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Fishermen, Farmers and Fun

While attending the ICAST tackle show in Las Vegas this past July, Ali Hussainy, founder of www.BDOutdoors.com, introduced me to Julio and Alma Meza, who own and manage one of the larger produce operations in the coastal community of San Quintín, Mexico.

The huge agricultural area on the shores of Bahía de San Quintín is located 187 miles south of the San Ysidro border crossing on the west coast of Baja Norte. It is very similar to the San Joaquin Valley in central California south of Sacramento with one exception — it’s on the coast. In addition to agriculture, San Quintin offers fishing, boating, camping, bird watching, surfing and clam digging.

While strawberries are his business, fishing is Julio’s passion. It’s not surprising that he also owns FISHCO, a rapidly expanding retail tackle store based in Ensenada with a growing handful of small shops throughout Baja.

Since 2004, Julio has sponsored a variety of tournaments but the one series that evolved from his efforts and has gotten the most attention is the Governor’s Cup. This series is not to be confused with the “Copa de Gobernador Tournament,” made up of individual events that were first conceived during the term of Baja Sur’s El Gobernador Narciso Agúndez Montaño in 2006 and designed to introduce sportfishing to the locals.

Julio’s series, III International Sport Fishing Circuit or “Governor’s Cup,” involves not only adults, but the children as well. It features a three-venue competition that includes San Felipe, San Quintin and Ensenada, allowing teams to accumulate points from each event to determine which anglers are declared the champion in their division (men’s, women’s and children).

If you took the time to research it, I would guess that there are fishing tournaments every month of the year somewhere in Baja — from small localized affairs to the internationally recognized Bisbee’s Black & Blue in Los Cabos. I usually attend a number of the events, so adding another tourney to the travel schedule didn’t seem possible. However, Julio Meza’s enthusiasm convinced me to attend at least one of the Governor’s Cup series, and we agreed on San Quintin, which took place the last weekend in August.

I traveled down with Pedro Sors, host and producer of one of the most popular Mexican television sportfishing shows, Con Caña y Carrete, along with his cameraman and Julio’s mother, Amalia Meza, who entertained us with stories during the trip. I am usually the driver and seldom a passenger, so just sitting back and watching the landscape whiz by was a treat.

We were met in a restaurant in San Quintin by Julio and his family where we were served an excellent lunch before driving the few miles out to the Old Mill Hotel overlooking Bahía de San Quintín. It was like stepping out of a time machine as memories of my past trips flashed all the way back to the 1970s when founder Al Vela and his wife owned and managed the hotel.

The crowd in front of the registration table grew as the afternoon turned to evening. A mix of locals, farmers, and participants from the first event in San Felipe, as well as tourists arriving from the U.S. began to line up to register for the one-day affair.

Stories were told and laughter rang out. A couple of Vagabundos del Mar members who I had met earlier in the summer at their Dorado Tournament in Loreto called out to me from their table. They had driven down from central California to check out this tournament. I introduced them to Pedro Sors who explained the tournament to them and I later watched them sign up.

By late afternoon, the Mexican band began playing and the party swung into high gear. I spotted one of the Vagabundos posing with a couple of the Corona girls — he was wearing a big grin from ear to ear.

Dressed in a mishmash of suits, coveralls and blue jeans, local politicians, judges, business owners, farmers, cowboys and fishermen bellied up to the polished bar waiting for the captain’s meeting to begin. Julio and Pedro called the meeting to order and introduced the local dignitaries to everyone in the crowded bar. Then they proceeded to outline the rules that were basically taken from the IGFA book, along with Mexican fishing regulations that were reviewed in detail. The meeting concluded and everyone returned to fiesta mode and the band resumed.

At 5 a.m. Saturday morning the band was just wrapping up from the night before as I walked out of the hotel. The entrance to the launch ramp was already filled with trucks and trailers lined up for inspection prior to launch. Meanwhile, women served coffee and prepared to-go lunch orders for the anglers at a small outdoor café lit with bare incandescent lights. A Mexican fishery official was also on hand to sell fishing licenses.

Although bustling with activity, it all worked remarkably well and as dark turned to dawn the last of the 35 or so boats made it out on the water and headed toward the Pacific in search of a hot spot.

By noon it was clear that this tournament was a local happening as families, friends and fans of the teams began arriving in anticipation of the weigh-in. The crowd on the wood veranda swelled as the band resumed its playing. Dancing troupes of young children and adults performed for the crowd while waiting for the teams to return.

I spotted a Mexican vaquero sitting in his saddle astride a white stallion, riding the horse at a slow gait down the dirt street toward the launch ramp — I couldn’t believe my eyes! I watched as the horse and rider continued until they slowed at the wood stairs leading to the veranda where the crowd had gathered beneath the pop-up canopies to watch the ongoing entertainment. Without the slightest hesitation, the horse turned, following the rider’s lead, and stepped up onto the deck and headed toward the open area in front of the band.

As the horse spun toward the crowd, the band shifted into a Mexican thump-de-thump tune and the horse and rider performed a dance to the delight of the crowd. I watched in surprise — mouth agape!

Soon the boats arrived and were loaded back onto their respective trailers. The line at the scale grew longer as Pedro Sors and his volunteers weighed the remarkable variety of fish — yellowtail, tuna, dorado, red rock cod, lingcod and more were each weighed and a printed receipt was electronically generated for each catch. It was several hours before the weigh-in was completed and the judges could determine the winners.

Meanwhile, vendors strolled along the rows of stands offering everything from sweets to fish tacos to munch on while the crowd waited for the results to be announced.

As the sun began to sink below the horizon, everyone gathered in front of the stage at the far end of the veranda where the tournament officials passed out the awards for the day’s contest. The winner’s names were announced as their fans cheered or in some cases heckled them good-naturedly. Cash prizes totaling $100,000 pesos, as well as plaques, certificates and fishing tackle valued at $68,000 pesos were awarded in the men’s, women’s and children’s categories for both bottom and surface species.

There were raffle prizes which included tackle, gift certificates for trips to Baja resorts and of course plenty of BD Outdoor’s t-shirts and stickers for everyone. It was a fun evening and when it was over, a nice crowd lingered a little longer, hesitant to leave the festive mood they had enjoyed throughout the day. My Vagabundo buddies were all smiles as they showed me their winnings and vowed to come back again for the last event in Ensenada.

The charm of Baja blended with the best of a fiesta and the excitement of a fishing competition combined with a large dose of family tradition all meshed into this one day and convinced me that the Governor’s Cup Tournament is a unique series that is here to stay.

These events provide an inexpensive opportunity for U.S. anglers to enjoy a peek at three distinctly different, easily accessible Baja communities just a few hours below the border. It’s a great way to spend a weekend while fishing with locals and making some new friends. I know I’ll be returning next year. I wouldn’t miss it!

Fishermen, Farmers and Fun

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Gary Graham, the BD Outdoors Baja Editor, has more than five decades fishing experience off of Southern California and the Baja Peninsula. From light tackle and fly up to offshore marlin fishing, Gary has experienced all facets of this fishery. He’s set several fly-fishing world records and in his first year as a member of the Tuna Club of Avalon, he received more angling awards than any other first-year member in the club’s 109-year history. He’s been involved with many California angling clubs and is the Baja California Representative for the International Game Fish Association. 
Gary’s a conservationist as well as a writer and photographer. In addition to two books on saltwater fly-fishing, hundreds of his articles and photographs have appeared in publications around the world. Graham has devoted his life to finding new fisheries and developing new techniques — all of which he shares through his guiding, speaking, photography and writing.