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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.

Cabo perspective

Reflections on Cabo

For a look at the event up until the awards dinner, here's our official video..

I’m back behind my desk, knocking out another issue and reflecting of the 17th annual Tuna Jackpot that ran Nov. 4-7. Nine days in Cabo is a long time, and the highs and lows were many. Our team was faced with 1,000 details and tasks, and overall the tourney was a big success. But  this was a four-day event with 500-plus anglers, nearly 150 boats, two huge dinners, two weigh-ins, charity auctions, a sponsors party, two shotgun starts and a catered charity charter on the start boat Cabo Escape for 150 people on the second day. 

It is more than a two-day fishing tourney in planning. Fish Hard and Party Harder is a slogan, and we try to make it fun, and diverse. As the director,  there was always some venue to build, a place to be, and details to handle. That’s not to say I didn’t jump in the Tesoro Hotel pool, sip a margarita or go dancing, however it was all in moderation this year, more than any other. 

In short, I had a rewarding time, but it was not a nine-day Cabo holiday. Each year, to be honest, I weigh the physical and mental toll against the thrill of directing the tourney, which is now the largest tuna tourney in the world and the biggest tourney in Mexico, by far. I always wonder if I should do another, not whether I can. When you meet people like Frank and Karen Johnson, owners of Mold Craft lures who sponsoring for the first time and had flown out from Pompano Beach Florida to  attend, it makes me want to come back. Old friends, new friends, the anglers who come back each year. 

FRANK AND KAREN JOHNSON of Mold Craft Lures were at check-in 00 and a;; events -- and gave each team, a Mexican color soft head trolling lure  combined with event stickers and they also brought a ton of great lure packs as drawing giveaways. They were great to have as first-time sponsors. 

I called in a radio report, the Saturday morning after fishing ended, to Pete Gray’s show Let’s Talk Hookup and it gave me a chance to talk about the results, the success of the tourney in terms of drawing teams and paying out the record amount of $689,800.

It also gave me a chance to throw out some kudos to all who help put this event on. It takes a lot of people who are here at WON, as well as sponsors, friends and supporters and vendors in Cabo.

It’s pretty cool to have that kind of help, and teamwork has some real rewards. A record payout, a $35,000 donation for facial surgeries for Cabo children, a foundation I chose and vetted, the result of reading about it briefly this past year in a story on charity work being done in Cabo, the story by late journalist Paul Watson, in the Bisbee's Magazine. The fundraising  was a success on two important levels to be proud of. That so many anglers and sponsors and staff got behind it, and that we raised the money.  And, the pharmaceutical companies will match that money raised. Each surgery costs about $250. So the impact on the lives of children through the program is significant. 

CHECK=IN booths were jammed with sponsors who gave every team or invidisual anglers free gifts.  Such as,  Yo-Zuri buffs, Mold Craft soft head lures, Seaguar flouro, Mustad hooks, WIN-Team promo goodiess, Okuma hats and buffs and more. They also got Baja Cantina bags, Costa event shirts and IGY sponsored event hats. PHOTOS BY GARY GRAHAM

That said, there are things in the tourney to fix, to avoid or streamline. A quicker check-in, a leaner and more fun dinner program. We will shift some of the Best Dressed and Guess the Fish Weight awards to the Friday Fiesta. All of these :fix's" will be  easily handled Nov. 2-5, 2016. That said, we are going to work to get the Mexican government to ban the use of purse seiners off Cabo. If nothing else, we will let them know our feelings. It’s time the government gets its head out of the sand on this. People come to Cabo to compete, to have fun, but they’d like a chance to pull on some fish.

It’s just good business, and tourism is the best business of all.


Pat McDonell is director of the Cabo Tuna Jackpot and editor of Western Outdoor News. To se the official website of the tournament, go to

Guadalupe to open, state record wahoo
93.3 wahoo caught, Island to open to sportfishing


Two significant bits of news. A pending state record wahoo of 93.3 pounds was caught Wednesday by Fire Captain Jeff Zachry of Carlsbad who was fishing alone on his private boat Blackman Fire Escape at the upper Nine Mile Bank (he caught two others that day). The current record in the mid-80s.

More on this great catch in WON next week. (It’s a great story). The wahoo fishing in SoCal waters continues to be epic. See www.976BITE.COM’s Bob Vanian’s blog on this site for the latest in PB action as of Friday afternoon.

JEFF ZACHRY of Carlsbad with his 93.3-pound wahoo, a pending state record by 10 pounds.


Of course, the huge news  is that the door to Guadalupe Island has been cracked farther open.

 Frank LoPreste of Fisherman’s Landing in San Diego (as well as two other landings he has controlling interest of in the San Diego area (Point Loma and Seaforth landings) announced Saturday morning on a radio show that Guadalupe Island would reopen to  three San Diego-based sportfishers after a 2 1/2-year effort by to obtain permits. One other San Diego-based sport fisher, the Apollo, has had permits for years.

The three boats that will able to fish the island are the Royal Star, the Shogun and Royal Polaris all operated out of Fisherman's Landing. The Shogun has four 5 1/2-day trips already on the books, starting Nov. 1, said Lopreste.  Guadalupe Island has been closed to a number of years to the fleet, which for decades enjoyed quality yellowfin action as well as yellowtail and in previous years, skiff trips have been popular, as well as shark observation trips as the island is home to huge great whites.

 The sparsely populated volcanic island is located approximately 225 miles from San Diego. 

LoPreste credited Capt. Tim Ekstrom, a partner with LoPreste at Fisherman’s Landing and one of the three owner/operators of the long rage boat Royal Star based at Fisherman’s Landing on Scott Street, as well as longtime landings owner Ted Dunn for being instrumental in the opening of the islands  to the three sport fishers. "It's ben a 2 1/2-year quest." he said.  Lopreste  made his comments on the Saturday morning radio show Let’s Talk Hookup,      

"Relationships are improving with the Mexican government," said LoPreste. He credited Ken Franke, president of the Sportfishing Association of California (SAC) and his staff for keeping lines of dialogue going. 

It’s fantastic news, given that in recent years Mexico has been more restrictive than receptive to opening island waters closed due to environmental policies. It gives the mid-range boats a great target for yellowfin that they have not had. We have all missed being able to fish this island. Of the three boats, only the Shogun will be targeting the island specifically, on those upcoming four trips. The first two are charters, the final two are open party. The other two boats will fish the islands, likely on the way back from longer trips already on the books.. 


Tournament season is here. Gary Graham is down in Cabo and the East Cape covering the Los Cabo Billfish tournament that drew 37 teams (up from 13 last year after the hurricane) and Bisbee’s two events (the Baby Bisbee’s ended today and has 94 teams (up from 80 last year) and boasts a $638,000  payout. The Black and Blue Bisbee’s, the richest marlin tourney in the world, will  have well over 100 teams. It had 100 teams on the dot last year despite Hurricane Odile’s impact.


The 16th annual WON/Yamaha  Tuna Jackpot Nov. 4-7 is sure to be bigger than last year when we had 131 teams. I will be leaving to direct that event on Oct. 30. I anticipate close to 150 teams. We have 110 on the books right now.

 And, based on reports, yellowfin of 161, 146.5 and 238 pounds   have been weighed in at the Cabo marlin events that also have tuna divisions or optionals.In other words. game on. See for the details on the event. 

Here’s a rundown of the major Southern Baja tournaments, now over or coming up.:

--Los Cabos Billfish Tourment, October 13 - 17, 2015

-- 26th Lynn Rose East Cape Classic October 14 - 18 at Hotel Palmas De Corte

-- Los Cabos Offshore Tournament (Baby Bisbee) October 16 - 18, 2015

-- Bisbee's Black and Blue October 20 - 24, 2015

-- 3rd Annual Van Wormer Resort Tuna Shoot Out, October 24, 2015

--16th annual WON/Yamaha Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot November 4 - 7, 2015

-- Los Cabos Big Game Charter Boat Classic November 16-20, 2015

HUGE Blue: The angler's story
Small boat, huge fish

Biggest marlin in state waters since 1931; ,Two anglers in the 21-foot skiff Finbomb score a 662.2-pound blue marlin at the Nine Mile Bank 


Matt Santora and Andy Vo on the 21-foot Wellcraft center console . Finbomb on Wednesday scored the biggest fish in SoCal waters in more than 80 years when they caught a 662.2-pound blue marlin at the Nine Mile Bank on a Crane lure.

The 13-foot, 6-inch long fish was hooked at 8:15 a.m. and after a grueling 3-hour fight the catch was weighed in that afternoon, Wednesday, Sept. 24, at the San Diego Marlin Clubhouse and weigh facility on Shelter Island in Point Loma. The weigh-in scene, with the fish hanging just yards from Shelter Island Drive, was eventually chaotic at the weigh area, the traffic on the adjacent road backed up with onlookers and television crews. The marlin, as huge as it was, will not beat the state record of 692 pounds, but is the biggest marlin caught in state waters since 1931. That monster blue was weighed in at the Balboa Angling Club in Newport Beach.

The two friends, Santora, 34, resident of Bay Park in the San Diego/Clairemont area, and Vo, 33, of Orange County, made a last-minute decision to go fishing Tuesday night, targeting marlin and wahoo on Wednesday since the exotic pelagics were in local waters in growing numbers. This year has offered SoCal fishermen the kind of fishing opportunities that may not come around again for several decades. So you go. Often. But some anglers are, well, just plumb out of vacation time or kitchen permits. But decisions not to go can come with regrets. Big ones.

“I’m the self-proclaimed king of the last-minute fishing trip,” said Santora, who produces the Finbomb line of fishing clothing ( “I called everyone to go. But by now guys are now telling me something like, ‘Dude if I take one day off from fishing I’m gonna get fired from my job.’ So I didn’t have anyone to go.” Step forward Andy Vo, who had just gotten off the sportfisher Fortune after a 2-day trip out of San Diego and called his buddy Matt to tell him about the trip out of San Diego. And that he’d caught a striped marlin on the 2-day trip.

“I told him, ‘Andy you’ve got to go fishing with me tomorrow!’ And he said yes. I can only imagine how many of those guys who said no are kicking themselves right now for not going.”

The fish was as legit as you can get. The pair were rigged right with heavy tackle and targeting marlin and wahoo, trolling two wired-up Marauders for the wahoo, and two surface plugs. One was a custom-poured 12-inch custom-made Crane marlin lure, green, and company owner Brett Crane imbedded the head with Santoro’s clothing company logo, Finbomb. Santora rigs his own lures, and enjoys – and takes pride – in the precision of it, he said. He matched up the Crane head and skirt with 300-pound Jinkai leader and a 10/0 Mustad J hook. The other surface lure was a Zukers.

"That the marlin hit the Crane, and that made it more special for me,” said Santora. “It was the one I rigged and it had my company name on it, and that was pretty cool.”

There was something else even more special about the catch. It was accomplished on a rod that was custom built for Santora. He bid on the custom rod package by Wise Guys, custom rod builders, at an Orange County fundraiser for a friend, fellow fisherman Brent Sato, who was diagnosed with stagefour colon cancer, which is now in remission, said Santoro.

“It’s a 90-pound rod, but the blank was cut down so it’s 6 feet 6 and it’s beefy now, for really big fish, a heavy stick, rated for 130-pound with the blank chopped down before the Wise Guys custom-wrapped it. I got it at an auction to support Brent, and it reminds me that you have to fish hard and live hard and remember what’s important in life. As cheesy as that sounds, that’s why I bid on it and had it made and why I had it out there. It’s giving me chills as I just say that after what happened. “When I sent Brent the pictures he was really tripping.”

The fight was listed on the chalkboard as two hours, and it would have been that long, but as Santora pointed out, the fish was tough, and still green, and would be too dangerous to handle.

“All we had was a fighting belt, no harness and no chair. It was old school. It was, ‘Okay, guy, here’s a rod, here’s a reel, and now go fight this 600-pound fish.’ “ He said that three times during the fight, to get more drag on the Shimano Talica 25 two-speed reel spooled with 100-pound Jerry Brown spectra, he had to cup the spool, hold it while he pulled it out of gear, tweaked the drag slightly with the knob, and then put it back in gear, at a higher drag. Not for beginners.

“I was fighting for every half-inch,” said Santora. “It did not want to come in. It was a bruiser , running and jumping. He did not want to come in.” The question of dealing with the fish after two hours was answered by Santora.

“I asked myself, ‘Is this going to be dangerous,’ he recalled. “I had the swivel at two hours, but it was too hot, too heavy. The rod is rated for 130-pound but it was bent like fly rod. It was too dangerous, and I’d like to live to fish some more, so we let it run for another 45 minutes.”

The fish by that time was spent, and Santora said that had they not taken the fish at that exact time, at 2 hours and 45 minutes, it would have likely sunk out and they never would have been able to get it back to the surface. It would have been a wasted fish.

“I wasn’t going to let that happen,” said Santora. “I wanted to take the fish, and to consume it. That was important to us. I just took it to Fisherman’s Processing (in San Diego) this morning to have it filleted and smoked.”

So Santora grabbed the bill of the exhausted blue, and Vo , who has been at the helm of the Finbomb for nearly three hours and expertly kept the fish in front of his buddy and the line out of the Yamaha 150 outboard's', roped the tail “and we dispatched it as quickly as we could,” said Santora.

At that time they had no idea of its weight, or how to get it into a 21-foot center console.

“No way we were going to gaff it and pull it in. It would have taken eight guys.”

He had a pulley system aboard, but it didn’t work so well, he said, so he put out a call to a fellow angler he knew was out, a fell he knows only as Andy and his father on the Old Soul, who were aware via radio updates of the long fight taking place about five miles away. They brought over a new pulley system, and the fish was dropped into the starboard side of the skiff. Slowly heading home nine miles back to Shelter Island, the Yamaha 150 powered Finbomb putted along, tilting heavily from the weight of the fish, said Santora. Still they had no idea of its weight, thinking 300 or maybe 400. They radioed the San Diego Marlin Club, which has a big-game hoist and scale.

“When got close I called. I said, ‘We have a big marlin aboard,’” said Santora.

“How big?” someone asked.

“”Kinda big,” answered Santora. “350 or 400.”

“That’s a nice fish; bring it in,” the radio answered.

When the club personnel saw it, the consensus was, “We’re going to need a bigger scale.”

“The guy who met us when we tied up saw the fish and said, ‘I don’t know if we can weigh that fish. We’ve never seen a fish that big here. Seriously,’” said Santora. The crane was deemed the only way to move it. And to weigh it, they had to hog-tie it into a half-moon shape to keep the bill from touching the ground, and it topped out at 662.2 pounds, just off the state record, the biggest marlin in state waters since 1931. Eight decades. That amazed everyone, and there was a lot of people there to be amazed.

“The old-timers from the clubhouse came out in awe, and said this was history being made, and it was nice to see them so excited about the catch. It was cool to see that.”

The road next to the club was New York-style gridlock. And people were coming off the boats from everywhere to look at it.

Santora said his phone has been ringing, messaging, and he’s done two TV interviews. He trying to get in his sales calls at shops for his clothing, and everyone wants to talk about the fish. That’s perfectly fine by him.

“I’m still in shock,” he said. “And humbled by it. But on e thing I want to say is that Vo was amazing, the way he handled the boat the entire fight. I don't want him and his part in this to get lost because I fought it. He was a huge part of this catch.”

Naturally, there are people who are critical of the the fact it was killed.

"I didn't take the fish as a trophy," said Santora. "I kept it to eat it. I'd like to clear some of this up, and I will on Let’'s Talk Hookup tomorrow and I hope I can give my two minutes on a soapbox, but those people who are criticizing, there a lot of misinformation out there. Fishermen get it, If you fish, you understand it, but if you don't you probably won't. But even some fishermen don't even understand it."

Santora had caught a marlin last year on his boat. It came up lively, and was released.

“This fish came up belly up,” he said. It was done. To let it go would have been a waste,” sand Santonra.

Capt. Pete Groesbeck, one of the premier big-marlin, competitive tournament anglers in the world, commented on Facebook, “Let me see, 37 pounds off the state record, largest marlin weighed in California since 1931. Quite a feat for a 21-foot skiff. I think it’s awesome to take that fish. What a feat. Congrats!”

There had been several big blue marlin hooked and a few even landed in recent weeks in locals waters, and the striped marlin fishing has been spectacular in the Channel Islands region. The marlin influx, as well as bluefin, a growing number of shortbill spearfish catches as well as wahoo now being landed have all contributed the feeling that this season will be one of the landmark pelagic years in history.

Now this monster blue. And others that followed, And El Nino is just gearing up.

Pat McDonell is editor of Western Outdoor News and director of the Cabo Tuna Jackpot. He can be reached at

THE LURE, a custom-poured Crane 12-incher rigged with 300-pound Jinkai leader and 10/0 Mustad hook.

SANTORAwith a nice bend in his custom rod during the nearly three-hour fight at the Nine Mile Bank on Wednesday, Sept. 23.

MARK SANTORA, left,and Andy Vo at the scale at Shelter Island on Wednesday. The fish was caught on a custom-poured Crane lure trolled at the Nine Mile Bank on the 21-foot CC skiff Finbomb, named for Santora’s clothing company he founded last year. PHOTOS COURTESY OF ANDY VO, MATT SANTORA

THE TWO ANGLERS on the the skiff as the blue marlin is brought by crane to the San Diego Marlin Club weigh area on Shelter Island Drive.

First CenCal tuna caught yesterday
It's been a wild year…

So, here are the first confirmed Central Cal tuna OF 2015, reported yesterday by our Central Cal field reporter (and local attorney and avid fisherman) Jeff Stulberg who on site at the ramp when they came in.

Still missing in action, the elusive albacore, Maybe next year. You can always go to Oregon, I guess.

UPDATE: Here's more on that catch from Jeff Stulberg: "These were #50-60lb yellowfin caught drifting live mackerel on the Oppor-Tuna-Ty...Another boat with some live bait rolled into the same area right after they ran out of bait and reportedly landed one of the larger grade bft's also on a drifted live mackerel...The guys have been reporting seeing tuna offshore in 66-70 degree water for a few weeks but everyone has been trolling hardware to no avail ..These guys took the time to jig some bait before they left the harbor and tossed out the baits when they could not get bit trolling through breaking fish and tossing iron right on them....That's all I know...The weather is " transitional" this week but there should be more boats out looking now."

Here, Orlando Cortez holds up the first Morro Bay yellowfin.At least I think it's a yellowfin. Can't see it clearly in the photos but will check it out further. Not many details just yet, , but the boys caught 3 fish about 28 miles from Morro Rock on a 240 heading yesterday, Tuesday, Sept. 22. They were on Orlando’s Cortez' Striper.

Swimming with the bluefin
Huge fish, in local waters


The shaft of the 8-foot bamboo gaff was bobbing vertically 40 yards off the stern, and the second I hit the water and started swimming away from my 18-foot skiff I thought, “There’s a tuna right under me bleeding and I’ve seen a lot of sharks out here today. This is not smart.”


But, it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.


We were eight miles off the San Onofre Power Plant “domes” on Tuesday,  the day before my 61st birthday on a run out of Oceanside Harbor July 14, and my buddy Floyd Sparks of Olivenhain and his 12-year-old son Dillon were on my 18-foot skiff.  Floyd was hooked up with a big bluefin, and I mean a BIG bluefin, and I know this as I’m swimming to the gaff because I put the bleeding hole in that big fish. The gaff on the first gaff attempt was not good. The bamboo gaff was ripped out of my gloved hands, and the first thing out of Floyd’s mouth was… well, it’s not appropriate for a newspaper, but it alluded to my hitting the tuna two feet up from the tail.


You learn a lot of things when you are looking for, rigging up and fighting big bluefin, something unheard of in SoCal waters. If you doubt me, don’t. I’ve been doing this now for 31 years at WON as editor. This is the first sustained “big” bluefin season in local waters in three decades, maybe more. It’s a freak show. Look it up.


The second thing said was by me after I saw my gaff disappear with the fish, “Crap, that’s the only gaff I have on the boat.”


“Well, I hope it floats,” said Floyd.


And it did. Surfacing 40 yards away, and that’s when I started stripping down to my swimming trunks.


So, my first bluefin lesson of the day was this: “If you have never gaffed a big tuna over100 pounds, or any fish over 100 pounds, if you want to stick it and it’s still frisky or ‘green,” get in the head and pull up. Same as if you hit in the tail. It can’t propel without water. There can be no hesitation. While I have caught multiple 200 pounders and gaffed a lot of fish, never have I gaffed a big tuna. I leave that to the long range guys and Panamanian crewmen. 

But this is a special season, and frankly, a lot of people have failed out there in local waters. Too impatient. Too light a tackle, too little pressure with light drags, J hooks instead of circle hooks, bad technique, poor knots or just lousy lucky. The key bit of advice: Leave light tackle home. The longer the fight, the worse the odds. 

There's more to this story, as we caught the one fish that turned out to be 145 pounds, plus two more bluefin, of 60 pounds for Dillion and this writer, and I'll have  details in this next issue of Western Outdoor News,  mainly a lot of how-to information on specific tackle and technique that worked for us and can work for you too. I think these fish re going to be around for a while, and without question there are massive schools of them. 


Pat McDonell is editor of Western Outdoor News, and directs jackpot tournaments in Cabo, Catalina and San Diego. He can be reached at

FLOYD SPARKS with his 145 pounder. 

PAT McDONELL and his 60 pounder, one of two of these "smaller" bluefin caught Tuesday 8 miles off San Onofre, 

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