Thursday, December 23, 2010

Baja Child Needs the Gift of Noise

The total cost of Hania’s device and surgery will be approximately $30,000 USD; to date more than 60% of the $30,000 or $18,000 has been raised.

When Hania Lopez Sosa was barely eight months old, her mother realized that her treasured baby girl was not hearing or reacting to sounds when she tried to play with her.
A local doctor recommended that the infant be taken to an ear specialist for tests, the results of which confirmed the upsetting news that Hania had a severe hearing defect. Further tests revealed that despite being equipped with the most sophisticated hearing aids available, the precocious seven year old would not be able to live a normal life. Hania, who lives with her parents in San José del Cabo BCS, is unable to hear or speak. 
The hearing specialists prescribed an alternative for Hania. A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound to a profoundly deaf individual. Unfortunately, the device and surgery required is very expensive and well beyond the family's resources.  According to the doctors, timing is critical and the younger Hania is when the electronic device is implanted, the better, in order to facilitate her ability to speak.
Oscar Daccarett, Sport Fishing Commissioner, Baja California Sur, moved by Hania's touching story, directed Clicerio Mercado, Coordinator for Circuito Copa Gobernador Tournament series, to organize a last-minute benefit tournament to be held in Cabo San Lucas to raise funds to help with her surgery.

Circuito Copa Gobernador Tournaments were founded by Baja Sur’s Gobernador Narciso Agúndez Montaño and Sr. Daccarett in August, 2006 to introduce sportfishing not only the adults in the many small communities that dot the coastline of the state Baja, but to the children as well. During the past four years, sixty-three tournaments have been held in small communities throughout the state with more than 26,900 anglers participating in offshore, inshore and beach fishing. 
Clicerio Mercado, Tournaments Coordinator, using the expertise and resources developed for these events, turned the attention to the plight of Hania Lopez Sosa and her need for the expensive surgery which could alter her life.  The result was the Tornero de Pesca which would both increase the awareness and raise additional funds to implant the cochlear device and  to provide the medical care necessary, as well as the on-going therapy needed to improve her speech.
The event began with registration at the Wamongo Restaurant on the Marina Boardwalk on the afternoon on the 10th of December. The following morning the tournament began with the traditional  flare gun start at 8:00 a.m. Ten teams with forty anglers participating sped off in different directions in search of the winning fish. Fortunately, the fishing was good and the weigh-station which opened at 2 p.m. was busy until the official closing at 4 p.m.

Solomon’s Landing and Baja Cantina hosted the awards banquet and like the old days twenty-two years ago, cash awards were given for the largest yellowfin tuna and wahoo.  The winners were:
1st place, Larry Loschuk, 41.6 Lb $20,000 Pesos
2nd place Carlos Jimenez Partida, 41.2 Lb $15,000 Pesos
3th place Victor Saiza, 23.4 LB $10,000 Pesos
Tuna Jackpot $2,000 Pesos was won by second place Carlos Jimenez
1st place Chris Fuller, 11.2 Lb $20,000

Each of the winning teams volunteered  25% of their winnings to Hania's fund, amounting to over $1,500 which was generously matched by the Bisbee’s Tournament organization.
Sra. Dolores Concepcion Zenteno y Sr. Francisco Talamantes Mendoza, grandparents of Hania were on hand and thanked the organizers and participants for their interest and generous contributions.

Clicerio Mercado also suggested that anyone wishing to contribute to the fund may do so by mailing a check to:
Dolores Concepcion Zenteno
Restaurant Wamongo
Boulevard Marina
Tesoro Los Cabos Hotel, C-6
Cabo San Lucas, B.C.S
The total cost of Hania’s device and surgery will be approximately $30,000 USD; to date more than 60% of the $30,000 or $18,000 has been raised.

What could be better this Christmas Season than giving the gift of noise to Hania? Allowing her to enjoy the best Christmas of her young life… instead of the world of silence that greeted her at birth, the anticipation of a lifetime of noise.

Mex 1 Road tips and observations

A word of caution: Mex 1 is similar to a secondary road in the States. However, it is frequented by large semi-rigs and buses; your speeds should be adjusted accordingly! 

Driving Mex 1 is always a blend of emotions…the novice and often the seasoned traveler is excited by the  adventure, but both can also experience the anxiety of the unexpected as the wheels of their rig touch the first of many speed bumps (topes) and the stoplight flashes red or green signaling whether they continue or pull into secondary.

My last trip which began in early October and stretched out nearly seven weeks is a good example. I had heard of a recently passed Mexican law that restricted how many American dollars could be exchanged for pesos south of the border. The government had recently enacted the change to control the number of dollars entering the country's banking system, hoping to curb drug-related money laundering. The law, however, does not limit credit card, debit card, or ATM withdrawals of pesos. According to the State Secretary of Tourism for Baja California, “Hotels, restaurants, stores and other merchants in Baja California still gladly accept U.S. dollars."

Since my routine has been to stop at the Casa de Cambio at the inspection area in Tijuana and load up on pesos specifically for gasoline, I wasn’t sure what would happen as I approached the window and thrust five one hundred dollar bills into the slot on this trip. The woman behind the glass promptly exchanged the stack. However, I found that at the other end of the peninsula the new law was being strictly enforced with the exception of the Los Cabos Airport where I managed to exchange another $500 at a ridiculously low exchange rate. I found that another option is to use ATM machines that charge more reasonable service fees.
Mex 1, which stretches more than a 1,000+ miles south, will always have areas of road construction and detours. As of early November the most notable began after the second Toll Booth at Rosarito Beach. Road construction there had southbound lanes re-routed to the northbound lane, reducing traffic-flow to one lane in each direction.   

The next heavy construction area is south of Maneadero beyond the La Bufadora turnoff for about five to six miles. Traffic in both directions is routed onto a bad dirt road parallel to the regular road. Proceed with caution; the entire stretch is poorly marked, bumpy and very slippery when wet. There is no way to avoid this section that ends a short distance before the military checkpoint at the top of the hill before dropping down into Santo Thomas Valley.

There are also several bridges under construction with little if any delay as the detours around them are paved and well marked.

The last major road construction project is below La Paz where Hwy 1 turns into Highway 19 to Todos Santos and Cabo. Below Todos Santos a large stretch of road is pure dirt with minimal markings making for very dangerous driving. This area should be approached cautiously.

Military checkpoints  are a mix of both floating and permanent locations. Currently there are checkpoints north of Santo Thomas, north of El Rosario, Millers Landing turnoff, North of San Ignacio, north of Loreto, north of La Paz and Todos Santos Highway 19. I tried something that seemed to expedite my stops this last trip: When stopped, I lowered my window and instead of waiting for the usual ‘do you speak Spanish’ routine, I simply offered to get out so they could inspect the vehicle. By doing so, I shortened the total inspection time significantly. Was it a fluke or was it because it happened to be a Sunday?  Quien sabe (who knows)? But it is definitely worth a shot.

A word of caution: Mex 1 is similar to a secondary road in the States. However, it is frequented by large semi-rigs and buses; your speeds should be adjusted accordingly!

Another huge change is that gasoline stations with convenience stores attached are popping up all along the highway. The only area where stations are still in short supply is between El Rosario and Jesus Maria.

One more note for even the seasoned Baja driver: Always check the dates on your Mexican insurance policy before you cross the line. 

Once again, for a longer period of time than usual, I traveled the length and breadth of Baja and never encountered even one drug-related problem.

Another Welcome Baja Tool

Even if your catch is not a possible record there are plenty of other functions…from planning your next trip, to tracking your IGFA Slam Club progress, to sharing your catches with family and friends.

Rob Kramer, International Game Fish Association (IGFA) President  and I had an opportunity to visit recently during the annual meeting of the Avalon Tuna Club. Kramer had just returned from Italy, where he had attended an International conference coordinating research and conservation efforts among many groups to provide a more unified international conservation voice.

Kramer's excitement was palpable over the Take Marlin off the Menu  campaign advancement of the Billfish Conservation Act (Bill HR5804), and which he expects to be reintroduced in the next session of the house and senate. This is the result of an extensive national  campaign beginning over two years ago following a study commissioned by IGFA that revealed the United States to be the world’s biggest importer of billfish.  IGFA and the National Coalition for Marine Conservation have joined forces focusing on educating the American public as to what billfish are, their role in the marine ecosystems, and their imperiled status from commercial overfishing. The two-and-half-year campaign has gained the enthusiastic support of many, including the Wolfgang Puck Restaurant chain and the Wegmans Supermarket chain along with many U.S. policymakers. The legislation is the culmination of the campaign’s efforts thus far, and when approved and voted into law, will put a complete stop to commercial harvest, sale and importation of billfish in the United States.

Next, Kramer showed me his iPhone, which was loaded with the beta version of a very cool, new IGFA app.  It offered a remarkable list of features that once downloaded to the phone would provide the latest IGFA data and can be accessed even in remote locations where you may not have cell service.   

Suppose that you land a big fish which you hope could be a world record contender; regardless of where you are, you have the entire IGFA world record database updated with the latest records on over 1100 species in your pocket. This allows  you to verify your potential world record catch on the spot, releasing any that might not be a contender.  The app will also provide you with the location of the nearest,  official IGFA Weigh Station, along with maps to direct you there.

Or you might want to consult the IGFA International Angling Rules – for both conventional and flyrod – to make sure your catch won’t be disqualified.

Even if your catch is not a record there are plenty of other functions…from planning your next trip, to tracking your IGFA Slam Club progress, to sharing your catches with family and friends.

There is an extensive IGFA Species ID, including incredible full-color images of every record game species by marine artists Diane Rome Peebles and Duane Ravers.  The descriptions include extensive reference material with thorough habitat information, geographic distribution and anatomy…all right there at your fingertips.

That's a lot of information for any angler to have at their fingertips, but there's much more. Take a photo with your iPhone of the huge fish you landed, enter the details of your fight and upload to Facebook or email with one easy step, including GPS coordinates.  

Create your own customizable wish list of species that you want to target or your progress toward various IGFA Weight Club (for bass, snook, or bonefish) or IGFA Slam Club. 

It even offers a trip-planning function that will allow the angler to plan ahead for a great day on the water.

My personal list of "Don't leave home without it" already includes  SPOT,  a Garmin GPS loaded with Baja Navigator map, and now the new IGFA Mobile App will be included in that list. (It’s only available from the IGFA.)           

For all of you who are Apple-deprived, President Rob Kramer informed me that another version for other smart phones is already in the works. At an introductory price of $8.99 the IGFA  iPhone Mobile and iPad App is a must-have item for any Baja angler.  This would make a terrific
Christmas present for the Baja angler in your life!

I.G.F.A. iPhone Mobile and iPad App  

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The thrill of it

The celebration and trip to the scales at the Puerto Paraiso Mall was as exciting as the catch.

I guess you might say that the stars were aligned in my favor this year. Not only was I assigned to cover the Los Cabos Billfish, Bisbee Offshore and Bisbee Black and Blue tournaments, but I also had an invitation to ride as an observer on the 75’ luxury sportfisher C-Bandit built by Titan Marine, Inc. in San Diego.

Of course, as in any sport, the preparation begins long before the event actually takes place. Some of these teams have been pre-fishing almost every day since their arrival in Cabo six weeks ago.

I have been hanging out in Cabo San Lucas since early October, riding on many of the pre-tournament trips and rubbing shoulders with some of the best tournament anglers from around the world. I am awed at the camaraderie wrapped in respect that is forged among the competitors. Alliances are established and each evening after the boats return to their slips, telephones ring and radios crackle as the day's action is discussed and strategies are determined for the next day; fishing information is cautiously shared as teams search the banks to determine which ones hold the bait and the big fish needed to win.

A primary part of the pre-fishing is the dress rehearsal. Many teams have refined their ability to perform together under pressure over many caught fish, and they are able to perform like well-oiled machines, while others struggle to put together a plan of action which will allow them to get into the game.
Competition is intense in this high-stakes game! The Captain of C-Bandit, Peter Groesbeck, was part of the 2006 Bad Company team that won nearly $4,000,000 in the Bisbee Black and Blue.

The C-Bandit’s team entered the first tournament of the series with guarded optimism. Their highlight of pre-fishing was double when the first blue marlin ate a freshly-caught ten-pound yellowfin tuna down deep on a Cannon downrigger and another blue ate a somewhat smaller skipjack out of the rigger. The owner, Bill McWethy had the estimated 450-pound blue marlin to the transom of the boat in thirty-five minutes.

The 12th Annual Los Cabos Billfish Tournament's thirty-seven teams gathered from around the world on Tuesday, October 12th. The Kickoff and Captain’s meeting for each event is like the who's who of anglers, including the local high-liners, a large contingent from the U.S. and the international teams who return to compete each year.

By the time the three-day event concluded, a total of 209 anglers racked up sixty-five billfish, six tuna, ten wahoo and two dorado and nearly $425,000.00 paid out to the winners.
The fifty-nine teams lined up at Cape Rocks on October 16th for the obligatory shotgun start of the second in the series. The 11th Annual Two-day Los Cabos Offshore Tournament anglers were brimming with optimism.

The total number of fish caught included fifty-five billfish, sixteen blue and thirty-two striped marlin, four sailfish and eleven tuna, including one that tipped the scales at 161.8 pounds after a 30-minute battle. The winners’ optimism was rewarded with $248,120.00.

On the first day of the tournament, C-Bandit was in the right place at the right time. A 549 pound black marlin ate a ten-pound yellowfin tuna! Believe it or not, the angler Buzz Colton, has fished the tournament circuit often, but he had never landed a black marlin…so the three-plus hours it took him to catch it was understandable. The celebration and trip to the scales at the Puerto Paraiso Mall was as exciting as the catch.

People crowded around the scale as the team had their pictures taken and celebrated with an obligatory drink of tequila. The catch put the team in third place and hoping for another shot at a big one today. The whistles accompanied by shouts of congratulations as the team made their way back to the C-Bandit were exhilarating, even for those of us who were spectators.

Despite adhering to the old adage not to leave fish to find fish, Thursday was not the team’s day and it was ‘no hits and no errors’. What did make the team’s day, however, was hearing the good news that their first day’s catch was worth $282,000.

By the time you read this, three events will be history. But, it’s not too late for you to experience the "thrill of it" for yourself. There is one more event, the 2010 Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot - Nov 3rd to the 6th and with cow sized tuna caught in all three events the signups for the event are coming in at a brisk pace. See you there?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sũerte …a chance encounter and a catch

Sũerte  and Coci

In the early nineties, I found a dirty, white terrier mix puppy, huddling under a rusted fender in Southeast San Diego, shivering from the January rain and soaked to the skin. Through an odd series of events, Coci became my constant companion, close friend and fishing partner as we explored the beaches of East Cape together.
Clients and friends marveled over Coci's fishing skills and he became the most photographed pup in East Cape. He eagerly paced the beaches by my side searching the water and when he spotted a fish, he retrieved it if he thought I was slow in bringing it in. If I got on the ATV with one still in the water, he cocked his head to one side and stood with his feet planted in the sand as though to tell me he was not getting on the ATV until the last fish had been caught.
When he died of old age, my heart was broken and our family was saddened by the loss of our seemingly irreplaceable family member, Coci.
One night this past August in Lopez Mateos a group of us went to one of our favorite taco stand. During the meal a small grubby, mostly-white dog with its tail wagging appeared. It was so covered in mud that I couldn't tell whether it was male or female. (Later I discovered she was female.)
Street dogs are common in Lopez Mateos and frankly, I rarely give them a second glance. However this one with her distinctive hazel colored eyes, long eyelashes and playful personality, wooed our group like a pro. Crawling on her belly, with her tail rapidly swinging back and forth, we couldn't help but take notice.
When questioned, my friend Elsa, owner of the taco stand, said the dog didn't seem to belong to anyone and visited the stand most nights. As we walked back to our rooms the discussion among our group was about how special the dog with the hazel eyes and friendly personality had seemed.
When I made my nightly call home to Yvonne, I described my encounter and how I had bonded with the pup. As we talked, we discussed the possibility of rescuing the dog and by breakfast the following morning, I had made the decision to adopt my dog. Since I had a long day of fishing ahead, I asked a friend to pick the dog up and take it to the local vet for shots and an examination.
The decision made, I expected to have a new pet when I returned. As luck would have it I caught my first snook of the season that day. Now I wouldn't say I was a superstitious fisherman, but I was confident that catching the snook that day was an omen. I decided to name my new pet, Sũerte ("luck" in Spanish); after all, I had caught the snook on the day I had decided to keep her.
My excitement grew throughout the day. I was eager to return and see my new dog. But the dog had not been at the Taco stand. My excitement faded to disappointment.
Over the next ten days the whole town joined in the search for the white dog with the hazel eyes. They wanted her to have a better life than wandering the streets of Lopez Mateos. It seemed like there were at least a hundred small, whitish dogs in town; they brought me 99 of them, but not Sũerte.
By the 10th day, I consoled myself by thinking that I had met a really cool dog that would remain timeless in my mind forever. I had to leave in two days, so time was not on my side.
Late that afternoon, Elsa sped into the compound where I was staying. She flew out of the car shouting excitedly, "I found her", and sure enough, there was Sũerte, curled up in a ball on the seat, frightened to death from what I am sure was her first ride in a car!
There were many more firsts for Sũerte in rapid succession…first bath (three the first day), first visit to the vet, puppy shots, dog food instead of foraging for meals, and sleeping inside. Two days later she endured a two-day 800+ mile trip to the border and finally crossed into the United States.
When we arrived in Lake Elsinore, I carried her from the van and set her down on the grass (another first…I don't know of any grass in Lopez Mateos). Maggie, Yvonne's 3-month old pup came racing across the yard, leaped on Sũerte's back like she was a pommel horse, and a friendship began that has continued to grow.
Sũerte provides many smiles every day. We have to stop and remind ourselves how many 'firsts' she is still handling, and it's remarkable how quickly she has learned. I am looking forward to her getting the hang of the fishing thing. I will bet it won't take long. I didn't name her Sũerte for nothing.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Hook and line seemed to offer a viable alternative to gillnetting with the potential result of eliminating the turtle by-catch entirely.

Several years ago I wrote about my friend, Hoyt Peckham, PhD and Director of International Relations for the La Paz –based Grupo Tortuguero de Las Californias, AC. Hoyt and his energetic and ambitious team of ten or so full-time year-round and seasonal staff plus a dozen or so interns (students from Latin America), have been seeking ways to improve the efficiency and reduce the by-catch of gillnets.

A recent email from Hoyt contained some exciting news. “Not sure you’ve heard about our initiative to train, equip and finance commercial fishermen from the local gillnet fleet to try hook-and-line fishing? The plan is to get them up to speed, cover their initial costs, and generate enough volume to attract some of the various buyers interested in exporting hook-and-line, fresh caught grouper and sand bass,” he wrote.

Proyecto Caguama was initiated in 2004 to engage local fishermen in mitigating and eliminating their by-catch. Through workshops conducted each fishing season, fishermen proposed modifications to their traditional gillnet techniques that could maintain or increase the profitability of the commercially viable target species while reducing or eliminating loggerhead by-catch.

Between the years of 2004 and 2008, controlled experiments to test the variety of modifications were explored, and while offering some encouragement, they were not enough to decrease the current by-catch of the 700 to 800 turtles significantly. The conclusion was that encouraging different net techniques which failed to reduce the by-catch kill-rate dramatically would be foolish.

The group’s focus then turned to ways of finding methods which would increase value-to-catch ratio…simply stated, earning more money with fewer fish.

For five seasons, participatory research, funded in part by NFWF, was conducted under the leadership of local fishermen. Hook-and-line seemed to offer a viable alternative to gillnetting with the potential result of eliminating the turtle by-catch entirely.

During the summer of 2009, seed funding was acquired to equip three crews with gear for bottom trolling and jigging. They received two weeks of onboard training from master hook fishermen. Onboard observations of 35 hook and 29 gillnet trips were conducted to record the results. Both methods were fished primarily over rocky bottoms for grouper. Catch rate and value-per-trip results were hook-catch by species (grouper) 79% ,while gillnet-catch composition was much less selective at 13% (also grouper).

Semi-structured interviews with local grouper fishing captains suggested that 58% would be willing to switch to hook-fishing under current market and fishery conditions. The principal concern of all fishermen regarding switching was the viability of a preferential market for hook-caught fish.

The most encouraging result was that switching the fleet from gillnet to hook-fishing could result in the sparing of hundreds of loggerheads per year because hook-fishing catches zero turtles. In addition to sparing turtles, hook-and-line fishing is also far more selective of target fish, therefore resulting in substantially lower numbers of by-catch, which in turn encourages greater sustainability of fisheries and ecosystems.

During the past year, Hoyt and his team devoted much of their time painstakingly working with the majority of local fishing co-ops. After numerous trips to Mexico City and Mazatlan, plus a well-attended ‘first of its kind’ Inter Institutional meeting in Lopez Mateos, PROFEPA, SEMARNAT, SAGARPA, CONAPESCA, SEPESCA, CONANP, and CRIP agreed to endorse the experimental initiative.

Demonstrating the government’s support of this project, the local Presidente Municipal recently confirmed the program was permitted by all relevant agencies for the benefit of the commercial fishermen of the area. He also commented that the program was an unusual opportunity for the gillnetters to be compensated for learning new techniques and opening a new market. Wholesale fish buyers from the United States have indicated that there is a strong demand for and clear added-value to be had with hook-caught fish.

Armed with the funding and science, along with the acceptance of many gillnetters willing to make the switch to hook-and-line fishing, Hoyt and his team are moving forward to implement the program.

Its ultimate success will be the introduction of a fishing method that is more selective and more profitable, while reducing turtle mortality dramatically. This is a lofty goal and I am sure that there will be a few bumps along the way. However, Hoyt Peckham and his Grupo Tortuguero team have demonstrated remarkable success in the past and many of us in Baja will be following the progress of this ambitious program with intense interest.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hello…it’s tuna, tuna, tuna time!

During check-in the first night, every angler will be a winner.

August 25, 2010

In rapid succession, East Cape's Mark Rayor IM'd me that it was WFO for tuna and the hotels were nearly empty with only a few boats going out each day; simultaneously, Eric Brictson, Gordo Banks Pangas’ report arrived declaring, "On Wednesday the season’s second super-cow yellowfin tuna was landed off of the Gordo Banks from a 22’ panga. Local La Playita skipper, Jose Gonzalez, and angler, Josh Evans, from Oakland, CA, were trolling a live Pacific moonfish rigged on 200-pound leader attached to 80-pound main line when the cow hit. It took three hours to bring the monster to gaff and the fish officially weighed in at a whopping 342 pounds.”

The following day, Pat McDonnell called to discuss my assignment for this year and to confirm Yvonne's flight for the 2010 WON/Yamaha 12th Annual Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot that begins November 3rd…just a day or two short of two months away.

Everyone assumed that last year's 383-pound yellowfin caught by Oscar Daccerett's team on the FIsher Man…the fifth largest yellowfin ever caught on rod and reel, the largest ever in Cabo and the largest ever in a tournament setting…would be impossible to beat. However, recent reports seem to suggest that there are already some huge tuna swimming around the tip of Baja that could top that remarkable catch.

This year Hotel Tesoro and National Car Rental are offering a special package allowing two people to share a room and car for only $100 per day. You can book this special by going directly to their official tuna jackpot website Another bonus this year for anyone choosing to bring their own boats down is that theMarina is offering two free nights’ slip fees for every five nights’ stay.

The expanded and redesigned Hotel Tesoro's new marina entrance will be the location for the weigh-in sponsored by Cabo Marina and Gray's Taxidermy. The new Western Outdoor News Tuna Jackpot weigh-scale is being built by Dale Cote of Dreammaker Charters and funded by Gray's Taxidermy. There will be no more long walks to and from the scale by teams, plus there will be more docking room for sportfishers.

With its bars and restaurants close by, Hotel Tesoro is the perfect central marina-side venue for viewing the weigh-ins, and is easily the most convenient hotel for the event and the marina itself.

During check-in the first night, every angler will be a winner. Each participant will receive a variety of Mustad hook packs, an embroidered tee-shirt, an embroidered carry bag, event visor or hat (your choice of colors), a free Mustad contest photo (e-mailed ), plus a wristband allowing the wearer to attend three parties, two sit-down dinners, a new Friday-night-free Fiesta and the Ruth's Chris’ catered awards dinner.

Check in will be at Hotel Tesoro’s second floor pool patio, a great party spot for swimming, having a drink or sitting by the pool and listening to live music by local band Dos Huevos; there you can also buy Tuna Jackpot clothing and compete in the Avet/Seeker Casting Contest for a $600 rod/reel outfit and $400 cash.

Throughout the event, there will be drawings for prizes totaling $150,000, i.e., trips to Alaska, Mexico, Seeker custom Tuna Jackpot rods, Avet reels, tackle bags, Eat Me Lures, Terrafin satellite map memberships, Reactor watches, Costa sunglasses, Mustad hooks, Seaguar fluorocarbon packs, Eat Me Lures, and more.

As with any tournament, the fine-tuning to improve the event continues, but one thing that will never change is the Tournament’s motto…Fish Hard, Party Harder! Party with your buddies at the check-In at the Tesoro pool area, the Yo-Zuri Captain's Meeting, the parties, weigh-ins, shotgun starts, the Mustad Photo Contest (held in cooperation with Gray's, Costa and Reactor), and top it all off by getting your award at the Yamaha/Ruth's Chris’ Awards Dinner at the mall area on Saturday night.

If this year is anything like last year’s event, registration will fill up fast with anglers looking for their 2010 tuna fix. Registration was closed at 104 teams...the maximum number the tournament could accommodate. Last year

Don’t miss out on the camaraderie of this fun event. Enter your team early so you aren’t one of the teams that are turned away!

To paraphrase a Vietnam-era song, "And It's One, Two, Three, What Are You Waiting For?"

sign up at

Lopez Mateos abuzz…

I made a cast… and you guessed it, to my chagrin a snook flashed out of the submerged mangroves and grabbed my fly…not one of the clients'.

August 11, 2010

Earlier in the year, I had planned a trip with a few clients to coincide with the most favorable August tides. Last week, I arrived at Lopez Mateos anticipating some exciting Estero action without even considering there might be some excellent offshore prospects. In spite of the fact that the 11th Annual Bisbee’s East Cape Offshore Tournament the week before had remarkable offshore fishing and had set three new tournament records among the 56-boat fleet,

You can imagine my astonishment when shortly after my arrival, Bob Hoyt of Mag Bay Outfitters, excitedly rushed into the compound asking me to follow him and take pictures of a swordfish that had just been brought in on his boat the Mar Gato.

Sure enough when I arrived at his storage yard, there hung an estimated 170 pound fresh-caught swordfish with quite a bit of its color still remaining, and alongside the swordfish stood the Captain, Sergio Garcia, and the crew consisting of Mitch Perkins, the angler, Steve Harwell from Santa Barbara and Jeff Lee from San Diego, all displaying proud grins. According to Mitch, it was one of two swordfish they had spotted finning on the surface near shore in off-color green water. The first one sunk out before a bait could be presented, but the second one remained on the surface long enough for several presentations of a trolled dead mackerel before pouncing on it.

Rod and reel swordfish are not common in Lopez Mateos. In this case, however, the real oddity was that the fish was hooked and fought on 30-pound test tackle by the surprised angler, a feat usually left to light tackle trophy addicts.

The following day, before my Estero anglers arrived, another boat came in with more encouraging offshore news. Fishing in an area twelve miles off Boca Soledad where the water only a few weeks ago had been 63° and at that time was producing only small bluefin tuna, now there were limits of dorado and yellowfin tuna being caught in the same water reaching the high 70°s.

The following morning, my Estero fishermen (mostly fly fishing) loaded up in two boats and headed north for a favorite spot near Boca Santo Domingo. Good conditions and mild currents only provided moderate action for grouper, pargo, corvina and some serious mystery bites that were not landed. Throughout that day and the remainder of the trip, the Estero fishing remained mediocre. The only bright spot (sort of) was while having the boat set up at Devil's Curve to accommodate a left and right hand caster in stiff winds, I made a cast… and you guessed it, to my chagrin a snook flashed out of the submerged mangroves and grabbed my fly…not one of the clients'. All I can say is that the catch probably answered the question of what some of the lost mystery bites had been during the clients' trip.

In early December of 2008, in a column titled "Proyecto Caguama", I introduced my readers to Hoyt Peckham, a man who has had remarkable success working to find effective ways to lower the by-catch of Loggerhead turtles with the local fishing Ejidios in the Lopez area.

Peckham is currently embarking on a new initiative to train, equip and finance fishermen from the local gillnet fleet to try hook and line fishing. The idea is to get them up to speed, cover their initial costs, and hopefully generate enough volume to attract some of the various buyers interested in exporting hook-and-line-caught fresh or live grouper and sand bass.

Last year there were several boats involved in the program, and with additional funding he anticipates expanding the program tremendously this year.

The day before I began my journey home, additional clients and I made a quick trip offshore, finding a sleeper only a few mile out and still farther out at the twelve-mile drop off, we found ourselves fishing in the middle of four tuna seiners wrapping tuna where we found plenty of quality dorado to twenty-five pounds. On our way back inside, in an area loaded with large breezing schools of sardines, though we spent only a few minutes looking, we found a few marlin feeders in the mix.

The much anticipated outstanding spring fishing season expected to follow the "El Nino" has been a long-time coming. However, judging from the recent reports Baja Sur is finally "game on".

Tie one on….

July 27, 2010

On July 14th, the following notice (in part) was posted in the Bisbee's 2010 Tournament News: "In this 30th anniversary year, with valuable input from our Advisory Council, we are proud to set a new milestone by joining the growing ranks of conservation-minded tournaments everywhere that have adopted a "circle hooks only" policy when fishing with natural bait."

Before the ink was dry on the posting, irate emails protesting Bisbee's decision began appearing in my inbox from several participants of the annual Bisbee Tournament series. The litany was nothing new; “Can’t trust ‘em,” “I’ve tried but can’t hook the fish,” “I keep losing fish…it’s just too hard to get a good hook set…the fish are too large,” and finally, “we will never fish in their tournaments again!” You could almost see them rolling their eyes back and growling their disproval.

My, my! You would think that some of these folks have been on another planet or at least way out of touch with the mainstream of sportfishing and conservation.

The lists which have endorsed the use of circle hooks includes almost every major sportfishing conservation organization around. International Game Fish Association, The Billfish Foundation and many others conducted their own studies on the circle hook and based on the scientific evidence concluded that circles were much more practical from a conservation and catch perspective.

Regular J-hooks will imbed themselves on the first irregular surface they touch in the fish’s mouth, whereas, with a circle, the line comes tight and if the fish turns even slightly the circle hook travels through and slips until it catches on the corner of the mouth. Because of the unusual shape, the fish is seldom hooked anywhere other than in the corner of the mouth, which allows for a released fish that is virtually undamaged.

Are circle hooks a new technology? Hardly. Native fishermen hundreds of years ago began fabricating bone, deer or elk antler hooks by hand that looked suspiciously like today’s circle hooks. You only have to visit your local Natural History Museum to find displays of bone hooks that are virtually identical to today’s circle design. By the early-1900s, anglers in Southern California had discovered the merits of circles and were catching some impressive-sized billfish and tuna using them. About the same time, commercial fishermen discovered that they worked perfectly to catch tuna as well as bottom fish. Pretty soon saltwater anglers everywhere began to sing the praises of circles.

Captain Ron Hamlin in Guatemala, who has released thousands of billfish during his career, states that hook-up ratios are higher and lost fish are very, very uncommon. Ron continues that the old-fashioned J-hooks lose more marlin and sailfish unless you have no clue on how to effectively fish the circles. Just like always, people hate change and these “new” hooks require a big change in technique.

"Like any new technique, to master hooking marlin with a circle hook takes practice. Big marlin bites are few and far between, so it is virtually impossible for a team to tune up before tournament time. Their first chance to try it may very well come with a million bucks on the line." according to Rod Halperin, Tournament Director, California Billfish Series whose events changed to an all circle format several years back.

Instead of a standard hook set, when using circles, allow the fish to take the bait and swim away. Slowly increase drag pressure until the line comes tight. As simple as the circle hook set sounds, old habits die hard and it may take a few attempts to make the adjustments.

When comparisons are drawn between the more popular J-hook and the circle, the enthusiastic comments include “more user friendly,” “safer,” “higher hook-up ratio,” and “more attractive from a conservation perspective.”

Looking back at the history of sportfishing, anglers have repeatedly displayed the very human characteristic of resistance to change. Remember how long it took to convince the angling community to accept release and reduce the number fish brought to the scales? When fluorocarbon was introduced there was controversy. Need more? How about chemically sharpened hooks, or braided line. If you look at your tackle box you will find your own examples.

I should admit that I have been a member of the Avalon Tuna Club for two decades and it still expects its members to fish with only linen and Dacron line to receive recognition.

It is important to distinguish the difference between change and innovation. Forget the controversy over circles; just tie one on…they work.

The "Morning After" season

About the same time, the bubba-sized roosters arrived early along the East Cape beaches in quantity, impervious to the north wind.
July 13, 2010

Unless you watch the reports every week, it’s easy to overlook the subtle nuances of fishing, as days become weeks and weeks become months that ultimately become the season.

In January, 2010, in my column, "The Endless Season", I recounted the great catches of 2009, most of which could be attributed to the El Nino. Because the 2009 season was extraordinarily good, everyone was optimistic about the 2010 prospects.

The new year began normally enough, with the tin-boaters daily putt-putting along the shores of East Cape before the north wind cranked up mid-morning…scoring enough sierra and small dorado to keep the cerviche bowl full for the weekend football games.

Locals and visitors alike commented on the pleasant weather and water temperatures that remained in the mid-seventies. There were weeks, bookended by north winds, when a few boats found not only quality dorado to 35 pounds, but sailfish and marlin as well. But the expected striped marlin bite off Cabo that had occurred for the past several years just never happened.

In February, the windy weeks overshadowed the good ones; a few anglers traveled to Magdalena Bay in search of better conditions. Most weren’t disappointed with the results. There were limits of snook and Lance Peterson had the good fortune to land a broomtail grouper on a fly. (This was recently approved as a new IGFA world record).

By March, it became clear that the Baja season had veered from the normal path to one distinctly colored yellow, as in yellowtail. Mossback-sized yellowtail became common in the reports from East Cape, past Loreto and up into the Bay of Los Angeles. On the Pacific side, from Magdalena Bay to the Viscaino Peninsula, yellowtail were everywhere and quality white sea bass was found at Magdalena. About the same time, the bubba-sized roosters arrived early along the East Cape beaches in quantity, impervious to the north wind.

By April, the sardina, a fundamental part of Baja's food chain, disappeared and offshore fishing remained tough. On the Pacific side at Magdalena Bay, the yellowtail and white seabass snap gained momentum, producing fish in the 20 to 30 pound class. But in spite of ideal conditions at Cabo, the striped marlin were still not showing and the yellowfin tuna were few and far between.

In May, a month that is normally considered the heart of the season, the turnaround that locals swore would materialize, failed to materialize. Offshore action was practically non-existent forcing many boats in the fleet to focus on the inshore where an incredible show of large roosterfish was waiting. Black snook were also featured in back-to-back weekly reports. One 27-pounder was caught in a landlocked lagoon at East Cape.

The lack of sardine, coupled with the cooler water temperatures, had a severe negative impact on the annual dorado season in Loreto. After several false starts, literally overnight during a full moon in June, the Sea of Cortez yielded large tuna schools with fish up to 200 pounds offshore beneath the breezing porpoise. Billfish began to show and at Gordo Bank a few swordfish were found. Though not a bonanza, enough dorado were being caught. And at Magdalena Bay, striped marlin, along with schools of dorado and tuna, arrived early.

Over the 4th of July, the Sea of Cortez erupted! The delayed season the locals insisted would arrive…finally did. There were few sardina, lots of tuna…big tuna, (as well as some football sized) with some as close as the green water line a few hundred yards off the East Cape shore. Dorado action increased; a huge 104-pound wahoo was caught off La Ribera and enough billfish showed to give the Bisbee Tournament gang hope later this month. Oh, and one more oddity…currently there are bluefin tuna being caught within a few miles of the beach at Magdalena Bay.

So the season following the 2009 El Nino that some had dubbed the ‘odd season’ arrived a few months late with an unusual cast of characters as a prelude to what is now being hailed as the ‘Morning After’ season.

As in football the game is made up of two halves; it will be fun to watch and see if we have another strong post half-time finish rivaling the one in 2009.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

East Cape Escape

For almost twenty years, we lived a few miles up the beach from Rancho Leonero. I planned my calendar year around being there in October when the fishing was as good as East Cape had to offer. My only reservation when I was asked to host a fishing trip to the Ranch was that I would be sharing one of my treasured secret Baja spots.

Rancho Leonero is a special place located in a special place, hidden away from the highway on a secluded bluff where the only thing between you and the legendary Sea of Cortez is a couple of hundred yards of white sand. First-timers and seasoned veterans both share that magical, almost mystical, tingling as they take in the view upon arrival.

Here the line between "inshore fishing" and "offshore fishing" can become blurred as both are well within sight of land. With hundreds of species, including wahoo, amberjack, jack crevalle, sierra mackerel, yellowtail, grouper, cabrilla, and snapper, the bar for sport fishing quality is raised to a level that is hard to beat. Billfish and other offshore exotics, including dorado, roosterfish, sierra, bonito, skipjack and other middleweight species can often be found within minutes of departure from your hotel. East Cape didn't come by the ‘fish ‘til you drop’ reputation accidently.

The secluded sandy beach in front of the hotel offers some spectacular surf casting. Patrolling the beach on foot with a rod in hand, an angler can experience a fishing challenge seldom found in other venues. Roosterfish, jacks, and pompano are found swimming well within casting range of the beach literally chasing schools of sardina up onto the sand, along with an occasional dorado or yellowfin tuna.

Dialed in, Rancho Leonero regulars often bring their casting rods to breakfast or cocktails in the afternoon. A fish boil so violent that it can be heard can send the hard core anglers flying down the steps from the restaurant or bar to the beach with rod in hand and it is something to behold. The whooping and hollering as rods go ‘bendo’ can be heard all the way back on the patio.

Fish the tackle you want; conventional, spinning or fly…it’s up to you. If you are interested in a fly guide, contact Jeff De Brown at or Lance Peterson at 800/919-2252.
For those planning to attend the WON/Yamaha Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot and Fish Hard, Party Harder on November 3 nd through November 6th, East Cape Escape would be a great beginning to your tournament week. Kicking back and catching some fish at Rancho Leonero with no pressure for a few days before switching into the tournament mode may give you the winning edge.

East Cape Escape is about taking advantage of this fishing phenomenon, catching…not competing! Accurate Reels will be providing five reels as raffle prizes along with some additional great prizes that all attendees will have an opportunity to win each night. The dates are October 28th to November1st, 2010, and the cost is only $978 per person which includes four nights in a deluxe room at Rancho Leonero with all meals, plus three days of fishing on a Super Panga and all applicable taxes. With the Volaris airfares at $280 r/t from Tijuana, adding the extra days of fishing at the Ranch is like getting a twofer!

While I spent years guiding hundreds of trips in Baja, this will be the first time that I will be hosting an event. It’s going to be a blast for me, just fishing, talking about fishing and hanging out with a bunch of fishing friends at one of my favorite places in Baja.

Hope to see you there. Call Ben Babbitt at (949) 366-0030 ext. 30. right away before this trip fills up. To paraphrase someone "It’s all about the fishing…stupid!"

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Baja Reboot

The Sebile Magic swimmer were roosterfish candy.

Recently I shared time in Baja with friends, outdoor writers from California, some of whom were experiencing Baja for their first time. Their enthusiasm and excitement was infectious as they experienced one adventure after another. This awakened memories of my own and allowed me to consider my 40+ years of Baja experiences through fresh eyes.

Baja's main attraction is and always has been the fishing. But if you drill down a little further, you realize that it is the catching that counts. As in baseball, it is the play-by-play single base hits that keep you entertained as you hope for that home run.

To put this in perspective, Ray Cannon, first Baja Editor of Western Outdoor News, opened the floodgates of anglers to Baja. First a trickle that soon grew into a steady torrent of fishermen flocked to the area, thus feeding the growth of tourism.

I knew Ray and I can tell you that he was all about catching…not about riding around all day looking for that one trophy catch. He devoted a whole chapter of his book, Sea of Cortez, to catching what my friend, Jonathan Roldan of Tailhunter International, describes as "scaly snakes" or giant needlefish.

In a week that most of the fishing reports were marginal, my Baja ‘newbie’ friends rocked! When they boarded their respective boats in La Paz, they lacked any preconceived notions or expectations. Simply stated, they just wanted to catch fish. The odds were pretty good that whatever they caught would probably be a ‘first’ of a species for them.

Each evening when we gathered for dinner, they had a fish story to tell. The species list was everything from exotic to “you caught what”? To them, every fish was a trophy. They marveled over the strength, speed and acrobatics of their catches. Photos proved that none of their catches were huge, but size didn't seem to matter.
Over the next few days the species list grew; dorado, roosterfish, jack cravelle, bonito, pargo, cabrilla, triggerfish, trumpet fish and one angler even brought out his fly rod and said he had a great time landing, (yep you guessed it), six needlefish on the fly!

At the Fred Hall Show this year, Patrick Sebile, the innovative lure designer had given me some of his latest creation, the magic swimmer, to test-drive. I gave a couple of them to the gang to try. They worked successfully on the roosterfish and there are photos to prove it.

Like Ray Cannon the ‘newbie's’ focused their trip on catching and not intentionally seeking a catch of a lifetime or even worrying about a trophy sized fish. But this is not the end of the story.

Harry Morse, Public Information Officer with CDFG from Sacramento, fished out of Playa del Sol aboard the Maria II with Captain Martin and landed a swordfish weighing between 172 and 176 kilos. The huge fish was caught on a mackerel cast to it while it was finning on the surface.

The battle that ensued for nearly four hours almost ended at the mid-point when the monofilament line began to fray. When Captain Martin realized the fraying line might part, he asked the mate to bring out a second outfit to attach to the swivel on the 20 ft. leader. Between the second and third hour, Morse managed to bring the fish close to the boat but not close enough to attach to the second rod. Finally, on the third attempt, the second line was snapped to the swivel. With Bruce Ajari manning the second rod the seesaw battle continued for almost two more hours. Then, after untangling the flying gaff rope from the propeller, they landed the beast.

As I retold my story to some old gray-bearded Baja veterans, their smug expression reflected their disapproval. I saw the disdain they had over the needlefish and miscellaneous species the first-timers had been so excited over. Maybe the Baja veterans should do a Baja reboot and remember it’s the catching that counts not the fishing. It is easy to overlook an angler’s first trip but it may set the stage for a lifetime of Baja adventures.

In the end, the swordfish became one part of the newbie Baja stories that will be told and retold by all about their first Baja visit. Morse said this ends his desire to fight big bill fish. Every muscle in his body hurt and Ajari decided to go back to fly-fishing! But both are eager to return to Baja.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

La Paz steps up!

Many personal bests or first-time catches of species were there for the taking for the fishermen in the group . photo by Greg Neiman

With only six months of planning, the city of La Paz successfully hosted the Outdoor Writers of California (OWAC) Spring Conference. The best of the best was brought out for the nearly 50 writers and their guests showcasing the city and the multitude of outdoor activities that are available in the city and the surrounding area. I cannot even begin to name all of the companies involved in making this a conference of such superb quality; only a few of them are mentioned below.

For four days, from early morning to late afternoon, the city's guests fished, snorkeled, dived, kayaked, golfed and explored offshore islands. Then at night they sampled some of the finest restaurants and retired to some of the best hotels in the city.

Each night Ricardo Garcia, Subdirector de Turismo and Relaciones International, and his team of five highly-efficient assistants arranged outstanding, mouth watering dinners at four different venues. Upon arrival, the writers were greeted by the team at Papa’s and Beer Restaurant, where they enjoyed casual outdoor dining on an open patio perched on the sandy shore of the Sea of Cortez where the colorful, gorgeous La Paz sunset welcomed many first-timers to Baja.

The following night, Ray Novelli owner of the five-star restaurant, Palermos, hosted the Awards Banquet in a room that could only be described as awesome, with a picture window waterfall and beautiful decor. The third night, a delicious array of hors d'œuvres, deserts and drinks were served at the outdoor bar of the Costa Baja Resort and Marina Beach Club where once again, we enjoyed the breathtaking sunset.

Our final night, we enjoyed a Fiesta Mexican at Playa El Coromuel hosted by the Chef Association of Baja Sur…special Baja dishes served while we enjoyed the artistic program with music, mariachis and folk dancing.

In spite of the recent reports of 'up and down' fishing, it was as though someone threw a switch and the fishing turned on! Many personal bests or first-time catches of species were there for the taking for the fishermen in the group who fished at both Las Arenas and out of La Paz with the Mosquito Fleet, the Baja Pirates and the Fishermen’s Fleet. Each night when the group gathered for cocktails, the anglers recounted their exploits on the tranquil waters of the Sea of Cortez. Dorado, roosterfish, jacks, grouper, and pargo were only some of the eighteen different species caught.

Even the whale sharks cooperated, and those that chose that activity with Tim Means of Baja Expeditions were not disappointed. Carrie Wilson, WON Columnist, described swimming along with the huge animals as an 'OMG' moment that she would never forget.
A dozen writers and guests described the day they spent at Balandra Bay as THE best kayaking experience ever. BOA, owned and operated by Ben Gilman and his wife Alexia, definitely delivered on the promise they have emblazoned on their business cards, “paddling in paradise".

Fourteen attendees were visiting Baja for the very first time. I asked each of them one question; with all the recent negative press that has appeared recently in the media, what compelled them to come to La Paz at this time?

Alexia Retallack: "The adventure of being outside of my personal comfort zone in Baja was intriguing. After I arrived, it was obvious many of the myths that had been circulated were just not true. Besides, I wanted to go diving."
J.J. Mays : " I was a little nervous but knew that most of the bad stories were near the border. Baja reminds me of the line from a Jimmie Buffet song about 'Latitudes and Attitudes'. I wanted to see the beautiful beaches. I found that it’s a kick back place that can be all you want it to be. Baja is great."
Keith Lair: "We travel quite a bit and crime is common in many places…even in our own backyard in South Los Angeles. We knew that most of the trouble has been along the border and we have felt safe in La Paz and have had a great time!"

John Burk: " I had some concerns but my research confirmed that the crime was no more an issue than at home."

Barbara Steinberg: "I had not heard about the crime problems until the trip was already planned. Friends' eyebrows rose when I told them about the trip, but I was never worried. I had heard so much about Baja and I was sure it would be a good fit…and it is! I feel like Baja is the other California."

A family town, La Paz has one of the lowest crime rates in the U.S. OR Mexico. The remarkable diversity and the surrounding areas offer outdoor opportunities for everyone. The people are friendly, helpful, and go out of their way to make sure the visitors' every need is met. To please half the writers, or even 75% would have been a very good ratio, but to a person, the attendees of this conference all agreed that while it was the first OWAC Conference ever held outside California, it was one of the best ever!

Friday, May 7, 2010

LLEVAME A PESCAR (Take me fishing)

We don't give prizes; we give kids a good time. That gift has to be for everybody.

All of the Mexican sport fishermen pitched in. They rigged tackle, baited hooks, and helped the children with their casting.

While at the Fred Hall Show in Del Mar recently, Juan Flores, Martin Banos and Eddie Rodriguez had a Tijuana story to share with me. Stop right there! This is not another doom and gloom story about the perils of Baja. Nope, this was about last year’s celebration of the annual El Día Del Niño (Children's Day). Customarily, kindergartens and elementary schools cancel regular classes and have big parties with piñatas and lots of candy. They play traditional games, like’ Pin the Tail on the Donkey’. But 50 Mexican sport fishermen based out of Tijuana and their families decided the celebration would be a family fishing adventure at Playas de Tijuana.

Last year, the first Llevame a Pescar (‘Take Me Fishing’) was held on April 26, 2009 and was hosted by approximately 100 adults and attended by 80 children. The group’s primary objective was to introduce the Mexican children to a positive and fun fishing experience on the beach.

Juan Flores and his friends dug deep into their own pockets to assure that there were plenty of fishing rods, tackle and bait for any child needing it. Plus, they provided special T-shirts for each participant commemorating the event’s special purpose.

It was a picture perfect day with a few clouds overhead. Ice chests were filled with cold drinks along with tables filled with plenty of food. It was a ‘pot luck’ kind of affair with everyone pitching in with their specialty. This resulted in a friendly competition for who made the best ceviche, which was the only contest of the day.

All of the Mexican sport fishermen pitched in. They rigged tackle, baited hooks, and helped the children with their casting. It was difficult to determine who was having the most fun, the fishermen or the children.

When the kids tired of fishing, they were able to draw pictures of their catch on tables beneath the tents set up for the day. Of course when the children put the rods aside, the adults would snatch them up and try their luck.

Speaking for the 50 Mexican sport fishermen who sponsored the event, Juan Flores said it best, " Recreational angling is not a well recognized activity in Baja. The purpose of the day was not to make the kids compete, but to introduce them to fishing as a sport to be enjoyed. We don't give prizes; we give kids a good time. That gift has to be for everybody. The event showcased how the entire family could enjoy a day at the beach while enjoying some fishing."

This year, they are expecting the event to be bigger and better, and The Second Annual Llevame a Pescar will be held at the same place on May 2nd with a very similar format. There is one primary difference, however; the Ceviche Competition will be official and the winner will be awarded an apron proclaiming his or her ceviche preparation prowess. The ‘Best Ceviche’ contest is open to all. Sounds like a challenge to me. Anyone up for a caravan to Playas de Tijuana? For more information contact Juan Flores, 619 246 3627.

Out of curiosity, I searched to see what dominated the Tijuana newspapers that week last year and of course most of the stories were drug related. There was nothing about this ‘feel good’ story of good people donating their time to a good cause. No one can deny that the drug related incidents are real and scary. However there are many local residents who are attempting to make a positive difference in their community and should be recognized for their courageous efforts.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Vaya Con Dios, Amiga

Yvonne's fish turned out to be the only one caught, or even seen that day, winning the tournament.

Gary Graham
March 24, 2010

We lost a dear friend recently who many of you knew and loved as well…Shirley Miller. Our love of Baja and fishing was the foundation for an ongoing friendship that lasted over the years.

Our first encounter with Shirley Miller was at a Vagabundos del Mar event held in San Diego in the mid-seventies. Shirley and her husband, Tom Miller, introduced Yvonne and me to many of the Baja pioneers, including Ray Cannon who wrote about the rugged Baja peninsula, Western Outdoor News founder, Bob Twilliger and Fred and Gloria Jones, founders of the Vagabundos del Mar traveling club.

When Yvonne and I married in 1979, Tom and Shirley attended our wedding reception. They proudly and unpretentiously presented us with a gift wrapped in a brown paper shopping bag…a huge piece of brain coral discovered on an obscure Baja beach. It was one of our favorite pieces and it was displayed on a special shelf at our Baja home Rancho Deluxe.

Tom and Shirley signed on as the crew on our boat, the Watercloset for a Vagabundos del Mar marlin tournament in San Diego. With reports of no local marlin for the week preceding the event, I pointed our 30' Pacemaker south at midnight and headed out to sea. With everyone sleeping below, I enjoyed the smooth downhill ride, but as the dark faded into gray, the wind increased and the size of the swells grew.

By the time daylight settled in, it was obvious we were going to take a beating going uphill when we headed home. Mid-day, the rod bent and the clicker wailed; Tom, Shirley and I exchanged dubious looks as Yvonne reached for the rod. It was not pretty. The swell had built, the wind was ripping and salt spray cascaded over the stern as I backed the boat down toward the fleeing fish. Yvonne braced herself between the bait tank and gunnels with Shirley trying to help Yvonne remain upright. All three of them were wet from head to toe from the cold spray when Tom realized that the salt spray was building on Yvonne’s prescription glasses. Wanting to help, he removed the glasses to clean them before realizing that she is practically blind without them and the marlin was jumping closer and closer to the side of the boat. Needless to say, the cockpit was filled with laughter as Shirley tried to fit the glasses back on Yvonne’s head as the boat rocked from side to side.

Finally with the marlin secured on the swim step, we began the long slog uphill, with Shirley and Yvonne laying flat on salon floor bouncing a few feet off each time we hit another wave. Ever the consummate traveler, regardless of conditions, I could hear Shirley’s laughter from the bridge.

After barely making the weigh-in deadline, Yvonne's fish turned out to be the only one caught, or even seen that day, winning the tournament.

Shirley's love of Baja began at a family owned trailer, south of Ensenada on Corona Beach, where many lifelong friendships were formed. Later, she and Tom constantly traveled the back roads and beaches of Baja California, writing about their adventures. The two of them established the Mexico West Travel Club and Newsletter, with a member subscription of over 6,000, which offered helpful travel information about Baja. She enjoyed deep sea sport fishing and was a member of the Newport Harbor Lady Anglers. In addition, Shirley found time to be a freelance travel writer for numerous other sport fishing, travel and Mexico publications.

We remained friends with both Shirley and Tom even when their marriage ended in 1985. Shirley remained a close friend and with our love for Baja in common, our paths seemed to become more and more entwined.

Expanding her love of travel, she became fascinated with Costa Rica. Always the avid writer, she created and co-founded another successful travel newsletter, the Costa Rican Outlook.

In 2000, Shirley moved to Camas, Washington to be closer to her family. She continued to use her writing skills as an active member of the Outdoor Writers Association of California (OWAC) holding positions of treasurer and editor of their newsletter, where our bond of friendship deepened.

Over the years Shirley's influence has had significant impact on many. We are honored to be included in that group. Shirley was many things to us: Baja buddy, friend, confidant and protagonist and we will remember her infectious smile and love of life often.

Always the fighter, when she suffered a severe stroke in December of 2008, with grit and determination she managed to continue living independently. She and I spoke almost every week, and I could feel her struggle, and realized what a fighter Shirley was. It was Valentine's Day this year when she was taken to the hospital with an unknown illness. Less than a month later on Friday, March 12, 2010 with her family at her side, she passed away. A celebration of Shirley’s life will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 3rd at Journey Community Church 304 4th Street in Camas, Washington.

The world was a brighter place with Shirley in it, and her loss will be felt by many, many people. Always a giver, her contributions to everyone whose life she touched was immense…whether it was a smile, a kind, encouraging word or support. There is an empty spot in our lives; Shirley will be missed.

In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting that donations be made in her memory to Journey Community Church, PO Box 110, Camas, WA 98607 or Soroptimist International of Camas/Washougal, PO Box 621, Camas, WA 98607.

Friday, March 26, 2010

El Niño…quién sabe?

This chart reflects the warmer water caused by the El Niño.

Over the years the usual response to almost anything unusual occurring on or in the waters off Baja and southern California has been to blame it on El Niño…so it’s easy to understand why some of our eyes glaze over when El Niño is mentioned.

The name El Niño comes from the Spanish name for "the little boy”, but it can also refer to the Christ Child. It is so named because when the phenomenon of an El Niño happens, it is normally around Christmas time. Its full name is El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) but it is more commonly referred to as just El Niño. This global ocean-atmosphere phenomenon usually happens in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of South America when warm water spreads from the west Pacific and the Indian Ocean to the east Pacific.

At the recent, well-attended Long Beach Fred Hall show, the crowded aisles left some attendees feeling like a single sardine in a tightly formed bait ball. The entire Baja peninsula was well represented providing an ideal opportunity to review the waning winter and the expectations for the upcoming season as I visited with old and new friends.

Optimism and glowing reports of extraordinary fishing were a common theme in most booths and areas of the show where display tables were covered with photos and piled high with brochures and the ever-present televisions playing endlessly. Baja sunlight with fish of every imaginable description leaped about on the screen providing a barrier that protected the booths’ occupants.

Last summer it was predicted that El Niño would return for the winter season of 2009-2010. Of course last year's weather with eighteen named storms could not be ignored. Baja's mid-section suffered the brunt of their fury and is still struggling to return to normalcy. But the resiliency and courage to recover by both American and Mexican locals alike was reflected on my last few trips through that area in late 2009.

On the west coast of Baja, beginning just below the border and continuing all the way to Abreojos, the stories of mossback yellows was confirmed by Pat McDonell, WON Editor on his trip to the Coronado Islands. Farther down the Baja coast near Colonet, a few of the San Diego fleet boats reported good catches of reds and yellows, and the yellows were found by locals and trailer boaters still farther down the peninsula at San Quintin and Bahia Asuncion.

A constant stream of emails from Mulege about the great yellowtail, roosterfish and snook fishing continued throughout the winter but was overshadowed by the catch of a marlin putting an exclamation point on their unusual winter season.
Brandon Hayward, Saltwater Editor in the Western Outdoor News’ booth, was selling the third printing of his successful book, The Southern California Angler. Brandon was very excited about the yellowtail action that John Mestrin of Bluewater Tours had introduced him to down Loreto way. Another marlin landed at Loreto seems to confirm the sea temperatures are unseasonably warm.

Farther down the coast at La Paz, Jonathan and Jill Roldan's weekly Tailhunter Reports have confirmed that many of the fish usually associated with warmer water have remained in the area. Recently he commented, "the variety (of fish) we have had makes us wonder about the El Niño everyone says is upon us."
Not to be outdone, the inshore and beach fishing at East Cape has produced quality-sized jacks and roosterfish throughout the winter, while the larger grade of yellowfin tuna were still being caught offshore in early January at San Jose del Cabo.

According to Tim Barnett, Scripps Research Marine Physicist, the higher water temps are due to El Niño. During these events whole populations are shifted northward to keep up with their favorite temps. Scripps computer model which has done a great job predicting this event predicts that the effects should be completely gone by June.

The two fisheries that under-performed this winter was the striped marlin bite at the Golden Gate Bank and the dismal blue marlin bite which had occurred for the past few years.

However, the consensus of the Baja exhibitors at Fred Hall was that the excellent fishing enjoyed throughout the winter would continue through the upcoming spring and summer season and would be memorable, but quién sabe? To follow the progress of the El Niño go to this link:

Sunday, March 14, 2010

February Frenzy

This rounded off A February frenzy in Baja that went unnoticed by many but was thoroughly enjoyed by some.

Wind, rain and cold are usually the common denominators in Baja fishing reports during the month of February. My emails plus Google search reflects an entirely different story this year. Like a seismograph reporting unfelt tremblers, there is a whole lot of fishing going on.

Last year in April's column ‘Snook Stirring’, I reported that the Santa Rosalia River, which runs through the middle of Mulegé, was producing some phenomenal snook catches after thirty years of MIA according to local resident Mike Reichner.

Eyebrows rose, “a fluke” some snorted, and others who were more mean spirited suggested that it was an outright lie. On February 8th this year Mike's email practically vibrated in my inbox: “They're back! Roz and I were fishing with jerk baits and catching pargo when we were busted off by a toad and lost another in the rocks. Then standing on a rock looking at my Rapala in the water, a huge snook appears and ALMOST engulfs my lure but he saw my high profile and spooked. I kept casting around me...a dozen or so more casts and I saw a huge wake coming toward my bait from about 50 feet away....a snook at least four feet long crashed into it and took off, rapidly emptying my reel, as luck would have it, he came unbuttoned after 50 yards or so.”

By the time you hear about snook they are usually is your chance. Since I couldn't get there myself I emailed this to a friend who was fishing at La Bocana.

He was there the following day trying to catch one on the fly.
His next email confirmed Mike's report. "In Mulege, no snook yet on fly, but Mike and Roz are doing well on spinning gear." For the rest of the month Mike’s emails kept coming. All had a similar theme, "catching the smaller variety”,” the big robalo have been thumping me daily, amigo. They're here!”....”hooked three monsters this morning and was busted off twice and came unbuttoned I EVER gonna land of these toads?”

Farther south, Lance Peterson, well known East Cape fly-fishing guide, emailed, “I need to know the IGFA record for roosterfish. I may have caught a new world record on four pound.” By the end of the month, he had one rooster and one broomtail grouper, both potential world records! The paperwork is on its way to headquarters for review.

Mid-month, Lance and Brad Ellis took a quickie fishing trip to Magdalena Bay. "Our Magdalena trip was great. We really killed it on both days. Numerous species plus we brought fourteen snook to hand in two days and was broke off by a really good one.

The fishing was pretty impressive. Most were smaller fish but still cool as hell, I had never caught a snook on fly so I was stoked."

February Frenzy continued: Stacy Corbin fishing the beach with Grant Hartman, Baja Anglers in Cabo San Lucas, reported the results of his beach trip on the Pacific side. "I went up north with Grant Hartman on a snook hunting adventure to one of his secret snook spots. The place holds snook and snapper that exceed 50 pounds. Grant is convinced that it holds a world record, which is probably why I was blindfolded on the way in (grin). We went down arroyos, through Cardón Cactus forests, and loose beach sand and I was sure we would get stuck several times. But Grant is a long time beach bum and knew what his rig would do in certain situations. It was sandblast-your-legs windy, and believe it or not, really cold in the morning with the north winds blowing, but I did get my elusive first snook on the fly. I can now check snook on the fly off the bucket list!"

Late in the month, Steve Cushing, along with a couple of buddies from the Northwest, also reported on the February Frenzy at East Cape.
"We caught small dorado, two five to six-pound roosters, bonito, skip jacks, and one nice sierra. We also found a mako slowly swimming on the surface. We couldn't get him to take a fly.... but a dead mackerel worked. We also caught a few ladyfish from the beach, saw tons of whales breaching everywhere, along with huge schools of dolphin. We had calm seas and great weather. Fun trip and we'll be back in late June.”

Finally up north off of Colonet there was a serious whack on some quality yellows.
This rounded off the February frenzy in Baja that went unnoticed by many but was thoroughly enjoyed by some.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Baja's baddest bill collector

Martha Macnab, with five of the nine qualifying bills.

Martha Macnab, an outstanding angler, received official notification this week that she had qualified to become a member of one of International Game Fish Association's most prestigious clubs, the Royal Billfish Slam Club . The species required to become a member are Atlantic blue marlin, pacific blue marlin, Atlantic sail fish, pacific sail fish, white marlin, striped marlin, black marlin, swordfish and spearfish. Of the previous 89 members of the club who have managed to accomplish the catches, only six were women; Martha is now the seventh!

She literally traveled thousands of miles and fished two oceans to accomplish what many would consider an impossible feat…landing the nine (9) different species of billfish! Rebecca Wright, IGFA Records Coordinator, acknowledged receipt of the catches and assured Martha that she would be receiving a certificate attesting to her achievement shortly.

Martha, a friend and a resident of Buena Vista in Baja Sur, Mexico, began her journey many years ago with her first catch in the series, striped marlin. She has released well over 400 of them with her best single day's catch of 23 on the Finger Bank above Cabo San Lucas.

In 2007, she traveled all the way to Isla Mujeres to fish in one of the International Women Fishing Association’s Tournaments. Fishing on the yacht, Havin' a Ball, she landed several Atlantic sailfish.
Her white marlin was landed aboard her 58' boat, the Retriever, between Aruba and Cartagena, Columbia, on a voyage from Florida to the West Coast.

The Pacific sails she landed were in three different countries…Panama (Tropic Star), Guatemala (Fins 'N Feathers and Casa Viejo) and her home waters in Mexico. Her skipper in Guatemala was Mike Sheeder, younger brother of Captain Chris Sheeder, with whom she had fished in Midway Islands.
The waters off of Baja continued to live up to Martha's expectations as she landed a 645-pound black marlin on the Gordo Bank, and two more of the nine bills needed, a 530-pound Pacific blue marlin and a swordfish weighing in at a respectable 260 pounds near the Cabrillo Seamount. These were also taken aboard her own boat, the Retriever.

Ironically the smallest of the billfish is considered the rarest, and it was the most difficult for her to add to the list. Last year she travelled all the way to Kona, Hawaii, to catch a short billed spearfish (Tetrapturus angustirostiris). Locals call them 'Chuckers'. Six days on the water at the height of season produced six blue marlin and eight striped marlin, but disappointingly, Martha lost a 'Chucker' at the last moment right at the boat.

This year she returned to Hawaii to fish once again on the Northern Lights with Captain Kevin Nakamaru and crew Tracey Epstein. Hoping to get that 9th notch in her rod, she suffered five days through what could only be described as slow fishing. Until the last ten minutes of the trip, all that had occurred was a blue bite that broke off and one ahi (yellowfin tuna) which she caught!

Before the fat lady could sing, however, a pair of ‘Chuckers’ appeared in the wake and both struck the lures violently! Only one was hooked, but with that short-billed spearfish, Martha achieved the goal that had eluded her for a number of years!

Martha and her husband, Larry Warlaumont, who also maintain a home on Balboa Island, are well-known world-wide for their sport fishing exploits.
"I am pretty excited and proud to become the 90th member of IGFA's Royal Grand Slam Club and the seventh woman to achieve this goal and I am very thankful to Kevin Nakamaru and the other great Captains and crew members who found the fish." Martha Macnab.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Go With the Flow

For the rest of the day, he stood in the port corner of the boat, rod in hand, becoming more agitated.

In the past few weeks of football playoffs, often players would try to force a pass, run or tackle in an attempt to compensate for a broken play. It reminded me of how many anglers attempt to do the same thing.

As prolific as Baja fishing is, there are times when it can behave likewise, refusing to perform as expected. When that happens many anglers react, resolutely attempting to coerce the conditions to fulfill their expectations which usually results in a disappointing trip.

A few years ago I fished with an angler from the East Coast, who had traveled to many of the world's striped marlin hotspots with limited results. After hearing the many stories of double-digit shots at marlin attacking the hookless teasers in Magdalena Bay, he was convinced to make the cross-continent trip to catch striped marlin on the fly. For months emails were exchanged, tackle, flies and techniques were covered extensively and thousands of dollars were spent in booking the six-day trip on a sixty-foot boat. He planned to fish alone so that every opportunity for a striped marlin would be his. By the time he arrived, I was convinced that his trip would be one of my most memorable and it was…

We met at Puerto San Carlos to begin the trip; tackle was rigged, techniques discussed and strategies established. The following morning, we ran through the Entrada and headed downhill toward our last hot spot. The hookless teasers bubbled in the wake as we watched and waited.

It wasn’t long before a shimmering gold bull dorado streaked behind the flat line. If you fly fish you get use to refusals. However, it is usually the fish not the angler who refuses. The dorado was in easy casting distance and I screamed over the noise of the engine, ”CAST”! My client looked at me shaking his head, "I only want marlin."

For the rest of the day, he stood in the port corner of the boat, rod in hand, becoming more agitated. He shook his head in refusal as dorado, tuna, and wahoo continued to appear so frequently behind the teasers that I felt like Professor Harold Hill in Music Man leading the parade.

By day’s end, it was clear the marlin that had been so plentiful the week before were gone… down or who knows what. I was sure that the second day ‘Mr. Marlin’ would lighten up and take a few shots at other species for practice or at least to catch dinner.

However, the second day was more of the same, except we actually raised five marlin. Mr. Marlin missed four and caught one. After watching his performance, I realized he needed all the practice he could get. However, no matter what I said, he never consented to cast to anything but a billfish. He absolutely refused to attempt to cast to any other fish that frequently appeared in the wake.

The final day, we found the mother lode of marlin that we had been seeing the prior week. Mr. Marlin had his multiple shots and demonstrated his woeful inexperience as he managed to catch only a couple. Instead of using the week to fine-tune his skills, he stood in the port corner with what I am sure he would describe as ‘firm resolve’ waiting for striped marlin. In my book, he was "forcing it."
Magdalena Bay 2009 season was one that will go down in the record book as an unusual year. Most of the yachts and sportfishing fleet that came in search of billfish soon were seen heading over the horizon when their target couldn't be found, leaving in their wake some of the best wahoo, tuna and dorado fishing in recent memory… not to mention the Estero fishing which was equally as good.

Sportfishing, like football, requires an understanding of the conditions available and exploiting them, not trying to force the fishery to fit your expectations. Go with the flow!