Monday, December 22, 2008

Good Guys…Good Soles

Several hundred families lined up early on a Saturday morning to be outfitted in new shoes and clothing provided by the group.

In late October on a trip to East Cape, I headed down to the beach early one morning to photograph the boats departing for the day’s fishing from Hotel Palmas de Cortez. As I headed out the front gate, I noticed a large group of Mexican families lined up on the Driving Range in front of tables piled high with shoe boxes and t-shirts. Curiosity got the best of me. I parked and walked over to see what was going on.

Jack McCulloch, one of the sponsors McCulloch’s Wide Shoes, proceeded to explain what was happening.

He explained that the Fishers of Men had been holding their tournament in East Cape, Mexico, for several years when a hurricane devastated the area and left the people they had come to know homeless. With a desire to give back to the villagers and help them in some small way, Fishers of Men contacted Soles4Souls, a charity dedicated to donating shoes to the poor, to children, and to victims of disasters. The two groups joined forces and in 2006, the Fishers of Men turned their tournament into a fund raiser, raffling off donations from many fishing industry companies and using the money to pay the freight costs incurred for Soles4Souls to bring thousands of pairs of shoes across the border.

The next year Fishers of Men and Soles4Soles created a second tournament, named ‘Casting for Souls’, for the express purpose of bringing shoes and other donated clothing items to the needy villagers in the East Cape and surrounding areas.

This tournament is now held every October at Hotel Palmas de Cortez and is geared toward members of the shoe and fishing industries. The hotel’s owners, the Van Wormer family, are major sponsors of the tournament and work hard to make the tournament a success. After two days of amazing fishing, the event culminates in the attendees handing out their donations and seeing ‘up close and personal’ the joy of the recipients.

This year, Team Zappos won the 2nd Annual Casting for Souls Tournament with a 120 pound yellowfin tuna. Second place went to Team HiTec Shoes with a 51 pound yellowfin.

On the third day, tournament attendees handed out several thousand pairs of shoes in one day as well as more than 2,000 of the 5,000 special Guy Harvey t-shirts donated by Bill Shedd of Aftco. The remainder of shoes and t-shirts will be given to needy people by Soles4Souls in the secluded areas of the Sierra Nevadas during trips planned later this month.

Attendees this year included David Graber from Soles4Souls; Jack McCulloch from McCulloch’s Wide Shoes, Director of Fishers of Men; Kit McNear from Western Outdoor News; Bobby Van Wormer of Van Wormer Resorts; Bill Bonta, CEO of HiTec Boot Company; and Steve Gebhart of Zappos.Com.

Additional sponsors who made this year’s tournament possible include Albackore Sport Fishing Gear, Ande, Inc, Baja Fish Gear, Ballyhood Lures, Booya Clothing Co., Eagle Claw, Fisherman’s Access, Izorline, Bob Kotula, Pacific Coast Sportfishing Magazine, Pelagic, Inc., PLine, and David Holmes.

It is gratifying when you realize what can be accomplished when a group of “Good Guy’s” comes up with a “Great Idea” benefitting a small Baja Community.

Mom gratefully accepts a brand new pair of shoes for her young son.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Proyecto Caguama

The Proyecto Caguama team, with Gobernador Narciso Agúndez Montaño’s help, measured, weighed, cleaned, tagged and recorded the information about a captured turtle and returned it to the wild.

Puerto Lopez Mateos is one of the hot spots where the critically endangered loggerhead sea turtle gathers in huge numbers to feast on pelagic red crabs. The turtles begin their lives in Japan and then embark on an incredible journey across the Pacific Ocean to Baja where they feed and mature. This journey may take as long as 30 years!
• When the animals are approaching sexual maturity, Pacific loggerheads migrate over 7,500 miles (12,000 km) between nesting beaches in Japan and feeding grounds off the coast of Baja, Mexico!
• During the 3 months or so that a female loggerhead breeds, she will travel natal beaches in Japan to mate and lay 35 lbs. (15.9 kg) of eggs or more, then swim back to her home foraging area, all without eating anything significant.
• From hatchling to adult, a loggerhead increases its weight more than 6,000 times! An adult weighs about 250 pounds.
• Although they are good swimmers, loggerheads have callus-like traction scales beneath their flippers which allow them to "walk" on the ocean floor.

Hoyt Peckham, a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology and Director of the San Diego based ProPeninsula since 2003, has been studying the loggerhead turtles in southern Baja California, where they congregate to feed. His research addresses important questions about the migrations, habitat use, and life history of these remarkable animals, and the results are helping to shape future conservation efforts. The problems are many, but Peckham, along with Proyecto Caguama (Project Loggerhead) established by ProPenninsula, is working within the local fishing community to achieve awareness and help change the deep-rooted patterns of the area’s inhabitants. To local fishermen in Baja California, loggerhead turtles had always seemed to be abundant and thriving.

Early on, a local halibut fisherman in Baja impressed on Peckham the gravity of the problem.
“How can loggerhead turtles possibly be endangered?” the man asked. “I caught 30 in my nets this morning.”

Since that first encounter, Peckham and his research team of local student interns have interviewed dozens of fishermen, observed hundreds of fishing trips, and surveyed thousands of miles of beaches to calculate the enormity of the by-catch problem.
“Our findings are staggering,” he said. “We estimate that thousands of loggerheads are killed each year as incidental catch just along a very narrow bit of the Baja California Sur coast.”
Surveys of the nesting beaches in Japan have shown declines in nesting activity of 50- to 90-percent since 1990. Because it takes at least 30 years for a loggerhead turtle to reach reproductive maturity, there are far more juveniles in the population than adults.

Peckham is partnering directly with local fishermen to develop alternatives to current fishing practices and to spread the word about reducing sea turtle by-catch throughout Baja California fishing communities. Wallace J. Nichols, a biologist at the California Academy of Sciences, who pioneered sea turtle research and conservation in Baja, has been instrumental in these efforts. Working with Nichols through ProPeninsula, a bi-national nonprofit organization focused on the Baja California peninsula, Peckham also oversees the efforts of Proyecto Caguama.

Proyecto Caguama provides many outreach activities and materials which include workshops, local student internships, regional turtle festivals, school enrichment programs, community murals, films, and even comic books. Funding for the projects has come from an impressive list of sources. Peckham said the local fishermen are almost always receptive to the idea of protecting the turtles once they understand their important role in the turtles’ future.

Additional information about turtle conservation efforts in Baja California can be found at the following web sites.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Pig Roast…A Forty Year Tradition

Meanwhile, the star of the show, the pig, had been cooked to perfection

Roughly 750 miles south of the border in the small village of Mulegé, Don Johnson and his family have been hosting an extraordinary Mexican fiesta at his 50-room Hotel Serenidad every Saturday evening for the past forty years.

While I had heard and read stories about this unique event, Serenidad’s authentic Mexican Pig Roast, I had never attended one. On my many trips driving back and forth on Mex 1, my timing always seemed to be wrong and I was never in the Mulegé neighborhood on a Saturday night.

This trip I arranged my schedule so I could be there!

In 1963, Don Johnson opened the Hotel Serenidad on the south side of the Mulegé River complete with a 2,800-foot airstrip which he later lengthened to 4,000 feet. Over the years, the hotel and its airstrip have been a focal point of many Baja adventures, and the ‘Saturday Night Pig Roast’ has become a tradition for numerous Baja travelers.

I arrived at the hotel on Saturday evening where I found a handful of private planes parked on the runway in front of the hotel. The parking lot itself had a mixture of vehicles including RV’s, dune buggies, dirt bikes and even a bright and shiny Lexus, reflecting the diversity of the group inside.

In the bar every stool was occupied and behind them others crowded around ordering margaritas in glasses the size of small bird baths. The price of dinner included the first drink which definitely helped to get the fiesta underway!

Meanwhile, the star of the show, the pig, had been cooked to perfection…long enough for the succulent meat to fall away from the bone. Talk about sweet meat! The cook raises the pigs on a diet of dates that fall from date palms which were introduced to Mulegé by Catholic Priests many generations ago.

Out in the patio, festive decorations and a buffet table laden with the pig and all the ‘fixings’ completed the picture as the waiters announced that dinner was served. Fresh salad, homemade frijoles, fresh tortillas, and several especially prepared salsas were piled high on each plate along with enough of the sweet pork to satisfy the hungriest of guests.

Conversation flowed easy with this group who all seemed to have one common dominator: Baja and its wonders. The table filled up as strangers invited each other to join their table. Before long the dining room was buzzing with Baja chatter as plates of food were eaten, filled and refilled until everyone was full and then dinner was topped off with a special Mexican dessert.

By this time, the Mariachis were beginning their show, which after thirty –five years of practice was impressive. Many guests called out a favorite song as others sang along to someone else’s selection. Still others thought the music called for dancing, and the room was alive with revelry as the guests enjoyed the ‘fiesta’. Excellent food, huge margaritas and wonderful entertainment provided this eclectic group of Baja aficionados the opportunity to step back in time into another world, Baja as it was, and in this case, as it continues to be.

It is easy to understand why this Pig Roast has become a Forty Year Tradition. It was worth the effort to be in Mulegé on a Saturday night, and it is likely that you’ll find me at the Hotel Serenidad fiesta again on my next trip!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sportfishing in Los Cabos Triangle Yields Mega-Bucks

The real question seems to be, do these local, state and national leaders really give a crap? If they did they could simply walk around the marina in Cabo and figure it out for themselves.

Mexican Politicians Ignore Marine Resource Revenue...Again

For many years sport fishermen have been convinced that a substantial portion of the tourist money spent in southern Baja came from the sport fishing visitor. Thanks to The Billfish Foundation (TBF), it is no longer just conjecture. A new report commissioned by TBF presents irrefutable confirmation of the source and amount of money being spent by Los Cabos anglers.

According to the report, fishing in the Los Cabos area, loosely defined as East Cape, San Jose del Cabo, and Cabo San Lucas, is a billion dollar industry!

The TBF study shows that in 2007, 354,013 people, most of whom were international visitors, fished in Los Cabos. While in Los Cabos, they spent an estimated $633.6 million U.S. for lodging, charter boats, food, transportation, tackle, fuel, etc. These expenditures started a series of cascading economic effects in the local economy:

· 24,426 jobs were created

· $245.5 million U.S. was received in local and federal tax revenues

· $ 1.125 billion U.S. went into the total economic activity

“A good way to view these impacts is to consider that, if everyone who fished in Los Cabos had not visited in 2007, the regional economy would have been $1.125 billion U.S. smaller,” said Rob Southwick, lead economist in the research effort.

“That means there would have been 24,426 fewer jobs, and the government coffers would have been poorer by $245.5 million U.S.”

Visitors who fish there provide an estimated 24.1 percent of the total Los Cabos economy. A job is supported for every $18,156 U.S. in retail sales. Dollars spent by anglers generated $1.78 in economic activity in the region and every visiting angler generated $721.99 U.S. in local and federal tax revenues.

In addition, the Los Cabos anglers’ expenditures generated $145 million U.S. to Mexico’s Gross Domestic Product; 10,469 additional jobs were created elsewhere in Mexico and $75 million U.S. in taxes were added to the federal coffers. This income has become a significant provider of jobs and new dollars to Mexico’s economy.

The report revealed that though this area has become a major North American tourist destination in recent years driven heavily by its world-class striped marlin fishery, the most targeted species of interest for sport fishermen were dorado, registering nearly 95% with a success catch rate of over 81%. Marlin was second at nearly 90% with a success rate of over 82% and tuna was the third most popular at over 86% with a 75% success rate among the 10 species listed.

Ironically, the dorado, a species which under Mexican fisheries law is supposed to be strictly relegated for sport fishing, has for years attracted the illegal commercial long-lining and netting interests in the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) waters. A controversial new regulation, NOM-029, allows for the “incidental” harvest of billfish, dorado and other species within Mexico’s 24 year-old conservation zones. Recent seizures of illegal dorado catches in the tons has also produced headlines in Mexican newspapers and brought attention to the commercial “fishing mafia.”

TBF has had a presence in the Baja Sur region since 2002. Dr. Russell Nelson, TBF’s chief scientist, along with Guillermo Alvarez, TBF’s Mexican Conservation Director, explained “the independent report was necessary to provide tangible evidence to local, state and national leaders of the economic importance of Los Cabos fisheries.”

The real question seems to be, do these local, state and national leaders really give a crap?

So far in spite of all the best efforts of Marinas de Mexico, The Los Cabos Hotel Association, the many different groups like IGFA, The Billfish Foundation, Seawatch, countless businesses, clubs, communities, tourist organizations, the private sector and interested individuals, the Mexican leadership continues to ignore the importance of protecting the God given resource Mexico enjoys.

The complete report in English and Spanish with all survey results is available online at the TBF web site: .

My email address is .

Friday, October 10, 2008

Baja “True Grit”

A family’s recovery after a devastating life changing accident on Mex 1

Larry Cooper’s Baja story began with the common denominator of many…a love of fishing. It would be many years later that a tragic turn of events would demand tremendous courage from him and his family. He would have to muster his “true grit” to continue to enjoy the fishing he loved.

His first visit to Los Barriles in 1978 introduced him to the Sea of Cortez with its extraordinary and easily accessible fishery. Quickly he, his wife Terri and their toddler sons, Erin and Brian, fell into the routine of making the long trek from Sun Valley, Idaho every spring, towing their 24’ Skipjack and camping in a motor home at the famous Martin Verdugos Beach Resort. He recalls, “I was clueless as to the amount of big game species that surrounded Bahia de las Palmas. I was hooked, literally!!”

For the next decade the Cooper family piled one exciting Baja spring trip on another. Like many other families before them, in 1990 they purchased beachfront lots up the beach from Verdugos and they moved on to the next phase of their Baja adventure. Soon they were in full construction mode building a home to their specifications.Their motor home was replaced with a Suburban equipped with a trailer so they could haul supplies down from the states. As construction continued, the long and tedious trips back and forth from Sun Valley became more frequent to provide material not available in Baja.

The trips were uneventful until March 20th, 1992. As was their normal routine when driving down, they spent the night at Guerrero Negro. The following morning about 9:30 a.m., Larry and his wife resumed their trip down Mex 1.

An hour later, just north of Vizcaíno, Larry had the cruise control set at 45 mph and Terri was resting in the back seat. In the rearview mirror he could see a Mexican bus approaching rapidly. Staying as far to the right as he could in a no passing zone, he maintained his speed.

Instead of slowing, the bus driver did the unthinkable and went roaring around the suburban forcing it off the road. When the dust cleared the SUV had rolled and was on its collapsed roof. Larry’s neck was shattered just above his shoulders. Rescuers, who came to his aid, pulled Larry from the wreck resulting in paralysis.

Unharmed, a dazed Terri marshaled all the courage she had to go through the process to have Larry evacuated back to the U.S. as quickly as possible. Once there, she organized a medical team dedicated to assisting him in regaining as much mobility as he could.

A pool hoist is used to load the wheelchair confined angler onto the boat or even up to the flying bridge.

For Larry and Terri, recovery seemed agonizingly slow as they both adjusted to the life changes that were forced on them in that instant on a remote Baja highway. With toughness and determination Larry fought his way back and in less than a year he was ready to return to his beloved Baja.

A rod stabilizer to allow a handicapped angler to hold the fishing rod.

During the year he spent in physical therapy, recovering, the house in Los Barriles was completed with wider doors, roll-under sink, and a roll-in shower to accommodate his wheelchair.

Special rod and harness provide the additional support needed for the angler to battle the big fish regardless of their handicap.
Fishing had brought Larry to Baja in the first place. Wheelchair or not he was determined to continue to pursue his passion for sportfishing.

Larry lands sierra on equipment he specially designed since his accident.

Over the next five years, proving his ‘true grit’, Larry designed and developed the components necessary to allow him to fish successfully from a 16’ aluminum boat, powered with a 25 hp outboard. He adapted a no grip rail plate with Velcro so he could steady the rod with his damaged left hand, while he reeled with his right. He added a standard harness and a lockdown device for his wheelchair. These innovations allowed him to become a triumphant, diehard quadriplegic fisherman catching marlin, dorado, tuna, and giant grouper.

For the next few years Larry, the diehard fisherman, fine tuned the apparatuses he had developed which allowed him to continue to fish. He constantly tinkered with his boat, as well, making it as wheel chair friendly as possible. Of course, a sixteen foot platform provided only a limited amount of space to accommodate him, his wheel chair and a buddy, and the afternoon chop was very uncomfortable aboard the smaller boat.

In the time between bites, Larry began to daydream about the ideal boat for someone confined to a wheelchair.

First was the physical attributes of the boat itself; a flat deck was necessary…one without engine boxes in the cockpit. Also needed was a boat with a low step or no-step into the salon, passageways wide enough for a wheelchair, and an accessible bridge.

Soon those ‘between the bite daydreams’ morphed into a rough draft of specifications. Larry and his wife, Terri, began poring over boating magazines and searched the Internet for just the right boat. Slowly the search narrowed from 100’s of yachts to a 37’ Egg Harbor, a boat that closely matched the requirements with its 100+ square foot cockpit, flush deck, low 3 inch step into the salon and passageways wide enough for a wheelchair to pass.

But there were no Egg Harbors of that size to be found on the West Coast. After an exhausting five trips to the East Coast to sea trial various boats during the next eighteen months, Larry and Terri finally found THE perfect boat located in Freeport, NY. Used as a floating condo, the boat had never been fished, and was basically in its original showroom condition, complete with new engines and electronics!

Once Larry had taken delivery of the Egg Harbor, he recruited a crew among his friends and wheelchair-bound, Larry and his crew headed the 1,278 miles down the Inter Coastal Waterway to Ft. Lauderdale, FL. The boat, En Caliente, was then loaded onto a freighter and taken through the Panama Canal to its destination, Ensenada, in July 2007. Larry and the crew met the boat and then brought the En Caliente to its new home at East Cape.

Larry equipped the boat with a pool hoist for loading the wheelchair, with him seated in it, onto the boat or up onto bridge. He added lock down devices for a fighting chair or wheel chair and other equipment and devices to accommodate disabled anglers. Last, but not least, the boat was equipped with an in-transom live bait tank and tuna tubes.

Larry and Terri have also completed a guest suite that is completely wheelchair friendly. They have an ATV that is available for the disabled as well.

And Larry keeps dreaming. As one dream is fulfilled, he and Terri are already planning the next one. Their current dream is to provide fishing trips for disabled anglers, veterans and other disabled or handicapped troubled young adults. They hope to reveal the many exciting opportunities available to those who are confined to a wheelchair, including the excitement of big game fishing. Their goal is to encourage others to dream and find a way to fulfill their dreams.

Wheelchair equipped with custom lockdown device to allow angler to remain steady while fighting a fish.

It is hard to imagine that sixteen years ago Larry was being drug out from under a thrashed suburban while a frightened and forlorn Terri looked on…each of them facing what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles, and each of them encouraging the other when one became discouraged.

Today, Larry and Terri’s enthusiasm for life is infectious. It is easy to get caught up as they both excitedly outline their plans for the future.

Christopher Reeve once said, “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles”. I think both Larry and Terri qualify!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

SPOT…Right On

The unit is simplicity itself with only four clearly labeled buttons that activate Emergency, Help, Check-in and Tracking.

If you travel in Baja, reliable communication is always an issue. Cell phones do not work throughout certain areas. For example, my Verizon works great in the Cabo area, La Paz and as far down as San Quintin on Mex 1, but it does NOT work in Magdalena Bay, East Cape or many of the remote areas that I visit. So now, I carry a Mexican cell phone as well in order to stay in touch. My other option up to this point in time has been to carry a Sat phone, which is very expensive.

When I spotted SPOT at the Fred Hall Show earlier this year I was intrigued. According to the person manning the booth, SPOT is a Satellite Personal Tracker-the next generation of PLB’s (Personal Locator Beacon).

The small, waterproofed and rugged 6 ounce handheld unit seemed to be packed with features that would solve some of the Baja communication problems I encounter. With a simple press of a button, I could determine my GPS location and send it along with a pre-programmed message to the contacts I designate over commercial communications satellites – in real time.

The unit is simplicity itself with only four clearly labeled buttons that activate Emergency, Help, Check-in and Tracking.

· 911-button notifies GEOS International Emergency Response Center of life-threatening events. The GEOS Emergency Response Center will contact public response agencies around the world, and call your emergency contacts to keep them informed of rescue progress. GEOS works with all rescue agencies from the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and Coast Guard to local urban and rural 9-1-1 call centers. Optionally, GEOS will also dispatch private rescue agencies in those countries where public resources won’t do. Spot continues to send a message and location update every 5 minutes until cancelled.

· Help-button sends a text message to the cell phones and an email with a link to Google Maps to designated contacts indicating that you need help and your location. The message and location updates every 5 minutes for an hour or until cancelled.

· OK\Check in-button informs your contacts of your location and that you’re okay. It then saves your location for later viewing on the SPOT web service using Google Maps.

· OK\Check in-button held down for 5 seconds will activate tracking. Then it updates your outdoor position every 10 minutes to your SPOT web account, which in turn updates a Google map that can be accessed by your SPOT team.

SPOT service will also create a web page which will provide tracking information easily accessed by anyone you choose by simply sending them the link.

So far the unit has worked perfectly during my Road Trekker trips. Allowing my team to monitor my progress as I travel and even confirm where I have stopped for the night.

The uses for SPOT are limited only by your imagination. After seeing my unit in operation, several of my friends decided they needed one…but for different reasons. One wanted to use it when he was fishing off of San Diego. With the SPOT unit, he can let his family and friends know he’s okay when he can’t get through on his cell or VHF. Another thought SPOT would be an ideal backup at his home in Baja if he lost power and telephone service during a hurricane. With the unit, he can notify his friend’s world-wide that he’s okay.

The SPOT is one more inexpensive electronic communication tool that is a welcome addition for anyone who travels anywhere…in remote locations, on land or water.

I now carry my SPOT on ALL of my trips and have set up a special link which will demonstrate how SPOT works. I will display my travels on my next Baja trip. If you would like to see how it works. Go to the upper left hand corner to locate the SPOT link. If you are interested, bookmark the page and you can monitor my Road Trekkers Travels when I leave on my next road trip in early October.

Enthusiasm is my friend; my email is

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Big Budget Dream Chasing

"Billabong Clipper" A vintage G-111 Grumman Albatross combining a 50-year-old military seaplane with the latest in high-tech gear also serves as a clothesline for wet suits.

Private airplanes in Baja have become less and less common over the years, except at major airports like Cabo, La Paz and Loreto. Gone are the days of tail draggers landing on an obscure beach with their passengers hauling out their tents and inflatables and setting up camp for a few days. You can imagine my surprise recently when a private aircraft with a 40,000 lb. payload showed up in a remote camp half-way down the Baja peninsula.

I had begun one of my frequent trips to Baja that morning, crossing the line just at sunup and hurrying through Tijuana. I was soon on the toll road with the cruise control engaged tooling south. Magdalena Bay was my final destination, but I looked forward to an overnight stop in Bahia Asunción the first night. The trip was uneventful and by late afternoon I was headed out west to Bahia Asunción.

Upon my arrival, I was met by Juan and Shari Bondi, owners of a local B and B and fishing operation. The Bondi’s are great hosts and over a fish taco dinner, they brought me up-to-date on the many changes in the area.

Early the following morning, I continued my trip down the dirt road, hugging the coast all the way to Abreojos. Passing through Hipolito, La Bocana and on to Abreojos, the Roadtrek handled the washboard road without a snag.

Plenty of photo stops later, by 3:00 p.m, I was past Abreojos, with plans to spend the night in Mulege at the Hotel Cuesta Real and RV Park which offers reliable Wi-Fi connection. Although I had ample time to make it there before dark, I decided to turn around and stay at the Estero Coyote in Campo Rene. A section of hard-packed road leading into Campo Rene doubles as a landing strip and allows easy access to the RV Park and its small cabins.

I will have to admit that I was feeling pretty smug as I parked my Roadtrek at Campo Rene’s. I was extremely pleased with my self-contained, one-ton van with all it’s electronic gadgetry, including GPS, Satellite Radio, (imagine up-to-date sports and news on remote locations in Baja), and its creature comforts, a flat panel TV, air conditioning, hot and cold running water, and even a refrigerator and microwave.

But, though I have had my share of toys over the years, I have learned there are always others with bigger and better toys. And this was the case that evening.

By the time the sun finished its plunge into the Pacific, the Roadtrek was hooked up. As I was settling in for the night, I heard a loud roar and a huge twin engine plane flew over the park just above the rooftops of the cabins. It circled and came in for a landing.

As the plane slowed at the far end of the dirt strip, the two-stories-tall tail section could barely be seen as the dark settled in. Slowly turning, the plane taxied toward the park. I could hardly believe my eyes as it turned into the park. Spinning around, it stopped.

Silence suddenly returned and the plane’s flood lights illuminated the parking area. The cargo door flew open and seven eerie shadows tumbled out onto the dirt lot into the light.

As I walked toward the plane, I could clearly see in large letters “Billabong” emblazoned on the fuselage of the aircraft. Closer still, I could make out 9 people, several of whom were in an animated discussion with the pilot on how to hang their wet suits from the wing to dry.

I struck up a conversation with one of the two photographers unloading his camera gear. He volunteered that they had left Palomar Airport near Oceanside that morning and flew down in search of big surf. First they had landed at Scorpion Bay finding poor visibility and a crowd of surfers. Leaving there, they hit a few of their “secret spots” before coming to Campo Rene.

"Billabong Clipper" is a vintage G-111 Grumman Albatross. It combines a 50-year-old military seaplane with the latest in high-tech gear and the world's best surfers in a unique expeditionary approach to seeking out the most remote wave-riding destinations on the planet. The Grumman G-111 "Albatross" amphibian is 62 feet long. It features a 96 foot wingspan and a range of over 2500 miles. In its current configuration, it seats up to 13, and is equipped with a 15-foot Zodiac with Honda outboard, 2 jet skis and a rack for dozens of surfboards and surf equipment.

Encountering the “Billabong Clipper” served to kindle my imagination. As I watched them fly out early the next morning, I fantasized having a similar toy to ferry me to the next Baja “hot bite” .

The Clipper takes off in search of the big break

Sunday, August 31, 2008

My Lake

Airplane lake sighting provides another Baja adventure

On a recent flight from Cabo San Lucas to San Diego, I had my nose pressed to the window taking in the bird’s eye view of Baja, as I usually do. The plane traveled over Las Arenas and then north toward La Paz on a slightly different flight path than usual.
Midway between Las Arenas and La Paz, the sun glinted on what appeared to be water! I couldn’t remember a lake in that area, so I jotted a note to check it out on the Internet when I returned to my office.
There it was as plain as day on Google Earth...a dam at the northern end, making a dog leg shaped lake approximately two miles in length, located less than a mile off of the road leading from La Paz to Las Arenas.
Feeling like some ancient conquistador, I began making plans to find “my lake.” I knew Mark Rayor, owner of Vista Sea Sports, liked to explore Baja as much I do. And being a veteran of the competitive bass wars, Mark’s answer, when asked, was short and quick - “Count me in!”
It was a cool sultry July morning that promised to be a scorcher when I met Mark at his home for our expedition. He headed for his Bodega where his dusty freshwater bass gear was stored and piled bass tackle and bags of bass lures with odd sounding names in the jeep.
The drive was about fifty miles north on Mex 1, through San Bartolo, with its speed killing topes, then through the switch-back curved road into San Antonio. A right turn off Mex 1 onto a partially paved road led us to the Las Arenas and La Paz road, which we took north for 17 miles.
The unmarked turnoff was easy to recognize from the Google Earth image. What the image didn’t show us was the locked gate on the dirt road leading to the lake. We climbed over the gate and walked another fifty yards before “my lake” became clearly visible.
With rods on our shoulders, tackle boxes in hands, we marched down the dirt path looking like Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn…OK, maybe older.

The dam was an impressive structure, towering seventy-five feet above the lake. The construction was surely a major project accounting for the deserted buildings and rusting equipment scattered about.Though surrounded by thick growth, there was evidence that the lake had been fished recently, but we had it to ourselves this day.
Looking for openings in the brush we could see the crystal clear water with small minnows darting everywhere. Using a variety of different style of lures from Mark’s arsenal, we soon had the small minnows following our plastics as we cast working our way around the lake.

Mid-morning the rocks beneath our feet heated up, reflecting the intense July Baja sun. We had seen a weathered rancho perched on a hill overlooking the dam. We trudged up the road and shouted “hello” in Spanish. A voice quickly answered, echoing over the lake, “Bienvenidos! Adelante.”
When we reached the crest of the hill, a young ranchero, Marcial, introduced himself with the inherent friendliness of locals off the beaten path.
Marcial told us that the dam, Presa de Bonita Mujeres, was built twenty-five years ago to provide a reservoir for La Paz and that there were tilapia in the lake that were netted and sold commercially in La Paz fish markets. He didn’t know what additional species of fish were in the lake, but maybe bass!
He volunteered to take us to some cave paintings, roughly a three hour walk, but we declined and asked to return later in the fall when it was cooler.
A patch of water spotted at 20,000 feet, a search on the Internet, an image on Google Earth, meeting a young Mexican man, proud to share the lake in his backyard…welcome to the new millennium in Baja!
Mark and I are making plans to return to “my lake” later this year with kayaks to find that trophy bass with our name on it!

Monday, August 18, 2008

La Capilla - A New Era

La Capilla awaits a new beginning

East Capes Newest Development closes one era and opens another.

The history of the modern sport fishing era at East Cape really began in the early 50’s. In those days, southern Baja had few people, no highway, no international airport, (pilots landed on beaches and dirt fields), and certainly no marinas. But it did have fish.

In 1952, Herb Tansey, owner and developer of Rancho Buena Vista Hotel, held his grand opening, but business was slow. Early in1957, Herb was about to throw in the towel when Ray Cannon, an American writer and Baja Editor of Western Outdoor News (first published on Dec. 3, 1953), arrived by taxi on the long dirt road from La Paz, along with another writer, Frank Dufresne of Field & Stream. The two writers were on their first trip around the southern tip of Baja, and Ray fell in love with Rancho Buena Vista Hotel. Ray’s fascinating Baja columns’ caught the public interest, business boomed and soon Rancho Buena Vista became the most popular fishing resort there.

In March 1959, after Tansey’s tragic death in a plane crash, retired Army Colonel Gene Walters purchased the small hotel.

When his son, Chuck Walters, joined the Colonel at Rancho Buena Vista Hotel, he had the opportunity to purchase 100 acres of property known as La Capilla, the chapel. He built his home on one of the beachfront lots and lived there until he passed away in the early eighties.

He also built a funky, little-known trailer park with a few houses scattered about. It was sort of an off the beaten track place where most of the spaces and houses had been rented on an annual basis for years. A well kept secret that was mostly known by the locals and tenants.

The Colonel and Chuck shared a vision of what the future could be, and La Capilla and Rancho Buena Vista began a new era.

Mark Walters, grandson, son, and third generation Baja entrepreneur, first traveled to Baja with his parents when he was eight years old. He caught the ‘Baja Bug’ early and visited often. In1979, when his father, Chuck Walters was stricken with cancer, Mark returned to Rancho Buena Vista to live and assist with the management of the hotel.

For nearly three decades Mark had plenty of time to visualize the possibilities and potential that the often ignored La Capilla possessed. Slowly his vision began to take shape…a small gated community perched on the shore of the Sea of Cortez offering many features and amenities that could be enjoyed by a select few who chose to make La Capilla their home.

In November, 2005, the property was sold, and Mark’s vision began to take shape with the help of Davidson and Jones, a seasoned developer from North Carolina…bringing to life what will become one of the most appealing and coveted beachfront communities in southern Baja.

Heavy equipment was brought in to clean away the houses, trailer sites and debris, carefully preserving more than 5,000 trees, cactus and other plants to be used for the final landscaping.

One of those houses, my own family and I had considered ‘home’ for over 17 years.

Recently, I stood high on a bluff with Mark Walters overlooking the hunk of land that encompasses roughly one hundred acres, with one kilometer of extraordinary beachfront on the quiet Sea of Cortez. We were both filled with memories of our own families enjoying that beachfront.

“It was a sad day when the bulldozers knocked down my father’s house,” Mark began. “There were so many good memories there.”

He added, “As I watched the debris being loaded into trucks and hauled away, it seemed like another chapter of La Capilla was closing. I could hear my father’s voice over the rumbling of the heavy machinery. ‘La Capilla, with its natural Baja beauty, must never be broken up and sold off in small pieces. This Baja Oasis is part of our families’ heritage that must be shared with others.’

“La Capilla will soon be a gated community that will include many more amenities than my father ever dreamed of,” he continued.

“There will be membership in a 14,000 sq. ft. private Beach Club facility which will offer a fitness center, spa, restaurant, bar and infinity pool. Over 50 acres will be designated open space…including paseos (park like corridors) leading down to the beach. The plans call for 224 homes and 100 villas when the entire project is completed, with the first phase completed in the fall of 2009.”

Mark envisions even more changes to the nearby Rancho Buena Vista Hotel. A Nick Price Signature 18-hole golf course is in the planning stage; a luxury boutique hotel and a mixture of home sites and villas are being considered in the future.

Mark Walters feels with the new partners’ help he can deliver the three generation old family vision. Once again, La Capilla and Rancho Buena Vista will lead the East Cape into a new era.

Mark Walters and the Project Manager, Alfonso Pulido hope to deliver the three generation old family vision soon

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Bubba Loves a Lady

Bubba-Class rooster caught by Josh Dickenson using the ‘ladyfish’ technique

If you spend any time at all on Baja beaches you are going to see some incredibly large shadows cruising along the shoreline in shallow water. It is only when the shadow finds ‘something to eat’ that the shape suddenly materializes into a fish with vivid gunmetal grey stripes and a comb-like dorsal as it appears above the surface of the sparkling Sea of Cortez.

When this happens, you will have just been introduced to some of the largest roosterfish found in Baja. Nicknamed “Bubba” by many, these big shouldered, unusual looking fish with the attitude of a red neck at a Saturday night bar fight are one of the toughest fish to get to bite, let alone catch in Baja.

Years ago, my wife, Yvonne, and I were enjoying a fun morning catching ladyfish from the beach. Ladyfish are a small tarpon like fish that can be anywhere from 12” – 24” inches and are a sucker for small chrome spoons. Their acrobatics as they leap into the air are spectacular. As she was reeling in a ladyfish, “Bubba” came streaking toward her and snatched her fish like a dog grabbing a bone, and headed straight for the deep water. Of course Yvonne never got a hook in the monster, but it was fun to watch, and my brain was spinning with how to put what we had just seen to good use.

Later that year over a cocktail or two, Don Sloan, a fishing buddy and I, hatched this elaborate scheme to catch “Bubba”.

In those days, we fished the East Cape beaches astride ATV’s equipped with rod holders, tackle boxes, etc. For this adventure, we added aerators to our coolers to make live bait tanks and wore headsets to communicate. Our plan was simplicity itself. We would catch ladyfish in the morning until the sun was well overhead. Then we would cruise in opposite directions looking for “Bubba”.

The first half of the plan worked flawlessly. When the sun was high overhead, it didn’t take long to spot our first rooster.

As I cruised high on the beach following the fish, Don baited up a ladyfish down the beach and waited. Closer, closer Bubba came. As soon as it was within casting distance, Don cast the 18” ladyfish out in front of the cruising rooster. Keep in mind that ladyfish are a tough cast at any distance.

The Sea erupted as Bubba pursued his lunch a short distance back toward Don. Don was doing the Baja two-step with a frightened ladyfish and a hungry rooster darting straight between his legs. Finally, with the hapless ladyfish hanging out of each side of its mouth, the roosterfish headed for deepwater.

Up to this point our plan had worked perfectly, but we never did close the deal. Using big hooks or two hooks, letting the rooster run a long time or setting the hook right away, nothing worked! We never landed one!

Sometime later I told my good friend and Baja author, Gene Kira, my “Bubba” story and he told me about “one of the best roosterfish anglers that ever lived” , Bill Mathias, from Tucson, AZ who used ladyfish for bait!

Here is Bill’s set up: A 7/0 Eagle Claw (#2004) circle hook, with the barb crimped flat and the hook straightened so there is no offset. At the middle of the outer bend of this hook, use light mono or dental floss to tie on a smaller 2/0 hook. Hook the ladyfish through the upper lip with the hook pointed downward, leaving the 7/0 circle floating free in front of the ladyfish’s nose. When the bite comes, no hook set is required…it just comes tight.

With that final piece of the puzzle, our catch rate went from zip, nada and zilch, to a remarkable 75% and the circle hook allows an easy release.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Gillnet Controversy Erupts

Look carefully and you can see a juvenile rooster ensnared in their net.

For many years now, inshore gillnetting has been a continuing issue in the East Cape area. It was, and is, having a detrimental impact to the inshore and beach fishery.

In April 2002, the principals and representatives of the East Cape Hotel Association, along with government officials, met at Rancho Leonero Hotel with Mario Leal, of La Ribera, and a few others who represented the gillnetters. Also in attendance were many of local residents who were concerned with the constant netting of juvenile fish. This meeting was held in an attempt to put an end to the illegal inshore gillnetting.

At the conclusion of the meeting, a compromise was reached with the gillnetters with the understanding that they would limit the amount of netting along the East Cape coast. Initially it appeared that the agreement would be productive and gillnetting was reduced significantly.

Shortly thereafter, Pescadores del Cortez, a commercial fishing company operated by Mario Leal, began increasing the number of pangas in their fleet, claiming to possess permits which allowed them to net along the shore. Ironically, in addition to gillnetting and selling the fish commercially, they were netting and selling live bait to the local sportfishing fleet.

In April of this year, in the midst of one of the best yellowtail bites in recent memory, (producing some quality fish up to fifty pounds), Mario Leal and his gillnetting gang outraged the locals by wrapping the entire school of yt’s, along with many miscellaneous species, in plain view of Rancho Leonero and the sport fishermen.

As a result of gillnetter’s action, the East Cape Hotel Association embarked on an aggressive campaign to eliminate the inshore gillnetting activity. Local papers joined in the campaign, and armed with photographs and signed statements provided by visitors and locals alike, they have published an ongoing series of stories of indignation at the recent increase in indiscriminate gillnetting activity.

On Wednesday, June 18, 2008, the Jen Wren, a 31’ Innovator owned by Mark Rayor of Vista Sea Sports and captained by Jesus Cota Trasviña, was enjoying a wide open inshore bite near Punta Colorada among a fleet of a dozen or so cruisers and pangas, when one of Pescadores del Cortez pangas from La Ribera proceeded to set a gillnet in the middle of the fleet. As the crew stood on the bridge of the Jen Wren, shooting photographs of the gillnetters pulling their nets, the netters began hollering obscenities and threats and waving their arms.

Subsequently the Port Captain met with Sr. Mario Leal this week. Sr. Leal has refused to accept responsibility for his son’s behavior and indicated that he will hire an attorney to contest the allegations.

So what can you do? The next time you travel to East Cape, you can refuse to buy bait from any panga that has “Pescadores del Cortez” emblazoned on the side.

Like so many places in the world, sport and commercial fishing must find a workable solution that will benefit everyone involved. Perhaps the East Cape Hotel Association can be the catalyst to achieve this goal.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Baja’s Sultan of Swing

Sultan of Swing proudly displays his new turban and special Charger jersey
Most eighty-six year old men are content to enjoy a good game of Gin and a cocktail. But Togo Hazard isn’t most men, and he isn’t about to let a few years get in his way. In fact, he enjoys life at a pace that would be tough for a man half his age to keep up with.

Don’t get me wrong. Togo likes his card games and cocktails, but his love of fishing is as natural to him as breathing; swinging on fish is something that he has to do.

I suspect, even at his age, he has ‘swung’ on more fish this year than most of us have in many seasons combined, and the year isn’t even half finished.
First, he made his annual winter ‘warm up’ trip to the Tropic Star in Panama in mid-January accompanied by his friends and fishing mates, the manager of Hotel Buenavista Beach Resort, Axel Valdez, and Vincente Cosio, Captain of the Dottie B ll (the newest boat in the Hotel Buenavista Beach Resort fleet) which was named for Togo’s deceased wife, Dottie. They were married for over fifty-one years.

Togo began his trip by slow trolling a ten pound skipjack in a school of porpoise. It soon disappeared in a boil the size of a small compact car. When he threw the reel into gear and swung, he found himself tight to one ‘grande’ tuna which was headed for the bottom. Hunkering down and demonstrating the same toughness that served him well for many years in his San Diego construction business, Togo stayed connected for a remarkable three hours and forty three minutes before the beast was on its side next to the boat…three hundred and fourteen pounds, his largest tuna so far!

Then in April, on one of his monthly trips to East Cape for a week’s fishing on the Dottie B ll, Togo and a couple of his La Jolla tennis buddies…who had never caught a billfish before…gave the East Cape fleet an object lesson of how to swing! The Dottie B ll came in with eleven blue billfish flags a flappin’. Togo’s eyes sparkled as he sprung off the boat with an exuberance that is usually associated with a kid’s first Christmas. Once again, he had outfished the entire East Cape fleet for the day and he wasn’t about to let it go unnoticed.

All of this was just a warm-up for his May trip which coincided with his 86th birthday. Twenty-five friends and family members gathered from far and wide to join Togo in what amounted to a seven-day party suitable for a bunch of thirty something’s. It consisted of fishing all day, gin and cocktails each afternoon, dinner overlooking the Sea of Cortez, and of course laughter all the time. Just the kind of birthday every eighty-six year old would want!

The fishing stories for the week kept piling up! There was the day that Togo’s granddaughters overslept and missed the boat. Togo went out alone and racked up eleven billfish for the day.

“Captain Vincente and the crew tried to kill me,” Togo lamented. “If more than one fish was hooked up, they just left the rod in the holder until I could get to it.”
This turned out to be a hotel record for the number of fish released by one angler in one day.

The week’s total for the Dottie B ll was 31 billfish plus an even dozen large dorado, providing enough fishing stories for everyone to tell and retell for years to come.

On the final night of the May trip, the party was a raucous affair with plenty of gifts including a Charger jersey with the number 86 emblazoned on the back and a custom rod. Then friends, David and Elizabeth Copeland, presented Togo with a turban brought all the way from India, declaring him the “Sultan of Swing!”

DOTTIE B ll with flags flying at the dock

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Shark Norma (NOM 029) Defended

The National Federation of Sport Fishing of México’s View on Shark Norma (NOM 029)

“Chuy” Valdez, owner of Hotel Buenavista Beach and Resort located in East Cape
When Pedro A. Sors García, President of the Federation Nacional de Pesca Deportiva, announced their support of Shark Norma (NOM 029) last year, which allowed Ramon Corral of Conapesca to state publicly that he has the sport fishing sector’s support, the organization thrust itself into the center of a MAJOR controversy.
Minerva Smith, owner of Minerva’s Baja Tackle in Cabo San Lucas and spokesperson for organizations opposed to NOM 029 stated, “Pedro Sors and Jesus “Chuy” Valdez, Vice President of the Federation, recently spoke to the Secretary of Tourism and the press, and claimed that they spoke on behalf of sport fishing in Mexico. But they do not speak for the thousands of sport fishing enthusiasts who support catch and release. Their membership seems to be limited to fresh water fishermen.”
During a recent interview “Chuy” Valdez, owner of Hotel Buenavista Beach and Resort located in East Cape, countered, “Our organization includes eighteen State Associations of Sport Fishing with approximately 11,327 individual members nationwide. Our State Associations with coastline are Baja California, Baja California Sur, Chiapas, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Tamaulipas, Sinaloa, Veracruz and Yucatán, and our State Associations with inshore waters are Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Nuevo León and Puebla.”

He added, “It is also a member of the Confédération Internationale de la Pêche Sportive (CIPS), maximum representative world wide of sport fishing, the Federation Internationale de la Pêche Sportive – Mer (FIPS-M), the Federation Internationale de la Pêche Sportive–Eau Duce (FIPS-ed), and the Federation Internationale de la Pêche Sportive – Mouche (FIPS-Mouche). It is recognized by the Mexican Government’s Comisión Nacional de Cultura Física y Deporte (CONADE), the highest authority on sports in our country. The National Federation of Sport Fishing of México, represents the sport of fishing in ALL of its disciplines nationwide, not only in sea fishing of the Los Cabos area.”“Some of our accomplishments include the decentralization of the Sport-Recreational Fishing Licenses which were previously handled only by the government. They are now distributed by State Fishing Associations, thus reflecting in 2007 an increase of 140% in the sales of licenses with respect to 2006, and in collaboration with other organizations, we have contributed to the discontinuance of the Boat Permits for Sport Fishing Boats.” he continued.
“We have a legitimate interest in protecting not only billfish, but also the rest of the species reserved for sport fishing. We see the NOM 029 as a tool to stop the illegality with which billfish are caught. However, the Federation feels that there were important considerations left out when the law was written. The most important omission is an index (or percentage) of “by-catch”. Thus, the National Federation of Sport Fishing worked very hard so that the Governmental Agencies such as SAGARPA and CONAPESCA include this index in the law. Finally, after several letters were sent out to the authorities, an index of “by-catch” [10% for Sail Fish, 8% for Marlin (all sub-species), and 5% for Dorado] was accepted and included in the Nom. The Federation is still fighting to prevent the sale of the “by-catch”, requiring that it be donated to welfare institutions instead. Without the law, billfish can be commercialized as by- catch. Along with the catch of the sport fishing fleets, it is the only means of supply to the Mexican market.”
The following is a Comparison Table provided by the Federation:
Anyone can catch shark without restrictions at any distance from shore. limits the small boat shark fishermen to fish 10 miles or more shark
Shark fishermen have no restrictions on the equipment they may use the use of gill nets is prohibited and the type of long lines have to be setup to reduce the by catch to a minimum.
The fishermen can use live bait and hooks that encourage billfish by-catch, as well as monofilament leaders It is established that only dead bait can be used, and Japanese type hooks with wire leaders
The presence of on-board observers is not enforced The presence of on-board observers is enforced
There is no by-catch index for species reserved for sportfishing There is a by-catch index for species reserved for sportfishing

“Before NOM 029 the licenses issued for shark fishing allowed the incidental catch of billfish to be commercialized in Mexico. NOM 029, with its technical attachment on incidentally caught fish, will reduce drastically (over 90 % of billfish). This would be an achievement without precedent, and would result in a notable increase in conservationism,” Pedro A. Sors García added.
The Federation represents sportfishing throughout Mexico, not only the Sea of Cortez. It is NOT just a fresh water organization, and they believe that Shark Norma is merely a first step.
As Pedro A. Sors García summarized in a recent letter, “The Federation has never discredited any of the institutions that oppose the NOM 029 today, for we recognize their legitimate interest to protect the billfish species. We simply understand that these organizations have a different point of view from ours on how to help improve our fisheries’ management. We wish for these organizations to understand that our efforts are directed in the same direction, and that they would respect us in our struggle to reach the same goal.”
Both sides should recognize the importance of the preservation of the resource…how that is accomplished should not overshadow the goal!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Baja Beaches…No Respect

It is not unusual for a BIG rooster to eat a hooked ladyfish.

Beachfront hotels encourage sun bathing, snorkeling, and swimming but they basically consider the beach to be a sidewalk to deliver guests to the fishing boats they offer. Most anglers ‘take the bait’ and ignore the beach completely, opting to jump on a boat and get out where the real action is.

The local residents know that the beaches can offer good fishing. Hoards of the locals flock to the beach at every opportunity to cool off and enjoy an outing for the entire family. It isn’t unusual to see small children swimming and playing in the water at one end of camp, with the adults fishing at the other end.

Regardless of your fishing style, spin, fly, or bait casting, include your favorite stick in the rod tube. Fishing from the beach is the ultimate ‘do it yourselfer’ allowing you to figure it out on your own. The results can be spectacular if you are willing to spend the time.

Fishing Baja beaches is like fishing any other venue; it is all about being in the right place at the right time. Standing in one spot and casting until your arm is sore is not going to get it. Keep moving, look for the same signs as you would from a boat… birds or bait being pushed. Often you can spot fish swimming well within casting range. Small chrome spoons, surface poppers, swim baits or plastics all work; select the ones that you have had success with in other places.

The beach species’ list is impressive: roosters, jacks, yellowtail, pompano, pargo, grouper, ladyfish, etc. If you are very lucky you may even land a dorado or tuna. The beach is always full of surprises!

Locals seem to prefer bait while visitors tend to use lures. It is not unusual for a BIG rooster to eat a hooked ladyfish before you can land it. After that happens, you may think pinning that lady back on a hook and cast it out isn’t a bad idea.

There isn’t a bad time to fish the beach: Early morning before breakfast in low light conditions the fish seem to be actively feeding. Mid-day as the sun climbs higher in the sky, it is easy to spot free swimming fish within casting distance, as well as balled-up bait schools. Late afternoon and early evening produces low light conditions again.

Like any fishery worth its salt you need to put your time in. I often see an angler go out on the beach and in less than an hour head back to the pool or bar in disgust. Think about it. As great as the fishing can be in the Sea of Cortez it usually takes your Captain more than an hour to figure it out.

In The Angler's Guide to Trailer-Boating Baja, Zack Thomas talks about the joy of being on your own boat and having complete control of what you do. A Baja beach is the next best thing… allowing you to be your own Captain, using your acquired skills to land quality fish and have fun without depending on another person or boat.

My email address is .

Monday, May 12, 2008

A New Breed…Time Will Tell

As the bright yellow air line began trailing behind the diver, the pangero began rowing to keep up. “Our diver doesn’t walk, he runs” Juanchys boasted.

We were up before sunrise on the morning of the second day of our trip and hurried down to the beach where the Cooperativa had gathered for the day’s commercial activity.

The crews were given a sheet of paper containing GPS coordinates, the quota of abalone to be harvested that day and a handheld GPS. Each panga was equipped with a small compressor and 150’ of air hose, and consisted of a crew of three, the panguero, a diver and the diver’s attendant. As promised, Juanchys had arranged for Glen and me to ride with them on one of the commercial pangas.
Soon all of the pangas were loaded and headied out to their assigned areas to begin the day’s work.

In less than thirty minutes, we were on the spot. With a yank on the cord, the compressor sputtered to life and over the side went the heavily weighted, wetsuited-diver as he plunged to the bottom forty feet below. I watched as Juanchys managed the air and safety line.

As the bright yellow air line began trailing behind the diver, the panguero began rowing to keep up.

“Our diver doesn’t walk, he runs,” Juanchys boasted. You see, they are not really divers, instead of fins, they wear protective boots and enough weights to keep them firmly planted on the bottom.

After fifteen minutes the diver popped to the surface and climbed into the boat, complaining that the bottom was devoid of rocks and consisted only of sand. The motor roared to life and we made a few hundred yard adjustment.

The diver returned to the bottom and it was barely fifteen minutes before there was a pull on the safety line signaling his dive bag was ready to be retrieved. Juanchys tugged and grunted as he hauled the overflowing bag of abalone to the surface.

An overflowing bag of abalone is carefully measured and counted
Carefully counting and measuring the catch and setting aside the shorts before putting the abalone in the box, Juanchys scrawled the total of 27 with a pencil on the boat seat. When the next bag was hauled to the surface it contained 52 more shellfish.

By now many pangas in our fleet were wrapping up and heading back to the beach having reached the day’s quota of 120 abalone.
Juanchys smiled, “Fifteen more minutes.” And sure enough, Carlos soon bobbed to the surface with the remaining 31 to complete the day’s quota. The few shorts that had been collected were returned by the diver who carefully placed them on a rock on the bottom.

Back on the beach Juanchys introduced me to Enrique Lucero, Cooperativa Administrator, a young man who appeared to be equally as comfortable on the damp sandy beach as he would be back in his office at the recently completed cannery. Enrique oversees the entire commercial abalone and lobster operation for La Bocana and was supervising the offloading of the day’s catch.
“All the Cooperativas along the west coast from Turtle Bay to San Ignacio have banded together.” He explained. “As a group they have been able to apply innovative techniques to both lobster and abalone fisheries, with a common goal of restoring a sustainable fishery that produces a consistent yield from year to year while increasing the resource.”

Employing their own marine biologists, they have developed formulas that allow them to do just that and both the lobster and abalone stocks seem to be growing in spite of the continued commercial harvesting.

Enrique also indicated that his group is interested in developing more tourism and sportfishing throughout the Vizcaíno region in the future. Later during my trip I spoke with a hotel owner who had visited the area recently and was considering establishing an operation there.

THE RECENTLY COMPLETED cannery is a technological marvel employing state of the art equipment

The newly completed cannery is a technological marvel employing state of the art equipment to process the catch and send the product off to market as efficiently as possible. Enrique encouraged Glenn and me to visit the facility.

Less than an hour after returning to the beach, we were at the cannery. We donned protective wear and were taken inside of the facility. The crews were already wrapping up after processing the entire fleet’s catch for the day.

After watching the commercial fishermen and their Cooperativas decimate marine resource after resource in Baja over the years, spending the morning on the panga with a crew that was careful to adhere to the instructions they were given, then, listening to Enrique as he enthusiastically outlined goals and techniques being implemented by his group to maintain the resources, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of hope that maybe some of the new breed of commercial fishermen are beginning to get it right!