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Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Tournament

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Huge fish shatter Tuna Jackpot records as 147 teams scour Cabo waters for cows

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ESTRELLA DEL NORTE are all smiles with their 338-pound championship tuna.


BY RICH HOLLAND

Special to Western Outdoor News


CABO SAN LUCAS, BCS, Mexico — The first day of fishing in the $677,300 Western Outdoor News Cabo Tuna Jackpot, a 338-pound tuna arrived in the marina an hour before the scales opened. On the second and final day, two boats that battled 325- and 289-pound fish for seemingly endless hours failed to qualify after arriving just minutes after the 6 p.m. deadline.


Time is measured in pain, money and glory at the Cabo Tuna Jackpot, and fortunes can change in an instant. One thing is clear after the 19th running of the tournament, conceived as a way to promote the area’s yellowfin tuna resource, produced two of only 5-ever fish going over 300 pounds and 9 fish over 200 for a record total of 11 qualifying tuna over 200 pounds… there is no time like the present to fish cow yellowfin in the waters of Los Cabos. Consider that the 325 and 289 are not even tallied in the above numbers!


Both the past and the present have been good to James Rosenwald of St. Croix, Minn. and the Estrella del Norte. The total cow record was set in 2012 with 12 over 200 pounds, topped by Rosenwald and an Estrella del Norte team that weighed in a monster 372-pound yellowfin. This year, Victor Locklin of Corona teamed up with Rosenwald on the Estrella del Norte and they were the ones waiting to weigh in their fish the first day. The building crowd around the Gray Taxidermy Weigh Station in front of the Tesoro Resort was treated to the awesome sight of the 338-pound Jackpot champion fish on the scale.


During the awards dinner, after the team received a check for $252,425, an emotional Locklin told the crowd he went looking for a crew that knew how to fish the Gordo Banks and approached Rosenwald. The result was his first Tuna Jackpot Championship in many tries .


When Rosenwald addressed the awards audience, he made it very clear who should get the most credit, Captain Luis Beltran Cazessus and his two mates.


“These young men, who actually grew up in the small fishing pueblo of La Playita, they are the reason we are standing here tonight,” said Rosenwald.


La Playita born-and-raised fishermen brought many of the big fish to the scales over the course of the 19th WON Tuna Jackpot, including the first of the two pork-bellied yellowfin that quickly followed the 338 on opening day.


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THE 2017 FIELD consisted of of 147 boats in all shapes and sizes. WON PHOTOS BY RICH HOLLAND


That was the 264-pound tuna caught on the charter boat Zorro by the Come and Take It Team of Keith Gelfand, Shauni Gelfand and Arthur Diestel of Richmond, Texas, and Mitchell McKerlie of Sugarland, Texas. Another, which came later in the afternoon, was the 305 pounder taken by team Turbo Tuna on the Judy Judy, consisting of team captain Francisco Segovia, Gerardo Banaga and Jose Banaga, of San Jose del Cabo, the town that has enveloped La Playita as it has grown.


The 338, 305 and 264 were the biggest qualifying fish and took the three top overall money slots in the Tuna Jackpot. Since the Estrella del Norte was in every optional up to and including the $5,000, and the other two boats weren’t in the $10,000 optional, they did get the satisfaction of some cash in the overall, the Judy Judy scoring $7,250 and the Zorro splitting up $3,625.


While giant tuna paraded through the scales in waves and the Texas Tuna Chasers team of Kurtis Wilcox of San Antonio, Texas, Todd Menger of New Braunfels, Texas, Chris Teague and Tammy Teague of Granite Falls, settled the wahoo/dorado pot halfway through the weigh-in with a 41-pound wahoo, the tension level over the 60 grand in the $10,000 pot raised by the minute, as it seemed like no one with a fish was in that jackpot.


Meanwhile, the Hook Up weighed a 260, the Jen Wren III a 184, the Valerie a 190, the Sea Boy a 232, the 305 showed up, and then finally, a boat came in that was entered in the 10K pot, the Tejas team captained by Texas’ own Mike Darden with a 143.5 pounder.


Now a word about the 200-pound fish taken during this Tuna Jackpot: they were 200-pound high school freshman linemen who will just keep growing: girthy, with muscle piled on where it’s supposed to be. So when Nebraskan Patrick Vanderhieden’s Team Vancare on the Go Deeper brought in a monster of a fish and it “only” weighed 231 pounds, they just had to weigh the other big one they caught. It was also 231 pounds and not the last time an identically-sized fish was pulled from a school in this event. Yet, imagine catching 462 pounds of yellowfin in a day in a tuna tournament and not winning a buck. But that’s the way it went.


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THE ‘SHOW US YOUR COSTAS’ promo is a great way to win… well… more Costas!


The clock wound down on Day One but before time was over, the Overtime brought in yet another beautiful tuna, and yes, they were in the high roller pot. Their 184.2-pound fish easily beat out the Tejas and earned Charles Girot, Jose Alfredo Ruiz, Albert Van Vorkum and Mike Vorderstosse a check for $60,000, which, by a twist of fate, would turn out to be third-highest payout of the 2017 Tuna Jackpot, an event that saw the overall kitty of $677,300 split between 9 teams.


The second biggest payout was earned quickly at the scales on Day Two, a day which saw high expectations for another run of huge fish. In fact, Tour­nament Director Pat McDonell downright predicted that would be the case.


Again, the cows came home early, with the first up a 248 pounder on the Sundancer. At first, that seemed to make the 239 pounder hoisted up just following an afterthought. Then it was announced that the Sundancer was not entered in any of the daily optionals.


All of a sudden, East Cape sportfishing charter captain Mark Rayor and his Tequila Teasers team of anglers were in the spotlight and in the money big time! They had ponied up for the $500 through the $3,000 pots and just had to wait and see if anyone could best their catch. It was a possibility that seemed almost a sure thing at that point in time.


Yet, it never happened, although Brian Solomon’s team gave it their best shot and thought they had the deal done when they brought in a huge fish after a five-hour battle. As big and mean as that fish was, it could only pull the scale down to 222 pounds.


So the Tequila Teasers team of Mike Daniels of Redlands, Adam Morse of Tampa, Fla., and Mark Rayor and Diego Romero of Los Barriles on the Vaquera earned $132,800.


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DAVE BROWN OF OKUMA was on hand with Okuma swag and top-shelf reels, many of which went home with the Jackpot’s participating anglers.


“Our game plan was to fish the Gordo Banks the first day and the Pacific the second,” said Rayor. “But one of my boats said it was rough out on the Pacific, even though there was a 161 caught on the Jaime.


“And I watched the Estrella del Norte catch their fish on the Inner Gordo. We had a chum line out and they pulled up nearby, though not in our chum or anything. As luck would have it those big fish came up all around their boat.


“So we headed to the Inner Gordo the next day and I have never seen so many boats there, it didn’t look like you would be able to land a fish in there, although they did,” Rayor added. “I don’t like crowds, so we went out to the outer Gordo and found our fish. I hooked it and ran to the bow and it dragged us half a mile. Then Mike took over and we got it done.”


There were two issues left to settle, the two high roller pots in the wahoo/dorado optionals.


The wahoo battle was intense, since right after James Coiner weighed a 36.9-pound wahoo for the team on the What A Journey, Ted Drake of the aptly named Team-Wahoo came to the scale with a skinny that looked every bit as big. But what’s in a name — Ted’s fish was just a hyphen off at 36.8 pounds.


Still, it looked like it was over for Team Pendejadas when Matt Clifton of the Los Maniacos team weighed a 41-pound ’hoo. He was just explaining how the tuna fishing was slow, so they moved inside to fish wahoo when the WON accounting team indicated that the team, while in all the tuna optionals up to $5,000, had failed to enter the wahoo/dorado segment.


So that meant Tuna Jackpot veterans Job DeHorta of Upland, Otto Paredes of La Puente, and Coiner, also of Upland, cashed in $51,600 for their wahoo on the What A Journey.


At the same time, $118,000 in jackpot money was definitely not settled when first a couple of fish under 100 pounds had ahold of the advantage. Then the Overtime team was back in the hunt, as Charles Girot hung a 181-pound yellowfin.


Time was running out. The area around the scales was overcrowded with friends, family and bystanders as the word of the big fish the day before and radio and cell phone calls from teams on their way in indicated huge fish were still out there waiting to change everything.


The Sneak Attack team struck first. Fishing on the Wicked Hookers after their boat broke down early that morning, the boys wheeled a monster up the ramp. I am telling you that it indeed looked monstrous, maybe 300 pounds. Yet while it only weighed 195 pounds, it was 14 pounds and $118,000 dollars better than the previous leader.


For a little while.


The Reel Quest was out there. Someone at the scale, either weighmaster Billy Egan or his assistant Adam Cargill, said, “Do they wait out there and try to be the last ones to weigh?”


Because that’s what happened last year and Reel Quest swept the final day’s optionals. And, oh man, it looked like they could do it again. Remember, all they had to do was weigh a fish better than 239 pounds to get it all. And surely this tuna would easily be bigger than the 195?


Not. In fact, when Egan announced the weight, it was exactly the same, 195 pounds. Tournament Director Pat McDonell announced the tiebreaker was a coin flip. Instead, the teams consulted. Turned out the teams were good friends, and in fact each had a Cabo-born Bojorquez brother as a mate. They decided to split the pots evenly, winning $59,000 per boat.


“It makes sense — both boats were on the same school of tuna and we were right next to each other when we caught the fish,” said Reel Quest Captain Ty Valli. “It’s only right that we share the money.”


See you next year at the 20th Anniversary of the Western Outdoor News Cabo Tuna Jackpot!


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DAWN ARRIVES EARLY at the Cabo Tuna Jackpot, but so does a fired-up crowd.


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A FLARE GUN start kicks off each day’s on-the-water action.


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IT’S A VERY SERIOUS, competitive field of anglers who will stop at nothing get to the top of the leaderboard. Decorum is maintained at all times. WON PHOTOS BY RICH HOLLAND


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TRACY EHRENBERG GETS tight on a billfish on a Gray Taxidermy marlin-tagging trip. She closed the deal in 7 minutes.


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EVEN THE CAPTAINS’ meetingis a great time, and non-Captains are welcome to attend. WON PHOTOS BY RICH HOLLAND


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COSTA’s INFLUENCE ON the Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot was evident on the biggest yachts to local pangas.


cabo_championsteamnorthCHAMPIONS TEAM NORTH Star scored the big bucks, earning over $250,000 for their 338-pound yellowfin tuna caught and weighed on Day One.


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GREAT TIMES WITH an iconic backdrop. WON PHOTOS BY RICH HOLLAND


cabo_coordinatingteamCOORDINATING TEAM ‘UNIFORMS’ are always held in high regard, and it could actually win your team prizes if you’re named ‘Best Dressed.’ WON PHOTOS BY RICH HOLLAND


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CENTER STAGE WITH Tournament Director Pat McDonell, and Assistant Director Billy Egan of WON BASS fame. WON PHOTOS BY RICH HOLLAND


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TOURNAMENT SHIRTS ARE the Tuna Jackpot’s version of the Stanley Cup: once you’re team is on it, you’re part of competitive fishing history.



Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Top-10 Tuna list adds pair of super cows


Without a doubt, the 2017 Cabo Tuna Jackpot tourney had some big fish catches, topped by the 338 pounder by now two-time Jackpot winner Estrella Del Norte, the North Star team, and the 305 pounder caught that same first day by team Judy Judy, taking over two of the slots in the top 10 over the 19 years of the Jackpot.


Prior to this year, 2012 was the tourney that marked the finest overall cow tuna action in the history of the event, with 12 fish over 200 pounds, including the 371 pounder by the 2012/2017 champs on Estrella Del Norte. This year, the 11 fish over 200 and 2 over 300 pounds that counted in the standings, and two others in the high 200s and a 325 that came in just past the 6 p.m. deadline, make it the best two-day event for big tuna in the history of the event over 19 years.


Top 10 Tuna Catches OVER TOURNAMENT HISTORY


Rank WeightBoatYear
1 383 poundsFisher Man 2009
2 372 poundsEstrella Del Norte 2012
3 318 poundsNi Modo 2006
4 338 pounds Estrella Del Norte 2017
5 305 pounds Judy Judy 2017
6 298 pounds Tu Corazon 2016
7 293 pounds Dona Meche 2014
8 274 poundsReel Quest 2016
9 266 poundsRenegade Mike 2012
10 266 poundsPeligro2012

Top 10 Tuna Catches for 2017


Rank Team # WeightBoat/Team
1 117 338 poundsEstrella Del Norte/North Star
2 72 305 pounds Judy Judy/Turbo Tuna
3 99 264 poundsZorro/Come and Take It
4 22 260 pounds No. 1 Hookup
5 96 248 pounds Hook, Line & Drinkers
6 39 239 poundsVaquero/Tequila Teasers
7 140 232 pounds Sea Boy
8 23 231 pounds Go Deeper
9 11 222 pounds Baja Banditos
10 86 221 pounds Solomon’s Toy


Top 2 Wahoo


 Rank  Team #  Weight Team
 1 22 41.0 pounds  Tuna Chasers
 2  32 36.9 pounds  What A Journey

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FOURTH BIGGEST IS now the 338 by Estrella Del Norte this year, which owns two of the top 5 tuna over 19 years of the Jackpot.

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JUST EDGING INTO 10th place for the two days was Solomon’s Toy, with a 221 pounder landed on the second day. There were two unofficial fish and 11 qualifying fish over 200 pounds that hit the scale this year (counting the two 300-plus pounders).


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FISHER MAN WITH the largest tuna ever caught in the Tuna Jackpot, 383 pounds in 2009.



Party time, all the time at Cabo Tuna Jackpot


BY RICH HOLLAND

Special to Western Outdoor News


CABO – When it comes to partying, this town only has one name. Cabo. That’s it. And when it comes to the Western Outdoor News Cabo Tuna Jackpot, the party doesn’t start until Elvis is in the building! No problema, Tournament Director Pat McDonell gets into Cabo early and stays late, and the party goes on and on and on!


From the new Halloween Early Check-in party at Capt. Tony’s to the last blowout Award’s Dinner ultra-giveaway, the Tuna Jackpot is about getting together, eating and drinking well (not necessarily in that order), fishing, fishing, fishing, dancing, wondering if your team just won hundreds of thousands of dollars, and taking a moment to look around and marvel at the full hunter’s moon and the soft November night here at Land’s End.


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‘FISH HARD, party harder.’ WON PHOTOS BY RICH HOLLAND


Party hard, fish harder! That’s the slogan our beloved Tournament Director came up with for the event years almost 20 years ago and ever since Pat has been going all out. There was a time after an event in the early years when he skipped a catered sponsors dinner at the old Hacienda to sit on the beach and talk with a couple of the Tuna Jackpots regular anglers about what he could do better.


Having fun? He’s got that down, showing up for this year’s Halloween Early Check-in Party in full Elvis regalia, where he was joined by Popeye and Olive Oyl, actually Tom Micalief and Scott Womack of the Tejas Tuna Wranglers, winners of last year’s Baja Cantina/Fish Works Best Dressed contest and doing their best to get out of the gate quickly in 2017. Little did they know they were about to run into a passel of other Texans — and even some Aussies — who would put up a fight.


The house band for Capt. Tony’s rocked and Alejandro made sure the beverages kept flowing and the barbecue grill kept up a steady stream of fresh tacos. When it was all said and done, and with nothing but the check-in to worry about the next day, the party spilled over into the rest of Cabo, where officials had already closed off the streets filled with Halloween tricksters. If you’re isolated at some all-inclusive, the staff might tell you that the locals don’t celebrate Halloween. Ha.


The staff was quartered at the Tesoro Resort, official hotel of the Cabo Tuna Jackpot, and McDonell was up early overseeing the creation of the Gray Taxidermy Weigh Station, the Corona Bar, the DJ sound system and the many tents needed to keep staffers and our many sponsors cool as they handed out official IGY Tuna Jackpot hats and the official Costa tournament shirts and all kinds of goodies from Yo-Zuri, Okuma, Costa and Seaguar. Fisheries officials conveniently set up a license sales booth.


There was also the opportunity to buy several different styles of official Tuna Jackpot garb, with Minerva’s donating all the proceeds from their sales to Smiles International, the organization that brings oral surgeons into Cabo to repair cleft palates, following through with the multiple procedures necessary to bring back a smile and change a life. Smiles International is the official charity of the Tuna Jackpot and was the beneficiary of more than $20,000 from the 2017 Western Outdoor News Cabo Tuna Jackpot, thanks to our generous sponsors who hosted the parties, giveaways and contests.


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THERE ARE PLUSES and minuses to holding a tournament in Mexico this close to Halloween… mostly pluses.

Speaking of which, Ray Gardner of Yo-Zuri sponsored the Captains’ Meeting that followed the check-in. The Ohio boys on Team Buckeye Tuna served up samples of their fine sipping Cantera Negra tequila as teams entered the amphitheater adjacent to the Tesoro.


Then it was time to get serious for a moment, as McDonell discussed the rules and Tracy Ehrenberg of Pisces Sportfishing (an invaluable supporter of the tournament from the beginning) translated. A number of key points were made, including: no license meant instant disqualification, any kind of boat-to-boat contact after 7:30 a.m. (the cutoff for buying bait) also meant an instant disqualification, only the two official crew members and four team anglers allowed to touch tackle and aid in landing fish, any protests must be filed in writing with the tournament director no later than 30 minutes after the disputed catch was weighed. Then Ray gave out a bunch of killer Yo-Zuri lures and Okuma rods and reels and the official 2016 tournament video was played on the big screen.


And then it was time to fish.


It’s almost a shame that team anglers don’t get to share in one of the best parties of the Tuna Jackpot, the Costa Start Boat Party on the Cabo Escape. Yet, in a way they do, since the tournament boats going by are the biggest attraction of the party and it’s really cool how families and friends get to cheer and wave and send off their teams as the sportfishing rigs pull close enough to make sure their team number is recognized and ticked off on the official scoresheets.


The show has gotten even better — in fact, it’s almost gotten out of control — ever since Dave Bulthuis of Costa came up with the “Show Us Your Costas!” contest. Sure, a pair of the Costa sunglasses of your choice for all four members of a team is a great prize for first place, yet the innovation, creativity and time put into the team displays is crazy good! So good that even though the contest and party was expanded into both Thursday and Friday of the Tuna Jackpot start, Bulthuis still had a tough time choosing the top three winners (also expanded from a single winning team).


While the boats are going by, the mimosas with $70 a bottle Champagne (many chose to take it neat!), pastries and breakfast burritos help fuel the dance party on the upper deck hosted by the boat’s energetic emcee and the many supporters dressed in both matching Show Us Your Costas! apparel or team outfits designed to attract Baja Cantina/Fishworks Best Dressed votes from Pat McDonell.


All while floating on the gentle Sea of Cortez near the famed Cabo Arch. A great way to start the morning, even if you do have to be at the dock at 6 a.m.! And, of course, Bulthuis and WON sales manager Chuck Buhagiar raffle off a bunch more Costas, t-shirts, buffs and accessories (many of which are laid out for first grab). Best of all, tickets for the party were just $30 apiece each day, and all the proceeds went to Smiles International.


Then you wait while others fish. Better get to the scales early, grab a cold one and get a good spot. The big fish come in early and late. Epic numbers of cow yellowfin put on a great show this year.


Thursday night after the weigh-in it was off to Maria Corona restaurant, Baja Cantina’s downtown restaurant, featuring folklorico shows and Mexican cuisine.


It was the second time for the venue and Pat and the Maria Corona staff went all out to make sure there was plenty of seating, an easy way to get drinks and multiple buffet lines.


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THE TOURNAMENT BAR is the most popular spot on dry land. WON PHOTOS BY RICH HOLLAND

The floor show was fun and there was a great showing of the teams heavily invested in the Best Dressed contest, while it was also apparent that more than one team chose to get to bed early for the next day of fishing. Pat awarded the winning team — it was the Texas-based Reel Tuna Hookers — their certificate for free food at Baja Cantina for the 2018 (20th Anniversary) Tuna Jackpot and four $150 certificates for Fishworks clothing of their choice and more money was raised for Smiles International.


Friday night there wasn’t a party. Thank you, Pat.


Saturday night was the grand finale, the Western Outdoor News Cabo Tuna Jackpot Awards Dinner on the cruise ship dock, a beautiful venue right on the deep channel out to the Cortez. As that full moon rose over that fish-filled sea, mariachis played and attendees bid on Smiles International silent auction items like a trip for two to Kingfisher Charters in Sitka, Alaska, while Brian Solomon’s staff from his eponymous restaurant came through on his promise to deliver the best awards banquet food anyone has ever experienced.


The tournament winners were feted with checks totaling $677,300 and Dave Bulthuis finally figured out the three winners in the Show Us Your Costas! contest, almost. That is, the contestants were so good, Dave picked out a top winner, yet had to divvy up second place between two teams and then award a third place team as well! Team 69, the Reel Tuna Hookers, made it a major contest sweep with their team of chartreuse Costa body stocking anglers resembling a socially responsible hygiene choice, while Team 39 with their giant golden balloons that spelled out COSTA aboard the Vaquera and the Shark Heads of Team 45 split second, and Team 22’s Baby Face Costa crew claimed third.


One of the highlights of the evening was the premiere showing of a video shot during the event by Yo-Zuri’s Ray Gardner, pulling some prime drone footage and boat- and ground-level camera work from excursions before and during the event and putting it together in a short, fun piece.


Some of the footage came while on a successful striped marlin satellite-tagging trip with the Gray Taxidermy crew, a program which was explained by Gray’s Bill Dobbelear and his staff during the awards.


Then the tournament was over.


The party? It never stops in Cabo, and next year’s 20th Anniversary Tuna Jackpot party promises to be the best ever — just like this one was.


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