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2004 Jackpot Review

Caballitos fished deep near Finger Bank turn up big money fish
during Los Cabo Tuna Jackpot

WON Staff Writer

CABO SAN LUCAS - The team members from Big Brother had to feel pretty good about their 70.9-pound yellowfin tuna, the first to be weighed on the scales out in front of the Hacienda Beach Resort on the initial day of competition.

They knew it was easy to pick off small tuna around the porpoise, but bigger fish were much harder to find during the sixth installment of the Mercury/ Western Outdoor News Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot.

Yet with near-perfect Cabo weather and 631 anglers on 179 teams entered in the event, several big tuna would be hauled to the scenic beach via panga to claim their share of a record $544,000 in cash.

The shotgun start with 179 teams.

It didn't take long until the benchmark for the Tuna Jackpot was set, as the fish brought ashore by the Afishinado was one of those tubby yellowfin tuna that just keep getting bigger the more you look at it.

Weighmaster Tom White listened as the weight estimates shouted out to emcee Pat McDonell hovered around the 200-pound mark and wondered whether he had to put the scale at high power. He decided to go with the regular setting and when the scale wouldn't weigh, White knew he had a fattie on his hands.

A quick reset of the scale and three staff members got the Afishinado tuna back up on the hook. This time the scale read out 206 pounds and angler W.G. "Snuffy" Walden had his first tuna over 200 to his credit.

Better, Walden and his teammates - Bennett Salway, Gary Pops and Shawn Bennett - had a solid grip on the overall jackpot and $500 and $1,000 daily jackpots.

Since it was only the first day of the tournament, no much info on the catch was forthcoming, but as the fish was taken back down the beach, one of the local crew members revealed the big tuna was caught on a "caballito fished on the bottom."

Team captain Salway, who owns the boat with two partners who opted to stay in the states, confirmed that later, noting at the awards ceremony that they found a small area of porpoise on a temperature break outside and below the Finger Bank.

"We just worked that spot and caught several small tuna before we caught the big one," said Salway. "We dropped a caballito down on a sinker and hooked the big one."

The LOCAANU.S. MEDIA got their shots at weigh-in the first day as Team Afishinado celebrated the 206 pounder the first day. The big tuna earned the team a cool $130,440.

Angler Walden told the crowd at the ceremony that the fish was obviously a big one by the power of its first runs.

"I was on it an hour and 20 minutes when it got tail-wrapped and came up," noted Walden. "The leader was really chafed, we were lucky the fish came up when it did."

Meanwhile during the early stages of day one, the $3,000 daily jackpot was still wide open, as no qualifying (40-pound minimum) fish had been weighed yet. The Solmar 4 team of Ron Tatsui, Irwin Maltz, John Bonk and Russell Nakada brought a 77.7-pound fish to the scales, but they weren't in any of the jackpots, much less the $3,000.

Then a little after 5 p.m. the No Mas roared around the Cape rocks and dropped anchor past the big yellow West Marine buoys delineating the weigh area. Last year Todd Flammer's No Mas team cleared a cool $132,800 for a 68-pound yellowfin, so there was no doubt whether they were in all the jackpots this time around.

The only question was whether the 77.6-pound tuna Flammer, Dave Brackmann, Shaun Kearney and Steve Brackmann brought in to dash the hopes of the Big Brother team would hold up. If it did, the boys on the No Mas would win $171,200.

There was only a half-hour left for boats to weigh in, but all afternoon there had been talk on the radio of a boat in the Pisces Fleet that had a fish pushing 200 pounds aboard.

The light faded and several boats anchored up inside the buoys well ahead of the 6 p.m. deadline. Steve Brackmann was in the crowd and saw a couple smaller fish weighed.

Then a tuna that wasn't 200 pounds but obviously over 100 pounds was hauled up the beach, the team of Jeff Johnson, Mike Chiovare, Jim Ellsworth and Brad Sumner on the Pisces Fleet's Ni Modo close behind.

The crowd at the Mercury-sponsored Hacienda Beach party Friday night enjoyed food, drink and $60,000 in raffle prizes, including a trip to Waterfall Resort in Alaska.

The members of team 69 were asked if they were in all the jackpots.

"Yeah, I think so," said one.

"No, we didn't get in the $3,000 jackpot," said team captain Johnson.

The Ni Modo's 139-pound yellowfin tuna was still worth $118,400, leaving the No Mas with a "consolation prize" of $52,800.

"We were slow trolling a skipjack about 11 in the morning and we were all pretty much asleep," said Johnson of the Ni Modo's catch. "Then we got the bite and things got pretty exciting."

Weighmaster White inspected the tuna and found the tail of the skipjack sticking out of the yellowfin's gullet, the big bait so firmly wedged he couldn't pull it out.

A final wave of five boats swept through the buoys, but the couple that bothered to weigh their fish were well short of even the No Mas fish.

The next day the wind was up and the fishing was tougher. The weigh-in got off to a slow start, with the only buzz coming from a boat that was broken down and radioed in to see if there was any way they could be towed in.

Mike Packard, the tournament's radio control man, quickly pointed out that was against the rules.

Then a fat tuna was hauled up the beach and it looked like the Bad Market team of Tom Pianko, Ted Pianko, Mark Rangell and Odell Isaac were in the money when the yellowfin tipped the scale at a respectable 129 pounds.

But the team wasn't in any of the daily jackpots and $241,800 was still up for grabs. Just before lines out at

4 p.m., word came that the boat that broke down was repaired. The literally wiggy team of Corey Kliman, Eddie Castro and Lain West on the Karma hoped they had the money in the bag with their tuna.

"Be the fat one, be the fish we need," the team, including one Elvis imitator, exhorted as the yellowfin was put on the scales. The weight of 87.1 pounds was announced and the celebration - already well underway - continued.

The weigh area at the Hacienda Beach was tried out this year as pangeros took fish off boats and brought them to the scale.

The party didn't last long, however, as two minutes later the 19's Toy team of Don Presley, Kim Clayton, David Hester and Joe Hester weighed in a 92.4-pound yellowfin tuna and claimed the right to the cash in the $500, $1,000, $2,000, $3,000 and $5,000 jackpots.

The Picante Fleet charter boat had the right equipment aboard to attract the big fish.

"There was a downrigger on the boat and after we caught some small fish, we decided to give it a try," said angler David Hester. "We dropped down a caballito and 10 minutes later we hooked up."

Tom Rogers' speedy twin-engine skiff Believer - "We were the first boat to the Finger Bank every day" - was the next to weigh a fish.

That .4 of a pound on the end of the 19's Toy's weight turned out to be as big as Derek Fisher's shot, since the scale stopped at 92.2 pounds and left Rogers and teammates Angel Borg, Mark Hammell and Mike McClune without a claim to the $70,600 in the first two jackpots.

"Weigh it again!" pleaded Rogers, but White pointed out that now the scale said it was .1 lighter.

The day started to draw to a close with only dorado and wahoo brought up the beach, including a 55.4-pound 'hoo that won angler Don Giotionini and teammates Bruce Peirano, Harold Lucht and David Mazzera G. Loomis rods and Shimano reels.

With a half-hour to go, Presley and his crew showed up at the weigh area to watch as their fate unfolded.

Where was the boat that broke down?

The last 10 minutes were excruciatingly long, even for those who didn't have $241,800 on the line.

Boat after boat turned the corner at the Cape and plowed towards the weigh area, only to turn at the last moment and head into the marina.

No boats were in sight with only a few minutes left, then a big sportfish blasted around Land's End and dug a furrow towards the beach.

Team Afishinado with their beautiful 206 pounder.

"Bend youĂ–, c'mon bend," said David Hester, adding body language to the command.

The boat turned towards the marina.

"That's it, I declare the tournament officially over and Don Presley and his team the winners of $241,800," announced Pat McDonell as the team hugged each other and jumped up and down in front of the Outdoor Channel camera.

McDonell put the mike in front of Presley and that's when it was discovered that it was the 19's Toy that had broken down and called in to see if they could be towed.

"We had decided that if we caught a good fish, we were going to come in early in case we had any troubles," said Presley later.

"After we caught the fish on the downrigger, we thought we might be able to get a bigger one the same way, so we fished a little longer," noted Hester. "When we didn't catch anything right away we decided to head in."

"We were only 40 minutes away from the scales when there was a big bang and a puff of smoke and everything shut down," added Presley. "We knew the rules, but we called in anyway. The rules said you can't be towed, so I asked if a boat could push us in."

It was a radio call from Team 106 on the Ragin Cajin that set Presley and his teammates back on the road to victory. They told them an automatic shutdown system had probably turned off the motors and if they could disable the system, the boat could be started again.

"The skipper and his crewman got down in the engine room and starting snipping wires," said Presley. "They cut the right one and got the boat running. We just nursed it back home. We told ourselves that if we got around the rocks and she broke down again, we were going to get out and swim her in to the beach."

No such heroics were required, sparing tournament director Kit McNear from another rules decision.

It wasn't the biggest fish that earned the biggest payout in Tuna Jackpot history, but Presley and his teammates certainly had their share of anxiety to go with the lion's share of the cash.

*Total Payout: $554,000       *Prizes:$180,000


Team 128 19's Toy 92.4 $241,800
Don Presley, Corona, CA
Kim Clayton, Corona, CA
David Hester, Santa Ana, CA
Joe Hester, Huntington Beach, CA
Note: Won cash in all day 2 optional jackpots

Team 161 Afishinado 206 $130,440
Bennett Salway, Tarzana, CA
Gary Pops, unknown
Shawn Bennett, unknown
W.G. "Snuffy" Walden, Calabasas, CA
Note: Won $500 and $1,000 Day 1 optional jackpots

Team 69 Ni Modo 139 $125,440
Jeff Johnson, Bell, CA
Mike Chivare, Glendora, CA
Jim Ellsworth, Yorba Linda, CA
Brad Sumner, Palmdale
Note: Won 1,000, $2,000, $5,000 Day 1 optional jackpots and placed second overall

Team 85 No Mas 77.6 $52,800
Todd Flammer, Orange, CA
Steve Brackmann, Orange, CA
Shaun Kearney, Newport, CA
Dave Brackmann, Huntington Beach
Note: Won $3,000 1st Day optional jackpot

Team 73 Bad Market 129 $3,500
Tom Pianko, Littleton, CO
Ted Pianko, Irvine, CA
Mark Rangell, Highland Ranch, Col
Odell Isaak, Englewood, CA
Note: Placed third place overall

Wahoo Award: Team 109, 55.4; Angler: Don Giotionini and teammates
                awarded G. Loomis rods, Shimano reels
*Record cash payout                 *Record prizes

Top 13 Tuna*


Afishinado 206.0 1
Ni Modo 139.0 1
Bad Market 129.0 2
19's Toy 92.4 2
Believer 92.2 2
Karma 87.1 2
Solmar 4 77.7 1
No Mas 77.6 1
Tail Chaser 75.6 1
Big Brother 70.9 1
Picante Salsa 65.1 1
Soccorro 65.0 1
Joanna 51.31 1
*Number of Tuna weighed