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CALIFORNIA'S ONLY SPORTSMAN'S NEWS SINCE 1953

Pat McDonell's Blog



EDITOR'S NOTES /
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.

Bluefin bite topped by Hi-Count's 243 Saturday
Team Digiuseppe scores three cows to 243 pounds

 

As we headed in Saturday (yesterday) on the Josie Lynn six-pack charterboat after a fantastic  day of buefin fishing on a WON charter, I checked my emails and there it was, a note from Alex Romans, a familiar name to me  as I direct the Cabo Tuna Jackpot in November


FROM LEFT, TOM AND SCOTT Digiuseppe, Alex Romans and Bob Riddle with the 243 pounder that hit a Yo-Zuri popper on Saturday aboard the Hi-Countjust west of the Rockpile. They had three fish over 200, all hooked at the same time. Romans' fish was caught on a Daiwa Saltist reel, a 9-foot Calstar jig stick. It had 80-pound backing, 50-pound mono top shot and 80-pound Seaguar flouro leader. PHOTO COURTESY OF CAPT. JASON REESE, Hi- COUNT


“We’re coming into San Diego Bay with three cow bluefin,”  the email read.  To me, “cow” means 200-pound plus tuna. Three of them? I missed him at the dock as we got in later with our four bluefin to 75 pounds, but I got back to him on the cell phone and he sent me photos, then  I called him Sunday morning to get the details. Jason Reese, owner/operator of the Hi-Count by that time had sent me some pictures and a few details.


Romans, who lives in Central California in of Greenfield, finished third in the 2013 Cabo Tuna Jackpot and the next year his Dona Meche team  won it, so tuna is his game, so when he heard about the bluefin – the big bluefin in close range to San Diego, he got on the phone and booked the Hi-Count at Point Loma Sportfishing for Saturday out of San Diego. He knew the six-pack scene was the best bet on the poppers, so he and three friends brought the Yo-Zuri poppers he won at the Cabo tournament and headed south.


Joining him was Scott Digiuseppe and his brother Tom, from Canoga Park. He had met Scott on a 5-day trip out of San Diego years ago and they have become fishing and hunting buddies over the years. Also aboard was Alex’s friend, Bob Riddle, a family friend from the same Central California area. 


Romans  heard the best method was throwing poppers.


“I told Tom that a partyboat just wasn’t going to get it done, and we started looking for a charterboat,” said Roman, and knew the Hi-Count from being bathed next to his long range sport fisher of choice, the Indy, at Point Loma Sportfishing. Capt. Jason Reese  had a spot open. In fact, it was his first charter of the season.


What a way to start the season! The bite had been slow the previous day, Friday  right after the 5.2 earthquake, but yesterday the luefin  decided to go off, and went off close by.


“Today was our first trip of the season,” emailed  Capt. Reese, “and it was a special one. This action took place in easy range for a ¾-day trip. Team Digiuseppe did an awesome job, and so did our crew!”

 

How awesome? Four fish were caught, one by a crewman, but the first three – and the biggest -- were all hooked at the same time just west of the Rockpile south of the Coronados at 9 a.m. and were all 200-pound fish. All were hooked on the Yo-Zuri poppers that Romans had won in 2014 as part of a sponsored  tackle package provided to the winners of the Cabo Tournament. All three fish were caught on long 9-foot rods, small two speed reels and 50-pound  main line. 


“Catching those fish about killed us,” said Romans. “We can hardly move today.”


Scott had a 201 on an Avet HX and got in after 20 minutes as the plug was deep in the mouth, well back to the gill plate so that was good luck. Tom had a 210 pounder that was on the side of the gillplate and took longer, more than an hour, also on an Avet HX two-speed reel. Roman hooked his fish on the lower part of the jaw, and the Daiwa Saltist two-speed did the job, but the 9-foot rod and a powerful fish with the plus on the lower jaw kept him at the rail over hours. It weighed 243 pounds, making it one of the biggest – if not the biggest bluefin of the season.


It's still game on, folks.


Pat McDonell is editor of Western Outdoor News and directs the Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Tournament, Nov. 2-5, now in its 18th year. 



  

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Rockcod Rick all grown up
To say catching a 200-pound bluefin in local waters is special is an understatement. To say that it was caught on a 10-foot rod on a popper on 50-pound line is staggering. A rarity that occurred due to opportunity and preparation coming together for good fortune. Or luck, if you will. But little Rockcod Rick Maxa, now 34 years old and tackle manager and part owner of Fisherman’s Landing Tackle, is no longer that little kid who worked the switchboard, screening callers for Let’s Talk Hookup, Pete Gray’s radio show that airs Saturdays and Sundays.

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RICK MAXA WITH his 205-pound bluefin caught Monday, May 30 near the 302 spot 25 miles from Mission Bay on his 25-foot Parker Center Console. He used just 50-pound line over a 90-minute battle. It is a personal best bluefin.

He’s now the show’s long-time co-host, stepping in seamlessly when actor Marty Milner left the show due to health issues, and Maxa’s tackle knowledge gained over the years on the water as he was growing up and his immersion of big game fishing at the tackle shop has benefitted him on the two-hour radio shows as callers scour him for tackle advice.


And, of course, he’s a fishin’ fool on sportfishers, especially long range sportfishers, and now more than ever at the helm of his own boat, a 25-foot Parker center console he and fishing buddy Neil Barbour own together. Neil went out Sunday on the boat about 25 miles from Mission Bay’s Dana Landing while Rick was on the air and caught a 225-pound bluefin by casting a Halco Roosta popper. It was the first 200-pound bluefin of the season in SoCal. He was using 80 spectra to a 3-foot top shot of 100-pound Seaguar mono line on a Tallica 12 two-speed reel.


Maxa met him ion the dock at Mission Bay, and there was no way Maxa was going to ignore that intel, the challenge, and the unique opportunity to battle a 200-pound bluefin in local waters, just 20 to 25 miles away.


“For whatever reason that bigger fish had been biting early, so we left Dana Landing at 5:30 Monday morning and were in that general area, about 25 miles from Mission Bay,” said Maxa. “It looked fishy with birds and so we just stopped the boat and started looking.” Also aboard were Barbour, looking for another cow bluefin, Brandon Buono, who also works at Fisherman’s Landing , and friend Jesse McNeet of San Diego.


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NEIL BARBOURS’S 225 pounder from the day before on the Parker 25 center console. He used a Talica 12, with 80-pound spectra and a 3-foot Seaguar 100-pound top shot.


They pulled out the gyro binoculars and quickly spotted a bird school ¾ of mile away.


“When we saw the foamers we thought it was porpoise at first, but it was straight cow tuna, and we slid up on it,” said Maxa. “ Then we realized, ‘Oh boy, the shit is about to go down.’ There was a full sheerwater tornado, and I am not kidding, there were 150- to 250-pound tuna crashing into that big bait ball.”


Casting surface iron and Roosta poppers, all four anglers aboard the Parker hung four tuna at the same time. Two got spooled instantly, and two were going for about 30 minutes when one of the two got chewed off. The last man standing with a fish on was Maxa.


He was on the fish for 1½ hours before we sunk a gaff into it,” said Maxa. “There were spots of cows under the birds all in the area the whole time and I felt bad for the other guys, just watching me because the fish were breaking around us, and they all 200 to 250 pounders, and just out of range.”


Now, Maxa and the guys were amazed at how the tuna were so focused crushing the bait ball that they stayed feeding on it even after all four aboard got hooked up.


“You know how bluefin are always thought of as being skittish. But, they didn’t care one bit,” said Maxa. “ They were practically bumping the side of the boat.”


Maxa said he felt bad pulling on the fish for 90 minutes as tuna crashed around them, just out of casting distance, but in the end, “Everybody was attached to one at some point; the gear was just not having it.”


The real story is that the tackle Maxa was using was fine for yellowtail fishing, but cow bluefin? No way. He went over the 200-pound mark – 205 pounds to be exact, by fishing a Shimano Talica 12, filled with 60-pound Power Pro with a top shot of 50-pound Izorline XXX line. The rod was a 10-foot Ulua 93H.


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THE GROUP TAKES a picture at Dana Landing on the return from the battleground near the 302. The fuel dock in Mission Bay has a digital scale. The 205 pounder was the second 200-pound fish over two days, the first was the 225 by Neil Barbour, standing next to fish at right, then Maxa’s fish the next day.

The choice of rod and reel, and how it was spooled up, was planned ahead. You have to balance the ability to cast a surface popper like the 1¾-ounce Halco 135 Roosta popper, getting the lure out to the boiling fish, and then having the outfit that could handle the torque and hold enough line to stop such a fish.


“I have been spending quite a bit of time trying to make that combo work right, to be able to cast and have a reel capable of a big bluefin,” he said. He doesn’t like casting straight braid to a short leader. Too many breakoffs on casts. Mono is more forgiving on casts. One kink and a jerk, he said, and a 7-ounce jig will keep flying. So, he rigged it up with more than enough 50-pound top shot, cast it out from the Fisherman’s Landing dock at San Diego Bay and marked the amount of top shot at the reel, and reconnected it so the connection to the Power Pro was still a few spool turns away.


When they stuck the fish and brought it back to home base at Dana Landing Fuel Dock and weighed it, the group guessed the weight.


“No one wanted to say it would be over 200,” he said. “Both Neil and I said it was about 190 pounds. We may have thought it was close to being over 200 pounds, but no way were gonna say it. ” It was close but it registered 205 on digital scale, and the second 200 pounder was officially on the board for the season.

Then came Facebook, and texts. The phone has been ringing off the hook. Congratulations, of course. But….


“Every fishing buddy I didn’t know that I had has called me to find out what area we were in,” he said. “It really doesn’t matter. Those bird school fish move around.”


I did have a question, though, about that 1½ hours on the fish, on a 10-foot rod. How did he do it?


“We had the high bow rail installed by West Coast Marine for just that purpose,” said Maxa. “Neil and I are both long range fisherman, and we both fish that way (using the rail for leverage). But it was still a little crazy to catch a 80-pound tuna on that rod much less a 200 pounder. “


But of course, the guys had a choice when they saw the birds tornadoing and cow tuna crashing on the surface. But no way the lures were not flying into that mass of big bluefin.


“Come on, we’re fishermen. You are going to cast to that foamer no matter what.


It was absolutely wild. I can’t believe we caught the fish, such a beast.”


* * *

Pat McDonell is editor of WON. Patm@wonews.com


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THE 205 POUNDER was personal best for Rick Maxa, Let’s Talk Hookup radio show co-host, tackle manager and part owner of Fisherman’s Tackle. He caught it last Monday, May 30 on a trip out of Mission Bay.


The bluefin bug
It’s been a crazy month. And it will only get crazier as the summer kicks in for us. Like any fisherman, you get caught between what you have to do and what you want to do. Like fish for monster bluefin in local waters.

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THIS 61 POUNDER came on a slow-trolled mackerel at the 371 on 80-pound.

Now, in my case, I get lucky on occasion and two mix because of my job. But as the saying goes, you “never leave fish biting,” and traveling out of California has been frustrating. The bluefin bug is an epidemic. Just as the bluefin tuna kicked in April 1, I headed to Cabo to attend the first days of the week-long clinic for SmilesInternationalFoundation.org, the Cabo Tuna Jackpot Charity we raised $37,000 for last November.


Fifteen medical personnel for the U.S. joined volunteers from the Cabo Rotary Club for the 40 facial (mainly for cleft pallet) procedures on 20 Baja children over one week. All free. An amazing experience, and we videotaped it for a short presentation for the Cabo website and Smiles’ use as well. I even scrubbed in for a surgery. My fist time on that side of the operating table. Nice for a change. Plus, I am doing a feature on the Smiles work for the Cabo website and the annual tourney preview. This isn’t cosmetic surgery by itself. It’s saving lives, and there’s no better example of U.S. and Mexico cooperation. Better than building a Berlin wall any day.


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THIS CHILD, IN A BEFORE/AFTER PHOTO, was operated on six months ago.

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THE AUTHOR WAS “scrubbed in” for the Cabo Smiles clinic surgery. The clinic over one week in April provided 40 procedures on 20 children with facial deformities.

Fishing was horrible in Cabo the four days I was there, winds were biting cold, so I worked on the tourney, and tried to stay warm. Who brings a jacket to Cabo? April in Cabo can be damn cold, and I always forget.


I was back in the office the day after I returned to San Diego, and after getting that issue out, I was


Then it was back to San Clemente for three days (“Hi honey, bye honey!”) before I headed north for the trout opener and our 395 derby. I have a speeding ticket to prove it. The officer was very nice,. He asked if I knew how fast I was going, and I said, ”Not until I saw the lights and looked down and saw I was going 83.” He appreciated my candor and marked me for 75 mph. Traffic school here I come.


Four days at WON and I was gone again, this time to Florida’s Marco Island on the Gulf side for a writers trip hosted by Yo-Zuri, Navionics, Okuma, Cuda tools and Savage lures for two days of mangrove snook fishing, and a day offshore. I have to say, 35 miles of running into the Gulf and it’s no deeper than 75 feet, so give me SoCal and the 371 spot any day. Beautiful area, though.


There are amazing products coming down the line from these companies when the national tackle show ICAST comes to Orlando mid-July. A sneak preview is always fun, and necessary for me. Okuma is killing it this year. Just fantastic stuff from these companies. I was on the original list of seven writers from the U.S., but what the heck, 21 men and women were hosted when the cast of scribes kept expanding like a wedding list.


Meanwhile, the tuna kept biting. Squid was starting to show at the islands. I needed a trip for the bluefin. Facebook was filled with posts. Damn!


But then came last week; no chance to fish as I tried to catch up at work and home, and the call came Saturday morning on the way back from being on Let’s Talk Hookup radio to promote our events, particularly our 10-week WON Big Fish Challenge June 24-Sept. 5. The tuna were biting at the 302 on Thursday, said my buddy Floyd Sparks, who is “between boats” and eager to go. He was all-in if I could go, and wanted to bring his 12-year-old son, Dillon. We’d go hard after the bigger bluefin. Nothing less than 80-pound, 50 Avets and Okuma Makairas. The beef, as the bluefin were big, 60 to 100 and reports of fish to 170 pounds plus.


Given the kitchen permit by Lynda, we launched Sunday at Dana Landing in Mission Bay. Less holiday crowds, and as it turned out that unlike S.D. Bay’s receivers Sunday, MBay’s bait op at least had live bait, although that was to be chum, the bigger macks we ground out just outside the entrance over 1½ hours – 12 of the macks – were necessary and required. Bigger fish on bigger baits.


The weather cooperated, with little swell, 5-10 knot winds and we had the smallest boat out there, my 18-foot Robalo. It’s a small boat built like a 28 footer. So I feel safe on it, but you do take a beating and room is limited. While casting surface iron and FlatFalls had been working on previous days on the numerous bird schools and breaking bluefin on the 302 and 371 and even as close in at the Nine Mile Bank, we were after bigger tuna, and were geared for 200 pounders. We did not drop down, and we picked up one midday fish on the 8/0 circle hook/slow-trolled mackerel, that weighed 61 pounds on the digital. My first of the year. That’s all we got, despite massive amounts of fish. It’s a start. I’m on the bluefin board, thanks to Floyd. I’m also beat up as I write this, getting the paper out on Memorial Day. My center console 18-foot Robalo, as much as I love that boat, is not meant for 100-mile fishing days. Floyd agrees. But it won’t stop me from going again, even if it’s last-minute. I seem to have more success on the quick-decision trips.


The downside on this season is that the fish are in Mexican waters and the seiners were in the area, dragging their pens and getting ready to round up the smaller grade. I have to wonder, isn’t there a moratorium on commercial netting of bluefin? Apparently not. Money trumps conservation.


This week the play/work schedule continues, as I cover the Channel Islands Shootout this Thursday out of Ventura Sportfishing, and in two weeks I’m in Cabo again for meetings and looking over sites for the 18th annual Tuna Jackpot, and I’m no dummy. I’m fishing one day with Renegade Mike Tumbiero for, what else? Tuna.


If someone sees my wife, tell her I love her.


* * *

Pat McDonell is editor of WON and directs the Cabo Tuna Jackpot, slated Nov. 2-5, 2016. Patm@wonews.com


395 Big Fish Sierra Trout Opener derby hotly contested
Inaugural event attracts hundreds of anglers with big fish weighed in at four Sierra locations opening weekend; Allan Cole wins with a 9-pound, 9½-ounce brown

alancoleholdshis
ALLAN COLE HOLDS his 9-pound, 9½-ounce brown from Lower Twin Lake at the Bishop Visitors Park. He is shown with his son Eric Cole and 395 Derby Director Billy Egan and the first-place prizes, topped by a Gregor/Mercury package worth $10,000 WON PHOTO BY PAT McDONELL

BISHOP — Well-known Brownbagger and lure designer Allan Cole of Henderson, Nev., won the first annual WON 395 Big Fish Sierra Trout Opener derby, catching a 9-pound, 9½-ounce brown trout at Lower Twin Lake Saturday on a A.C. Plug to claim the top prize of a 15-foot Gregor/9.9 hp Mercury outboard package on top of an EZ Loader trailer worth $10,000. The derby areas eligible were all Lone Pine to waters north of Bridgeport.


Cole weighed it on Sunday afternoon at Rick’s Sports Center in Mammoth, driving south from Bridgeport to weigh it on the same scale as second place finisher John Montgomery’s 9-pound, 9-ounce rainbow from Convict Lake the previous day. Cole had weighed the brown trout Saturday at the Lower Twin marina, unofficially at 9 pounds, 9.7 ounces after he caught it Saturday.


“Knowing Montgomery’s fish held the lead at 9 pounds, 9 ounces, he wisely drove south on Sunday to get the fish on the same scale,” said derby director Billy Egan. “It was a smart move because the fish didn’t lose much weight, and got him first place by half an ounce.“


Cole, 74, was fishing with his 40-year-old son Eric and caught it at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in the middle of snow flurries and wind.


It was cold and snowing, he remembered, and when the rod went off in the holder he grabbed it and immediately knew it was a good fish. The AC Plug he designed with Owner treble hooks (“I love Owner hooks,” he said) was trolled 25 feet down on the lead core line.


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ALLAN COLE HAS made the heavyweight brown trout scene for decades. This opener, the Henderson, Nev. angler took the No. 2 opening day big fish spot, weighing in this 9-pound, 9½-ounce Lower Twin Lake catch that went for a trolled A.C. Plug lure in a kokanee pattern. ERIC COLE PHOTO

“The fish chase the schools of kokanee,” said Cole. “You target the kokanee and the big browns are with them.”


Cole knows big browns’ habits. He has 42 browns over 10 pounds, and had a 26 pounder from Paulina Lake in Oregon back in ’03, and in 1978, he got the biggest trout in Sierra opening day history, a 20 pounder on Lower Twin Lake. This fish that won the derby, narrowly missed becoming his 11th brown trout over 10 pounds at Lower Twin, although he admits he has not caught a 10-plus pound brown from Lower Twin in a decade. The drought continues, but he won the derby.


Besides the Gregor/Mercury package, the big brown also earned Cole a $200 Flambeau Warming Kit and a $200 Sierra Slammer plastics package. It was part a $15,000 total of prizes given away over the weekend by WON to five of the top derby anglers who competed Saturday and Sunday. All top-five anglers also earned a Cousins FSP703 7-foot spinning rod and an ­Owner hook package.


“Where do you guys get all this stuff?” asked Cole. Indeed, it was a mountain of high-end tackle that went to the top teams — the top-5 anglers overall, and the top-5 anglers at each weigh-in location.


The weigh-ins were conducted at four weigh centers both days, with Derby Central being Bishop City Park. The other three weigh areas were Rick’s Sports Center in Mammoth Lakes, Ernie’s Ski & Sports in June Lake, and Ken’s Sporting Goods in Bridgeport.


As anglers weighed in, the weigh stations recorded the catches and relayed them to Billy Egan in Bishop. Egan is the Freshwater Events Director at WON and is also the WON BASS Director.


“The derby was a big success for the first-time effort, and with a few adjustments can be bigger and easier for anglers to sign up on-site at the weigh stations as well as through WON and also the Internet,” said Egan. “We learned a lot and were thrilled with 250 entrants. I think we can have 1,000 people entering this next year, especially with the continued support of Sierra retailers.”


The second-place finisher by the narrowest of margins was John Montgomery of Bishop with a 9-pound, 9-ounce rainbow from Convict Lake, who won a $1,000 Sea Eagle Stealth Stalker inflatable package, a Cousins rod, Owner hook pack, plus a $500 Panther Martin lure pack, and $200 Flambeau Warming Kit. He could have used that Warmer Kit. The weather at Convict opening morning was frigid with snow flurries. He said he started fishing at 4 a.m. and just before dawn, on his friend Mike Alvarado’s boat at the lake inlet, his outfit was slammed. He was using PowerBait, a No. 16 treble and straight 6-pound line.


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JOHN MONTGOMERY OF Bishop with his 9-pound, 9-ounce rainbow caught at Convict Lake Saturday and weighed in at Rick’s Sports Center in Mammoth Lakes. He won a $1,000-value Sea Eagle Stealth Stalker inflatable boat, a Cousins rod and much more sponsors prizes seen in the photo with derby director Billy Egan. His 9-pound. 9-ounce rainbow from Convict took second place in the first annual 395 Big Fish Derby.

“It was a screamer,” he said. “He made at least four big runs. “It was a tough fish.” He credited his buddy, also an ex-Marine, with a great net job on a crazy fish.


Third place was taken by Glen McKenzie with a 7.3-pound rainbow from June Lake, who took home a $500 Rapala Lure Package, Cousins rod, Owner hook packs and a $200 Flambeau Warming kit.


Fourth Place was claimed by Vulfrano Perez of Petaluma, who caught a 6-14 rainbow on a Rapala from Lower Twin Lake, Bridgeport. He won a $500 Rooster Tail package from Yakima Baits and a $200 Warming Kit from Flambeau, plus the Cousins rod and Owner hook pack.


Fifth place was won by Mike Moniz of Discovery Bay with a 6-pound, 2-ounce rainbow from Upper Twin. He caught it on a Lucky Craft Lure, reported Jim Reid at Ken’s Sporting Goods, where he weighed it Saturday morning. That fish won him a $200 Flambeau Warming Kit and a $200 Thomas Bouyant lure package.


There were other ways to win, with special weigh station prizes. Of course, the champion, Allan Cole took the big-fish weigh station prize at Rick’s in Mammoth with his 9-pound, 9½-ounce brown taking a $200 Sierra Slammer plastics box, and a $250 Rick’s Sports Center Gift Card.


At Ken’s Sporting Goods, it was Vufrano Perez with a 6-pound, 14-ounce rainbow from Lower Twin Lake on a Rapala who grabbed the weigh-station prize of a $250 gift certificate from Ken’s, as well as a Bridgeport Vacation Rentals certificate for $550 for spot camping in the Sierra.


Ernie’s Ski & Sport weigh station at June Lake on the June Lake Loop saw Glenn McKenzie’s rainbow of 7 pounds, 3 ounces take a nice $200 Sierra Slammers Package.


Bishop’s biggest fish brought to its Visitor’s Park site was a 4.95-pound rainbow from the Lower Owens River Sunday on a Rapala by Ryan Nealon of Thousand Oaks, who won a $200 Sierra Slammer plastics package and a dream stay at Parcher’s Resort and a free boat rental at South Lake.


WON would to thank all the anglers who participate, all the national and local sponsors, and the weigh stations who helped over an extremely busy weekend, said Egan, the 395 derby director.


“I really think this a great idea, being a derby for all the Sierra, and it will really grow if it continues each year and especially if anglers can sign up and pay at the shop,” said Rick Flamson, owner of Rick’s in Mammoth Lakes. “I had three dozen people come to the shop who wanted to sign up Friday with cash, do it quickly. They just didn’t want to go online. It has a chance to be a huge event here opening day.”


Trash talkin’ among friends?
Captains meeting at Stone Brewery indicates pride, money are at stake in second annual WON/H&M Landing San Diego Offshore Jackpot

A dozen owner/operators and captains of the 12 sportfishers entered in the WON/H&M Landing San Diego Offshore Jackpot coming up July 1, were hosted by WON at Stone Brewery at Liberty Station by San Diego Bay, just north of the landings.


The season for tuna had already started, yellows have been biting for months, last year was a very good year. So everyone was in good spirits, on every level.


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STONE BREWERY AT Liberty Station was a great spot near the landings for WON to host the owners and operators of the 12 sportfishers competing in the WON/H&M Landing San Diego Jackpot slated June 30-July 1.

First off, Connor Johnson of WON greeted everyone and thanked them all for coming. Then, free pairs of Costa sunglasses and visors were handed out to the captains, then came the hors d'oeuvres, followed by a steady flow of IPAs.


Then the trash talkin’ began. Well, only one of the captains was, but it was a start.


“You guys don’t have a chance, my boat is winning this thing,” said Frankie Brehna, owner/operator of the 65-foot Producer, who grabbed a pink Costa visor from the table and wore it upside down. “I’ll win it, even though you guys kicked me out of your code group.”


A few sipped their beers. No one said anything, and then one of the captains chirped, “Keep talkin’, Frankie. And by the way, that’s a real cute hat! You should wear that all the time. It covers your bald head.” Everyone laughed.


“This is fun,” said H&M Landing part owner and general manager Frank Ursitti. “Getting the guys together for this was a great idea — get some camaraderie among the boats and a feeling of competition.


“Hey, “I’m all about fun. If it wasn’t fun to fish and run a boat, why would anyone do it? You gotta have fun with this type of stuff.”


Joining Ursitti and Brehna at the lunch were Capt. Chuck Taft and his son Steve of the Legend, husband/wife team Dina Grivetto and Capt. Rick Scott of the Ocean Odyssey, Capt. Ryan McNichol and owner Richard Allen of the Invicta, Capt. Robbie Gray of the Constitution, Capt. Chris Randel of the Chief, Capt. Armando Marquez of the Producer, Lisa Phillips (representing her husband Capt. Brad Phillips) of the First String, Capt. Junior Garcia of the Old Glory, Capt. Dustin Tench of the Ranger 85, Capt. Mike Franchak of the Relentless, and Capt. Patrick Dorety of Sea Adventure II.


Tourney directors Connor Johnson and Ursitti have a goal — to establish the San Diego Offshore Jackpot as a season cornerstone of the San Diego fleet.


It’s centered at H&M Landing now, but Ursitti wants to expand it to include the other landings. Then, Ursitti said, the competition among the captains and crews will get heated.


“Last year we were not even completely full for our three boats,” said Johnson, an advertising rep for WON, who approached Ursitti with the idea last year.


Those three boats were the Ranger 85, Constitution, and Relentless. Ursitti liked what he saw in the fledgling event.


Said Connor, “This year we quadrupled in size, and of the 12 boats, seven are already sold out, so we are going to sell out every boat. That’s pretty amazing, I think.” Sold out are the Ranger 85, Constitution, Relentless, Daiwa Pacific, Chief, Invicta and First String.”


Two thirds of the Jackpot spots are filled. About 100 spots remain, and fishing is getting to a new level, with the tuna joining an already great bite on yellowtail. The five boats with spots are the Sea Adventure II, Ocean Odyssey, the Legend, Producer and Old Glory.


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CAPTAINS FRANK BREHNA, right, of the Producer and Dustin Tench of the Ranger 85 are ready to have some fun at the Jackpot.

The tournament format is simple: anglers will pile onto the boat of their choosing Thursday, June 30 for a 9 p.m. departure. They will return no later than 7 p.m. on July 1, after fishing for the day. Each angler’s $275 ticket price for the overnight trip includes a jackpot buy-in, and the top three anglers will divide 100 percent of the jackpot money, with the top angler honored by having his or her name engraved on the perpetual trophy.


“If this event goes 100 percent full,” said Connor, “that prize purse will be over $6,600!”


The breakdown: The first place fish among all 300-plus anglers earns 50 percent of the total pot, followed by 35 percent for second biggest fish, and 15 percent for third biggest. Also up for grabs are six (of each) Okuma Metaloid reels on Cousins jigs sticks; three will be given away as early-bird raffle prizes, and the other combos will be raffled off at the weigh in. Each boat’s jackpot winner will win a pair of Costa sunglasses. More prizes are being added each week for the drawings after the boats return.


Like any of our charters, there will be awesome sponsor’s prizes. Tournament sponsors like Costa sunglasses, Okuma, Cousins Tackle, Trokar, Sufix, Yo-Zuri, Plano, Angler’s Choice Tackle, and many others will be giving away tons of gear at weigh-in raffles. Plus, each boat will have free Trokar hooks for every angler as well as supplies of Yo-Zuri fluorocarbon leader coils, and bulk spools of Sufix line to fill reels or add topshots.


“Not only are prizes being given for big fish but the perpetual trophy honors will be awarded to the top boat getting the winning fish, to be displayed in the hallowed halls of H&M Landing for all to see,” said Ursitti, who took over part ownership in the landing last year and assumed the tasks of general manager when longtime manager Phil Lobred retired. “This event is fast becoming the backbone of our summer season and a highlight of the San Diego offshore angling year.”


This is one of three annual WON charterboat tournaments on the coast. The upcoming Channel Islands Shootout is in its eighth year and the Rockfish Rumble just had its fourth annual running. They are both annual sellouts and keep expanding year after year. This event will surpass those in size in just two years.


This year’s jackpot will be covered by WON’s “dream team,” including myself riding aboard the Ocean Odyssey, veteran staffer Bob Semerau riding aboard the Constitution, Blake Warren will be riding aboard the Chief, and a team of reporters across many more of the competing boats, giving everyone a shot at sharing their success in the pages of WON.


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Pat McDonell is editor of WON and directs the Cabo Tuna Jackpot. Patm@wonews.com.


* * *


Bookings are handled through the landing at (619) 222-1144 or book online at www.HMlanding.com. For event details, Connor can be reached at Connor@wonews.com or at (949) 366-0921.


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