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From the director...

This event is over and it's time to see what worked and what did not and plan accordingly for Nov. 7-10 as we go into the tournament's 20th year. I guess I have to say that what did NOT work well for last year was a success this year. As a director you want the event to not just grow, but improve, because let's be honest, there's a lot of ways people who fish can spend their money to have fun in this world, and if the Cabo Tuna Jackpot is not as fun and is merely just a mad rush to compete for big dollars, it will lose people. And if it's not fun for me, well, adios too. So we try to improve it. It's not easy, I can assure you. And each year brings new challenges, regulations, new vendors and higher costs.


DAVE BULTHUIS of Costa and annual competitor Victor Locklin at the awards dinner. Locklin was on the winning team, Estrella Del Norte. PHOTOS BY DANNY MATTHEWS, RICH HOLLAND, PAT McDONELL

That said, despite being down in prize money and about 19 teams from 2016 for some odd reasons, I have to say this was the best tuna tourney I have directed or co-directed in all 19 years. If you missed it, well you missed it. What turned people off in 2016 might have been huge payout to just two teams, local and pro. Perhaps the long check-in lines and two new venues with some issues.

For sure, this year was not perfect, and I have a list of ideas for 2018, but between the dinners and the fishing with 11 official yellowfin (13 cow tuna unofficially) over 200 and two super cow 300 pounders (3 unofficially), NINE winnings teams, a great staff with many newbies, two more parties, the great weather, it was a superb nine days in Cabo. With 11 events. Victor Locklin, a law enforcement officer, comes to the event to win. His team several years ago took third, but won very little because no one else on the team wanted to get in jackpots.

He learned a lesson that year. Get in the optionals. That year he finished third he could not convince his team to get into optionals. Any of them. They placed but won little finishing third. You can't win serious money unless you do gamble a bit. This past year Victor learned some new balloon/kite/chunking and rigging tricks for tuna on trips aboard the Constitution in Puerto Vallarta on a WON charter hosted by this writer. And then joined up with the 2012 winners, the North Star team on the Estrella Del Norte. He won with a 338 pounder at the outer Gordo.


THE FIRST of two Costa Charters was a nice addition, and mother and daughter volunteered to help signal the boats to show their numbers for team check-offs and their "Costa's" for possible prizes.

And another friend, Mark Rayor of the Vaquera that is part of Mark's 3-boat Jen Wren Sportfishing fleet on the East Cape, also won, his team banking $132,800 taking four day 2 optionals with a 239 pounder. And my buddies Scott, Bill and Brian on team 86 scored the 10th biggest tuna, a 221. They won no money, but waged ward over 3 hours the second day. They were close to taking $16,800 of Mark's money in the $500 optional.

So, what worked better this year?

One, to alleviate the usual long wait at check-in we added an early check-in for those without changes and added a Halloween party, pig roast, bar and live band at the marlin sculpture, all handled smoothly by Capt. Tony's Alex Alvarez. Epic. I came as Elvis, the costume was via Amazon.com. It came the day before I left. It was a full secret, even to my wife in case I chickened out out! The director has to be ready to party, as well as, "Taking care of Business," the King's favorite term. I'm not a huge Elvis fan, but I dug the costume, and there were some other great ones by staff and teams.

Also, I started the check-in on Wednesday an hour earlier. It all worked. No long lines.


SOMETIMES it's just nice to hang out and watch the teams go by, as these ladies did on the Cabo Escape second day charity charter. There were two charters this year.

Two, the Friday Fiesta last year at Maria Corona's Restaurant in downtown Cabo was moved from Friday to Thursday. We changed the day because teams still have enthusiasm and hope and are not exhausted from fishing two days. Two, it was not just hors d houvres like last year and a slow bar complicated by separate checks and peso-to-dollar conversion issues for the bar cashier. So, we made it a buffet, rented more tables, linens, decorations, live music and dancing, and asked people to buy drink tickets at $2 each and posted an event drink menu. It was a hit, and service was lightening fast, the food amazing and tons of it. Many teams did not come, likely because the previous year was a clunky affair (my fault) but still we had a great crowd of 350, a beautiful setting. A home run by Baja Cantina, which owns Maria Corona's.

Three, most fellow staffers know I hate sitting in the brutal sun and humidity at weigh-in, and so do they. So we made the weigh-ins an hour shorter by starting at 3 p.m. through 6 p.m. and that kept the staff and sponsors in the pool longer. Fresher and happier. No teams weigh in until 3 to 4 p.m. anyway.

Four, Dave Bulthuis of Costa and his fantastic wife Amy were back again as attending sponsors. He suggested a second Costa Charity charter, on Thursday, the first day of the fishing. Usually it is just dignitaries and staff, but Dave and Amy came loaded for "bear," his nickname, with sunglasses by the dozens for drawings. We drew over 100 people each day on the charters and I added $10 to the $20 ticket to pay for catering and champagne costs. The rest of the money went to Smiles, so we doubled the charter donation to Smiles to over $4,000 that was part of a $20,000 donation when the dust cleared.


MARK RAYOR and his team on the Vaquera scored some serious dollars for taking four day 2 optionals with a 239 pounder. The Vaquera is part of the three-boat Jen Wren fleet at the East Cape.

So, yes, it was another party, more fun, more Smiles from children who desperately need cleft pallet surgeries. I can't just come to Cabo to make money and party. There has always been some element of giving with the event. And many others feel that way, too.

Three, I mentioned it before because the idea came from Scott Womack who fished the event. The tall Texas suggested having people buy drink tickets at the dinners like at many big fundraisers. Much quicker ordering and service. Baja Cantina tested it at the Los Cabos Billfish Championship dinner at Maria Corona's. It worked great. The prices included sales and service. No tipping. Brian Solomon went with the idea too, for the first time ever, at our 800 person awards dinner. It sped things up. Sales were brisk. No one likes to wait for a drink.

What else? Well, the seiners stayed away, and fishing for small tuna at the arch to 50 pounds was a blast. The bigger fish came on the outside, 40 to 50 miles out on the porpoise, and the cows came from the Gordo and Jaime banks. Some were up by the Finger Bank. The key is to keep seiners out of fishing areas within 50 miles of Cabo. They were largely absent, and fishing was solid on bigger tuna under the porpoise. Mexican officials should bar seiners from within 50 miles of the coast.

Finally, Mike Packard has been my longtime assistant director, and we lost a few other longtime staffers this year. Grandkids, others things, burnout. For Mike it is his back. It's a mess, a ladder of metal imbedded in it, and he's now mostly in a wheelchair and he felt he couldn't contribute. Try as I might, I could not convince him that as long as he could punch buttons on the IWS weigh scale and direct workers he could still serve at the event he loves. No go. Plus his kids were in activities he didn't want to miss.


JACKPOT DIRECTOR, Pat McDonell, aka the King, with Maribel Moses, director of the SmilesInternationalFoundation.org at the Halloween party and early check-in.

So Billy Egan, the WON BASS director was asked to assist, and he brought a level of energy to the event I really needed. By Saturday at the dinner, I am physically and mentally crushed, and Billy is just getting revved up. He was a great help at all levels, as was his buddy Adam Cargill, a top angler like Billy, and Adam lives in Cabo, and is bilingual. Adam often interviewed the Mexican captains at the weigh-in and translated for the crowd. It is a sign of respect that we are bilingual, and Adam did it effortlessly.

There were some aspects that were not fun. Two teams came in just after the 6 p.m. deadline with huge fish. Money fish. Disappointed, upset, but they understood the rule. We weighed their fish anyway. One was in the high 200s, the other a 325 pounder. They were awarded Hard Luck Awards and free entry into the 2018 event. I will think about adding a half-hour to the weigh-in, but we also have to "weigh" other actors of safety and higher charter costs for crew and fishing time that already is 30 to 50 percent higher for our tourney.

The saddest story was also the most telling of a jackpot event. One team, who shall not be named here, came in the second day with an hour to go in the weigh-in with a wahoo that weighed more than the 36.9 pounder on the board. It would have won $51,600, with $5,160 going to the Mexican captain because 10 percent goes to the captain of a chartered boat.

Only, after the cheers died down they were replaced with a loud groan as it was announced the team was NOT entered in the wahoo/dorado optional. The Mexican captain looked at the American who chartered the boat, "Then why did you ask me to go inside and fish for wahoo if you were not in the optional?" He shrugged. He forgot to. Bottom line, you have to pay to play, and party at the Cabo Tuna Jackpot.

See you all in 2018.

Pat McDonell is director of the Cabo Tuna Jackpot. He can be reached at patm@wonews.com