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:

Snook, Robalo or Snipe?
Recently, in one of those “Show Me Your Favorite Fish” challenges on Facebook, (bear with me, I know many of you who read this column don’t know Facebook from a good book), I was tagged and chose a photo of a black snook that I had caught in 2010 while fishing with Dennis Braid when he was shooting an episode of his “Monster Fish” series. The photo drew lots of attention.

RECENTLY, IN ONE of those “Show me your Favorite Fish” challenges on Facebook, (bear with me, I know many of you who read this column don’t know Facebook from a good book).

Beginning in the mid-’70s, snook has often been the topic of conversation in columns written by Ray Cannon, Tom Miller, Fred Hoctor, Gene Kira and Neal Kelly. Their ‘intel’ was sketchy as only Cannon and Kelly had actually caught snook; the others had written stories that were basically hearsay.

Nearly three decades ago, I journeyed to Puerto San Carlos in search of what some considered Baja’s version of snipe, determined to prove snook’s existence in Magdalena Bay.

I stayed at Brennan’s Hotel and was very fortunate to hook-up with Enrique Soto, a local bi-ingual guide who had spent his life fishing those waters. Ed Brennan assured me that Enrique knew the local mangroves like the back of his hand and was the go-to guy to help me find the elusive snook.

Enrique had an amigo, Ramon, a commercial diver, who was familiar with the areas where snook resided. Would Ramon be willing to share the location? Fortunately, because I was fly fishing and not fishing with conventional tackle, he didn’t consider me much of a threat to his livelihood, especially when I explained that I would release every fish I hooked. (I have to this day never tasted snook.)

After a lengthy conversation with Enrique and Ramon, I struck a deal that Ramon would show me his most productive spots and Enrique would provide the panga for the trip. In return I would pay them separately and after being sworn to secrecy on the actual locations, we were off.

For three days we zipped up and down the mangrove-lined channels, some so narrow I could touch the overhanging mangroves on both sides, while others were wider than Interstate 5.

In retrospect, Ramon was generous with his knowledge of Magdalena Bay and didn’t hold back any information. Talk about a crash course in Snook 101, Ramon would motion here and there and Enrique would expertly guide his panga to the spot, interpreting as he explained the attributes of one spot after another.

We looked south to Isla Creciente north up to Devil’s Curve and above. He even allowed me to make a few casts here and there to confirm that the spots were fishy.

It became clear that the hundreds of miles of mangrove channels contained in the 132-mile long Magdalena Bay created by five barrier islands held many secrets and only begrudgingly offered almost-hidden clues on how to master and understand the fishery.

Those three days were priceless and the knowledge that the two guides were willing to share provided a foundation for me to build on.

One of the interesting observations I learned while spending the three days looking at Ramon’s hot spots was a stark clue that could have easily been missed; tidal influence on the bay is significant and is always a consideration throughout the entire year.

Not always, but often enough to merit investigation, I noticed that many of those hot spots shared several similarities. The bottom would drop off rapidly from the bank caused by how the tidal flow current had eroded the shore; a hint that might be missed is that tops of the mangroves in that location are often silver instead of the usual verdant green because of the constantly exposed roots.

Once while fishing in the Florida Everglades with a local guide, I told him the silver top story and he had a puzzled look as I finished. I asked if that were true in Florida as well. “We usually keep that tidbit to ourselves,” he mumbled.

Since that first fateful week with Enrique and Ramon, many assumptions and absolutes have demanded reconsideration over the years. The entire area continues to be assaulted by commercial overfishing, beginning with sardines and working all the way up to gillnetted swordfish.

That said, Magdalena Bay still is my favorite fishing hole in Baja. While most know of the incredible offshore fishing found there in the late fall, the mangroves in late October and early November offer some extraordinary opportunities for trophy-sized snook.

Finding the snook is only one small part of snook fishing; catching them requires both patience and finesse.

It’s no secret that Baja snook are one of my favorite fish to catch. For the first time in a number of years my schedule will allow me to be there myself this year. See you there?

San Carlos-often overlooked
Andrew Martin recently posted on a Baja blog about an exciting trip that he and his nephew made to San Carlos, a Mexican resort community, (population: approximately 4,500) that lies about halfway down the mainland Mexico side of the Sea of Cortez in the State of Sonora, some 260 miles below the Arizona border.

An 8-hour run from Phoenix, they made their trip in mid-January. As usual, they encountered no problems either at the border or anywhere else along the route. The weather reports weren’t that great, and it was raining the whole way down, but they were going fishing no matter what!

THE TOP WATER bite lasted most of the afternoon with most fish coming on poppers, Waxwings, and a few on Salas.

Upon arrival, they checked into their beer-budget, $70 a night accommodations, which included an awesome view!

Their first day fishing from kayaks produced quality-sized yellowtail for both anglers within paddling distance of shore. On their second day, they fished with Fernando from Catch 22 Sportfishing Charters. Once at the island, meter markings showed big spots of bait with fish surrounding them; however, they were constantly on the move. Dropping jigs resulted in catching a couple of 20-pound class fish.

Soon, bird schools arrived and pinpointed the location of the fish. They began throwing poppers at the ’tails and bam, fish on! The top water bite lasted most of the afternoon with the majority of the fish coming on poppers, Waxwings, and a few on Salas irons.

Total for the day was13 to the boat ranging from 20 to 25 pounds and about half that many more either breaking off or coming unbuttoned. Certainly an impressive day in the dead of winter!

“I have fished with Fernando multiple times and WOW … each trip has truly been amazing. My most recent trip over MLK weekend was nothing short of fantastic! Fernando goes the extra mile to put you on fish.

“I booked a full day and Fernando knew the late evening bite was going to be great, so when other boats were going in, we stayed out. He gave us the option to stay for it. Are you kidding, of course we will.

“Not only will he cater to your skill level, he will gladly share his knowledge. He certainly knows the waters around San Carlos and his ‘fish sense’ is awesome! One of the things I like most is I always feel like I am fishing with a buddy. A huge bonus is the pictures he takes; they are truly fantastic and make awesome memories. If you are in San Carlos, Catch 22 is who you want to fish with, no question about it.” -Andrew Martin.

Exceptional numbers of dorado, sailfish, tuna and marlin (striped, blue and black) migrate north to this corner of the Sea of Cortez every year starting in May. Action continues into the fall with an occasional lull in August, when water temperatures can creep into the lower 90s. October is regarded as the absolute best time to fish with upward of 20 shots at billfish on a good day.

When offshore fishing cools down, wintertime yellowtail action here is legendary and is usually in full swing by late fall and will continue until April or May, when the water temps rise again and the pelagics arrive.

Despite San Carlos' lack of visibility as a top fishing destination, weekenders and retirees from the southwest United States regularly make the easy four-hour drive from the Arizona border.

For air travelers, Aeromexico ( provides regular daily service to Hermosillo, just over an hour’s drive away from San Carlos.

I visited the area for the very first time just over six decades ago. An uncle of mine from the Bay Area made an annual fishing pilgrimage with his buddies to San Carlos and invited me to tag along for a 16th birthday present.

Those shivers of anticipation I experienced are still a vivid memory all these years later, as I awaited their arrival in a service station at a wide spot in the then two-lane Highway 8. Finally, I spotted my uncle’s 1953 Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight hardtop with a 16-foot Wizard Trailer boat in tow.

That trip to the then undeveloped bay was filled with many firsts! First visit to Mexico; first yellowtail, dorado and sailfish; first hangover and first bar fight. Those were just some firsts etched in my memory forever. Little did I know that trip was to be a prelude to a lifetime of Mexico adventures.

If you are looking for an authentic taste of the Sea of Cortez, San Carlos may be just the place for you. Easy access both by air and driving make it an attractive choice for either a quickie, long weekend or even a longer adventure.

Catch 22 Sport Fishing Adventures has two boats with rates to fit any budget. They are a Billfish Foundation “catch and release” operation whose mission is to provide clients a great day of fishing while protecting marine habitat and resources.

Catch 22, Suite 1, Marina San Carlos
(Mexico) 011-52-622-226-2161
011-52-1-622-855-9848 (24 Hours)

Trip Advisor provides a comprehensive list of the top 10 hotels in the area.

“It's the economy stupid…” John Carville 1992
The year 2017 in Baja began with a Chubasco, of sorts. Beginning with a devaluating peso, (In 2015: $1 USD = 15.9311 Pesos MXN; today $1 USD = 21.1382 Pesos MXN) and then the deregulation of Mexico's fuel industry causing a 20 percent rise in fuel costs, (prices vary from station to station but average around $3.60/gallon for premium, $3.40/gallon for magna, and $3.65/gallon for diesel, prices converted to U.S. dollars). The common fuel shortages over the holidays combined with the heavy rains in Northern Baja fueled frustrations that often manifested in anger. Over-simplification perhaps, but a better explanation will have to come from someone with a higher pay grade than mine.

AND SO THE story goes, all the way down Mex One to the tip of Baja. Fuel shortages, long lines and angry protesters all seem to suggest avoiding driving in Baja for the next few weeks until the situation settles down.

The people’s exasperation and wrath has resulted in protests, picketing and road closures up and down the Baja Peninsula, as well as gas shortages in many areas. Although from the border through Ensenada everything seems to be normal and fuel is available according to recent reports, traveling farther south there have been protests as well as sporadic gas shortages in Camalu, Vicente Guerrero, Cabo Colonet and San Quintín.

One group headed south reported that traffic was completely stopped going both ways in San Quintín where protesters had blocked Mex One with tires and rocks. They were driving a SUV and were able to detour around the closed portion through river beds and back roads. However RV's wouldn’t have been able to use the detour because of the muddy conditions. Also the Pemex stations were surrounded and closed by protesters as well. No gas or diesel was being sold. There were many trucks parked on the side of the road in both directions awaiting the road to open.

Beyond there, the stations at El Rosario and Catavina were reported to be low on fuel, if not out. At Bahia de Los Angeles there wasn’t any diesel available at last report and again visitors shouldn’t count on any gasoline there as well.

And so the story goes, all the way down Mex One to the tip. Fuel shortages, long lines and angry protesters all seem to suggest avoiding driving in Baja for the next few weeks until the situation settles down.

Of course, there are many travelers who simply must make the trip down or back. One word of caution: Before you make a trip through Baja, you should get up to date information from one of the Baja travel clubs, either Discover Baja or Vagabundos del Mar.

MOST TRAVELING IN either direction are choosing to take the Mex 5, route using the turn-off at Laguna Chapala from the south or entering Baja via Mexicali.

Most traveling in either direction are choosing to take the Mex 5 route, using the turn-off at Laguna Chapala from the south or entering Baja via Mexicali. If coming from the south, don’t be discouraged by the first 20 or so miles of dirt road. After that it is paved all the way to the Border at Mexicali in less than 6 hours travel time. Thus far, gasoline supplies have been more reliable on this route and there have been no reports of civil demonstrations to contend with. However a word of caution, like in the “good old days,” if you see a gasoline station open, top off your tank!

Hopefully, by the time you read this things will be back to normal. Although some of the fundamentals dictate that costs are going up just as the fuel has. An example of this is the cost of an FMM has been increased already this year from 390 pesos to 500 pesos. At first glance a healthy increase, although when the exchange rate difference is factored in the increase only amounts to $1.14. Still another example, at the beginning of 2016 a one day fishing license was about $15 the current exchange rate. In 2017, that same license converts to less than $10. Good for U.S. travelers to Mexico . . . not so good for Mexican nationals.

It is ironic that many years ago it was common practice for some drivers to cross the border to take advantage of the inexpensive fuel prices. Now that has flipped and there is already talk of locals coming across the border to purchase our fuel. Times are a changing…

Monday Road Report

As of Monday, Jan.9, many gas stations in this area are closed or out of gas in Tijuana, Mexicali and San Felipe. However, there was fuel available at Vizcaino, Mulege, Loreto and farther south.

On Mex 1 below Ensenada to San Quintin, protesters have abandoned their blockades leaving the highway open to local commerce and are directing their protest efforts at Administrative Offices instead.

The entire Baja peninsula as well as the Mainland has been confronted by the “gasolinazo” problems, which will likely continue in the near future until the fuel supply is completely restored. Once again anyone planning a trip should check with reliable sources before departing.

Don’t look backwards. . .
RAIN .. Hmm . . . don’t get me wrong; the lake beyond the window is lapping it up as is the rest of Southern California. Is it too little, too late? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, the fact that the rain storm came from the south is unusual enough to make me wonder what may be in store for Baja anglers in 2017.

rainconstantCONSTANT FOR THE last 12 hours! PHOTO BY GARY GRAHAM

I was prompted to email, IM, call or check on Facebook with a few of my Baja buddies who often update me with photos and odds and ends about fishing in their area throughout the year — friends who share my passion and excitement for fishing cloaked in our fascination of Baja.

Each of their answers seemed to be filled with optimism along with a few caveats as they gazed into their own area’s crystal ball.

Captain Juan Cook , San Quintin, seems to have his game plan already laid out. He predicted good yellowtail catches holding steady in-between weather changes and storms, promising winter “tails” to 30-pounds,(mostly on iron) through late February; then moving into a windy period until June with bottom fishing for reds, lingcod and whitefish along with an occasional yellowtail for the persistent angler when the winds back off. June should bring white seabass, yellowtail and good bottom fishing, plus a good chance at halibut.

This should be followed by a summer yellowtail bite, with white seabass and bottom fish on the inside, plus a chance for tuna, dorado and striped marlin on the outside.

Captain Juan had a few other tips for Bahia de Los Angeles in June chasing cabrilla and ‘tails; then returning home to San Quintin for the summer before making another trip in October/November to Gonzaga Bay for cabrilla and grouper while looking for roosterfish and such.

Julio Meza, Fishco Tackle, Ensenada, was headed for La Bocana in early January to capitalize on the outrageous grouper/cabrilla bite that the area has become famous for, declaring that he anticipated another exciting fall season there for exotics offshore as well.

THE UNUSUAL CONDITIONS in the recent past few years which produced an odd combination of results, including the disappearance of sardina in most areas, along with fewer of some species and more of others throughout Baja, seems to dictate that we “don’t look backwards” but instead, look forward to the return of normalcy in 2017! The experts in the quotes above agree, but only time will tell.

Jonathan Roldan, Tailhunter International , La Paz, was very optimistic about fishing opportunities for 2017. Now that the experts have declared that the El Niño phenomenon, which has hampered the fishing for two years with unseasonably warm waters and unusual catches, is over, the primary issue is whether the return to normalcy also heralds the return of the live bait stocks which are the heartbeat of the fishing resource.

This could result in the return of the large dorado schools, but also the return of a great range of other species like the tuna, wahoo, and billfish which rely heavily on the presence of live bait such as Mexican sardina (flatiron herring), anchoveta, caballito and mackerel among others as well. Hopefully, this would also include the return of the squid stocks.

If all of that happens, we should experience one of the better fishing seasons in our waters that we have had in several years. ...

Mark Rayor, JenWren Sportfishing, East Cape, commented that experience proves that fishing cannot be wide open all the time and that conditions and the bite are cyclical. The Sea of Cortez is a prolific body of water which seldom disappoints. Often, tough days outshine many other popular fishing destinations on their good days, resulting in higher expectations by returning anglers. While fishing has been consistent, there is no doubt the influence of the extreme El Niño conditions of 2014 and 2015 causing crews to work hard to make it happen for their anglers.

While Southern California enjoyed epic fishing then, this year all the yellowfin and dorado that migrated north are now returning to Baja, resulting in outstanding fall fishing in Magdalena Bay for the first time in several seasons.

Hang on to your hat! The cycle is turning our way. 2017 is going to be the year to be out there…

Cabo. Tracy Ehrenberg, Pisces Sportfishing volunteered recently, “after experiencing unsettled conditions and sea-temps for the past several years, it seems that our inshore and offshore fishing is returning to normal. Assuming the baitfish return as well, 2017 could be a phenomenal year for our fleet.”

The unusual conditions in the recent past few years which produced an odd combination of results, including the disappearance of sardina in most areas, along with fewer of some species and more of others throughout Baja, seems to dictate that we “don’t look backwards” but instead, look forward to the return of normalcy in 2017!  The experts in the quotes above agree, but only time will tell.  

SAC doubling down…
The Sportfishing Association of California (SAC) led by Ken Franke, President since 2009, with Board approval expanded SAC’s efforts to encourage ongoing communication and cooperation between the local governmental officials in selected cities in Baja and Mainland Mexico and their sportfishing leaders.

SAC TEAM MEMBERS and local business and agency officials fielded many questions from callers on security, sport fishing, yachting and tourism while visiting Cabo San Lucas and Mexico.

SAC’s timing was ideal as in 2014 the Mexican Government began implementing a number of policy changes regarding angler access, licensing and bag limits.

In order to increase understanding and dialogue between the two countries, Franke scheduled a successful round of visits to Los Cabos, Ensenada and Mazatlán, Mexico as well as Mexico City in 2015.

They used the popular “Let’s Talk Hook-up” radio show, hosted by Pete Gray and Rick Maxa, as the catalyst for the visits and invited representatives from SAC, the San Diego Port District as well as San Diego Port Tenants Association to join with the local government, businesses and civic groups.

Franke, his staff and team, elected to continue the program in 2016 encouraging the local government, businesses, civic groups and individuals from each of the seaside port communities to attend in order that they could exchange ideas and assist them in promoting their respective businesses in San Diego and beyond.

During the visits each ports security measures were reviewed with the local port authorities to ensure the safety of the visiting cruise ships and private boats visiting from San Diego and beyond. Regulation changes pertaining to the tourist and boating community were carefully reviewed as well. A question and answer period was allowed for call-ins who might have questions that needed clarifying.

Last week, Franke led a team which included Kenia Zamarripa, Director of Marketing and International Affairs of San Diego, along with Pete Gray and his sound engineer, Rick Cutler, Hookup 1090 Radio Show; also attending was Dan Malcolm, Board of Port Commissioners; Bella Heule, Vice President/Chief Marketing Officer Port of San Diego and Sharon Bernie-Cloward, President of the San Diego Port Tenants Association. They were later joined by Captain Tim Ekstrom, owner of the sportfishing vessel Royal Star and vice president of SAC.

This was a whirlwind trip, departing Thursday and returning on Saturday afternoon.

Hector Montano, Port Director, Cabo San Lucas Marina, conducted a tour of the marina’s facilities on Friday morning and explained the amenities they had to offer their visitors. He was assisted by his Port Security Officer, Fernando Hoyos Romero.

Later that afternoon, Jorge Tellez, Solmar Fleet and Enrique Fernandez del Castillo, Harbor Master at Puerto Los Cabos, hosted a special sushi lunch at Tellez’ fabulous "Fisherman's Restaurant” on the Malecón, during which the locals and the SAC team compared notes in preparation for the radio show early Saturday morning.

When Gray and Cutler arrived the following morning to set up for the show, the Royal Star was already anchored in the outer harbor in front of the Puebla Bonita Blanco. Captain Tim Ekstrom, along with a crew member and Rick Maxa, trudged up the sandy beach after being delivered by a local panga.

SAC team members and local business and agency officials fielded many questions from callers on security, sport fishing, yachting and tourism while visiting Cabo San Lucas and Mexico. The two-hour program flew by.

A real shock to many anglers interested in the Baja region was the announcement on December 6th that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has established the Pacific Islands Biosphere Reserve -- a new 1.16 million hectare biosphere reserve -- off the west coast of the Baja California Peninsula in the Pacific Ocean. Different stories speculating on what it would mean to recreational anglers and sportfishing boats began circulating the next day with more opinion and few facts.

Fortunately, one of the panel members was CONANP Baja C South Representative Maria Josue Navarro, representing CONANP National Commissioner Alejandro del Mazo.

Navarro explained that after an 11-year, multi-stakeholder consultation and negotiation process, this newly created biosphere reserve represents a major effort to protect Mexico’s islands; Zamarripa translated.

Navarro continued. CONANP staff has been assigned one year to draft the management plan for the region for review. She forecasted that the agency hoped to have the first draft available in 8 months, at which time interested parties would have the opportunity to review, comment and submit recommendations.

The plan would address . . . bag limits, fishing methods, designated seasons and areas for fishing.

There will be three new CONANP offices established in Ensenada, Guerrero Negro and La Paz to monitor the program, she noted.

She suggested that the program would be similar to the wrist band method being used in protected areas like Loreto. However, there would also be a passport that could be purchased annually allowing access to the Biosphere areas similar to the ones currently available online.

She stressed the importance of not jumping to any conclusions until all the details were determined. Meanwhile, there is no impact on the areas included until all of the details can be decided.

Franke added at the conclusion of Navarro’s comments, “We sincerely appreciate you agreeing to appear on the show on such short notice; your information was very helpful and there is nothing like fact to ruin a good rumor!

The two-hour show offered a variety of important information on the different subjects and is available online for those interested in hearing the entire show.

The show online links are:

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