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Tuna Jackpot Recap

One clear champion, many winners at 2009 Tuna Jackpot

WON Staff Writer

CABO SAN LUCAS, BCS -- While the early arrival on Day One of the 383-pound, record breaking tuna on the Fisher Man took away any suspense for the overall Tuna Jackpot championship, another record was set when 8 teams had to sweat out each day until the final minutes to find out that they, too, were winners.

The first pleasant surprise of the 2009 Yamaha/WON Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot was the surge of late signups from local teams that took the field over the hump to 104 teams. Another was how smoothly the contest ran, with no major boat or health issues among competitors.

Best of all was the parade of big fish. Getting the 383-pound yellowfin from the Fisher Man to the scales and then actually weighing the beast was almost harder than landing the giant fish. Mike Packard, the Smokehouse gang and the crew of the sportfisher first tied a tail rope to the fish and then let it slide into the harbor. At that point it almost pulled four strong men with it. They eventually got it up on the dock and onto a hand cart and, after Packard had to raise the scale rope twice, successfully weighed the tuna in.

Everyone had predicted the big fish of the tournament would come from the Gordo Bank. It was an easy prediction - the giant fish were in plain sight, blasting through schools of tiny sardines. Getting the fish to bite and then getting it in the boat were the main problems teams in the Tuna Jackpot face.

Skipper Alfredo "Perico" Sanchez solved the problem by choosing to fish big bait (a small bonito) on a line combo much like that used on the long range boats - 100-pound Izorline main line with a 130-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader. The difference, of course, was the platform. The Fisher Man is a 35 Cabo owned by team member Daniel Fisher of Buena Vista, BCS, and the fighting chair, bent butt rod and 80 reel that rounded out the tackle had a big part to do with the fact the fish was caught in just over an hour and a half. That and the fact Tuna Jackpot rules allowed first Team Captain Oscar Deccarret and then the father/son combo of Hugo and Augustin Pino to pull on the winning fish.

The storied Pino family of the La Playita panga fleet was well represented in this year's tournament. In fact, it seemed like every top skipper from the San Jose area was on a team and the 2009 Tuna Jackpot definitely had a local flavor.

The wealth of local talent was actually uncovered at the first day signups when San Jose and Cabo San Lucas fishermen mobbed the Berkley booth to take part in the knot tying contest. All of the top 10 consisted of Mexican anglers and the winner of the top prize of $400, Hernando Gonzalez of the Get Over It, set a record for 25-pound Big Game line by tying a Bimini twist that broke at 44.2 pounds, according to Berkley's Bob Hoose. Hoose said all the top knots were either the Bimini or Australian plait tied as a double knot.

The other contest held during the check-in was the casting contest sponsored by Avet and Seeker. Each contestant got a warmup cast and a cast that counted, with four casters advancing to the finals, but only Richard Santos and David Downs managed to hit the life ring target floating just 30 feet away in the Tesoro pool. Downs fired long on his cast in the finals and Santos lobbed his cast right next to the mark to win $400. They each got to keep the Avet Reel and Seeker rod they cast with and the other two setups were awarded during the Captains' Meeting raffle, when the first of hundreds of thousands of prizes like Costa Del Mar sunglasses and leader spools of Seaguar fluorocarbon were given away.

Getting back to the first day of competition, while there was this weird feeling the tournament was over after the 383 pounder was weighed, the fact remained that hundreds of thousands of dollars in jackpots for both tuna and wahoo were still on the line. The total in daily pots this year was $162,000; and while the Fisher Man was in the $500, $1,000, $3,000 and $5,000 pots, the $2,000 and $10,000 dailies were left open.

Mel and Judy Ostberg soon set the mark to shoot for. Fishing on the local charter boat Picante Express, they were across the board in the dailies and weighed a 102.3-pound yellowfin. While a good fish, their potential winnings of $44,000 did not seem safe considering the fish already weighed and the fact that everyone out on the water knew they had to catch big fish and would work hard until the 4 p.m. lines out to do just that.

Following that exact strategy was the team of Tom Aland, Vicente Bojorquez, Rodolfo Jiminez and Chris Fuller on the Spartacus at Sea, a 60-foot Hatteras. Aland has done much of the fabrication work for the boat's owner and he and Fuller fished frequently on the boat in order to be ready for this year's Tuna Jackpot.

They chose to run to the Pacific side of the Cape and chase dolphin schools, a move that paid off when they found tuna under the porpoise about 60 miles out. At 2 p.m. they got their biggest fish of the day, a 122.4-pound tuna. In every jackpot except the $10,000, they opted to fish until lines out. They made it to the weigh-in dock with 10 minutes to spare.

"We were very close to missing the cutoff, but we just kept trying to get a bigger fish, fishing with bigger baits and all that," said Aland. "We knew our skipper would get us back on time."

The 122.4 pounder ate a caballito, Aland noted, and was worth $28,000 for the $2,000 pot. The Ostbergs ended up with the $10,000 pot, but with only 4 boats entering this year, their payout of $16,000 was less than the $22,000 they had to pay to be across the board.

Earlier, a neck-and-neck race for top wahoo or dorado played out as each succeeding fish - and they were all wahoo - seemed to be a pound or half-pound bigger than the last. Finally the Dr. Pescado II team of Ron Flores, Riff Ferriera, both of El Dorado Hills, Jeff Quist of Roseville, and Jaime Rendon of Cabo weighed a 38 pounder to win by six-tenths of a pound. Rendon was the skipper of the panga Dr. Pescado who last year raced across the harbor to weigh a tuna and make jackpot money. This year he was at the dock in plenty of time and his team won $33,200.

The next and final day's weigh-in was the mirror opposite of Day One, as a quality wahoo came to the scale early and settled that jackpot. The Pisces charter boat Ruthless with skipper Leon Camacho at the helm scored a 61.2-pound wahoo to nail down the $33,200. Carl Johnson of the Phoenix area caught the fish on a black and purple Rapala in the area of Pescador, said his teammate Ed Shrader.

"Carl's fished the tournament many times, this is my first, he suckered me in," said Shrader. "I hope we win."

They did, easily. The Hooker with Bruce and David Downs of Tehachapi, Christen Cato and Jesus Lucero aboard made a run with a 42-pound wahoo, while Pamela Lorenz of Anaheim, Eleazar Hererra, Patrick Smith of Huntington Beach and Juan Florez weighed the only dorado for the two days, a 37 pounder on the Jarocha.

The tuna weigh-in was a different story, for while no one believed another monster would come to the scale, you had to think fish topping 100 pounds would secure the jackpots.

The Tantrum showed up first and got on the board with a 90-pound tuna, the first time in a number of attempts that Sal and Joe Cantania of Las Vegas were able to weigh a contending tuna in the Yamaha/WON Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot, setting the standard in the $500, $1,000 and $2,000 pots.

But it was early and wouldn't a monster tuna have to show?

Well it showed, all right, but just out of the reach of the gaff of the Alejandra.

"We lost a fish over 200 pounds right at the boat, I have pictures," said the skipper Antonio Arista. Toño skippered the panga that won the first ever Tuna Jackpot with a 248-pound yellowfin, so he knows. "I use 60-pound test," he added with a shrug. "The line broke."

The 60-pound did hold up the next time Toño was able to find a Gordo Banks tuna willing to eat a sardine and the 98.7-pound fish they weighed in would end up to be the biggest of the second day.

Word comes in that the Finnseeker lost a big tuna when the rod broke, so that's another fish that doesn't come to the final day scales. A 94-pound tuna on the Ursula IV isn't in any of the daily jackpots and you have to break 100 pounds to make the top three of the Tuna Jackpot.

Another fish finally breaks into the money, but it's not a monster, as Ed Tschernoscha of Baja Fish Gear tackle store, a former Tuna Jackpot winner fishing with Peter Lorman and Joseph Scott, brings in a 51.1-pound yellowfin on the El Loco II to make a claim for the money in the $3,000 and $5,000 pots.

Then Rick Tuamlay of Lake Elsinore's 62-foot Hatteras Bullrider brought not one, but two quality yellowfin to the scale. Both were over 80 pounds and the biggest, an 85.5 pounder, took over the lead in the $3,000.

So as the afternoon dwindled towards sunset, the second day of the Tuna Jackpot was looking at four separate claimers in the daily jackpots and and one unclaimed pot, the $10,000. Even if there were only four boats in the pot, surely someone would weigh a fish over 30 pounds (this year's minimum weight for all species).

And all it would take is one boat in all or most of the jackpots weighing a fish over 100 pounds to wipe the slate clean. Let's just say there were some anxious folks in the crowd, including Mel and Judy Ostberg, who by tournament rules would double their take to $32,000 if no one weighed a fish in the $10,000.

Potential first-time winners Sal and Joe Cantania were the most nervous. "They told me they chewed their fingernails completely off," said Tuna Jackpot staffer Judy Passarello.

The Finnseeker came up with its broken rod and a 69.5-pound tuna. Not enough. The Get Over It weighed a 61.2 and that wasn't enough in the jackpots it entered.

Rumors of big fish turn out to be just that and the 2009 Yamaha/WON Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot goes quietly into the night - at least until everyone shows up at Squid Roe for the Reactor Watch party, but that's another story.

The awards dinner on the final night is all about the local team on the Fisher Man, with governor Narciso Agundez Montaña addressing the crowd and congratulating Oscar Deccarret and his team, while officially recognizing the contributions of Western Outdoor News and its writers, specifically Ray Cannon, in promoting fishing in Cabo and the Sea of Cortez.

But we also gave away one great set of prizes after another, from more Yokohama tires and Reactor watches to custom Mustad jackets to the winners of the photo contest, perennial Tuna Jackpot competitors Robert Soper, Dick Gervasini, Joe Botkin and Ed Ott.

Included in the prizes over the three nights of parties were trips on Avet Reels' Coral Star in Panama and a trip to Kingfisher Lodge in Sitka, Alaska.

The Fisher Man team, besides winning $119,480 in overall and jackpot money also earned a $1,000 gift certificate from Global Fishmounts and added $50,000 from Costa Del Mar by participating the in the contingency award contest put together by Dave Bulthuis of the sunglass company. They had to beat the existing Tuna Jackpot record of 318 pounds. As you know, they shattered it.

Charity is a big part of the Tuna Jackpot and Bulthuis and Costa Del Mar raised over $2,000 for local charities, while Scott Lipsett of Reactor Watches raised a similar amount during the raffles at Squid Roe. Together they donated $6,000 to local charities.

In addition, Tournament Director Pat McDonell auctioned off a wood sculpture of a dorado by David Wirth. Top bidder was Ken Eberle, whose winning price of $2,600 all went to Cabo charities.

The 2009 Yamaha/WON Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot had it all - big fish and big money, little fish and big money, tension, lots of parties, lots of giveaways and lots of fun. What will the 2010 version bring? We'll see you in Cabo next year and we'll all find out.