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CALIFORNIA'S ONLY SPORTSMAN'S NEWS SINCE 1953

Gary Graham's Blog



ROAD TREKKER /
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

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).


thefishcleaner
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.


anotherskinnytail
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.


Rooster surprise
This is about the fishing in Loreto – a destination that built its reputation on dorado stretching back to the glory days of Ed Tabor and his Flying Sportsman Lodge and Ray Cannon, the original Baja editor for Western Outdoor News, who helped make dorado the town’s summer time poster child whose articles attracted anglers literally from around the world. Of course, there were other popular species, yellowtail, and billfish and somewhere down a ways on the list would be roosterfish … particularly trophy-sized ones.

Confounding the story further, Loreto Sea and Land's owner Captain Juve Orozco (with 40-plus years of Baja ocean and land experience) guided Stephen and Cheri Sankey from northern California on an overnight camping/kayaking trip to Carmen Island in May. After paddling most of the day, the couple decided to hop on the support panga with Captain Juve and kick back for the rest of the voyage to the island. 


captainjuevorozco
CAPTAIN JUVE OROZCO struggles with the grande pez gallo before its successful release.

Captain Juve suggested they troll a couple of lures as they made their way along the southern tip of Carmen Island, thinking they might catch a cabrilla or pargo for fresh fish fajitas and triggerfish ceviche dinners.


While cruising off the palm trees at the tip of Carmen Island, they spotted a commotion of splashes and diving birds. They ran to the spot, slowing down as two cabrilla rigs went in the water. Steve's rig was the first to get hit as they trolled near the battle zone. In a few minutes, he landed a 24-inch Pacific dog snapper and he was stoked. Living in northern California where the stocked trout are less than legal and this fish was five-times larger than any other he had ever caught; its teeth amazed him. What a thrill!


Wisely, the captain made a circle, returning near the spot where they had the pargo bite. On the second pass it was Cheri’s turn. The clatter of the reel’s clicker startled her as the rod bent practically double.


The three gasped at the line as it disappeared from the Penn 500, fueling a discussion on what they had hooked. Was it a snagged turtle or manta ray? When nothing showed on the surface after a few minutes, the air breathing turtle was eliminated.


With light line, the chase was on with the "follow-the-leader game" nearly halfway across the channel to Danzante Island before turning back toward Carmen Island. When, finally at 20 minutes or so, the unmistakable roosterfish comb-like dorsal appeared slicing through the sea’s surface.


It was touch and go for the next 90 minutes as the three collectively held their breath while the angler desperately tried to stay connected to the tiring monster. Captain Juve put on a boat handling seminar, maneuvering the steering wheel back and forth as they followed the fish until it was on its side alongside the boat.


Quickly removing the hooks, it took the skipper three tries to lift the huge rooster for a couple of quick photos. Within a few minutes, the rooster was back in the water and revived. As soon as the kick returned to her tail, she was off swimming for deeper, darker water and finally disappeared from sight.


So how big was that roosterfish? Captain Juve commented later that it weighed about "100 pounds … maybe more."


All of that certainly puts it in the trophy category by anyone’s definition. Regardless of your tackle persuasion – fly, spinning or conventional – long overlooked roosterfish or pez gallo as the locals call them, may be a worthy addition to your bucket list when planning a dorado trip to Loreto during the summer. I'll bet Ray Cannon and Ed Tabor didn't see that coming!


The Malecón Miracle
In January, "Circuito Cultural Cabo Marina" began appearing on social media sites and in a few press releases. As months passed, more and more intriguing images of crowds strolling along a stretch of the malecón fronting the IGY Marina on Saturday afternoons appeared, and a closer look showed canopies sheltering local Mexican artists displaying their unique creations.

Brian Solomon of Solomon's Landing Restaurant was one of the names mentioned in the press and media as a supporter of the "Circuito Cultural Cabo Marina," but peeling down through a few layers of rhetoric, I discovered Solomon was more of a ringleader.


Timing my last trip to Cabo so that I could see this phenomenon for myself, I wasn't disappointed. I arrived early on Saturday and found my friend Solomon already prowling the malecón, animatedly chatting with exhibitors as they set up their displays and visiting with the organizers and volunteers as they set up the stage in front of the towering blue marlin statue.


underliningtheeventsUNDERLINING THE EVENT'S success is the continued growth in the number of exhibitors, performers and spectators in the first five months. PHOTO BY JOE TYSON

Brian proudly introduced me to one of the coordinators, Robert Schultz, a retiree from the Bay Area who has been involved with the project from the beginning.


"The "Circuito Cultural Cabo Marina" isn't just about art," Solomon elaborated. "It's much, much more – the event provides a glimpse into the culture of Baja and beyond for both locals and visitors.”


WOW! I was impressed!


Local dancers in authentic costumes twirled, snapping their fingers and stomping their feet to the rhythm of the music as spectators crowded close, clapping in time while cheering on performers. Dancers were followed by Mexican “

Los Novios de Mariana (Mariana's Boyfriends).” One in particular thrilled the crowd with their pitch-perfect renditions of the "Bee Gees" favorites. The sounds of the Mexican Variety Show echoed throughout the marina well into the evening.


Tables laden with hand-crafted jewelry, colorful hand-painted plates, vases, sculptured items, easels and backdrops covered with paintings and unique photographs stretched along the Malecón with pangas, sport fishers and mega-yachts creating a stunning backdrop.


As the afternoon faded into evening, Solomon explained how he had come to realize how few of his Mexican clientele visited what many consider to be one of the most beautiful public areas in all of Cabo.


With that in mind, Solomon contacted Wyndham Hotel, and Hector Montanya, API, about the possibility of having an "Art Walk" once a week which would target the Mexican people, providing entertainment, dancers, music, free food, and real artisans selling their work. It would offer a taste of Cabo’s cultural origins and artistic expression with exhibits by visual artists, workshops for children on painting, sculpture, reading and much more. There would also be presentations by musical groups that would encompass folk dances, theatre companies, poets, and writers … something for the entire family to enjoy.


His suggestions led to more meetings resulting in the formation of a formidable group of believers which includes Solomon, Adrián Luna and Clicerio Mercado, along with additional individuals and institutions like director of API Hector Montaño; Blanca Hernández, Castro Professor of Department of Culture, professor Armida Castro Economic Development and Canirac, Chamber of the Restaurant Industry, Administration Plaza Marina, Lic. Diana Garza and Sr. José Luis Salinas, Manager of Wyndham Hotel.


We visited with the exhibitors along the walkway, edging our way between customers who were excited to have the opportunity to display and sell their creations, and who expressed gratitude to everyone involved for implementing the plan and their hopes that the event would continue throughout the year.


Everyone – exhibitors, locals, visitors and volunteers alike – contributed to creating an unexpected unique synergy at one of the most beautiful marinas in Mexico in a drug-free and safe environment where Mexican families, tourists and locals alike are welcome and can enjoy.


The event has become a success, silencing the naysayers and beckoning visitors and locals who haven't already taken the time to embrace the wholesome atmosphere that has replaced the unsavory scene of the past. According to their website, http://www.circuitoculturalcabo.com/ the events will continue each Saturday until the last week of July, from noon until 11 p.m.


Underlining the event’s success is the continued growth in the number of exhibitors, performers and spectators in the first five months. Local businesses surrounding the IGY Marina agree that the project’s positive impact on the area is truly a Malecón Miracle.


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.


overtheyears
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.


thatsophistication
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!"


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