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RECORDS SHATTERED IN CABO

Tu Corazon's 298-pound tuna for Team America out of the East Cape won the title and $180,575, as 8 tuna over 200 pounds and two wahoo over 50 pounds put 6 six teams in the money, a record $747,500 payout at the 18th annual Jackpot; Team Reel Quest's payout over 2 days was another single-team payoff, a whopping $331,950! Here is how the tourney unfolded, start to finish

BY GARY GRAHAM
Special to Western Outdoor News

CABO SAN LUCAS, Baja California Sur - If it's true that "records are made to be broken," the 18th Annual Western Outdoor News Yamaha Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot demonstrated the truth in that old saying. And why it has become the largest tuna tournament anywhere in the world.


THE SECOND DAY'S start above the official start boat Cabo Escape was dramatic as 168 boats revved up the engines as ripped out past the famous Cabo Arch. RAY GARNER/YO-ZURI DRONE PHOTO

Not only does it offer the best boats and finest, most knowledgeable captains, but the competition takes place in Cabo San Lucas, BCS, an unparalleled fishing field of dreams for sportfishing - offering the best saltwater sportfishing found anywhere.

This year, a record turnout of 168 international teams journeyed thousands of miles from as far away as Spain and Luxembourg. The tournament's motto, "Fish Hard and Party Harder" held an irresistible lure for many, driving the total jackpot to a record-breaking $747,500 up for grabs during the two days of fishing.

The Western Outdoor News advance staff consisting of WON Editor and Tournament Director Pat McDonell, Mike Packard and his family and this reporter, Gary Graham, arrived on the weekend before registration on Nov. 2. The number of teams signed had already climbed north of 150 and was still climbing. This was encouraging news for staff and sponsors as they confirmed that all supplies, prizes, trophies and swag had arrived safely as they began the task of unpacking the countless boxes filled with sponsor giveaways, tournament T-shirts, bags, hats, fishing rods, rod cases, lures, line, hooks and more.


THE BALMY NIGHT with a harbor full of sportfishing boats of every size imaginable sparkling in the moon light was the backdrop for the Sponsor Party, sponsored by Captain Tony's. PHOTOS BY GARY GRAHAM

As the finishing touches were being organized, more and more staff, sponsors and teams arrived: Dave and Amy Bulthuis of Costa sunglasses; Bill Dobbelaer, General Manager of Gray Taxidermy; and Travis Moore, staff scientist at Gray FishTag Research. The Mold Craft team of Frank W. Johnson III and his wife Karen M. Johnson; Jonathan and Jill Roldan of Tailhunter International in La Paz; Bill Jubb of Carlsbad, Chuck Buhagiar, Director of WON Sales & Marketing and his wife Rhonda and their two children, Derrik Townsend and Caylie Bugahiar.

The fact that yellowfin tuna info was hard to come by was a growing concern even though both local and visiting anglers had been pre-fishing. Anglers had become tight-lipped...reluctant to share their findings as the first day of fishing drew close. Was it the usual pre-tournament silence or had what the locals been describing as one of the best and most phenomenal big-tuna seasons ever finally dried up? Or been seined out.


STUART AND MELINDA WEBBER after the dinner, with tourney director Pat McDonell, and Smiles founders Maribel and Dr. Jeffrey Moses. The Webbers won the nearly $26,000 big for the Florida trip organized by Costa and other sponsored that pushed the event's donation to Smiles to $43,000.

The balmy night with a harbor full of sportfishing boats of every size imaginable sparkling in the moon light was the backdrop for the Jackpot Staff and Sponsor Party sponsored by Captain Tony's. The location was the balcony above the Pisces office, hosted by the Pisces Fleet, where old timers and newcomers mingled with locals and dignitaries and the climbing number of entries was a major topic of conversation. Highlight was the usual noisy debate centered on where the big one might be found - caught chunking on the Gordo or flying a kite among the porpoise offshore?

Hosts Tracy and Marco Ehrenberg introduced locals as they circulated throughout the party while the band "Pura Vida" entertained. McDonell joined Tracy as they welcomed guests, sponsors and staff to the event; McDonell spoke on behalf of Bob Twilegar, President of Western Outdoor News, the paper and its staff, that he appreciated the ongoing support of Cabo San Lucas ​over the past 18 years and was thrilled that ​the event had already broken one record with a team count numbering over 160; furthermore, he expected more teams would sign up at registration the following day.


FIRST PLACE AND the Championship went to Team America, David Macklis, Angelica Cota and Juan Collins all from Los Barriles led by Chucky Van Wormer, son of Baja pioneer and founder of Van Wormer Resorts in Los Barriles, BCS, Bob Van Wormer fishing aboard the Tu Corazon. PHOTOS BY GARY GRAHAM

Long before the scheduled opening of Registration at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, a line had formed that stretched stretching around the building and down the Malecón. Friendly jibes flew across the courtyard as fellow teammates from previous years greeted each. Excitedly, conversations compared everything from fish-dope info to which teams had the coolest team shirts. There was even friendly teasing on the team names which ranged from ridiculous to risqué.

Keeping the line moving through-out the afternoon, each team member had the opportunity to stop and visit with all the sponsors who answered questions about their respective products; after checking out their tables laden with giveaways and products, they all received gift packs to fill their nifty WON bags sponsored by Baja Cantina.

The WON staff and volunteers made certain teams were able to get their photos taken with Sponsors Baja Cantina girls. More and more teams arrived and the party atmosphere became infectious.


TEAM 111, LUX Team, aboard the Picante Pride and led by team captain Diego Ferrer of Luxembourg weighed in a 53.2-pound wahoo on Day 1 for a $60,400 payday. PHOTOS BY GARY GRAHAM

McDonell wandered through the aisles stopping and discussing the products each sponsor was giving to the teams, announcing that all proceeds from the T-shirts and Costa sales would be donated to this year's designated charity, Smiles InternationalFoundation.org, to provide supplies for the medical personnel coming to the aid of Cabo children who need cleft pallete corrective surgeries.

The line slowly worked its way along the Malecón, the sun was sweltering and its setting was welcome relief as the temperatures cooled rapidly. Finally, it was nearly 7 p.m. before sign-ups were completed and many teams found their way to the Cultural Center Outdoor Amphitheater for the Yo-Zuri Welcome party and Captains' Meeting where each team member was offered a shot of tequila provided by Solomon's Landing and a Frogg Toggs cooling chilly pad from Yo-Zuri to add to their bag of swag before finding their seats.


THE AWARDS DINNER WAS HELD ON THE huge Cruise ship pier located in the IGY Marina. PHOTOS BY GARY GRAHAM

McDonell welcomed everyone and outlined the many items that would be raffled off during the four-day event. Wishing all the teams the best of luck, he began the first raffle of the tournament and 15 teams came away with more swag for their bags, including Costa sunglasses, Cousin rods, Mold Craft lure certificates ($250 each), Yo-Zuri product, Seaguar line and many other items.

Then, assisted by Tracy Ehrenberg, Pisces Sportfishing, he reviewed the rules in both English and Spanish. They fielded questions from the audience - the most notable question being, "Do I have to be sober when I weigh -in?" McDonell deferred to the group which cheered loudly in favor!

He then introduced Ray Gardener representing Yo-Zuri who announced that Yo-Zuri would be adding an additional $500 gift certificate each day for the largest fish, allowing winners to choose the lures and product they preferred.


TEAM REEL QUEST with Captain Ty Valli captured second place with team captain Brad Stevenson, Northbrook, IL Dick Landfield, Yorba Linda CA, Henry Arras, Temecula, CA and Bill Savage, Cabo San Lucas, BCS. They won a record $331,950 with their 274 pounder the second day. PHOTOS BY GARY GRAHAM

Following a boisterous raffle, McDonell closed the affair by wishing everyone good luck and instructing everyone to be sure and show their team number to staff on the official start boat Cabo Escape before the 7 a.m. start on Thursday morning.

Then, on Thursday morning, the crowded official start boat slowly made its way toward the gleaming sunrise as the 168 tournament boats swarmed around showing their team numbers as staff and volunteers checked off their assigned numbers under the watchful eyes of the tourists aboard cruise ships anchored in the outer harbor. Some teams warmed up for Friday's, "Show me your Costa's" contest that has grown more popular every year - hooting and hollering as the teams passed, which only added to the fun and excitement!

Huge sportfishers dwarfed pangas and other smaller boats as they mingled and jockeyed for their favored position. All crowded the line in anticipation. Finally, 7 a.m. arrived and the flare streaked across the sky signaling the official start of the 2016, 18th WON/Yamaha Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Tournament while boats thundered past the Cabo Escape.


CHUCKY Van Wormer landed an enormous 298-pound yellowfin tuna, one of the largest in the event's history. The Tu Corazon team America won $180,575. PHOTOS BY GARY GRAHAM

When the weigh station crew opened the Gray Taxidermy scales at 3 p.m., Team 146, Torito Land's End, was waiting to weigh in Antonio Romero's 35.5-pound wahoo, the first qualifier in the gamefish optional - the beginning of a procession to the scale of potential winners.

Over the next three hours, a record number of dorado, tuna and wahoo were brought to the scales in rapid succession. Here's a time line of the fast and furious action as fish were wheeled up the ramp installed for the tourney by the IGY Marina:

  • 3:00 Team Idaho (#73) Alejandra 88.6-pound yellowfin tuna, angler Scott Miley; aboard Estrella del Mar - winner of the first event in 1999.
  • 4:03 Team Chasing Tuna (#33) Picante Espresso 181.9-pound yellowfin tuna, angler Rob Parrino; 4.5 hours to catch.

  • LONG BEFORE the scheduled opening of Registration at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, a line had formed that stretched around the building and down the Malecón. PHOTOS BY GARY GRAHAM
  • 4:12 Team Stink Finger (#11) Sniper 183.5-pound yellowfin tuna, angler Rick Bradley; 5-years fishing in the tournament; 3 hours to land.
  • 4:18 Team Jose's Hookers (#43) Tiburon 128-pound yellowfin tuna, angler Brent Johnson; 3-years in the tournament; first time to scale.
  • 4:24 Team Sons of Angling (#69) Valerie 180.6-pound yellowfin tuna, Dean Larson; "Felt like lifting a Volkswagen." 1 hr.-40 minutes to land.
  • 4:31 Team Baja (#112) Viviana 202-pound yellowfin tuna, angler Alberto Sotelo; 8-years in the tournament; 3 hour fish.
  • 4:40 Team Andrea (#24) Andrea (Pisces) 157.7-pound yellowfin tuna, angler Troy Blank; 5-years in tournament; "My dad loved Cabo San Lucas and we used to come on his birthday each year; this would have been his 80th."
  • Team Tejas Tuna Wranglers (#17) Dream Maker 188-pound yellowfin tuna, anglers Scott Womack; First year.
  • 5:43 Team Ardilla Ciega (#165) Ardilla Ciega 38.7-pound wahoo, angler Sergio Cota.
  • 5:48 Team Reel Quest (#116) Reel Quest 161-pound yellowfin tuna, angler Brad Stevenson; 8-years Reel Quest one fish all day.
  • 5:57 Team Luxembourg (#111) Picante Pride 53.2-pound wahoo, angler Diego Ferrer; "Just decided to fish the tournament. 30 miles away, had a tuna first and lost it. We have been fishing all around the world and wanted to fish here."
  • Team Castro (#139) The Killer III 40.4-pound wahoo; angler Juan Castro; 12 years in the tournament.

MORE AND MORE TEAMS arrived and the party atmosphere became infectious. PHOTOS BY GARY GRAHAM

NOTE: In 2012, 12 tuna were taken weighing over 200 pounds; Record 383-pounds; one yacht and all others are charter in the hunt first day. After the scales closed at 6 p.m., there were still nine more yellowfin tuna to be weighed.

  • Team Texas Tunastickers (Team 134) Tail Chaser Too 147.5-pound yellowfin tuna, angler Greg Sterner.
  • Team Purity Organics (Team 9) Speedwell 144.2-pound yellowfin tuna, angler Nick Koretoff.
  • Team In It Tuna Win It (Team 42) Ruthless 211-pound yellowfin tuna, angler Mike King; "Wouldn't come up repeatedly."
  • Team Red Rum (Team 84) Oh So Rojo 183.7-pound yellowfin tuna, angler Ryan Donovan.
  • Team Solomon (Team 66) 154.7-pound yellowfin tuna, angler Bill Jubb, 12 years in tournaments.
  • Team Chick Sticks (Team 6) Jen Wren III 167.5-pound yellowfin tuna, angler Robert Solee.
  • Team America (Team 167) Tu Corazon 298-pound yellowfin tuna, angler Chucky Van Wormer.
  • Team Reel Gold (Team 140) Reel Gold 230-pound yellowfin tuna, angler Murray Wright.

KEEPING THE LINE moving through-out the afternoon, each team member had the opportunity to stop and visit with all the sponsors who answered questions about their respective products, including Jeff Slater of Seaguar, standing, and Frank Johnson III, sitting right, of Mold Craft. PHOTOS BY GARY GRAHAM

Chucky Van Wormer, aboard Tu Corazon, caught a 298-pound tuna, the second-to-last fish weighed in, which upended the day's final outcome. It was one of the largest fish ever weighed in during the 18-year history of the event.

As reflected on the leader-board posted at the end of the day, Team America's tuna dominated the $500, $1,000 and $2,000 optional jackpots earning them $104,600. Team Reel Gold (#140) swept the $3,000 and $5,000 with their 230-pound yellowfin tuna for a total of $105,000.

The gamefish optional leader changed several time during the afternoon with the final leader being Team Luxembourg (#111), cashing in for $60,400 for their 53.2-pound wahoo.

Later that evening, McDonell stated, "That was one of most incredible final hours I have ever witnessed in the event's 18 year history!" Continuing, he added, "It doesn't take a big boat to catch a big fish; a high percentage of the fish taken today were either on charter boats or pangas, not private sportfishers. The second day would be a different story.


FINALLY, it was nearly 7 p.m. before signups were completed and many teams found their way to the Cultural Center Outdoor Amphitheater for the Yo-Zuri Welcome party. PHOTOS BY GARY GRAHAM

Friday morning, the Cabo Escape was a sellout by 7 with all the proceeds of a $20 PP ticket going to Smiles International. Upon departure, the DJ warmed up the crowd for the "Costa Charity Party" with the music cranked up and mimosas poured, while the captain steered out the channel toward the sunrise and Baja's tip. As it became light, the 168 Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot teams began parading past the boat as staff and volunteers checked off their numbers.

Many of the Friday morning boats were competing in the Show Us Your Costas! At the boat-checks before the start, the staff looked for the most creative entrants into the "Show Us Your Costas" event. Dave Bultheis of Costa selected the winning team that would get four pairs of sunglasses, awarded at the Friday Fiesta cocktail party at Maria Corona restaurant in downtown Cabo.


HUGE SPORTFISHERS dwarfed pangas and other smaller boats as they mingled and jockeyed for their favored position. All crowded the line in anticipation. PHOTOS BY GARY GRAHAM

The hour passed quickly and the roar of 168 boats throttling up on plane was deafening as they sped off ... either around the tip and up into the Pacific or north up into the Sea of Cortez, leaving wakes that rolled the Cabo Escape from side to side much to the delight of the boisterous party goers.

Shortly after the scales opened on Friday at 3 p.m., angler Mike Velasquez of Team 147 and a 7-year veteran of the event, led off with a 203.4-pound yellowfin tuna. "We ran straight out 43 miles and our it was our first bite of the day on bait in a porpoise school," he explained. Pat McDonell noted, "That fish will be tough to beat!"


TEAM TEXAS TUNA WRANGLERS (#17) Dream Maker 188-pound yellowfin tuna, anglers Scott Womack; First year. PHOTOS BY GARY GRAHAM

First time competitor Nicky Dare and John Burleigh of Team 51weighed in their 41.9-pound wahoo after 4 p.m., putting her team at the top of the gamefish category. It was not just her first Jackpot tourney, it was her first-ever tournament, she noted, "I am so blessed to be here with so many skilled fishermen. I really appreciated being part of this tournament. I been coming down to Cabo for decades. My 20-year-old son is in the military overseas and couldn't be with me for my birthday. So I promised myself a big fish in this tournament would be my present from him." Two months earlier McDonell had matched her and Burleigh together as team. But as the afternoon passed, the weights in both tuna and wahoo continued to climb higher and higher as a total of 16 fish were brought to the scales before they closed at 6 p.m.

Longtime Jackpot competitor Jamie Rendon of Team 133 and Dr. Pescado III, with his 52-pound wahoo, snatched the heaviest gamefish for Day 2. Reluctant to divulge his location, even though the tournament was over, he finally acknowledged he was somewhere between the Cabo Falso Lighthouse and Migriño Beach on the Pacific side. It bit a special lure that his fellow angler had insisted on using.


LATER FRIDAY EVENING, nearly 400 team members arrived at the Friday night Fiesta was held at the Maria Corona Patio Restaurant near the IGY Marina. PHOTOS BY GARY GRAHAM

When the scales closed, Team 62, angler Robert Jones had topped the tuna category with a 251-pound monster aboard the Vaquera. A first time participant, he commented that, "he and his team mates had started small early in the day with a 130ish tuna and hooked this monster late in the day around 3:30. Landed it an hour later and headed for the scale."

However, there was a lineup of boats that had been in the inner harbor long before the 6 p.m. scale closing with fish yet to be weighed. As they reached the scale, none changed the outcome of the day until Team 116 aboard Reel Quest with their four large tuna on board, their largest landed by Brad Stevenson.

As Stevenson's fish was hoisted, his team stood motionless, all eyes glued to the scale as weighmaster Mike Packard waited for the numbers on the scale to settle. "Two...hundred...seventy-four-pounds!" He declared and the members of the team erupted in joy.

This secured them not only the largest fish of Day 2, but also the largest payout in the tournament's 18 year history.


THE GRAND PRIZE DRAWING including four of all of the raffle drawing prizes was the final raffle of the event. PHOTOS BY GARY GRAHAM

Later Friday evening, nearly 400 team members arrived at the Friday night Fiesta was held at the Maria Corona Restaurant near the IGY Marina. Director McDonell had come directly from the Weigh Station after the overwhelming number of last-minute fish were weighed in. He commented that the scene was unbelievable!

The Reel Quest alone had five fish on board over 150 pounds with the largest weighing 274 pounds. Another weighed was 231 pounds. The 274 pounder for the team was significant as they won all six of the daily optionals for Friday plus the $10,000 optional ($52,000) for Thursday and took Second Place overall ($8,350) for a grand total of $331,950. McDonell announced, "They came to play and win, sitting at the big boys table. Before they arrived, we had a string of big fish and we thought that was huge!"

He went on to acknowledge Picante Pride who won the wahoo/dorado optional pot of $60,400 on the Day 1 with a 53.2-pound wahoo and Jamie Rendon on Dr. Pescado III, with his 52-pound wahoo on Day 2 winning the same amount. He added that 70 percent of the boats participating are local charter boats and 80 percent of the big fish caught were on those local boats. "The top captains in the world are the Mexican pangeros!" he declared.

Following the first announcement, raffles began being interspersed between the announcing of the winners of many of the contests held over the last few days. After a much-needed quiet Saturday for the teams it was time for the Awards Banquet at the Cruise Ship Pier.


TEAM REEL GOLD, CAPTAINED by Murray Wright of Cabo San Lucas, BCS, with Dave Patterson, Jon Crawford, Vancouver, BC, and Paul Bonovich with their 230-pound tuna that was the fourth biggest fish overall but won the money in the $3,000 and $5,000 optionals the first day for a total of $110,000. They were on the boat Reel Gold.

This year a new and larger venue was chosen for the 18th Annual Western Outdoor News Yamaha Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Saturday night Awards Banquet. The enormous Cruise Ship Pier located in the Cabo San Lucas Marina IGY Marina could easily accommodate more than 750 anglers, friends, family and dignitaries gathered to celebrate what Tournament Director Pat McDonell described as "an exceptional experience with the final two days of weigh-ins being epic! With 168 teams, 25 more than last year, the event broke its own angler attendance record and offered the highest payout ever, $747,500." The tournament crowd exceeded 750 people, and the new venue, a mid-marina concrete structure that stretches nearly 100 yards, provided a comfortable setting with direct sight lines to the stage and video screen.

The evening got underway with a phenomenal drone video produced by Ray Gardner of Yo Zuri and his fiancé Candice who also assisted at the weigh-station.

Then McDonell began; "Tonight we are not going to honor just the winners, but we are going to honor Cabo as the sportfishing capitol of the world. Nowhere is there such a concentration of charter boats and yachts nearly all for the intent of chasing gamefish."

Then introducing locals that assisted in organizing the event along with the tournament staff and volunteers.


$43,000 WAS RAISED OVER FOUR DAYS for Smiles International Foundation.org. Here, Dr. Jeff Moses and his wife Maribel address the awards crowd, and Melinda Webber who with her husband Stuart bid $27,000 for the Florida trip created by sponsors for the live auction for Smiles. GARY GRAHAM PHOTOS

Bill Dobbelaer and Travis Moore, Gray FishTag and Dave Bulthuis, Costa gave a brief presentation on the amazing tagging program that they had developed over the past several years for the charter industry worldwide.

During the past year with the assistance of Pisces Sportfishing, Redrum Charters and Go Deep there were 3,400 fish tagged in the past year, including billfish, dorado, roosterfish and grouper, among others. One dorado the Redrum boat tagged last year traveled 600 miles to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Dobbelaer added, "It's not about conservation, it is about understanding the resource."

That was followed by a fun "music-video-style" recap of last year's tournament produced by Erwin Witt , the event videographer from Beduino Productions in Cabo. It was lively and fun, and will be eventually posted on the Cabo Tuna Jackpot You Tube Channel.

McDonell then presented the "Hard Luck Award" to Team 26, Reel Amigos, that lost a 200-pound fish at gaff at the Golden Gate Bank on the last day next to the Reel Quest. That tough luck earns them a free overall $1,000 entry into the 2017 tourney.


TROY BLANK, WHO HAS FISHED in tournament the past five years, who was on Team Andrea out of Pisces Fleet, said at the weigh scale, "My dad loved Cabo San Lucas and we used to come on his birthday each year; this would have been his 80th."

After a Smiles International Video by Beduino Productions and commissioned by Western Outdoor News based the on the two 2016 Smiles Clinics, Dr. Jeff Moses and his wife Maribel who guides the foundation as a volunteer explained that medical personnel from throughout the U.S. including doctors, nurses surgeons and volunteers visit Cabo San Lucas twice a year at their own expense. Every penny raised by Smiles at this event -- and any fundraiser that Smiles does -- goes to surgical supplies. Next was the Live Auction for the "What happens in Florida stays in Florida special trip" conducted by all the attending sponsors.

  • COSTA—Airfare to Orlando, Factory Tour, Mosquito Lagoon Trip, Free Sunglasses for Each, hotel & dinner
  • WON—Free Entry in next year's event
  • MUSTAD — Mustad Boat Bag for each, Mustad Shirts for each and $500 in Hooks
  • MOLDCRAFT -- $500 prize pack each
  • GRAY'S TAXIDERMY—Free mount each participant & Sword fishing trip, hotel & dinner
  • OKUMA— 4 Makaira Reels and Rods to match
  • SEAGUAR—fluorocarbon pack
  • PISCES -- two day credit on charter.
  • REEL QUEST -- A one-day charter on the Reel Quest.

YO-ZURI RAFFLE prizes were aplenty in the drawings at the Welcome Party. PHOTOS BY GARY GRAHAM

One by one the six teams that won money came to the stage to accept their trophies, plagues and the crowd's applause.

First place and the championship for 2016 went to Team America consisting of David Macklis, Angelica Cota and Juan Collins, all from Los Barriles, Baja California Sur; and Chucky Van Wormer, son of the late Bob Van Wormer, Baja pioneer and founder of Van Wormer Resorts in Los Barriles. Fishing aboard the Tu Corazon, captained by Alejandro Cota also of Los Barriles, Van Wormer landed a 298-pound yellowfin tuna, one of the largest in the event's history, earning the team $180,575 for First Place Overall, Day 1, $500, $1,000 and $2,000.

Accepting the award and the five commemorative hand-carved hook trophies and custom Jon Pettey silver tuna rings, Cabo Cigar Co. CTJ-wrapped cigars and humidor, an engraved Cabo Tuna Jackpot 2016 engraved bottle bourbon (to go with the cigars!) and custom long-sleeve championship shirts made overnight, Van Wormer explained that the team name "Team America" was chosen to honor the life of the 11-year-old niece of the captain who lost her battle to cancer at 5:20 a.m. Nov. 3, just before they began the first day of fishing.


YO-ZURI RAFFLE prizes were aplenty in the drawings at the Welcome Party. PHOTOS BY GARY GRAHAM

Van Wormer, filled with emotion, explained, "We were so sad for the loss of America's life, but we felt she went straight to Heaven and was watching over us."

That was a an emotional moment for Chuck, his team many in the audience.

Recovering, and in a cracking voice, Van Wormer looked down at the seats in front of the stage to the Second Place winners who had the largest payout in the event's history, and said, "Reel Quest. Congratulations. You may have had the best equipment and good luck; however this time we had a little angel watching over us." Previous winners aboard the Reel Quest with Captain Tyson Valli were Brad Stevenson, Northbrook, Ill.; Dick Landfield, Yorba Linda, Calif.; Henry Arras, Temecula, Calif.; and Bill Savage, Cabo San Lucas, BCS, Mexico. They received the largest payout in the history of the event: $331,950 for Second Place Overall, Day 1 (161-pound tuna), $10,000, Day 2, $500, $1,000, $2,000, $3,000, $5,000 and $10,000.


YO-ZURI RAFFLE prizes were aplenty in the drawings at the Welcome Party. PHOTOS BY GARY GRAHAM

Landfield acknowledged, "In all my years of fishing, I have never, never had the team that we have now. I couldn't be happier as the owner with our team!"

There were six teams that divided the $747,500 in total payouts. The other four teams were:

  • Team Jones Fish 1 (Team 62), Vaquera, Robert and Christina Jones, Cincinnati, Ohio; Billy Senters, New Richmond, Ohio; and Zack Nell, Third Place Overall $4,175.
  • Lux Team (Team 111), Picante Pride, Diego Ferrer, Luxembourg, Germany; 53.2-pound wahoo, Day 1, $60,400.
  • Team Dr. Pescado (Team 133), Dr. Pescado III, Jaime Rendon, Jorge Escamilla, Juan Bosco and Felipe Xhembe, Cabo San Lucas, BCS; 52-pound wahoo, Day 2, $60,400.
  • Team Reel Gold (Team 140), Reel Gold, Murray Wright, Cabo San Lucas, BCS, Dave Patterson, Jon Crawford, Vancouver, BC, Paul Bonovich; 230-pound tuna, Day 1 $3,000 and $5,000, $110,000.

YO-ZURI RAFFLE prizes were aplenty in the drawings at the Welcome Party. PHOTOS BY GARY GRAHAM

There were nine events tied to the tournament, many of them tied to charity efforts. In all, $43,040 raised for this year's charity, "Smiles InternationalInternationalFoundation.org," will be matched by the pharmaceutical industry. Each $1,000 raised will ensure four surgeries for children. The money was raised via t-shirt sales by Minerva's Tackle at check-in, donations, sales of tickets for the Grand Prize Raffle ($5 each), A live auction of a trip to Florida organized by Dave Bultheis and the other attending sponsors, a silent auction, and a charter trip on the Cabo Escape for the second day's shotgun start.

The grand prize drawing including four of all of the raffle drawing prizes was the final one of the evening.

The big donation was a $27,000 bid on the Florida trip won by longtime Tuna Jackpot participants Melinda and Stuart Webber. It was later revealed that Stuart, a chef, said later the Foundation's work struck a chord with him as he was born with a cleft pallet and was abandoned by his family and after corrective surgery was adopted. Attending the event was Dr. Jeffrey Moses and his wife the Foundation coordinator Maribel Moses.

Next year's tournament is already in the planning stages... Nov. 1-4, 2017.