Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reader Questions Driving Time

On some trips I have more time to stop and smell the cactus.

In the letters to the Editor column last issue,
Dear Gary,

I read with incredulity your account of driving from the border to
Mulege in one day. I’m a 78 year old Baja traveler, who has made
this trip numerous
times, and rather than writing a letter to WON challenging your
assertion, I want to ask how fast you traveled in the open road, 60,
70, 80 mph?

It’s about 615 miles from the border to Mulege, and you say you
started “in the gray”, which I translate as first light. On October
28, that’s about 6:30 AM at the earliest. You say you arrived in
“late afternoon”. Let’s say that’s 5:30 PM, which I think is
generous, but let’s go with it. That gives you 11 hours to make 615
miles, or an average of 56 miles an hour.

The best I’ve done in one day is Guerrero Negro. Admittedly, I always
stopped for breakfast and lunch, and an occasional potty stop, but
still I’m flummoxed by your trip. Even saying you only stopped once
for fuel and never for anything else, you still had to navigate
through slow areas like TJ, Ensenada, Maneadero, Colonet, San
Quintin, El Rosario, Guerrero Negro and the Santa Rosalia Grade, plus
Santa Rosalia itself, a pretty slow slog. And, what about the
military stops to check for guns and drugs?

You’ve got to clarify how you did this. If inexperienced Baja
travelers think they can do anything approaching your feat, there
will be a lot more mini shrines along the road.

Best regards,

Bill, San Diego

Here is my answer:


I have been driving Mex 1 since it opened in the early seventies. I have no idea of the number of times I have driven it which seems odd since as you will see I keep pretty detailed records of my trips.

Not all my trips are destination oriented where I need to be somewhere at a certain time and on those trips I have more time to stop and smell the cactus. The biggest negative of a trip that is destination oriented and time is of the essence, is that I don't take the time to take photos or visit with friends.

I don't advocate anyone driving above their comfort level on Mex 1 or for that matter on any other highway.

I try to time my crossings to take advantage of the traffic, hence the early morning. When I first began driving Mex 1, I crossed earlier but now restrict my driving to daylight hours. The result is little or limited traffic in Tijuana and I am usually past Maneadero before the locals in Ensenada are stirring and I usually get through San Quintin after the buses and trucks that transport workers are on the road.

I know where every curve, every town and even every pothole (almost) is located. This makes a big difference in how I drive. I choose the opportunity to pass other cars carefully. As an example on the straight stretch south of Santo Tomas after the' topes' and before going up the grade, it is important to pass any trucks along that stretch. If not, you will go up the grade slowly behind a struggling semi-truck. There are many other similar situations that can have a definite impact on the driving time. You mentioned Military checkpoints, my experience is that they seldom inspect southbound travelers, but as I travel frequently, I'm often waved through.

As far as fuel stops are concerned, my one-ton, self contained van carries ample fuel, and I only make three fuel stops on the way down. I do not have to make stops for anything but fuel. I seldom stop at a station that has a line of cars waiting.
Because I carry with me all the conveniences of home, I don't have to stop for breakfast, lunch or whatever, which probably saves several hours.

Your time to drive to Guerrero Negro is about right considering your breakfast and lunch stops, and an occasional potty stop. I arrived at Gro. Negro at 2:30 p.m. so if you factor in your stops, we were not that far apart.
I have included two tables for that trip: one that lists my fuel stops and times and a second that is a record of the "Find Me Spot" reports posted on my blog. Note: At Viscaino I didn't take a full tank as they would not give me the full peso to dollar rate.

Trip Fuel Stops

Rosarito Beach 6:30

San Quintin 10:00

Viscaino 2:45
Santa Rosalia 4:30

Find Me Spot Report

10/28/2009 6:13 0-7378327 32.54074 -117.049 Border
10/28/2009 7:25 0-7378327 31.90313 -116.732 Ensenada Toll Gate
10/28/2009 10:21 0-7378327 30.42571 -115.881 Maneadero
10/28/2009 12:09 0-7378327 29.72609 -114.712 Catavina
10/28/2009 14:23 0-7378327 27.96645 -114.012 Guerrero Negro
10/28/2009 17:18 0-7378327 26.88578 -111.951 Mulege

He responded to my reply;

Gary, What can I say? You've convinced me it can be done. I thought you had made a factual mistake in your account. Thanks for the details, and my hat is off to you. Like you, I love to "smell the cactus". I'll sometimes just pull off the road and hike into the desert.
Glad to hear you don't drive at night; that livestock can be rough on your vehicle.
Best regard,
Bill B

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Three Weeks on the Road

John Yancey, San Clemente, CA landed this whopper while I was at Lopez Mateos.

My latest Baja adventure began when I crossed the Tijuana border at gray light on October 28th. Aside from stopping for fuel, I kept the ‘pedal to the metal’ and by late afternoon I crossed the bridge over the Santa Rosalia River (also known as the Mulege River). ..the same river where the snook mysteriously reappeared last March after many years of absence.

The effects of Hurricane Jimena that had slammed into the area in early September were still apparent. My usual stopping place, the Hotel Cuesta Real, was still full of mud and was being dug out. Since the hotel no longer had Wi-Fi I needed to find another place to stay.

Mike and Roz Reichner have a home on the river. When I had visited them on my last trip, they were in the middle of restoring their house after it had been six feet under water. They emailed me a few days earlier to report Roz’s early morning encounter with a small snook in her nightgown! I decided to stop and hear first-hand about her snook! During dinner they confirmed my often quoted line ‘by the time you hear about a Baja snook, it’s too late.’ And it’s true. Invariably by the time the news travels very far, the bite is over.

Midday the following day, I picked up a Tel Cel 3G USB card from my friend in Lopez Mateos that would allow me to connect to the Internet anywhere there was cellular service. Unbelievably, I only had to pay $30 pesos a day (less than $3.00 U.S.).

My second night, I stayed at Theresa Comber’s East Cape RV. Theresa also owns a two local charter boats. Over dinner that night, she entertained me with stories of her adventures as a female entrepreneur in Baja and she brought me up to date on the current East Cape fishing conditions.

The following day, I stopped by La Playita to visit Eric Brictson of Gordo Banks Pangas. As we talked there was a steady parade of pangas unloading both large tuna and wahoo. As Eric and several helpers hung a 180+ pound tuna on the certified scale he commented, “We have been seeing huge tuna every day for the past few weeks. Yesterday we had a 247 pounder.” Needless to say that was exciting news for WON’s Tuna Tournament.

I checked in at Tesoro Hotel, where the WON staff was based, and I picked Yvonne up from the airport that afternoon.

For the next two days, Pat McDonell led the WON team consisting of Mike Packard, Rich Holland, Judy Passerello, Carolynn Collett, Jonathan Roldan and wife Jill, Chuck and Rhonda Buhagiar, Mike and Andrea Bohn, Gary and Yvonne Graham and Kit McNear in preparing for the big event.

Seeing the 383 pound tuna that shook Cabo was an exciting event. Crowds suddenly appeared to watch the unloading of this huge fish. That was the biggest, fattest cow of a tuna that I had ever seen in my entire life…a definite WOW! Thanks to everyone’s help the 11th Yamaha/Western Outdoor News Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot lived up to its motto fish hard, party harder and the event was an over- the-top success!

During the tournament, Kit McNear whispered to me about the snook snap going on in La Paz Bay. We agreed to meet in La Paz after the tournament and catch a few ourselves. Every time we bumped into each other we smugly nodded, knowing that there was chance for a trophy snook in our future.

When I arrived in La Paz the night before, however, for the planned snook trip, there was a cryptic email from Kit. Trips off… the bite is over!

But I enjoyed a great dinner at Jonathan and Jill Roldan’s Fubar Cantina located right on the Malecon that evening. The meal was outstanding, and the Cantina was hopping with sports enthusiasts who had come for the good food and the Monday Night Football.

Since there are no RV parks in La Paz, I spent the night in my Roadtrek van parked right on the Malecon.

My final stop was Lopez Mateos. There had been no reports of snook so I arrived with no expectations. On the last two days of the trip, we landed SEVEN snook! Smugly, I remembered,“ by the time you hear about a Baja snook it’s too late!”

So if you hurry…


I can be reached at

Monday, November 30, 2009

Hillbilly Country Club

When I spotted Barbara Morris, Randy Matz, Fred and Tawnya Stevens sporting t-shirts with Hillbilly Country Club emblazoned across their backs, I knew there had to be a story there.

The Western Outdoor News Tuna Tournament draws some of most interesting and unique competitors. When I spotted Barbara Morris, Randy Matz, Fred and Tawnya Stevens sporting t-shirts with Hillbilly Country Club emblazoned across their backs, I knew there had to be a story there. It was in the branding.

The four were harking from Coalinga, California, which they quickly pointed out was just three miles beyond the ‘cow smell’… 100 miles north of Bakersfield.

Basically they are fresh-water fishermen who spend most of their summers fishing the Wishon Lake in the Sierra foothills. Randy Matz dreamed up the name Hillbilly Country Club and it stuck for them and other friends from Coalinga who fish trout every summer on the lake.

It was also Randy who had read about the WON Tuna Tournament for years. Three years ago, while they fished from a pontoon boat, which they refer to as ‘dry dock’, he mentioned it again. A few beers helped them decide to give the saltwater tournament a try.

Their first year, Team 7 caught a qualifying fish that put them in the lead for nearly an hour before it was replaced by a larger fish. They still felt as though they were winners. Before the event was over they had won enough swag that they needed an extra bag to get the goodies back to Coalinga. Their prizes included Costa Del Mar sunglasses, Reactor watches, Baja Fish Gear and Eat Me Lures. Their pictures were all over the WON paper, and their photos in the promotional ads constantly reminded them to sign up again.

This year was their second WON Tuna tournament. They signed up for the early bird and were given their lucky number 7 again. When I first spotted their t-shirts, I knew that here were some folks who were bound and determined to have a good time. They even had the tournament motto on the sleeves of their shirts, fish hard and party harder!

Day #1 at the weigh-in, I kept watching for them, but they never showed up. They had not gotten the “catch” part of fish harder, but I figured out that they did understand the party harder! When I saw them later that night at the Yokohama Fiesta, they were whooping and hollering like any good hillbilly!

Friday night, we bumped into them at Solomon’s Bar. Not only had they not caught anything to bring to the scale, they hadn’t even won any raffle prizes! Bummer! Though their smiles and laughter convinced me that win or not, they were enjoying this event. When they finished their drinks and headed for the Reactor Squid Roe party, I reassured them tonight would be their night.

Sure enough when I bumped into them early Saturday morning on my way to the Pete Gray Let’s Talk Hookup show, they were quick to show me their three new Reactor watches and Costa Del Mar glasses to go with them.

With high hopes at the final dinner, their goal was to win the Alaska Kingfisher trip. They didn’t win the trip but they did manage to win another Reactor watch…all four had matching wrist jewelry. And they agreed that since they didn’t win the trip, they were going to pay and go anyway.

The Hillbilly Country Club has already decided to return to Cabo for the 12th Annual WON Tuna Tournament. They are not sure whether it is the fishing, partying, raffles or all the great people they meet during the events, but Team 7 has already booked their boat and are making plans for next year. I can’t wait to the next t-shirts.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Magdalena Bay – a tangy taste of ‘old baja’

Be aware that both ramps have issues when the tide is low

The outstanding offshore fishing in front of Magdalena Bay has taken on almost mythical proportions over the years. From October through December the schools of marlin, wahoo, tuna and dorado are consistently the largest found anywhere in Baja; conversely, the number of boats fishing here is minimal compared to other Baja destinations. With its old Mexico charm still unblemished by tourism and North American influence, Mag Bay has become the topic of many discussions and my email has been filled with questions about this area.

With its popularity growing, each year the number of local boats large enough to access the offshore action comfortably has grown and many yachts traveling to and from Cabo plan their trips each year to take advantage of the outstanding billfish fishery off Magdalena Bay.

Trailer boat access has improved tremendously, attracting more anglers who want to captain their own boats. Both Lopez Mateos and Puerto San Carlos have added new cement ramps which will accommodate larger trailer boats. The recently completed launch ramp and pier in Lopez Mateos is on the southwest side of town (25°11'19.20"N 112°07'00.60"W. In Puerto San Carlos the ramp is located on the southeast side of town (24"47'05.21"N 112"05'37.53"W). Be aware that both have issues when the tide is low.

From Lopez Mateos access to the Pacific through the Boca de Soledad is only five miles from town. However, departing and returning through the Boca (mouth) is not for the faint of heart. It would be wise to either follow another boat through the first few times or hire a local panguero to lead you out.

The channels between the barrier islands are like saltwater rivers and allow everything from tiny baitfish to giant whales to travel in and out of the bay. For those who do not have their sights on offshore fish, inside the bay and the esteros are spotted bay bass, grouper, corvina, sierra, jacks, mangrove snapper, pargo, pompano, halibut and snook.

Ed and Emilia Brennan’s hotel, Hotel Brennan, is the newest hotel in Puerto San Carlos. They offer clean rooms and good service. They will even arrange whale watching or sportfishing for their guests.

Steve Warren’s, Mag Bay Tours, began as a primitive surf camp on Magdalena Island fifteen years ago. In addition to the surfing, whale watching, bay fishing, and eco-tour camps, Steve provides support services for trailer boats visiting the bay. His services include food, fuel, water and lodging.

Bob and Diana Hoyt’s, Magdalena Bay Outfitters, based out of Lopez Mateos, offers rental houses, several boats, including a 26’ catamaran and a 28’ Boston Whaler, for day trips offshore and additional pangas for bay or estero trips. The Hoyts also own Whales Tale Inn, located on the shore of Santa Maria Bay on Mag Bay Island, a five cabin complex providing one of the few places in Baja where you can still ride ATVs to explore the miles of beaches or to fish for roosterfish and other near shore species. These cabins also serve as a jumping off place for faster access to the offshore fishing grounds. They also offer fuel and support services for visiting trailer boats and they have formed partnerships with several larger sportfishing boats for clients who want multi-day charters.

Jeff Petersen’s, Lopez Sportsman‘s Lodge in Lopez Mateos, offers a rental house and pangas, as well as a 28’ aluminum catamaran landing craft for offshore or estero trips.

A welcome addition in Lopez Mateos is the availability of Mexican fishing licenses near the new launch ramp.

On the heels of Olaf and Patricia, this year the marlin season has not yet begun; baitballs which are usually common thus far are missing. The tuna, dorado and skipjack have produced in typical outstanding fashion beginning 8 to 10 miles outside the Boca’s. Fish inside the Esteros, have been easy to come by using the live shrimp purchased from the local commercial panga fleet, but landing the bigger fish is more difficult. Don’t forget the fluorocarbon leader!

For those of you who think that the Baja you originally discovered has vanished, Magdalena Bay will provide you with the tangy taste of ‘old Baja’ that is as intoxicating as an icy margarita.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Death Valley Surf Casting

The red patch was emblazoned, “THE DEATH VALLEY SURF FISHING CLUB”.

Several years ago I wrote a feature on Tom Miller, Baja legend and author of The Baja Book, first published in 1974. Tom introduced me to the Baja beaches in the mid-seventies and his book became my Baja bible, providing the most up-to-date information at the time about Baja and its beaches. This book, and others he wrote, inspired me to a lifetime of fishing Baja.

A few years later, I attended a Vagabundos del Mar convention in San Diego where I met my Baja fishing heroes which included Tom, Ray Cannon and Burt Twilliger. For a young Baja neophyte like me it was a exciting event, and Tom and I became friends.
Ray Cannon and his tales of Baja California which were published in Western Outdoor News had stimulated Tom’s lifelong interest in Baja. And Tom was elated to be asked to take over the Baja column for WON when Cannon retired in 1977.

For the next 15 years, until his death in 1992, Tom would call, and when I answered, I would hear, “Hey buddy,”…the unmistakable effusive greeting of my Baja buddy, Tom Miller.
”I am going down to Baja for few days to checkout this or that beach. You want to go?” More often than not my answer was an enthusiastic “yes”! Soon we would be on some deserted beach, eating a variety of fresh caught fish while Tom, talking a mile a minute, would tell or retell one Baja story after another.

One night Tom said he had something to show me, and out of his backpack he fished a red patch which was emblazoned with “THE DEATH VALLEY SURF FISHING CLUB”. “This is my new fishing club,” he smugly said, “What do you think? “

I had long forgotten about Tom’s club until I received the following email from his daughter, Diana Miller Johnson, last week:
“You have no idea how wonderful it was to read your 2007 article, Sentimental Journey about one of your fishing trips with my dad, Tom Miller. I found a PDF of it while searching the Internet. What a great surprise! THANK YOU. I loved your last paragraph.”
Was it my imagination, or could I still hear Tom whooping and hollering, an occasional “hookup!” piercing the air? No, it was probably just the sound of the roaring surf….
“I remember Dad speaking of you. May I ask a favor? On your trips to Baja would you occasionally take a pair of cheap rubber flip flops of the kind Dad lived in and leave them high up on a Baja beach. Draw a circle in the sand around them as he usually did. The thought is that someone who frequents that beach and perhaps fishes there would find them and put a few miles on them. And perhaps in that way take Dad on another Baja adventure along with him. It is something I used to do but landlocked now in Arizona I don't get to the beach anymore. “
I am on another of my Baja Roadtreks now, chasing down the snook rumor in Mulege, then on to check out the roosterfish at Magdalena Bay and finally on to the Thetis Bank to cash in on the rumored wahoo snap.

In between all of that, you can bet your sweet bipee that Diana’s request will be honored…often. I have the flip flops onboard and a pair will be deposited on all of the beaches I visit. However, in this Internet era, I can’t resist attaching a note to them with my email address…kind of a Tom Miller Baja version of a “note in a bottle”.

Oh yeah, one more thing. If you are interested in becoming a member of The Death Valley Surf Casting Club,

Gary can be reached at

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Gorilla Season

Heather DeRamus, Richmond, Tx., A lady weighing half its' size and it took her three hours caught this 200 lb yellow fin tuna at the Jaime banks near Cabo San Lucas on the “La Brisa” a 31ft. Bertram in the Pisces sportfishing Fleet

While it is common to hear of football-size to seventy-five pound tuna being caught throughout southern Baja, it is seldom that reports from the entire lower half of the peninsula are peppered with accounts of the triple-digit, monster-sized yellowfin tuna. Recently however, from East Cape to the tip of Cabo, encounters with these behemoths (sometimes dubbed as gorilla’s for both their size and tenacity), have been reported.

Just seeing these golf-cart-sized fish air borne, chasing small flying fish down, is a sight that you will never forget. Birds crashing, spinner or spotted porpoise darting to and fro, and large tuna leaping…this is exciting stuff…a run and gun experience that will provide a bigger rush than that third cup of Starbucks.

Big or not, these huge fish are as skittish as a Mexican jumping bean and will disappear as more and more boats converge on them, so if you get to the party late, your only reward will probably be watching anglers on other boats being railed by fish larger than they are.
Many are hooked but few are landed simply because the under-gunned angler’s tackle is not up to the task. Tackle should be outfitted with a minimum of sixty pound line, or better yet eighty if you hope to land one. Fluorocarbon wound on leaders with circle hooks and a good harness are also a must.

The most successful technique is to fling the largest live bait you have in the tank in front of the traveling porpoise. Leave your reel in free spool and use your thumb to slow the swimming bait. When the bait is picked up let the fish run and then throw the reel in gear and hang on. The intensity of the first run is just a prelude to the battle before you. Tackle and angler failure are not uncommon in what can quickly become an extended battle. Dead boating a large tuna swimming in elliptical circles is far tougher than fighting one that is being forced to swim by keeping the boat moving forward ever so slightly.

There are few fish in the ocean that are as tenacious as a giant tuna and will require all the strength and will to win that you can muster. Those who are successful will barely be able to join in the celebration of the catch because of exertion.

Recently Mark Rayor, owner of Vista Sea Sports, landed a 201 pound tuna near his home at East Cape. “When I saw the tuna inhale the live horrilito,” Mark said, “I knew we were in for a fight. On its first run, it took the 80 pound spectra down to where I could see the arbor on the spool of the Accurate reel. We had the fish to gaff after about five hours, but missed the opportunity. It took another three hours more to get another shot at it. We had the drag down so tight it took both hands for us to pull the 60 pound mono off of reel after we landed the fish. The reel got really hot, but the drag pressure never changed and the drags never got jerky.”
“Remind me never to do that again without a harness,” he added.

Another recent success story is the “Sultan of Spring”, 87-year-old Togo Hazard from San Diego, CA, who was featured in this column last year. Still going strong, last week Togo was on his boat, the Dottie B, and landed a respectable 158 pound fish near Gordo Bank.

The 11th annual WON/Yamaha Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot is just around the corner on November 4th through November 7th! With the Gorillas already on the scene, this should be a good time to make a quick trip to Los Cabos to get in a little practice before the event. There is a special Early Bird Entry offer of $15,000…deadline Oct. 9.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Baja Bush Pilots Begin Disaster Relief

Taking aim at the midsection of Baja, beginning at Magdalena Bay and up to San Ignacio, it literally reduced a number of towns and villages to ruble.
Jack McCormick and the Baja Bush Pilots were among the first to respond to the disaster.

The images of the villages, homes and roads after Hurricane Jimena made its way across the Baja Peninsula reflect some of the most severe devastation that I have ever seen in all my years in Baja. Once Jimena passed the tip of Baja, leaving only rain and minor damage, many dismissed it as the hurricane that couldn’t shoot straight.

But Jimena wasn’t finished. Taking aim at the midsection of Baja, beginning at Magdalena Bay and up to Santa Rosalia it literally reduced a number of towns and villages to ruble.

Jack McCormick and the Baja Bush Pilots were among the first to respond to the disaster. Jack is the publisher of the Airports of Mexico flying guide. His work with the Mexican Government takes him from Baja California to Mexico City and sometimes as far south as Panama. Following in his father’s footsteps, he leads trips of pilots on amazing adventures as they explore Mexico and areas farther south. Jack and his mission are clearly unmatched; his efforts have made flying south of the border simpler for other pilots.

Jack and a few other BBP members flew down on September 4th, taking photos and getting a first-hand look at the damage to the area. After four days of assessing the needs of the towns and villages hard hit by Jimena, they worked out the logistics to the areas affected before they returned on September 9th.

“Our first two days were spent working with the Mexican Red Cross and flying the workers throughout the region to determine what items were needed. Then we spent the following two days working out the logistics for setting up headquarters for receiving, sorting and distributing the items throughout the area.” Jack stated.

The Red Cross determined that the greatest needs are in a box-like area encompassing more than 12,000 square miles beginning around Lopez Mateos north to Campo Rene on the Pacific side, then across to Santa Rosalia, and then north to just above Mulege. In addition to the major villages, the small villages and ranches located within the area were another major concern as all land access is cut off for most of them.

The Governor of Baja Sur and the President of Baja Sur Red Cross both requested the assistance of the Baja Bush Pilots in developing a plan for distributing the Red Cross survival food and water to those trapped in remote areas. They also requested the assistance of the BBP members in delivering other items such as tarps and medical items.

Baja Bush Pilots have enlisted the help of other member volunteers who will be arriving to help with the unloading and distribution of emergency supplies. The first group is scheduled be in Mulege Friday and with the help of locals, they will start receiving and distributing the donated items.

They are planning an airlift beginning on Friday, September 11th and continuing for the following ten days, or longer if necessary. They have 50 fixed wing aircraft and five helicopters that have already been volunteered to assist in this rescue effort. As of this writing, they have deployed ten medical evacuations for people injured as a result of Jimena.

In southern California and the southwest U.S., the Baja Bush Pilots have coordinated with Cruz Roja and the Baja California Civil Protection agency, and they are now flying down emergency medical supplies.
If you are interested in supporting this effort, the Baja Bush Pilots are looking for the following items: Basic first aid and OTC medical supplies, cooking pans, utensils, camp tents, plastic tarps, rope, flashlights, lanterns with batteries, cloth shoes, clothing, blankets, light bedding and of course, cash donations. After the roads open, heavier items will be sought for donation and carried by truck to help rebuild the homes.

To volunteer your help with their airlift efforts, email Jimena disaster relief coordinator, Jack McCormick at or visit (480) 730-3250 .

Sunday, August 16, 2009

IGFA Reps…Sportfishing Advocates

Kramer's appearance immediatley dispels the notion that the IGFA is some kind of ‘old boys club’ where the members sit around sipping something brown and reminiscing about the good old days.

Recently, I had the privilege to sit down with Rob Kramer, President of the 70 year old International Game Fish Association (IGFA).
Kramer’s appearance immediately dispels the notion that the IGFA is some kind of ‘old boys club’ where members sit around sipping something brown and reminiscing about the good old days. He is young, personable and possesses a remarkable knowledge of the fisheries and the issues that confront them throughout the world.
IGFA is best known as the official keeper of world fishing records for the recreational angling community. However this non-profit organization is also active in game fish conservation and in the promotion of responsible, ethical, angling practices through science, education and rule making. IGFA’s mission is accomplished by enlisting the voices of 300 official IGFA representatives in over 90 countries and more than 30,000 angler-members around the globe.

When asked the number of Representative appointees that IGFA currently had in Mexico and Baja, Rob replied, “There are seventeen representatives in Mexico, four in Baja and thirteen in mainland Mexico, the largest number of appointees in any country other than the United States.“

The IGFA Reps are not a ceremonial appointment. To qualify, each one must demonstrate a passion for sportfishing, integrity and local fishing knowledge. Once selected, they serve as the ‘boots on the ground’ liaison between the local angling interests in their respective areas and IGFA Headquarters in the United States. The IGFA Representatives also encourage conservation and supervise and confirm the weigh-ins of world record claims.

During Kramer’s tenure, IGFA and the Billfish Foundation have found a common ground which allows them to work together throughout the world, specifically in Mexico and Baja. Their combined efforts have produced both economic and scientific data which continues to influence fishery conservation issues on both federal and regional levels.

Another area of their cooperation has been to improve the method of tagging billfish by promoting the use of satellite tags in lieu of the more familiar, yet less effective, conventional method that provided limited data.
IGFA, under Kramer’s leadership, is constantly developing innovative new methods to protect marine resources and sportfishing internationally. New initiatives are expanding educational opportunities using curricula developed with the 20,000 students who come though the headquarters facility annually. He hopes to be able to provide direct feeds into the classrooms in Mexico using Internet technology.

Throughout the world sportfishing and the protection of Marine resources is a high-stake game. Mexico and Baja are no different. The politics and players are constantly changing. Huge sums of money are derived from Mexico’s marine resources by both commercial interests and sportfishing. The ongoing advocacy provided by the IGFA and its Representatives, not only in Mexico but throughout the world, is a constant reminder to the importance of preserving marine resources for generations to come.

Kramer is hopeful that the Mexican Government will heed the overwhelming evidence of the damage to marine resources caused by commercial overfishing. It is imperative to understand that the commercial interests are deeply entrenched. In many cases, fishing businesses have been handed down from father to son for many generations. Their businesses provide income and bread on the table for their families and they are frightened that any change in the law will affect their lifestyle.
For the most part the recreational angler’s livelihood is not connected to the fishery. They simply recognize the importance of establishing limits to prevent the current irreversible trend of ignoring the continued depletion of marine resources until they simply disappear.

Kramer is working to bring the recreational sportfishing interest and the commercial fishing interest together in Mexico and Baja. It is important that all of the groups resolve their differences and get on the same page.
The names and contact information for all the IGFA Representatives are available to members both online and in the World Record book published annually. They provide a valuable local resource for current sportfishing information IGFA members.

IGFA Representatives

David Jones, La Paz
Gary C. Graham, Baja California
Felipe Jesus Valdez, East Cape, Baja California Sur
Minerva Saenz-Smith, Cabo San Lucas
Alberto Madaria H., Tampico
Angel Luis Requejo, Veracruz
Ed Kunze, Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo
Eduardo Perusquia Moran, Mexico City
Enrique Caraza G., Monterrey, Nuevo Leon
Enrique Laviada Cantrell, Merida
Javier Padilla, Mexico City
Luis Fernando Adachi K., Manzanillo
Monty Padilla, Mexico City
Moray Applegate C., Puerto Vallarta
Nassim Joaquin Delbouis, Cozumel Island
Ricardo Hernandez Carrasco, Oaxaca
Stefan Kneffel, Cancun

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Talkin’ Trash

Ladyfish often called sabalo by the locals and a ‘poor man’s tarpon’ by some Baja visitors, is a species that is usually found along almost any sandy beach in southern Baja.

This isn’t about exotics or bragging rights…it is about having a bend in your rod. To paraphrase a country western song, “they like their fish just a little on the trashy side”. You know, kinda’ like the fish caught and recorded in the miscellaneous column on a party boat tally sheet.

Even when the fishing is off the charts and everyone has limited out when the boat returns to the dock, believe it or not there are some hardcore anglers who, after pausing for a cold one and a dip in the pool, are ready for more fishing.
To the extreme, I have walked out on a moonlit beach in front of a hotel after a late dinner and found a handful of enthusiastic fishermen behaving like they were in the middle of an East Coast striped bass frenzy…running up and down the beach whooping and hollering while flinging their lures into the froth of “trash” fish - in short having fun.

Ladyfish, often called sabalo by the locals and a ‘poor man’s tarpon’ by some Baja visitors, is a species that is usually found along almost any sandy beach in southern Baja. They can provide countless hours of entertainment for an avid angler.

What is there not to like? They charge a lure ravenously, strike with reckless abandon, go airborne like a rocket, and perform acrobatics like their larger cousins, the tarpon. They are, indeed a perfect, willing candidate for your light tackle of choice, including a light weight bass outfit, spinning tackle or even an 8 weight fly rod.

In the lure department, small one-ounce shiny lures are appropriate, and for the fly guys weighted Clouser minnows are good for starters. If the lure that you are using has a treble hook, cut off two of the hooks to improve your hookup ratio. If the bites don’t come, begin experimenting with different lures.
Working the beach for the “trash” is not a ‘stand in one place and cast until you get tired’ kind of thing. Keep moving. It is the old cast 1…2...3, step 1…2…3 until you get a bite. Like someone once said to me “they’ve got tails, keep moving”!

After you have made your cast, keep the line tight and let the lure or fly sink for a few seconds. Try a five count. If that doesn’t work, try a little longer. If you don’t get a bite, sweep the rod to bring the lure or fly near the surface and then let it sink again. If there are any ladies around, they can seldom resist this presentation.

Once hooked, ladyfish are usually airborne the instant the hook is felt and you need to be prepared. When you feel the bite, set the hook immediately and stick the rod tip into the water. The purpose of this maneuver is to have as much wetted surface on your line as possible so that when the lady goes ballistic, the friction of the water on the line will hold the hook firmly in its mouth. They are strong fighters and they require steady pressure; they will not settle down and will still be leaping at your feet when you release them.

Like most trash fish, they seem to feed both day and night. Once you locate a school of ladyfish you can expect to have some non-stop action. In daylight hours, watch for the telltale black tails of schools swimming close to the surface. At night listen and watch for the telltale splashes when they are feeding.

If you consider yourself a 24/7 kind of fisherman and are looking for more fishing and less sitting when you visit Baja, the Baja beach may satisfy that need with its long list of species which includes ladies, triggerfish, Cortez grunts, needlefish, cornet fish and many more that are a little on the trashy side.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

PESCADORES VIGILANTES… Solution to an Old Problem?

More than a decade ago “Parque Nacional Bahia de Loreto” was established. The park covers a large part of the local fishing grounds off Loreto nearly half a million acres including islands of Coronado, Carmen, Danzante, Monserrat, and Santa Catalina.

Frustrated with the lack of enforcement, the Loreto fishing community decided to turn to an old solution with a new name.
More than a decade ago, “Parque Nacional Bahia de Loreto” was established. The park covers a large part of the local fishing grounds off Loreto…nearly half a million acres including the islands of Coronado, Carmen, Danzante, Monserrat, and Santa Catalina.

The initial plan was to control commercial fishing and sportfishing. Special permits for those entering the park would be issued. PROFEPA, the enforcement branch of SEMARNAP (Mexican Fish and Game), would supply the staff, who would supervise and enforce the rules, issuing citations, confiscating property, and arresting anyone who violated those rules.

However, resources allocated to protect the area were limited causing sporadic enforcement. Mainland fishing fleets repeatedly appeared inside the park during peak season, without permits and ignoring the regulations. Additionally, while local park users paid the required fees, visiting sportfishers were often overlooked. Park staff seldom responded to the frequent complaints.

On June 1, 2009, Laura Escobosa, the Director of Eco-Alianza, invited local commercial and sport fishermen to a meeting to consider the formation of an organization, Pescadores Vigilantes (vi gilant fishermen). This organization, sponsored by Eco-Alianza, would protect the waters surrounding Loreto.

Pam Bolles of Baja Big Fish Company welcomed the attendees, expressed her gratitude to Eco-Alianza for hosting the meeting and introduced Laura Escobosa.

Ms. Escobosa emphasized the need for local fishermen to unite in order to protect Loreto’s Marine Resources and to improve fishing, an important part of Loreto’s economy. She stated that conserving the waters surrounding the area is simply good business for the entire community and she challenged the many fishermen in attendance to insist on solutions that would guarantee the future economic stability of Loreto’s fishing industry.

Indiscriminate dumping of trash, oils, paints and other waste products cause irreversible damage to its environmental integrity. If the waters off Loreto become over-fished and polluted, the impact on the ecosystem will be devastating. The consequences on local fishing and tourism will be a serious setback to the local economy. Only by uniting can the local fishermen influence the future of Loreto Marine Resources.

While all agreed that the protection of the resources in the park is everyone’s responsibility, in a practical sense, the fishermen who work in the park must assume more responsibility by taking a proprietary interest in protecting resources that provide their income. As fishermen, they need to understand their importance to the tourist economy. They needed reassurance, however, that Pescadores Vigilantes would provide them a collective voice which would be heard when decisions about the future of Loreto are considered.
Ms. Escobosa pledged that Eco-Alianza would provide the following administrative support:

• In the past anyone observing illegal activities feared identification and possible retribution. Now there is a system which provides complete anonymity. Individuals can either call or visit the Eco-Alianza office to report illegal activities, with complete assurance that their names will never be exposed.
• The organization would also create a clearly defined map of fishing zones and no-take areas and produce a simple version of current regulations and guidelines inside the park using the latest information published by the Mexican Government.

Many other ideas were discussed including having a booth at the Marina open from 6 AM to 6 PM daily where visitors could purchase FONMAR fishing licenses and CONANP bracelets. Currently, nothing is available until after 9 AM.
Many attendees voiced their enthusiasm to help with surveillance and to report violations.

Everyone expressed a hope that others from the Loreto fishing community would join the efforts of this young organization and that the group could develop ideas to improve the fishing sector and the resources.
Before the group adjourned it was announced that the next meeting would be held in three months.

PROFEPA, the enforcement branch of SEMARNAP (Mexican Fish and Game) appears to have aggravated another local community enough to require community reaction and action. Pescadores Vigilantes’ success will depend on the strength and character of its members. The resolution to this ongoing problem is a test of wills and the outcome will be determined by the group with the most tenacity and resolve.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Swordfish…A Magnificent Obsession

USUALLY SWORDFISH WILL be seen finning on the surface; their distinctive two-finner is easy to recognize.

Even in Baja, where billfish are commonly seen, a broadbill swordfish is an uncommon sight. Seldom seen, hardly ever hooked and heralded as the catch of a lifetime when landed, one swordfish caught on a rod and reel is a remarkable feat. Catching the second one qualifies an angler to belong to an elite group of anglers and the search for the second one can become an obsession.

Roy Edgar “Ted” Naftzger spent a lifetime accumulating a record number of 49 swordfish on rod and reel. When asked about his fixation, Ted replied, “The hunt for swordfish is absolutely magnificent! You take your boat and search the surface of the ocean for your quarry. If it were easy, I wouldn't do it.”

Admittedly not every angler is going to spend a lifetime searching for swordfish, but it is still a good idea to be prepared when one pops up.
Preparation begins with tackle. Gene Grimes, former Captain of the Legend, logged many rod and reel swordfish before his untimely death. “Don’t mess around with anything but a good 80 pound outfit,” he advised. Today, a swordfish outfit should have 80 pound spectra, short mono top shot and 300 pound fluorocarbon wind-on leader with a 10/0 hook.

Bait selection is pretty simple…bigger is better. Having said that, the choice is dictated by what is available. Swordfish have been caught on a variety of baits over the years. Including large, live green-mackerel as well as dead green-mackerel that was frozen and thawed many times. Spanish (8 inch) and squid have also produced fish.

Swordfish are often seen finning on the surface; their distinctive dorsal and tail are easily recognized. They will either be milling in a circle or swimming in a straight line. The presentation of the bait should be based on their behavior and the bait you have. If your bait is alive and the fish is milling, casting to the fish is the best option. If the fish is traveling and you have dead or half dead bait, then trolling is the best approach.

If casting, once the boat is close to the finning fish, approach it slowly. Cast the bait toward the opposite side of the circle of the milling fish. As soon as the bait hits the water, strip line from the reel so your bait is swimming free. The excess line prevents the bait from being knocked off the hook during a violent strike. The fish will often eat the bait slowly, spinning downward, which accounts for a high percentage of swordfish becoming body wrapped.

If trolling the bait, run the line through an outrigger clip, allowing the bait to be placed closer to the fish without spooking it with the boat wake.
When you have a bite, let the fish run until it begins to speed up. Then set the hook hard, numerous times. If you can’t knock the fish off with the hard set, odds are in your favor that you might actually land the fish. Once the fish settles down, apply as much pressure as you can keeping the boat in gear, idling forward. In the beginning the fish will break lead going off to one side or the other. But with the pressure of the forward moving boat, it will tire and settle into a pattern. (This technique also works well on large tuna.) The fish will often come up spinning in the wake.

Many years ago while fishing alone in a 23’ Blackman skiff off San Diego, I hooked my first swordfish. After hours of following the fish for miles, Captain Grimes counseled me by radio to lead the fish. Attempting to follow his instructions and fight the fish at the same time, I idled the boat forward. Inadvertently I was steering the boat in tighter and tighter circles and it wasn’t clear whether I was leading the fish or it was chasing me! An unskilled beginner, it took me 13 hours to land the fish. Since that first fish, all our fish have been caught using the leading technique.

If you are one of those anglers who want to try your hand at a swordfish, be prepared. Think through the wouda’-coulda’-shoulda’s before the event and increase your odds of being in that elite circle of anglers who have caught a swordfish on a rod and reel.

MY FRIEND, MARK Rayor, Vista Sea Sports,East Cape, is a good example of being prepared. Mark thus far has caught three swordfish in the Sea of Cortez.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bay of Los Angeles Yellowtail Tournament

Padre Lucas earned his nickname after performing a “sham” marriage ceremony between members Fred and Ginger Harleman in the small Diaz chapel in Bahia de Los Angeles back in the seventies.

Over the years, Baja has attracted huge numbers of visitors seeking ‘fun in the sun’, but finding so much more. I suppose the highest percentage of these have flown to Los Cabos or La Paz, enjoying what they found there and returning time after time.

However, many have ventured farther into the unpopulated areas as the villages grew into towns and took on new personalities.
Some have not been able to resist driving the peninsula exploring the nooks and crannies until they find that certain place that fits them like a glove. Often they settle in that spot and make it their home away from home. This seems to be the real backbone of Baja.

Recently I received an email from Vagabundos Del Mar Boat and Travel Club announcing a tournament honoring one of their oldest members, Ralph ‘Padre’ Lucas, who had hosted the first event back in 1974 in Bahia de Los Angeles, (Bay of LA).

The email told about that first Vag Yellowtail Tournament which was held out of Papa Diaz’ Hotel over Memorial Day. Padre Lucas earned his nickname after performing a “sham” marriage ceremony between members Fred and Ginger Harleman in the small Diaz chapel in Bahia de Los Angeles back in the seventies.

Then Mama Diaz would charge $4 per person for rice, beans, turtle and Margaritas. If you wanted to get her on your good side, you would bring her gifts of candy, Motrin and cheese. She would always ask Padre to taste the clay bowl of Margaritas and of course he would say, “More tequila”!

Primitive by most standards, Bay of LA is still one of the most beautiful bays of Baja. It is approximately 400 miles south of the Mexican-U.S. border and is reached by traveling south on Transpeninsular Highway Baja 1 to a turnoff at Punta Prieta. The entire drive takes about ten hours.

Over the years, this small fishing community has spread along the shoreline to accommodate a population of approximately 700. Services include a handful of well-run trailer parks and small motels, a launch ramp, three Pemex stations, grocery stores, a pharmacy, a museum, a medical clinic plus two runways for small airplanes along with many places to camp.

Excellent yellowtail and bottom fishing and easy access to this remote fishing village has changed little from the way it was in 1974. Today’s residents and visitors to Bahia de los Angeles can still enjoy that ‘Old Baja’ ambiance and some of Baja’s most beautiful and varied coastal seascapes as well as some killer yellowtail action.

The prized yellowtail can usually be found farther down in the water column, roughly at 90 to 100 feet. The best nearby action is often centered at the northern end of large Isla Smith (also called Coronado), where double-digit sized yellows can be caught on iron and bait over sand/gravel bars. Any of the inner islands can be good as can the deeper water surrounding the many points dotting the shoreline on the inside the bay.

According to Jay Hammer, Vag member and Tournament director, the yellows are showing in big numbers this year. The tournament will be a three day tournament on June 26, 27 and 28, 2009, with awards each day at Casa Diaz. Awards for the top three yellowtail and the top three other sport fish each day. Grand Champion for the combined weight of yellowtail plus other fish. You will need a Mexican fishing license. For updates email Jay Hammer at .

For those of you who are nervous about driving in Baja, caravanning to Mexico has been the mode for the Vagabundos for 43 years. There is a Travel Buddies Calendar to connect those who wish to travel with a buddy. Call the Vag office at 800-474-BAJA, or 800-474-2252, for more details.

More Bay Of Los Angeles info

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Fishmonger’s Tale

Dan Nattrass explained how the sea urchin (uni) is processed, graded and then packaged in special containers before being shipped.

Dave Rudie, owner of Catalina Seafood Products, was a sea urchin diver in the late 1970s. He began selling sea urchin to sushi restaurants in Japan. Diving during the day, he and his wife, Kathy, processed them out of his garage at night, and he, his wife and his sister, Julie, delivered them the following day. Today he has one of the largest seafood companies in California, providing a product line that includes high quality fresh and frozen fish, abalone, scallops, lobsters, unagi, masago, maguro, hamachi and premium sea urchin with nearly 90 percent of the products coming from the waters off Southern California and Baja.

Catalina’s spokesperson and sales manager, Tommy Gomes, recently offered to show me the company’s processing plant, located on a small side street off Morena Boulevard.

It was there that I met the principal buyer of the fresh seafood from Baja, Dan Nattrass. Who explained how the sea urchin (uni) is processed, graded and then packaged in special containers before being shipped. It is one of Catalina Offshore’s most popular items accounting for a third of their sales. After hearing how much time Dan spent in Baja, I couldn’t resist arranging an interview with him.

Dan’s career with Catalina Offshore began when Dave Rudie sent him down to Baja in search of seafood products, in addition to the popular sea urchin. Dave had shown Dan a live fish that he called an Estacuda (grouper) and asked him to try and find them in the Baja fish camps.

Loading up a ‘clunker’ truck with Styrofoam boxes, Dan drove down the Peninsula, stopping at the remote camps which dotted the west coast of Baja from Ensenada to Todas Santos and then up the into the Sea of Cortez to Santa Rosalia. He only wanted the fish that could be exported to the United States, called “Primira” (number 1) by the locals. That included halibut, grouper (Estacuda), yellowtail, white sea bass, huachinango, tuna, scallops, shrimp, abalone, lobster and sea cucumber.

Once Dan found the fish camps, his greater challenge was to convince the fishermen that improper handling of their catch would reduce the value or conversely, careful handling could increase the value significantly.

Initially the fishermen refused to cooperate. Changing attitudes that had been handed down from father to son for generations was a formidable task. In the beginning, in many cases the fish would come to the scale dried out from lying in the brutal Baja sun in the bottom of a panga.

Convincing the fishermen that quality of fish is all about how it dies and keeping it cool until it was delivered to the scales was essential.

Slowly Dan trained these fishermen in the strict handling procedures necessary to preserve the freshness and optimum quality. Now most of the fish is wild caught, using hand-lines to protect the undersea ecosystem and minimizing the by-catch of other overfished species. Boats now contain chilled tanks to ensure exceptional freshness, and the fish is picked up immediately as it arrives on the beach. Frozen seafood is kept in -20 degrees coolers until exported.

Dan considers scallops to be one of their most successful ventures. Baja scallops today are preferred for their taste and size. Their first delivery was 2,000 pounds, but has grown into a market requiring 60,000 pounds a year.

With his background in environmental studies at University of Santa Barbara, Dan’s goal is not to overlook the by-products created. As an example, the shells from Lion Paw scallops were being discarded. After requesting his suppliers repeatedly to bring shells to him with no success, he finally went to the city dump at Guerrero Negro, and shoveled a load into his truck. After cleaning them, he now sells them to Sushi restaurants as serving plates.

Dan Nattrass is one of the “New Breed” of fishmongers who is making a difference in Baja. With an education anchored in environmental studies his goal is to identify resources that can make a difference to the local villages and fish camp economies. With his tutelage and encouragement, local fishermen are learning how to increase their income by improving the quality of their catch delivered to the scale…not by increasing the quantity.

For more information

The complete audio interview with Dan Nattrass is available

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Insider Insights with Peter Groesbeck

Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Captain Peter “Pete” Groesbeck to talk about bill fishing in both Southern California and Baja. Pete has spent over 30 years in pursuit of exceptional sportfishing in such spectacular destinations as Alaska, Hawaii, Tahiti, Australia, Costa Rica, Panama, and of course, Baja and Southern California. Currently, he is a member of the Team Bad Company, a professional sportfishing team fishing the billfish tournament circuit in Southern California and Mexico. He also works with Robert Ross, a Baja Developer of the new marina, Puerto San Cosme, just north of Agua Verde between La Paz and Loreto. Pete is considered by many to be one of the best Captains on the West Coast.

I began our conversation by asking how he thought the Southern California fishery compared to the Baja fishery. Pete feels that the volume of striped marlin in California has diminished while the below-the-border marlin population has remained constant or perhaps expanded somewhat. As an example, in the Los Suenos Tournament in Costa Rica last year, out of 18 marlin caught, 16 were striped marlin which are seldom found that far south.

In his opinion, the diminishing marlin in Southern California is cyclical, rather than overfishing.

Pete agrees that the fish caught off the coast of Baja, on average, are smaller than the fish caught in Southern California. The high boat totals recorded earlier this year on the Golden Gate and Finger Bank above Cabo San Lucas were mostly smaller fish in the 60 to 80 pound class, significantly less than the 120 pound average in California. Because of the warmer water and smaller size, Baja stripers are perceived to be less strong than their northern counterparts. However, he was quick to point out that during the Bisbee Cup, he had two fish, both hooked in the corner of the mouth with circle hooks, yet it took 1 ½ hours to subdue each of them.

He stated that another important difference between the two fisheries is that while Southern California marlin season is limited to a few months in the late summer and fall, Baja offers year round striped marlin fishing, giving anglers more opportunity to experiment with new techniques.

Even though the Bad Company Team has been extraordinarily successful, they spend much of their time experimenting with new techniques to improve their performance during tournaments. As Groesbeck puts it, “We are constantly mixing old and new methods that may provide that ‘missing piece’ of the puzzle in a given situation“.

Since the World Championship Billfish Release Tournament required circle hooks four years ago, The Bad Company Team has used them exclusively. Their preferred hook is Eagle Claw 2004 which has proven to be a plus. The wire hooks disintegrate quickly and have only broken in a few rare instances when buried in the bone and twisted. New anglers, unsure of setting the hook when they have a bite, can simply throw the reel in gear and wind. Another advantage to using the circle hook is when the fish sounds, the angler backs off the drag and the fish almost immediately returns to the surface allowing faster release times.

When baiting fish from the bow, star dragged reels are their tackle choice. When I asked why Groesbeck explained, “We prefer lever drags in the cockpit for drop backs. However, on the bow when we are casting to fish the star drag reel can be put in gear instantly and it works better with circle hooks. We are working with Penn on a mid-range casting reel with both a lever and star drag with detents, so that when the drag is backed off, say three clicks, it’s easy to return the drag to its original setting”.

Accurate temperature, chlorophyll and weather charts provide information that can save hours of time and gallons of fuel, eliminating areas where it is unlikely that conditions would attract either bait or marlin, allowing more time to fish the promising areas.

The team’s success can also be contributed immensely to their sophisticated array of electronics coupled with a crew equipped with stabilized binoculars.

What advice did Groesbeck offer to aspiring marlin fishermen? “Don’t fall into a rigid routine; try new methods. Mix and match techniques… don’t forget the old ones nor ignore the new ones. The one thing you can be sure of is that conditions are constantly changing. The angler who understands this and is willing to adapt will always be the one who is the most successful.”

If you would like to listen to the entire recorded interview.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Baja Bashing…Again

Cruise ships like this were missed in all of the Mexican Ports of Call including Cabo San Lucas

If the “Swine Flu” pandemic was made into a movie, it would be brought to you by the same folks who brought you the wildly popular, “Drug War Next Door”. The press has lumped Baja into the same category as Mexico City, and instilled fear in travelers.

One has only to turn on the news to hear that the recent outbreak of Swine Flu has a frightening worldwide impact. Precautions are recommended by the medical community, health officials, and even the President of the United States.

However, like the reported “Drug War Next Door”, information cannot be accepted at face value but must be carefully reviewed.

The outbreak began in greater Mexico City, where the population exceeds 22 million people, making it the largest metropolitan area in the western hemisphere and the second largest in the world by population. Located at an altitude of 7,500 feet, unfortunately the cooler nights and hot days make it the ideal environment for the disease to flourish.

However, as with the “Drug War Next Door”, the reporting of the news of the outbreak has been painted with a broad brush which includes the entire country…not just the Greater Mexico City area.

Once again, Baja residents and businesses have found themselves in the middle of a crisis by association, not by fact. It doesn’t matter that not one case of the flu has been reported on the Baja Peninsula at this point in time. From Ensenada to the tip of Baja, the results have been swift. Travel plans have been changed, reservations have been cancelled and the numbers of springtime visitors have diminished. Cities, towns and villages alike have literally become ghost towns.

Because of concerns relating to the swine flu, Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Lines representatives stated that the ships have been rerouted to avoid Mexican ports. The economic impact of the loss of nearly 6.5 million passengers (in 2008), could be a major blow to Mexico (Baja), already suffering economically. Losing a luxury ship like the Sapphire Princess which holds 2,600 passengers in 750 cabins, with a stop scheduled in Puerto Vallarta, followed by ports of call in Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas later the the week, is devastating.

Jonathan Roldan, owner of Tailhunter International in La Paz, reported, “We have been on the phones and internet constantly to answer questions and re-assure our folks that everything is fine. Like the issues of violence in Mexico, the media has used the same paintbrush to color the whole country. As of this time, there has not been a single case reported in the state of Baja Sur. There are more cases in California than in La Paz!”

Clicerio Mercado, Tournament Coordinator, reported that the Second Annual International Governor’s Cup Tournament scheduled for early May, has been postponed to a later date due to the reported outbreak.

To put the swine flu in perspective: The regular seasonal flu has killed more than 13,000 people in the U.S. alone since January, and kills between 250,000 and 500,000 worldwide annually. As of May 1,, 2009, the swine flu virus has infected 331 cases in 11 countries.

The H1N1 Virus seems to have attracted an extraordinary amount of attention by the press, which in itself is interesting, since no one has suggested that the outbreak of this virus will be of apocalyptic proportions.

The World Health Organization raised its alert level to phase five (out of six) this week, indicating a pandemic was imminent. It did so because of evidence that the virus had been transmitted from person to person in Mexico and the U.S. (and in one case, in Spain). The virus could spread or it could peter out – the next few weeks will tell.

It would appear that once again Baja took a bashing by a press corps that was more interested in the sensationalism then reporting the actual facts that Baja thus far has remained Swine Flu free.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Grass Roots Tournaments

Tournaments in Baja are as common as empty cerveza bottles on Cinco de Mayo. When I received the announcement of the Circuito Copa Gobernador Tournament series several years ago, I have to admit that it didn’t end up on the top of the pile.

Left to right, Oscar Daccarett, President of the series, and Clicerio Mercado, Coordinator.

Emails continued to arrive, detailing one event after another, and what caught my eye were the off the wall places like Turtle Bay which is farther from Mex 1 than any other seaside village in Baja. It seemed odd that the organizers would expect anglers to trek over a hundred miles on an unfriendly dirt road to fish in yet another tournament.

Upon doing some research, I discovered that Baja Sur’s El Gobernador Narciso Agúndez Montaño and Oscar Daccarett developed this series of tournaments in August, 2006 to introduce sportfishing to the locals, involving not only the adults in the many small communities that dot the coastline of the state, but the children as well. The first Circuito Copa Gobernador Tournaments was held in Bahia Asuncion, a community that was established more than 63 years ago, as part of the festivities when the governor connected that area to the state electric grid.

To date there have been 46 events with over 12,000 participants held in many remote villages throughout Baja Sur. In addition to the cash prizes, ten 23’ pangas with 90-HP outboards have been awarded to locals.
Clicerio Mercado, Coordinator for the Bisbee Tournaments, was given the task of organizing the events with the local officials in each village.
The selection process is simple. Either the Mayor or Delgado of a given town contacts Oscar Daccarett requesting a tournament. Once the request is approved, Mercado goes to work.

Mercado designed the series to be turn-key. From registration to awards banquet, the details are standardized as much as possible. He oversees and assists the locals in arranging all the needed components.

Categories are determined by the surrounding fishery. Cash prizes are offered ranging from $25,000 down to $5,000 pesos. There are goodie bags with T-shirts for each contestant and the kids get fishing tackle. Entry fees are kept affordable to encourage as many participants as possible. The attitude is the more the merrier and no one is excluded. Visitors and tourists are all welcome.

I have attended several of the tournaments and the enthusiasm and excitement generated is infectious. Tournament participants or not, the entire village joins in the festivities.

Taking the lead from the big money tournaments, there is a shotgun start which is usually well attended by every government dignitary within a hundred miles, all raring to go but waiting for El Gobernador Narciso Agúndez Montaño and his entourage to arrive in a motorcade of SUV’s.
Excitement builds as the officials pile out of the vehicles and the locals clamor to be seen and heard by the dignitaries. The group strides to the pier where the tournament boats are lined up, the flare pistol is fired and boats roar off in different directions in search of the winning catch. In the meantime, families line the pier and shore, looking for their own winner.
Instead of the glitz and glamour of the high dollar tournaments which have become so common with tourists, Circuito Copa Gobernador Tournaments provide an exciting, fun-filled event designed by the people for the people.

The next event has a slightly different format. It will be held for the second year in Cabo San Lucas, has been postponed due to recent virus crisis.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Right Before My Eyes

A Buena Vista resident for many years emailed me recently. His subject line, “Right Before My Eyes,” caught my attention. The gist of his email was about civilization closing in on his East Cape paradise. Each day, more rules, enforcement and red tape were intruding on the laid back lifestyle that had lured him and his wife to the area in the first place.

I first arrived in East Cape in 1973, soon after Mex 1 was officially opened. The area consisted of a few hotels, Palmas de Cortez, Punta Colorada and Rancho Buena Vista, that had gained popularity with Ray Cannon’s help. In those days the area was only accessible by a ride in a hot taxi or an Air Taxi that flew out of La Paz.

The air taxi was an old rickety DC3 which sat on the runway at La Paz until there were enough passengers to make the flight to the few hotels that dotted the coastline between La Paz and Cabo San Lucas. The trip in the DC3 was an adventure in itself as the pilot had to turn the blades to get it started and had to flyover the dirt strips to be sure the livestock was clear.

The hotels were rustic, offering shelter but few amenities. Home cooked meals and plenty of booze was the norm. Hot water was a bonus and most of the electricity came from generators that rumbled into the night. The only outside communication was either ham radio or later SSB Marine radios. At night with little ambient light, the bright stars lit up the dark sky.

The extraordinary fishing attracted the clients. Aside from the few locals who fished, the hotels’ fleet (combined) was only thirty boats.

Over the next decade, improvements came slowly. More hotels sprang up, more fishing boats materialized and a few adventuresome Americans began to build private homes. Federal power became a reality, not consistent, but better than the noisy generators. Roads improved, a telephone office opened first with a few phones and cubicles, providing the ability to make long distance calls. A grumpy Mexican lady who didn’t speak English ruled the telephone “office” and actually connected the caller to their party. Most groceries were purchased in La Paz, where locals did their banking.

By the mid eighties, the area came into its own. Telephone service became available for private homes, and the telephone office on the highway disappeared. Later Cellular telephone service became available…a welcome addition. Hotels grew larger and offered more amenities. More boats were added to the sportfishing fleets. Fishermen began equipping their ATVs with rod holders to carry multiple fishing rods and prowled the beaches in search of fish. The ATVs became a favored mode of transportation along the beach for visiting and bar hopping.

Then wonder of wonders, Cabo Pulmo was declared a Marine Preserve set aside for diving only and no fishing allowed.
The nineties brought ATV rentals; more, larger, expensive houses were built along the beaches, in some places side by side like track homes in the U.S.

One custom home that spilled down the face of the cliff to the beach actually was featured in Architectural Digest. Service clubs were established. Women’s Bunko met weekly to exchange gossip, have a cocktail or two with lunch during the game. An annual Shakespeare Festival was born and the retirees competed for the parts. Art Festivals, Bocce Ball Tournaments, Fishing Clubs, Gardening Clubs were formed to satisfy the residents’ need to feel at home.

The Millennium arrived with much fanfare; real estate prices soared. Internet connections via DSL replaced VHF radios as the favored means of communication. Mini shopping centers sprang up, then a pitch and a putt golf course. ATMs, then a real bank, a vet clinic, and a new emergency medical clinic,

Paved streets and street lights were pointed to with pride by the recent immigrants to Baja. Hotel properties changed hands with new owners promising bigger and better. All these changes were hailed as signs of how far they had come in improving the innocent small Mexican village.

Recently more changes included. PROFEPA, a Mexican version of EPA, visits homes and beaches demanding clean up and evidence of permits. Cabo Pulmo Marine Reserve is being policed to enforce no fishing in the area. The Port Captain is checking to be certain anglers have valid fishing licenses and respect catch limits. These changes are what were needed, but before their eyes, they realized that the changes may have shattered the unstructured, laid back Eden they had once searched for and thought they had found.

While this is happening in one small community in Baja, it is being repeated time after time up and down the Baja Peninsula before everyone’s eyes!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Snook Stirring

The snook show has been great here for the past couple of weeks although I have yet to be able to put a big one on the bank...we have broken off numerous giants. My wife, Roz, has been spooled twice, and I was spooled with my 8wt.

Standing in the Western Outdoor News Booth at Fred Hall, Kit McNear turned to me and said, “You’re the snook guy?”
Of course I acknowledged that I am. I’m the one who ran fifty-five miles in a panga several years ago inside the esteros at Magdalena Bay chasing an old snook tale that my predecessor Baja Columnist, Fred Hoctor, had told me. When I went on that, I wasn’t sure I believed him, but that run paid off! One of the snook I caught on that trip ended up on the cover of my Magdalena Bay book.
Kit continued, “And now snook are going off in La Paz Bay! The locals are catching some slugs around the wrecks. My boat is in the Marina and I am going to try to fish for them a few days every month. Do you want to go?” He asked.
My head nodded like a bobble head doll on a Baja taxi dash, “You bet!” I replied.
The following week as I was posting my report on the Baja Nomad Online Forum, I saw a posting that jumped out at me… Mulegé Snook. The thread went on for two pages all about a snook show in the Santa Rosalia River that runs through the middle of Mulegé.
No way, I thought. I have driven over the river on the Mex 1 Bridge looking down at the murky brownish green water hundreds of times, while retelling one of my favorite Ray Cannon stories about the almost mythical snook caught in the old days to any ‘newbie’ riding down with me.

According to my friend, Gene Kira, author of The Unforgettable Sea of Cortez, he had tracked down Lou Federico who fished the river with Cannon in the early fifties.
“How large were those snook?”
Lou swore there were "lots" of 40-pounders and at least one that would have gone 70 pounds if it had been weighed. The big ones were so powerful they couldn’t be stopped with a rod and reel, but were harpooned at night using canoes and carbide miners' lamps.
“They were wiped out,” says Lou, “by the big Chubasco of 1958 that silted in the river.”
“After that,” he continued, “there were never any giants again, just small ones.”
So for more than thirty years everyone took it for granted that they were gone forever. Don’t you love these kind of Baja stories…they’re back!
One explanation for the recent ‘Snook Stirring’ is that the Government recently dredged the river and cleaned out undergrowth to facilitate quicker runoff during floods and improved the river bank access.

One of the individuals posting on the Nomad Board was my friend, Mike Reichner, who lives on the river.

Mike said, “I don't think they just showed up...I think they have been here for awhile but no one targeted them. That was my job...just decided one day to walk the river and fish...they might have been here for some time.”
“The snook show has been great here for the past couple of weeks although I have yet to be able to put a big one on the bank...we have broken off numerous giants. My wife, Roz, has been spooled twice, and I was spooled with my 8wt. There ARE some Grande’s here!”

Mike continued.
“The snook are chomping anything, jerk baits, crank baits, large Clousers, but the river is a tackle-grabbing-monster so floating lures are the way to go unless you feel like leaving your tackle box on the bottom of the river.”
Mike added, “The average fish is around 5 pounds with many, many smaller ones, a good sign! Everyone is releasing their snook!”

Big Baja snook are as rare as a fifty-cent margarita and tougher than a shot of cheap tequila. When you see a photo of someone holding a smallish snook with a sheepish smile, they have probably been dusted by a big one and are grudgingly allowing themselves to be photographed with the consolation prize.
Will the Snook Stirring continue? Time will tell, I just hope can get there before it ends.