Subscribe Online Now!

Party time, all the time at Cabo Tuna Jackpot

Special to Western Outdoor News

CABO - When it comes to partying this town only has one name. Cabo. That's it. And when it comes to the Western Outdoor News Cabo Tuna Jackpot, the party doesn't start until Elvis is in the building! No problema, Tournament Director Pat McDonell gets into Cabo early and stays late and the party goes on and on and on!

A CLEAN SWEEP - The Reel Tuna Hookers claimed top spot in both the Baja Cantina/Fishworks Best Dressed and Costa's Show Us Your Costas! events. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

From the new Halloween Early Check-in party at Capt. Tony's to the last blowout Award's Dinner ultra-giveaway, the Tuna Jackpot is about getting together, eating and drinking well (not necessarily in that order), fishing, fishing, fishing, dancing, wondering if your team just won hundreds of thousands of dollars, and taking a moment to look around and marvel at the full hunter's moon and the soft November night here at Land's End.

Party hard, fish harder! That's the slogan our beloved Tournament Director (face it, chicks dig the guy) came up with for the event years almost 20 years ago and ever since Pat has been going all out. There was a time after an event in the early years when he skipped a catered sponsors dinner at the old Hacienda to sit on the beach and talk with a couple of the Tuna Jackpots regular anglers about what he could do better.

BEAUTIFUL SMILES - Dr. Jeff Moses and wife Maribel are the extremely dedicated reason Smiles International can bring the smiles back to Cabo children with cleft palates. PHOTO Rich Holland

Having fun? He's got that down, showing up for this year's Halloween Early Check-in Party in full Elvis regalia, where he was joined by Popeye and Olive Oil, actually Tom Micalief and Scott Womack of the Tejas Tuna Wranglers, winners of last year's Baja Cantina/Fish Works Best Dressed contest and doing their best to get out of the gate quickly in 2017. Little did they know they were about to run into a passel of other Texans (even Aussies) who would put up a fight.

The house band for Capt. Tony's rocked and Alejandro made sure the beverages kept flowing and the barbecue grill kept up a steady stream of fresh tacos. When it was all said and done, and with nothing but the check-in to worry about the next day, the party spilled over into the rest of Cabo, where officials were had already closed off the streets filled with Halloween tricksters. If you're isolated at some all-inclusive the staff might tell you that the locals don't celebrate Halloween. Ha.

BEST DRESSED - The Reel Tuna Hookers took to the stage at Marina Corona restaurant to receive the Best Dressed awards from Pat McDonell. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

The staff was quartered at the Tesoro Resort, official hotel of the Cabo Tuna Jackpot, and McDonell was up early overseeing the creation of the Gray Taxidermy Weigh Station, the Corona Bar, the DJ sound system and the many tents needed to keep staffers and our many sponsors cool as they handed out official IGY Tuna Jackpot hats and the official Costa tournament shirts and all kinds of goodies from Yo-Zuri, Okuma, Costa and Seaguar. Fisheries officials conveniently set up a license sales booth.

There was also the opportunity to buy several different styles of official Tuna Jackpot garb, with Minerva's donating all the proceeds from their sales to Smiles International, the organization that brings oral surgeons into Cabo to repair cleft palates, following through with the multiple procedures necessary to bring back a smile and change a life. Smiles International is the official charity of the Tuna Jackpot and was the beneficiary of more than $20,000 from the 2017 Western Outdoor News Cabo Tuna Jackpot thanks to our generous sponsors who hosted the parties, giveaways and contests.

Speaking of which, Ray Gardner of Yo-Zuri sponsored the Captain's Meeting that followed the check-in. The Ohio boys on Team Buckeye Tuna served up samples of their fine sipping Cantera Negra tequila as teams entered the amphitheater adjacent to the Tesoro.

BIGGEST WAHOO - The 41 pounder caught by the Texas Tuna Chasers was the biggest wahoo weighed in the wahoo/dorado daily jackpots. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

Then it was time to get serious for a moment, as McDonell discussed the rules and Tracy Ehrenberg of Pisces Sportfishing (an invaluable supporter of the tournament from the beginning) translated. A number of key points were made, including: no license meant instant disqualification, any kind of boat to boat contact after 7:30 a.m. (the cutoff for buying bait) also an instant disqualification, only the two official crew members and four team anglers allowed to touch tackle and aid in landing fish, any protests must be filed in writing with the tournament director no later than 30 minutes after the disputed catch was weighed. Then Ray gave out a bunch of killer Yo-Zuri lures and Okuma rods and reels and the official 2016 tournament video was played on the big screen.

BLAST OFF - Boats take off past the Costa Start Boat Cabo Escape on Day 1. Day 2 would see more boats head towards the Gordo Banks. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

And then it was time to fish.

It' almost a shame that team anglers don't get to share in one of the best parties of the Tuna Jackpot, the Costa Start Boat Party on the Cabo Escape. Yet in a way they do, since the tournament boats going by are the biggest attraction of the party and it's really cool how families and friends get to cheer and wave and send off their teams as the sportfishing rigs pull close enough to make sure their team number is recognized and ticked off on the official scoresheets.

DOWN THE STRETCH - Winning Team 69, the Reel Tuna Hookers, showing off their stuff in the Show Us Your Costas! contest. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

The show has gotten even better - in fact it's almost gotten out of control - ever since Dave Bulthuis of Costa came up with the Show Us Your Costas! Contest. Sure, a pair of the Costa sunglasses of your choice for all four members of a team is a great prize for first place, yet the innovation, creativity and time put into the team displays is crazy good! So good that even though the contest and party was expanded into both Thursday and Friday of the Tuna Jackpot start, Bulthuis still had a tough time choosing the top three winners (also expanded from a single winning team).

PARTY CENTRAL - There was a great turnout for the Costa Start Boat Party each day, with Costa's Dave Bulthuis giving away all kinds of swag to raise money for Smiles International. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

While the boats are going by the mimosas with $70 a bottle Champagne (many chose to take it neat!), pastries and breakfast burritos help fuel the dance party on the upper deck hosted by the boat's energetic emcee and the many supporters dressed in both matching Show Us Your Costas! apparel or team outfits designed to attract Baja Cantina/Fishworks Best Dressed votes from Pat McDonell. All while floating on the gentle Sea of Cortez near the famed Cabo Arch. A great way to start the morning, even if you do have to be at the dock at 6 a.m.! Ai yai yai. And, of course, Bulthuis and WON sales manager Chuck Buhagier raffle off a bunch more Costas, t-shirts, buffs and accessories (many of which are laid out for first grab). Best of all, tickets for the party were $30 apiece each day, and all the proceeds went to Smiles International.

SCHOOLED UP - After catching identical 195-pound tuna off the same school of yellowfin, the Reel Quest and Sneak Attack teams decided to share their winnings. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

Then you wait while others fish. Better get to the scales early, grab a cold one and a good spot. The big fish come in early and late. Epic numbers of cow yellowfin put on a great show this year.

Thursday night after the weigh-in it was off to Maria Corona restaurant, Baja Cantina's downtown restaurant featuring folklorico shows and Mexican cuisine. It was the second time for the venue and Pat and the Maria Corona staff went out all out to make sure there was plenty of seating, an easy way to get drinks and multiple buffet lines. The floor show was fun and there was a great showing of the teams heavily invested in the Best Dressed contest, while it was also apparent that more than one team chose to get to bed early for the next day of fishing. Pat awarded the winning team - it was the Texas-based Reel Tuna Hookers - their certificate for free food at Baja Cantina for the 2018 (20th Anniversary) Tuna Jackpot and four $150 certificates for Fishworks clothing of their choice and more money was raised for Smiles International.

TEQUILA TEASER TIME - It was party time for the Tequila Teaser team after claiming the biggest chunk of the second day cash with their 239-pound tuna. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

Friday night there wasn't a party. Thank you, Pat.

Saturday night was the grand finale, the Western Outdoor News Cabo Tuna Jackpot Awards Dinner on the cruise ship dock, a beautiful venue right on the deep channel out to the Cortez. As that full moon rose over that fish-filled sea, mariachis played and attendees bid on Smiles International silent auction items like a trip for two to Kingfisher Charters in Sitka Alaska, while Brian Solomon's staff from his eponymous restaurant came through on his promise to deliver the best awards banquet food anyone has ever experienced.

THE CAPTAINS MEETING - Featured a free tequila tasting courtesy of Team Buckeye and lots of great giveaways. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

The tournament winners were feted with checks totaling $677,300 and Dave Bulthuis finally figured out the three winners in the Show Us Your Costas! contest, almost. That is, the contestants were so good, Dave picked out a top winner, yet had to divvy up second place between two teams and then award a third place team as well! Team 69, the Reel Tuna Hookers, made it a major contest sweep with their team of chartreuse Costa body stocking anglers resembling a socially responsible hygiene choice, while Team 39 with their giant golden balloons that spelled out COSTA aboard the Vaquera and the Shark Heads of Team 45 split second, and Team 22's Baby Face Costa crew claimed third.

THE CASH COW - The Tequila Teaser team on the Vaquera earned $132,800 in optionals with their 239-pound yellowfin tuna. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

Then the tournament was over. The party? It never stops in Cabo and next year's 20th Anniversary Tuna Jackpot party promises to be the best ever. Just like this one was.

THE CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM - Two-time winner James Rosenwald and first-time champ Victor Locklin savor their victory in the 2017 Western Outdoor News Cabo Tuna Jackpot. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

THE LOGO - Baja Cantina was one of the many sponsors that made the 2017 Cabo Tuna Jackpot the best ever. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

TUNA JACKPOT CHAMPS - The anglers and crew on the Estrella del Norte were the first ones to the Gray Taxidermy Weigh Station and this 338-pound yellowfin won them the 2017 Cabo Tuna Jackpot Championship. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

EMOTIONS OVERFLOWED when the Sneak Attack and Reel Quest teams decided to split the $5000 and $10000 optionals (a total of $118,000) the last day of fishing. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

THE NIGHT CREW on Halloween with director Pat McDonell (Elvis) flanked by Kaylee Buhagiar, Rhonda Buhagiar, Rene Olinger and Ashlee Fuller (the Mummy).

THE SWAG from sponsors included this soft cooler from Baja Cantina.

TEAMS ARE really getting into the colorful team garb, like this one.

THE CABO ESCAPE: Two parties for charity!

THE COSTUMES at the early check-in Tuesday at Capt. Tony's at the marlin sculpture included Popeye and Olive Oyl.

THE AWARDS DINNER on the cruise pier was catered by Solomon's Landing. The Fiesta on Thursday was a huge hit at Maria Corona's restaurant in downtown.