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.

Bruce Ivey, friend of Sierra, passes
It is with great sadness that I report the Oct. 6 passing of Bruce Ivey, one of the truly important figures in the Sierra Nevada. He was in ill health the past two years after having no health problems into his 80s. I saw him at the Chamber of Commerce media dinner before the opener in April and I was shocked at how his health had declined.

BRUCE IVEY DURING a waterfowl hunt jump shooting ducks in the Owens River. He passed away last week.

We will have more on him, but for starters, he tirelessly promoted the Eastern Sierra as a resident and businessman in Independence, where he lived and where he owned the Lone Pine Pheasant Club for 21 years until re-retiring in 2007. He and his surviving wife Elsie were a team and were instrumental in the ’70s or early ’80s in convincing the Fish and Game Commission to allow the waters of Southern Inyo County to open up several weeks early, always the first Saturday in March, and the Lake Diaz Derby.

He was a key player in bringing the Film Festival to Lone Pine each year and the creation of the Lone Pine Film Museum that celebrates the many productions that used the iconic Alabama Hills above Lone Pine as their backdrop.

Bruce was the man behind the Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery being designated a state historic building in 1997 and kept it open as a functioning hatchery amid DFG budget cutbacks by forming Friends of Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery, and when a mudslide devastated the facility in 2008, he led the campaign through the nonprofit Friends to restore it, beginning to end, and even staffing it with volunteers. It is no longer a working state hatchery, but it attracts thousands of visitors and has been preserved as a piece of our past.

A successful businessman with a string of seven Napa Auto Parts stores in the Sierra and Nevada, and a licensed pilot with his own Cessna so he could fly from Lone Pine Airport to his stores in Central California until he retired in ’93, he was a vibrant man, a class act who loved the outdoor life, especially hiking to the golden trout country. Above all, he was a family man. He will truly be missed and his accomplishments appreciated by all who love the Sierra.

If you wish to make a donation in his honor, the following two causes were closest to his heart:

Friends of the Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery

P.O. Box 193

Independence, CA 93526

Owens Valley Booster Club

P.O. Drawer E

Independence, CA 93526

A graveside service was held on Wednesday, Oct. 12 at 10 a.m. at the Independence Cemetery followed by a gathering of friends and family at the United Methodist Church, 157 N. Washington, Independence.

* * *

THE WON SAN DIEGO JACKPOT is a ways off, but a bit of news on its expansion. It will be a battle not just between one landing’s boats, as it has been each June, but now it will be bragging rights time between three landings and involve double the boats from this year’s event. This is a pretty amazing story of an event that is poised to be the biggest one-day sportfishing event in the state’s history.

So, on June 29-30, 2017, up to 24 boats from Fisherman’s Landing, Point Loma Sportfishing and H&M Landing will turn loose their fleet of sportfishers for some serious money, up to $7,000 to an angler for the top fish caught among those overnight trips. Plus, a ton of other cash and tackle prizes for top finishers and drawing winners and the biggest fish for each sportfisher. By far, this is the biggest sportfisher/landing tournament on the coast.

This year, 12 boats and crews participated from H&M Landing, and its first year at H&M in ’15 there were three boats chartered, the beginning of something cool. Credit Connor Johnson, our San Diego region ad rep and H&M Landing manager and co-owner Capt. Frank Ursitti for making it happen and for Frank LoPreste of Point Loma Sportfishing and Fisherman’s Landing for getting aboard and making it a Scott Street battle between the landings.

Our other two sportboat events — both run out of Ventura Sportfishing — are the Channel Islands Shootout next June and the Rockfish Rumble in April that kicks off our season.

     * * *

    Pat McDonell is editor of WON and directs the Cabo Tuna Jackpot, now in its 18th year. Contact him at

    KEN CORWIN: Twice the fun
    Ken Corwin’s 269 bluefin caught last Monday came too late for the newspaper we put out that day, Aug. 22. Nevertheless, while the info was a tad late for print, it was posted on our FB page that night, and it’s still a fun story to recount here. Not just about the size of it, but what led up to the catch.

    How much longer these big fish are going to be in our area is a complete guess, but while they are here, our knowledge of kite fishing is expanding, largely with the help of those in tackle shops or those who have been on long range trips, or fished with charter captains off Cabo like Renegade Mike Tumbiero.

    KEN CORWIN, RIGHT, and Capt. Clay Dobbs with the 269 caught near the 43 Fathom Spot on the Reel Nice ’N Easy on a trip out of Oceanside Harbor, where Ken’s shop is located.

    For sure, we are seeing these bigger fish over 220 to 270 pounds because, like wahoo catches that emerged after we changed gear last year, we have adapted. The kite rig is getting these big fish now, many of which were probably hooked earlier in the season on lighter tackle, and lost to lighter tackle. By lighter, I mean 80- and 100-pound and under. The heavier stuff, 130-pound, bigger hooks… shorten the fight and so we’re seeing this wad of bigger fish being landed.

    On Monday evening, as I relaxed at home after putting out the recent edition of WON, Jamie Lyons of KK Pono Lures and Ken’s Custom Reels texted me, and e-mailed me some photos of the action that day near the 43 Fathom Spot.

    “Ken hooked this nice 269-pound bluefin on Reel Nice ’n Easy driven by Capt. Clay Dobbs. Hooked at 8:30 a.m. on the outer edge of the 43 and I sunk first gaff at 10:30 a.m. Wow, what a wondrous fish for being so close! That’s what we all pay $5,000 to go so far for (long ranging). This is in our own back yard! I bought a kite last week after we found a floating balloon and kite two rig weeks ago with a Smartshift 30 attached to it.” Obviously, the kite went nearly straight up and someone forgot to secure the kite rod with a lanyard. Hard to believe they couldn’t find it after it took off. So far, no one has claimed the outfit or mentioned losing it. Finders keepers and all that. They used the rod/reel for their trip Monday.

    As Jamie reported, it was the first time any of the trio had trolled with a Yummy Flyer, which, if you are not familiar with this popular lure, it’s a rubber variation of a flying fish. Skip it along the surface; or in the case of long rangers, as you dip and skip it from an anchored boat, the Yummy is rigged with heavy line, 400-pound leader and huge crimped hooks, and the fish not only can’t see that heavy line and big hooks, they just can’t resist it.

    “It was the first time any of us had ever tried this way of fishing (kite and a Yummy fresh) wow.. four explosions but all missed. Then this monster jumped two feet out of the water and just landed right on top of it. Ken and I looked at each other and screamed, ‘Oh, that was a huge one!’ And it was. Clayton said to me, ‘You know, for a guy in his 60s, he (Ken) sure as hell can pull on a fish!’”

    On another email the next day, Clay Dobbs (we’ve fished together and everyone has my cell number or is on FB with me) just weighed in on the catch. It’s a cool quote.

    “Watching Kenny pulling on big fish is like Tiger Woods driving a golf ball or Michael Jordan slam dunk. Maximum pressure at all times with minimal effort by the angler is poetry in motion — the right guy with the right gear at the right time. “Not to mention he is 63 years old, so proud to watch it yesterday from the bridge. A three-gaff fish. We couldn’t get it through my transom door.”

    And Ken? After I called him to congratulate him Tuesday — the day after — and also ask if a Tuna Spike (quick tuna killers) from maker Butch Diaz had been dropped off by a buddy (Don Southard) for me to pick up, he asked, “Yeah, it’s here, Pat, but where did you hear about that fish?” Ken is old-fashioned. He has a cell phone and that’s about it.

    “Ken,” I said, “Everyone knows about it. Jamie texted me on the boat, and Clay emailed me the day after. I posted it on our Facebook page and sent it to Bob Vanian ( And I’m doing a story on it for next week.”

    Word of a big fish travels fast in so many ways. Let’s hope it keeps up a few more weeks at least. What a year.

    San Diego Jackpot: 147 pound bluefin wins it

    Alta Loma angler Marty Jackson and sportfisher First String nail big bluefin


    147 pounder takes top spot in second annual 12-boat WON/H&M Landing San Diego Jackpot on Friday


    MARTY JACKSON and his 147 pounder, with H&M Landing's Frank Ursitti, on Friday night at the San Diego Jackpot Weigh-in. 


    WON Staff Writer


    POINT LOMA -- The 12-boat WON/H&M Landing San Diego Jackpot – the biggest sportfisher tournament on the coast, went off today and big bluefin dominated the event, with the First String anglers taking first and third in the money standings, and the Old Glory taking second.


    It was spotty fishing for the fleet, in terms of  volume of  fish, but big bluefin over 100 pounds were the targets in the race for the cash and prizes and bragging rights among the 12 captains and crews.


    Top three fish – all bluefin of course, were weighed in before an excited throng of 400 anglers, crews, staff and family and friends at H&M Landing when the boats all raced in after fishing the outer banks on overnight runs to the 43 Fathom Spot. 


    Alta Loma angler Marty Jackson won the title and $3,210 in Jackpot money with a 147.10-pound bluefin aboard the First String on a Flatfall, and third place was filled with a 132 pounder on the same sportfisher by Les Gallagher  who also used a  Flatfall jig to win $963. Inbetween those two big fish was a beautiful bluefin, a 142-pound bluefin by Brandon Hearn of Vista on the Old Glory who fished with a big group of friends and family on the sport fisher.  Hearn took home $2,247 as runnerup.   


    The First String got the “glory” for taking two of the three spots, and for the record was the only one of the sportfishers to weigh in three fish, with a third bluefin of 76.5 pounds for Steve Hirsch. That said, there was some heartache for the First String as well.  They had 12 fish hooked, and lost nine bluefin – all of them big tuna, that were all hooked on Flatfall jigs and lost in the crazy afternoon fight. In bluefin battles for fish over 100 pounds, that ratio is about right.


    There were several other big fish lost on the other 11 sportfishers, including a bruiser that broke off after a two-hour battle on the Relentless. The Ocean Odyssey and Constitution also had big fish hooked and lost.  As a rule, it was big fish, bluefin, and little else on the 43 Fathom Spot for the boats that enjoyed good conditions. A few smaller bluefin, one yellowfin and a few dozen yellows were recorded by the 12 sport fishers competing. The top three fish from each boat were eligible to be weighed in to compete for the top three cash prizes that totaled just under $6,000.  


    “Said Frank Ursitti, part owner and manager of H&M Landing, Having been here for a year, this is the most exciting thing that has happened here at the landing, and you could feel the excitement from the anglers and the crews from the time they left to the time they weighed the big fish before a huge crowd and awarded the jackpot money. There is no better way than this to kick off the 2016 offshore season.”

    After the weigh-in, a half-hour of drawings was held for Cousins rods, Okuma reels, Plano tackle boxes, Costa Sunglasses, Anglers Choice clothing, Williamson lures and much more. 

    There will be more on the event in the coming issue of Western Outdoor News. Here are some pics from the event at H&M Landing today, Friday. 


     ANGLERS and crews await the Thursday night 9 p.m. "shotgun" start, even if it was just to the bait receivers in San Diego Bay.

    THE CROWD AWAITS another weighing of a big bluefin at H&M. The throng grew to over 400, made up of anglers, crews, friends, staff and just onlookers at what is the largest sport fishing tournament on the coast in just its second year. It was produced by WON in cooperation with H&M Landing's staff and crews. Every sport fisher was booked solid, 330 anglers in all on 12 sport fishers. 

    THE SECOND PLACE Fish, by  Brandon Hearn, far right, who was aboard the Old Glory.  It weighed  142 pounds. He came with a lot of friends and family, including his nephew, Joe. 

    THE CHAMPION Marty Jackson addresses the crowd, telling how he got the fish on the Flatfall jig aboard the First String during a frenzied afternoon bite at the 43 Fathom Spot today (Friday) . 

    THE TOP THREE winners, with director Connor Johnson at left, followed by Les Gallagher (third place), the champion Marty Jackson, and second place winner Brandon Hearn, and at far right is H&M Landing owner and manager Frank Ursitti. 

    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. 



    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

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