Q & A With Gary Graham
By Michelle Monroy
Mr. Gary Graham, "That Baja Guy" is a much-appreciated long-time contributor to Destino Los Cabos, and has been enlightening our readers with his monthly fishing report "All That's Fishy from Loreto to Land's End," along with multiple fishing articles throughout the years. The conservationist and multi-award winning Photojournalist and Speaker has written two DIY books on saltwater fly-fishing and his articles have been featured in multiple international publications.
Originally from Southern California, Baja is where he spends most of his time, and he is considered a pioneer for fly fishing for roosters from the beach, and for snook in the esteros in Magdalena Bay.
Gary turned 80 years young month. He celebrated and showed his commitment and dedication to his beloved Baja by creating a birthday fundraiser for the Stars & Stripes Children's Foundation, which had to cancel its annual fundraising fishing tournament due to COVID-19.
To learn all things fishing, That Baja Guy, is your guy. Follow him on Facebook @thatbajaguy.
At what age did you first start fishing?
I began fishing in 1945, when I was five years old on an annual family vacation to Pacific Grove, Calif., where my mother purchased a simple handline with a hook, line, and sinker. She took me to the Monterey Pier, where she instructed me to drop my baited hook between the boards of the pier rather than the edge, which was twenty feet above the water. There I caught my first small sun perch, and each year after that on my vacations to Pacific Grove, my days were spent fishing.
From the time I was eight until I was a teenager, I spent my summers with my grandmother and my mother’s brother, Charles, in Berkeley, Calif. Uncle Charlie became my fishing mentor, and so much more.
There, I caught 20-, 30-, 40-, and 60-pound bat rays that would remain the largest bat rays I had ever caught in one day. Even though I fished many times with Charlie catching both salt and freshwater species, it was 1956 before that day would be topped.
In 1956, Uncle Charles invited me to go with a group of his buddies to San Carlos, Mx, to fish. He and his friends drove a 1953 Oldsmobile towing a 16’ Wizard Outboard. It was on that trip that I caught my first sailfish, the largest fish I had ever caught at that time.
“That Baja Guy,” where did the name come from?
Over the years I have become involved in different aspects of Baja – fishing, photography, travel, marketing hotels, co- owner of a fly fishing guide service, charities, etc. Often when introduced the person introducing me would begin with one or the other activity, add ing one or two more descriptions before hesitating, trying to remember everything else, I’m involved in. At that point, one of us would volunteer: “I’m That Baja Guy” or “He’s That Baja Guy,” After awhile, “That Baja Guy” stuck...”
You’ve seen Baja go through many changes throughout the years, can you tell us about your first trip down the peninsula and what was it like back then?
My first drive down Mex 1 shortly after it opened in 1973 with two friends was in a Dodge van with no frills – just a couple of bucket seats and a mattress. We drove the entire distance from the border to the tip. Our first stop was “Mama Espinoza’s” in El Rosario. After an afternoon filled with lobster tacos and margaritas, we spent the first night on a deserted beach near Punta Baja.
The narrow two-lane road dictated our speed, and we took our time exploring the unfamiliar spots in the road, villages, and towns – camping on and fishing the deserted beaches at Scammon's Lagoon, Conception Bay, and Bahia Escondido below Loreto. By then we were ready for the luxury of a hot shower and we treated ourselves to a one-night stay at “Rancho Buena Vista Hotel,” where we met then owner, “Chuck Walters.”
We continued down Mex 1 and visited Cabo San Lucas where only a few streets were paved. A ferry from the mainland visited Cabo on a scheduled basis then, but that was long before the inner harbor Marina was developed. We ended setting up camp at “Grey Rock” just north of town.
From there we leisurely worked our way back up the peninsula stopping ‘here and there’ for photo ops.
You must have some great fishing stories from all these years traveling to Baja, can you share one of your favorites?
Gene Kira, author of “Baja Catch” and the “Unforgettable Sea of Cortez” was a good friend and a frequent house guest at “Rancho Deluxe,” our home for 18 years on the beach in the East Cape area.
Baja on the Fly guided six “back- to-back” billfish trips off the coast of Magdalena Bay. Despite all Kira’s travels and writing about Baja, he had never seen the billfish pile up that occurs in October/November each year. When thousands of striped marlin and other gamefish congre- gate in huge schools to feed on sardine and mackerel in the Mag Bay waters, the area is remote enough that only a limited number of larger boats with ample fuel, along with a small local fleet have the staying capability to fish for an extended stay.
Included on that adventure with me was another friend and fly-fishing guide from England, Ray Barker Smith, and a couple of additional guides.
We met the boat at the Puerto San Carlos pier in the afternoon and headed out to Belcher’s Cove where we caught live mackerel to use for teasing the fish in close enough range to cast artificial flies to them. The following morning, we headed out the Entrada at dawn. As soon as it was light enough to see, both the Captain and deckhand in the tower spotted a huge flock of frigate birds diving and feeding on a bait school half the size of a football field.
As we grew closer, we could see the telltale sickle-shaped tails and raised dorsal of countless billfish frantically feeding on the fleeing sardine.
Ray Barker hooked the first one on fly, and Kira followed with one of his own as it greyhounded toward the horizon. For several hours the boat only moved to follow a hooked fish while the feeding frenzy continued. Honestly, I can’t remember who caught what or how many throughout the rest of the day.
That night at dinner while safely anchored in Santa Maria Bay, Kira was in a daze; he could not even remember how many marlin HE had hooked. Over the next three days, the action continued; it remained wide open with many more billfish seen than most anglers might see in a lifetime. Every time that I’ve spoken with Kira since that time, our conversations begin with, “I still can’t believe how many billfish we saw on that trip!!!”
What is your favorite place or town in Baja and why?
Magdalena Bay, with its stunning, rugged desert landscape shaping a unique backdrop for hundreds of miles of mangrove-lined channels attracts an overwhelming collection of wildlife unduplicated anywhere else in Baja.
As large as San Francisco Bay, this 131-mile bay is protected by five barrier islands along the west coast of Baja, and it has remained an enigma, tantalizing and bewildering even the most seasoned Baja traveler. The bay’s location and inaccessibility have allowed it to remain one of those places in Baja that time has virtually left behind.
And the area around López Mateos would be my favorite, close to the mouth of the Pacific Ocean and surrounded by thousands of esteros.
What is your favorite fish to eat?
Ceviche made with almost any raw fish and seafood marinated in citrus juice. It is one of the most popular ways to serve fish in Baja and my favorite.