of Tailhunter International, pouring over the 2015 IGFA World Record Book. Seems like Ron Brown, one of their clients from Wrangell, Alaska, had caught a barred pargo that could have been a contender. Instead, Captain Boli enjoyed it for his dinner, joining the legion of others with the same sad story over the years. Don't let that happen to you!

Roldan added, "We have had some really solid rocking fishing, at both our La Paz and Las Arenas fleets. Catching tuna, yellowtail, wahoo and even a few marlin giving us an early jump on the spring season."

Farther down the coast at East Cape, the few visiting anglers joined locals for a phenomenal striped marlin bite scoring multiple releases.

And there's more. John Ireland, Rancho Leonero, also at the Fred Hall–Del Mar Show added: “We have been releasing some large striped marlin every day for the boats targeting them for several weeks, close off of La Ribera. In addition, we have hooked and released more thresher sharks this week than any time in the past 30 years that I've been around the East Cape. 200-pound fish are being taken daily by about half our fleet … plus lots of break offs.”

Underscoring the positive news from East Cape was a "good news/bad luck" story from Mark Rayor, Team JenWren. "We hung a cow (YFT) today offshore while looking for broadbill. Right gear, but after 1 hour and 20 minutes, it came unbuttoned!"

Clearly, the Mar de Cortés fishing is heating up early by a month or so. Is it a trend or a blip for the 2015 season? Only time will tell.

A couple of other updates:

According to Terry Kauffman of Vagabundos del Mar, “Highway 5 south of San Felipe is paved for 15 miles south of the turnoff for Papa Fernandez, just north of Gonzaga Bay. From there, heading toward Mex 1, the unpaved portion of the road is in bad shape. They grade it and add dirt now and then; however, the combination of hurricanes and more use have erased all the fill dirt. It is a fairly level road, but there are sharp rocks the entire distance past Cocos at 10 miles and then another 7 to Highway 1 at Laguna Seca. Estimated driving time on the dirt portion is approximately three hours.

Once completed, this route is sure to become popular for many traveling south as it avoids all of the congestion and traffic along Mex 1 from the border to San Quintin.”

Mexico’s CONAPESCA has a new and improved website: to simplify its permitting and visa requirements for U.S. fishermen and boaters. In addition to making all of the latest regulations and other information available, there is now an App for Android cell phones and will soon be one for iPhones at

Crazy good fishing, IGFA tip, news about a better road coming and a new CONAPESCA website chocked full of up to date info. Should be enough Spring Training items to help you improve your Baja swing for 2015!

A few of my favorite things
While standing in the huge hall at the Long Beach Convention Center and Arena the night before the Fred Hall Boat Show’s Wednesday opening, I watch as the forklifts scurry in and out from the loading area through the cluttered aisles while dodging stacked boxes. This chaotic scene continues throughout the night and into the next morning as the rows and rows of over 600 exhibits take shape.

As the opening hour of 1 p.m. creeps closer, the anticipation of the eager exhibitors putting their finishing touches on their respective booths is hard to miss. Outside, a massive crowd of excited attendees form long lines, eagerly waiting for the gates to swing open.

IT SHOULD BE well worth the wait however as Baermann promises the information in the book is exactly the same as he offers his clients during his 300 guiding days a year.

Finally allowed to enter, they grab one of the thousands of WON-produced official programs – as thick as the L.A. Times – then quickly flood the huge facility, filling the aisles. Like feeding fish pursuing baitballs, the frenzy will ebb and flow over the next five days until the weary exhibitors at last tear down their booths on Sunday night.

"The numbers of the first day’s crowd is definitely up from last year," smiled Terry Goodridge, exhibits manager, Western Outdoor Publications, as he sat near the front door.

In the first few days of the show, I walked the aisles and noted a few of my favorite things including some old and others new.

One of those in the new category was Rich Whitaker’s Bait Wraps. His intriguing motto "Bling to Fling" caught my eye as I walked past his booth. If, like me, you have a bucketful of old iron jigs that swim perfectly – in fact, they swim so well, numbers of fish were convinced they were the real thing and the paint has been chewed off. Well, Rich will refurb those old lures with new wraps in any color combination you like for a very reasonable price. Turnaround time is about six weeks. Just remove the rings and hooks and sand them down before sending to him. He even includes new hooks and rings. Plus, he has new lures for sale as well. Just search his name on Facebook.

FOR A VERY reasonable price. Turnaround time is about six weeks.

Lynn Rose of Lynn Rose Tours has hosted the "East Cape Classic" with the motto "Catch a fish ... leave a legacy" for the past 25 years! She was in the same booth she's been in since the beginning.

Eddie Damalu, Van Wormer Resorts, said it best: “Lynn Rose has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to help the East Cape community. Much of the money raised by her tournaments benefited the town of Los Barriles, going directly to help build a library, parks, and senior centers as well as to purchase school buses and ambulances. For the past eight years, Lynn has also donated funds to the annual t-shirt and shoe “give-away” hosted by Casting 4 Soles in Los Barriles. This event helps over 3,000 people in need each year. The landscape of the East Cape would be much different if not for all the money raised by Lynn Rose and her East Cape Classic.”

Dennis Braid, Braid Products, was another exhibitor who was encouraged by the show’s turnout. "Our wholesale customers are ordering early and in quantity," Braid said. He showed me his newest lure, a Frantic Flyer that pops, darts and swims behind the boat while being trolled at any speed. It creates a great bubble trail, attractive to dorado, billfish and tuna and it can be rigged in a variety of ways … including my personal favorite – in front of a naked ballyhoo.

Additional personal favorites were several books that caught my interest. Some were introduced and another is promised to be out next year.

Captain Mark Wisch, holding court in the Pacific Edge booth, took time to tell me about his new book due to come out before next year's show. Aptly titled "Way Out West," which stemmed from a conversation he had with Mike Callan back in 1984 – an "El Niño" year when the big tuna and marlin were being caught in large numbers. Wisch had missed a trip with Callan and met them as they returned with an impressive catch of the big fish. When he asked Callan where the fish had been caught, Callan replied, "Out west, way out west!” With Wisch's vast bluewater experiences (over nearly four decades in Southern California waters), his newest book should be on your “must-read” list.

Lastly, in the book group is Lee Baermann's Fly Fishing the Surf. His new book of the same name was due to be delivered before the show, but was held up because of a port strike at Long Beach. It should be well worth the wait however as Baermann promises the information in the book is exactly the same as he offers his clients during his 300 guiding days a year.

Those are a few of my favorite things thus far. I still have three more days to walk the aisles and rub shoulders with some of the sport's most knowledgeable captains, crews and anglers … how awesome is that?

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