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