By Gene Kira, Nov. 11, 2002, as published in Western Outdoor News:
This week's Western Outdoor News/Mercury Tuna Jackpot Tournament at Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico, produced some honest-to-goodness surprises.
First, there was the impressive parade of big yellowfin tuna that were caught. On the hectic first tournament day, for example, there were about 24 fish over a hundred pounds either weighed-in, or even turned away from WON's certified scales because they were obviously out of the money.
The ones we weighed included fish of 101, 114, 118, 122, 129, 129, 132, 142, 155, 168, 169, 176, 181, 219, and a whopping 256 pounds. This last fish came in right at the 6 p.m. cut-off time, and it triggered the Ford truck drawing on Saturday. It was an awesome day, even by Cabo standards, and a real surprise because the fishing really hadn't been that hot lately.
Another surprise for me was that more boats entered the tournament this year--despite September 11th. This year, Western Outdoor News had 156 teams fishing, in a wide arc from out past the Gordo Banks, around the tip of Baja, and out onto the Pacific Ocean. That made the Tuna Jackpot the biggest tournament of the year for Baja, and a Mexican record for the number of boats chartered, according to local officials.
As the opening gun was fired on Thursday morning, I stood on the upper deck of the start boat with Cabo Marina General Manager, Enrique Fernandez del Castillo, who looked out over the amazing spectacle of cruisers and pangas streaming by us and declared: "I've never seen so many charter boats all together like this! There are going to be a lot of propinas (tips) paid to our crews this week!"
Indeed, everywhere we went, even the waiters, taxi drivers, and bellhops were curious about the tournament and the sudden influx of anglers at the hotels and restaurants.
The Tuna Jackpot is Everyman's event, and many people here are well aware that the inaugural 1999 contest was won by local hero Marco Antonio "Toño" Guluarte Arista, on the panga Estrella del Mar. Guluarte's 218.9-pound yellowfin tuna was worth a cool $41,300, and many times last week I was asked by someone around the docks, "Hey, amigo, how much does it cost to enter?" With relatively few live-aboard yachts competing, and many cruisers and pangas hired by teams that stay in hotels, the Tuna Jackpot gives a readily seen lift to the local economy, and the excitement could be felt in Baja last week as far north as Loreto. Even Sammy Susarrey of Ensenada's Lily fleet came down to fish in the tournament.
But for me, the biggest surprise of all came a few moments after the starting gun was fired and the fleet came rushing past us. Through the viewfinder of my camera, I started reading all those legendary old boat names, and my thoughts began drifting back to the beginnings of the great sport fishing tradition of Cabo San Lucas.
I was caught off guard by the moment, as I thought of the generations of captains and deckhands and fishermen's wives and children that have lived out their lives here, the building of the first hotels, the highway, and the marina, and the expansion of the airport at San Jose del Cabo that changed this place forever. I felt a sudden, surging sensation of life passing by, not just for me, but for everyone who has ever come to this beautiful, miraculous place and fallen in love with it.
Today, we all feel a certain sadness that the quiet tuna cannery village once known as "San Lucas" has passed into history, but out at the arch last week, the sun was bright, the air was clear and pure, and those old boat names and their crews were once again riding out over the sea. It was the season of the tuna, a proud tradition, and I was very glad to be a part of it.
(Related Cabo San Lucas articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main Cabo San Lucas information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Cabo San Lucas area in "Mexico Fishing News.")