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Director's Message:


After nine days in Cabo directing the WON/Yamaha Cabo Tuna Jackpot, now in its 18th year, I can reflect a little on the tourney and the nine events that are part of it over four days.

The tourney went off flawlessly — sort of. Yes, we had two protests, they were handled, and we moved on, as did the teams involved. That said, we will clarify a rule on how many anglers and crew and quests can be aboard. But it will not be changed. Just clarified. The protests had nothing to do with a "gray area" in a rule. One team on day 1 was accused of coming in late after the 6 p.m. deadline. It wasn't late. We shot video at the dock to back up our logs. In the other protest, a team guest helped pull the fish into the boat. That fish was DQ'd.

OFF THEY GO, as seen from Ray Gardner's drone footage clip the second day high above the Cabo Escape.

That said, the website will be where the 2017 rules are posted, but essentially four team members are the only people who can fish, there are only two crew allowed (a captain and a mate) and two guests are allowed aboard who are not serving as crew and cannot be involved in any way in the fishing or the running of the boat, they are observers only.

The rule works and has always worked fine, but tweaking rules so they are clearer is just better business.

What proved interesting waaay after the dust had settled is that Tyson Valli, captain of the Reel Quest, congratulated his two "crewmen" on stage. To many in the audience, that meant they had three crewmen on board, a violation. True they had three "crewmen" but it was not a violation. You can insert a crewman or even two or even three into your four team spots. Many teams do that. Many small boats do that, especially pangas or smaller charterboats where the two anglers might need help pulling in a fish. The key: Any crewmen have to be registered among the four team members to fish. So, you get up to four anglers, two crewmen (that includes your boat captain at the helm), and two guests who can do NO fishing. They can assist with no aspect of fishing. You can rotate crew and quests, but not anglers, over two days.

BIG MONEY WINNERS, ABOARD Reel Quest with Captain Tyson Valli captured second place with Brad Stevenson, Northbrook, Ill.; Dick Landfield, Yorba Linda, Calif.; Henry Arras, Temecula, Calif.; and Bill Savage, Cabo San Lucas, BCS. Also pictured are team guests Bob Stevenson, of Lake Havasu City, and Hi-Seas Sales Manager Steve Miller. Reel Quest won a record single team payout of $331,950. GARY GRAHAM PHOTO

I e-mailed the Reel Quest team captain and part owner Brad Stevenson (he bought into his friend's Dick Landfield's boat this past year after owning the Maybe Manana) and I mentioned some people had heard Ty's comment on stage. One angler came up to the stage after the final comments and we were packing up and heatedly asked about it (I didn't hear Tyson say it, but we had the dinner recorded and I heard it then) and a website comment at on the CTJ blog at the Monday after the event raised the issue again. So, I checked the roster, had my info, and then emailed Brad.

His response confirmed what I knew.

"If you look at the registration form you will see 4 anglers... Dick, Bill, me and Noe who is normally my second deckhand (to Tyson's reference) He was listed as a angler so he could assist my other crew member Antonio. We also had 2 guests Steve Miller (of Hi-Seas) and my dad and they did not assist in the fishing. Of course, Ty was the captain. To conform to the rules I had to pull my dad (Bob Stevenson) off the team, and sat him in the salon as a guest."

After reading the email, that suggested I call him too, we went over it again, and I said "How did your dad take it being off the team, just sitting?

"I asked him to make sandwiches, and he told me, ‘Hey, I'm a guest. Get your own sandwiches,"' joked Stevenson. "This rule and how we approached the roster and crew is exactly why I was so passionate about our protest when we met Thursday night, because I listed one crew as a angler, which did not allow my dad to be included."

Rules are always a bugaboo. An important bugaboo. Above all, it is a tournament, and I would DQ my mother, if she were still alive. It's a big money tourney, so you have to stay on top of it and keep a level playing field.

THE DINNER at the Cruise Ship Pier for 750 people had its highlights, and with some improvements of individual table lighting and better portable restrooms for the ladies, and a few more bars (always), it will be a great facility with room to grow. Here, the staff begins final preparations, and the final look at night.


It goes without saying the parties and other aspects of it are a moving target for a company that comes down once a year to put on a tourney with a lot of moving parts — hundreds. Sure, there were issues that will be addressed (for the dinner: better bathroom portables, lights for each table, a third bar and a few more hustling drink servers), but I can truly say the awards dinner at Saturday evening's party on the cruise ship bar was the biggest im­provement over 2015's version. That is saying a lot because the tournament set records in payouts, and we were up by 25 teams over last year.

Now, to be honest, if all we did was have two shotgun starts, two weigh-ins and a captains meeting and party at both ends, I can assure you my blood pressure would be normal right now. But, that is not the case. Planning and prep and meetings and 100 e-mails and calls all year does not guarantee a damn thing. Not in the U.S. and not in Mexico.

But, things work out, and you adapt and trust your staff. If you don't, you won't last doing this stuff. This year, the Cruise Line Pier was used as the awards venue. It is on the water, yachts and party boats and skiffs slipped by and tooted their horns, a light breeze cooled us down, and the scene was, well, "magical." That is the word used by Minerva Saenz-Smith of Minerva's Tackle, who was again attending the dinner with her husband, Bob Smith who have been supporters of the event since it started in 1999. Wow, I am getting old!

The nine events? Actually there are 10 of ‘em if you include the Staff & Sponsors party at the Pisces offices balcony overlooking the marina the day before the tourney. Besides that, there is the Team Check-In, the Yo-Zuri Welcome Party on Wednesday at the cultural center outdoor amphitheaters, the two dramatic 168-team shotgun starts at the arch, the Cabo Escape charity cruise on the second start day, the two Gray Taxidermy/Okuma-sponsored weigh-ins, the 500-person Friday night Fiesta at the Maria Corona restaurant in town, and the 750-person Yamaha Awards dinner on the cruise ship pier.

THE DINNER at the Cruise Ship Pier for 750 people had its highlights, and with some improvements of individual table lighting and better portable restrooms for the ladies, and a few more bars (always), it will be a great facility with room to grow. Here, the staff begins final preparations, and the final look at night.

In between all those events was fishing and contests, one of them the Fishworks/National Rental Car Best Dressed Contest, won in style by the Texas Tuna Wranglers. They won largely by wearing matching fuchsia outfits to the weigh-in. ( One of the group said "fuchsia" was too big a word for a bunch of Texans. They said they call that color "pink"). They were a big group, and they all wore color-coordinated outfits each day and even hired a professional photographer for the trip to record their first-ever Tuna Jackpot. Fun folks.

Yes, the motto is, "Fish Hard, Party Harder." That motto I made up years ago is killing me.

But there is now a growing element to the event, but one that has always been there in one form or another. There is the charity effort through various fun contests and fundraisers.

The awards dinner the final night, Saturday, on the 100-yard, football field-long concrete pier, honored the winning teams and raised $43,000 for The ways we raised money included: A silent auction, live auction of a Florida trip, T-shirt sales at the team check-in by Minerva, a Grand Raffle at $5 a ticket, a $20 PP charter on the party yacht Cabo Escape that donated the boat both days for the start, and sometimes people just wrote a check.

The back story on the Florida trip, organized for a live auction for the third year in a row by "ringmaster" Dave Bulthuis of Costa sunglasses again in co­operation with other attending sponsors, was easily a $50,000 value in flights, hotel, tackle and charters and free tackle and clothing, and garnered a $27,000 winning bid by Stuart and Melinda Webber, who also donate to the charities each year. Melinda is quite the businesswoman, who recently sold her paper products company for several mil, and believe me, she is a great lady and they are quite the fun couple.

Stuart is a chef and the happiest guy I know. Well, it turns out Stuart, an Aussie, was born with a severe cleft palate and facial disfiguration, was abandoned by his family at birth, and after several corrective surgeries, was adopted. I had no idea all these years. Of course, he and Melinda identify emotionally with the poor Baja children that are helped by the medical volunteers of, founded by Dr. Jeffrey Moses and his wife Maribel. I attended one of the Cabo surgical clinics this past June and saw these medical personnel from the U.S and Cabo in action, and we created a short video on the two one-week 2016 clinics that was shown at the dinner.

Of course, there was the big money to the winners, but even when handing it out, and honoring the teams, there were the emotional back stories. The numbers: Six teams won money and split the $747,500, a record payout for the tourney.

There are always stories I hear each year of those being honored and remembered. Those anglers — fathers and other loved ones — who could not come because of illness, or they passed. In 18 years, you get to know a lot of people and you lose a lot of folks who would come year after year. I heard these stories again all four days, and especially at weigh-in as I spoke to teams before the assembled crowds.

One was particularly touching by the 2016 champs. Tu Corazon was a Los Barriles-based team that called themselves Team America, named after the boat captain's young niece that had died that morning of the first day's fishing. With the "help from a little Angel from above," said an emotional team captain Chuck Van Wormer, they caught a 298-pound yellow­fin the first day of fishing Thursday. The team, captained by Van Wormer, placed first in the overall standings over two days for $70,975, and won the first three Day One tuna optionals to carry off $180,575.

The awards ceremony for 750 people under the stars on the cruise ship pier was the crowning event, with three videos, six teams honored as money winners, a silent auction and a luive auction tyhat drove the Smiles donation to $43,000. A magical night, indeed.

Pat McDonell is director of the Cabo Tuna Jackpot. He can be reached at