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Time to go

Pat McDonell is the former editor of WON and one of the founders of the Cabo Tuna Jackpot who has serves as the director or the co-director for the past 22 years.

I'm back home after two weeks driving down the Baja peninsula, sandwiching my final Tuna Jackpot tournament as director between 2,800 miles and six days of fishing with buddy Chris Wheaton. The ride home gave me plenty of time to reminisce about 22 years of being a director or co-director. No regrets.

I started it in 1999 with buddy Kit McNear and WON ad director Joe Higgins (and the blessing of owner Bob Twilegar, of course) when no one thought people would come to "Marlin Town" Cabo San Lucas for a tuna jackpot. There was much cultivation of the idea on both sides of the border, since you cannot just decide to put on a tourney in Cabo on a whim.

So Kit and I used the vast history of WON promoting Baja and Cabo in thousands of stories since 1954 to garner support. Or at least no opposition. Joe worked his sponsorship magic and was really the one who pushed the party concept. A money tourney that was fun, and for the average person. No one in Cabo believed we would draw close to 100 teams in our first year. They had no idea the influence of Western Outdoor News, and we sold the tourney on the motto, "Don't let the marlin guys have all the fun!" And, after we drew a big field, we changed it to "Fish Hard, Party Harder!"Both of those were coined by one of newspaper production design crew, Kathy Risley, now retired and in Kentucky.

So, that first year, 1999, we had 112 teams. And a lot of sponsorship support. And the tourney unfolded perfectly. A local pangero won, with two longtime customers from Santa Barbara. A 212.9-pound yellowfin. A 201-pound tuna on a yacht took second and most of the money, and the wealthy owner of the boat, Ned Wallace, gave the captain, Mike "Mouse" Libby, the Ford Truck that was given away in a drawing among the members of the team or teams that caught a 200-pound plus tuna. Ken Price, a friend and now owner of the long range sportfisher Intrepid, underwrote promotion when the insurance company balked.

Ned Wallace won the truck, and gave it to Mouse to thunderous applause at the Tesoro events room. Mouse got his truck, and the champs who won just over $40,000 got a seven page story in the San Diego Union-Tribune about how the tournament win and generosity of the two Americans who gave the prize money to their captain had changed the pangero's life.

All that almost did not happen. Kit wanted a wahoo event, and then-marketing and the late ad director Joe Higgins pushed for a marlin event. It was what the Cabo hotel association wanted. Marlin Magazine proved to be a better fit for the association, and my plan for a tuna tourney was restarted.

There was a barrage of promotion. A website was created by computer and internet whiz Bill Grimsley who I met on my first-ever Royal Star long range trip. I remember him saying, "Pat, you have to have a website for that tournament. The internet is the future. It's all over the world. Dude, I'll do it for free." And he did. (It's not free now, but until Bill sold his web design company for big bucks it was done for us, for free; Thank you Bill!). When Facebook came on the scene, we started a page for it. Thus, the tourney attracted people from around the country, Mexico, Canada, even Japan in some years.

So, in 1999 we held the tournament, in Bill Clinton's final year of presidency, with four nightly parties. The entry was $600 to get in, and the total buy in was $2,400. The next year it was $5,400, then it went to $12,200. It is now in the $40,000 range. The basic entry fee is the key. Now, it is only $250 a person for a four-person team to enter.

Last year we had 154 teams and paid out a record $1 million. Biggest tuna was a 345 pounder. This year in the most bizarre 2020 one could imagine we ended up with 149 teams and again over $1 million in prize money, shared by nine teams. Gratifying. Mind blowing, actually.

There's been lots of fun times over the past 22 years, but this is no quick decision. I told management of WON back in February I'd be stepping step away as director. Good friend Jonathan Roldan of Tailhunter International in La Paz who served as my assistant director this year and has been a part of the event in 14 of the 22 years will take over in 2021.

Why step away? It's a stressful task planning such an annual event, even with so much help from WON staff and friends in Cabo, but I'm no spring chicken at 66. I'm very healthy and want to stay that way. Stress is more dangerous than Covid. This was the plan all along and I wanted to guide this final tourney through this crazy year. Satisfying it was, and yet frustrating.

There were some great final moments over the week but I missed seeing many folks because we were either wearing masks or I avoided large crowds, and like all Baja tournaments this year, we were not allowed big parties nor a public weigh-in. Next year, I hope.

I huge debt of gratitude to the late Bob Twilegar, publisher of WON, who assed away earlier this year. He believed back in 1999 we could pull it off and gave the green light to use the full power of the newspaper to promote it. And there have been many many others who made it happen back in 1999 and many more like WON General Manager Chuck Buhagiar, owner Lori Twilegar and Roldan and other staff (including Jonathan's incredible wife Jill), who will continue the important work of promotion and organizing and take the event to the next level.

See you on the water.