Wednesday, September 26, 2012

It takes a village

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Feeding frenzy fraternity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 8, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

East Cape: History in the making

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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