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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:

The final chapter of the show season
The 71st annual Fred Hall Shows will soon be history as the last one of the three takes place on March 23 – 26 at Del Mar.

Although few have a reason to attend every show, many in the industry do and the reviews have been stunning. The behemoth Long Beach show is held first in early March and according to the staff, the show was a complete “Exhibitor” sell-out which in itself seems to speak to the health of the industry.

WAHOO TAKEN SOUTH of Frailes on a CD-18 Rapala by angler Chris Kirkwood, Orange County while fishing aboard a Rancho Leonero boat.

By all appearances the spectator turnout was equally impressive. Day One, the line to enter the show formed and continued to grow long before the 1:00 p.m. opening. When gates opened, the aisles filled rapidly and they remained that way most of the day. The true test of the crowd was simply attempting to move easily from one booth to another.

By Sunday afternoon, many exhibitors shared Doug Kern’s, of Fisherman's Landing Tackle Shop, observation that “ This was our best show . . . ever.”

Of course, the fact that there were more than a dozen Baja and other below the border groups represented at the show was great for me, allowing me to catch up on all of the latest “Baja and Beyond” news.

For the first time, added to the Fred Hall Show line-up of shows was the Fred Hall Central Valley Sports Show; it is the largest show of its kind in the Central Valley on the Kern County Fairgrounds. The three-day event was spread out over three buildings with many of the same exhibitors plus others from the central and northern part of the state.

This excellent show features Fishing, Hunting, International Travel, Boats and acres of RV’s. As was typical for all three Fred Hall Shows, there was a full day’s worth of family fun activities; however, the Bakersfield show offers some fun events that are only available at this unique site with almost unlimited outdoor space.

In addition to the popular “Duck Races” and “Dock Dog Jumping competition,” there was a huge custom car show, the 4th Annual Southern California National Tractor and Truck Pull and Bako Sand Drags. If you missed it this year, don’t miss it in 2018…it’s a hoot!

So it boils down to this. The final, final Fred Hall show in going on right now at the Del Mar Fairgrounds . . . and it is also bigger than ever and promises to be as exciting as its predecessors. Four days filled with fishing and “how-to, where to go” seminars, Paul Bunyan Lumberjack show, Great American Duck Races, Ultimate Air Dogs, Sporting Chef Café and much more.

For my “Below the Border” bunch, Baja is going to be well represented by exhibitors, some of which are offering show specials and the latest up-to-date information on their respective areas:

• Baja Fishing Convoys

• Baja's Van Wormer Resorts

• Cedros Adventures

• Cedros Kayak Fishing

• Cedros Outdoor Adventures

• Clark’s Outdoor Sporting Adventures

• Rancho Leonero Resort

• Pesca La Baja Secretaria de Pesca y Acuacultura de B.C

• Tailhunter Sportfishing

• Tony Reyes

In case you don’t make it to the show, here’s a quick update on the fishing and upcoming season.


So far that seems to be the refrain I’m hearing. Yellowtail boiling on the surface at Loreto; dorado, a few roosters and jacks already in the counts at La Paz. Down at East Cape, the season has exploded out of the gate with wahoo, 100-plus-pound tuna, and sierra chasing sardina schools along the shore. This is just a sampling of the fishing news filtering in now.

The north wind, always a winter factor in the Sea of Cortez, seems to be blowing itself out a little early. This may account for a few scattered reports of swordfish sightings at East Cape and farther down on the Gordo Banks where the first cow-sized yellowfin tuna have already come over the rail.

This is enough good news to replace the dreaded “Cabin Fever” with excitement and anticipation.

I will be at the Del Mar Show every day. If I’m not roaming the aisles, I can be found in the International Game Fish Association Booth. Stop by and say ¡Hola!

‘If I Could Turn Back Time’
Remember back when many of us camped along the Sea of Cortez enjoying the isolation? Often there wouldn’t even be another soul as far as one could see; we would have the entire beach to ourselves. I can still imagine I hear the sounds of that Baja, fish fillets sizzling over the crackling campfire and the Sea of Cortez gently slurping against the coarse sandy beach.

Then supper finished, fire reduced to embers, surrounded by silence broken occasionally by one critter or another asserting itself, our gaze would be drawn to the heavens where the moon and stars, along with a planet or two, seemed so close if felt like we could’ve reached out and touched them.

LATER THAT NIGHT as I sipped my final, final for the night, I gazed at the starlit Baja sky.

That was many, many years ago and it served as the foundation for much of our family folklore. Too many of those spots are gone, lost to developers who believed they could improve on nature with their hotels, housing developments, RV parks, marinas, etc.

One of our favorite spots in those days was Santa Maria Cove, nestled between the iconic hotels, Cabo San Lucas and Twin Dolphins. Eventually there were two-story condos built behind the berm in the cove.

Today, even those seemingly state-of-the-art developments have been demolished, falling prey to the new gangs of developers who attempt to improve nature with their vision of the better mousetrap.

But in our early Baja history, camping out in the middle of nowhere and fishing uncharted waters was not considered risky . . . not by our family and not by most who traveled the newly completed Mex 1; unlike the present, when few are willing to risk their safety to bask in the isolation that drew many early tourists to Baja, when they can locate such spots of isolation.

Baja has certainly changed over the past 40 plus years of our travels. More and more tourists discovered the wonders of Baja and Cabo San Lucas went from a small village to a large city, as did San Jose and La Paz. With their growth, the remote isolation that was such an attraction, dimmed. Literally, the bright city lights dimmed the star-filled heavens to a mere shadow of what they once were.

Last summer I fished in a Dorado tournament out of Villa Del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto located approximately 30 miles south of Loreto.

I had passed the entrance on numerous trips just before where Mex 1 turns westward near Ligui towards the grade that leads up toward Villa Insurgentes, but I had never turned in to check out the property.

Described in their brochure as a luxurious 181 room hotel set on an astounding natural setting along the shore of Danzante Bay, it is part of a 4,447-acre resort that features unspoiled beauty. It offers three different restaurants, five swimming pools, a 39,000-square-foot luxury spa, tennis courts, miles of hiking trails, glass-bottomed kayaks, sport fishing, and a nearly finished Rees Jones-designed golf course — in short, every modern amenity a Baja Tourist could hope for.

What struck me when I drove past the Guard Shack and entrance was that the description seemed similar to many luxury hotels that have sprung up in and around the larger cities in Baja Sur.

However, here there were no neighboring developments. It was literally in the middle of nowhere, by itself. Reminiscent of some of the isolation of the old camping spots we frequented many years ago, yet I have to admit combined with all the creature comfort features and amenities, it seemed appealing.

Here I was in a remote location on the shores of the Sea of Cortez with an uncrowded beach with all the water toys one could imagine; plus just a few miles up the road was Puerto Escondido where both pangas and cruisers could be chartered for fishing trips.

That first evening after an excellent dinner at one their three restaurants, I strolled past the various pools to the almost deserted beach. There, out in the middle of the small bay, were several SUPs with people slowly paddling them across the bay. Not so unusual you say? These were the coolest SUPs I had ever seen, equipped with underwater lights. Though I lacked time on that trip, my next visit will definitely include a little night fishing on one of those tricked-out SUPs.

Later that night as I sipped my final, final for the night, I gazed at the starlit Baja sky. I saw the same sky that I remembered from years past and was delighted to realize a Baja remote destination, with the proper vision, could be mixed with amenities without diminishing either.

I guess you might say I found a place where I could turn back time…

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.

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