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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:

Hot water: El Niño or conspiracy theory?
The day after my article, "Even-numbered year produces odd catches in the Sea of Cortez," was published in Western Outdoor News, I received an email from my friend, Graham J. Clarke who winters at the East Cape RV Resort in Los Barriles, BCS. Owned by another of my friends, Theresa Comber, this is where I, too, hang out when I'm in the area.

His e-mail began, "I caught this dorado on the fly a hundred yards north of Martin Verdugo's Beach Resort. I'm the Englishman staying in the East Cape RV with Theresa Comber. She and other folks in the park tell me that it is a rare occurrence to catch a dorado from the shore, let alone with a fly. I know you have been in Baja for many years, so I'm asking you, the man of knowledge, is it?"

ODD CATCHES BY Graham J. Clarke and Lance Peterson keep the unusual string alive.

I promptly replied, “To catch a dorado from shore on any tackle is unusual. On fly it very seldom happens; I honestly can only remember five anglers who have caught them on a fly in my 40 years of traveling in Baja. Congratulations for a remarkable catch!” … and I filed his story in a Roadtrekker folder for a future column.

Following that e-mail was one from Lance Peterson, Baja flyfishing guide and friend. "In my experience, dorado from shore is not rare here in BCS, but it's certainly uncommon for fly anglers. Great catches from shore on the fly require dedication and skill. A bit of good fortune doesn't hurt either."

Two weeks later, Graham caught another one, in precisely the same place as before … hmmm.

This time Graham commented, "I have been fishing the shore since the end of October; mornings at first light, and evenings for the last hour, from the lighthouse to the north of Los Barriles and there has been nothing. It has been as though everything had gone — no lady fish, jacks, small roosters nor any fish that make shore fishing good here in the winter. It has been a strange season!"

Then a few days before the end of March, this appeared by Ed Zieralski in the San Diego Union-Tribune; “91-pound opah gaffed in San Diego Bay, Rare, but tasty giant swam in front of Fisherman's Landing before Brandon Buono gaffed it.”

I hadn't even read the story before the following popped up in my IM from Chris Wheaton, WON contributor. "So here is another idea for an article. The opah, a couple of dorado have beached themselves, and that louvar found swimming around confused? … all connected somehow?"
The hot water, El Niño or is it a conspiracy? Yikes, what is going on? Again, I added that to my Roadtrekker file.

At the Fred Hall Fishing Show, Del Mar, Jonathan and Jill Roldan, Tailhunter International, couldn't stop talking about the phenomenal but weird winter season they were experiencing. "Our clients have been catching typically summer species, billfish, dorado and wahoo all winter,” Jonathan, WON Columnist, reflected.

I began to believe that maybe all this
El Niño chatter was significant. Still at the show, William Decker stops and asks if I've ever heard of a trevally being caught in the Sea of Cortez. I believe so and offer to check my files to confirm where and when … more fodder for the now bulging Roadtrekker file.

After the show, before I could research Decker's question. Peterson posts a photo of a bluefin trevally he caught on a fly from a Baja beach.
"After many years of fly fishing the surf in Baja California Sur, I've come to expect an unusual catch now and then. However, this particular species, a bluefin trevally, came as a complete surprise!” said Peterson.

All right already. The conspiracy theory is tough to prove. So let's start with "
El Niño" and who else better than my friend, Chris Dunn, WON's own Fishing Weatherman and blogger on

I asked him, "With the unusually high sea temps in the Sea of Cortez throughout this past winter, there have been a number of odd or unusual catches. Blue trevally, louvar off Loreto, many of the usual summer species, wahoo, dorado, striped marlin and billfish off of Cerralvo, etc., and last but not least, the 91-pound opah in San Diego Bay. Is there a possibility that these occurrences could be influenced by an
El Niño?"

Dunn answered, "That opah in S.D. bay was pretty bizarre. Sailfish, wahoo and dorado off Cerralvo through the winter? Impressive."

“I'd say the “developing”
El Niño is not having any impact on these unusual occurrences because El Niño hasn't developed yet!" He explained. "I think that it’s more likely a result of the local/regional weather and water conditions rather than the larger-scale impact typically seen with El Niño."

For his more detailed answer:

Ah ha! His answer seems to dismiss the "
El Niño" theory, which Jeff Gannon, Terrafin SST-View, confirmed.

"Temps off Baja Sur and all the way up into the Sea of Cortez look to be a couple of degrees warmer than usual right now in most areas. That’s been the pattern all winter - even in January and February."

This left me with ‘the Sea of Cortez never cooled off” as the closest answer. But my question remains: How many more odd catches may turn up in this even-numbered year?


There is a 50 percent chance of
El Niño developing during the summer or fall.

ENSO-neutral continued during February 2014, with below-average sea surface temperatures (SST) continuing in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean and above-average SSTs increasing near the International Date Line. Toward the end of the month, strong low-level westerly winds re-appeared over the western equatorial Pacific. Convection was suppressed over western Indonesia and the central equatorial Pacific (Fig. 5). Collectively, these atmospheric and oceanic conditions reflect ENSO-neutral.

The model predictions of ENSO for this summer and beyond are relatively unchanged from last month. Almost all the models indicate that ENSO-neutral (Niño-3.4 index between -0.5°C and 0.5°C) will persist through the rest of the Northern Hemisphere spring 2014 (Fig. 6). While all models predict warming in the tropical Pacific, there is considerable uncertainty as to whether
El Niño will develop during the summer or fall. If westerly winds continue to emerge in the western equatorial Pacific, the development of El Niño would become more likely. However, the lower forecast skill during the spring and overall propensity for cooler conditions over the last decade still justify significant probabilities for ENSO-neutral.
The consensus forecast is for ENSO-neutral to continue through the Northern Hemisphere spring 2014, with about a 50 percent chance of
El Niño developing during the summer or fall.


THIS SEA SURFACE temperature in the equatorial Pacific Ocean (above). El Niño is characterized by unusually warm temperatures and La Niña by unusually cool temperatures in the equatorial Pacific. Anomalies (below) represent deviations from normal temperature values, with unusually warm temperatures shown in red and unusually cold anomalies shown in blue.

The Roosterfish Foundation . . .
Tagging, the next step

On my very first trip down Mex 1 with friends in the early 1970s, we camped on deserted beaches, awaking before dawn and savoring that first hot cup of coffee, we paused for enough light to begin fishing. I realized that this was a special time and place. Since that first trip, a huge part of my Baja Experience has always been fishing from the shore.

Times changed and my wife and I settled in at East Cape where the beach became the cornerstone of our fishing; one of our prime targets became roosterfish … dark shadows that would cruise slowly along the surf line searching for food – their tantalizing combs (dorsal fins) high in the air.

Many afternoons, while sitting on our long porch overlooking the Sea of Cortez after an exciting day of pursuing these exotic creatures, someone would speculate about where they go when they disappear in the fall.

LANCE PETERSON, BAJA flyfishing guide living at East Cape, prepares to place the first "Roosterfish Foundation" tag #79 in a Baja Sur roosterfish.

We all had theories. But the bottom line was that no one had a clue. Inevitably, the idea was tossed out that tagging the fish to find out more about their behavior was the answer.

Eventually, that discussion was followed up by the action of many interested anglers. Now, roosterfish tagging has become a reality. Ed Kunze, International Game Fish Association Representative living in Zihuatanejo, and a fishing guide who has long been interested in the roosterfish, has invested his own time and money to establish The Roosterfish Foundation, an ambitious undertaking that will encourage both the tagging and releasing of roosterfish to provide more research and information about these magnificent fish.

Early last week while in Southern California, Ed and I spent nearly an hour on a conference call with Jason Schratwieser, Conservation Director at International Game Fish Association, regarding advice and direction for the foundation. Jason was equally excited about the prospects of developing a far reaching program that would stretch from Baja to Panama and perhaps deploying a few satellite tags as time goes on.

Then, a few days later, on March 18, Lance Peterson, Baja flyfishing guide and longtime friend living at East Cape, posted the following message on his Facebook page: "I'm excited to announce that I placed my first Roosterfish Foundation tag in a solid 35-pound specimen of Baja grande." This was the first tag for the foundation deployed in Baja Sur.

To be sure, there have been a few other roosters tagged. Steven Perna in 2010 south of Puerto Vallarta tagged several; Russell Weaver and Keith Paul in late 2013 with Kunze in Zihuatanejo and I'm sure there have been a few others as well.

Judging by Peterson’s post that had several hundred responses, I think the genie is out of the bottle and roosterfish tagging will grow exponentially.

Of course, there are many moving parts to a project of this nature, just as there were in the early days of billfish tagging which was initially met with skepticism by many, yet now billfish with satellite tags are frequently being tracked thousands of miles. Tagging techniques, tag recovery and reporting and then assessing the information compiled for roosterfish will all take fine-tuning for optimum results.

As Peterson commented in his report, "The entire tagging process took just under a minute. The fish swam away – strong, albeit a bit tired – and sporting Roosterfish Foundation tag #79. Our objective with the tagging project is to gather information on this poorly understood species: lifespan, migration patterns, growth rates...very little if anything is known about the life and habits of these amazing gamefish. Hopefully, gathering this data will lead to a better understanding of the species and ultimately to a greater appreciation of the importance of roosterfish to sport fisheries throughout the Eastern Pacific."

While our home, Rancho Deluxe and its wonderful porch, is long gone, victim to a failed development, it is exciting to imagine that what we thought was an idle discussion then has become a reality now. To learn more about the Roosterfish Foundation visit

Even-numbered year produces odd catches in the Sea of Cortez
Odd fish

Several weeks ago, Chris Wheaton, Western Outdoor News contributor, pointed out that Jim Wittmaack's catch in the "Biggest Other" category in the Mulege Yellowtail tournament was a 25.6-pound jack, fortune (Seriola peruana), similar to one that he had caught in June 2013 which had earned him an I.G.F.A. All-Tackle Record. 

Chris went on to say that their Captain’s cousin in Loreto had caught an even larger one recently up north of Loreto in the same area Chris caught his record fish last June.


Jim caught his last Thursday on the 20th of February. The Captain also commented that he hadn't seen one caught in nearly twenty years.


Jonathan Roldan, Tailhunter International Sportfishing, reports throughout the winter have reflected that the warm water has had an impact on the fishery at Las Arenas with many exotics mixed in with the standard winter assortment.


One only has to look at Jeff Gannon's Terrafin's sea surface chart of the Sea of Cortez to figure out that something is up. The sea temps have been bouncing around 74°, wrapping around Baja's tip all the way up above Loreto creating and conditions normally associated with late Spring.


From double-digit striped marlin on the Golden Gate, a serious wahoo bite from Baja's tip to Cerralvo and dorado that forgot to leave for the winter according to Eric Brictson of San Jose del Cabo's Gordo Banks Pangas.


One of Roldan's captains, Captain Hugo, hung a monster amberjack while fishing with Roger Thompson who decided to assume the role of photographer. Caught on a yoyo iron, the fish was estimated to weigh about 100 pounds.


About the same time another huge amberjack was brought to the scales in Cabo, according to Tracey Ehrenberg of Pisces Sportfishing.


That AJ which weighed in at 150 pounds was caught by Craig Heiges from New York aboard the Edith V, with Captain Vicente. It took Heiges forty-five minutes on 20-pound test tackle to subdue the giant which according to locals was one of the largest ever brought into the marina. It was just a tad shy of the current I.G.F.A. all tackle world record of 156 pounds, 13 ounces. However, the scale used was not certified, resulting in disqualification of the brute for any Mexican or I.G.F.A. record consideration.  When weighed sometime later on a certified scale the weight was reduced to 105 pounds … still a catch of a lifetime for angler Heiges.


Another  oddity was a louvar which was captured in Loreto last week. Juan Pablo "Tropicana" Martinez, of Loreto, Baja California Sur, captured this nearly six foot long creature last Saturday in the waters of the Bay National Park of Loreto. 


For you who aren’t familiar with the species, according to one popular Fish I.D. site, the louvar is an oceanic pelagic fish species that reaches a maximum length of 6.5 feet, feeds on jellyfish and is found up to 500-feet deep in the water column. It is found in all Mexican fishing waters, including the oceanic islands. Ironically, the Fish I.D. site also states: "with the exception of the Sea of Cortez where they are absent" …  so I suppose they can scratch that sentence now.


"Louvar are a pre-courser for the modern tunas. We used to see a few each year when the Southern California purse seiner fleet was active along with the shark/swordfish fleet. They are extremely tasty to eat, but hardly ever found in fish markets — and only as a bycatch," according to DFG retired Senior Marine Biologist Steve Crooke.


Underscoring all of this was a remarkable fish story from John Duteil whose hometown, is shared by Jonathan Roldan, Tailhunter International.

"We were in La Paz for the past two months; one day we were at Playa El Tecolote having lunch on the beach with friends. Wow!  The fish were literally jumping out of the water! Two dorado came speeding right up to the shore flopping around. One dashed back out to sea while the other became stuck in the shallow water. Our friend Dennis, still eating his lunch, casually walked over and picked him up. Moral of the story: if you can catch them this easy on the shore, imagine what you can do in a boat!  Just wanted to  share our fun time fishing in La Paz!”

The Sea of Cortez remains mysterious and coughs up just enough oddities from time-to-time to keep us in awe.


Who knows what else may turn up in this even-numbered year with its odd catches?

Wow!  The fish were literally jumping out of the water!

Wow!  The fish were literally jumping out of the water!

Two honorees
Top Overall Lady Tagging Angler – Martha Macnab – Balboa Island, Calif. Striped Marlin – Martha Macnab – Balboa Island, Calif.



Native Californian Martha Macnab (Warlaumont) of Balboa Island, CA is an overachiever and no stranger to this column for her sportfishing accomplishments.

Martha and her husband, Larry Warlaumont, discovered the joys of sportfishing in 1974 in the small community of Buena Vista in the East Cape area near the tip of the Baja Peninsula. They began fishing with Captain Jesus Araiza and his deckhand Lico, who were already recognized for their fish-catching and boat-handling skills. The four made quite a team and it wasn't long before the Warlaumonts purchased their first boat, the Piñata, a 24-foot Skipjack which they quickly outgrew, replacing it with a 26-foot Penn Yan which they also named Piñata.
"I started out with a couple of dorado and then a striped marlin – all caught standing up in that rocking Mexican panga (outboard skiff) aptly named Dos Perros (2 dogs)," Martha recalled recently. “Even though I thought I would drop from exhaustion by the end of the day, I craved more, and that craving has never gone away."

Skill and excitement grew in equal portions: larger fish, more bites and better fishing all beckoned, as did larger boats. Next it was a 38-foot Uniflite dubbed Retriever, followed by a 50-foot Hatteras, a 58-foot Viking and currently a 61-foot Viking, all with the same name emblazoned on the transom. And they began traveling farther and farther from their beachfront home at Buena Vista.

Retriever became Martha's and Larry’s magic carpet ride to the world of sportfishing. Australia, Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Virgin Islands, Hawaii and Madeira were all part of the itinerary as she continued to hone her angling expertise.

Her accomplishments attest to her determination. Not necessarily in order:
To date, Martha has released well over 1,000 striped marlin and her best single day's release of 23 striped marlin was on the Finger Bank above Cabo San Lucas.

She captured the IFGA Billfish Grand Slam in 2010.

Her largest fish was taken in Kona – a 740-pound blue marlin which they tried to release, but it slammed into the boat, leaving a 2-inch hole and killing itself.

Taking Second Place in the Bisbee Black and Blue five times. Her personal best in the event was a 645-pound black in 2004. In 2013, she placed second, earning $1,185,862, the largest amount of cash won by a lady angler ever in any fishing event anywhere, according to Wayne Bisbee.

She also received women's top tagging Pacific blue marlin and striped marlin several times from the Billfish Foundation.

Her award for Top Overall Lady Tagging Angler in 2013 with 57 tags.
Standing only five-foot two-inches, Martha Macnab continues to dazzle the sportfishing world with accomplishments … literally raising the bar for women anglers everywhere and leading them to new heights.

Ages 13-15 –Top Overall Youth Tagging Angler – Nick Brackmann – Huntington Beach, Calif.



Nick Brackmann, a 15-year-old native California freshman attending Servite High School, a private school in Anaheim, Calif., lives in Huntington Beach with his parents. In addition to playing water polo, his hobbies include fishing, hunting and shooting sporting clays.
Fishing frequently with his father, uncles and grandpa aboard his family's 40-foot Cabo, in 2013 he caught 40+ striped marlin, tagging 30 with TBF tags earning him the Top Overall Youth Tagging Angler Award – Ages 13-15.

"Striped marlin are my favorite fish to catch," Nick revealed. "I not only enjoy watching them take the ballyhoo bait alongside a teaser, but I also enjoy the way they jump."

His entire family traveled to Miami for the TBF Awards’ ceremony during the Miami Boat Show. "It was exciting for our family to be there to see Nick accept his award," his father David Brackmann added proudly. "He has won a number of fishing awards and contests over the years through the Huntington Harbour Rod and Reel Club. He has been fishing offshore since he was three-years-old, hunting birds since he was 10 and pigs since he was 12."

Nick commented that he could hardly wait until their next trip to Cabo to fish with family and friends.

Martha Macnab laughed, "Nick is an up-and-coming angler, and you haven't heard the last of his fishing exploits!"

Sierra and sand
On a breezy Saturday afternoon in Cabo San Lucas, a stream of cars and trucks headed to the beach with fishing rods poking out of windows or bouncing over the tailgates of the trucks. Baja bonfires could be seen glowing up and down the beach as campsites grew and hoots, hollers and laughter echoed above the sounds of the wind-driven surf until late in the night. Finally, the wind subsided, the revelers nodded off, and quiet cloaked the beach.

One of those groups consisted of the Valdez brothers, Esaul, Axel and Felipe, along with their kids (Emilio and Emiliano), a host of their friends, including Jose Garcia, Elmo, the chef at their popular Buena Vista Beach Resort at East Cape, swelling their camp size to 14.

JOSE GARCIA TOOK home a bunch of the bacon; he caught the largest sierra, 2.66 kilo (6 pounds) he also caught another sierra weighing 1.4kilo (3 pounds).

"We camped and pre-fished the day before, and we also fished at night for pargo and shark; no luck, though. Only one bite," remarked Axel Valdez. "We built a nice bonfire and Elmo made a feast of carne clams in escabeche, carne asada with fresh made salsa. After the tournament, he prepared a ceviche with Captain Vicente’s sierras."

Early the following morning, before the 6:15 a.m. start, the procession of pick-ups, SUV's, ATV's and dune buggies, with headlights glowing, continued to Playa Migriño. Anglers unloaded fishing gear while Stephan Jansen and his crew of volunteers put the final touches on the stage and weigh station.

Precisely at 6:15, the announcement was made from atop a sandy berm that the 5th Annual Sierra Beach Tournament, the largest event of its kind ever held in Baja, began.

Lures were flung and poppers popped as 283 anglers who had each plunked down their 250 pesos in hopes of winning the Shimano Stella 14000 for first prize, began their quest for the winning sierra mackerel.
Cheers and laughter of spectators could be heard over the roaring surf as they shouted encouragement to their favorite anglers. Successful fishermen, with catch in hand sprinted for the weigh station, quickly had their fish weighed and recorded by tournament officials and then raced back to their preferred spot, taking a few minutes to reload both body and tackle before taking their place at the water's edge, hoping to hook another fish to improve their score.

Seabirds sailed above the waves while anglers angled under the watchful eyes of excited spectators on the sandy berm behind them. Every hookup brought shouts of encouragement as the final minutes of the three-hour competition ticked by.

Finally, Stephan Jansen, owner of Jansen Inshore Tackle towered over the growing crowd from the awards' stage. With a big grin he began, "Congratulations to the winners and all of you who made this event possible. I also want to give a shout out to Mr. Nestor Castro Castro of Denali Water for the donation of 300 bottles of water and Minerva's Baja Tackle for contributing T-shirts, hats and a rod with a Shimano reel complete with 500 yards of Power Pro Line."

Next, it was on to the awards which included rods, reels, trophies, cases of Tecate, etc., handed to winners to the blaring renditions of Queen's, "We are the Champions," soon followed by James Brown's, "I Feel Good!"
Jansen declared, "Jose Garcia took home a bunch of the bacon; he caught the largest sierra, 2.66 kilo (6 pounds); he also caught another sierra weighing 1.4kilo (3 pounds) which earned him the prestigious Sierra Killer Award."

"I've fished the event several times and won something twice. I have wanted a Shimano Stella for quite a while," elaborated Garcia. "I caught the winning fish on a small green popper with an orange belly. I found it at Jansen's Tackle, and told my friend that it would catch the winning fish … and it did. This is such a fun event … everyone seems to enjoy it, demonstrated by the number of participants and the fact that it's in its 5th year.

Minerva Saenz of Minervas Tackle remarked, " I have never sponsored the Sierra Tournament before, but I do remember the first tournament and I'm aware of how much it’s grown! A few of the boys who work in our store fished the tournament and what a feeling of community it has become. Can you imagine over 250 anglers on these magnificent beaches and the winning angler coming from La Paz to fish? When we opened our store 28 years ago, no one fished from the shore. Now “surf fishing" in Cabo San Lucas has become a draw both locally and internationally. We have Europeans who bring their surf equipment to fish from the shore. I love it!!!!"

What is most remarkable is this home-grown tournament has plenty of local support and has joined the ranks of the 'big boy' tournaments. It is providing a land-based opportunity that offers all the same fun, excitement, and enthusiasm as well as the camaraderie of its big brothers. It lacks only the roar of the boats and the smell of diesel fumes.

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