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Claimed titles in 2012 and 2017, both times with super cows; Minnesota Fur Trader James Rosenwald and his North Star team on the Estrella del Norte is the only two-time WON Tuna Jackpot champ


Fantastic fishing for huge yellowfin tuna, including the winning 338 pounder, down to the wire tension, a great spread in the hundreds of thousands of dollars of cash payouts, the highest number of boats of the Cabo tournament season - all of these served to overshadow the fact that James Rosenwald was the first ever to win the WON Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot twice.

ESTRELLA DEL NORTE AGAIN! -- The tight-knit team of the Estrella del Norte celebrates victory in the 2017 Tuna Jackpot with their 338-pound yellowfin tuna. PHOTO BY RICH HOLLAND

Think about it. Thousands of anglers over nearly two decades of highly competitive fishing have competed and so many have come close and even taken home the trophy and/or big cash.

Yet only James Rosenwald and his crew and teams aboard Estrella del Norte have won the Tuna Jackpot Championship twice in those 19 years. Not only that, each win was convincingly sealed by huge yellowfin tuna, a 338-pound winner in 2017 and a 2012 champ that weighed in at 372 pounds, second-largest in Tuna Jackpot history. And he's back again in 2018 with his North Star team, looking a third win.

How does a fur trader from Minnesota attain such elevated status among the tournament sportfishing stratosphere?

Rosenwald humbly deflects the credit to Pueblo La Playa and the generations of outstanding local fishermen who have embarked from its shoreline to chase the legendary piscatorial bounty of the Sea of Cortez. Standing on the stage with Victor Locklin during the 2017 awards, Rosenwald pointed to the local team members, Roberto Beltran and Adrian Camacho.

"These young men, who actually grew up in the small fishing pueblo of La Playa, they are the reason we are standing here tonight," said Rosenwald.

So the story of success on Estrella del Norte really starts with how James Rosenwald discovered La Playa, the pueblo that was all but swallowed by San Jose del Cabo and the Puerto Los Cabos development. Before the harbor, pangas used to launch from the beach in front of George Armstrong's La Playita Hotel and the name became associated with the fishermen.

Thanks to the success of his business - North Star Fur ("Our biggest seller is the fur-lined deerskin glove," he says) - Rosenwald was able to escape the cold in the winter months with extended fishing trips to Mexico.

WON got ahold of him at his Minnesota home in early May for this interview. He was preparing for a series of king salmon tournaments on the Great Lakes.

"I am always down in Mexico January, February and March, and then come down other times. Last week we had two feet of snow on the ground here, although there's nothing now, " James noted. "I fished San Carlos on the mainland side for three years, and then in 2007 I went down to Cabo and liked it down there. The fishing was better, so I got myself settled in at Pueblo La Playa, over San Jose way. I had friends there.

LA PLAYA PRAISES -- James Rosenwald said both his Tuna Jackpot victories relied on the great tradition and skill of the fishermen of Pueblo La Playa. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

"I got hooked up with Antonio Guluarte (Marco Antonio Guluarte Arista), the very first winner of the Tuna Jackpot, and started fishing with him," he added. "I spent five months every winter fishing with him."

It was on the Estrella del Mar, Antonio's panga which produced 218.9-pound 1999 Tuna Jackpot champ, that Rosenwald fished in his first tournament in Mexico.

"In 2008 the first tournament I fished down there was called the Governor's Cup and it was held out of Palmilla," James recalled. "It was March and there was no tuna around. It was open to all species and we won it with a 38-pound yellowtail I caught."

By 2009, Rosenwald had brought down a 23-foot Bayliner cuddy. He again fished the Governor's Cup, this time with local Pedro Aripez and a "lady friend Susie was running the boat at the time week hooked up in a school of porpoise." The result was a 90-pound tuna that put him in first place yet again.

"I realized that wasn't the right boat for the area and sold it," noted Rosenwald. "Later that same year I fished the Tuna Jackpot for the first time."

The WON Tuna Jackpot 2009 was a tough nut to crack since the Fisher Man hauled a 383-pound yellowfin to the scale the first day, still the biggest ever in the Los Cabos event.

Still, Rosenwald was back fishing with the first time champ, this time on Antonio's cruiser Alejandra with an all San Jose crew of Eduardo Aripez and Marcelo Gonzales. When a fish Antonio said was easily over 200 pounds broke off, yet the Gordo Banks did give them a 98.7-pound tuna to weigh in.

Surprisingly, that fish was the biggest yellowfin tuna of the second day. Each of the two days in the Tuna Jackpot is a separate competition when it comes to the optional cash jackpots. The Alejandra team was only in the $500 and $1000 daily pots, skipping the $2000, $3000 and $5000 also available that year.

"We won almost 36,000 dollars, but we left behind another 78 thousand or so," said Rosenwald. "I learned from that."

The next couple years didn't produce any Tuna Jackpot fish worth weighing, but in 2010 Rosenwald teamed up with Gonzalo Castillo and Eduardo Aripez to take second in the Governor's Cup with a 100-pound yellowfin and the same crew caught the biggest tuna for all three days in the Bisbee's East Cape Offshore event.

In 2011, they were joined by ex-pat Don Whittier and they took both the biggest tuna and the biggest dorado in the East Cape Bisbee's and scored the biggest tuna on the third day of the Los Cabos Billfish Tournament.

Meanwhile Whittier, who moved to La Playa about two years before, had a new boat in the works.

"Donald had a big palapa built in a fisherman's yard and hired two carpenters who spent the next two years building the boat based on plans from North Carolina," said Rosenwald. "He approached me about being partners. I said I don't like partnerships. I'll tell you what I will do I will put all the electronics on the boat and you can let me use it when I want."

When 2012's fall tournament season rolled around, the newly christened Estrella del Norte was in the water. Yet the new boat fished the Bisbee's Black and Blue without Rosenwald.

TROPHY ROOM -- Both of James Rosenwald's Tuna Jackpot champion cows hang in the warehouse of North Star Furs, his company in his home state of Minnesota.

"We were working on the boat and unbeknownst to me, Donald ordered resin," said Rosenwald. "This crabby looking guard comes walking down to the boat with what looks like two cups of coffee. I asked where did you get it, looked inside and it looked like two glasses of juice, sipped it and a little burned my throat."

He ended up going to the hospital, where they suggested he fly to the States. Once he arrived in California he was put on a helicopter and sent to Ronald Reagan Medical Center and treated.

"The Bisbee's Black and Blue was going on when I was in the hospital and I didn't like that," recalled Rosenwald during the phone call for this interview, while in the background his son could be heard saying "Dad, did you tell him that they said you might die?"

"They made an appointment for me to see a specialist in Minnesota, I wanted to go to Cabo for the Tuna Jackpot," Rosenwald continued. "The hospital released me, some friends picked me up, I felt a lot better and was eating.

"So, I flew down to Cabo and won the tournament!"

Their team had already taken two days of tuna jackpots topped by a 213-pound yellowfin at the East Cape Bisbee's. Yet they had a much bigger fish to catch at the 2012 WON Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot.

The second day of the event found Rosenwald, Whittier, Beltran, Aripez and Castillo chunking squid on the Outer Gordo Bank.

"Gonzalo got the hookup and Eduardo fought the fish. We knew it was a big fish fairly quick, it made a big run like it was headed to Mazatlan," said Rosenwald. "We followed him for three miles it seemed like."

The outfit was a Shimano Tiagra 50, 100-pound braid, 80-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon and a Mustad hook.

"We hooked up at 1:30 in the afternoon. We had time. We weren't in a panga anymore," he noted. "It took an hour and five minutes to get the fish in, that gets to being a long time. You know it's big and there's all the anticipation - are we going to be able to get it gaffed and up into the boat? - that's the nerve-wracking part. Sometimes I think we worry more than the guy fishing, he's working, he's got something to do!"

The 372-pound supercow was successfully brought aboard the Estrella del Norte, easily claiming the 2012 championship trophy and earning $233,540. The term easily might seem like a stretch, considering the tournament weighed another 11 yellowfin tuna over 200 pounds. At least until you consider that the Rosenwald team's fish was 106 pounds bigger than the next fish in line, a 266 pounder on the Renegade!

The same crew in 2013 scooped up the $110,000 overall jackpot in the Bisbee's Offshore with a 201-pound yellowfin tuna thanks to the fact no qualifying (by weight) marlin were brought to the scale. That offset the disappointment of blanking in the East Cape event after five straight years of cashing in with tuna.

OFF TO A QUICK START -- It never hurts your chances when you start your Baja tournament fishing career with the first winning skipper of the Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot, Marco Antonio Guluarte Arista, pictured on the right during this shot of the winning tuna catch at the Los Cabos Billfish Tournament.

Switching gears, the team, minus Eduardo, caught and released 6 striped marlin to capture the Puerto Los Cabo Team Challenge in 2014.

In 2015 and 2016 the Estrella del Norte won money in two East Cape events and two Cabo San Lucas events, with one second and four first-place tuna in five tournament fishing days, including a 156-pound yellowfin in the 2015 Bisbee's East Cape and a 224-pound tuna in the 2016 Bisbee's Offshore.

Yet the Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot victory began to fade as a series of blanks and misses stymied the fortunes of the Estrella del Norte.

"In 2015 in a school of porpoise off Punta Gorda and just off the Inner Gordo we hooked a tuna we had on for an hour-and-a-half. Bottom line, we didn't get the fish," recounted Rosenwald. "The knot was still on the end of the 80-pound Seaguar, it must have worked its way through the gap on the Mustad hook.

"Talk about wondering whether you would ever win again! That was it, that was the fish. A 210 won the Tuna Jackpot that year. Our fish was the winning fish, I feel our fish was easily over 300 pounds," added Rosenwald, whose personal best with the reel in hand is a 325-pound yellowfin he wound in aboard the Gladiator at Roca Partida.

They only count on the scale, and you have to get the fish there in time. In 2017, Rosenwald found Tuna Jackpot redemption in a hurry. Although competing in the tournament came down to the last second.

"By 2017 the teams have all changed around and I am the only one left. It is hard to keep a team together, trust me," said Rosenwald. "Victor (Locklin) called me in the fall about fishing together and he came on board. Robert Beltran, Carlos' brother, and Adrian Camacho were on the team, and Juan Guillermo was a mate.

"It was iffy getting the boat ready for the tournament, we had to have the engines rebuilt in San Diego," he added. "I even called Chuck (Buhagiar) to see if we could get our entry fee back if we didn't make it. We made it, but the power steering was out. But we made it!"

The scale was set to open for the 2017 event at 2 p.m. that first day. One of those fleet managers you see with phone and radio clipped to their belts approached the WON weigh staff and said a boat with a big fish wanted to weigh in. It was barely past noon. They would have to wait.

The wait was worth it. The Estrella del Norte was the first to pull up at the dock in front of the Tesoro Resort and the team followed as the Gricelda's Smokehouse team carted a monster tuna to the weigh area. It was all grins and Costa sunglasses as photographers snapped shots of the team with their 338-pound yellowfin tuna.

CUSTOM COW KILLER -- Ex-pat Donald Whittier hired two local carpenters to build the custom sportfisher Estrella del Norte off plans from a North Carolina boat builder. Here Rosenwald and the team head out towards destiny on the first day of the 2017 Tuna Jackpot. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

"Adrian got the hookup, Victor fought the fish for a while, then Adrian took over the rest of the way and I would have gaffed the fish," said Rosenwald. "We are all capable of doing it all."

Estrella del Norte staved off a wave of 7 yellowfin tuna ranging from 231 pounds to 305 pounds to end the day with a bunch of cash and a solid lead in the overall Tuna Jackpot championship.

Yet there was an entire day of fishing - and lots of big yellowfin - left.

"I wasn't sure we'd won, you know it was the first day and the first fish weighed in, so you wonder," noted Rosenwald. "Sure it was the third biggest tuna ever caught in the Tuna Jackpot, so there was a good. Still that means a couple fish bigger had been caught. Once in the East Cape we had a 219, the biggest in history for that tournament, but on the third and last day someone caught a bigger fish."

There were plenty of mean, fat yellowfin over 200 pounds taken the second day, but none over 250 pounds.

"There are a lot of very good fishermen. Out of 150 boats there are always at least 20 that really know how to fish," said Rosenwald.

"Then it comes down to luck, although luck favors the prepared.

"There were six boats on the Inner Gordo fishing all morning and chunking (the first day). We fished wahoo earlier and when we got there and started chunking, the big fish started jumping out of the water and we hooked the winning fish."

The question was posed: What was a bigger thrill, winning the WON Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot the first time or the second time?

"Maybe the second time" Rosenwald concluded. "I had won tournaments before. This time it seemed like the stars aligned, we had the right people, it was a kind of vindication.

"You've got to realize it's a team, you have to let the egos go at a point. I want to give a lot of credit to the whole team."

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