The visual of making sausage is not pretty. You have to admit, it tastes good, but some things should not be divulged. In the case of a fishing tournament like the Cabo Tuna Jackpot, the back stories of preparation for the event are not only suitable for human consumption, but quite compelling.
Take the beginnings of the event, now in its 15th year. The concept started with a call to Kit McNear who was our Fishing Schools Director and tournament guy. I was a mere editor who often tagged along and covered the SoCal and Baja events he put on. I also covered Bisbee’s for three years, and one year Kit and I competed in the Bisbee’s as a team withy John King and Dennis Braid on King’s Afishinado.
When I saw the “opening,” I called.“Now that Aero California is bankrupt, let’s do a tournament in Cabo,” I said to Kit. “Like Bisbee’s, with lower-priced optionalsand a lower entry fee.”
You see, the airline, based in La Paz, forbade us from doing a Baja tourney anywhere but La Paz. We lost the sponsorship, and with it the Yellowtail Shootout tourney, but we gained freedom. Kit wanted a wahoo tourney originally, I wanted a tuna tourney, and Joe Higgins, then our marketing and sales director, opposed the tuna idea, and against my wishes bid for a marlin tournament with the Cabo Hotel Association. They picked Dan Jacobs and Marlin magazine to run their event. I couldn’t have been happier.
CRUCIAL TO THE success of the event is the involvement of local supporters such as Tracy Ehrenbery of Pisces Sportfishing (in all-white) on the left of Cabo dignitaries. Among them is the mayor, who is preparing to shoot off the flare the first day of fishing.
There were too many marlin events, and why compete with Bisbee’s? Everyone at WON agreed and after a lot of groundwork here in the U.S. and in Mexico, our first tuna tourney in 1999 drew 112 teams.
That shocked a lot of people. Bob Smith of Minerva’s Tackle was the first to congratulate us when we got down there and went over the 100-team mark. “Congratulations, Bob said. “I never thought you’d draw that many, but you did.” The back story on that comment is that this year, Bob won the tourney with his buddies on Dick Landfield’s Reel Quest. The other connection to 1999 is that the same guys on the Estrella Del Mar that won the first-ever tourney with a 218.9-pound yellowfin, won this year’s wahoo/dorado optional the first day. They won more money, $46,000, for taking that first-day optional than they did as the ’99 champs 15 years ago. This past week, that 24-foot center console Koi Sushi set a yellowfin record for Cabo, a 386 pounder. Those boys know the Gordo!
The key to any tournament is consistency and commitment to details. And a vision. I wanted a fishing tournament that was a team event, was affordable and one wrapped around the nightlife of Cabo and one that snapped up just about every decent charter boat.
There have been some ups and downs. Mostly ups, though. It has draw as many as 186 teams, and as few as 106. It has grown the past four years as the economy has improved and Canadians have discovered they can extend their “summer” and fishing season.
We’ve made some mistakes, for sure. One year we held the weigh-in on the beach because the old Hotel Hacienda management wanted it there. Not smart, and we were lucky no one got hurt and the swell was manageable while transferring fish.
“Never again!” said Kit.
The Calcutta/optional format has always paralleled Bisbee’s. Just fewer days (two to their three) and less entry money. It’s no secret we put as much emphasis on fun, which rankles the hard core fishing guys. After the first year, I convinced to Kit to drop the IGFA rules. Fine for world records, but not for tournaments. The marlin guys raised their eyebrows and called them “jungle” rules, but believe me, there’s still a bunch of them, and they are enforced. Bisbee’s this past year also dropped the strict IGFA rules after three decades, keeping the ones like leader length and dropping the one about no one EVER touching the main line. Making that change would have avoided many a nasty controversy, but what is done is done in that department.
Bob, Wayne and Tricia Bisbee helped us start the event, giving us a booth at their check-in to promote our first tourney. Good people, that family, and I won’t soon forget their help.
The key to any event in Mexico is bringing money to the economy and making sure every aspect is approved by the many agencies and making all local teams feel welcome.It has to be fun, and, there must be a charity aspect to it. It started with an auction of a Chuck Byron painting, and its grown to be a significant part of the event as people just want to help, and contribute. Over the years we’ve raised $200,000 for children’s charities in Cabo and La Paz.
I’m never quite sure how people perceive me as the “director.” They primarily see me as the emcee, but rest assured, I’ve been involved in the beginning, either as a co-director with Kit, or the sole director now for five years. But there is an army of people working on it. Graphic artists, accountants, sales reps, marketing people, staff in Cabo and in the U.S. who make it happen each year, and sponsors who come down and add elements to the event. And, my boss Bob Twilegar who gives me a pretty much free reign to put the thing on even as he sifts through a ream of invoices. It takes money, lots of it, to put on something like this.
Indeed, it was a great event this year. Nine days in Cabo and I was sad to get on the plane knowing it was all over, that I won’t be seeing friends in Cabo — and the tournament team — for a long time. I’m not sure who has more fun — the staff and sponsors or the teams. Not everyone can win, but anyone can have fun.
The planning of the event goes on year-around, and yet it’s not always perfect on how it turns out, but we had some great times and we adapted. A sponsors and staff party the day before (karaoke and dancing broke out), two flare gun starts of 135 boats at the famed Cabo arch, and a charity charter on the official start boat Cabo Escape for non anglers that second fishing day, complete with mimosas, Bloody Marys, food and a deejay (yes, there was a conga line!). There was the annual Friday Fiesta dinner for 500, a gala awards dinner for 600, and two weigh-ins on the malecon with massive crowds.
And, in keeping with the motto of the event “Fish Hard, Party Harder,” there was one night on the town at Cabo Wabo with a big group of us. It was, I must admit, painfully fun. This was a physically demanding tourney. I’m a pretty healthy 59, but I was recently shocked to find I have to replace both hips, but it’s amazing how two shots of Patron reposado takes the pain away. The next day? Let’s not talk about it.
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Pat McDonell is editor of WON and directs three saltwater jackpot tournaments in Catalina, San Diego and Cabo. Reach him at email@example.com.