Jesus Araiza, 79, among the oldest remaining charter boat captains in Baja’s East Cape Region, passed away quietly on April 8 at his home in Los Barriles, BCS, surrounded by family members.
I was introduced to Jesus Araiza in the early 1980’s while visiting friends Herb and Ruthie Kameon during a visit to their recently-completed vacation home. It was a home built on the grounds of the historic Rancho Buena Vista Hotel, steps away from “Casa Canon” where “The Sea of Cortez” author Ray Cannon stayed during his frequent visits before his passing in 1977. Herb and Ruth both were avid anglers, seeking ultra-light IGFA records, and Jesus was not only their captain, but also their very close friend.
Jesus Araiza was born in Los Barriles into a family of farmers that owned a 150-acre cattle ranch at Punta Pescadero. Witnessing the birth of East Cape sportfishing in 1955, Jesus began a five-decade career of the sport at Rancho Buena Vista, owned by Herb Tansey. When Tansey died crashing his small plane into a mountainside nearby, RBV was purchased by Col. Chuck Walters, a retired U.S. Lt. Commander. Jesus retired in 2008 from Hotel Buenavista Beach Resort, a neighboring hotel, leaving the day-to-day fishing to his sons; his grandson captains the “Retriever” a 60-foot Viking fishing out of Cabo San Lucas.
Boats in 1955 were primitive by today’s standards: 23-foot plywood hulls powered by noisy 25-horsepower outboard motors, with no electronics.
Compass and navigation was dead reckoning … nothing like the high speed, well equipped sport fishers that are common in East Cape fleets today.
In those early days, Jesus fished frequently with Cannon and would recall how Cannon preferred to target roosterfish, grouper, yellowtail and cabrilla; devoting hours to fishing the giant needlefish. Often, he was accompanied by his friend and photographer Harry Merrick, who provided photo evidence of Ray’s exploits and the remarkable 300 species that he caught in the Sea of Cortez.
When the California Department of Fish and Game and James Squire instituted a program to both encourage tag-and-release and to gather more data about billfish, Jesus was one of the first captains to embrace tag-and-release and he was a strong supporter of the concept.
Annual awards were given for the skippers tagging and releasing the most marlin; Jesus was awarded the high skipper award nineteen different years during his career. That’s Jesus second from the left.
With his vast array of local knowledge and infectious enthusiasm, barefoot Jesus became a welcome visitor at afternoon cocktail hours so common at different homes in East Cape. His grueling six days a week on the water made him a great resource for current fishing conditions, as well as providing him with seemingly endless fish tales with which to amuse his listeners.
His largest fish caught was only several miles off the beach in front of the RBV Hotel; a blind strike yielding a blue marlin which was subdued and alongside the boat in only two and one half hours.
When it was hung on the scale, a hole had to be dug in the sand to allow the 875-pound monster to swing free for the weighing.
Of course, Jesus also had ample “the one that got away stories” … an angler on his boat three miles off the Punta Arena Lighthouse hooked a huge blue marlin that was well over 1,000 pounds – closer to 1,100 – an encounter that ended in a crushing disappointment when the line snapped an hour and a half later. There was another huge blue that was hooked at 9 a.m., nearly spooling them twice before it was lost 18 hours later at 3 am the next morning.
Still, his successes outweighed his losses… he landed big fish, including a 92-pound roosterfish, a 67-pound dorado and a 325-pound swordfish after a five-hour battle.
He also captained the boat on many IGFA world records for clients including a 39-pound, 9-ounce roosterfish caught by Herbert Kameon on 6# line in 1977 that remained undefeated for nearly 28 years until Enrico Capozzi landed one exactly one-half pound larger in 2005, weighing 40-pounds, 1-ounce, still in the IGFA record book.
After retirement, Jesus fished occasionally, spent more time with his family and tended to their ranch and some 350 head of cattle.
However, like so many in Baja, he suffered from diabetes, which became progressively worse and resulted in the loss of his right foot below the knee in 2011. He was devastated, as a prosthetic foot was well out of his reach financially.
I heard the news and on a visit I found him to be quiet and discouraged; his fishing days seemed to have passed him by.
In early 2009, when traveling through Mulege, I had met Paul Boe, a 15-year member of Vagabundos del Mar Boat and Travel Club with his buddies, Brad Farrow, CPO(e), and Frank Rodriguez CPO(e). They were returning from La Paz where they had volunteered for two weeks at a clinic organized by a local Rotary Club to fabricate prostheses and orthopedic braces for locals.
Paul sent me periodic updates of his trips and semi-annual Orthotic and Prosthetic clinics held twice a year in La Paz with the assistance of Dr. Alejandro Aguirre Chavez, a physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor; and the La Balandra Rotary Club, also in La Paz. The clinics had been conducted in both fall and spring since 2004, fitting prostheses (mostly lower limb) along with bracing systems of various designs.
Realizing this was serendipitous, after visiting Jesus, I contacted Paul, requesting his help. Without hesitation, he set up an appointment for Jesus at the fall clinic. After many telephone conversations, Paul decided that a “Renegade” foot was needed for a below-knee prosthesis for Jesus.
A friend of Paul’s, Greg Birkholz (also a below-knee amputee), fitted with a “Renegade” foot on his prosthesis, and coincidentally is an avid fisherman. Greg volunteered to contact Freedom Innovations, freedom-innovations.com, who agreed to donate not one, but two of these prosthetic feet for Jesus.
At the La Balandra Rotary Club in La Paz, Jesus was fitted and given the prosthesis along with a “Renegade” foot and a backup spare to be used after the first one wore out.
Later that spring, Axel Valdez, marketing director of Hotel Buenavista Beach Resort, offered to host Greg Birkholz, allowing the two men to fish together on the boat that Jesus use to Captain.
La Paz La Balandra Rotary Club is to be applauded for all of their humanitarian services to their community and outlying areas.
They sponsor these clinics twice a year and have purchased a mobile lab trailer to service more remote areas in Baja Sur, offering different types of health screenings for the rural communities as well.
What began as an impossible dream for Jesus became a reality through the efforts of these friends and strangers alike. A discouraged Captain Jesus Araiza, fisherman extraordinaire, was mobile again.
Jesus often could be found in the afternoons at the front yard of the corner family compound sitting beneath his favorite shade tree enjoying the afternoon breeze.
I’m honored to have been Jesus’ s friend these past 30+ years.
I always enjoyed seeing him and hearing his perspective about the many changes in East Cape and beyond. In addition, his sportfishing experiences had earned him the respect and admiration of his many friends and acquaintances and we had many stories to share, both on the water and off.
Jesus Araiza left behind a family dynasty of 7 children, 14 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren who will continue to influence East Cape and Baja for many generations to come.
Vaya con Dios, Captain Jesus Araiza. Rest in peace, my friend.