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Feature Article: WON Apollo Charter

One good deed leads to another

BY PAT McDONELL/Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Feb 13, 2019

A little Karma came in handy for Las Vegas angler Jeff Vogl as he scores a personal best (and bucket list goal) 321-pound yellowfin to pace the action on the Apollo/WON charter out of Puerto Vallarta

JEFF VOGL OF Las Vegas was a pretty happy fellow when this 321 came over the rail of the Apollo. He has taken dozens of long range trips out of San Diego and his previous yellowfin was a 206 pounder. PAT McDONELL PHOTO

PUERTO VALLARTA — They say Karma is a bitch, but good Karma is a blessing, and maybe a little bit of it put Jeff Vogl over the edge in his bucket list effort to get a 300 pounder.

The Las Vegas general contractor has been on dozens of long range trips over the years, and the Apollo/WON 3½-day charter was his first run out of Puerto Vallarta after years of hearing about the big tuna. His previous best on a yellowfin was respectable — a cow tuna of 206 pounds — but the PV waters on the edge of a massive under­-water canyon have 300-pound and even 400-pound brutes smashing baits for a handful of sportfishers.

So when the Apollo trip came up for late January, and two spots out of the 12 offered on the 65-foot sportfisher came up on a cancellation, Vogl snapped it up and joined his friend Rick Ozaki of West Coast Marketing. Ozaki, who gave him the heads up, was sponsoring the trip on behalf of his own company, Graftech rods, along with Avet reels, which he reps for in SoCal.

The first night as we motored out of Puerto Nuevo Marina after Capt. Jay Lorenzo Cruz went over the game plan, this reporter and Ozaki held gave out Avet and Graftech shirts and hats and held drawings for two high-end Graftech rail rods and an Avet EX50/3-speed reel. One of the rods went to Juan Lara, a longtime WON reader, a grandfather who came as part of a group of six — two sons, two grandsons and one family friend. The $800-valued reel in American Flag colors went to one of Juan’s sons, Gordy Lara of Whittier. The other rod went to Vogl.

“I don’t have a case to bring it back and have a lot of great Graftech rods,” said Vogl, “So let’s draw again!” A nice gesture, to be sure. Ozaki picked Malcom Bryce of Agua Dulce, who was on his third WON PV charter in search of his first cow tuna.

That set the tone for the trip: The Apollo is great platform, a great crew that would do anything for us in rigging or advice, great food by galley man Chris Reyes, and the deck crew of Capt. Cruz, his brother Giovanni, and night captain Justin Ryan, and our group that meshed well. Six of the slots were taken by the Lara group, which last year had a PV trip cancelled on another sportfisher, and when they saw this trip on the schedule, they jumped on it.

yankingaYANKING A 232-POUND yellowfin to the rail of the Apollo after it took a wide, powerful circle was the crew of the Apollo, who did an incredible job in every aspect of the trip. PAT McDONELL PHOTO

Juan Lara of Pico Rivera was the patriarch of the trip and family. He grew up in Ensenada, son of a pangero, and came over as a 14-year-old. He owned before passing on the secrets of a successful business to his sons, Gordy Lara of Whittier ( who brought his son Johnny, and Ron Lara of Chino Hills, who came with his son Jeremy, who now runs near his home in Escondido. Three generations. Very cool, and they were fun group to be around. And in their group of six was Mike Milland of Chino Hills, a rugged and experienced long range veteran and Baja angler. Because he is anglo and short, the Laras affectionately call Milland “Cameron Blanco” (little shrimp).

There was Joe Overstreet of Big Bear, a master plumber based in the South Bay communities of Santa Monica Bay. He fishes just about everywhere and Joe and I fished together on a WON trip way back in the ’80s in Costa Rica —“Let’s do this a little more often,” said Overstreet as we got off the boat. Retired fireman Dave Frausto of Lincoln, Calif., and Hollywood power/light contractor Malcom Bryce (on his third PV trip), who have fished with this writer and WON several times were also aboard. There was Jerry Rincon of Brentwood, who was after a big fish on his first Apollo trip, and Shawn Suhr of Santa Barbara, who was aboard the June 2018 Apollo trip to PV with us and was after his first cow tuna as well.

Let’s get this out there right now. The weather was fine and got better each day as the winds settled. We had good current, 500 caballitos and some talent aboard with a crew that knows the region and its channels of big tuna. But the volume of fish was not there, Capt. Cruz said, and when we did see tuna blow up under birds, it was scattered, and generally did not want our bigger cabbie baits on long soaks or under the balloons, which are usually “sure” things. They were on sauries or crabs, and it was frustrating for us, and the crew.

We ended up with five fish out of six solid bites. Two over 200, one a 300 pounder and a trio of fish from 140 to 160 pounds. Not many fish by a long shot but a good percentage of success. The one loss was a huge fish, a heartbreaker for Jerry Rincon, who hooked it on a fly-lined caballito the first day. The defeat came after more than an hour at the rail, at deep color, as it bit through 130-pound leader. Rincon will be back for another crack at the big tuna, you can be sure of that.

jeremylarainJEREMY LARA (in camo shirt, third from right holding tail) with his first big yellowfin, a 232 pounder. He is with his family members on the trip. From left: Gordy Lara, his dad Ron Lara, Jeremy, Juan Lara (grandfather of Jeremy) and his cousin, Johnny Lara. PAT McDONELL PHOTO

The five fish caught were, in order, Jeremy Lara’s 232. It was hooked by Ron Lara on the long soak and handed to his son Jeremy, who did a fine job on his first-ever big yellowfin. The crew coached him and his grandfather was at the rail too, offering encouragement, and when the two gaffs struck and it came over the rail, Jeremy was one happy grandson. Then came the big tuna by Rincon, who had the beast on for well over an hour and color lost it at the bow at deep color. The line must have slid across the jaw into teeth, suggested Capt. Cruz, saying the Demon circle hook was likely hooked inside the mouth or gut and not in the corner. It was a clean cut, so the 130-pound fluoro slid over the massive jaw onto the teeth. The second fish landed of the trip was a 145 pounder by Joe Overstreet on a fly-lined cabbie, and that was it for the day.

The second day’s action saw one fish caught, Jeff Vogl’s kite fish of 321 pounds that almost spooled him, although the crew had another rig ready with floats, but Vogl did a great job of stopping the last big run and worked it slowly back to the boat. It took three gaffs and all the strength of the crew to get it over the rail and aboard with a thump on the deck to cheers and hugs. What a fish!

“My buddies always ask why I go on so many trips, and I’ve always told them it’s because I need to get that 300 pounder,” said Vogl. “I have to think of a new excuse.” For whatever reasons, that was it for the second day. And at that point we knew it was a tough trip, and sure enough the final day was tougher, with a 154 pounder by Gordy Lara the only fish. For Gordy, it was a great trip. He was convinced to come by his father, Juan, at the family Christmas party. There were some Christmas libations involved, because Gordy usually stays off the ocean due to seasickness. The patch worked great and Gordy won the Avet reel and got a big tuna.

As we headed home Capt. Cruz addressed the group, and had no easy answer for the slow fishing. Fewer fish in the area, tons of small bait the fish were concentrated on, etc. The numerous line tangles didn’t help either. But in these PV trips, it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality, and that always keeps people coming back for another shot. Sometimes Karma works in your favor.

The 2019 season is full and the Apollo takes only charter groups of us to 12 people, so start planning your big tuna adventure and go to for details. To inquire about next year’s charter, or other great 2019 charters on the books, contact


THE APOLLO/WON trip had its great moments, including the first big tuna of the trip, the 232 pounder by Jeremy Lara of Escondido on his first big-tuna trip with his family. He looks pretty excited. The Apollo crew is, from left, Capt. Jay Cruz, Giovanni Cruz, Justin Kertzman and Capt. Justin Ryan. 

althoughsomebringALTHOUGH SOME BRING harnesses and the boat has some, the best way to fight these monsters is using the rail and putting heavy pressure on the fish. Three fish nearly spooled the 50-wide reels. Here Jeremy Lara gets some rail advice and help from Apollo crewman Jake Kertzman, and Jeremy’s grandfather, Juan Lara. PAT McDONELL PHOTO

JOE OVERSTREET OF Big Bear scored this 145-pound yellowfin on a long-soaked caballito the first day. He is shown here with Capt. Jay Lorenzo Cruz. PAT McDONELL PHOTO

OUR GROUP WAS a real mix of folks from all over, but was half-filled with the Lara family contingent headed by Juan Lara of Pico Rivera who came with two sons, their two sons and a family friend Mike Milland. From left to right, the WON charter group was: Back row: Host Pat McDonell of Carlsbad, Shawn Suhr of Santa Barbara, Malcom Bryce of Agua Dulce, Joe Overstreet of Big Bear, Dave Frausto of Lincoln, Calif., Rick Ozaki of Avet/Graftech, Jeremy Lara of Escondido, Gordy Lara of Whittier, Johnny Lara of Whittier. Sitting: Jeff Vogl of Las Vegas, Jerry Rincon of Brentwood, Ron Lara of Chino Hills, and Mike “Cameron Blanco” Milland of Chino Hills. PAT McDONELL PHOTO

caballitosweretheCABALLITOS WERE THE main live bait used under the balloons or on the long soak. Hooks preferred are Mustad’s ringed Demon in 6/0 or 7/0 sizes, with 130-pound loop-to-loop wind-on leaders built by the crew. PAT McDONELL PHOTO

THE APOLLO DIVIDES its time between Puerto Vallarta and San Diego. The 65 footer will return in June. It runs only charters, so get a group together now or join WON on the water in 2020! APOLLO PHOTO

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