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Southland team scores big win in Cabo tuna tourney. New dates set for 2001!

By RICH HOLLAND

WON Staff Writer

CABO SAN LUCAS, BCS - If the inaugural Western Outdoors Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Tournament was a victory for the little man, then the second time around on the Mercury-sponsored event was definitely a win for the big boys. 

Philip Arciero, Jr.'s 58-foot Hatteras Blue Thunder blasted as far as 60 miles from Land's End in search of pods of dolphin during the first day of competition to find the fish that took the biggest hunk of the nearly $250,000 on the line. Members of the 136 official competing teams had arrived in Cabo to find a sweltering combination of heat and humidity, but the wind started to come up early that first day of fishing, a trend that would continue throughout the tourney.  

The early buzz was that the dolphin schools were scarce within 30 miles of Cabo and it proved true during the tournament. Now the rising wind meant boats would not only have to travel far, they would have to pound their way back home. There were other concerns. Word was squid had moved in on the Gordo Banks, further complicating the search for big tuna, since getting a yellowfin to look at a big bait or lure is inestimably harder when it has a belly full of calamari. Although the scales located along the malecon adjacent to the Plaza Las Glorias opened at 1 p.m., the sole activity early on was a game of musical chairs to scrounge the bits of shade around the weigh station, as only fingers of the Pacific breeze searched their way into the marina. 

THE CROWD IN FRONT OF Hotel Plaza Las Glorias and Seafood Mama's on the malecon at Cabo Harbor watches  as the Blue Thunder's big tuna is brought to the scale the first day.

(Western Outdoor News photos by Rich Holland)

Ben Taylor's 130-pound butterball of a yellowfin on the Blue Thunder the first day earned $97,880 in daily jackpots and $45,200 for first place overall.

Yet last year's tourney taught that Tuna Jackpot anglers take advantage of as much fishing time as possible. Or is it that they need most of the 9-hour fishing day to get the job done? Whatever, things didn't start to get serious around the scales until 3.

Then began a trickle  of 60- to 70-pound tuna eventually topped by a 78.9-pound yellowfin caught aboard the Ole Ole by Bluewater Tackle (Solana Beach) team captain Kent Sliger.

Like many of the teams that weighed fish the first day, Bob Tininenko's Ole Ole came in with not one, but several yellowfin tuna. Since the $500 basic entry fee is paid out as an overall jackpot for the 3 biggest fish during the 2 days of the tournament, it was necessary to weigh the biggest couple fish of each team's catch.  

The 78.9 pounder on Ole Ole at least set a clear benchmark for the biggest fish of the day, but the nature of the fishing made for one cookie cutter school-fish after another being drug up to the stage.

We chased schools of porpoise 30 to 50 miles out, said Ole Ole skipper Tony Berkowitz. We caught 4 fish on cedar plugs. By the time Berkowitz was back at the weigh station to keep on eye on his team's fate, the trickle had turned to a parade of tuna.

SECOND DAY JACKPOT - The 75.5-pound yellowfin propped up here by Stray Cat skipper Victor Tomas Iniesta won a stunning $97,880 in daily jackpots. Also pictured, from left, are team captain Carlos Sanchez, Peter Chacon, Craig Cunningham and Scott Dilley. EARLY LEADER - The 78.9-pound yellowfin brought in by Ole Ole was the leader much of the first day and earned second place overall money for the team. To tournament co-director Pat McDonell's left are: boat owner Bob Tininenko, Bluewater Tackle team captain Kent Sigler, skipper Tony Berkowitz and Rob Denny. 

All the trolling of live bait and lures enticed plenty of response from other species, too, but Phil Walker's team on the 26-foot Boston Whaler Gale E quickly wrapped up the prize of a full set of Shimano TLD 30 II reels and G. Loomis rods for each member when Walker, who lives in Del Mar, brought a whopping 62.2-pound dorado to the scales.  With the bar still set at a reachable weight, the marina waters outside the slips dedicated to the weigh station filled with sport fishers waiting their turn while eyeballing their tuna with speculation.

One of those was the 24-foot Believer owned by Tom Rogers of Santa Ana. His team didn't have to guess whether their fish was big enough. They had to wonder if it even counted. When it came to the scales without enough tail to even weigh the fish, Tournament Director Pat McDonell quickly disqualified the tuna as mutilated. Strung through the gills and scales, the yellowfin tuna - a victim of a last second brush with the props - weighed 116 pounds. 

Time was running out on the 5 p.m. deadline for boats to be in the harbor when a big fish headed up the ramp from the docks caused a stir in the crowd.  The Blue Thunder team was about to weigh their big tuna and there was no doubt a new leader was in place when the yellowfin was hoisted up. Weigh master Tom White read off the weight of 130 pounds and angler Ben Taylor thrust his fist into the sky. And why not? The fist pump is a popular gesture at big money sporting events and the tuna had just won the Blue Thunder team $97,800, since they were entered in all six daily jackpots.

We spent all day yesterday (prefishing) up at the Jaime Bank, explained skipper Richard Hoffman. Conditions were perfect, but we didn't see a thing. So today we decided to run offshore and chase porpoise. We didn't find anything until we were 38 miles out, and then all I could find was schools of spinners, which generally have small fish under them.  Nearly 60 miles out, the fifth pod of dolphin held the key to glory.  The fifth school we got on had some common dolphin in it, noted Hoffman, who has 16 years of bird dogging dolphin for the tuna they hold. And we got bit.  Ben Taylor had dropped back a caballito attached to 90-pound fluorocarbon by an Owner 7/0 Gorilla hook and the bite turned out to be the fish they were looking for.

The crowd of boats off the end of the docks had cleared and the 5 p.m. deadline for new arrivals had passed without any challenge. But would the 130 pounder hold up through the second day of competition to grab the top overall spot?  The team didn't think so. Not when they were out in the dolphin schools off the Gordo Bank the next day and they saw one boat after another hook up. It's impossible to tell how big a tuna is just from looking at a bent rod half a mile away. But when a yellowfin snapped the fluorocarbon to monofilament splice during a vicious hookup, the boys on the Blue Thunder knew the big fish were around.

They were right. A team of San Diego firemen was fishing in the same area on the Flyhooker, a chartered 31-foot Bertram, when they hooked at 10 a.m. and landed at  1 p.m. a yellowfin well in excess of 200 pounds.

Not only was the Gordo Banks area a hot place to fish, it was just about the only place to fish the second day of the tournament, as the wind continued to increase and swing more from the north.

Back at the weigh station, the facade of the Plaza Las Glorias blocked much of the wind and again all and sundry sought out any scrap of shade to beat the sizzling Cabo heat.

If anything, the wait for boats to arrive stretched even longer the second day. Then bad news carried with its usual swift speed, as word came that the Flyhooker had broken down and would never have a chance of making the weigh in deadline. (See Pat McDonell's column for more details.)

Now the wait seemed interminable. Yet, as fast as bad news moves, it spreads just as quickly and effectively. Everyone knew the $97,880 in daily jackpots was still up for grabs and when the procession of boats to the docks started, it never ebbed.

The last time this reporter saw so many 55 to 65 pounders in succession was during a red hot bite at Alijos Rocks. The ensuing process was like trying to figure out the jackpot on an albacore trip that caught all its fish off one school.

That is, practically every single dang fish brought up to the scales had to be weighed. A total of 50 tuna were hauled up the second day (opposed to 20 the first day), as the 69.8-pound yellowfin weighed early by Fred Flatley of Pacific Grove and the Bob Marlin team was the leader most of the day and did little to discourage teams from giving it a shot with their 60 pounders.

Down at the end of the docks to take a photo of all the boats in the harbor by the 5 p.m. deadline, which had just passed, I got a look at the two biggest tuna I had seen all day. Eddie Williams of Cerritos and Pete Hernandez of Wilmington were standing with the fish on the deck of the Gaviota VIII trying to decide whether to weigh them or not. So I told them how big Flatley's fish was.

Before Williams and Hernandez could get to the scale, however, the crowd at the weigh in erupted with cheers as Pat McDonell announced that Tujunga resident Pete Chacon's tuna caught on the Stray Cat owned by team captain Carlos Sanchez of Deerfield Beach, FL weighed in at 75.5 pounds.

The pair of tuna caught by Williams would also pass the 70-pound mark, but at 71.4 and 70.6 pounds fell well short of the money. The tournament was over and the Stray Cat team had swept all the second day's daily jackpots with a fish that was only the fifth biggest of the event.  Sometimes when you catch a fish is just as important as how big it is. In the lobby of the Plaza Las Glorias the next morning, a member of Team Tuna Kahuna relaxed in a chair and ruminated.

Last year I caught a 139-pound tuna and finished fifth and out of the money, he said. This year a 130-pound tuna takes the whole damn thing.  And that, indeed, is how the Second Annual Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Tournament sponsored by Mercury turned out.

Blue Thunder team members Phil Arciero, Jr., Ben Taylor and Andy Bueric, skipper Richard Hoffman and crew members Graham Pederson and Manuel Felix were all at the scales to see the last few fish of the second day weighed in and immediately started celebrating their additional good fortune.

Additional as in start adding up the money. Combined with the $97,880 they won in the first day jackpots, the $45,220 for first place in the overall jackpot brought a total of $143,100 to the Blue Thunder team.

To top things off, as the only team to weigh a tuna over 100 pounds, the three team members of Blue Thunder were the sole qualifiers for the drawing of the Ford F-150 pickup truck. They didn't even wait for the formalities of the awards ceremony drawing, as Arciero announced that the truck would be going to Blue Thunder skipper Richard Hoffman.

Of course, the Stray Cat team of Carlos Sanchez, Pete Chacon, Craig Cunningham of Dana Point and Scott Pilley of San Dimas, as their second day jackpot winnings totaled $97,880.

The second place overall money of $5,320 went to the Ole Ole team of Ken Sliger of Solana Beach, Tony Berkowitz of Cabo, Rob Denny of Carlsbad and Robert Tininenko.

El Gato Gordo's team of  John Haugland of Alta Loma, Gerald Haugland of Cloquet, MN, Ben Avila of Monrovia and Joe Cantone of Murrieta split $2,394 for third place overall fish, with an additional $266 going to Alex, captain of the charter boat.

At the poolside awards ceremony of 800 people Friday night at Plaza Las Glorias, the buzz was that the event was better than the first year with far more money and teams and prizes. 

 What would the new dates be? Would there be rules changes. The answers  came last week. The event will be moved back to early November. Mark 'em down on your calendar: The new dates are Nov. 7-10 with details to come later. 

The first major rule change is to give anglers and extra half-hour to reach the inner harbor. Thus, the lines out deadline remains 4 p.m., but teams will have 90 instead of 60 minutes  minutes to return to the inner harbor by 5:30 p.m. and the scale will remain open until all eligible fish are weighed in.

See you in Cabo Nov. 7-10, 2001!