Pat McDonell's Blog

WONews Column by Pat McDonell

Pat McDonell is the Editorial Director of Western
Outdoors Publications and has fished and hunted all over the world, from Brazil’s famed peacock bass waters to Morro Bay for albacore.

A graduate from San Diego State University in Journalism, he coordinates the staffs of the weekly newspaper and magazine. He was a founding member of United Anglers of SoCal. He’s an avid saltwater and freshwater angler and hunter. He is also the director of the annual Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Tournament held each November in Cabo.  McDonell, 52, is married with two daughters and resides in Carlsbad.

Hitting the Cabo Curveballs
If someone told me seven weeks ago that the 15th annual Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Tournament that I direct would attract 131 teams, give away $511,000 in prize money to eight teams, would avoid another hurricane and raise $50,000 in charity to rebuild charter crews’ homes I would have said this: Why not?

On Sept. 14 the biggest hurricane ever to hit Cabo reduced the place to rubble, and all the planning for the event over 10 months, all the projections for a 150-team field the most prize money ever – were tossed out the window. It was plan B. As it turned out, it emerged as Plan A + when all the forces of generosity and cooperation that often accompany disaster bring people together.

THE FLARE GUN START — After all the threats of weather, no flare gun cartridges, no available start boat in Cabo after the storm — ended up being a perfect official beginning of two great days of fishing. The field climbed to 131 teams, and eight of them won $511,200. PHOTOS BY DANNY MATTHEWS

The Nov. 21 issue will have a supplement devoted to the event, and the websites will have a lot of gallery pictures, hundreds, eventually posted. But the bottom line is this: Every curveball tossed at the event was knocked out of the park. It was partly nature giving us all break finally when Hurricane Vance had its legs cut off by wind sheer and cold water. The threat of rain and wind – and even a direct hit on Cabo — was very real two days before.

Let me just say, cancellations were few and far between, and many more teams actually tried the event for the first time to support the area and keep people working. We had 135 teams in 2013, and even after the hurricane and cancelled and rerouted flights for everyone, we were signed up 131, just 4 teams off. Most people predicted we would have 90 to 100 teams. No way. I thought 120 was possible, a huge success.

THE “FAT FARMERS” TEAM OF BART SCHOFIELD and gang of happy anglers on the Bob Marlin won some bucks for the second year in a row, $107,600, with a day 1 yellowfin of 181 pounds that took the first three tuna optionals.

The key thing here to mention is this: So many people came through on so many levels here in the U.S. and Mexico to make the event run smoothly. Sponsors, staff, volunteers, and the anglers on teams themselves. The regularly chartered Cabo Escape start boat could not get out of Mazatlan as planned. The Cabo Mar, another beautiful ship, was asked for help and literally donated the boat both days so we could have a stable ship for staff and dignitaries and for the charity charter on the second day that drew 130 people.

We had great fishing, several fish close to 200 pounds and one 293 pounder by the Dona Meche that was the fourth biggest tuna in the event’s history.

We set records in smiles, volunteering and thank yous and donations, eventually raising $50,000 for rebuilding at least 15 charter crewmen’s homes destroyed or damaged by the hurricane. Staffers, including this writer, went on trips into the devastated areas to help relief workers distribute food, medicine, shoes. It was disturbing and emotional. It’s how commitment and compassion are forged. You can’t ever forget that good people live in such conditions, made 10 times worse by not having a window or a roof.

So, yes, it was a lot more than fishing this year. More than just money and partying. If you get a chance, click on the slide show on You Tube ( I did. It is a tribute to Cabo’s rebuilding. It can be easily found on the Facebook page link at

On the rebound
At this point I’m in Cabo San Lucas with a stop­over in La Paz for a day of fishing with Jonathan and Jill Roldan’s Tailhunter operation. In total, I’ll be there nine days to direct the WON/Yamaha Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot, now in its 16th year.


This was the year it was to rise to record money and a field of 150 teams, up from 135 teams last year as the numbers have climbed in the past five events. Climbing out of the recession hole was daunting, but slowly the economy was taking hold. People were coming back, feeling safe. Airline tickets were dropping in cost.

Then nature at its most violent and capricious took its best shot and Baja took a beating with the full frontal brunt of a hurricane followed by national media focusing on the three days of desperation before the military arrived with another army of technicians for another full frontal attack. This “attack” being the rebuilding and cleanup and humanitarian efforts that has brought the tourism region back to life.

The effort was fast, efficient, staggering in its speed and scope. Our state and federal government agencies would still be arguing over who should go in while governors whined about bureaucracy, begging for tied-up federal funds.

The media has moved on. There’s no budget for feel-good stories and real journalism any more. The web lives on forever, sadly, unlike newspapers that eventually line bird cages and are tossed with the weekly trash as fresh news replaces it. Websites remain packed with thousands of photos of the devas­tation. Try to find one that shows the result of the cleanup.

A writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune who covers Mexican-American relations wanted a quote from me about the disaster and our tournament plans, but we never connected at deadline. But when I suggested a story about how the region is rebounding and that we and others didn’t abandon Cabo and cancel the tourney, I never heard from her. Misery loves company and it pays the bills.

If she cared to “investigate,” a month after hurricane Odile, we are holding the biggest tuna tourney in the world and a hell­uva lot of people, amazingly, are coming to Fish Hard and Party Harder and likely be in a generous mood to help local fishermen — captains and crews, as they rebuild their homes. The hurricane was a surprise. Most residents of Cabo are new arrivals in the last 10 years. They had never seen a direct hurricane and did not think it would hit. None had in recent history.

Most residents and tourists had thought the worst wasn’t so bad when the eye came over and winds subsided. Then the violent back end of Odile whipped the San Jose del Cabo region, and winds reached 160 mph in mere seconds. It was like a bomb going off, which is why you see video of tourists running for cover in hotels after going outside and saying, ”Hey, that wasn’t so bad.”

There’s a ways to go. Several jet engine generators are still providing power in some regions until transfer towers and thousands of power poles are installed. But lights are on. Signals are being repaired, debris being carried away. Stores are open. The mud flows through homes shoveled away. Hotels are open at about 60 percent capacity with some, a few, in the San Jose del Cabo area, staying closed through the year. Few people are coming down to that region anyway.

On our end, our expectations for one of the biggest events — and the most lucrative in its history — have been tempered. But our tourney’s slot in the schedule, a week after Bisbee’s, proved to be fortuitous, giving the area more time to heal and flights to resume.

Of course, we took a big hit. There were damaged boats, flights were cancelled, we lost some Florida and Canadian teams, but we will be over 100 teams, maybe even 110 to 130 as people jump in. You never know, but the phone is ringing. The last-minute surge is heartening. It really is. The decision to forge ahead was never questioned, and believe me, we had a lot of “input” as the images came in from the storm areas. The usual comment was, “Hold off on the tournament, let Cabo heal.”

Cabo heals best when people are fishing, golfing, dancing and drinking. We never considered bailing out. And what kind of message would that have been to Cabo and its leaders, our supporters who depend on tourism? (Sammy Hagar, are you listening, you lousy bum?) So, yeah, we are ecstatic and a little proud — of ourselves, of Mexico, and our fishermen and sponsors. Not one attending sponsor cancelled.

Amazingly money in the optionals is very close to last year, meaning we lost some basic entry teams but few of the real high stakes players.

This has been a crazy year, but you learn who your buddies are when things go south. There is a benefactor or “patron” in Cabo who is buying entries for Cabo tournaments to get more charterboats on the water. He forked over 30 base entries of $1,500 or something like that for the 2-day “Baby Bisbee’s” so they had a nice field of 81, and another 50 entries at $5,000 a pop for their Black and Blue 125-boat field over three days. That’s 210 charter days over five days he contributed to the economy at a personal cost of almost $300,000.

He’s offering the same deal in our event, and it might generate some more teams. Again, his identity is unknown to me and he does not want any publicity, and I am honoring that request. So far, the interest in a free team entry of $800 — and being in a random drawing for an $800 a day charter boat, is drawing mild interest. It is obviously not the same as a $5,000 freebie and a chance for the average Juan to whip the guys in their yachts.

Backstory on that deal for the Black and Blue is that one of those 50 charter boats won the tourney last week and donated its $258,000 in winnings to a local orphanage, Casa Hogar. As usual, a big bucks team, Team Sporty, that competes each year and was across the board at $60,000, won most of the money, $1.6 million. Congrats to those guys who sit at the high stakes table.

But the real bottom line is that the tournament went on and captains and crew were fishing, hotels had people in them, jets were flying, bait was being sold, and Cabo inched forward toward a feeling of normalcy.

We hope to continue that effort, and while drinking, fishing, dancing, eating and meeting good friends we see each year — Mexican and American alike — we will be raising money to help the local fishermen rebuild their homes. It feels good to be a part of something like this, year after year. If you want to see some results and photos, go to our Facebook page through (look on the right and just click) and also where we will be updating the Cabo Tuna Jackpot blog each day.

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Pat McDonell is editor of WON and directs the Cabo, Catalina, and San Diego jackpot tournaments. He can be reached at

Cabo airport ready, but are airlines
High expectations, airport photos


The Mexican government may have overdone themselves. The expectations are pretty high in terms of attracting tourists after what is likely the most destructive center-punch hurricane in Baja’s history. Other Category 4 hurricanes may have slammed in the tip of Baja, but no one lived there or cared in the U.S. and the internet didn’t exist to bring back the images and tales of destruction.

The airport before and after

Let’s face it, Cabo and the East Cape are in hurricane country, and in the first days of Americans fishing the region, NO ONE from the U.S. went there, The “fishing rancheros as they were called in the 60’s and 70’s before they transformed into hotels and resorts, closed up for the summer. Too hot, too dangerous.

But, the region is now developed, there is an international airport with two terminals that deliver tourists and goods like a conveyor belt with full flights. There’s Home Depots, Costcos, and luxury oceanfront resorts like the Westin that sits high and straight to the south and had no geographical or design buffer. Just a helluva lot of windows. The workers of Mexico, coming to Cabo for wages, lived in houses that with a huff and a puff and they were losing roofs, windows, doors, walls, and mud from the hills and dirt roads would flow through them.

The storm ended, the looting started, the Mexican president saw his second biggest tourist destination and its approaching tourist season of cruise ships, time shares and big-game fishing tournaments going the way of New Orleans. The army arrived. The work was done so fast it seemed like the army of workers and soldiers and residents and hotel workers had worked miracles. They did.

But some areas were not hard hit. The East Cape lost power, but the road was opened quickly after repairs, power was resored and now there are expectations for the airlines to step up and get the tourists back down and quick cancelling flights.

Mark Rayor is well-known in the East Cape. He came down to retire, built a home on the beach, won one of the first East Cape Bisbee’s marlin events and built a pool where he certified divers, including this writer. He and his wife Jennnifer are the real deal. But he’s out of the dive business now and is successful in Jen Wren Sportfishing, and while Cabo and the East Cape have power and roads and cell service and full stores, the flights aren’t coming. Facebook is full of posts with pictures of oceanfront hotels and patios with tables and place settings, locals fishing and catching fish, using any means to get the word out.

“Hurricane Odile is old news now and thanks to the Mexican government and the hard-working people of Baja the best part of the mess it made has been cleaned up,” wrote Rayor in his regular blog. “Yes, there was impact that will take more time for some things to get back to normal but a huge percentage of the businesses that serve our tourist trade in Los Cabos are ready to rock and roll.

“What has impacted many of these businesses most is the closure of SJD airport. Yesterday (Oct. 3) the airport opened for domestic flights but won't open until the 8th for international. With SJD closed for more than two weeks La Paz airport is the only option to fly here. The problem with that is no direct flights are offered from the U.S., so travelers have to get to San Diego and make their way across the border to Tijuana or fly through Mexico City or Guadalajara to get to La Paz. Whichever route you choose, it is just not easy and then there is the two-hour taxi ride to Los Cabos. That is not to mention what an armpit the La Paz airport is.”

Rayor said the airlines posed as the good guys in the evacuation, but he has a different view.

“Alaska and Southwest made a huge deal and tooted their horn about the humanitarian flights they provided to evacuate stranded tourists out of Cabo. I say big whoop! They brought them in, and in my mind, had some duty to jump in and help get them out. Once the evacuation was over Alaska showed their true colors and suspended all flights to Los Cabos until November. Other airlines have jumped on the bandwagon canceling flights throughout October. Now Alaska has thrown Los Cabos a bone, offering one flight a day from Los Angeles, but San Diego and all other destinations are still cancelled.


MARK RAYOR: Going fishing. There's fish, power, food -- just need fishermen and airlines are slow to react after a quick airport turnaround, offering expensive milk runs, but the situation will ease by November.

Rayor is correct in saying the bulk of Los Cabos economy is tourist driven, and it’s true that everybody is choking, holding up their hands and saying, “Hey, it’s all good.” Fact is, flights were cancelled and plans were changed, first because of the storm itself, then the wave of flight cancellations by most of the airlines brought on by – get this – people calling to cancel. Enough did on each flight to cause the airlines to cancel. Alaska just wanted to cut and run, and didn’t see much work being done on the terminal it flies out of, so it cancelled all flights, but the airline was assured the airport would be ready. So, the one daily flight was added. Politics.

Larry Edwards of Cortez Yacht Charters said 190 employees of an Idaho firm treating their employees to a Cabo fishing vacation were told their late October flights were cancelled, no refunds. Book later, they were told. He said he wasn’t sure the group would be coming now with all the confusion. Tickets have been paid for but rebooking for many has been frustrating with flights looking like bus routes with several stops. My buddy Bill had his La Paz trip through SJDC cancelled. No refund, just rebook later. His friend bailed out and he wasn’t too excited about going alone to La Paz out of Tijuana. So he cancelled. He’ll just wait until he goes to the Cabo Tuna Jackpot the end of this month to compete again. Spirit hasn’t cancelled his Oct. 31st flight, and they cancel all the time, so that’s a good sign.

No one thought Cabo could come back so soon, especially the airlines. A friend’s 50-person birthday party for the 80-year-old patriarch in mid-October was cancelled by Alaska, so they rebooked to Puerta Vallarta to use the tickets. It’s sad, and it’s business. Light loads on flights lose money. Do airlines have an obligation to fly half-filled flights, or build slowly? 

“If they can't fly full they are just canceling flights,” said Rayor. There is also the issue of higher ticket costs. “Few tourists are here so the first planes in will have to deadhead back empty. The airlines would rather just cancel flights and drop the good people of Los Cabos on their heads, cutting off their lifeblood until a fat profit can be made.”

The situation will slowly improve. Cruise ships are coming back, the road is clear and repaired, but few will drive it. Not in the numbers the East Cape and Cabo need to survive. Cruise ships are gold right now.

“For Christ sake, yesterday a cruise ship made port in Cabo and the airlines don't want to fly. I know in time this will become a distant memory but hope this writing will remind some how poorly the airlines treated us.”

It has been a difficult time. Tragic. But expectations are extremely high after the government brought the region back to life, but let’s face it, the real lifeline to Cabo is the airlines and it will take a while for the patient to fully recover. 

Pat McDonell is editor of WON and directs the Nov. 5-8 Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Tournament. He can be reached at


mexico to create a sportfishing website
to clarify regs, paperwork 

Mexican tourism and fisheries officials have agreed to create an all-inclusive sportfishing website that would enable anglers too find out the latest information on regulations, to buy sport fishing license, to learn what current regs are being enforced and what they are, and for fishermen to be able to buy the highly unpopular and unnecessary cmm before traveling by boat into Mexico. 

The website will reportedly take about a month to be created. The action is in response to complaints that Americans are yes, quite grateful to have the right to fish in Mexican waters, but the requirements and regulations are so confusing and there are so many clunky, unworkable websites required to obtain permits and licenses that it is causing fishermen to either skip fishing in Mexico -- particularly the Coronados, or just fish there  illegally in waters of Baja Norte under the confusing regulations.

It remains to be seen if Mexico is capable of pulling this off. That is to say, can they create a website that English speaking Americans will understand, in simple, clear language,  and is easy to use. So far, Mexico has relied on Mexican companies to create websites and they are clunky and unresponsive and downright confusing right from the start because they are written by those who speak fluent English but it is, still, their second language.  Just my opinion. 

The FMM looks to be something that is the most confusing to obtain and the most restrictive -- and the most unnecessary of all sport fishing paperwork.  A website will be welcome tool to get all the information and all the permits so we can fish the Mexican waters inside 12 miles from land or islands on charter boats, sport boats or private boats, but the proof is in the pudding.

As someone who assisted and directed  a popular Ensenada tournament for more than a decade only to see it peter out due to the long border lines, fear of driving Mex. 1 (now not an issue) and the FMM requirement, I would ask the Mexican government to drop the FMM requirement. It's useless, serves no purpose that I can see. Certainly it does not curb the transportation of illegal aliens and drugs by small fishing skiffs and sport boats -- because it has never happened.  

Anyway, the website is coming, and hooray. Any improvement is better than what we have now.  Since the FMM came out, I have not fished the Coronados in my own skiff but ONE time after averaging four or five trips a year, and I cancelled the Ensenada tourney in 2012 because of the long border lines (our fault) and that FMM travel visa  that chased away all the U.S. teams. I replaced it with a Mission Bay tourney. 

Speaking of border lines, they are now about 15 minutes long due to expansion of the customs booths. I went through on Monday on the way back from a Cedros Island trip and I had hardly time while waiting 15 cars back from the booth when I stopped to grind down the vendors for a couple of  big Mexican flags that I need for the Cabo Tuna Jackpot in November.  It will be great for commerce between the two countries. 

Here is a good, "hopeful" story by the San Diego Union-Tribune today about the new website's expected arrival. 

Blue marlin, wahoo. Yes, indeed . . .
The fantastic exotics bite has a few new twists as we exit Labor Day and start heading to fall, and we all knew this kind of thing was going to happen, and now it has. Wahoo have entered our locals waters, and so have blue marlin, pushed up by the massive south swell and warm waters from Hurricane Marie and our current warm water condition.

The area yellowfin has spread and thickened in SoCal waters. The 209 was wide open today. Limits of 25 to 30 pounders at gray light. If you had bait, you were gonna slay ’em. But now we have some real exotics coming up from down south.


IT WAS A RARE wahoo catch for SoCal on the Joker last Saturday, as the wahoo slammed a trolled Rapala rigged without wire, and the 50-1-pound ‘hoo was weighed in at the Balboa Angling Club.

The first wahoo of the season, after reports of cut-offs for a few weeks, was weighed in at 50.1 pounds by the Joker, a private boat with a great rep, and J.D. Doughty of J.D. Big Game Tackle on Balboa Island was in on the good info from the start via radio while this reporter was flying back from Alaska. I couldn’t tell the airlines to hurry and get me to the O.C. any faster Saturday, so J.D. was there at the weigh-in at the Balboa Angling Club and sent me the info and a few photos from the boat and the weigh-in on Saturday afternoon. Then J.D. said there was more big news of the warm-water front. A blue marlin was spotted and videotaped Saturday, in the local banks area just off Oceanside.

“Let's throw more gasoline on the fire — if it's hot now — stand by not only will you have to start trolling Marauder wahoo lures — better break out the bent butts,” said J.D. who is on the radio all day and posts what he hears and knows on the Mexico (Cabo and up) and SoCal big game scene from his shop. “Positive ID on a 600- to 700-pound and maybe bigger blue marlin off the 312 Fathom spot just outside Oceanside.”

Now for the wahoo on the Joker. The first we have confirmed proof of, even if all those slashed lines weren’t enough evidence. Here’s J.D.’s take, as he wrote it on the e-mail.

“So Eric Kim hadn't put any of the yellowfin tuna they had hooked on the deck, lost three, running between spots of fish up they trolled an X-Rap 20 goes off. His friend says you take it, it's yours thinking it's maybe a dorado. He's on, George at the wheel. He sees the line take a heavy plunge, so it's a healthy fish. Take your time. No idea for sure what it is. Eric's an experienced angler and gets the fish to the boat. #@%&*%$#@!@1#3 …a few words are discussed. Don't lose it at the gaff! It goes in and over the rail. Unbelievable, a wahoo 28 miles out of Newport below and inside the 276/ 279 fathom spot (outside Dana Pt.) water was blue and nice, on Calstar Rod GFGR 756XL with 60-pound mono and a Rapala XRap -20 sardine! Congrats. I don't recall anyone ever catching a wahoo here before! 50.1 pounds.”


THE JOKER ANGLERS celebrate a rare SoCal catch.

Two days later, on Monday, I got a nice last-minute text report from Eric Kim himself before the paper was put to bed. Thanks Eric! Here’s his report:

“Went out on the Joker with my buddy Zach along with our skipper George, Brett, Collin, and Ted on Saturday. Hung out and by sunrise we found some fish that wanted to play.. The guys caught some nicer grade yellowfin, a yellowtail, couple nice dorado throughout a few hours while I was trying to get some fish on the popper. A lot of nice blow-ups but no stickers! As the bite started to die, George decides to make a move And as were trolling and the beast decides to bite, a blind jig strike on the Rapala!! Zzzzzz grab the rod to pull on something finally and I'm grinding this thing to kill it quick (I thought it was just a lone dorado that was hungry) and didn't feel too heavy at the initial strike/fight so I was about to just put it in full, but then I felt the weight and decided to just leave it alone.

“Soon enough we got it to color. Saw the stripes and the torpedo-shaped body and all screamed WAHOO!!! Everything went as smooth as butter. Kept our composure as we tried to get it to gaff. Took two nice quick runs and within a few minutes Zach and Ted connected with a beautiful gaff shot! Boom! 50.1-pound hoo in the boat! Stoke overload. Can't thank my buddy Zach and George and the rest of the guys enough for such an awesome fish of a lifetime! Definitely one for the books.”

The Joker’s fish was taken to Scripps Institute in La Jolla to inspect the stomach contents. There were reports of another caught that day, but I could not confirm it, and one was lost at the gaff when it chewed through the line. No question about it, it’s now clear after numerous cut/bust-offs and now this, there are a fair number of wahoo in our local waters. Might be time to crimp on some wire leader for trolling at the tuna grounds.

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Pat McDonell is editor of WON. He can be reached at

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