Eager teams began arriving mid-afternoon Aug. 4 for the Bisbee East Cape Offshore Captains’ Meeting, the Bisbee’s staff awaiting them at the check-in tables in the Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort dining room.
Until early evening, returning teams mingled with newcomers chatting and probing one another in a modified version of Where's Waldo? It boiled down to a variety of subtle – and not-so-subtle inquiries – about local conditions and where the best action might be. These questions were usually answered vaguely or perhaps honestly leaving both in doubt of the authenticity of their answers.
HOT ROD IS a 40-foot Cabo Flybridge, with Captain Eriberto Orozco at the helm, mate Ramiro Gonzalez in the ‘pit and Bob Garuvello the second angler.
Ken Matney, in his booth with a table laden with lures of every color and shape, was surrounded by anglers and crews alike. It was his suggestion, based on faith and experience, that fishing for blue marlin has always been best around high and low slack tides, and he vowed to keep track of the bites on "Catch Stat" and compare them with the tidal movement during the tournament.
Several locals volunteered that the blue marlin bite was wide open several weeks ago and seemed to unaccountably shut off recently. Discouraging news added to the recent poor showing of dorado and the disappearance of larger yellowfin tuna in the 50-mile radius in the tournament grid.
However, the crowd remained upbeat as Wayne Bisbee called the Captains Meeting to order welcoming the 61 teams and guests. “I’d like to thank everyone for participating and especially our host, the Valdez family and the Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort, as well Pelagic, Oilboom USA, Costa, National Car Rental, Sevenstar, American Fishing Wire/HI-SEAS and the remainder of our other great sponsors," Bisbee continued. He quickly reviewed the rules before announcing the total jackpots for the event would be approximately a half a million dollars for the first of the three 2015 Bisbee’s Baja tournament series.
Sixty one boats from the East Cape region, San Jose/Cabo San Lucas and other Mexican ports gathered at 7 a.m. Wednesday on the waters in front of the host Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort overlooking the Sea of Cortez.
The first day began with a roar as the boats at full throttle responded to the red flare streaking across the sky signaling the start. Quickly, the fleet divided directions between north and south.
ANGLER RANDY WICKWARD landed the second-heaviest and only other qualifying marlin, a 389-pound black, aboard the panga Ardilla Ciega, with Captain Gregorio Liera winning $11,049.
Throughout the day, Axel Valdez at Tournament Control fielded radio calls reporting hookups, losses, releases and catches of billfish and game fish. It was a slow day for both the billfish and game fish division with no billfish nor dorado weighed-in and only three qualifying yellowfin tuna.
Esteves, entered in the game fish jackpot aboard the Gaviota, brought in the first tuna exceeding the 40-pound minimum to the scale: a 57.6-pounder caught on squid.
Local tuna wiz Don Whittier, a frequent winner in this category, along with his teammate Gonzalo Castillo aboard the North Star, weighed in a 56-pound yellowfin and team Hook-up brought a 51-pound yellowfin to the scales.
Day two was more of the same except the tuna were fatter. Captain Carlos Beltran, member of the North Star crew scored top daily honors with a 156-pound tuna on a squid that was hooked while the rest of the team was fishing live bait. It took just short of two hours to bring the to the side of the boat.
In the Release Division, Team Reel Quest released three blue marlin earning them 900 points and placing them at the top of that division going into the final day.
Two other tuna were also brought to the scales Thursday that met the 40-pound minimum. Rudolfo Lugue, fishing aboard Fintastic, weighed in a 62.9-pounder, while Erick Esteves on Gaviota landed a 68.8-pound yellowfin.
Friday finally delivered more blue and black marlin to the scale than tuna. A seasoned Bisbee’s team member, John Peelman on Hot Rod outlasted a stubborn 409-pound blue marlin to take the largest prize of the event.
They were down to their last live tuna and had it on a downrigger, 70-feet down off San Luis when the strike came. With line slowly coming off the spool Peelman wasn't sure what they had hooked. And then suddenly the blue marlin broke the surface and went greyhounding toward the horizon.
TEAM FISHERMAN, Captain Jose Cosio, 170.3-pound yellowfin, $60,470 for the Day Three Daily and overall tuna prize money.
“That fish was a tough SOB and put up a good battle. We had it to leader eight or nine times before we could get a flying gaff into it and drag it onboard the 40-foot Cabo Flybridge,” Peelman reported.
Hot Rod had Capt. Eriberto Orozco at the helm, mate Ramiro Gonzalez in the ‘pit and Bob Garuvello was the second angler.
After the weigh-in, Peelman and his friend Bob Garuvello sweated out four other fish coming to the scales. The next fish was only 20 pounds shy of tying Peelman's catch.
Angler Randy Wickward, a member of the well known "Tiger Spirit" team from Cabo San Lucas, captured the second-largest marlin for the week, a 389-pound black that was landed aboard Ardilla Ciega.
After fighting the fish and bringing it along side the panga, he assisted gaffing and hauling the huge fish on board.
In an unfortunate turn of events, Wickward, 53, collapsed and fell to the deck and could not be revived by his teammates. Bisbee related that Wickward had told his "Tiger Spirit" teammates that he wanted to win the Bisbee ECO tournament on his own boat with them. His dream was to be on his own small boat, not a big sportfisher. He passed away after the fish was gaffed; at that moment, they were in first place, fulfilling his dream. There was a heartfelt round of applause as Trish Bisbee announced the fish’s weight.
Before the scales were officially closed at 7 p.m., there were four other under-sized marlin weighed that didn’t make the 300-pound minimum.
Pocket Aces missed the qualifying mark by two pounds. Hook-Up, Rehab and the tournament sponsor team from National Car Rental Company also weighed marlin.
Confirming my recent column, "Dorado Done Disappeared" no qualifying dorado (30 pounds) made it to the scales during the entire event.
Leaving tuna to dominate the game fish division, well-known big-tuna pangero Agustin Pino on Fisherman found the largest one overall, a 170.3-pound yellowfin while soaking a live skipjack over the Gordo Bank in a tug of war that only lasted 10 minutes on100-pound line.
• John Peelman and Team Hot Rod owner from Fresno, California, 409-pound blue marlin, $366,531.
• Team Fisherman with Captain Jose Cosio; 170.3-pound yellowfin, $60,470 for the Day Three Daily and overall tuna prize money.
• The two other tuna daily jackpots, which paid out $34,850 each, were split between Team Tres Amigos (Erick Esteves, 57.6-pound yellowfin) and Team North Star (Gonzalo Castillo, 156-pound yellowfin). Both fish were caught on squid.
• Angler Randy Wickward landed the second-heaviest and only other qualifying marlin, a 389-pound black, aboard the panga Ardilla Ciega with Captain Gregorio Liera; $11,049.
• Go Deeper Top Release Team, Captain Javier Alejandro Abaroa, skipper.
• Team Reel Quest (Captain Ty Valli) 2nd release team
• El Chupacabra (Captain Jesse Scarborough), 3rd release team
Totals: 62 billfish were caught by the 61 boats fishing the 2015 ECO, including 40 blue marlin, 13 stripers, five sailfish and four blacks. Ten yellowfin tuna were also brought to the scales.
The total purse in this year’s event, which was sponsored by Pelagic High Performance Offshore Gear, was nearly $508,000.