Saturday, August 2, 2014

Doing the Drone

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

There’s no doubt that 2014 will go down in history as the “Year of the Drone" within the fishing community. Forget the latest and greatest tackle innovations or super-duper electronics. Nope, this year the buzz is definitely about drones and who can take the most awesome photos with them.
            The list of people who have purchased the flying cameras is growing faster than I can keep up! So far, my WON column partner, Jonathan Roldan, and Ali Hussainy, President, BD Outdoors; Erik Landesfeind, and Barry Brightenburg all determined they had to have one. If you search the web, you’ll find plenty of entertaining videos that were shot with drones by crews and anglers on the sportfishing fleet.
            I, too, couldn't resist; mine arrived in mid-May. By the time it actually got here, I had watched hours of U-Tube videos on quad-copters in general, and had logged in many how-to hours on the DJI Technology Phantom 2 Vision Plus website, the drone that I actually ordered.
            The day it arrived, I cautiously unpacked the carton and followed directions, being very careful when I assembled the Quad Copter. That’s probably not an accurate statement since all that was required was that I tighten the self-locking propeller blades and charge the battery before it was ready to fly. But truthfully, I wasn't quite ready! I felt a little bit intimidated by this 24- x 24-inch bundle of technology resting on our coffee table.
            I studied the instruction manual from cover to cover – all 75 pages – for several days. I devoured the information on the camera, Wi-Fi, GPS, software and cell phone app – all of which needed to be understood before I took on the challenge of flying this machine that had set me back about $1,500. I had not been this nervous about taking control of boats that had cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and yes, a few owned by others that were even more dear than that!
            Okay, call me crazy, but the only thing I had ever flown was a model airplane tethered by a control line which I flew in a circle … often crashing it before the full circle had even been completed.
            Early one morning, after days of procrastinating, drone in tow Yvonne and I walked across the street to the park. Going through the checklist printed on the underbelly of the unit as carefully as a 747 pilot, with great trepidation I turned on the controller, and started the drone. Ever so cautiously, I moved the left stick forward and watched as it leaped into the air. Thank God I knew to let go of the stick so it could spring back to the center! It hovered at 30 feet or so and I began "Doing the Drone" for real.
            For the next few weeks, I flew at the drop of a hat, taking off from my front yard overlooking the lake.  To begin, I flew pretty much straight up and down, and then slowly, as my confidence grew, the flights extended farther. I flew it to the edge of the lake, as well as a block or so in either direction, going higher and higher until I sent it to 250 feet and lost sight of it.
            There were remarkably few mishaps. I discovered the dreaded death spiral when I descended too quickly causing the drone to drop like a stone! I was in luck! My error was high enough for me to slow the drone’s descent down so instead of a crash, well, we will simply call it a hard landing. No fault, no foul, aside from a nicked up prop or two that a little sandpaper took care of.  It was ready to resume training, but the question is, just who was training who?
            Then it came time for me to head to Baja. I safely stored it in the trusty Roadtrek for the drive down to East Cape in its own custom case in early June. 
            Upon my arrival, I flew it often.  Mark and Jennifer Rayor's beachfront home; at Rancho Leonero; at East Cape RV and then I headed up to La Paz for WON Panga Slam.
            Jonathan Roldan, Tailhunter International, my WON column partner, and I flew them together at Muertos and Balandra Bay.  Swapping tips we began to grasp the possibilities that the drone offered. Some of our Drone images ended up in the La Paz Panga Slam story. I even had the courage to fly it out for the beach shot at Chileno Bay at the Stars & Stripes tournament’s shotgun start.
            Jonathan had two clients who attempted to use theirs from a panga and ended up float-testing them (by the way, they don't float). Both were a total loss; however, one was insured.
            At this point, almost every flight drew a crowd full of questions. The best description I've come up with is that it’s like an incredibly stable tri-pod in the sky with the difference that the drone will hover in the same place when you release the two joy sticks until you sort out what you want to do, sort of like a “pause” button. 
            "Doing the Drone" has gained momentum within the fishing community.  It has added a dimension that has been missing in this serious challenge of fishing.  Find a drone overhead and you’ll find grown men once again playing with their toys.    

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A foot for Jesus

A foot for Jesus
Gary Graham
Greg had accomplished his dream of not only catching his first striped marlin, but catching the largest fish he had ever caught as well.
Around Christmas two years ago, I wrote an article about a very special Christmas gift, the fulfilling of an impossible dream of my friend and retired Los Barriles sportfishing Captain, Jesus Araiza, who had lost his right foot below the knee through his battle with diabetes, "Baja's Feliz Navidad spirit sparkles."  To refresh your memory here is the link to that column:

Through the kindness and efforts of many good Samaritans, Jesus was fitted for a special prosthesis and began adjusting to the new apparatus. One of those involved in a major way was Greg Birkholz, Arroyo Grande, California, who arranged to have not one, but two "Renegade" feet manufactured by Freedom Innovations, ( and donated to Araiza.In early 2001 Greg, himself, was riding his new, big Harley Davidson when it traveled across a center line and collided with an oncoming truck.

 “I lost the below-the-knee portion of my left leg requiring me to be fitted with a prosthesis with a "Renegade" foot that I've worn ever since. Also, every limb in my body has some metal in it," he sighed sheepishly.

 Birkholz is an avid sportfisherman in central California and upon hearing of Araiza’s reputation as one of the finest Captains at East Cape, Birkholz expressed an interest in he and Jesus fishing together in Baja.  

I immediately began organizing the trip and contacted Axel Valdez, Sales and Marketing Director, Buena Vista Beach Resort, who without hesitation, agreed to provide Birkholz and his wife, Lindy, with a week’s stay plus a day’s fishing aboard one of the hotel's cruisers.

Always following up on details, I visited Jesus at his home two weeks prior to the planned trip.
Everything was on schedule. 

The Birkholz's arrived earlier this month on their very first trip to Baja and I flew down the same day.  However, after arriving, I called to confirm the fishing trip the following day and the tone of Jesus’ voice told me all I needed to know.

“Oh, my friend,” he began, "I have a problem with the prosthesis and think I better be 'a lotta be careful' and stay home."

Of course I was disappointed at the news and knew that Birkholz would be. It was impossible for me to visit him that night but I was anxious to find out what the problem was.

I met the Birkholz’s and left them enjoying their dinner on the porch under a star-filled sky on a pleasant Baja night…a perfect beginning.

Although we were all disappointed that Araiza was absent, Felipe Valdez, Manager of HBVBR had reserved "Tres Hermanos" for the following morning and we headed out toward the rising Baja sun. The weather was perfect. Trolling, we spotted a few striped marlin but none took the bait. Greg's excitement heightened with each spotting. Then suddenly we were in the midst of a large school of cavorting porpoise and among them we could see yellowfin tuna chasing flying fish. But as more and more boats arrived at the melee, the tuna fled, frightened by the crowd. And still no bites for Greg.

Then suddenly the deckhand, Theodoro -- ironically a grandson of Araiza's -- spotted the unmistakable sickle-shaped tail of a striped marlin pursuing the bubbling bright-colored lure in our wake. As fast as you could say ballyhoo, one was slipped back alongside the lure. The marlin snatched the bait and turned away from the boat as Greg placed the rod butt in his butt-plate and plopped down in the fighting chair.

The tug-of-war went on for more than an hour as Greg slowly gained line, only to lose it back to the fish. Finally at one hour and seven minutes, Greg had his fish at the side of the boat and after taking a few photos, the fish was released. Greg had accomplished his dream of not only catching his first striped marlin, but catching the largest fish he had ever caught as well.

During the rest of his stay he caught dorado, explored East Cape on an ATV with Lindy, and visited Jesus. He discovered that Jesus's prosthesis was too large and a new smaller one would have to be designed. 

So more good Samaritans were recruited and old ones revisited. Larry Cooper,, a longtime Los Barriles’ resident who is in a wheelchair loaned a spare to Jesus. Charlene Wenger, RN, owner of the newly opened East Cape Health Center, volunteered her staff including Dr. Enrique Toledo Rodriquez and his assistant, Viggo Ross, to create a mold for the new device. Paul Boe, who has been involved from the beginning, will travel to La Paz in late August to meet with Jesus and correct the problem.  

So what began as a special Christmas gift given by countless friends and strangers to a fishing captain who has spent 63 of his 77 years fishing in a small Baja village, has continued ‘paying it forward’, and a trip for one of the givers, Greg Birkholz, evolved into a continuing good Samaritan adventure for both old and new volunteers who graciously continue to donate their time and talents to help others.  This is the best of the best!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

It takes a village

Minerva’s response was immediate. "No problem, honey, I'll be there," she replied in her usual cheerful fashion.

Some International Game Fish Association (IGFA) World Records are kinda’ by accident and even taken for granted, especially the first one. But, there are those who catch record fever after accidently catching that first one…and for others, it simply becomes a lifelong pursuit.  And for many others, they become World Record “chasers” the moment they become IGFA members.
The process itself seems to be very straight forward.  Catch a contender, weigh it, measure it, photograph it, fill out the required forms and submit them to IGFA…with many individuals involved in the procedure.
For the past twenty years, I have had the honor of serving as an IGFA Representative-at-Large in Baja, one of approximately 300 men and women in 90 countries who act as ambassadors of IGFA - a liaison between the angling interests in their areas across the globe and IGFA Headquarters in the United States.
Guy Yocom's impressive catch aboard his boat El Suertudo last week was an example of what occurs after the catch, both behind the scenes and surrounding the event.
On Tuesday at 2:04 p.m., Captain Billy Miagawa, Jr. notified me that Greg Di Stefano, Captain of the El Suertudo, had reported that he was headed for Cabo San Lucas to weigh in a large yellowfin tuna caught on IGFA regulation tackle with an ETA some time Wednesday morning.
Coincidently, I had been on-hand for the last yellowfin all-tackle IGFA world record weigh-in when Mike Livingston's 405.2 was weighed in at San Diego, Calif., ultimately defeating a record that had stood for 33 years. I briefly considered flying down for the weigh-in, but airline schedules eliminated that option.
Instead, I alerted Michael Farrior, IGFA Trustee here in the U.S. and contacted Minerva Saenz, a long-time IGFA Representative and owner and operator of Minerva's Baja Tackle and Sportfishing Charters in Cabo San Lucas informing both of the impending arrival of the potential world record aboard El Suertudo.
Minerva’s response was immediate. "No problem, honey, I'll be there," she replied in her usual cheerful fashion. "I will not only arrange for a local photographer and make sure he takes all the photos needed, but I will also assist them with the application form and measurements."
Since the yellowfin tuna had been caught with a Mustad hook there was a possibility that the catch might be eligible for the $1,000,000 prize offered by Mustad. Our next step was to notify Jeff Pierce, Mustad's sales manager.
By Wednesday morning, when the behemoth fish was brought to the scale, the rumors flying around the Marina became a reality. Clearly the word was out and a large crowd gathered with Minerva and photographer, Mario Bañaga, Jr.  Minerva supervised the weigh-in and assisted with paperwork while Mario took the photos.

With the IGFA world record on the line, Captain Greg Di Stefano confirmed that prior to the trip they had been in contact with Jack Vitek, IGFA World Records’ Coordinator, sending him samples of line that would be used during the trip for testing. For that same reason it was decided to weigh the fish with two different scales and then deliver them to Giesela Muccillo at International Weighing Systems in San Diego for testing. Giesela indicated that the testing would be complete sometime during the week of the 24th when the weight would be confirmed.

Meanwhile photos of the fish taken with cell phone cameras began appearing across the Internet. One of the first places one appeared with a brief description was Brandon Hayward's blog on, followed immediately by others on Facebook…all with a slightly different versions.
Boat Captain, angler and crew were barraged by individuals on the dock, as well as by telephone, with questions seeking information that could be reported. By nightfall a Google search yielded 67 listings about the catch.

Once the paperwork is completed it will then be delivered to IGFA for review by Jack Vitek, who states: "For record approval, we have to wait a minimum of 90 days from the catch date for international claims. That being said, by the time the application is in our hands…it takes approximately 2 to 3 months, depending on the travel schedule of the President and Conservation Director as they also review the applications.”

According to Vitek there are approximately 750 IGFA World Record applications processed a year, requiring a remarkable amount of effort of what could be considered a village of IGFA staff, volunteers and many others who become involved for one reason or another ensuring that each and every World Record application is evaluated and judged fairly.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Feeding frenzy fraternity

However, when they occur, one expected bonus is all of the debris that has been washed out of the arroyos into the Sea of Cortez.           

             Although they created some unwanted flooding, the recent torrential rains were a welcome relief to locals from the drought-like conditions that have persisted in Baja Sur for several years. Some of the negative effects of the downpours, however, were a few lost fishing days for both resident and visiting anglers and some unhappy tourists. What went unnoticed by many were the possibilities created by the racing runoff that flowed out to sea along the beaches, creating deep cuts that became shelter for bait of every description and very fishable after a few days.

            In addition to sheltering the bait, another bonus is the debris built up over years in the arroyos that is washed out into the Sea of Cortez. This trash and flotsam provide excellent cover for plankton, bringing a variety of bait fish that attracts everything from “schoolie” dorado to billfish. It's not unusual to see boats racing from pile to pile, similar to their Southern California neighbors doing the “kelp patty scramble” . . . a popular and exciting way to find fish.

            In the 1970s, within a few weeks after a big rain, my friend Tom Miller, Western Outdoor News' Baja Editor, described a wild scene of pargo, pompano, roosterfish, jacks, sierra and even dorado piled up in a feeding frenzy around one arroyo.

            Being in the right place at the right time, anglers may witness epic feeding frenzies not unlike those experienced at a potluck dinner or a tailgate party.  Big fish, little fish – all hardly selective – slash and snap at anything that moves, suckers for anything offered . . . dead or live bait, spoons, topwater poppers or even flies.

            This phenomenon attracts a cast of characters including locals and visiting anglers alike – garbed in everything from barefoot and shorts to official name-brand fly clothing, full dress wading gear right down to the boots.
            One of the most fascinating elements of the beach action is the mix of tackle and techniques used by anglers all fishing in the same stretch of beach: catching fish with handlines wrapped around a beer can; conventional bait casting gear; spinning gear with rods twice the height of the angler flinging spoons and poppers easily the length of a football field into the Sea and frantically retrieving them, while their fly-flinging counterparts wade out in chest high water to reach the zone.

            This exhibition allows anyone interested to compare the various tackle and techniques and how they perform under similar conditions . . . the different live and dead bait along with the various types of spoons and surface poppers that produce the best results. It’s all here: The advantages of spinning or conventional tackle; and for fly-fishers, the rod and reel choices, as well as choices of lines including floating, intermediate and sinking. 

            It’s sort of what might be considered an impromptu clinic on how to fish Baja Beaches with a variety of different tackle by those who do it often!  It’s all available by simply showing up and paying attention. 

            This year's rainy season has already produced plenty of success stories including jacks, roosters and pargo on spinning tackle near the tip; snook on bait at San Jose; pompano on surface poppers at Punta Arena; and small bonefish on flies at Las Arenas.  It all Indicates that in addition to the improving offshore fishing, the feeding frenzy fraternity is on the way to a great late summer and fall.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Big fish, bent butts, and bowling pin-sized lures

For five days last week, I had the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the most famous big billfish skippers on the planet. At the invitation of Peter Fithian, the only surviving founder of the iconic 53-year-old Hawaiian Invitational Billfish Tournament, I traveled to Kailua-Kona, Hawaii as one of several writers to cover the event, which included 40 competing international teams from 11 countries.

It was quite a privilege to ride on the HIBT press boat Lana Kila, skippered by Captain Bomboy Llanes, well-known lure-maker and his crewman, Shawn Palmer, racing from one hookup to another during the five-day event to photograph the catch and release, the Marlin Race tagging and the taking of the giant blues for the competition. 

Throughout the week, others chose to ride on the press boat on different days: Tim Simpson, Editor/Publisher of Bluewater Magazine; Jim Rizzuto, local sportfishing columnist, author and unofficial historian; Charla Thompson, well known local photographer; and several others. 

During the time that no boats were hooked up, Bomboy and Shawn would demonstrate and discuss their theories on lure fishing in Kona, showing us different styles and models of lures, how to position them in the wake as well as explaining different hook-sets and their reason for using them. 

DURING THE TIME that no boats were hooked up, Bomboy and Shawn would demonstrate and discuss their theories on lure fishing in Kona.
Simpson offered some of the results of his research for his The Book of Lures. His explanation on how billfish vision is split with upper and lower part of the eye being sensitive to a different spectrum of colors underwater was fascinating. From extensive collaboration with world-leading scientists, the book contains several chapters detailing how color works underwater. Tim also described how sound and vibration travel beneath the surface, and how they are picked-up and used by fish when hunting or to avoid threats.

Rizzuto has been writing about Hawaii sportfishing since 1963 and he has a long list of books about fishing the area to his credit. For future generations, Jim's columns, articles and books will serve as a history on the way fishing was on the historic Kona Coast blue marlin grounds. He has also collected fishing tackle over the years, but his primary focus is his extensive lure collection dating back to the 1950s. According to Jim, Hawaii's billfish don't fin so they have to be found another way. Three-quarters of all billfish caught in local waters are caught on lures which are designed to anger more than entice … hopefully triggering a violent response.  

The largest marlin ever landed on sportfishing tackle, an 1,805-pound Pacific blue, was suckered into attacking a 10-inch lure!  

Hawaiian lures are not necessarily designed to look like a baitfish! They do not imitate anything. If the lure is performing correctly, it doesn’t act or look like bait that a billfish might be interested in. It is hard to imagine any big marlin getting excited enough by a small lure to expend the energy required for the pursuit of the tidbit.

Of course at some point, I began to make a comparison of the Hawaii fishery and the waters off the tip of Baja. Having spent the majority of my life fishing Baja, it was inevitable. The local consensus was that Kona would win the "fishery" discussion hands down; I had my doubts. 

It seems to me that the odds are heavily favored for Kona to deliver year ’round granders in very close proximity to the harbor. The majority of the local fleet seems to be equipped with heavier tackle and prefers to target the larger fish and consider all other species more or less an incidental catch.

In Los Cabos, the focus most of the year is on variety, with the fleet allowing the angler more light tackle options. So I could go no further with my comparison scientifically, and have to stop. I only know that I would gladly go to either place to fish any time I get an invitation!

By the end of the week I had acquired a sufficient number of Hawaiian-style lures along with enough new tactics and techniques to keep me busy experimenting when I return to Baja in the fall for the billfish and tuna tournaments.  

This is what I love about fishing. There is always something new to learn.

East Cape: History in the making

SINCE LAST YEAR, dredging, earth moving and construction has continued, resulting thus far in a rock-lined channel leading into the partially completed marina with home sites surrounding it as well as some docks.
Just a click over a year ago, I wrote a column entitled, "Old East Cape Fading." Click here to read article. A recent article on the 13th Annual Bisbee’s East Cape Offshore Tournament caught my eye and the following portion of the report once again emphasized the ever-changing East Cape.

"One of the new wrinkles to this year’s event is having two start locations. The first is at tournament headquarters, the Hotel Buena Vista Resort, while the second is just outside the marina entrance to the presenting sponsor, Cabo Riviera. This new golf and boating development, located about 10 miles south, has recently completed dock slips and other amenities. Several of the tournament boats are staying in the marina there, while others anchor off the beach just off from Buena Vista."

Talk about history in the making! For the first time ever, visiting sportfishers can actually tie up at a slip in a marina here at East Cape.  An email from Nydia Altamirano, Cabo Riviera promotional marketing manager, confirmed that they were hosting 16 sportfishers during this year's tournament.

“Jeremy” posted on a Baja forum, "Plenty of room for our 48-foot Riviera, Amelia Marie, a non-tournament boat. Plus, they had electrical hookups and a nice restroom with showers.  There is also a dock with a tanker truck alongside selling fuel.” 

Just down the beach from Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort stand the remains of what had once been our family’s home for 18 years, Rancho Deluxe.  It had stood at the edge of a trailer park, La Capilla, overlooking the Sea of Cortez. The American owners had promised an elaborate seaside-gated community with 200 lots and 100 condominiums as well as a community beach club with a pool, restaurant, and bar. The gringo developers are long gone, the property was sold to Homex, a large Mexican development company, but the land remains as bare as it did in 2006. 

Another mile or so farther down that same beach is the site of El Anhelo Marina and Resort Project. Last year, I was told that construction would begin as soon as the permit process was completed … within the year. Another ambitious project with a proposed hotel, villas, 500 boat slips, marina village, residential lots and an 18-hole golf course. This was to be built by a partnership of the local Van Wormer family and the El Cid group from Mazatlan. It, too, is still unchanged with no sign of construction or development.

Another 10 miles farther down the beach is the 900-acre Cabo Riviera … a proposed 285-slip full-service Marina Harbor for boats from pangas to super yachts. I was told last year that it, too, would be open in 2012. Of all the projects that were promised to become part of the East Cape landscape, this is the only one moving forward. It is actually under construction with condominiums, apartments, boutiques, shops, harbor house restaurant and exclusive yacht club planned along with a five-star 150-room hotel and a championship golf course for guests and residents. 

Since last year, dredging, earth moving and construction has continued, resulting thus far in a rock-lined channel leading into the partially completed marina with home sites surrounding it as well as some docks. 

Of course, the project is years from completion, but true to their word, it is open. The owners seem to be dedicated to completing the project and are certainly willing to put their money where their mouth is, pouring incredibly large sums into the venture. 

Of course, a project of this magnitude attracts critics, skeptics and doubters … all willing to voice their personal opinions of the flaws and mistakes that are certain to result in its failure. 

Though location and engineering are among the most common of the complaints heard, most seem to be anchored in the resentment of progress. You know that old "NIMBY" attitude – Not In My Back Yard! 

I sure understand that! I have been traveling in Baja for over four decades. I have witnessed progress in East Cape with all its fits and starts … some welcome, some not; some successful, some not.   

This is not the place to debate the pros and cons of Cabo Riviera. It’s here, bringing changes. Experience has taught me that in this land where mañana is a mantra, meeting a projected deadline is almost a miracle. The owners of this project lived up to their promise to have the Marina open in 2012, which speaks volumes of their intentions. 

If they can match that with equally strong implementation, Cabo Riviera will be leading East Cape into the next era.