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 The WON/Mercury Tuna Jackpot is really two events. 

There's the big-bucks competition for $300,000 and then there's the exciting parties with $125,000 in prizes, free hats, shorts and giveway trips each night to Costa Rica, Baja, Alaska and other great fishing destinations. Four 800-person parties in Cabo make this event unique and fun for everyone.

Title sponsor Mercury Marine and  Shimano hosted  two of the four nightly parties at the Tuna Jackpot held Nov. 7-10 in Cabo, and there was a festive atmosphere all week with the  weigh-ins, check-ins and awards ceremony with memorable moments.

There were five parties held during the course of the Jackpot Tuna week, starting with the Wednesday check-in poolside at the Hotel Plaza Las Glorias. As music played and a buffet lunch was available, teams arrived, confirmed their team member’s names and charterboats and added to their daily jackpots.

They were given Mercury flags, wristbands to get them in the parties, free drink tickets for the parties, and drawing stubs for the $125,000 in drawings. From there they went to the "goodies" table where Dave and Lisa Henry of Flexx-Rap and Dennis Yamamoto of Owner hooks doled out freebie six-packs of Flexx-Rap tape, four-packs of Owner hooks, the new Baja Directions maps, plus free Chuck Byron Tattoos.

There were also official Tuna Jackpot polo shirts for sale, and bars were set up around the area as anglers sat or swam, ate lunch and waited for the captains meeting at 6 p.m., followed by the first of four drawings of tackle, trips and clothing (see sponsors list and photos) that totalled $125,000 before the Jackpot week had ended. Then it was off into the night, with some teams actually getting some sleep!

The shotgun start with 154 boats near the famed Los Cabos Arch at 7 a.m. on Thursday was thrilling, and as usual, a few boats jumped the gun, but Mayor Narcizo Agundez quickly shot a massive flare from the top deck of the cruise boat the Oceana, and everyone joined in the run to the fishing grounds as a chartered WON plane shot aerial photos. The weigh-in started at 2 p.m. and ended at 5:30 with crowds of 300 awaiting the next 100-pound fish, with five brought to the scales that day, three of which were bigger than any fish caught last year. The biggest was the 151,6 pounder by Picante Express, followed by Blue Thunder’s near-miss 149.10 pounder that cause a lot of oohs and aahs as it missed a huge payday by 2 pounds.

All staff and anglers made their way to the Cabo downtown nightclub Squid Roe, for the 7 p.m. Shimano-sponsored party in which free Tuna Jackpot hats were handed out at the door and each angler got a free drink to stay cool (It was hot in there!). The first prizes were handed out in the rowdy atmosphere, halted only slightly when co-director Pat McDonell asked for a little sanity (not possible at Squid Roe) as he went over the day’s results and announced the six daily jackpots totalled just over $120,360 for the Picante Express team. with a 151.6-pound tuna.

It was also announced the field was at a record 154 teams and that $300,000 was in the Overall and Optional jackpots, a big jump from last year’s 136 teams and $243,000. Then it was back to the drawings, with $25,000 in Plano tackle boxes, Berkley/Pure Fishing $500 catalog shopping sprees, Burch Ford-sponsored Baja trips, Flexx-Rap $500 cash awards, and hundreds of lures and hats and shirts tossed out into the crowd.

The schedule for Friday was the same for the shotgun start under sunny skies and light winds. By the time the weigh-in was over at 5:30 p.m., five more tuna over 100 pounds were hoisted by weighmaster Tom White before a massive throng at the scale in front of Seafood Mama’s. The microphone didn’t work, but a leader board, some yelling of results and word of mouth got the job done. The winner, of course, was the 156 pounder by team Stimulator, and by 6 p.m. the masses were headed to another 7 p.m. party, a sit-down affair sponsored by Mercury on the malecon by the marina at the Shrimp Bucket. As anglers entered, they received free t-shirts, courtesy of Mercury for the third straight year.

It was quite a sight, 800 people on the malecon, eating, listening to music, talking fishing, and rushing up to win another $25,000 in prizes, with WON Publisher Joe Higgins, Berkley’s Brad Steiler, Shimano’s Jeremy Sweet, Owner’s Dennis Yamamoto and Fred Hall & Assoc. Mike Battistoni handing out the massive pile of prizes and certificates at breakneck speed.

Co-Director Pat McDonell went over the day’s results, and asked the firefighters and police and other emergency personnel to stand up and be honored. The 60 or so people stood up, as did the rest of the crowd in a standing ovation. It was a feel good moment for everyone, and if anyone had suffered a heart attack that night he would have been in good hands.

The final night, Saturday, was the awards fiesta at Hotel Plaza Las Glorias, when the cash, the rest of the prizes and the kudos were handed out to the sponsors, staff and the people who participated, and the people in Cabo had helped stage the five-day event with few, if any hitches. The highlight of the evening turned out not to be the cash awards, since people already knew which three teams would win money. Nay, it was a raffle of a Chuck Byron original painting commissioned for the Tuna Jackpot.

Proceeds were to go to the building of a kitchen at a Cabo orphanage for kids, many of whom were orphaned by the recent hurricane. In spirited bidding, $5,400 was raised, the painting going to Mel and Judy Ostberg, whose Picante Express team had won $126,280. Another feel-good moment that capped a great tournament.

Let's do it all again next year. Interested? Just mark Nov. 6-9, on the 2002 calendar.

Next year's event is slated for Nov. 6-9, 2002 on the same basic schedule, with a few subtle improvements likely on location of the parties and a streamlining of the awards ceremonies as the tournament field grows. Fishing days will be Thursday and Friday, Nov. 7-8. Interest is already brewing for 2002. In fact, several fleets, such the Picante, are being heavily booked for next year.

"I just got bombarded with people wanting to come back to us again, and they immediately signed up. It’s incredible how quick the fleet is being booked up, concerning the tournament was held just last week," said Jenny Donovan of the Picante Fleet. "The Bisbee's is like that, too, and it's happening with this one now. I'm hearing that people were very pleased with how the tournament went and they're going back."