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

Sportfishing Association of California revisits Mazatlán
Captain Ken Franke, Sportfishing Association of California along with Kenia Zamarripa, SAC’s Director of Marketing and International Affairs and the “Let’s Talk Hook-Up” crew which included Pete Gray and his sound engineer, Rick Cutler, (Hookup1090.com) was met by Juan Acereto - President of Sinaloa's Sport Fishing Association in Mazatlán on what would be a whirlwind trip leaving on Thursday, April 21 at 5 p.m. and returning Saturday, April 23 around 9:30 p.m. I was fortunate to be included in that group. Encouraged by the results of last year’s efforts, the goal of the SAC team was to promote sportfishing and other recreational opportunities available in the region using the same techniques as they had the previous year, when they successfully encouraged the return of the cruise ships and visiting yachts to Mazatlan.

WE MET AND then crossed at Cross Border Xpress (CBX) at Otay Mesa.

We met and then crossed at Cross Border Xpress (CBX) at Otay Mesa. I had heard many favorable reports about the facility and was eager to check it out for myself. I was impressed!

Since opening to serve the public on December 9, 2015, an average of 2,000 passengers per day have utilized the facility on a typical day, while approximately 5,000 passengers per day have used the crossing during peak holiday travel periods, according to Elizabeth Brown, spokesperson for CBX.

Traveling together in Franke’s truck, which he parked in the adjoining parking lot for $15 per day, we were soon unloaded and headed for the entrance.

It was a simple check-in process. After filling out an FMM, (no charge since we were gone less than a week), our boarding pass was verified, baggage was inspected, and we had a brisk walk across the enclosed pedestrian bridge -- approximately 390 feet long and 33 feet wide. Soon we were in the lobby of the Tijuana Airport and standing at the Volaris Ticket Counter -- the first line we had encountered since entering the building on the U.S. side. After checking our luggage we headed to the Boarding Gate with nearly a half-hour to spare before boarding our flight. All of this took about the same amount of time it would have taken to go to San Diego Airport, go through the TSA line and arrive at the gate for departure. Pretty remarkable!

We checked into the Pueblo Bonito, Emerald Bay later that evening and Friday morning held our first meeting/press conference. With Kenia Zamarripa translating, Captain Ken Franke, Pete Gray, Juan Acereto and Esteban Balderrama – Undersecretary of Tourism Promotion & Operation for the State of Sinaloa, all welcoming the local press and other guests.

ESTEBAN BALDERRAMA LEFT, Mario Aguilar, Captain Ken Franke and Pete Gray

Franke briefly described the goals and successes of the team’s prior visit in 2015, which had been to confirm with “Let’s Talk Hook-Up” radio show broadcast throughout the United States and beyond, that the Port of Mazatlán and surrounding areas had been renewed and revitalized. The beaches, restaurants and hotels are immaculate, and the Malecón has a lively atmosphere with artwork, fountains and palm trees. In addition, the Port of Mazatlán has all the facilities needed to serve cruise ships and visiting yachts but most importantly, the Mazatlán people were eager for them to return.

According to Alfonso Gil, General Director, Port of Mazatlán, there are currently over 90 cruise ships scheduled to stop in the Port, which is a remarkable improvement over the one cruise ship that visited Mazatlán in 2012."

On Saturday morning there would be a similar two-hour broadcast hosting guests Mario Aguilar – Commissioner of CONAPESCA, Alfonso Gil – General Director, Port of Mazatlán, Esteban Balderrama – Undersecretary of Tourism, Sinaloa, Juan Acereto – President, Sportfishing Association of Sinaloa , Jose Gamez – General Manager, Pueblo Bonito Hotels and Geronimo Cevallos – El Cid Marina Manager.

All described the many exciting and diversified sportfishing, recreational and tourism related activities found throughout the city and the surrounding areas and all added their view on the importance of the program, concluding with a robust question and answer session before closing. The attendees were invited to attend the broadcast on Saturday morning at the Pueblo Bonito, Emerald Bay.

The following morning the SAC group and special guests along with spectators and members of the press gathered on the sun bathed Pueblo Bonito, Emerald Bay terrace overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

During the first hour of the live call in “Let’s Talk Hook-Up” show, hosts Pete Gray and Captain Ken Franke welcomed Alfonso Gil, Juan Acereto and Geronimo who discussed sportfishing, tournaments, marinas, charter fleets, weather and the freshwater bass fishing available in surrounding area.

They were followed by Jose Gamez and Esteban Balderrama, who expanded on the number of airline flights available and the convenience of the Cross Border Xpress (CBX) at Otay Mesa.

The second hour was devoted to Mario Aguilar – Commissioner of CONAPESCA, discussing the importance of cooperation between his agency, SAC and National Marine Fisheries. He fielded many caller’s questions and comments, including a call from Scott Sherman, San Diego City Council, representing District 7 on behalf of the Honorable Mayor Kevin Falconer, San Diego. Sherman praised the Commissioner’s ongoing cooperation on behalf of the San Diego Unified Port District and U.S anglers visiting Mexico. As the program came to a close, Aguilar commented, “Twenty-nine- million visitors who come to Mexico every year can be assured that ‘Sportfishing’ is one of Mexico’s most treasured industries that we intend to protect and improve.”

Captain Ken Franke added, “Mazatlán is an important hub of sportfishing in Mexico and simply stated, SAC wants to ensure that U.S. anglers visiting the country have a memorable trip.”

In closing, Pete Gray observed that SAC has developed its website into an important resource for anglers and boat owners planning to visit Mexico in the future.

Baja tournaments loom
The Baja season is still in the formative stages and the tournament list continues to grow. From San Felipe to the tip of Baja, the calendar already consists of every kind of event imaginable to whet the competitive appetite of anglers with varying skill levels.

THESE FIVE EVENTS are held in remote towns on both the Sea of Cortez and the West Coast of Baja Norte.

The following are the events that I’m aware of through the end of July:

(The five) 2016 Pesca la Baja Sport Fishing Tournaments

These five events are held in remote towns on both the Sea of Cortez and the West Coast of Baja Norte. Inexpensive, they are local affairs sponsored by Sepesca Baja California; not only do these grass-root affairs attract the local residents, but they also appeal to a growing number of visitors from across the border. Their popularity has grown from the camaraderie that exists among the participants.

1. San Felipe, B.C. — May 13 and 14.

2. San Luis Gonzaga, B.C. — June 10 and 11

3. Bahía de los Ángeles, B.C. — July 15 and 16

4. San Quintín, B.C. — Aug. 19 and 20

5. GRAND FINALE Ensenada, B.C. — Sept. 23 and 24 http://www.pescalabaja.com/p-pescalabaja2015english.php

Mulege Dorado Tournament, June 1 – 4

June 1-- Captains meeting. June 2 , 3 and 4 -- Fishing 2 out of 3 days dictated by weather followed by Saturday night Rib Dinner at Geckos. Sunday Awards Banquet at Jungla Jims.

For more information contact Bill at mulegefishingtournament@gmail.com

Punta Chivato, Bulls Only — Dates not available at press time.

Los Cabos, Stars and Stripes Charity Tournament, June 23 – 26

The annual Stars & Stripes Tournament, a sportfishing, golf, and music festival benefiting youth charities, has been held in Los Cabos since 1997. This event has benefited youth on both sides of the international border, including Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Orange County, scholarship programs for Mexican youth, as well as medical services for facial reconstruction and many, many additional charities.

Stars & Stripes has raised and donated more than $20 million to worthy youth charities both in California and Baja over the past 19 years making it the one of the largest tournaments of its kind in the world. More Info: http://www.starsandstripestournament.com/


Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto Golf and Dorado Tournament, June 29 - July 2

Registrants will tee off at the new Rees Jones-designed Danzante Bay Golf Course for an inaugural golf tournament on Thursday, June 30, followed by two days of fishing.

With an entry fee of $2,000 per team (up to four members), participants will receive a kick-off cocktail reception at the resort, an entry into a two-day fishing tournament with a shotgun start, an entry into the one-day golf tournament, a tournament polo shirt and cap, and a seat at the awards celebration dinner. First-place fishing tournament winners will take home $5,000, and second place will follow with a certificate for a four-day, and three-night stay for two at the host hotel. Daily jackpots of $500 or $1,000 will be up for grabs as well. More info: http://www.villadelpalmarloreto.com/dorado2016

Tripui Sports Fishing Tournament, June 30 – 2

Sign-up for the 8th Annual Tripui Sports Fishing Tournament will be on Thursday June 30, and fishing will be Friday and Saturday, July 1 – 2. Mexican Buffet Fiesta will be held Friday night and the awards dinner will be held Saturday night.

The purpose of this event has always been to raise donations for local Loreto area needy groups. This should be another fun-filled event.

If you have any questions or if you plan on entering contact: Bud Dees, Tournament Director Email: tripuisportsfishing@outlook.com Mexico Phone: 011-52-613-133-0044 Magic Jack: (661) 771-2163

Fishing for the Mission, July 7 thru 9

Thursday - July 7 - 4:00 p.m. Sign up at the Marina. COST: $200. US Dollars Cash Only! Entry fee includes four shirts, ($10 extra per shirts), one goodie bag per boat, four Tri-Tip meal tickets and raffle tickets. WALK UPS ARE WELCOME AT THE TIME OF REGISTRATION! PRE-REGISTER your BOAT by emailing the President at luhrs32reeltime@aol.com. Include the name of the boat/team and team shirt sizes. Four shirts per boat.

Friday - July 8 - Day 1 of the Fishing tournament. Weigh in will close at 4:00 p.m. sharp. In the evening a raffle for all the captains of Loreto.

Saturday - July 9 - Day 2 of the Fishing tournament -- again the scales will close at 4 p.m. sharp. 7 p.m. Awards/Closing party begins.

Committee: Chris Wheaton, Jim Duggins, Jerry Heart, Doug Cox, Jaime Gonzalez.

More info; http://www.fishingforthemission.com/index.asp?m=1&page=27

Los Barriles

12th Annual Van Wormer Resorts Dorado Shootout – July 16 (Palmas De Cortez & Playa Del Sol).

There will be optional jackpots available of $200, $300, $500, and $1,000. One team will walk away with a new 2016 Pickup Truck during this one-day tournament. Largest dorado wins! For more information www.doradoshootout.com or contact Kit McNear at sportfishingkit@cox.net.To make reservations (877) 777-8862.

While dorado are the most popular target of many of the events, the formats and entry fees are varied enough to satisfy the requirements of Baja anglers wanting to have some fun. And maybe with a little skill, tempered with a lot of luck, many can cash in or load up with some great prizes up to and including a brand new pick-up truck.

Abnormal or the new normal?
Southern California memories of the phenomenal 2015 fishing season are still reverberating. The first quarter of 2016 whizzed past with less rain than promised and the major fishing shows began and finished earlier than normal with record attendance while attendees and exhibitors debated whether the 2015 season was a flash in the pan or the new normal.

The fledgling 2016 season has already provided surprises. New Year’s Day dawned with a small convoy of boats heading out in search of the first billfish of the season, believing it to be a slam dunk after the late billfish finish. However, despite sightings and near misses, the first billfish trophies remain unclaimed.

A 50-POUND BLUEFIN near Todos Santos.

Below the border from the Coronado Islands down the West Coast of Baja to San Quintin, fishing remained almost spring-like with yellowtail, calicos and even a few WSB to peak anglers’ interest. Then, in mid-March, the 2015 craziness returned with the landing of bluefin tuna at Colonet on a day-and-a-half trip. Encouraged, several other sport boats scheduled exploratory trips and were rewarded with limits of bluefin for their limited loads. As well as another 50-pound bluefin near Todos Santos.

Much to the dismay of Baja anglers farther down the Pacific Coast, from Bahia Ascension to Lands’ End, fishing reports have been tepid to say the least … a few billfish, and a sprinkling of yellowfin tuna, and wahoo; dorado almost non-existent.

Up the other side of the Peninsula, unusually strong North Winds have prevailed in the Sea of Cortez. In between the blows, the boats that ventured out were rewarded with a few billfish along with an occasional yellowfin tuna plus wahoo. In fact it’s fair to say that the wahoo catches are one of the few high points of last year and early this season.

Reports have trickled in of moderately decent yellowtail as well as amberjack, grouper, cabrilla and triggerfish catches at Loreto, Mulege and San Lucas Cove. The inclusion of the latter is always a warning sign that fishing is slow.

Normally, April is the time of year that anglers start to head for their favorite spot in Baja for a fishing fix before the summer fishing heats up at home. In spite of warmer than normal sea temps in the waters surrounding Baja this year, the bite is slow to get started. Admittedly, there have been fewer boats fishing the different areas. However, the recent spike of spring break visitors didn’t seem to create an uptick in “catch” scores.

Thus far, mirroring last year’s late season conditions, below-the-border action seems to be ahead of the normal schedule again this year in the northern sector of Baja on the Pacific side.

Predictions in these uncharted conditions are a dime a dozen. However, all the signs seem to indicate that in the offshore upper West Coast of Baja, the bite is improving as we move towards summer.

Farther south, the reports are positive for billfish and other offshore species and their lack of interest in almost anything thrown at them. It may simply be an indication that there is a lot of squid as well as miles and miles of red crab on the Pacific side, confirmed by long range boats and the yacht sport fishers traveling up and down the coast.

On both sides of the peninsula of Baja Sur, the inshore has already been producing good catches of sierra, amberjack, jack crevalle and roosterfish. On the Pacific side near the tip, the yellowtail have just begun to show in deep water and hopefully, that bite will continue to expand over the next few months.

As spring settles in and the North Wind disappears, we expect the yellowtail from Las Arenas to Santa Rosalia to continue until early May.

One huge question mark is whether the larger dorado will return. Although there have been some up to five pounds caught off La Paz recently, last year’s crop failed to produce many above 15 pounds, even in the numerous tournaments held throughout the summer.

Last but not least for many: the Baja Sur beaches have already produced small-to-medium-sized roosterfish and jack crevalle for the handful of anglers who have been fishing the beaches. The key to better catches will be the amount of sardina (flat iron herring) that show up on local beaches.

In 2015, we hoped for a good year and it turned out to exceed our wildest expectations! With 2016 already teasing us with the prospects of another banner year, it may answer the question asked by many: Are the conditions a short-term abnormality or the new normal? Only time will tell.

‘Mama Espinosa’ ‘Vaya con Dios’
Although saddened, I wasn’t surprised when I received the following message: “We want to share with you the sad news — on March 12 our dearest Anita Grosso, "Mama Espinosa," at the age of 109 succumbed to old age after a long, long, long life full of achievements and blessings.”

Anita Grosso was born in 1906 in El Rosario, a small village in northern Baja. She was extremely bright and outgoing. Seizing the opportunity, in the 1930s, she opened the doors of her home to feed the few Baja travelers passing through on the unpaved road.

And in 1967 her restaurant, which she named “Mama Espinosa’s,” opened, offering her famous lobster dishes. That same year, NORRA organized the very first Baja 1,000 race and used her restaurant as the first checkpoint. The number of travelers has grown and now numbers into the thousands who pass through El Rosario each year.

ANITA GROSSO'S LIFE, all 109 years, spanned the “formative years” of Baja, and she was always eager to share her exciting stories with newcomers and seasoned Baja travelers alike who wandered into her El Rosario place.

I ventured down Mex One for the first time after it opened in the early ’70s— three “30-something’s” from San Diego seeking adventure, David Lewis, James Sipman and myself driving a bare-bones Dodge van with two bucket seats, no paneling — just a cold steel floor carrying the barest of camping essentials — nothing like my fully self-contained “Roadtrek” of today.

The Señora greeted us as we sauntered into the artifact-filled room mid-afternoon of our first day on the road. Memorializing our trip with tales of her husband’s, Heraclio Espinosa, archeological exploits in the huge arroyo we had just driven through and punctuating her stories with dinosaur bones he had uncovered, the afternoon quickly passed. Full of lobster burritos washed down with beer and wine, we inquired about a suitable camping spot; she directed us to a dirt road heading west to Punta Baja. Thus began the two-week road trip that was the foundation for a lifetime’s fascination with Baja.

Several years later on the first of several road trips I made with a new-found friend, Tom Miller, WON columnist, Baja author and aficionado, and ultimately partner in a Mexican Insurance business, we stopped at Mama Espinosa’s.

We had traveled through the southern equivalent of California’s San Joaquin Valley. Cardboard shacks lined both sides of the highway at that time  — housing of immigrant workers who were transported in rattle-trap busses back and forth to labor in the produce fields surrounding San Quintin.

“In the early years, her kitchen was the last frontier,” Tom explained about Mama Espinosa as he drove his Subaru, easily identifiable with SR BAJA license plates, down the winding, snakelike road toward the village of El Rosario (about a quarter of the way down to Los Cabos).

As we dug into our plates of steaming lobster burritos at Mama Espinosa’s, the Señora plopped down in a chair at our table, telling Tom that she had sold all his books he had left on his last trip. Of course Tom had a stash in the car and replenished her supply before we left. Her attention then turned to me. “You were here once before,” she stated. And then she asked if I had seen her “Guest Book.”

I was surprised that she had remembered me from the earlier trip and when I shook my head no, she brought the book to the table and opened it up.

“Visitors have been signing this book since the 1940s,” she proudly explained. As I thumbed through the dusty, yellowed pages, it was like reading a Who’s Who of Baja travelers: Erle Stanley Gardner, Ray Cannon and Roscoe “Pappy” Hazard were only a few of the names that jumped off the pages at me.

For two of the original three Baja musketeers, Lewis and me, Baja has become a frequent destination, often including a visit to that fabled place on what has become a busy corner in El Rosario — only a wide spot on a dirt track before Mex One was built. Now it’s a bustling village with a handful of motels and restaurants to accommodate travelers, stretching several miles east toward the bridge across the arroyo, leading to the badlands of the peninsula’s interior.

Anita Grosso’s life, all 109 years, spanned the “formative years” of Baja, and she was always eager to share her exciting stories with newcomers and seasoned Baja travelers alike who wandered into her place.

"Mama Espinosa" was a Baja Icon admired by many. She brought honor and respect to her family of more than 100 members along with the responsibility of continuing her legacy. Her death is not the individual sorrow in the loss of a loved one. It is much, much wider than that, reaching thousands and thousands of travelers, whose lives were touched by her.

"Vaya con Dios" to our friend Mama Espinosa, a charming lady, founder of the Flying Samaritans, who lived a full life, spanning over ten decades; she will be missed by many.

Down to the sea in small boats … again!
Vagabundos del Mar’s 50th Anniversary Celebratory Sea of Cortez Cruise on Mother Ship Tony Reyes

THE 107-FOOT steel hull ship will carry 22-foot pangas for daily fishing

In his Jan. 11, 1957 column Los Cruceros, WON Baja columnist Ray Cannon described the monumental adventure of Bob and Roy Francis, Martin Rothschild and Kenneth Anderson, who made the first recorded cruise from San Felipe to La Paz in 16-foot boats, Bloody Mary II and San Francisco Babe.

Headlined “FOUR HARDY SMALL-BOAT DEVOTEES IN HISTORIC FELIPE-LA PAZ TRIP," it declared that the November, 1956 trip was the dawning of a new era of cruising the Sea of Cortez. (See Gene Kira's “The Unforgettable Sea of Cortez.")

In 1957, Cannon and Eugene Perry followed in a small boat from San Felipe to Isla Lorenzo. “This was my introduction to small boating in the Sea of Cortez,” Cannon commented, “and the trip was a thing of joy from start to finish.”

In 1958, Ralph Clock, a member of the esteemed Tuna Club, traveled all the way to Cabo San Lucas in a 15-foot outboard, setting the record for Baja’s longest small-boat cruise at that time.

In 1966, budding Baja aficionado Chet Sherman invited a group of his trailer-boater buddies to join him in their first foray of cruising Baja’s mysterious Sea of Cortez.

Tales of “fish ’til you drop” days on the mirror-like sea, rafting up in deserted remote anchorages beneath star-filled velvety night skies, of meeting the challenges of navigating the daunting Baja roads, pooling knowledge, ingenuity and sometimes spare parts, forged a strong bond within the group.

The sharing of these experiences and knowledge became the ultimate cornerstone of Vagabundos del Mar, which emerged formally as a Boat and Travel Club in 1971. The name originated from the Mexican fishermen who used to roam the Sea of Cortez in sailing log canoes, described by Cannon in his book, "Sea of Cortez."

For the past 50 years, the non-profit club has assisted thousands of Baja travelers by offering Mexican insurance, guided adventure tours, Mexican tourist permits, fishing licenses, current information on travel conditions – either online or by telephone. Trailer boaters have since followed by land and sea, meeting the challenge of hauling boats of all sizes and descriptions down Mex 1 to enjoy Baja’s renowned fishing.

Mike Bales, author and publisher, and a member of Vagabundos del Mar since 1979, manning the booth for his 25th year at the 70th annual Fred Hall Show, told me of the upcoming celebration planned for the commemoration of their Golden Anniversary: a Sea of Cortez fishing adventure departing San Felipe aboard the “Tony Reyes,” July 31-Aug. 5.

The 107-foot steel-hull ship will carry 22-foot pangas for daily fishing. The pangas are fitted with VHF radios so the mothership can monitor their locations at all times and will carry three anglers plus a guide. Accommodations aboard the “Tony Reyes” include air-conditioned staterooms, hot showers, restrooms, fish cleaning, ice machines; drinks, including beer, soda and water. Meals are served in the mother ship’s full-service galley.

After departing San Felipe on Sunday, the Tony Reyes will travel 250 miles south along the Baja coastline until reaching the Midriff Islands – the acknowledged “Fish Trap of the Sea of Cortez.” Dubbed by many as “Yellowtail Alley,” there is also fishing for cabrilla, snapper, dorado, and grouper for four and one-half days, returning to San Felipe on Friday afternoon.

An exciting feature is that trailer-boater members can be part of the trip by towing their boats south to Bahia Willard or LA Bay, then meeting the “Tony Reyes” south of Bahia de Los Angeles on Monday morning.

Member boats will fish alongside the pangas in areas not normally accessible to small boats due to the distance from the LA Bay; the mother ship will carry extra fuel for sale to the private boaters. Members will sleep, eat, and fish from their own boats during that time.

This is a fantastic opportunity to join other club members in a trip back in time, battling fish on the same terms that thrilled anglers over a half-century ago.

While at the Vag’s booth last week discussing the upcoming trip, I ran into David and Judi Sutton, Downey Club members for over 20 years who had stopped by to reserve their spot on the trip. I had met them at Rancho Leonero last summer. Judi confided, “When we received the email, I told David we had to do this! He responded that it was a hard-core trip and might be tough on a woman.”

She firmly concluded with a grin, “I told him, I want to go, so count me in!”

The total cost of the trip is $1,445.00. This includes fishing license, tips for all crew members, daily jackpot, all meals, fishing, fish cleaning, etc. Not included are local hotels/meals before and after the trip, fishing equipment, personal gear and transportation to and from San Felipe. For more information on the trip or how to become a member, contact Mike Bales, cortezpub@aol.com or the Vagabundos Del Mar office 800-474-2252.

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