Gary Graham – ROAD TREKKER

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Chapter 2016 of Cabo Tournament Chronicles
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Listen, observe, and learn…

Please release me…
Please release me…

Since August, four of the major offshore billfish tournaments, from East Cape to Cabo San Lucas, have concluded and the results are in. Of course, the big headlines are always the mind-numbing amounts of cash awarded the winners at each of these affairs.

The first, Bisbee East Cape Offshore, awarded $543,825. Then, in October, Bonnier’s Los Cabo Billfish held in Cabo San Lucas, paid out $451,200 to the winners; followed by Bisbee’s Los Cabos Offshore Charity event with a total pot of $772,000 where several teams earned impressive payouts. The last billfish event, the Bisbee’s Black and Blue, the largest tournament of its kind, had an overall purse of $3,511,900. These four tournaments had a combined, stunning total of $5,278,925. 

tranquilo57spencerTRANQUILO (52 SPENCER), easily earned top team honors in the Release Division, led by Capt. Victor Julio. Those efforts resulted in a payout of $68,510.

These annual offshore tournaments combined for 331 teams among the four events, with 2,389 anglers who caught and released most of the 600 billfish along with 4 wahoo and 28 yellowfin tuna.

These are beyond remarkable numbers, particularly the number of teams and number of billfish released. This was partially because of the addition of a “release category” and the unusual number of blue marlin hooked that were judged to be less than the 300-pound minimum weight requirement to qualify.

Of the 600 billfish caught, 562 were released with 38 brought to the scale. According to Wayne Bisbee, event coordinator, “That was the highest number of blue marlin releases in the 36-year history of the tournaments. A 93 percent release rate is certainly a significant achievement!”

However, only 20 of the 38 billfish met the 300-pound minimum. So why were the other 18 that didn’t qualify brought to the weigh-station? The rules are quite clear: Black or blue marlin weighing less than 300 pounds are awarded zero points and additionally penalized 25 points plus two points for every pound under 300.

I was at the weigh-in of most of the events and there are a variety of answers. In some cases, the fish were too close to call and could have gone either way. A few squeaked by, while others failed to make the cut.

A few were just inexperienced guesses about the weight that resulted in the negative penalty points assessed, which in several instances cost teams some money.

Another cause was rule-related. I heard this one from several different boat crews. One team explained that they had already released several clearly smaller fish without incident – conforming to the release rules that required a digital photo as the fish was released next to the boat allowing species identification. Then, when a larger fish that might have qualified was brought to the boat, a crew member trying to measure the fish inadvertently dragged it partially through the transom door. Watching from the bridge, the captain could see that more than 50 percent of the body of the fish was in the boat. Rule: ANY marlin brought on board a boat must be weighed. A fish is considered “on board” when more than 50 percent of the fish is inside the boat.

Another rule: One person from each team receiving a cash award must complete a polygraph examination.

Obviously, it was a tough judgment call for the captain. However, if he hadn’t made the right call then and he had later caught a qualifying fish and ended up on the leader board, the fish in question might have been considered a marginal release and the team would have been disqualified.

For the past decade or so I have been attending these Baja tournaments and have watched the officials and their staffs continue to work to tweak the rules to ensure that as few non-qualifying fish arrive at the scale as possible.

They encourage release by developing release categories for those who wish to compete without keeping their catch. One only has to consider the addition of a release category to the roster at this year’s Bisbee’s “East Cape Offshore” which resulted in an unprecedented 112 blue marlin releases at East Cape.

Congratulations to all of this year’s tournament organizers for a 94 percent release record during this year’s Baja tournament series. It’s certainly one to be proud of.

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