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:

Chubasco envy
A Chubasco is a violent squall complete with thunder and lightning encountered during the rainy season along the Baja Penin­sula, West Coast of Mexico, Central America, or South America. Chubascos are simply another aspect to the Baja peninsula’s rugged and fearsome personality… but to some, it’s part of the allure.

A number of these Chubas­cos (hurricanes) have impacted Yvonne and me in one way or another since we began traveling to Baja in the late 1960s.

We have always been amazed at how resilient the people are who fall victim to these storms and hurricanes; how quickly they rebuild and repair, moving forward and not looking back.

One of the worst we encountered before Odile, was Kiko on August 27, 1989, but not only did Odile ravage Cabo San Lucas, it was more widespread, causing damage up the entire peninsula all the way to the U.S. border and beyond.

Those of us who have spent years in Baja have our own collection of “Chubasco experiences” where we faced Mother Nature’s fury first hand. Or, we have heard tales of frightening moments when others were caught in swirling winds of 100-plus mph capable of ripping off roofs, shattering windows, and flinging cars and trucks like children’s toys.

The strongest known hurricane to ever hit the Baja Peninsula, Odile, has just raised the bar of devastation and destruction to tragic heights… outdoing even Kiko, which blew the sliding doors out of the front of our home on the Baja beach, through the house and left them shattered along with the back sliding doors inside the back yard. Sand completely covered our block wall and the winds blew all the furniture outside, breaking it into pieces. Luckily, we weren’t there to “ride it out” and by the time we returned six weeks later, there were no signs there had even been a Chubasco.

It is interesting how often many who hear these stories respond in wonder with “WOW! Wouldn’t it have been exciting to be there for one?”

Even though it should be obvious that death or injury are real possibilities, we have had guests who we barely managed to get to safety before one struck who have expressed regret that they were missing it.

We try to tell them there is nothing exciting, adventurous or fun about remaining in the path of an approaching raging, roaring Baja storm!

Ask anyone who has survived the fury of a hurricane and you will realize the devil is in the details. Longtime friend and Baja veteran George Landrum posted the following the day before Odile slammed into Cabo San Lucas … “I have been through five Category-Fives, best to prepare for the worst, ’cause if you are caught in one, you don’t want to be under-prepared. All the laundry is done, cash machine done yesterday and today, medicines filled for a month, cat and dog food done, water and other assorted drinks done, ice, candles, batteries, thank goodness the stove and grill are on gas!”

Landrum’s well-thought-out list demonstrates the kind of commodities that one can expect to do without during a severe storm.

Always a given after such a storm are bugs! No-see’ums, mosquitoes and flies to name a few are more than nuisances. They spread diseases. And no water means no showers (hot or cold) or restrooms. You get the picture.

The point is this: Chubascos are not for anyone’s entertainment! They are not an amusement park thrill ride to be enjoyed in a controlled environment. They are Mother Nature’s dirty little secret that can be hazardous to your health, exposing the worst that Nature can dish out leaving death, destruction and discomfort to those who were unlucky enough to find themselves in the midst of one. Advice? Be very careful what you wish for!

One man's blessing, another's curse
On Aug. 25, 2014, as Marie, the first Cat 5 hurricane since Celia in 2010, thundered northwest past the tip of Baja, local residents breathed a sigh of relief in spite of warnings of large waves predicted to impact Baja California and the southern California coast.

Offshore along the approximately 1,000 miles of coastline from Baja to Southern California, the growing swells from the 160-mph velocity winds silently rolled in, creating enormous surf the likes of which hadn't been seen since the early 80s in California.

Top surfers from faraway places hurried to the Southern California, joining locals as the waves grew to epic heights, outnumbered only by the hordes of spectators who perched on cliffs and sandy berms. The lyrics from the Beach Boys "Surfin' Safari" echoed over the roar of the growing surf … "At Huntington and Malibu, they're shooting the pier, at Rincon they're walking the nose."

The local and national media was filled with the surfing exploits, the gathering of the spectators and of course the damage and destruction to piers and property in Southern California, overshadowing what was happening down the west coast and tip of Baja.

For the Baja surfers it was equally exciting and many locals journeyed long distances eager to capitalize on favored surfing spots dotting the west coast of Baja.

However, for the sportfishing contingency, conditions left behind by Marie were entirely different.

"Worse week of fishing we ever had," lamented Jonathan Roldan of Tailhunters International, speaking of the fishing at both La Paz and Las Arenas. Thinking that the "no fish thing" was a local problem, I checked with Mark Rayor, JenWren Sportfishing at Los Barriles. "It's like a desert out there," he confirmed.

It wasn’t until I reached San Jose that the mood began to change— well sort of. Barely making it back to port before Hurricane Marie closed it was the 335-pound yellowfin tuna landed by Miguel Angel Castro after a two-hour fight involving three fishermen, on 80-pound-test line according to Eric Brictson, Gordo Banks Pangas.

Around the corner and up to Magdalena Bay, Bob Hoyt confirmed the surf was huge in Santa Maria Bay. "Our guests at the cabins on the island were surfing in the entrance to the Estero," he observed. Adding more good news, "There are lots of striped marlin, dorado and tuna out on the banks."

At La Bocana and Blanca Portella, Les Heil recalled that there were sizeable waves, but nothing larger than past storms and no significant damage. "It's so very odd that Bahía Asunción was slammed," she added. "Even the fishing seemed back on track by September 1st, producing tuna and wahoo."

However, just 40 miles farther up the coast along the south-facing beaches at Bahía Asunción, surf from Marie struck, battering the shore with the highest pounding surf that anyone in the community could remember in twenty years.

Shari Bondy, La Bufadora Inn, posted: "The beaches of our town face exactly south and were hard hit by the 20 plus-foot waves that destroyed the Pismo clam population here. Things are finally calming down now after the biggest swell I've ever seen here."

"The beaches are changing each day with shells, black sand and old bones surfacing and I mourn the death of thousands of Pismo clams. The fishing cooperative collected around 2,000 clams to take to the lab in hopes of saving some in tanks of water, but it will be years before Pismo's population recovers," she added.

Hurricane Marie was the 13th hurricane in the eastern Pacific. Will there be more eastern Pacific hurricanes? Undoubtedly! The conditions that spawned Marie still exist. The incubator south of Mexico normally produces storms in every month of the hurricane season (May 15 to Nov. 30).

As September begins, soon-to-be Hurricane Norbert is on its way up the line. No surprises there, according NOAA. September has had the largest total of hurricanes historically, 53 thus far compared to a total of 51 for the other six months.

Hurricane Marie will be memorable in many different ways. Surfers will remember with exultation the surf of a lifetime, anglers will be disappointed that the bite shut-off, businesses and homeowners will remember with fear an ocean they sought to be near, and finally a small Baja coastal community will be mourning the loss of an important resource that may take decades to recover, reminding us all of us of the old adage, "One man's blessing, another's curse."


THE BEAHCHES ARE changing each day with shells, black sand and old bones surfacing and I mourn the death of thousands of Pismo clams.

Hotel Rancho Buena Vista resurrected
Hotel Rancho Buena Vista was brought to life in 1952 when Herb Tansey began transforming the “goat farm” into a fishing destination. After several trips with his pal Ray Cannon, retired U.S. Army Colonel Gene Walters bought the 12-room hotel, expanded it and turned it into the resort of choice for his friends from Hollywood, including Richard Boone, Chuck Connors, James Garner, John Wayne, and even Dwight Eisenhower after he was no longer President.

Located on the shore of the Sea of Cortez south of La Paz and north of Cabo San Lucas, the Ranch offered some of the finest fishing in the world.


MARK WALTERS, OWNER of Rancho Buena Vista and grandson of its founder, with bartender Tony Marron.

The hotel thrived, adding rooms and the first portable pier, thanks to the ingenuity of a transplanted MIT graduate, Ted Bonney, who escaped the U.S. and made his home at the Ranch until his death; plus generations of local families who were employees of the hotel… captains, waiters, cooks, and maids. And there were the three generations of Walters: the Colonel, then Chuck and Mark.

Then, in 2008, with Mark Walters as the on-site manager, Seby R. “Russ” Jones, President of Davidson and Jones Corporation of North Carolina, elected to take out an option to purchase this quiet, successful fishing lodge with the intent of turning it into something first-class, something grand… the first of its kind in East Cape. But they didn’t succeed.

In 2011, Jones announced via e-mail the permanent closing of Rancho Buena Vista Hotel, noting that, “RBV has aged well, but we no longer foresee the ability to keep the hotel in good enough shape to offer that experience. So, after six decades of operation, it’s time to say goodbye.”

This was quickly followed by a second e-mail from Mark Walters, a partner of Rancho Buena Vista Hotel, and grandson of the Colonel, and third generation Baja entrepreneur. Paraphrasing Mark Twain, Walters wrote, “The reports of RBV’s closing are greatly exaggerated.”

He continued, “The Davidson and Jones Cor­pora­tion has been managing/operating the hotel for the past few years and has decided to call it quits. The actual owners, the Hermosillo family and myself, are currently reviewing our options. The hotel will be closed only temporarily.”

Since 2011, Rancho Buena Vista with Walters as on-site manager, has confounded the dire predictions of the U.S. businessman by going back to the basics of capitalizing on existing assets.

On a recent visit to RBV, I was pleased to see the seaside pool surrounded by both Mexican and American families taking advantage of another sparkling sunny Baja summer day. Kids and adults alike plunged into the pool to cool off in the afternoon heat.

Later, I caught up with Mark in the palapa-covered bar overlooking the Sea of Cortez.

“Have a seat,” he beckoned, pulling out a leather-woven rattan chair. “Join me for a virgin Bloody Mary? I hope you like Tabasco sauce!” he grinned as he ordered a couple from Tony Marron behind the bar.

In answer to my question of what he had been up to, Mark replied, “Still playing lots of golf and tennis.” Tony set the drinks on the leather-topped table and Mark continued. “I’ve also been playing quite a bit in our band, ‘Skeleton Key.’ We’ve had 50 gigs since last November,” he said with an infectious grin.

“Aside from that, it’s business as usual, more or less, since the Davidson and Jones Corporation group fled in 2011. The Hermosillos and I first decided to reopen the bar, which was always popular. Next, we started renting rooms on a nightly basis. The basic difference is that while the kitchen is operational, it is used only occasionally for private parties.”

“RBV has become very popular with locals, with relocated foreign retirees, as well as with many of our former clients. We have 25 rooms available during the week and during the summer months they are very popular with both working and professional families and with groups from Cabo and La Paz who just want to get away for a weekend.”

“On weekends, all those barbeques you see out there around the pool are in use. We even added a DIY barbeque where folks in the bar can cook their own hot dogs and hamburgers. My wife Jesi came up with that idea and it was a good one,” he said with pride.

“Jesi and I often stop by in the afternoon when different groups are serving everything from carne asada to ceviche. They often invite us to sample their fantastic dishes. It’s great! We also host weddings and parties, you know, everything from birthdays to anniversaries. It’s all a lot of fun! We even offer two 31-foot Island Hopper sportfishers for our guests now.”

They recently re-listed the hotel.

“If it sells, Jesi and I will simply build a new house on some property we own and remain in the area. This is our home and we just want to live happily ever after.”

Not only is the hotel back and thriving, so is Mark Walters.

“You know, I almost killed myself with addiction by the time I was 38. Now I look back at all the fun I’ve had from then to now, and I’m so thankful that I had friends who stood by me through that period of my life,” Mark concluded.

Although the “suits” decided to decline on their company’s option to purchase RBV and were willing to walk away from six decades of history, Mark Walters and his partners, the Hermosillos, went back to basics and breathed new life into the old girl; RBV seems to be thriving once again.

As we departed, the laughter and shouts echoed in my ears as Mark and I walked past the pool. Then we headed to my Roadtrek, strolling past the famous rock table still sitting in its place of honor on the long porch where hundreds if not thousands of card games had taken place, on past the scales where an equal number of trophy fish had been hung and photographed during the past seven decades.

The historical significance of RBV surrounded us like the cool breezes that were blowing across the sea. I carefully stepped across the cattle guard as Walters commented, “We have had many great folks visit Rancho Buena Vista throughout the years; I miss seeing them, and mourn the loss of the ones who are gone forever.”

But Rancho Buena Vista endures.

Back on the road again
When I arrived in Los Cabos Airport this week, the entire area was engulfed in torrential rains. Some folks were drenched to the point that they were actually wringing out their t-shirts while standing in the immigration line. Even the luggage in the brief trip from airplane to baggage area was soaked.


TO SEE MORE of my “Doing the Drone” photos from my travels, watch Graham’s Facebook page.

John Ireland of Rancho Leonero offered me a ride to Buena Vista with him and I was soon back in my trusty "Roadtrek" and parked in my usual spot at East Cape RV. It’s always great to meet up with long-time friends when traveling, making airport waiting time and the travel time go so much more smoothly as you “catch up” on events.

The following day, Tuesday, Aug. 5, was registration for the Bisbee East Cape Offshore which was another great opportunity to catch up with old friends. It was also a wonderful way to practice "Doing the Drone" throughout the day … one of my favorite past times these days as any of you who follow me on Facebook knows. I got some great shots that day, and picking up the theme the next morning, the start of the first day of fishing, I did fly the drone from the Awesome 2 provided by owner, Theresa Comber. Needless to say, using the boat for a platform and flying over water without the security of solid terra firma for my landing, added stress to the enterprise. Along with the help of a few assistants, this flight resulted in the renaming of the drone to "PT," short for "Pucker-Time.”

After carefully catching "PT" in air rather than landing it on deck, with a deep sigh of relief I packed it away safely in its case and headed to breakfast with the start boat crew and dignitaries. Among them was Diputado Local (State Legislator) Carlos Castro representing District 7 from San Jose to Buena Vista and Jesús Ceseña, FONMAR - Los Cabos Director, along with Clicerio Mercado, Wayne Bisbee, Trish Bisbee, Carey Bisbee, and Paul Watson, publisher of Bisbee's Marlin World magazine.


BISBEE ACKNOWLEDGED CASTRO'S interest and continued support.

Carlos and Wayne were deep in a conversation regarding a legislative bill that Castro had entered for the consideration by the full House of Representatives a declaration that the Bisbee Black and Blue be named a treasured and valued resource of the entire state of Baja California Sur for their dedicated and continued promotion of sportfishing and conservation.

In an impromptu discussion around the table, the consensus was that Castro's idea had merit and would be beneficial to Baja Sur to continue to support and encourage the Bisbee’s Black and Blue through this bill. Bisbee acknowledged Castro's interest and continued support.

And he added, "The Bisbee's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Fund, Inc. has a planned involvement with Ducks Unlimited to be implemented soon to fund assistance in the preservation and restoration of the habitat and esteros along the flyway down both Baja's and Mexico's West Coast."

He then volunteered to show them a one-minute video about another project the Foundation was funding: “The Second Ark Foundation,” a non-profit organization which promotes the conservation and well-being of species, both exotic and native to the United States, as well as working to repatriate endangered species to their countries of origin.

Ceseña volunteered to provide any information regarding Magdalena Bay as well as other esteros in Baja. This stimulated an interesting discussion about sardine quotas and tuna pens as well as the impact of commercial fishing on Magdalena Bay.

The Bisbee East Cape Offshore wraps up Saturday night with the Awards Banquet and I'll be heading on to my next ‘on the road’ adventure. Off to Loreto for the Grand Finale of the Serial Sepesca series: Project Sport Fishing "Contigo" 2014, with a guaranteed prize of up to $50,000 for all those teams who win any of the first three places in any of the official qualifying tournaments or those who participate in at least one of the members of the serial tournaments that are held in each town.

Doing the drone
There’s no doubt that 2014 will go down in history as the “Year of the Drone" within the fishing community. Forget the latest and greatest tackle innovations or super-duper electronics. Nope, this year the buzz is definitely about drones and who can take the most awesome photos with them.

The list of people who have purchased the flying cameras is growing faster than I can keep up! So far, my WON column partner, Jonathan Roldan, and Ali Hussainy, President, BD Outdoors; Erik Landesfeind, and Barry Brightenburg all determined they had to have one. If you search the web, you’ll find plenty of entertaining videos that were shot with drones by crews and anglers on the sportfishing fleet.


EVER SO CAUTIOUSLY, I moved the left stick forward and watched as it leaped into the air.

I, too, couldn't resist; mine arrived in mid-May. By the time it actually got here, I had watched hours of U-Tube videos on quad-copters in general, and had logged in many how-to hours on the DJI Technology Phantom 2 Vision Plus website, the drone that I actually ordered.

The day it arrived, I cautiously unpacked the carton and followed directions, being very careful when I assembled the Quad Copter. That’s probably not an accurate statement since all that was required was that I tighten the self-locking propeller blades and charge the battery before it was ready to fly. But truthfully, I wasn't quite ready! I felt a little bit intimidated by this 24- x 24-inch bundle of technology resting on our coffee table.

I studied the instruction manual from cover to cover – all 75 pages – for several days. I devoured the information on the camera, Wi-Fi, GPS, software and cell phone app – all of which needed to be understood before I took on the challenge of flying this machine that had set me back about $1,500. I had not been this nervous about taking control of boats that had cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and yes, a few owned by others that were even more dear than that!

Okay, call me crazy, but the only thing I had ever flown was a model airplane tethered by a control line which I flew in a circle … often crashing it before the full circle had even been completed.

Early one morning, after days of procrastinating, drone in tow Yvonne and I walked across the street to the park. Going through the checklist printed on the underbelly of the unit as carefully as a 747 pilot, with great trepidation I turned on the controller, and started the drone. Ever so cautiously, I moved the left stick forward and watched as it leaped into the air. Thank God I knew to let go of the stick so it could spring back to the center! It hovered at 30 feet or so and I began "Doing the Drone" for real.

For the next few weeks, I flew at the drop of a hat, taking off from my front yard overlooking the lake. To begin, I flew pretty much straight up and down, and then slowly, as my confidence grew, the flights extended farther. I flew it to the edge of the lake, as well as a block or so in either direction, going higher and higher until I sent it to 250 feet and lost sight of it.

There were remarkably few mishaps. I discovered the dreaded death spiral when I descended too quickly causing the drone to drop like a stone! I was in luck! My error was high enough for me to slow the drone’s descent down so instead of a crash, well, we will simply call it a hard landing. No fault, no foul, aside from a nicked up prop or two that a little sandpaper took care of. It was ready to resume training, but the question is, just who was training who?

Then it came time for me to head to Baja. I safely stored it in the trusty Roadtrek for the drive down to East Cape in its own custom case in early June.

Upon my arrival, I flew it often. Mark and Jennifer Rayor's beachfront home; at Rancho Leonero; at East Cape RV and then I headed up to La Paz for WON Panga Slam.

Jonathan Roldan, Tailhunter International, my WON column partner, and I flew them together at Muertos and Balandra Bay. Swapping tips we began to grasp the possibilities that the drone offered. Some of our Drone images ended up in the La Paz Panga Slam story. I even had the courage to fly it out for the beach shot at Chileno Bay at the Stars & Stripes tournament’s shotgun start.

Jonathan had two clients who attempted to use theirs from a panga and ended up float-testing them (by the way, they don't float). Both were a total loss; however, one was insured.

At this point, almost every flight drew a crowd full of questions. The best description I've come up with is that it’s like an incredibly stable tri-pod in the sky with the difference that the drone will hover in the same place when you release the two joy sticks until you sort out what you want to do, sort of like a “pause” button.

"Doing the Drone" has gained momentum within the fishing community. It has added a dimension that has been missing in this serious challenge of fishing. Find a drone overhead and you’ll find grown men once again playing with their toys.

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