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Stimulator, Picante Express top record Cabo Tuna Jackpot Field of 154 teams
156-pound tuna takes big bucks for Stimulator team

By PAT McDONELL
WON Staff Writer

CABO SAN LUCAS – While at times the competition for the big bucks was overshadowed by the nightly parties and the free drawings, the prime motivation for many of the fishermen in the third annual WON/Mercury Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Tournament was to capture the big-fish title and bank some cool cash.

Whatever the case, fishermen have plenty of excuses for taking time off and heading to Cabo San Lucas, and come November winning cash is always good enough reason to head south.

Under sunny skies and humid conditions, 16 tuna over 100 pounds were weighed in over two days and $300,920 was doled out to four of the 154 teams that competed Thursday and Friday with team Stimulator taking a 156-pound tuna worth $170,680.

For many, the tournament could not have come at a better time, giving participants a chance to forget recent worldwide events. In fact, although other Baja tournaments saw a downturn in participation because of recent events, participation in the Tuna Jackpot was up 18 teams and $67,000 from last year’s competition, which in 2000 boasted $243,000 in cash and 136 teams.

In addition to the cash payouts, another $125,000 in cash and prizes were given away over four nights in special drawings for trips, some of them to such spots as the Waterfall Lodge in Alaska, the East Cape, La Paz, and Crocadile Lodge in Costa Rica. Tackle included 20 TLD30 and Tiagra two-speed reels by Shimano, 20 G.Loomis Pelagic rods, Furuno electronics, $2,000 in cash in three drawings by Flexx-Rap, and hundreds of lures, tackle boxes and clothing items and much more.

Of course, the Jackpot's biggest cash winners were competitors on the Cabo-based charterboats Stimulator ($170,680) with team captain John Goette of Orange, angler Paul Friedrich of Newport Beach and Stimulator owner/captain Jay Bush. That group was followed by the team on the Picante Express ($126,280) with Mel and Judy Ostberg of El Cajon, Andres Montes of Ensenada and Mike Kraus of Newport Beach who landed a 149.10-pound yellowfin.

The top 10 tuna were caught by the Stimulator (156-0), Picante Express (151.6), Blue Thunder (149.10, Knot To Worry (132.2), Curandero (127.8), Marisol (123.1), Bad Company (120.2), Marcella (119), Pleasure Kings (116.2) and Minerva II (112).5). There is a complete listing of all fish weighed in this special supplement.

First day's action on Thursday saw 11 tuna over 100 pounds landed, topped by the Picante Express team’s 151.6 pounder. It was nervous time for the team as they waited at by the scale for more than an hour as six fish over 100 pounds were brought to the scale as hundreds watched the big fish dragged up the ramp.

The biggest fish after that was the yellowfin brought in by the Blue Thunder, led by by skipper Richard Hoffman and team captain Phillip Arciero Jr. which won the big bucks, $130,000, last year. As it turned out, the Blue Thunder's fish came up a mere 2 pounds short. That margin was a huge difference in dollars to the team on the Picante Express as the Ostbergs, Montes and Kraus celebrated their claim to $120,360 for entering all daily jackpots. They also picked up another $5,920 for taking second place overall behind the Stimulator.

"This is like a dream come true for us," said Judy, who celebrated at the weigh-in by jumping in her husband’s arms. "We always compete in the Saltwater Rodeo in Ensenada where we keep out boat at the Coral marina, but this year I said I wanted to come down to be in this. It sounded like a lot of fun."

As for the Blue Thunder team, made up of Anaheim resident Arciera Jr, Andy Buerk of Costa Mesa, Ben Taylor of Corona and Graham Pederson of Vancouver, WA, the loss of the funds and a check for just $2,960 was no reason to be upset. They come each for the fun as well as the competition.

"Oh, that's okay, we came pretty close again and had a great time and caught a biger fish than year’s (130 pounds), so now we’re headed over to Mazatlan for that (marlin) tournament," said Arciero Jr.

The next day, Friday, saw just 5 tuna over 100 pounds weighed in, and it was thought the Stimulator's fish (Seen at right in the weigh-in photo )was over 200 pounds after a mid-day radio report to tournament central. This year a repeater channel was used to improve long range radio reception. The Stimulator's fish, caught on a big jethead on an outrigger in the midst of a porpoise school 35 miles out on a 182-degree heading on a temperature break proved to be big enough to the take the Day 2 Optional Jackpot money of ($120,360) and the Overall Jackpot first place bucks of $50,320. 

Capt.  Bush and the 46-foot Bertram charterboat Stimulator were coming off a win in the Bisbee's marlin event held two weeks earlier in Cabo, but this was a different team (see related story) captained by John Goette of Orange who was in his third year in the Tuna Jackpot and suffered some horrific luck the first year of the event in 1999 when a huge tuna got away at the last moment.

The Overall Jackpot pays through three places, and the optionals are a first-place only competition, so the fourth biggest tuna, a 132.20-pound yellowfin caught the second day by the team on Knot To Worry wasn't expected to be in the "cash," but in a surprise decision by Fishwork Clothing's Pam Quigley at the awards ceremony, she awarded Knot To Worry team members Charlie Whitesell, Dean Whitesell, Chuck Whitesell and Jim Bodman a $1,000 check to push the cash prize amount over the magical mark to $300,920.

Another "side" competition was the annual battle for the biggest wahoo or dorado over two days, good for a Shimano TLD 30 two-speed/G.Loomis Pelagic Series rod for each team member. The team that caught the largest wahoo or dorado was the Gancho team of Jay Swindler, Gary Martin, David Keene and Rich Hosmer with a 69.7-pound wahoo to edge out team Networker with a 67-pound wahoo.

Some big dorado were also caught, including a 64 pounder landed the second day by the all-Canadian team on the Sea U Later made up of Cole Spring of Kelowna, B.C, Pat Dennett of Coquitgam, B.C., and Troy and Gary Farewell of Campbell River, B.C. That team had a pretty good tournament overall, as they also weighed in a 109.8-pound yellowfin the first day, one of the eleven 100 pounders brought in to the scale as hundreds watched on the malecon in front of Hotel Plaza Las Glorias and Seafood Mama's Restaurant.

Boats of all sizes, from trailerboats to yachts to pangas such as the 1999 winner Estrella Del Mar, competed side-by-side in the 154-team field. In an amazing story in itself  one 26-footer, the Donna Catalina, was trailered to Cabo from Salem, Oregon, a distance each way of 2,000 miles, by John and Evelyn Boyer of Salem. They also have a good sense of humor, signing in their 1-year-old baby as one of the team's official members. The Boyers weighed in a fish, a 63.6 pounder, they caught Day 1 at the Gordo Bank on a sardina with the use of a downrigger. .

Boats from the East Cape and La Paz were entered or chartered. One was the Marcella, a 28 footer skippered by Mino Shiba, owner of the La Paz-based Mosquito Fleet. The team was made up of Larry McCormick of Canyon Country, his son Greg McCormick, also of Canyon Country, Richard Stahlnecker of Burbank, and Jerry Conroy of Torrance. They had a great Day 2 while fishing over a massive school of boiling tuna for two hours with no other boats around as they worked a temp break. While a number of tuna broke off, the bigger fish that were hooked were landed, topped by a yellowfin of 119.6, 74.2 and 88.3 pounds. The biggest fish, 10th biggest in the event, was hooked by Stahlnecker on a caballito.

Of course, there were plenty of beautiful yachts in the event. Team 49 on a Blackfin 38, the Curandero, was in the thick of the competition with a beautiful 127.8-pound yellowfin the first day, fifth biggest of the 16 tuna weighed over two days. The team of Douglas Tanner of Watsonville, John Reiner of San Diego, James Clair of Atlanta, GA and Ray Reiner of San Diego caught the fish on live bait, with Ray battling the fish to the gaff.

Sixth place was taken by Team 130 on the Marisol, a 28 footer, that caught a 123.1 pounder 48 miles out on a 150 heading on live bait. The team, made up of Gary Robbins of Sylmar, Dave Custer of Valencia and Carrie Hallman of San Angelo, Texas, had a right to feel confident as they were coming off marlin tournament wins hosted recently by Bisbee's in La Paz and the East Cape.

Several sponsors also competed while donating prizes. One was Tracy Melton of Melton International Tackle in Anaheim who was Team Captain of the 60-foot Hatteras Bad Company, one of the top marlin sportfishers around. The team of Melton, Jim Kingsmill, Martin Herrera and Anthony Hsieh caught a 120.2-pound yellowfin the first day near a porpoise school for the seventh biggest fish of the event.

Bad Company did pretty well in another "competition," as names of anglers on the 16 teams that caught fish of 100 pounds or more were entered into a drawing for a trip for two people for 8 days and seven nights and five days of fishing to Costa Rica’s Crocadile Lodge, including airfare from anywhere in the U.S. on Continental Airlines. The winner was Kingsmill, with Bill Hutchison of the lodge on hand to give out the prize at the awards dinner.

Each there are always a few awards handed out at the whim of the staff. This year another hard Luck Award was dished out, this time to Team 58, a group of SoCal firemen aboard the Bertram 42 footer Pura Vida. It's members are Don Bowen of Rancho Santa Margarita, Michael McFadden of Long Beach and Ray Kuipers of Lake Forest. They lost a huge tuna they said was well over 200 pounds as it broke the line after a 2 1/2-hour battle. They were awarded a free Overall Jackpot entry fee for next year.

There was another side-competition, one sponsored by Cabos luxurious Villa Estancia. Anglers signed up to guess the weight of the biggest tuna at the check-in. Eight anglers came within a pound and two nailed it at 156 pounds. They were Martin Curtin and Gary Farewell. Since the prize was a Shimano TLD30 two-speed reel and G. Loomis Pelagic rod, the prize was split up, and at the podium Farewell generously offered to give first choice to Curtin, who selected the reel.

Prizes and parties

There were five parties held during the course of the Jackpot Tuna week, starting with the Wednesday check-in poolside at the Hotel Plaza Las Glorias. As music played and a buffet lunch was available, teams arrived, confirmed their team member's names and charterboats and added to their daily jackpots.

They were given Mercury flags, wristbands to get them in the parties, free drink tickets for the parties, and drawing stubs for the $125,000 in drawings. From there they went to the "goodies" table where Dave and Lisa Henry of Flexx-Rap and Dennis Yamamoto of Owner hooks doled out freebie six-packs of Flexx-Rap tape, four-packs of Owner hooks, the new Baja Directions maps, plus free Chuck Byron Tattoos.

There were also official Tuna Jackpot polo shirts for sale, and bars were set up around the area as anglers sat or swam, ate lunch and waited for the captains meeting at 6 p.m., followed by the first of four drawings of tackle, trips and clothing (see sponsors list and photos) that totaled $125,000 before the Jackpot week had ended. Then it was off into the night, with some teams actually getting some sleep!

The shotgun start with 154 boats near the famed Los Cabos Arch at 7 a.m. on Thursday was thrilling, and as usual, a few boats jumped the gun, but Mayor Narcizo Agundez quickly shot a massive flare from the top deck of the cruise boat the Oceana, and everyone joined in the run to the fishing grounds as a chartered WON plane shot aerial photos. The weigh-in started at 2 p.m. and ended at 5:30 with crowds of 300 awaiting the next 100-pound fish, with five brought to the scales that day, three of which were bigger than any fish caught last year. The biggest was the 151.6 pounder by Picante Express, followed by Blue Thunder's near-miss 149.10 pounder that cause a lot of oohs and aahs as it missed a huge payday by 2 pounds.

All staff and anglers made their way to the Cabo downtown nightclub Squid Roe, for the 7 p.m. Shimano-sponsored party in which free Tuna Jackpot hats were handed out at the door and each angler got a free drink to stay cool (It was hot in there!). The first prizes were handed out in the rowsy atmosphere, halted only slightly when co-director Pat McDonell asked for a little sanity (not possible at Squid Roe) as he went over the day's results and announced the six daily jackpots totaled just over $120,360 for the Picante Express team. with a 151.6-pound tuna.

It was also announced the field was at a record 154 teams and that $300,000 was in the Overall and Optional jackpots, a big jump from last year's 136 teams and $243,000. Then it was back to the drawings, with $25,000 in Plano tackle boxes, Berkley/Pure Fishing $500 catalog shopping sprees, Burch Ford-sponsored Baja trips, Flexx-Rap $500 cash awards, and hundreds of lures and hats and shirts tossed out into the crowd.

The schedule for Friday was the same for the shotgun start under sunny skies and light winds. By the time the weigh-in was over at 5:30 p.m., five more tuna over 100 pounds were hoisted by weighmaster Tom White before a massive throng at the scale in front of Seafood Mama's. The microphone didn't work, but a leader board, some yelling of results and word of mouth got the job done. The winner, of course, was the 156 pounder by team Stimulator, and by 6 p.m. the masses were headed to another 7 p.m. party, a sit-down affair sponsored by Mercury on the malecon by the marina at the Shrimp Bucket. As anglers entered, they received free t-shirts, courtesy of Mercury for the third straight year.

It was quite a sight, 800 people on the malecon, eating, listening to music by the Dorados, talking fishing, and rushing up to win another $25,000 in prizes, with WON Publisher Joe Higgins, Berkley's Brad Steiler, Shimano's Jeremy Sweet, Owner's Dennis Yamamoto and Fred Hall & Assoc. Mike Battistoni handing out the massive pile of prizes and certificates at breakneck speed.

Co-Director Pat McDonell went over the day’s results, and asked the firefighters and police and other emergency personnel to stand up and be honored. The 60 or so people stood up, as did the rest of the crowd in a standing ovation. It was a feel good moment for everyone, and if anyone had suffered a heart attack that night he would have been in good hands.

The final night, Saturday, was the awards fiesta at Hotel Plaza Las Glorias, when the cash, the rest of the prizes and the kudos were handed out to the sponsors, staff and the people who participated, and the people in Cabo had helped stage the five-day event with few, if any hitches. The highlight of the evening turned out not to be the cash awards, since people already knew which three teams would win money. Nay, it was a raffle of a Chuck Byron original painting commissioned for the Tuna Jackpot.

Proceeds were to go to the building of a kitchen at a Cabo orphanage for kids, many of whom were orphaned by the recent hurricane. In spirited bidding, $5,400 was raised, the painting going to Mel and Judy Ostberg, whose Picante Express team had won $126,280. Another feel-good moment that capped a great tournament.

Let’s do it all again next year. Interested? Just mark Nov. 6-9, on the 2002 calendar.

Next year’s event is slated for Nov. 6-9, 2002 on the same basic schedule, with a few subtle improvements likely on location of the parties and a streamlining of the awards ceremonies as the tournament field grows. Fishing days will be Thursday and Friday, Nov. 7-8. Interest is already brewing for 2002. In fact, several fleets, such the Picante, are being heavily booked for next year.

"I just got bombarded with people wanting to come back to us again, and they immediately signed up. It's incredible how quick the fleet is being booked up, concerning the tournament was held just last week," said Jenny Donovan of the Picante Fleet. "The Bisbee's is like that, too, and it's happening with this one now. I’m hearing that people were very pleased with how the tournament went and they’re going back."

Details on the 2002 event and more 2001 photos and a complete roster of boats and team members for this year is available on  this Tuna Jackpot website (wwwe.loscabotunajackpot.com).