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Making sausage

The visual of making sausage is not pretty. You have to admit, it tastes good, but some things should not be divulged. In the case of a fishing tournament like the Cabo Tuna Jackpot, the back stories of preparation for the event are not only suitable for human consumption, but quite compelling.

JUDY PASSERELLO and Carol Lynn Collette have been staffers at the event for 15 years. Here they pose at the Fiesta with director Pat McDonell.
Take the beginnings of the event, now in its 15th year with the 16th version planned Nov. 5-8, 2014. The concept started 17 or even 18 years ago with a call from me to Kit McNear who at the time was our Fishing Schools Director and tournament guy. I was a mere editor who often tagged along and covered the SoCal and Baja events he put on. So while marketing them in WON for Kit, I also got numerous tutorials over the years on how successful tournaments are put on. I might add I also covered the Bisbee's Black and Blue Marlin Tournament for three years, and one year Kit and I competed in the Bisbee's as a team with John King and Dennis Braid on King's Afishinado. I saw what worked, and what didn't from all angles.

REBECA RUIZ of YUNIK Events was the on-site coordinator of event and obtained all government permits, and was instrumental in getting the prizes and gifts shipped south, and provided tables and chairs and tents for the event through her company.

When I saw the "opening," as I call it, I called Kit.

"Now that AeroCalifornia is bankrupt, let's do a tournament in Cabo," I said to Kit. "Like Bisbee's, with lower-priced optionals and a lower entry fee." (At the time, it cost $6,000 to enter the Bisbee's, and it went up to $16,000. It is now $71,000 for all the optionals.)

Why the phone call to Kit. What changed? You see, the Mexican airline, based in La Paz, forbade us from doing a Baja tourney anywhere but La Paz. We lost the valuable sponsorship, and with it the Yellowtail Shootout tourney that had been so sucessful, but we gained freedom. Kit wanted a wahoo tourney originally, I wanted a tuna tourney, and Joe Higgins, then our marketing and sales director, opposed the tuna idea, and against my wishes bid for a marlin tournament with the Cabo Hotel Association. They picked Dan Jacobs and Marlin Magazine to run their event. I couldn't have been happier.

My feeling was, there were too many marlin events, and why compete with Bisbee's? Everyone at WON agreed and after a lot of groundwork here in the U.S. and in Mexico, our first tuna tourney in 1999 drew 112 teams. The main obstacle I found was that businesses like hotels and charter companies didn't "need" another tourney in November. They wanted a tourney when people didn't already flock to Cabo, in late October and early November, the beginning of Cabo's high season after the oppressive heat and threat of hurricanes move on.

MEMBERS OF THE STAFF, sp0nsors and guests in Cabo at the Cabo Escape Charity charter the second day.

But I researched the "Big Tuna" season from friends like Jim Mitchell and long range captains and charter cartains in Cabo. The best time for big tuna is late October, early November, and we stuck to that schedule. We had to draw teams in prime time, and keep them coming back. Poor fishing will kill an event. And we promoted the hell out of the tourney, and with the help of Bill Grimsely, created an event-specific website for the tourney back when websites were just grabbing hold.

We also offered a Ford truck to the first team that caught a tuna over 200 pounds, a nice incentive provided by another friend, Ken Price, then the owner of the International Star and now the long range boat Intrepid. The insurance was going to be too expensive unless we jacked the size of the tuna up to 250 pounds, so he stepped in and became the "insurance" company. When a 201 pounder was caught by the Tiger Spirit, captained by "Mouse" Libby, Price paid for the truck. The owner of the boat gave the truck to Libby in a huge show of generosity.

GARY GRAHAM of WON covered the event for WON and it's websites.

So yes, we did attract 112 teams to Cabo that first year in 1999. I wasn't all that surprised. But many were.

Bob Smith of Minerva's Tackle was the first to congratulate us when we got down there and went over the 100-team mark. "Congratulations, Bob said. "I never thought you'd draw that many, but you did." The back story on that comment is that this year, Bob Smith won the tourney with his buddies on Dick Landfield's Reel Quest. The other connection to 1999 is that the same guys on the Estrella Del Mar that won the first-ever tourney with a 218.9-pound yellowfin, won this year's wahoo/dorado optional the first day. They won more money, $46,000, for taking the first-day optional than they did as the '99 champs 15 years ago. Another side note, two weeks later, that 24-foot center console Koi Sushi set a yellowfin record for Cabo, a 386 pounder. Those boys know the Gordo!

TRACY EHRENBERG of Pisces Fleet has been instrumental in all facets of the event in Cabo.

The key to any tournament is consistency and commitment to details. And a vision. We here at Western Outdoor News wanted a fishing tournament that was a team event, was affordable and one wrapped around the nightlife of Cabo and one that snapped up just about every decent charterboat.

There have been some ups and downs. Mostly ups, though. The CTJ has draw as many as 186 teams, and as few as 106 back about five years ago. Since then It has grown as the economy has improved -- and it doesn't hurt that Canadians have discovered they can extend their "summer" and fishing season and drink a helluva lot of beer.

We've made some mistakes, for sure. One year we held the weigh-in on the beach because the old Hotel Hacienda management wanted it there. Not smart, and we were lucky no one got hurt and the swell was manageable while transferring fish.

"Never again!" said Kit. There's been other glitches over the years, but making sausage is not pretty and not every story has to be recounted. You come up with a good format and do the best you can. One thing that Western Outdoor News brought to the table and continues to is the newspaper, which started in 1954 and has covered Baja every one of those years.

MARCO EHRENBERG of Pisces Sportfishing competed and provided the angler tote bags this year.

We could be trusted to be fair, and trusted with a lot of money coming in and going out.

The Calcutta/optional format has always paralleled Bisbee's. Just fewer days (two to their three) and less entry money. It's no secret we put as much emphasis on fun, which rankles the hard core fishing guys. After the first year, I convinced to Kit to drop the IGFA rules. Fine for world records, but not for tournaments. The marlin guys raised their eyebrows and called them "jungle" rules, but believe me, there's still a bunch of them, and they are enforced. Bisbee's this past year also dropped the strict IGFA rules after three decades, keeping the ones like leader length and dropping the one about no one EVER touching the main line. Making that change would have avoided many a nasty controversy, but what is done is done in that department.

GRACE COTE of Dreammaker Charters and Gricelda's Smokehouse poses with the director. She and her husband Dale put up banners in Cabo, provided the anglers checks at the dinner, stored and delivered the Gray Taxidermy scale to the site, and provided the workers and carts for the fish transport to the weigh scale. They have assisted on the tourney from the beginning.*

Bob, Wayne and Tricia Bisbee helped us start the event, giving us a booth at their check-in to promote our first tourney. Good people, that family, and I won't soon forget their help. They made me feel welcome, and some tournament folks might not have been so nice.

The key to any event in Mexico is bringing money to the economy and making sure every aspect is approved by the many agencies, and making all local teams feel welcome. It has to be fun, and, there must be a charity aspect to it. It started with an auction of a Chuck Byron painting, and it's grown to be a significant part of the event as people just want to help, and contribute. Over the years we've raised $200,000 for children's charities in Cabo and La Paz.

DAVE BULTHUIS of Costa with staffer Judy Passerello at the first day's start boat Cabo Escape during the "Show Us Your Costa's" promotion.

I'm never quite sure how people perceive me as the "director." They primarily see me as the emcee, but rest assured, I've been involved in the beginning, either as a co-director with Kit, or the sole director now for five years. But there is an army of people working on it. Graphic artists, accountants, sales reps, marketing people, staff in Cabo and in the U.S. who make it happen each year, and sponsors who come down and add elements to the event. And, my boss Bob Twilegar who gives me a pretty much free reign to put the thing on even as he sifts through a ream of invoices. It takes money, lots of it, to put on something like this.

And I have to give a shout-out to Denise our accountant, who is the biggest connection to the teams before and after the tourney. Taking entries, taking moiney wires, calling teams and sending out confiirmations, and then sending out checks to the winners. That's when she gets real popular with teams.

Indeed, it was a great event this year. Nine days in Cabo and I was sad to get on the plane knowing it was all over, that I won't be seeing friends in Cabo -- and the tournament team -- for a long time. I'm not sure who has more fun --the staff and sponsors or the teams. Not everyone can win, but anyone can have fun.

The planning of the event goes on year-around, and yet it's not always perfect on how it turns out, but we had some great times and we adapted. For example, the checks for winners and some graphics did not make it down from the States, and so the gals adapted. The 5-foot mounted four-color poster "Show Us Your Costas" for the start boat would have looked professional, but the a cardboard version worked, and the words SHOW US YOUR COSTAS over four of the ladies staffers' t-shirts was an infinitely more visually fun.

BRIAN SOLOMON of Solomon's Landing at right with the Deep Blue group from Florida who sponsored the event this year and competed again.

As for the oversized checks, Grace Cote of Dreammaker Charters who has been a supporters all 15 years on so many levels, heard abiout the missing checks and called up her local printer. She got seven huge mounted checks made at the last minute from graphics I had on my Macbook computer. When I say they arrived at the last minute, I mean the last minute. She came to the dinner carrying them ten minutes before I began announcing the money winners.

That's the small, the roll-with-the-punches stuff. It was all pretty fun. The staff I have makes it fun. We all get along so great, and when work needs to be done, or we need to adapt, they get on it. The key words are "Work" and "Party."

We try to create the atmosphere for fun. We have sponsors and staff party the day before (karaoke and dancing broke out) at Brian and Dawn Solomon's home the night before it begins. There's the check-in, and captain's parties, two flare gun starts of 135 boats at the famed Cabo arch, and a charity charter on the official start boat Cabo Escape for non-anglers on that second fishing day, complete with mimosas, Bloody Marys, food and a deejay (yes, there was a conga line!). There was the annual Friday Fiesta dinner for 500, a gala awards dinner for 600, and two weigh-ins on the malecon with massive crowds.

ERWIN WITT of Beduino Productions videotaped the event over four days. He will have a full video on You Tube on the 2013 tourney like he did the 2012 version.

And, in keeping with the motto of the event "Fish Hard, Party Harder," there was one night on the town at Cabo Wabo with a big group of us. It was, I must admit, painfully fun. This was a physically demanding tourney for me. I'm a pretty healthy 59, but I was recently shocked to find I have to replace both hips, but it's amazing how two shots of Patron reposado takes the pain away. The next day? Let's not talk about it. Let's plan for next year. Nov. 5-8.

Pat McDonell is director of the Cabo Tuna Jackpot and editor of Western Outdoor News. He can be reached at

Sponsors, staff team up at Lands End

WON wishes to thank the many sponsors and staff who made the event possible in Cabo.

Sponsors in attendance were Bill Dobbelear, Craig Fitchem, Ashley Fuller and Adam Reckert of Gray Taxidermy; Lupita Lomelin of Cabo Cigar Co.; John Devries, Gerry Benedicto and Fred Daniel of Seaguar; Dave and Amy Bulthuis of Costa, Minerva and Bob Smith of Minerva's Tackle; Steve Tagami of Mustad; Buddy Prause of Yo-Zuri; Tracy and Marco Ehrenberg of Pisces Sportfishing; Brian and Dawn Solomon of Solomon's Landing; Darren Carey and his staff at the IGY Marina Cabo San Lucas; and the Puerto Paraiso Mall's Dorrane Pacheco and Salvador Uribe.

THE CABO TUNA JACKPOT LADIES Carol Lynn Collette, Jill Roldan, Judy Passerello and Rhonda Buhagiar keep the boats coming in checked off. The pre-made signs and checks never made it to Cabo, so they improvised in fun ways!

Also in attendance was Danny McGuire and his competing team from; John and Evelyn Boyer of Eat Me Lures, Dale and Grace Cote of Dreammaker Charters, Jeff Gammons of Terrafin SST, Steve Miller of American Fishing Wire (AFW), Bill and Rhonda Buchanon of Cousins Rods, WIN-TEAM's Pamela Lorenz, and the entire crew, staff and ownership of the Cabo Escape.

Staff on site were Chuck and Rhonda Buhagiar, Mike Packard, Jill and Jonathan Roldan, Judy Passerello, Carol Lynn Collette, Brian Harris, Bill Jubb, Rebeca Ruiz of Yunik Events, Dale and Grace Cote of Dreammaker Charters/Gricelda's Smokehouse in Cabo, Gary Graham, Erwin Witt of Beduino Productions, and Gaston Montano (sound/video) and his staff.

"Helping each step of the way was the Mayor's office, officials at API office, the Wyndham Hotel staff, Corona, Ruth's Chris restaurant, and sportfishing fleets like Red Rum, Pisces, Minerva's and many others that kept the dates open for charters," said director Pat McDonell. "Sponsors and staff just felt so welcome all week. Everyone I talked to said they were disappointed that it was all over and they have to wait another year for another jackpot. My sentiments exactly."