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200-Pound Tuna Takes Top Two Spots, Biggest Bucks

By RICH HOLLAND
WON Staff Writer

CABO SAN LUCAS, BCS — Margaritas, azure seas, beautiful women, rowdy nightclubs, dream machine sportfishers, giant tuna that jump clear out of the water, parties, parties, parties — it still all comes down to one thing in a tournament: what you bring to the scales.

The First Annual Western Outdoor News Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Tournament rose to the occasion on both of the event’s fishing days when yellowfin tuna over 200 pounds were brought to the weigh station on the malecon in front of the Plaza Las Glorias resort.

For two days 112 boats revved their engines at the sight of the 7 a.m. flare set off from tournament control boat International Star  and fanned out from the fabled arch at Land’s End in search of the yellowfin tuna that would earn them a piece of the $159,760 cash purse.

And for two days tournament directors Pat McDonell and Kit McNear and their tournament crew opened the scales at 1 p.m. and waited to see how many boats would come back burdened with tuna. Here’s how it all unfolded.

Day 1

 

When the mid-day sun fries the pavement and barely a breath of wind stirs the bright yellow dorado pennants on the dockside pangas, you start to wonder if anybody even caught a fish.

Then the Alma Rosa III, brought down from the East Cape by team captain Gil Mendiaz, pulled into the docks just before 2 p.m. and brought not one but half a dozen yellowfin up the ramp. Mike Bradley of La Crescenta was all smiles as the biggest of the bunch was hoisted up and weighed 86.6 pounds.

Mendiaz set a precedent for all who would follow that day when he refused to talk about the catch. I guess putting hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line is one way to get a fisherman to shut up.

Once again traffic spread out on the malecon and a half-hour passed before an electrical current of anticipation seemed to draw people like metal filings to a magnet.

“The Tiger Spirit  is pulling in and word has it they have a very large tuna aboard,” announced Pat McDonell over the PA system, which drew even more folks towards the weight station scaffold.

Even with the warning, the size of the tuna brought up the ramp by the tournament crew drew gasps of astonishment. The crowd pushed close as the yellowfin was lifted up onto the scale and erupted into cheers when Kit McNear announced the weight.

“201.9 pounds — we have a new leader!”

Not only a leader, but a potential big money winner, since the Tiger Spirit  team was signed up in all of the daily jackpots. Jack Sowell, who has fished every WON  saltwater event and is noted as an expert calico bass fisherman, was the team member who caught the fish, while team captain was Marc Higashi of Performance Tackle in Los Alamitos. John Tolen and boat owner Ned Wallace rounded out the four-man team that posed for pictures with the giant yellowfin, along with skipper Mike “Mouse” Libby and local crew member Antonio.

A popular, longtime Cabo skipper, Mouse was the object of many a slap on the back and congratulatory handshake.

The Tiger Spirit  moved away from the dock to make room for the other tournament boats that were now coming to the dock to unload a steady stream of 60 to 80-pound tuna. But the only other 200 pounders were the subject of bad luck stories.

One team swore they lost 2 tuna in the 200-pound class, while another actually had a gaff in a “250-pound class” tuna only to watch the gaff get ripped out of the deckhand’s grasp as the tuna dove under the boat and broke the line. Another team lost a 200-pound-plus fish when the line touched the swim step and snapped after they watched the tuna circle at color for 15 minutes.

The sun was nearly down behind the homes of Pedregal and much of the Tiger Spirit  team was back accepting heaps of good will when the Vino Fino  pulled in well ahead of the 5 p.m. deadline for boats to be in the harbor. Word was they also had a big fish.

The transom door of the big yacht swung wide to reveal the broad girth of a towel-wrapped tuna filling the opening.

“Now I’m getting a little scared,” said Mouse. McNear’s announcement that  the Vino Fino  was only in the $1,000 daily was little consolation.

Then the scale shrunk Ed Actkinson’s tuna down to a mere  127.3 pounds and only team Tiger Spirit  would be splitting up the entire day’s jackpot take.

Conquering angler Jack Sowell was one of the interested observers and he unbent a little when asked about the catch of the 201.9-pound tuna.

“We caught it at the Gorda Bank on a weird little bait fish,” said Sowell. “We spent two hours trying to catch bait for three of them because our skipper said that’s what the big tuna are eating on the bank. We were trolling mine on the outrigger when the big tuna just exploded on it.”

That was not the last we would hear of the strange little fish known as the chuhuil (pronounced chew willy).


Day 2

The shotgun start was decidedly different the second morning as a majority of the boats opted to stay on the Sea of Cortez side of the Cape — which just happens to be the side where the Gorda Bank is located.

If anything, the afternoon started hotter and slower than the day before. At first the rationalization was the first big fish didn’t even show up until 2:30 yesterday, but then 2:30 passed without a fish weighed in. Somebody said they heard it was rough on the Pacific side today.

Could the fishing have shut down, could it be that different?

Oh, it was different all right. It was incredible.

Once the fish started to come to the scales the second day it was nonstop — and the fish were all big. How about a 177-pound yellowfin to get things rolling?

That’s what the Vino Fino  team pulled off after angler Greg Mason of Long Beach battled the monster tuna for 2 hours and 10 minutes on 80-pound tackle.

But word quickly spread that the team was only in the $1,000 daily jackpot, so there was still lots of money left up for grabs, including the third place overall jackpot spot.

The 100-pound plus tuna started to stack up on the sidewalk when Ron Atwood’s El Dorado  team put their 134.5-pound yellowfin on the scale. By the time Right Reason  team captain Joe Jonovic weighed his 127.20-pound tuna, it wasn’t even big enough to crack the top six on the leader board. R. Schoensiegel’s team #35, which included Tony Bykirk and Terry Wilkinson, couldn’t hide their disappointment when their tuna only weighed 118 pounds.  Many was the story of jumping yellowfin on the porpoise outside the Jaime Bank.

Then there was a lull in the action, at which point one of the Flying Fish  boats from Baja on the Fly brought in a big blue marlin. Several marlin had already been refused, but the tournament directors decided  to weigh the fish as a favor, but they wouldn’t have if they had known what was going to happen. 

It turned out the marlin tweaked the scale, which became very important when the La Playita panga Estella del Mar  pulled up to the dock with not one, but two mondo yellowfin tuna.

The biggest of the pair was a fat brute that looked like it could go as big as 250 pounds. For more on what happened, see Pat McDonell’s column on this website, but suffice it to say there was a lengthy delay before the fish was accurately weighed and the big crowd started to get a little ugly.

Everything worked out and the big tuna weighed in at 218.9 pounds and the locals in the crowd now exulted. After all, it was Mexico’s own Jaime “Chame” Pino Arista, a promoter for the Punta Gorda Sportfishing Guluarte Fleet, and brother of Estella del Mar  skipper To-o, who caught the big tuna. They were joined in the panga by old friends Daniel Gallardo and team captain Miguel Angeles, both of Santa Barbara. To top things off, their other tuna weighed 121.5 pounds. Quite a catch on a panga, but to listen to To-o, nothing out of the ordinary.

“My family has been fishing the Gorda Bank for 58 years,” he said. “My father fished the Gorda and his father fished it. I have been catching big tuna on the Gorda Bank for many years. Last month I caught a 315-pound tuna.”

At first To-o claimed the fish was caught on a bulito (bullet tuna), but later the team would fess up and admit the fish was caught on chuhuil. (For more on how the big fish catches were made, see Rich Holland’s column.)

The delay caused fish to stack up at the weigh station and there were still matters to be decided. The Estella del Mar  team had only entered the $100 daily jackpot and, as you recall, the Vino Fino  team was only in the $1,000 pot. That left the $200, $300 and $400 pots up for grabs.

Tony Steinhart’s Marcella  team quickly settled that with a 143.10-pound yellowfin caught by Terry Kreger. The boat was skippered by the well-known Mino Shiba, manager of the Mosquito Fleet, who brought it around the corner from La Paz for the event.

The 139 pounder caught on the Gracielita  by Robert Martin and Robert Shannon was the last tuna of significance to hit the scales, but just wasn’t quite enough.

In all, 10 yellowfin tuna over 100 pounds were brought to the scales the last day of the tournament, as well as another 4 fish from 89 to 97 pounds.

 

The Awards Ceremony

There was just one thing left to figure out. Well, actually two things. Beside how much money the winners would receive, the awards ceremony Saturday night would decide which member of the three teams that caught a fish over 175 pounds would be the winner of the Ford F-150 truck provided by Burch Ford and El Monte Ford.

The names of all the team members from the Estella del Mar,  Tiger Spirit  and Vino Fino  were dropped into a bucket and Marty Burch of Burch Ford drew one, but first he had a story to tell.

“We’re really happy to be giving away this truck, but a few weeks before the tournament Glenn and I had a real scare when our insurer backed away from the deal,” said Burch. “That’s when (WON publisher) Joe Higgens introduced me to Ken Price, owner of the International Star. Ken wanted the first tournament to be a success and he offered to be the insurer at the 175-pound minimum. So our thanks go out to Ken Price and the International Star.”

Glenn Wilson of El Monte Ford announced the winner — Ned Wallace, owner of the Tiger Spirit. Amid cheers from his team and the crowd, Wallace took the mike.

“My skipper, Mouse, has only been on the boat a month,” said Wallace. “He drives this tiny little Suzuki thing that I can’t even fit into. So Mouse, this truck’s for you.”

Which ignited a raucous celebration to honor the popular skipper, but nobody was more pumped up than Mike “Mouse” Libby.

The evening was filled with prize giveaways from the many sponsors, but the giveaway everyone was interested in was the cash.

For taking all the jackpots on day one for a sum of $57,680 and earning $4,400 for second place overall, Marc Higashi, Jack Sowell, John Tolen and Ned Wallace topped the money total with $62,120.

The Estella del Mar  team of Miguel Angeles, Daniel Gallardo and Jaime Pino Arista won the first place overall cut of $37,740 and added the $100 second day’s jackpot of $3,560 to earn a total of $41,300.

Third place overall money of $1,998 and the $1,000 daily jackpot winnings from the second day of $26,000 brought a total of $28,220 to the Vino Fino  team of Ed Actkinson, Chris Westergard, John Morrison and Greg Mason.

The second day’s $200, $300 and $400 jackpots produced a total cash payout of $28,120 for Tony Steinhart, Vince Steinhart, Ken Deck and Terry Kreger.

“It’s all over,” announced Pat McDonell once the last check was handed out. “We’ll see you all next year.”