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REVIEW: 2019 Tuna Jackpot provided redemption for Sirena,
and a record $1,016,700 payout to 8 teams


Last year's champs Team Sirena's first-day 345 pounder day won a record of $420,325 and the Southern Comfort, which also weighed a 180 pounder the first day, brought in a 248 pounder the second day and won $356,400; Team Outcast banked a payout of $80,000 for a 21.7-pound dorado as eight of 154 teams scored checks, a record for the tourney


BY RICH HOLLAND

There was a buzz about the 21st WON Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot in 2019, unlike any of its predecessors. So many giant tuna were caught in the days preceding the tournament, and so many of the past champions were among the throngs lined up at the check-in on a hot, humid tropical day that simply felt like Cabo San Lucas at its tropical, sportfishing-capital-of-the-world best.

ACCURATE LADY ANGLERS — Brooke Spicer, Emily Harris and Emily Stepp each won custom pink-highlighted, engraved Accurate Tern reels for the 119-pounds tuna the Ohio and Indiana combined to boat aboard the Jen Wren. PHOTO BY RICH HOLLAND

The result would be the best and richest Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot ever with $1,016,700 handed out to the winners after the last little dorado was carted away from the scale on the marine-side malecon in front of the host Tesoro Hotel.

Most of that money -- $420,325 -- would go to the catch of a single fish. And what a fish!

San Jose Del Cabo resident John Domanic knows better than anyone how vulnerable the boat atop the leader board is in these modern days of Cabo tuna fish. In 2018 his Sirena team lost out to Cloud Nine in literally the last moments of the first day.

On the first day last year, Domanic answered back the best way you can – he and his expert tuna crew from San Jose del Cabo's La Playita brought a 345-pound supercow to the Tuna Jackpot scales.

DAY ONE WAHOO WINNER – Job DeHorta's Pendejadas team has been focusing on wahoo the last few years and this time around it paid off in $40,400 in the first day of the $1000 Wahoo Daily. PHOTO BY RICH HOLLAND

Suddenly, the 249 pounder weighed by the Reel Machine right when the scales opened at 3 p.m. went into a total eclipse of almost 100 pounds. The best shot the rest of the day came from Riverside resident Jesse Santana's Santana team. They weighed a massive fish that drew oohs and aahs from the crowd piled up along the boardwalk. And it was a big fish, a 291-pound yellowfin that was, as Santana put it, "the right fish on the wrong day."

Said Director Pat McDonell who started the tourney in 1999, "At that moment it was weighed in, the third biggest fish in the history of the tourney, it was a battle for the next day's optionals and that $160,000 in the wahoo and dorado optionals. The fishery in Cabo never ceases to amaze me."

WRAPPING UP THE JACKPOTS – The final 2019 Tuna Jackpot payout, $34,000 for the Second Day $20k pot, was claimed by the Don Julio team of Sean Feeney of San Marcos, James Jagels of Golden, CO, Nathan Younger of Fairway, KS and Brady Nelson.

Last year Domanic said the fish the Sirena weighed "was caught close to our home in San Jose." When asked right after the fish was weighed if he was close to home again when he caught the 345, Domanic noted, "Well, you know, pretty much every place we fish in Cabo is close to home." In the video they posted on the Facebook page, as they blasted off the starting line just outside the famed Arch, they were clearly not headed to the Gordo Bank.

Even with $356,400 of daily jackpot money already in his pocket, it was right of Domanic to keep his comments to mere hints. There was another day of fishing ahead and the Overall Tuna Jackpot Championship still undecided. Yet there has never been 300-pound tuna caught on consecutive days of the two-day Thursday-Friday event, and, after all, the 345 is now the third largest in Tuna Jackpot history.

FIRST AND LAST – Fishing their first ever Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot after first visiting Cabo 10 months previous, the Southern Comfort team from Oregon kicked off the Day Two weighin with this 248-pound yellowfin that held on for a whopping $356,400 in daily jackpot money. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

Once the Southern Comfort's 248-pound yellowfin caught on the second day went unchallenged, also winning $356,400 in daily pot money, and the tournament was over, Domanic gave the details of what was an amazing catch from his beautifully rigged custom center console.

"I prefished a little bit, our backyard like we talked about, it's up in San Jose, and in my prefishing I marked them up there but I couldn't get them to bite. The big ones were there," Domanic said. "Last Saturday I fished the Pelagic Rockstar tournament with the Bill Collector II, I need to give them a shout out.

TEXAS FIRST TIMES CASH IN – A 47.1-pound wahoo on the Salsa produced a $40,000 payday for the TNT Texans & Tuna team the second day of the Tuna Jackpot. It was the first time in the event for the Texas-based team. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

"Gil and I were motoring around on the Pacific side there and we pulled into the Jaime Banks and we saw a couple 200 pounders rolling. We actually got a bite on the Yummee Flyer, which, you know, I hate fishing that way, but it got bit on the turn so we couldn't come tight to it.

"We never got another bite. Just as we were about to leave the Santana pulls into it and I was like #@%@ he knows it too," Domanic added.

Domanic's tournament team includes the Castillo brothers, Gonzalo and Alfredo, born and raised in Pueblo La Playa, where they have their own charter business. Domanic said he and Gonzalo share all their information and collaborate on a plan.

"He fishes every single day up in San Jose with his charter boat and I told him what I saw, I had the numbers," the Sirena's owner noted. "So we took a flyer and decided to fish the Jaime Bank the first day and then come to our backyard the second day if that didn't work out.

BACKING IN TO GLORY – Many thanks to IGY for opening up dock space in front of the Tesoro and installing a temporary ramp to offer quick access to the official Tuna Jackpot scale. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

"We rolled in and there were only 9 boats there," he said. "You know, I'm a bait fishermen. We were in there with a lot of good fishermen and we were fortunate to get the bite. It was on a skipjack, a big skipjack, we were fishing for big fish."

Domanic said he glanced at the clock and it was 10:37, a special number for him, a time he notices often.

"I opened up a bottle of whiskey, had a little pop, donated a little bit, with a little cheers to my brother up in the sky who was my partner in all these tournaments forever, and I looked over and the skippie was going ballistic.

"I walked to the reel, put my hand on the reel, popped it out of the clip, and I was tight on it before it came tight."

SMOKE GETS IN MY EYES – Boats rounding the Cape at near full throttle kicked up a diesel haze during the start of the 2019 Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

Because the Sirena is a center console, it's strictly standup fishing, Dominic noted, saying he has Talica 50s with 150-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader he standup fishes with.

"The fish started screaming straight down," he said. "We were in really deep water, we were off the bank "The spool got really small, it took us into the backing all the way down.

DORADO FLOODED THE SCALES on Day Two when the minimum weight was lowered to 15 pounds instead of the planned second-day minimum of 20 pounds. It still took over 20 pounds to win, with the Rebecca just missing out with a 20.8-pound dorado. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

"Then all of a sudden it turned around and swam straight to the top, I couldn't get enough line, I was reeling like crazy. So we ran the boat forward and came tight, and the we did it again and came tight," Domanic added, saying the last maneuver brought them straight up and down on the fish in just a few minutes.

To view the video of the catch, go to the Cabo Tuna Jackpot Facebook page and scroll down. It's footage of the team's win, start to finish!

"We were so close to the fish that I went to sunset, pushing the drag up to 37-38 pounds on the thing. Then I put my palms on the spool," said Domanic. "The fish was really close and sometimes you get a shot. We got a shot.

GOOD AS GOLD – The 21.7-pound dorado caught by the Outcast team of David Thornton of Bloomfield, NM, and Jesus Cota and Andrea Cota of El Coro, MX earned them $80,000 when the first day pot rolled into the second day of the event. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

"Freddie tried to gaff the fish near the tail and that was a mistake, it took the gaff right out of his hand and splashed us and soaked the boat and took off again.

"When it did, I palmed it, I wouldn't let the fish go and he only took like 50 feet. And we got another shot at it. This time we knew how big the fish was and used a big flying gaff and then got a rope on the tail.

"It was pretty amazing, we had the fish secured in 15 to 20 minutes.

"It took almost as long to subdue as it took to get it to the boat, the fish went nuts. Clubs did nothing. It was two guys with gaffs and a guy with a rope and just hold on. I went over, sat down, opened a beer and thanked the Creator."

BIG SWING FALLS SHORT – The Big Papi was the only other boat to weigh a fish over 200 pounds on Day Two but the 243-pound yellowfin couldn't best the 248 pounder already on the board. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

The Sirena and its team brought the 345-pound tuna back to Cabo from the Jaime Bank early during the first day of the tournament, taking the daily jackpots and ultimately the title of 2019 Los Cabo Tuna Jackpot Champion and the payout that comes with that for a total of $420,325, a record.

"This is the fish I fished for all my life!"

That's what Domanic told WON as the award's concluded The tuna caught on his triple-outboard Contender center console Sirena is the third largest in the history of the Tuna Jackpot and the check the largest ever written to a winning team.

THE LEADER BOARD with two days of big tuna weigh-ins. Eight of the tuna were over 200.

"I can't say enough about my guys, the Castillo brothers, Gonzalo and Alfredo. They are Cabo. They are tuna fishermen born and raised here in Los Cabos. They are Playanos. They are the reason why guys like me can be here and do what we're doing," said Domanic after the check, carved wood and marble trophies, Cabo Cigar Co. cigars, Champion shirts and hats and other trappings of the winners were handed out at the Awards Dinner Saturday night.

As always, it was no easy feat for any of the many winners in the Tuna, Wahoo and Dorado jackpots to reach the awards stage.

TUNA JACKPOT HYBRIDS – Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Champion John Domanic's Contender Sirena and Day One $20k jackpot winner Ivan Van Ortwick's Sea Hunter Stella June were both designed to compete, and win, tournament cash.

Traveling the path to victory in the Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot requires the best of everything – luck, local knowledge and preparation. You can't buy the title of Tuna Jackpot Champion. The tuna gods must be smiling on you.

Then on the first day of the competition a cloudy sky and flat calm sea light up with a brilliant sunrise and 154 boats wrangle their way to the start boat Cabo Escape to show their team numbers and then obtain optimal position for the 7 a.m. shotgun start.

MOVE OVER LITTLE DOG – The go fast boats dart ahead of the big boys who go pretty fast themselves and everyone in this picture of the 2019 Tuna Jackpot start is aiming for a quick turn into the waters of the Pacific. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

The orange flare guns raise up in the hands of the dignitaries on the start boat, escorted by a Mexican Coast Guard boat with machine gun in the bow, the balls of smoke and flame arc through the morning sky and with a growing roar and jumble of swell sportfishing vessels from 22 to 90 feet spread out in the hundreds of degrees of possibility offered by Land's End, leaving behind a cloud of diesel and taking with them hopes of cash and affirmation.

No object is as uncaring as a certified scale. The scale gives the actual weight of a fish that in the water or on the deck looks like THE ONE.

GOOD END TO THE DAY – The Stella June was one of the last boats to weigh in on the first day and brought in a good one, a 260-pound yellowfin that earned $34,000. Pictured are Stella June Van Ortwick, Ivan Van Ortwick, the crew of the Stella June, and Evan Salway. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

The Reel Machine definitely knew they had what could be the right one when they tied up to the tournament docks more than an hour before the scale officially opened at 3 p.m. Thursday.

And the team's tuna looked so fat and perfect as the Gricelda's Smokehouse team and the crew of the sportfisher managed to get it in the cart and up the ramp to the scale. When the scale tipped to 249 pounds, there was plenty of celebration and photography.

All that was left was plenty of time for more big fish to arrive. They didn't have to wait long. The Sirena slid up to the dock just about the same time a couple other boats with dorado also tied up with fish to weigh in the new $1000 dorado daily jackpot.

FAMILY MOMENT – Stella June and her dad Ivan Van Ortwick with the Stella June's 260-pound Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot catch. PHOTO RICH HOLLAND

Word that there was a big fish had filtered up to the scale and all the photographers surrounded the center console as they struggled to get a monster yellowfin out of the forward hold.

Strikingly, there was already a tuna well over 200 pounds on the deck and just the visible half of the fish the crew was struggling to extricate looked bigger.

Seeing a 300-pound-plus tuna in person is always an amazing experience, one only the scale can verify. Fist pumps and big smiles from the Sirena team answered Assistant Tournament Director Billy Egan's announcement of the 345-pound weight. Only the 383 on the Fisherman in 2009 and the 372 on the Estrella Del Norte in 2012 rank above the 2019 catch.

JAIME BANK BITER – The Santana team of Jesse Santana, Joseph Santana, Gonzalo Madrid and Christian Marquez and their crew with their Tuna Jackpot 291-pound cow yellowfin that took second place in the Overall Tuna Jackpot for $7,510.

Another 6 tuna over 200 pounds and 10 over 100 pounds would get hoisted that first day as the scales operated well into the dark to sort out the catches of tuna, wahoo and dorado. Included in those catches was the 185 on the Tag Team by Dave and Nancy Marciano of Wicked Tuna TV fame, their first yellowfin.

The cow tuna, in the order they were weighed, were a 214 pounder on the Redrum, a 206 on the Dottie B II, a 231 on the Susie Q, a 260 on the Stella June, a 219 caught by the Tunanaters Team, and a 291 on the Santana that finished second overall, the fish a victim of being a huge catch on the same day a 345 came in for the same optionals.

JOHN SCHALBLE, JOHN DOMANIC, Gonzalo and Alfredo Castillo and 345-pound tuna. Tuna Jackpot Champions!

There were two consequential catches included in that herd of cows. They both came late in the day, very late, and they were impressive fish.

The Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot is made up of an Overall Jackpot and a series of Daily Jackpots: $500, $1000, $2000, $3000, $5000, $10,000 and, new for this year, the Gray Fish Tag $20,000.

Of the 154 boats in the tournament, 22 teams opted to be in all the jackpots from $500 to $10,000. Of those, 4 boats were also in the $20,000.

When the Stella June with owner and team captain Ivan Van Ortwick, skipper Evan Salway and crew brought their fish to the scale, they were the first and only boat in the $20,000 jackpot to weigh a tuna. Cha-ching, $34,000 right off the bat.

Team Sirena, champs.

Although all they needed was a 30-pound-minimum tuna to qualify, the Stella June did the job in style with that whopping 260 pounder, which eventually gave them third place tuna in the Overall Jackpot for another $3,755.

"We put a lot of miles on the big center console, 250 miles in the gyros, and finally we found a school with the right one, a 260-pound fish," said Salway. "Our crew works really hard making this happen, much thanks to them."

Day 1 Wahoo champs.

"We've been down here for the last month fishing the tournaments. We fished four including this one and the Bisbee and ended up on the stage twice, it's been awesome," said Van Ortwick. "We drove the center console from Orange County to here. It's a new boat this year, a 45 Sea Hunter with quad 425 Yamahas on it, named after my daughter Stella June. We spent a lot of time in SoCal dialing it in before we came down."

The Santana team of Jesse Santana and Joseph Santana, both of Riverside, and their local teammates Gonzalo Madrid and Christian Marquez, got everyone's attention when they brought up their 291-pound tuna. Before it was weighed, their yellowfin was the only fish that truly looked like a challenge to the 345, except that veteran observers noted the fish was just not long enough to be more than 300 pounds.

"We caught the right fish on the wrong day," said Jesse Santana. Their fish was taken on a live whole skipjack fished on the Jaime Bank. Santana won $7,510 for second place in the Overall Jackpot.

Day one 20K winners.

And when the Santana hung up its fish, the 249-pound yellowfin on the Reel Machine fell out of overall contention and became simply another big tuna in the long list of Tuna Jackpot catches.

The last tuna to be weighed on Day One was "only" 119 pounds. Yet it was an amazing catch of its own, as three young women from Ohio and Indiana combined to boat the tuna aboard the Jen Wren. Brooke Spicer, Emily Harris and Emily Stepp each won custom pink-highlighted, engraved Accurate Tern reels for the top catch by a team with at least two lady anglers.

Ever since the scale opened at 3 that afternoon, another drama was playing out among the 100 boats that plunked down $1000 for the Dorado Daily Jackpot and the 101 boats the entered the $1000 Wahoo Daily.

In the dorado category there was really only disappointment and, most of all, realization that no one was going to get close to the 30-pound minimum weight required to qualify for the $40,000. Not that this possibility wasn't anticipated – the minimum for Day Two was already set at 20 pounds. The bottom line is $80,000 would be paid out to a single dorado on Friday.

Day 2 20K winners.

Wahoo fishing was another story. Although there was plenty of heartache with fish put on the scale that only tallied in the high 20-pound range, Andy Clubb smashed the ice in style, hanging up a 40.4-pound wahoo caught on the Blue Marlin II.

Tuna Jackpot angler and Pendejadas Team Captain Job DeHorta of Upland, CA has been on stage with jackpot tuna, but said in the last few years he has switched his strategy towards fishing the wahoo and dorado.

This year the strategy resulted in a 42.1-pound wahoo that paid off in a $40,400 check for DeHorta and teammates James Coiner of Upland and Otto Paredes of Chino Hills.

The next morning, another incredibly beautiful tropical day in Cabo, quite a few boats laid a thick trail of diesel smoke up towards the local tuna banks on the Pacific side of the cape.

The word had already been spread over the radio that the Tuna Jackpot tournament officials lowered the minimum for dorado to 15 pounds for Day Two. No refunds! Someone was going home with $80,000 for catching a dorado.

Outcast 2-day dorado winners.

Still, the real story, as always, was the hundreds of thousands of dollars to be won in the Tuna Daily Jackpots. An across the board win ($500 through $20,000 pots) would snag $390,400!

The way the day unfolded a dorado was the first fish to the scale, a 15.1-pound mahi taken by the Vida Loco. That meant 80 thousand dollars would definitely be given out.

No tiny fish was going to claim any of the Tuna Jackpot cash. The men fishing on the Southern Comfort made sure of that, bringing a 248-pound tuna to the weigh station. The big yellowfin was entered in all of the daily jackpots except the $20,000.

This time there was just one challenge to the first tuna weighed, as of the 9 tuna that followed only one was over 200 pounds. That 243 pounder caught on the Big Papi certainly gave it a great shot and brought the Tuna Jackpot total to 10 fish over 200 pounds weighed in.

Team Santana 2nd overall.

That meant the Southern Comfort, which also weighed a 180 pounder the first day, would receive a check for $356,400 at the Awards Dinner Saturday night. The Oregon-based team revealed they had just started visiting Cabo 10 months earlier, fell in love with it, bought a boat and decided to compete in the Tuna Jackpot. Not a bad start.

Rounding off the Tuna Jackpot payouts with a quality fish was Sean Feeney's Don Julio, a boat familiar to tournament venues up and down the Cape.

Feeney said they were stuck close to home the first day because of boat troubles, but got that fixed and the Don Julio ran 40 miles due south to find a school of tuna that kicked out a 190-pound yellowfin tuna on a live bait.

Since the Don Julio team of Feeney of San Marcos, James Jagels of Golden, CO, Nathan Younger of Fairway, KS and Brady Nelson was entered in the $20,000 (and everything else) they won $34,000.

First day 20K winner Stella Blue was at the docks at the same time with a qualifying-size fish, yet chose not to come to the scales when they saw they were easily outweighed by Don Julio's fish.

Southern Comfort 2nd day.

Getting back to the wahoo and dorado jackpots, on the dorado scene the 20-pound mark was exceeded about half-way through the day and there was even a deadlock at 20.8 pounds for a long time among the teams on the Rebecca and the Tuna Time.

Then the Outcast came in with a 21.7-pound dorado and claimed the $80,000 prize! It was announced at the Awards Dinner that next year the minimum weight will be 20 pounds for both days of the Tuna Jackpot.

The wahoo action heated up fast when the Blue Marlin II again weighed a ‘hoo over 40 pounds, a 40.2 pounder. That didn't last long as Ted Dake on the Make My Day, who took one of the wahoo pots last year, got on the board solid with a 42.7-pound wahoo.

First time Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot team TNT Tuna & Texans fishing on the Salsa jumped well ahead of the competition with a 47.2-pound wahoo.

Day 2 wahoo winners.

Two-time Tuna Jackpot Champion James Rosenwald on the Estrella Del Norte decided to give the wahoo a shot (he won a wahoo division in one of the earlier Cabo tournaments) and landed a quality wahoo on a bulito. The fish fell short at 43.7 pounds.

That meant the TNT team on the Salsa consisting of Mark McGuffin of Fort Worth, TX, Dustin Austin of Flower Mound, TX, Tim Lang and Gary Franklin, both of Fort Worth, scored a check for $40,400. Their skipper Antonio said the 47.2-pound wahoo was caught on a wired-up DeGrillo 4.5 trolling lure out by the Golden Gate Bank.

Big bucks, big fish and eight teams splitting a cool mil. Not a bad way to end the week. Time to do it all again Nov. 4-7.