Pat McDonell's Blog

WONews Column by Pat McDonell

Pat McDonell is the Editorial Director of Western
Outdoors Publications and has fished and hunted all over the world, from Brazil’s famed peacock bass waters to Morro Bay for albacore.

A graduate from San Diego State University in Journalism, he coordinates the staffs of the weekly newspaper and magazine. He was a founding member of United Anglers of SoCal. He’s an avid saltwater and freshwater angler and hunter. He is also the director of the annual Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Tournament held each November in Cabo.  McDonell, 52, is married with two daughters and resides in Carlsbad.

Bits and pieces
Like all folks in a new year, I’m clearing the decks of a few bits of news.

Of greatest interest lately is Irvine Lake. Unfortunately, my source says nothing is going to happen with that lake for at least a year. Irvine Co. still has possession of the land, including the 14 acres of concession land for the old marina and buildings, and as of yet has not been turned over to Orange County as part of a land donation by Irvine Co. There are water issues. Serrano Water District, kicked out as the concessionaire a year ago by Irvine Co. at the direction of the County as a prerequisite to the exchange between OC and Irvine Co., still owns 25 percent of the water rights. There is no movement on anything. Someone is making serious coin, $50,000 a month, on the RV storage at the lake. The water district is likely taking that rent money as payoff for the 25 percent of the value of the water rights. I don’t know, for now, cross fishing Irvine Lake off your to-do list for 2017. Despite the rains, it’s still a mudhole.

RUSSELL BARTHEL’S DOG, DEUCE, is a litter-mate to Barthel’s dog, Katrina. “They will be 3 in April,” said Barthel, adding that his older dog, Raife, is 13 “and slowing down but doing great.”

WON ad rep Ben Babbitt returned from a travel trip with his spouse to the west coast of Baja to beach fishing/surf spots north of Guerrerro Negro but he did not take the cursed Mex. 1 down most of the way start to finish. And the trip came just before all hell broke loose in Mexico on the fuel price increase. There’s more on that elsewhere and it’s an evolving situation, daily.

Anyway, Babbitt did what a lot of travelers are choosing to, which is make the freeway run east to Calexico, then down to San Felipe on a very nice Mex. 5 and down to Puertocitos, then Gonzaga Bay, and then back to the Mex. 1 on the remaining 20 miles of dirt road.

It circumvents the horrid traffic from the border to the L.A. Bay turnoff. The new road from Gonzaga Bay is almost done. Wide, new and no side-mirror slamming tomato or shipping trucks, signals and towns. If you are driving south, and dread Mex. 1, I HIGHLY recommend this route. Faster, safer, few if any checkpoints. Drive it only during the day ‘cuz there are still cows. When I make my run this year to all the way to Cabo towing my skiff, this is the route I will take to and from.

For updated road conditions, check with Discover website. It’s quite extensive and updated often. The latest report on the new road: “Mex 5 from Puertecitos to Gonzaga Bay is paved and in great condition. The paved road continues to Mex 1 for about 20 kilometers past Gonzaga. The construction crews are actively working to complete the paving to Mex 1.” And there will be updates in the gas situation. For now, avoid driving in Mexico.

Remote Gonzaga Bay has a tourist milestone. It has a hotel, Alphonsina’s. Nice spot, good food, but Babbitt and his wife paid $80 and there was no water for the room. At $80, it’s pretty pricey for Baja, and a ripoff for not having any water. Check the room before staying, or paying full pop. But Google reviews are varied. Still, pretty great for the location. It’s new, but not a resort, but it beats camping. Keep expectations in check. It has a website.

Two WON trips I am again hosting are filling up pretty quick, and a third was just added last week. One charter trip is to Sitka‘s Kingfisher Lodge, arriving Aug. 28, fishing Aug 29, 30, 31, and departing Sept. 1. You can add days on to the trip through the lodge, while you will book the three-day fishing trip through WON. Contact Ben Babbitt at Another annual trip I am hosting is the Cedros Island trip with Cedros Outdoor Adventures. That trip has just 12 slots for 2½ days of fishing Friday, Sept. 15 to Monday, Sept. 18. I am looking for three anglers who want to fly out of Brown Field with me, which is an added cost, and stay an extra day to fish. That makes it a more expensive trip (around $2,400) but offers more fishing time and is logistically easier with flights from the U.S. Contact me at if interested in the extended stay with the private flight. For the standard trip, contact Ben Babbitt. It is filling fast. And, just added, there is the 3½-day Constitution trip to Puerto Vallarta April 16-20. Contact WON’s Ben Babbitt on this one, limited to 12 people, at (949) 366-0726. Cost is $1,540.

Speaking of Cedros, if you look on the website it contains some great info on the biospheres created to protect the islands and inlets of west coast Baja from shrimp boats and purse seiners. It’s a good thing. There is much to be decided before the biospheres will be enforced, and meetings between U.S and Mexican officials and Mexican Navy are approaching. See this link:

THE MARCH 10-12 Central Valley Sportsman’s Show is similar, but different than the LB and SD Hall shows. A two-day car show on the weekend, Bakos drag races all three days, a monster RV area, but there are still flying water dogs, travel, boats and tackle.

Show season is approaching: Fred Hall and Associates are running three of them this year: the monstrous 5-day Long Beach show March 1-5, the Central Valley Sports Show, March 10-12 in Bakersfield, and then the 4-day San Diego show March 23-26. The Central Valley show is new to the Hall family, and just listening to Bart Hall describe it makes me want to run up to Central Cal that weekend and check it out. Bart said the event is unique and different than the other two. Amazingly, the showgoers are heavily into saltwater. You would not think that, but demographic surveys show that 60 percent are deep sea anglers. Bart said there will be huge boat display areas. There will be a heavy emphasis on the hunting, guns and shooting, freshwater lakes, and sportsman’s travel of course.

One cool aspect is that it is combined with a Super Cruise car show is on Saturday and Sunday, domestic on Saturday, imports on Sunday. They are estimating 1,500 vehicles for the weekend. And, there are the wild and dusty/muddy Bako Sand Drag Races ( com/watch?v=cTYy_KEeMT0 ) that run the entire show. This is a national event with racers from all over the country. It’s exciting as hell. And noisy.

Saturday night is the Tractor and Truck Pull competition in the rodeo arena. It’s large event with big crowds,” said Mike Lum, who organizes the shows with Bart and other staff at Fred Hall & Associates.

We’ll have more on those three sportsman’s shows in upcoming editions, but Bakers­field might be a fun weekend getaway for some of us who have not experienced this show.

Don Barthel is a longtime reader who sends in reports here and there, like a lot of our loyal folks, and scored a fun pheasant hunt Jan. 3 at the Woodland Hunt Club, the 3-acre alfalfa field, about 20 miles NW of El Centro.

“The field we mainly hunted in was wet and slightly muddy from rain. But we picked a good window on the weather, low 60s and very little breeze. Although the dogs could have used a little more. We were the only ones hunting. I bought 6 pheasants that were released in that field. One flew into an adjacent field that we hunted for but never saw. Of the 5 in the original field, we got 4 plus 2 that somebody else overlooked or missed.”

He said his shooting partner, Russell, shot over a large stack of hay and paid for that shot by having to use a ladder in order to retrieve the bird.

“Two of the birds planted for us were hens, one got away on a wild flush out of range. The one we got was not pictured,” he said. After the hunt and New Year’s Eve, the group enjoyed barbecued pheasant to bring in the new year.

NICKY DARE OF Santa Clarita fished the Cabo tuna last week from her boat Hakuna Matuna and scored some nice yellowfin. Not the big ones, but they pulled hard and the tuna tasted great on the sashimi plate at Capt. Tony’s restaurant.

And, Nicky Dare, a Santa Clarita resident, firearms safety instructor and friend who fished the Cabo Tuna Tourney for the first time this past year (and is going again), sent me some shots of Cabo tuna on her boat. She and her husband Scott trailered their skiff down and fished for weeks, and said while Cabo fishing was slow with dropping temps, there were some tuna in the area, and sent me a nice shot of her hugging one with the Arch in the background.

“Fishing in general has been a little slow, the water temperature was 74 degrees both on Pacific and Cortez sides, wind about 30-35 mph in early mornings about 10-11 a.m. Both sides were choppy,” texted Nicky. “We did trolling with lures all the way from the arch to the old lighthouse. Few strikes but nothing exciting. Landed a 10-pound skipjack and released it, then we caught a small triggerfish, which was pretty interesting since I have never caught nor landed one before! Later we went back on lures right about half to one mile off the old lighthouse on Pacific side, we caught a yellowfin, roughly 29-30 pounds on a 50-pound line. Perfect for early dinner Sashimi at Captain Tony’s for the next couple days!”

Finger Bank Tuna Frenzy
One has to wonder if last Tuesday’s epic bite at the Finger Bank was indeed the best bite ever for fish in the 300-pound class; this capping a year of cow-sized tuna for Cabo that might be also be the “best ever!”

CABO SAN LUCAS — Tracy Ehrenberg of Pisces Sportfishing was typing furiously last week from her office above the malecon that rings the Cabo Marina. It seems the huge tuna that have been showing up here and there on the offshore banks appear to have congregated at the Finger Bank, about 50 miles up the Pacific side from the famous Cabo Arch.


THE SANTANA SCORED a huge tuna, over 330 pounds. Here are two pictures of it and the three sons and father, Jesse.

That is the spot where the marlin fishing has been outstanding, too, and the first sportfisher to record a big tuna close to the 300-pound mark was the charterboat Caliente. That yellowfin, estimated at about 280 pounds plus, hit a mackerel intended for a marlin. That was the word and limited information on Facebook. The work on the great marlin and tuna action got out, and it was game on the week after Christmas.

The fact is, 2016, has been the best big-tuna season in Cabo’s sportfishing history. Dozens upon dozens of cows over 200 pounds, 8 of them over 200 pounds alone in the two-day Cabo Tuna Jackpot in early November. That “best-ever” designation comes from Tracy Ehrenberg who with her husband Marco have watched the “scene” unfold for the past 35 years as sportfishing operators in Cabo as well.

The best one-day take? It might be swell be last Tuesday’s Finger Bank Frenzy, said Ehrenberg.

“Yesterday took us all by surprise,” said Ehrenberg on Wednesday. “We got a call late in the day when offices were closing from somebody at the dock saying that a massive tuna, perhaps a record, had been brought in aboard the 65 foot Viking Santana. We rushed down to the scale to verify the information and saw what indeed a huge tuna was hanging up. This boat had their own electronic scale, but needed to charge it, which gave us time to chat.

“We spoke with Jesse Santana who owns the boat and was fishing with his three sons, Jesse Jr., Joseph and Jacob. It was 21-year-old Joseph who had hooked the fish. They had headed out towards the Finger Bank and were after marlin, the boys were on the bow casting live mackerel as the frigate birds dove, indicating the presence of feeding fish.

“They saw what they thought for a second was a marlin tail and then Joseph’s bait was taken and the fight was on. After about 20 minutes they realized they were not fighting a marlin, but a tuna and the marlin tail they had seen was actually the long signature fin of a very large tuna.”

Joseph did an admirable job, using a Shimano Talica 25 with 100-pound spectra and 130-pound monofilament line and managed to get the beast to the boat in just 45 minutes, said Ehrenberg, after fighting the fish standup.

THE PISCES’ BILL COLLECTOR nabbed a 300-plus-pound tuna the same day at Santana’s, at the Finger Bank. There were two others also reported from that area last Tuesday.

“No fighting chair required for this accomplished angler, quite an achievement for a slender young man who only weighs 158 pounds himself."

The fish ended up more than twice the weight of the angler at 335 pounds and had a fork length of 83 inches and girth of 58 inches. The Santana family is from Riverside, CA, and Jesse explained how he got his sons into fishing as a healthy activity and a way to spend quality time together. The boys have been fishing since they were toddlers.

That was not all, said Ehrenberg.

“As if this wasn’t enough we got a call from our Pisces dockmaster Oscar, to say our boat the Bill Collector was coming in late and had a really big tuna,” she said. “Captain Juan told us that he had also gone looking for marlin near the Finger Banks with the Crespi family from Michigan on board. Chris his wife and two sons in their 20s headed up the Pacific in search of billfish activity. They saw frigate birds diving and saw tuna but didn’t get a bit until noon, when an enormous tuna took a live mackerel on tackle precisely for this kind of fish, 150-pound spectra leader and 80-pound line. After an hour and 40 minutes the fish was suddenly gone.”

That they were disappointed would be an understatement, but the game crew decided to give it another try, she said. Captain Julio said it was an amazing sight to see his boat surrounded by monster tuna, 30 or 40 fish all in the 200- to 300-pound class. They put out another tuna rig and one for marlin and got hit 20 minutes later but this time on the marlin tackle which was 10-pound fluorocarbon leader with only 40-pound line.

Nevertheless, luck was on their side and they managed to get the fish to the boat, where they struggled to boat it for 10 minutes between crew and anglers and just in time, the circle hook, intended for releasing fish, broke as they pulled it on board.

“It was well after dark when they got back to the marina and the fish was not weighed, however the fork length was 84 inches and the girth 52 inches, putting it right up there with the 335-pound tuna brought in 40 minutes earlier,” said Ehrenberg.

But, wait there’s more. Somebody then sent Pisces a photo of a third huge tuna, this time caught aboard Mucho Bueno estimated to be 275 to 300 pounds followed by yet another tuna, caught aboard El Regalo that was in the same category.

“We have NEVER seen such a day in the history of Cabo where sportfishing boats have brought in so many tuna of this size.

Just goes to show, Cabo is the place to be….sushi anybody?”

Back to the Bay Bass Open
Once again, I plan on beating my head against the wall in the attempt to finish in the top 10 in the 22nd annual San Diego Anglers Open Bay Bass tournament coming up Jan. 21. It is the only tournament I fish in as a competitor, and truth be told, I have finished in the top 25 only a few times in the past 15 or so years I have competed, but never have I made the top 10. The competition is fierce, but if you do finish high in the standings, you know you did it against some of the best anglers around. I have a few new tricks and baits to test for prefishing. We all do.

THE CHAMPS LAST year were brothers Joe and Michael Israel with 11.3 pounds to take the $1,500 from Fisherman’s Landing Tackle.

More importantly, the derby gives me a chance to fish with a good friend, Floyd Sparks, and also reconnect with a lot of people in the industry who show up as competitors, as well as those in the industry who place sponsors’ tables under the big-top tent next to the launch ramp. I don’t get out there in the mix as often as I should as editor. There is only so much time, but this is one I mark on the calendar each year.

Of course, the event is open to the public, and yeah, you can fish in it, it’s cheap to compete, and fun, and the bass are released back into the bay, and the lunch and free beer from Ballast Point are a nice part of the event. Because paydowns are through 25th place, there is a good chance to win and walk up to get a check at the podium, win a raffle prize and above all, competing also drives you to be a better fisherman and learn to fish the bay — which is a unique and diverse fishery in itself and which can be fished all year long. We are talking some big bass, halibut, calicos on the outside and even light-tackle bonefish on the back-bay flats on ghost shrimp.

The volunteers from the club are amazing, and the organization of the events by the San Diego Anglers fishing club is the best I have ever experienced, and as the director the Cabo Tuna Jackpot, I know what it takes to put on an annual event. You have to have a passion for it, make it fun for anglers and 100 staffers, cater to dozens of sponsors, and comply with Port of San Diego regulations. Not an easy task.

And, I might add, this is the last time we will have to endure the Shelter Island launch ramp as it now exists, and frankly, I won’t feel any nostalgia as the poor, overused and undersized ramp is long overdue for a rebuild by the Port of San Diego. I wrote about this a month or two ago. I think the plans are amazingly well-done given the Port engineers had to stay within the same outer bay footprint. A month or so after the tourney, construction over 11 months begins, and I thank the Port for finally getting it done.

CONSERVATION IS CRITICAL to the event. The attempt is always made to keep all bass alive and release them all back into the bay. Here, anglers keep their three bass submerged in release bags before weighing in.

The word is, sand bass are in nearshore waters and also in the bay, and hopefully it will mean good fishing and bigger 3-fish bags. It’s been tough going the past two years. I would know!

So, if you are interested in the bay bass event as a two-man boater team or a one- or two-man kayak team, here are the details. It will be held at Shelter Island Launch ramp and costs $145 per two-man team. The event is limited to 150 teams. I feel it will again sell out and dang, I’d better get my entry in. Been lagging behind, but it’s been a busy, busy fall and holiday season. First place is $1,500 and that is sponsored by Fisherman's Landing Tackle for largest 3-bass sack (sand, calicos or spotties). The paydowns are all sponsored, and even the 25th team wins back their entry fee.

Also, there is a $500 first place prize in the kayak division ($65 entry) sponsored by Fast Lane Sailing and Kayaks and Hobie Kayaks. There is an optional $5 a team halibut jackpot, plus the massive free barbecue and raffle to follow under a massive tent, and it’s open to the public. You can now pay by credit card on the website. (Turns out a lot of folks don’t use personal checks any more!) For more info, contact the co-directors Dwayne Patenaude (619) 972-1503 or Mike Kezele (619) 733-9156, or go to under the tournament tab.

There is also the pre-event San Diego Bay Bass Tournament Seminar Saturday, Jan. 14 at Dana Landing Bait and Tackle, 2580 Ingraham St., San Diego. Call for more details (619) 226-2929. A little bit of advice: If you go to the seminar, Dana Landing’s owner Steve Pinard said if you join CCA for the year, you get a $40 gift card for the tackle shop. That is a killer deal for tackle and conser­vation!

* * *

Speaking of the ”calendar” of events, the new Bill Varney/CCA Fishing calendar is out and they are selling like crazy at the tackle shops. I helped Varney with a few of the photos. It is important to note the calendar this year is going to benefit the California Coastal Alliance (CCA). I saw CCA’s Varney (our surf fishing columnist/editor) at the tour of the Hubbs-Sea World halibut/seabass/WSB brood stock facility at Mission Bay recently and he said in just a few weeks he had sold 1,500 of them, and that was two weeks ago. Congrats.

I have two on my walls, one at home and in one in my WON office.

* * *

San Diego Anglers is creating a 501c3 fundraising arm of the club, mainly to allow people to donate money toward the club’s expanding charity fishing efforts. Last year they had 4 Wounded Warriors charters on local sportboats, a Muscular Dystrophy charter on the Vagabond and a ‘Fishing In The Pines’ kids day at Cuyamaca. Seven events in all for 2016, and with the non-profit status more people will donate, and more charters can be added for 2017, said Dwayne Patenaude. Heading up all that is Dwayne’s wife, Debbie, the club president this year.

“Wounded Warriors wanted to do a charter a month, and we couldn’t do that with our finances, but our former club president is getting that 501c3 status set up and now more people will donate with the tax status. “Seeing the Wounded Warriors fishing, or the kids, you see them in their shell, keeping to themselves, but when they start getting bites, they start getting excited and smiling. It’s pretty amazing for us. And, I’m told that of all the activities for the Wounded Warriors, the fishing charters are the easiest and quickest to fill. These veterans all grew up as hunters and fishermen.

* * *

Pat McDonell is editor of Western Outdoor News and directs the Cabo Tuna Jackpot. Contact him at

Part owner, former longtime manager of H&M passes
Heart attack was cause of death for 74-year-old Phil Lobred at his home last Wednesday; He is remembered for his smooth steady hand at the tiller of the landing, and his passion for collecting knives and above all his friends and family


PHIL LOBRED, 74, passed away last Wednesday, Dec. 14, from a heart attack at his home. PHOTO BY ERIC EGGLY

SAN DIEGO — Phil Lobred, 74, passed away Wednesday at his home, of an apparent heart attack. The longtime manager and part owner of H&M Landing retired from full-time duties two years ago, but he was still involved in the landing in San Diego with Frank Ursitti now at the helm, and was planning his next collector's knife show, an annual event in San Diego.

He had undergone two back surgeries recently, and has been dealing with Parkinsons disease, but the heart attack was a surprise and a blow to this who have known him for decades. Reportedly his wife Judy found him collapsed but paramedics could not revive him. The death was a shock to his friends, family and many captains and fellow knife collectors.

“I have known Phil since 1990 and was fortunate to share a desk with him for the better part of a year when I first took over H&M in March of 2015,” said Ursitti. “There was a private side of Phil few were able to see, and I feel truly fortunate to have been welcomed into that facet of his life. It’s times like these when we search for the right words to define one’s life. We attempt to commit those thoughts, those memories to some form of communication to convey how those who have passed on have impacted our lives.

“When I think of Phil, I’m not sure there would be an end to this process. Steadfast and fiercely loyal, he was a dedicated family man like no other. He loved his wife Judy, daughter Sandee and grandsons Kyle and Jeffery. Never a day passed where there was mention or discussion regarding each and every one. His passion was his family, and the legacy he would leave behind. We often had this discussion.”

lobredandursittiLOBRED AND URSITTI at the landing soon after the transition. WON PHOTO BY PAT McDONELL

Phil C. Lobred was born Feb. 16, 1944 in Washington D.C. His father worked for the Department of Defense designing torpedoes in the factories that faced the Potomac River in Alexandria VA.After the war, the family relocated to Alaska, homesteading a piece of property in Big Lake and later moving to Anchorage.

Over the years, Phil married his high school sweetheart Judy and began to grow his family and started a project on his property that would ultimately define his life.

Lobred built out a 55-foot trimaran Kashim over the course of six years. In 1976, he, his wife Judy and daughter Sandee set sail south and landed in Seattle. After a brief stay, the family headed south and ended up in San Diego Bay, where they rented a slip from the Miller family, second generation operators of H&M Landing.

Before long, Phil took a job at the landing as dock master. In just a few short years, Phil was offered a partnership interest in H&M Landing and the rest is history.

His plan was to travel the world by sea and have a series of adventures on land and sea.

“I just wanted to get to different places like San Francisco Bay and then sail on,” Lobred said in an interview with Ed Zieralski of the San Diego Union in 2014. But when he moored in San Diego Bay, H&M Landing was looking for a carpenter, and Lobred filled that role. He went on to be dock supervisor and then general manager before buying a share in the landing.

He never pulled anchor, is how Zieralski put it, and generations of fishermen and captains and boat owners are better for it.

“He was not a former captain or boat owner. He had a diverse set of interests not related to just fishing and boats, so he came at his job and dealing with people from a different perspective, and Phil took the landing in the right direction at a time when it was really needed,” said Catherine Miller, whose grandfather, Ralph “Barney” Miller Sr., was one of the pioneers who started H&M Landing, and the Miller family has been involved in the landing for most of the 80-year history.

Miller continued, “Phil artfully manned the helm at H&M through calm and storm for more than 37 years. For that, my family and the fleet will be forever grateful. He was a renaissance man, a leader and gentleman with wide-ranging interests and passion for art, history and of course custom knives. He was a remarkable man and a friend.”

During his time as managing partner, Phil grew the H&M fleet to over 30 prosperous charter and open party vessels, earning the distinction of the largest sportfishing landing on the West Coast.

“His leadership qualities where his hallmark,” said Ursitti. “His compassion for his fleet unwavering. Phil was a consummate collector. Throughout his life, he carefully procured and commissioned works of art that were not only unique, but highlighted his personal interests. Native American art, African art, Inuit scrimshaw and of course his knives. Phil was, and will always remain, the most prominent collector of art knives.”

Lobred battled Parkinson’s for 12 years, and stepped down from full-time duties to bring in Ursitti as part owner and manager of day to operations, but as Ursitti told WON, he would not allow the disease to define him.

“This was the most courageous side of Phil,” said Ursitti. “He and I would have long discussions regarding his condition, yet he never let it get the best of him. He fought daily, pushing himself beyond every obstacle his affliction threw his way.”

Ursitti added, “When we lose a man like Phil, we often reflect on how we wish we had more time, more time to gain their knowledge, their perspectives, their insight and their wisdom. We wish we shared more meals, more personal times, getting to know their true spirit. Phil welcomed me into his world and I do have some of those regrets, however I try not to focus on that, and like many others, am focusing on how fortunate I am to have shared part of my life with such an incredible man.”

Phil was survived by his loving wife Judy, daughter Sandee, grandsons Kyle and Jeffery, mother Sammye, sisters Linda and Susan.

Catherine Miller said a quote from Lobred in the San Diego Union interview summed up her feeling about Lobred’s his relationship with people and his philosophy of life.

“I have many ‘things,’ as you might surmise,” Lobred said to the interviewer Zieralski, “But as I get older, I think I covet my friendships the most. Without them, it would be a lonely, long life filled with things.”

A MONTAGE OF Lobred, young and old, and a few of his art knives he collected. A man of many talents and interests, Lobred hosted an annual knife collectors show in San Diego.

Larry Edwards remembers Phil Lobred

Capt. Larry Edwards, sportfisher captain, former owner of Fisherman’s Landing Tackle and who now owns Cortez Yacht Charters, was among the first to know of his friend’s passing and recalls his intense devotion to the angling experience for his customers. And he was a pretty sharp backgammon player, as it turns out.

“During my 50-plus years in the West Coast sport fishing industry, only a very few individual leaders came along that cared so much about the angling passengers as did Phil Lobred,” said Edwards. “I first met Phil in San Marino at the home of my then boss, Jim Packer, back in the late 70s, when I was skippering the charter yacht, El Tiburon. Phil was an avid collector of knives and was there to do a little trading or buying of knives that Jim had purchased recently at an antique show.

“I was there to play backgammon and Phil was interfering with my winning opportunity. As the years progressed, Phil and I had many conversations related to operational improvements for the sportfishing industry and particularly the individual angling passengers. He recognized early on the importance of the many facets of the fishing business that he endeavored to improve on with each passing year as he progressed from an Alaskan sailboater that knew very little about fishing to a respected and well-known landing owner-operator.

“Phil had included his lovely wife, Judy and their then young daughter, Sandee, and they all weathered the everyday ups and downs of making things work for the better. Phil grew along with the landing's business as the passing of the years started to creep up on him. He was getting anxious to retire and finally completed an excellent arrangement with Captain Frank Ursitti, one of the current owner-operators at the Landing that not only had parallel ideas for the Landing but came in with a host of new beneficial improvements for their fishing operations.

“I would share with the readers that had you known Phil Lobred, you would have agreed that he was one of the rare few individual leaders that for many years made an enormously sincere effort to create sportfishing improvements and his passing will be missed terribly by so many. My heartfelt condolences to his family. I considered Phil a good friend will surely miss him in his passing.”

Edwards was GM of H&M Landing from the late ‘60s to early ‘70s, back when Catherine Miller was still a little girl and her father, Ralph Miller, then owned the landing. Left the landings and the last of the sport boats for me was the Vagabond and went to Africa in the mid 70s to run a yacht out of Lagos, Nigeria and upon return went to work for Jim Packer on El Tiburon, built a home in Cabo San Lucas and ran the boat from there for 6-7 months a year and then dashed back to San Diego to run albacore season here. Started Cortez Yacht Charters in 1984 and stayed with doing that through the present day.

Mexico's biosphere: What is known
It's a good move by Mexico to protect its resources

 But Islas Cedros and Benitos could be off-limits under biosphere's basic provisions


I have been looking into the impacts of the massive biosphere that was just announced by Mexican fisheries Dec. 7, in which eight “polygons” or areas on Baja’s west coast and 21 islands seems to be staggering in scope – and the usual confusion on these sorts of announcements. Mexico is not great at boiling things down, or providing translations. Here it is, have at it.

Essentially Mexico published its announcement in a 100-plus page document complete with maps. The San Diego Union Tribune produced a story a few days after the announcement, but while it’s clear about locking out purse seiners and shrimp trawlers and other destructive industry, the document left out any details on how it might affect sportfishing. That is because details are largely unknown at this point.

First things first: While the biosphere is established and is official, and it’s overall provisions are outlined in the document, there will be series of meetings at three key areas sometime in January to get to the devil of the details.

Bottom line, this is conservation at work, and Mexico is protecting its resources, as it should, and its local industry. That includes rampant purse seining on the outside and shrimp trawling that is brutally destructive to nearshore bays like Vizcaino and Magdalena.

Before I go any further, let’s get down to brass tacks, so to speak. After getting a copy of the document and having it translated, and looking at the maps, a few things are clear: Commercial fishing interests from the mainland won’t be happy. Good. Those sportfishing boats that like to stop at Cedros and Benitos Island won’t be happy either unless something can be worked out in these meetings. Sorry, that is surely bad news – at this point. I’ll get to why that is likely, given the document’s wording, in a bit.

The Coronados and Todos Santos, San Martin, Alijos Rocks – all included – should remain open with some restrictions, which are likely minor in terms of sportfishing. That’s what the meetings will determine. Guadalupe already is a biosphere. Unless something happens on that front to the few shark cage and sportfishing permits (3 boats) from San Diego) being issued through the Mexican government, there is no problem there.

So let’s look at this thing. The basics of the biosphere document were translated by Jose Sanchez of Cedros Outdoor Adventures, who is a marine biologist, and his partner in the business, his wife Melanie Lamaga. Jose did not write this biosphere document, but he has been aware of its 10-year development in the long slow process, and 7 years and alerted at least one sportfishing landing operator about it seven years ago. He told them that Cedros and Benitos might be off-limits by sportfishers unless they partner up somehow with local island businesses. Part of the biosphere’s protections are not just about birds and plants and fish, it protects the interests of current businesses on the islands. Now, that was before Jose and Melanie had a lodge. They were just starting out, and a second operator also began chartering pangas. Cedros now has a thriving panga fleet, with three operations that fly anglers in from the U.S. and Ensenada. Two have lodges (one a lodge and the other a converted waterfront home) and another smaller panga operation operating out of a local hotel.

Sanchez was approached by this reporter and agreed to translate the key provisions of the document. Here are Jose and Melanie’s translations of key elements and a few comments:

- In Mexico, Natural Protected Areas (NPAs), also known as Biosphere Reserves, are created by the federal government and signed into law by the President of Mexico.

- NPAs have the main objective of the preservation and sustainable management of the natural resources, ecosystems and species of wildlife in the area.

-The new NPA (Islas de Pacifica de Baja California) includes Cedros Island, plus 20 other islands and 97 islets, along with the surrounding waters.

- On these islands and the surrounding waters, unique ecosystems and species exist. Some are rare, endangered, or require strict management with focus on sustainability.

- As in every other Mexican Biosphere Reserve, as specified by the law, the main beneficiaries from the use and exploitation of these natural resources are the local communities, who must be involved in any economic activity (as was done, for example, with whale watching in San Ignacio lagoon).

- In the case of Benitos and Cedros islands, the local community and local sportfishing operations in existence before the decree will be the exclusive ones allowed to develop projects to exploit the fisheries and resources of the area going forward.

- The decree establishes the general rules, effective immediately after its publication (Dec 7, 2016), but the specific details of its operation and management will be decided during the various meetings and discussions coming over the next few months. The resulting bylaws will be used by the agency of the NPA (CONANP) to administer the NPA.

- Any concession or permit issued before the decree will be valid until its expiration.

Melanie was good enough to also give me a key guide to the maps in the document. The overall map is attached here in this blog but it is not in a large, readable form.  You can find all the hi-res maps and the document in the link coming up.

Reading the Map

- In the decree ( there are maps in which areas are illustrated, noting the areas off limits for certain activities or access (i.e. Zonas Nucleo and Zonas de Amortiguamiento).

- Destructive and intensive fisheries such as shrimp trawlers and seiners are banned from working in all of these areas.

- In the Zonas Nucleo (all are on land) permitted activities include conservation, restoration, research, education, low impact tourism, among others.

- In the Zonas Nucleo it is illegal to pollute, to hunt (except for eradication of exotic species), mine, etc.

- In the Zonas de Amortiguamiento (marine and land) permitted activities include all of the ones of the Zona Nucleo and use of natural resources for local's subsistence, fishing (within regulations), infrastructure for navy, research, and safety, and navigation (use of ports), aquaculture. In the case of Cedros and Benitos area, fishing vessels can not exceed 10.5 m in length.

- In the Zonas de Amortiguamiento and in the Zonas Nucleo the following activities are illegal: to build containments for dangerous substances; to build disposal sites (except for Cedros and Magdalena); spearfishing; fishing trawling or using permanent structures; using chemicals for fishing; to affect ecosystems in any way; to bring exotic species to the islands or use for aquaculture; to build any private infrastructure outside of the population centers; to start fires or create loud noises that disturb the wildlife; to make major repairs or maintenance to boats and motors; to use explosives.

- Users of the areas are obligated to respect the conservation mandate within the specific regulations and permissions, for sustainability. For these, a EIA should be submitted and must comply with the management program.

Meanie and Jose issued as statement Monday as well. The feel that likely there will be some blowback on them, as though they had a hand in creating the document. They did not.

Here is their statement in italics:

“The benefits from this NPA are many, and in our case, it gives us certainty about the future with only ourselves (locals) responsible for the proper management and conservation of the resources we depend on. In the past, fleet of 60+ shrimp trawlers boats will devastate the species of the bottom of the ocean including tons of lobster, small groupers, black seabass, calicos, halibut and more. Also, it will stop purse seiners from taking all the bait and small school fish from the Vizcaino Bay. The bait fish is very important to our sportfishing operations.

Although there is a price to pay for this (restrictions, permits, etc) its a small inconvenient compared to the many benefits this will bring to the local community.

For instance, last season of lobster fishing by the cooperative was the worst catch in the more than 50 years. Probably caused by El Nino or combined with the shrimp trawlers activity.

Now, there is probably going to be a backlash with anglers set and boycotting our businesses, but thinking of it, if they don't see that this NPA will give certainty in the future for the activity they enjoy with passion, then those are the kind of anglers we don't need fishing with us.”

The January meetings will start in three key areas. Sanchez figures they will be held in Ensenada, San Carlos and Cedros Island. User groups, the Mexican navy, local fisheries officials and fishermen will be part of the discussion, as I’m sure U.S. sportfishers will also be represented by the Sportfishing Association of California’s (SAC) President Ken Franke which has an excellent relationship with fisheries officials. We are good hands there.

Because Ken Franke was in Cabo last weekend and unable to comment (He was doing the Let’s Talk Hookup show with Mexican tourism and fisheries officials in Cabo) Frank Ursitti, general manager and part owner of H&M Landing in San Diego, is a guy I trust to be level-headed, and incredibly well-versed in these matters. He said Friday that whatever happens, the fleet will adapt, but SAC will be part of the discussion.

The limitations of U.S.-based sportfishing in all the areas look negligible in nearly all the areas except for one, the largest of the polygons that include Cedros and Benitos islands and Vizcaino Bay. The key to the access in that polygon, appears to be a willingness to work with the local businesses. Seven years ago when Jose broached that idea to a landing operator, it was not well-received, Jose said, and among the problem was “insurance issues.” Despite criticism Cedros Outdoor Adventures, is willing to work with the sportfishers from the U.S. to allow them access to the fishing grounds. Whether that happens is a big unknown.

In general, the main benefit of the biosphere is not to keep U.S. boats out. The restrictions ban shrimp trawlers, and tuna/sardine seiners from operation inside these waters because of their destructive and overfishing impacts, said Sanchez.

“The primary benefit is to preserve the bird and fish populations primarily from rampant commercial fishing when 60 trawlers or 20 seiners are outside our island just packing and killing everything we depend on."

H&M Landing’s Frank Ursitti's written and emailed comments to WON, said Sanchez, are dead on. The resources can be protected and still provide access to sport fishermen.

The following are Ursitti’s comments, denoted here in italics and quotes.

“I believe it's important to disseminate information to our angling customers and help them understand that the islands are not closed! The Biosphere is here to stay, and as stakeholders and an important user group, we will help steer how it takes shape. I've every confidence it will not only benefit our anglers, but this vital ecosystem as well.”

“Many are concerned as to its impact on our industry. Having had a ringside seat during the creation of the Marine Reserves in the Northern Channel Islands, our concerns are valid with regards to how it may potentially impact our industry, our recreation, our access and most importantly the very resources they are designed to protect.

“Like the Northern Channel Islands, the Los Coronados Islands, a small three-island chain located just 14 miles south of San Diego, are an extension of the northern chain. Their inclusion into the Pacific Ocean Biosphere Reserve is an important measure in ensuring sustainable fisheries and the protection of endemic species.

“At the risk of being redundant, drawing back on my experience when the Northern Channel Islands were establishing ‘reserves’ there was much dissention amongst user groups and environmentalists. Throughout the long and exhaustive process, and throughout countless roundtable discussions, a framework emerged that created a network of reserves striking a balance of preserved vital habitat for endemic species and territory for traditional user groups to continue to thrive.

“I would have to say, the sportfishing community suffered for a period of 5 to 7 years as a result of poor communication as much of our clientele were of the impression that the Islands were closed to fishing.

“Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, there were growing pains as we adjusted to tighter areas, but the Northern fleet has survived, and through management, we look forward to the day where the sacrifice of traditional territory (used as a management measure) will yield the anticipated results of rebuilt stocks and allow future generations to reap the benefits of this management style.”

“With the inclusion of the Coronados, we must remember these islands play a vital role for marine birds, as well as species of fish that are sought after both recreationally as well as commercially.

“Including the islands in the Biosphere is an important step towards conservation and sends a very clear message to the global community that Mexico is a leader in sustainable fisheries and has earned a seat at the table with regards to their marine resources. We welcome this action and look forward to working with planners in the future should there be discussions regarding restrictions on those areas our fleet traditionally accesses.

“I believe we all learned our lesson with the creation of the Northern reserves, and will work diligently to keep our customers/users informed should this measure impact our access.

“We all walk the same line, whether we realize it or not. No one is more interested in sustainable fisheries than we are as vessel owners, landing owners, vessel operators, crew members and anglers.

“Without healthy stocks, we have nothing, concluded Ursitti.”

Stay tuned. Until further notice, nothing is changing until the meetings have concluded.

Pat McDonell is editor of Western Outdoor News.

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