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: roadtrekker1@gmail.com

Nothing is written in stone…
In my last column "Southbound again…" I shared my carefully laid out schedule to begin my Baja season. After I finished, and sent it in, a buzzer sounded ... a telephone call from Ken Franke asking me to fly with A1 Fish Spotter, Tom Greene. That call flipped my schedule. Seems that the volume of yellow and bluefin tuna being spotted here in Southern California is off the charts and he wanted me to see it and share what I saw. And here is what I found...

I was flying with Tom the day after Memorial Day instead of departing for Baja, and I must say it was well worth the change of plans. That was the most feeding tuna above and below the border I've ever seen is a single day … EVER.

I ended up flying to Loreto three days later and hooked up with the Sportfishing Association of California team President, Capt. Ken Franke; KeniaZamarripa, SAC Director of Marketing and International Affairs; Laura Patella, co-owner of the long range American Angler; along with Pete Gray of the “Let’s Talk HookUp -- Mighty 1090 Radio Show” and his sound engineer, Rick Cutler for a remote show which broadcast on Saturday, June 3 from the recently completed Port Captain’s building overlooking the Marina in Loreto.

From the minute I touched down, I joined the team in a whirlwind series of meetings, tours of the Marina and all the preparations underway for the one-day local fishing tournament which was also being held on Saturday beginning at 6:00a.m. (before the show).

The teams host for the weekend stay was the recently renovated, timeless "Hotel La Misión" managed by Maria Gámez, General Manager, overlooking the Malecón with a stunning view of the sparkling Sea of Cortez.

The entire trip began at the behest of Andrés Córdova , Secretary of Fisheries for Baja Sur. He had attended the SAC-hosted remote “Let’s Talk HookUp Show” broadcasts in other locations in Baja, had liked what he had seen and more importantly, had liked the results. He was convinced that the community of Loreto and all it had to offer could be showcased by SAC’s visit. As Franke noted later during the broadcast, "Córdova deserves recognition for his leadership, partnership development and strategic planning efforts to benefit Baja Sur."

Later that evening at the Hotel Mision restaurant, dinner featured the region’s seafood -- Almejas Chocolatas (Chocolate Clams), broiled whole grouper topped off with homemade flan. Secretary of SEPESCA, Luis Antonio García and Gonzalo Alamea from SEPESCA joined the group for dinner.

The following morning local and Baja Sur sportfishing representatives gathered out on the Marina quay wall for the official start of the Loreto "Serial Dos Mares" sport fishing tournament, one of the many events held in a number of seaside communities throughout Baja Sur each year. The winners of each community event are invited to participate in the great FINALE of the Serial de Pesca Deportiva Dos Mares held each year in Loreto, Baja California Sur, on Aug. 12 and 13 this year.

The series of tournaments began many years ago as a way of introducing sportfishing to the locals, involving not only the adults in the many communities that dot the coastline of the state, but the children as well. As it evolved, it has become well organized and incorporated many components. In the Loreto version, there is a Gastronomic Contest where 17 of the local restaurants compete for the “best of the best” in different cooking, preparation and presentation categories as chosen by a panel of judges.

Early Saturday morning, taking the lead from the big money tournaments, there is a shotgun start which is usually well-attended by every local and state government dignitary within driving distance.

This morning, Franke was given the honor of firing the flare to send more than 20 teams out to the fishing grounds surrounding Loreto in search of a winning fish.

The team then turned their attention to the final preparations for the morning’s remote show. Internet connections established, microphones in place and the final guest list and script finalized, it was time for the familiar clicker “buzz” followed by Pete Gray declaring "Let’s Talk HookUp," which began the show.

The two-hour show passed quickly as representatives of both local sportfishing and tourism, along with government officials from Loreto and Baja Sur and local business owners, filled the Port Captain’s office to inform the show’s large audience what Loreto had to offer for anglers and tourists alike.

After the show’s conclusion, part of the team returned to California on an Alaska flight; Gray caught a ride to East Cape with the Rick Jensen family for the 21st Annual Rancho Leonero “Let’s Talk HookUp” Spring Tournament sponsored by Sportfishing Financial and Statewide Stripes.

Franke and Zamarripa remained for the weighing-in festivities and awards ceremony on the huge stage overlooking the Marina. Fishing was good and the largest yellowtail of the event weighed just a click under 30 pounds.

Next came the sampling of all of the food prepared for the Gastronomic Cooking Completion.

As a side note, a few days later the season’s first serious dorado catches were made by  local charters … an encouraging sign after several years of dorado drought.

Show guests included:

Luis Andrés Córdova Urrutia, Secretario de Pesca, Acuarcultura y Desarrollo Aguopecuario

Profa. Arely Arce Peralta, Presidenta Municipal de Loreto

Arturo Susarrey, Representante de Pesca Deportiva en Loreto

Lucero Magdaleno Arreola, Presidente CANIRAC

Carlos Castañeda, Rigidor (Turismo)

Álvaro Murillo, Director de API Loreto

María Gámez, Gerente Hotel La Misión

Juan J. García, Capitán de Pesca Deportiva

Norma Beatriz García, Presidenta de la Asociación de Hoteles

To listen to the show:

First Hour: https://www.letstalkhookup.com/show-archive/lets-talk-hookup-7-8am-live-from-loreto-with-the-sportfishing-association/

Second Hour: https://www.letstalkhookup.com/show-archive/lets-talk-hookup-8-9am-live-from-loreto-with-the-sportfishing-association/

AS A SIDE NOTE, a few days later the season’s first serious dorado catches were made by local charters … an encouraging sign after several years of dorado drought.

FRANKE WAS GIVEN the honor of firing the flare to send the more than 20 teams out to the fishing grounds surrounding Loreto in search of a winning fish.

Southbound again…
Memorial Day is approaching rapidly and I’m in the final staging of my annual drive south to Baja’s East Cape where I will relocate the “Roadtrek” in Baja Sur for the next seven months. It’s hard to believe that almost half of 2017 is already a fading memory.

THIS YEAR … THE first since 1973 … I actually have a choice of highways!

This year … the first since 1973 … I actually have a choice of highways; I’m going to let each of you do the math, because when I did it I was stunned. Where did all those years go?

Last year, after a weekend stay in Ensenada with Yvonne, where we attended a SAC (Sportfishing Association of California) sponsored remote broadcast of “Let’s Talk Hook-up” at Hotel Coral and Marina, at the last minute I decided to explore a new route (to me) — going east of Mex 3 and heading down Mex 5 until it intersected with Mex 1 at Laguna Chapala.

Last month, a friend Lizzie Crookham messaged about her trip on Mex 5 to the border, “Only 23 miles, about one hour, of rough dirt road. A great deal of Easter traffic. Love saving three-hours of travel time north to San Felipe from our home at Rancho Leonero.”

Since then I’ve been weighing my options, both as to border entry and the route to take.

Departing from Lake Elsinore, my options are varied:

1. Mexicali down Mex 5 to Mex 1;

2. Tecate down Mex 3 intersecting with Mex 5; then Mex1 farther down at Laguna Chapala.

3. Otay and “El Chaparral” border crossing at Tijuana; then down Mex 1 to Ensenada before going east on Mex 3; turning south on Mex 5; then after approximately 23 miles of unpaved under-construction road back on Mex 1.

Decisions…decisions…decisions. Each option has pros and cons for me.

• Mexicali is tempting; Chris Wheaton assures me that Mex 5 from there to San Felipe is well-maintained. However, I’m not familiar with the border crossing and not interested in wasting time figuring it out on this trip. Maybe on my return in November.

• Tecate also has some appeal as far as direct access to Mex 3; still two lanes and limited hours seems to be a drawback.

• All things considered Option 3, “El Chaparral” is the best choice for me. Open 24 hours, easy access to crossing and the ability to purchase FMM before crossing. Plus there is a straight shot around the outskirts of the city to the “Toll Road” and Mex 1.

Seems like every year the number of stops along the way increases. I definitely plan to take a short breather at Coco’s Corner to say hello and catch up on the locals’ opinion on the timing of the completion of the final 23-mile-stretch of dirt road that is left.

Next stop is Las Casitas Hotel, Santa Rosalia, where Brenda Goodson, the owner, has promised introductions to some of the local patriarchs who are willing to bring me up to speed on local history.

Then farther down the road at Mulege, a much-anticipated interview over lunch with 91-year-old veteran Baja entrepreneur and Hotel Serenidad owner, Don Johnson.

Following that interview, I’ll be hooking up with the Sportfishing Association of California team along with Pete Gray and Rick Cutler for a remote “Let’s Talk HookUp Show” broadcast on Saturday June 3 from the Port Captain’s office in Loreto. Tune in on Radio 1090 at 7 a.m. PST to hear the latest scoop on Loreto sportfishing and tourism.

That afternoon, it’s back on the road (Mex 1) again. Destination: Tailhunter Restaurant on the Malecón in La Paz to visit my buddies Jonathan and Jilly for a little R&R watching another magnificent sunset over the Baja Peninsula before a to-die-for fresh seafood dinner while catching up with the gang.

The last scheduled stop of the trip is Rancho Leonero at East Cape where Pete Gray will be hosting his 21st Annual Rancho Leonero “Let’s Talk HookUp” Spring Tournament sponsored by Rick Jensen’s Sportfishing Financial and Statewide Stripes.

The final leg of the 1,015 mile Southbound Tour ends at Theresa Comber’s “East Cape RV Resort” in Los Barriles. Always a welcome sight, a home away from home, where I have stayed off and on since it first opened years ago.

This trip should provide me with plenty of material for future columns and features at all the stops and it just whets my appetite for more. I’m certain I’ll find additional destinations and interesting people who I will want to revisit for future stories. But for this trip, I can’t wait to dig in to share some of the stories and places. I hope you will enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy discovering and writing about them.

Buena suerte y muchas gracias hasta la próxima vez.

Pesca La Baja Tournaments, forging friendships
In a mere four years, Pesca La Baja SEPESCABC has established itself as one of the “must-attend” family tournament series in Baja – not only drawing residents of communities where they are held, but also a growing number of anglers from California and beyond. What’s not to like? A competitive event wrapped in a fiesta is a proven formula attractive to both locals and visitors.

DON'T MISS THIS opportunity to participate in these memorable events held throughout northern Baja.

The first of the 2017 series begins with San Felipe on the Sea of Cortez at the local dock this week – May 19-20 – and continues monthly throughout the entire summer. The second will be held at San Luis Gonzaga, June 16-17 and based at Hotel Alfonsina’s, followed by Bahía de Los Ángeles, July 21-22 at the local launch ramp.

Then, the location moves west across the Baja Peninsula to Pacifica at Ensenada, Aug. 25-26 at API Sportfishing Docks before the fifth and Grand Finale, Sept. 22-23 at the Old Mill Hotel in San Quintín.

While most tournaments in Baja have a “cause,” Pesca la Baja simply celebrates sportfishing and the individual communities of anglers who share a common passion for the sport, of course merged with the challenge and rewards of winning.

“The Pesca La Baja Series has been a very fun set of tournaments. I have been fishing them since the beginning and they are well run in really nice locations,” Chris Wheaton, from Orange County, an IGFA Representative and World Record Holder, marveled recently.

The numbers of participants or spectators has grown every year as has the enthusiasm for the event. It manages to blend local and visiting anglers into a unique celebration of sportfishing in towns and villages throughout Baja Norte where “Pesca la Baja” thrives.

Total immersion comes in many shapes. Fishermen from outside Baja and beyond who I’ve spoken with over the years delight in the chance to share their passion for fishing with local anglers, in many cases creating lasting bonds of friendship during these two-day events that have allowed an introduction to Baja’s rich family and fishing culture. Of course, under normal circumstances, this is often something that can only be accomplished after years of residing or traveling and exploring the rugged coast of Baja.

This weekend’s event at San Felipe, only 124 miles below the border, is a great opportunity to view one of the tournaments without driving too far. Don’t miss this opportunity to participate in these memorable events held throughout northern Baja. You won’t be disappointed. Often it takes a long time “to know what you don’t know” but in this case you can find out in only a couple of days.

Rules, schedules, places of registration of participants, meeting of captains, time of departure and arrival of boats, weighing of species and awards of the tournaments, are established by local conditions and facilities available.

The rules are straightforward with the competition divided into two categories of heaviest fish:

Surface: Corvina, yellowtail, dorado, sierra, billfish, yellowfin tuna and albacore.

Bottom: All species excluding rays and sharks.

Entry fees range from $700 MXN pesos for adults to $150 MXN pesos for children under 12. US ($38-$8)

Cash Prizes range from around $25,000 MXN pesos to $3,000 MXN pesos for heaviest fish, either surface or bottom. US ($1,350 - $55)

Award for the champion and accumulated best scores of all the series:

Grand Prize: Suzuki outboard motor, 115 hp, plus $30,000 MXN pesos in cash accumulating a total of $ 260,000 MXN pesos in prizes. US ($1,386)

2nd Place: $50,000 MXN pesos in cash plus registration for the Bisbee's Offshore Tournament in Cabo San Lucas. US ($2,666)

3rd Place: $30,000 MXN pesos in cash. US ($1,600)


Captain Jesus Araiza, a Baja Legend
I began writing my “Road Trekker” columns in 2008 and Jesus Araiza was often mentioned in them; several times he was even the main topic. Sadly, he passed away at the age of 79 on April 8, quietly at his home in Los Barriles, BCS, surrounded by family members.

THIS ACCOUNTED FOR the fact that he was mentioned in most of their writings over the years: Ray Cannon, followed by Tom Miller, Fred Hoctor and then Gene Kira, who assumed the Baja column upon Hoctor’s death. Photo credit Jonathan Roldan

One of oldest remaining charter boat captains in Baja’s East Cape Region, Jesus held a remarkable front row seat to the evolution of Baja sportfishing stretching back to 1955, the early days of Rancho Buena Vista Hotel; his journey was well documented and filled with fascinating tales that only being there could provide. Not only was he one of the first “Tag & Release” captains in the East Cape area, he was also awarded the High Skipper Award for “Tag & Release” 19 different years during his career. His reputation as one of the top captains at the “Ranch” was legend and he was so popular that he was often booked several seasons in advance.

It’s no wonder he fished with so many of the WON Baja columnists throughout their careers and was acquainted with the others. This accounted for the fact that he was mentioned in most of their writings over the years: Ray Cannon, followed by Tom Miller, Fred Hoctor and then Gene Kira, who assumed the Baja column upon Hoctor’s death.

Jesus retired in 2008 from Hotel Buenavista Beach Resort, a neighboring hotel, leaving the day-to-day fishing to his sons; today his grandson, Tony, captains the “Retriever” a 66-foot Viking fishing out of Cabo San Lucas.

Jesus could often be found each afternoon in the front yard of his corner family compound sitting beneath his favorite shade tree enjoying the afternoon breeze.

Last summer, I visited Jesus for the last time. He seemed happy, quite content, and of course we shared many of our amusing East Cape fishing tales.

I’m honored to have been Jesus’ friend over the past 37 years. I always enjoyed seeing him and learning his perspective about the many changes in East Cape and beyond. In addition, his sportfishing experiences had earned him the respect and admiration of the many friends and acquaintances we shared and we had many stories to compare, both on the water and off.

The news of his passing reverberated throughout Baja in general, and specifically among his many friends and admirers in the sportfishing community.

“He was a great man. I was very lucky to spend time on the water with Don Jesus. The stories he told of the golden age of East Cape fishing are burned into my brain forever! Gary, you may recall when you had your tackle stored at Jesus's house in Los Barriles? There was a real Baja treasure in that storage room. Jesus's dog eared copy of The Sea of Cortez, signed to Jesus by Ray Cannon and Harry Merrick.”… Lance Peterson

“R.I.P. Jesus.”… Bill Harris

“I just wanted to tell you how much the article that you wrote meant to our Captain Tony Ariaza, his grandson and the family. They were astonished to learn things they didn't know.”… Martha Macnab

Vaya Con Dios Sr. Araiza! … Tuna Dave

“Very upsetting. I lived across the street from him a few years ago in Los Barriles and remember when I first arrived there I would see him out in the yard, just sitting there for hours on end with his dog.

“After about three weeks I finally went over and introduced myself on my way out to the beach. On my ATV was my fishing gear and he proceeded to ask me where I was going to fish?

“From that day on I would stop by on my way out or in and listen to one of his stories or pieces of local advice about fishing. Occasionally, I would take him some mahi fillets or cabrilla that I would catch on the beach. He will be missed and may he rest in peace.” … Kyle Banashek

“Great guy and a great fisherman.”… Andrew Hughes

“I remember this very distinguished man. I never knew him. I could tell, by looking at him, that he had a rich history. So sorry to hear of his passing.”… Diane Staley Aerts

I had the privilege to know and fish with Jesus. He was my skipper in 1963 at the Ranch when I caught my first marlin when I was 5 years old, unassisted. He had me bear down and do it by myself. R.I.P. Jesus. You will be missed by all.”… John Duckett

“Amazing fishing family.”… Thomas Neikirk

Araiza’s sportfishing legacy is secure in the family dynasty of 7 children, 14 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren, some of whom work within the recreational sportfishing industry which will benefit from his heritage; the Araiza family will continue to influence East Cape and Baja for future generations.

Links to prior stories

Jesus Araiza, Captain with Class


Unexpected Encounters


Baja's Feliz Navidad spirit sparkles


Moon Baja: Tijuana to Los Cabos
I first met the Kramers . . . Hugh and Carol and their children, Jen and David . . . as they explored the Baja peninsula in a VW camper. Our paths would cross over the years as I also traveled those same roads and beaches.

Hugh’s first trip to Baja was in the mid-sixties. After he and Carol were married in the early 70s, their shared fascination for Baja became the foundation for a lifetime of adventure exploring the deserts, mountains and pristine beaches found there.

FORTIFIED BY HER knowledge and based on her many years of travel throughout the land, Jennifer’s passion for Baja is apparent in this extraordinary guidebook.

They established “Discover Baja,” a family-owned and operated club in 1991, allowing them to share their knowledge of the Baja Peninsula, its people, culture and nature wonders with their growing membership.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago … I received a copy of “Moon Baja: Tijuana to Los Cabos” by Jennifer Kramer – yes, the same Jen, daughter of Carol and Hugh. Not only was I impressed with the way Jennifer shared her perspective on Baja, steering the reader from the border to the tip on a remarkably detailed and memorable experience, but she also provided expertly crafted maps, gorgeous photos, and her trustworthy advice, providing the tools necessary for planning an exciting tailor-made Baja adventure.

Whether you want to taste your way through wine country, are looking for info about the most productive fishing hot spots or the region’s premier surfing spots, this 400-page, up-to-date guidebook covers activities and must-have information for every Baja adventurer all in a travel-sized handbook to carry for easy reference (also available in Kindle format).

Jen is a “Baja Babe” through and through, getting an early start before she was out of grammar school. Sending out membership renewal mailings, helping out at club events, and, of course, traveling all over Baja with her parents, she even wrote the “Jenny’s Jaunts” column for the newsletter more than 20 years ago, chronicling the Baja peninsula from a child’s perspective.

At 18, she headed to the Big Apple to study journalism at NYU … about as far removed within the U.S. from the Baja of her childhood as she could be. She became immersed in the fashion industry, working for a variety of magazines such as Marie Claire, W, Vanity Fair and InStyle. During the next decade, she fine-tuned her writing and editing skills while still longing for her family and her beloved Baja. Ultimately, she discovered she could take the girl out of Baja, but she could not take Baja out of the girl.

Joyfully, she returned to the West Coast in 2013. She is now the marketing director for Discover Baja, where she edits and writes the monthly newsletter and coordinates special events.

She met her husband Chris Mejia while still in New York and discovered that he was also a child of Baja; they were brought together by that common thread. He was introduced to Baja at an early age by his family as well, and their passion for the peninsula runs so deep that they chose to exchange wedding vows in the heart of the Valle de Guadalupe in 2015. They now call northern Baja home.

Their company, Baja Test Kitchen, leads custom wine, beer and culinary tours of the Valle de Guadalupe region. Jen continues to write about her beloved Baja; stories that have appeared in Yahoo News, San Diego Reader, San Diego Red, and Discover Baja. Additionally, she writes a blog, “The Other California,” where she recommends Baja restaurants, wineries, breweries, hotels and other interesting places.

As for her book, Jennifer writes, “My promise to you with the Baja Moon handbook is to bring you the most up-to-date information possible with the best places and hidden gems along the peninsula; to enhance your travel experience and bring you closer to Baja’s beautiful culture and people; to tear down walls, prejudices, and discrimination. The more we travel, the more we open our eyes to the outside world and to humanity in general.

“I hope that this book gives you useful information to use on your journey, and, more importantly, I hope it inspires you to get out and explore more of Baja. I grew up traveling and loving the peninsula and wanted to share that enthusiasm with everyone by presenting some of Baja’s best treasures in this book. As it is an on-going project with updated editions that I’ll be working on in the future, I welcome your feedback and suggestions for subsequent editions,” she concluded.

Fortified by her knowledge and based on her many years of travel throughout the land, Jennifer’s passion for Baja is apparent in this extraordinary guidebook.

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