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Drama unfolds daily at Tuna Jackpot scales as Bottom Line pulls in a record payout of $271,346

WON Staff Writer

CABO SAN LUCAS, BCS -- Slow starts and fast finishes were the rule at the 10th anniversary of the WON/Yamaha Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot.

Not that there was ever any doubt big fish were on the way to the scales set up at the entrance to the Puerto Paraiso Mall -- early reports on the radio indicated fish both on the deck and hooked up.

THE 2008 TUNA JACKPOT got underway with 369 anglers on 97 boats headed out in search of glory, cash and big tuna. Many found tuna, but the quality fish were caught by less than a handful of boats, three of which contained teams that make their home base in the Cabo San Lucas area and consider fishing a way of life.

The simple fact was, there was just too damn much money on the table for anyone to think of leaving the fishing grounds. Even if you caught a tuna good enough for a chunk of the $159,400 on the line in daily pots each time out, chances are you were one of the 80 teams (out of 97 total in the event) who plunked down a grand in the wahoo/dorado dailies. Wouldn't troll a little bit more the $32,000 going to the biggest fish of either species?

So it was no real surprise that the first fish didn't come in until 3:30 (the scales opened at 2 in the afternoon), and it was a good one. Randy Matz, Barbara Morris, Tawnya Stevens and Fred Stevens on the Mucho Loco II brought in a 91-pound tuna and set the bar for the $500 and $1,000 dailies.

JAIME RENDON exults in the payoff on his 145.4-pound tuna that was in the lead for overall until the 244 pounder came in the next day aboard Reel Rum.

Matz said they would have stayed out longer.

"When we caught the 91 pounder we were in the middle of a bunch of fish and porpoise, but we blew a transmission," said Matz. "We wanted to make sure we got back in time."

That would be the case all day. Not engine troubles. Fish. Boats either found fish, lots of fish, or didn't see any all day. (Striped marlin were thick, but they didn't count.)

Small wahoo and dorado came to the scales and were rejected. Then came the biggest letdown of the day, a fish that may lead to a change in Tuna Jackpot rules.

John Maryanski, Gerald Schneider and Nick Secret on the Casadora weighed a 38.4-pound wahoo -- achingly short of the 40-pound minimum and the closest anyone would come all day. That meant the $32,000 rolled over to the second and final day of competition and all it would take is one big wahoo or dorado to win $64,000.

Radio rumors persisted in the fact there was a big fish on a boat that was across the board -- that is, in all the daily jackpots from $500 to $10,000.

Finally more tuna started to show and the race was on.

Lew Feuerstein, Martin Curtain, David Scheppers and Tim Donnelly, who won the overall jackpot in 2002, backed the beautiful 90-foot Nordlund El Vato to the dock and brought a 40.3-pound tuna to the scales. While not a big fish, they were indeed one of the 8 teams across the board and that looked to be some valuable ahi.

THE LARGEST PAYOUT ever went to the Bottom Line team, which swept nine daily jackpots over the course of two days to end up with $271,346.

They were quickly followed by some more repeat winners, John Schue and Bob McIntyre, who won the 2007 overall pot with a 189-pound tuna on the Katiusha. Joining them on the Off the Hook in this year's event was Schue's son Jacob.

The Off the Hook team was also entered across the board and laid claim to hundreds of thousands of dollars with a 44.3-pound tuna.

That didn't last long. The Guerita II tied up along the dock and Eric Stark, Leslie Hayslip, Mike Turck and Jeanne Turck brought a 45-pound tuna to the scales. They were in every jackpot except the $10,000 daily (which left the Off the Hook clinging to the hope of a $32,000 payout in that pot.)

"We had a double hookup on a cedar plug and a skirted lure," said Mike Turck. "We had doubles all day on dorado and tuna."

Then the weight of the fish finally started to match the money at stake. Mike Menas, owner of the 50-foot Hatteras The Bottom Line, and his skipper T.J. Dobson had indeed found a big fish and, just like the radio reported, they were in all the jackpots.

THE THIRD BIGGEST TUNA in the history of the Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot, a 244 pounder, earned the Redrum Charters team bragging rights and $70,380.

Assistant tournament director Mike Packard and the dock crew from Dreammaker Charters struggled a bit to get the tuna on the scales. A satisfied look spread across the faces of Menas, Dobson and teammates Ralph Libertore, Bryan Clementi and Carmelo Navarette and cheers erupted from the crowd on the boardwalk when Packard announced the weight at 143.4 pounds.

Menas said they caught the fish at 10 a.m., but never had any intention of coming in early.

"We caught a 510-pound in the Bisbee Offshore this year, weighed it early and started partying," said Menas. "Then another boat weighed an 870-pound blue. We decided to stay out and keep trying for bigger fish this time."

The Salsa with Mitch Falk, Chris White, Lynette Anderson and Debbie White, all of Alaska, didn't scare anyone with their 52.2-pound yellowfin, but a group of Midwesterners made a valiant effort to snag some of the cash.

Sean Wambold, Mike Ertel, Wade Frederickson and Tom Tester make Cabo an annual destination to escape the Minnesota cold and party. They said their charter captain suggest they make the Tuna Jackpot part of the party. Fishing on the Mañana, they did their best, but the 141.9-pound tuna just wasn't enough to dislodge any dough.

WHEN THE BOTTOM LINE weighed this 143.4-pound yellowfin on the first day, they were the leaders in every daily jackpot. A last second weigh-in by the Dr. Pescado of a 145.4-pound tuna took the $500 daily pot away.

The 38-foot Blackman C Rod with Erwin Glicksman, Robert Baylor, Curt James and Daniel Alcarez weighed a 49.6-pound tuna and time was running out.

It was dark by the time Jaime Rendon made his mad dash down the harbor, pushing the panga Dr. Pescado as fast as he dared while trying to squeeze the last drops of fuel out of the tank.

"I wouldn't have made it in time if I had to paddle," Rendon said of just making the 6 p.m. deadline for boats to be inside the inner marina.

Rendon, Victor Ruiz Hurtado and Luis Antonio Sotolo were all smiles when they came up to the scales and those smiles got impossibly brighter when Tournament Director Pat McDonell announced the winning weight of 145.4 pounds. Owner's Dennis Yamamoto saw the heavy leader sticking out of the fish's mouth and Sotolo dug deep to pull out a 7/0 Owner Super Mutu circle hook. The fish had literally swallowed the bait, which was dangled from a kite.

A $64,OOO DORADO tipped the scale at 40.1 pounds and made Dave Turner a happy man; joy everyone on the Picante Dream shared at the awards.

The Dr. Pescado team took $11,800 for the $500 pot, but that left $147,600 for the Bottom Line for the $1000, $2000, $3000, $5,000 and $10,000 dailies.

The second day McDonell dropped the weight for the wahoo/dorado optional to a 25-pound minimum and big fish of all three species quickly arrived at the scale -- a couple hours after they opened.

First fish was a 73-pound tuna on the Zamboni, but the team of Scott Delorenzo, Tom Clinton and Tom Rollins, all of Colorado, on the big center console skippered by Efrin Loreana wasn't in any of the dailies.

Former winners Tom Pianko and Lloyd Nelson knew enough to have money in the $500 pot. There biggest problem was deciding which big tuna to weigh out of a double hookup on the Bad Market.

"Our skipper, Andres (Jiminez) saw the fish up by the porpoise and told us to cast baits," said Pianko. "We got bit within 20 seconds of each other."

The fish they picked weighed a solid 131.4 pounds.

HUGS AND KISSES were abundant after the Redrum Charters team from the Reel Rum brought their 244-pound tuna to the scales, whether it was John Donovan hugging the winning fish, above, or newlyweds Ryan and Brooke Donovan smooching in the victory circle.

Locals Bob Peterson, Cliff Bates and Thomas Owen fishing on the 32-foot custom Hunter built by Peterson and skippered by Lazero Vallegos took over the $1,000 pot with a 69.8-pound tuna that battled for an hour and 45 minutes, the last 20 minutes at deep color.

It seemed like the first qualifying fish in the "other" jackpot was going to be weighed, but it turned out to be only 19 pounds.

Then the 19th Hole team of Scott McPherson, Jim Schaller, Roy Gardner and Lori Simms weighed a 26.7-pound dorado and $64,000 was guaranteed to be given away.

OWNER HOOKS' Dennis Yamamoto saw the leader sticking out of the Dr. Pescado's fish and the boys obligingly dug out a 7/0 Owner Super Mutu circle hook that they bought at Minerva's Tackle in Cabo.

The Renegade Mike's challenge fell short when the Southern California team of Eric Wheelright, Paul Kurz, Joe Delsigurde and Mike Conner weighed a 24-pound dorado.

Then the Edith V team seemed to lock up the money when Kim Jones, Richard Martinez, Ruben Mirales and Vicente Feol brought up a 37.6-pound wahoo.

The attention quickly turned back to tuna, however, when the tournament director made an announcement.

"I've just been handed a note from the dock crew," said McDonell. "All it says is 'big fish.'"

A huge tail sticking out of dock cart was the first indication of the truth of the statement, followed up by the beaming faces of the team of the Reel Rum -- Redrum Charter owners John and Ryan Donovan and their crew of skipper Luis Vela and mate Americo Andres.

THE PARTYING KICKED off at the check-in at the entrance to the Puerto Paraiso Mall on Wednesday, but it was serious fishing the next day.

It took several efforts to get the monster up on the scale ropes and it was easy to see why, especially when Packard read off the weight of 244 pounds -- the third biggest fish in the history of the Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot. So long $500 and $1,000 dailies.

"We were 30 miles off the lighthouse trolling a green squid on a Penn 80 with 80-pound line and 150-pound leader," said John Donovan. "Ryan fought it the whole way and it took 2 hours and 45 minutes. We hooked it at 1:30, so we had to get going once we got the fish in."

Lots of money was still up for grabs and Bill Patton and Mark Karpenko are old hands at getting big payouts for not-so-big fish, winning the most money just two years ago for a fish under a hundred pounds. This time, fishing with Greg Patton and Mary Swan, they were across the board in the jackpots and brought in a 64.3-pound tuna.

FIRST FISH WAS A 91 POUNDER weighed by Tawnya Stevens, Fred Stevens, Randy Matz and Barbara Morris on Mucho Loco II.

So it was only natural that a big dorado would show up and steal away the $64,000. Dave Turner was the sole representative of the Picante Dream team to come to the scales, but his companion of choice was just fine, thank you -- a 40.1 dorado that locked the jackpot down for good.

The big money in the Tuna Jackpot was instantly in peril the minute The Bottom Line pulled up to the dock. With the sun just about down and another fish over 100 pounds to their credit -- this time, a 101.6-pound yellowfin that stuck to another flying fish rigged under the green stick on an Owner Jobu hook. Mike Menas and the boys only had to wait a half-hour to see if they would walk away with the biggest payout ever in the Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot. They decided to wait it out on their boat.

More confident with their giant tuna, the Redrum Charter boys stayed at the scales with Coronas in hand and gleefully joined Pat McDonell in the countdown… 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3...

THE CROWD GATHERS around the 244 pounder near the end of the second day's weigh-in as the Reel Rum team poses for pictures.

A boat was at the dock and had a fish to weigh!

It was only in the 60-pound range and had no shot, so weighmaster Packard signaled McDonell to continue.

...3, 2, 1!

The 10th Anniversary WON/Yamaha Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot was one for the record books.

See you next year.