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What will our champions win?

Last year's event really upped the ante as two teams swept the dailies and cashed in over $300,000 for the first time in the event's history, topped by Cloud Nine's $392,800 to top the $841,600 payout

Director, Cabo Tuna Jackpot

The Big Game, Big Bucks tournament season is coming up in October and November when the air and water cools and the big marlin and tuna show up off Lands End. It's also when the top anglers in the world converge on the Baja hotspot and vie for big money and glory in annual fishing tournaments.

CLOUD NINE won all the marbles last year, a whopping $392,800 for Capt. Greg Lewis, Bryan Lewis, Josh Kaplin and Nicolas Quinonez. They will be getting after it again this year Nov. 6-9 in the 21st annual Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot.

Among them are the Los Cabos Offshore Marlin Tournament, the two Bisbee's events that includes the Black and Blue with more than $3 million at stake, a New Pelagic Rock & Roll event joined the fray last year right after the B&B, and then there is the annual Cabo Tuna Jackpot, that this year is slated for Nov. 7-10. Last year 163 teams fought over $$841,600 in prize money that went to a six teams. The tourney grew in one year from 147 boats to 163, and the prize money was easily a record.

With two teams, Hoorah and Cloud Nine claiming each day's tuna optionals, that left second and third place payouts in the overall tuna, and the wahoo and dorado optional winners for a total of six check winning teams.

With the optional format, it's hard for non-competitors to figure out who won what, and how they did it. The big checks explain the money, but what else do they get? It's a good question, because the champs win a lot of unique prizes.

THE CHAMPS HOLDING the hooks, addressing the crowd at the awards dinner.

First off, the team that catches the biggest tuna over two days -- and that was Cloud Nine last year -- wins 85 percent of the overall cash pot, which is calculated by taking the number of teams and multiplying by $500, which is half of the $1,000 entry fee. The other $500 goes to dinners, clothing and operating expenses. If the champions are in any options, they win that money. Cloud Nine cashed in big with $392,800, a record team payout for the tourney.

THE 272 POUNDER by Cloud Nine the first day swept the tuna optionals and won the overall for a nice reason to celebrate at the Gray Taxidermy weigh station. PHOTOS BY RICH HOLLAND AND DANNY MATTHEWS

The big money is, as you can see in the graphic, in the optionals. And not just for tuna. Each day last year the wahoo/dorado payout for the Team Texas Tuna Ticklers and Team Wahoo was $56,000. More than 140 teams entered that optional. This year Dorado and Wahoo have their own $1,000 optionals, and many teams are getting in both. We have added a $20,000 Gray Research Tuna Optional for across the board teams, and if the tourney keeps growing and some teams get into that $20,000 optional, we will see a $1 million payout. We will also see a LOT more teams earn checks with the separated wahoo and dorado pots. It's going to be a wild wild weigh-in.

So, Capt. Greg Lewis on his boat Cloud Nine and his guys caught a first-day 272-pound yellowfin to win the title last year ad a total of $392,800. So what did they win in a general sense? Well, they got a big cardboard check (please don't try to cash it), four custom hand- carved Hawaiian circle hooks on marble bases, custom ordered and fitted championship shirts created Friday night when the scales close on the tourney and are ready for the awards dinner where they are presented. They also receive a Cabo Cigar Co. humidor box filled with high-end CTJ-custom wrapped Dominican tobacco cigars, and championship hats made ONLY for the team and crew.

The team name and weight of the fish are put on the perpetual trophy with the other 18 winners since 1999, and the color framed history of the tourney is put up on the Tuna Hall of Fame at Capt. Tony's Restaurant in Cabo with the other 20 years of success stories. This year that plaque is being rebuilt into a digitally framed edition as 20 years of saltwater have taken its toll on the original wood/metal plaque. Check it our when you are in Cabo. It's a piece of sportfishing history. There are framed copies at Dreammaker Charters as well, and perhaps some other tackle shops.

And, their team name will be added to the other 20 past champs, the list printed on the backs of every official angler shirt we provide at check-in.

Pat McDonell started with the tourney with others at WON in 1999 and been the co-director or the director all 21 years. He is the former editor of WON.