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Team Jen Wren's Tuna Jackpot Breakthrough

Tournament savvy, team approach took Mark Rayor's Vaquera to big 2017 payout


LOS BARILLES, BCS - When Mark Rayor retired to the unmatchable beaches of Los Barriles in 1991, running a sportfishing business was the last thing on his mind.

Now his Team Jen Wren Sportfishing fleet boasts three sportfishers, including the 35 Cabo Vaquera, which won the most cash on the second day of the 2017 WON Cabo Tuna Jackpot. Redlands' Mike Daniel's Tequila Teasers scored $132,800 for the 239-pound yellowfin tuna.

IN IT TO WIN IT -- The Vaquera heads out with Mark Rayor at the helm and the Tequila Teasers doing their best to score some swag in the Show Us Your Costas! contest. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

The tuna wasn't the biggest of the tournament, it wasn't even the biggest of the second day. Yet luck (not all good), strategy, and lots of Baja and Tuna Jackpot tournament experience, came to play for Rayor and his teammates on the Vaquera.

It was a long road to the 2017 Tuna Jackpot for Rayor, who told the story at his beautiful residence in Los Barilles last June.

Fishing fever caught Rayor young and he soon was bit by tournament bug. When Mark decided to get into tournament bass fishing, he was already successful enough (he started his first business at 19 and has never worked for anyone else) to hire legendary pro Don Iovino as a guide and learn from the finesse master over the course of several trips. Advanced spinnerbait with Rich Tauber followed.

"I tournament fished my whole life. In the mid-80s I had a Ranger bass boat and fished the bass circuit," said Rayor. "I am good friends with Rich Tauber, he was my first visitor when I moved to Los Barilles, he and Carey Serklew. I had Greg Hines down here. I used to run with those guys."

Baja was an early goal for Rayor, sparked by his first trip in 1972.

"I came down to go fishing because a friend showed me a picture of marlin he caught down here, and I was, like, are you kidding me?" said Mark. "I flew down on a jet from Tijuana, then took a DC3 from La Paz that landed on the dirt strip across from the Hotel Cabo San Lucas.

"Now mind you this was '72, which is supposed to be the 'good old days'," Rayor noted. When people talk about those earlier times they sound like it was wide open all the time. It wasn't wide open all the time - they only remember the good times, they don't remember the bad times. We had tough times all the way back then.

"The second day I finally caught a marlin. There were no plastic mounts then, they skinned it and put it in borax," he said. "I put in all in a plastic bag with the fins and the bill and carried it on the airplane and gave it to George Lee in San Diego. The mount is still down here in the house we lived in until we built this one."

WINNING PAIR -- Tequila Teaser team captain Mike Daniel of Riverside and Vaquera owner/operator Capt. Mark Rayor will be joined up again for the 2018 Tuna Jackpot. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

Rayor closed his real estate business in Torrance in '91 and went deep into Baja to the Sea of Cortez.

"When I moved down here I didn't intend on ever working again," he said. "My plan at a young age was to retire at 40, when I moved down here I was 41. I found out 41 is too early to retire, I didn't realize you have to have something to do, some direction, and I am a type A personality, an entrepreneur. After a couple years I was drinking too much, I was getting into other people's business, I started smoking cigarettes - I needed to do something!"

The result was Mark and his wife Jen started a scuba diving business and both became PADI instructors.

"But fishing is my passion. When I came down here I bought a 22-foot Shamrock, put a tower on it, and it was a really nice boat for the two of us to go fishing," Rayor explained. "The older I got, the more I wanted to be comfortable, so when I got the chance to buy the 31 Innovator, I bought it!"

Comfort is attractive, enough so that Rayor started another business before he knew it.

"As soon as I got the Innovator, people wanted to charter the boat," said Mark. "I just started chartering. I never had a charter business in mind, but if I had a chance to pay some of the expenses, why not?"

The dive business came about when Rancho Leonero approached Rayor and asked if he would work for them running their dive program.

"I went over, checked it out and said no, but I will start a dive business and service your clients," he noted. "I started serving them and Rancho and Spa and all the resorts here. I have never worked for anyone, and over the years I have done my best to get along with all of them.

"The truth is a single resort wouldn't work, this is a fishing destination, not a dive destination. There is really good diving in good spots, but it's seasonal and it's just not."

Which explained why, as hard as he worked at it, Rayor was unable to recruit consistent numbers of return customers to the dive business.

"So here I had 'kind of a fishing business' and the same people came back like clockwork year after year, boom boom boom," Mark discovered. "I was doing both and it was okay. Then in 2009 I had the chance to buy the Cabo Yachts 35 Jen Wren III."

It's not what you think. Rayor didn't buy his gleaming new sportfisher for the business, he bought it for himself, and set about renovating his new yacht and equipping it with the finest gear.

"I never thought I would charter that boat," Mark said. "The reason was I had to hike the price, it takes a lot more money to run a 35 than a 31. Boy was I wrong! All my clients jumped off the 31 to the 35. They didn't care about the price - they wanted it nicer, they wanted the good gear - and away we went."

He and Jen closed the dive business when they built their new house. Meanwhile Rayor had started fishing Baja tournaments back in 2000.

"My first tourney down here was the first East Cape Bisbee," noted Mark. "The first couple were at Palmas. We won with a marlin, a 425-pound blue in my Shamrock. Getting the fish in the boat was easy, getting it out was not - a 425-pound fish in a 22 1/2-foot boat with an 8-1/2 foot beam, everything got stuck wherever it could stick!"

LOCAL CONTROL - Diego Romero grew up fishing the Los Barrels area and first started working for Capt. Mark Rayor as a dive instructor.

In a side note, Rayor told his skipper that he would buy him a car with if they won that tournament my skipper didn't have a car. Done deal.

"Then my wife said, 'well, we won money I want to build a pool' and we built a pool here. I won the tournament and lost money!" Mark laughed.

After some small tournament victories, Rayor won the first La Paz gold cup and a million pesos thanks to a 395-pound blue marlin, just missing a fully-loaded Ford Lobo extended cab pickup for any fish over 400 pounds.

Rayor noted that outside of tournaments, most of his clients don't want to catch big blue marlin or catch big tuna, although he has found a super cow (over 300) for clients who wanted that thrill.

"We'll fish anything, any way you want. Personally, I want to run with the big dogs," said Rayor. "If I have a day off my first preference would be to fish for broadbill. I have the curse. I would rather do that than anything. Second is a big tuna, a 250- to 300-pound tuna excites me more than an 800-pound, and it's harder to catch."

Meanwhile his business continued to grow, and it wasn't just the fishing that attracted customers.

"I try to make it easy for my customers to go fishing. All my captains speak English and they all grew up fishing Los Barriles," he said, adding that he has 3-bedroom casita adjoining his home available to clients. "If they want to give me a list, I will go to Costco and get everything they need for their stay. I have the boats loaded with snacks and water and sodas and I will stock anything they want.

"For tournaments, I advise them to put all their gear aboard early so they don't have to drag it down the dock. I have noticed that some of my tournament customers aren't accustomed to buying bait. One guy balked when I gave him the bill for 700 pounds of squid for the Tuna Jackpot. I believe if you are going to be in a tournament, you go prepared to win."

Jamie Greer of Dayton, Ohio was the first to approach Mark about fishing the Tuna Jackpot.

"Jamie called and booked the Innovator (Jen Wren) and from then on my boats were always booked," said Rayor. "They moved on and won the 2006 Tuna Jackpot on the Ni Modo with a 310. My boats were always full, but I always had new teams every year. Finally, knock on wood, I have teams that are going to stick with me. (Editor's note: one team did cancel for 2018, but a new team immediately signed up.) You have a much better chance when you have a team that is used to the way you fish."

NOT A TEASE -- The Tequila Teasers and the Vaquera crew had to wait while many tuna over 200 pounds fell short before they secured the biggest cash payout of day two. Capt. Mark Rayor, Diego Romero, Mike Daniel and Adam Morse were the four designated anglers each team is allowed. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

As he refined his approach, Rayor came closer and closer to winning big. One of the things he added four years ago was a big tool to his arsenal, another 35 Cabo that he completely overhauled and dubbed the Vaquera. The boat has proven to be a big fish magnet.

"In 2016 we finished third place in the Overall Tuna Jackpot on the Vaquera with a 262-pound fish the second day," recalled Rayor. "We were in late and Jonathan (Roldan) says to me 'that's the biggest weighed yet.' Then with about 30 seconds to go, the Reel Quest, the boat that always comes in late, came in with a 282. They were across the board and we got nothing in the jackpots. We got $4,157 for third. I think I charged the guy $5200 to charter the boat. He gave half to the crew and half to Pat McDonell's charity!"

In last year's event, Rayor and the Tequila Teasers were in the right area at the right time on the first day - just not exactly the right place.

"The first day we poked around into the Pacific, but it was rough, so we turned around and headed for the Gordo Banks," said Rayor. "My other two boats went up to the Jaime Bank and did real well, Polo on the Jen Wren III had a 186.

"We were there on the Inner Gordo when the Estrella del Norte caught that fish, they were about 100 yards away from us," he added. "I give those guys all the credit in the world to be able to catch a fish like that, but it was pure luck that those fish came up right underneath them. They were in our chum line - they didn't do anything wrong, they were far enough away - but they pulled up right underneath us in our chum line and those big fish started crashing out of the water all around them!"

"That fish" was the 338-pound yellowfin that topped the 2017 Tuna Jackpot and also claimed the spot of third biggest tuna ever in the event.

"The ironic thing is it was the second time they did it to us," added Rayor. "In 2012 they had a 372 pounder and we had a 160. We both hooked up the same time in the same school of fish, it was the luck of the draw."

Daily jackpots make the WON Cabo Tuna Jackpot very much a two-day event. And the second day of the 2017 event saw Lady Luck smile on the Tequila Teasers and the Vaquero.

"I was going to fish the Pacific the second day, but my other two boats came back and said 'No, no, no, there are seiners out there and they are going to nuke the place. We're going to the Gordo," said Rayor. "When we fished the Inner the first day, there were only 5 or 6 boats the whole day.

"The Outer Gordo is way more popular and when I glassed it - the two aren't that far apart - I would see 16, 18, 19 boats, which is crowded," he added.

"We started the second day on the inside and pretty soon we were overrun with an armada of boats. The Inner Gordo is a tiny, tiny, little spot that can handle 6 to 8 boats max," Mark noted. "I don't think a lot of them were prepared to chunk with squid, they were making bait, running around. Anyway, I tried to start chunking, I had guys running all over us, I was afraid someone was going to run over our line, it wasn't fishable.

TEAM VAQUERA WINS $132,800 and celebrates on stage. They're back in 2018. PHOTO BY RICH HOLLAND

"I looked in my glasses and the Outer only had a few boats, so we ran out there."

The short move provided quick results.

"We didn't get anything on our first drift, but it was still not that crowded," Mark recalled. "We ran up above the high spot and started chunking the squid again and it wasn't 10 minutes, BAM we got bit.

"I was up in the bow and I got bit first and Diego was in the stern corner and he got bit, too. He hooked a barrilete (skipjack).

"I was on a big fish, it just started dumping line off my reel. Diego didn't know yet, so I started yelling I'm bit! We've got to chase it!"

Rayor hooked the fish on a Calstar 7665XXH rail rod with an ATD 50 Accurate reel filled 130-pound Spectra, 100-pound mono on top of that and a leader of 130-pound pink fluorocarbon. All of the top shot was in the water and the Spectra was going quick.

"Diego got up top and we took after the fish," added Rayor. "Luckily it was running away from the fleet and after chasing for 15 minutes we got it back into the cockpit. After that, the tuna really dogged it, one deep run after another."

"That fish was a stud, one of those young ones," Tequila Teasers team captain Mike Daniels told WON. "I gaffed it, it was a team fish."

Problem was, the first fish to hit the scales was another stud, a 248-pound tuna. Just as the Tequila Teasers followed their tuna up the dock, it was discovered that the team Hook, Line and Drinkers only entered the overall jackpot, leaving the entire daily cash still on the table.

So that put Vaquera's anglers in line to win every daily pot except the $5000 and the $10,000. If they could hold on.

Stud tuna were in no shortage that last day, as radio reports told stories of drawn out battle and huge fish on the way. And every one that came to the scales, and there were many, was thick.

Not until you started looking at the overall length and not just the girth did you realize they were "only" 200-pound-plus fish.

Of course, all it would take was a 240 pounder or bigger to beat the Vaquera's 239. On this day, however, when the Reel Quest rolled in at the last second with bets across the board, their tuna was a 'mere' 195 pounds.

"Mike was kicking himself that he didn't get into all the dailies, he's a gambler, but his wife said no," noted Rayor. "He's coming back this year and we'll give it another shot."

Team Jen Wren Sportfishing Relies on Accurate Reels and Calstar Rods

By Rich Holland

CABO SAN LUCAS, BCS - Consistent catches of quality fish in a tournament setting with big cash payouts on the line requires the best in tackle and meticulous attention to detail. For decades Team Jen Wren Sportfishing has used Accurate reels Calstar rods, both sponsors of the 20th Annual WON Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot in November.

CAPT. MARK RAYOR believes in Accurate reels and Calstar rods. They catch huge fish, and do it in style and durability.

Mark Rayor and Mike Daniels' Tequila Teasers team took the top money of $132,800 for their 239-pound yellowfin on day 2 of the 2017 Tuna Jackpot. They were fishing aboard Rayor's Vaquera, the latest addition to his Jen Wren fleet based in Los Barriles.

The cow was hooked and landed on the combo of an Accurate ATD 50 mounted on a Calstar 7665XXH rod.

All you will find on Rayor's boats are Accurate reels and Calstar rods.

Perhaps it is no surprise that Del Marsh (I knew him) played a big role in bringing the tackle to the attention of Rayor.

"Del Marsh introduced me to Jack Nilsen in 2002 when he brought him fishing on Jen Wren," said Rayor. "Some people you click with right away it was all over but the shouting, we have always had a really good time. A little while later on I met his sons. Now I just feel like part of the family."

THE JEN WREN FLEET at the East Cape is back in the mix for 2018. Sign up by Sept. 7 as and "Early Bird" and you are eligible for a one-day charter with the VaquerA and Capt. Mark Rayor at the East Cape.

David and Douglas Nilsen are the driving force behind Accurate reels, while the father spends most of his time with the original Accurate Grinding business - building parts for fighter jets. The rest of the time Jack is the ambassador at large for Accurate reels. Of all the many places he travels to fish and promote the reels, Jack is regularly found in the East Cape, usually under a palapa out fishing with Mark.

Still, it was the reels that convinced Rayor, thanks to a previous introduction by Del Marsh.

"I was pretty sold on the equipment I was using -- I had the whole boat outfitted -- then Del gave me one of Accurate's reels," noted Rayor. "It was a different world! While the Twin Drag concept sounds weird, but Twin Drag reels feel completely different. At first I had to turn the clicker on, the reels were so smooth. I was used to being able to tell if a customer's fish was taking line out because the rod tip was jerking!

JACK NILSEN of Accurate, a new Cabo reel sponsor, started it all making gaffs and then sideplates and then reels, but now his twin sons Doug and Dave run the factory and designs, Jack hunts big fish all over the world.

"I was also surprised how little repair the Accurate reels need, you could run it over with car and it would still work," Rayor added, "they are totally, totally trouble free. I used to have a dresser drawer full of parts for the other reels, now I have an envelope with some clips and bearings.

"We have almost 60 Accurate reels in service working every day. All the time I have been fishing Accurates on the boats, we have only changed one drag washer.

"We don't abuse them, we use them, but they are definitely Baja tested."

As for Calstar, Rayor has been a longtime fan.

"I have been fishing Calstars from the beginning, Yo was wrapping me Calstar rods when Leon first started making them," said Rayor. "At first I fished the glass rods, then got going on composite reels when Del gave me one.

BACK IN JANUARY, 2018 the Accurate BV2-800 turned heads in the fishing industry when Jorge Lazo of Outpost Charters with Capt. Robert Ross from Pisces Sportfishing brought in this 424.6-pound beast from down in Loreto. The fish just missed the IGFA all-tackle yellowfin record of 427 pounds set in 2012 by the yacht El Suertudo, but is certainly to be approved as an 80-pound line class record. The 50-pound Momoi top shot Lazo used broke at 62 pounds at IGFA headquarters, thus it moves up to the next category and is a sure bet to be approved.

"I have composite rods 25 years old that are still models in current production. We refinish them and they look like new.

Calstar has got it down, they just do," he concluded.

Rayor did have one more thing to add:

"All the gear we use, it is because we believe in it," he said. "I can use any gear I want, and anything I use I believe in my heart I can't get anything better."