Bisbee’s Black & Blue Tournament – Dream On

Its easy for a casual observer

It’s easy for a casual observer to assume as the 121 teams arrived to compete in the 35th Annual Bisbee’s Black & Blue Marlin Tournament in Los Cabos, that they were wealthy and experienced big game anglers. But that was definitely not the case; the diversity of the entries was astonishing – it was a mixture of people from all over the world, some of whom had never even caught a big game fish.

2014 winners

For instance, last year’s top winner – Team Casa Hogar – was composed of 10 anglers and crew fishing on behalf of the local non-profit organization by the same name that provides food, shelter and education to under-privileged Los Cabos boys. Angler Omar Castaneda scored the win after landing the biggest qualifying fish of the tournament, a 385-pound blue marlin. That fish took the Overall Team Prize, Tournament Jackpot, Top Captain Award (Capt. Ernie Cosio) and Day Two $500 Daily Jackpot.

“We won the Bisbee’s Marlin World Tournament … my first time fishing for a marlin,” excited angler Omar Castaneda proclaimed. “First time in a famous tournament and First Place – let me tell you, ONLY GOD does this miracle! God, THE ONLY GOD, and Creator of all that exists today … He decided to Bless Casa Hogar Cabo AC with this huge prize!”

One thing was clear: Each team had their own set of hopes, dreams and expectations.

The first stop for the teams was the “swag tent” before they entered the Registration Room where the individual teams’ personalities began to emerge. Gathering their “goody bags,” the seasoned veterans moved confidently, while excited, less confident first-timers hesitantly approached the registration tables manned by tournament staff.

black blue

It was time for each team to decide beyond the basic entry fee, if or how much they wanted (or could afford) to enter in the different jackpot categories. The stakes were high – up to $72,500 – if they wanted to be in across the board.

tournament black

Sitting at the registration table the teams counted out their money as they poured over their entry sheet one final time before handing a staff member the cash in some cases stashed in Ziploc baggies where money had been agonizingly saved a few dollars at a time. The die was cast!

catching a buzz with Elvis

Once the registration was complete, teams could relax and mingle. Old friendships were renewed, introductions were made and new friendships were formed. Press and photographers worked the room, seeking quotes and perhaps a candid photo of potential winners.

black blue

Cabo Max, one of Los Cabos best cover-bands, warmed up the crowd before the opening festivities began. Then Wayne Bisbee and Clicerio Mercado took the stage and introduced local dignitaries before the presentation of the Mexican flag and the lighting of the marlin torch that would continue to burn throughout the tournament.

Following more entertainment by Cabo Max, Bisbee concluded the evening’s program by wishing all of the teams good luck and a safe journey.

black blue

A spectacular display of fireworks thundered overhead completing the kickoff.

fishing sailboat

Long before sunrise the next morning, team boats of all shapes and sizes (including one sailboat, the Titan, coincidentally a 2013 release winner) began making their way beyond the rugged caramel-colored El Arco rock formation that marks the tip of the Baja Peninsula – the western anchor of an imaginary start line extending across the Bay to Gray Rock.

baja fishing

Spectator boats along with the Baja Cantina Committee boat and the Mexican Navy all joined with the tournament boats, many of which were attempting to catch additional live bait. Then amazingly, in the midst of the fray, a billfish was hooked by one of the Japanese teams … and quickly released.

bisbee tournament

Minutes before the final countdown, as team boats crowded the invisible line, Wayne Bisbee announced the final tally of teams and the remarkable jackpot of $3,515,100! That figure still mumbled and echoed through the fleet as the final seconds slipped by. Then, at precisely 8 a.m., a single red flare streaked above the start boat joined by the popping and thundering of fireworks as the deep-throated roar of boat engines throttled forward, leaving churning white water and black smoke in their wakes.

fishing tournament

The Pacific side of the peninsula was clearly the favored direction as the majority disappeared to the west.

By the end of the first day, the 945 competing anglers landed 14 blue marlin, which they had either released or brought to the scales, but they only produced two qualifying fish, both caught on artificial lures.

fishing teams

Team “Five More Minutes” aboard the “Whata Journey” with Captain Jave Abaroa was waiting at the dock when the scales opened at 3 p.m. The team from Texas landed a 356-pound blue marlin that first day, winning the Daily Jackpot.

blue marlin

The second fish for the day was caught by Michael Moretti, a 327pound blue marlin aboard the “Tranquilo,” a 57-foot Spencer. The veteran big game angler from Quepos, Costa Rica, had led his team to victory in the Los Cabos Offshore the preceding weekend with a 399-pound black marlin.

take off

Thursday morning, as the 121 boats assembled for the start optimism was high, with both qualifying fish less than 400-pounds it seemed a certainty that the leaderboard would look much different by weigh-station closing time.

“Reported hookups and releases increased by one-third for the day,” Axel Valdez, Tournament Control, observed. However, while the number of hookups increased, there were no qualifying fish meeting the minimum weight of 300-pounds on Thursday, leaving the “Five More Minutes” team with the largest fish and “Tranquilo” for the remaining categories still atop the leader-board.

marlin tournament

Friday, the weary but eager teams were encouraged by the incredible pot of gold that still remained on the line. If only “desire” could change the outcome. The fleet sped toward their “promised land” as the red flare glowed above them. “The morning was slow getting started; it was 9:30 a.m. before the first release was reported, according to CatchStat.

black blue

Then, lightning struck for Team “Catching a Buzz” at 10:04 a.m. when Ontario, Canada angler and member Tyler Squier, aboard the local charter boat, “Rondinella,” skippered by Captain Carlos Dominquez, hooked a big fish – the largest fish he had ever hooked! He didn’t feel under-gunned on the 130-pound test line. With equal doses of tenacity and adrenalin, it seemed like every second was a minute before he had conquered the enormous marlin, which was nearly a quarter of the length of the 38-foot Chris Craft. It took him only 35 minutes.

In spite of a brief flurry mid-afternoon, nine fish were caught or released by the fleet with only one qualifier on the final day. The three days fishing from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. produced only three qualifying fish for three different teams.

trolling lures

The 945 anglers fished their brains out for three days and caught 44 blue marlin and one black marlin. The teams’ consensus was that the higher than normal sea temperatures and fewer bait fish were perhaps a product of El Niño which seemed to have pushed both blues and blacks farther up the West Coast into Southern California. However, it should be noted that all three qualifying marlin were caught on artificial lures.

Ironically, the trajectory of each of the three teams’ paths to the winner’s circle and fulfillment of their dreams seemed vastly different:

fishing team

Tranquilo owner Ken Cofer assembled a team consisting of his wife Amanda and friends Robbie Hood and Michael Moretti along with his crew Captain Victor Julio Pizzaro, Mate Daniel Arrieta and guest Mate DJ Dejarnette. They travelled 1,900 miles from Marina Pez Vela in Quepos, Costa Rica, enduring a tropical storm, in order to fulfill their dream of fishing the Bisbee Black & Blue.

Cofer and his team on the Desperado had won $1.65 million in the East Coast White Marlin Open tournament in 2005 with a 78.5-pound white marlin – the largest payout in the WMO history at that time – which was landed on the first day of the event.  Thus began his dream of fishing the largest billfish tournament in the Pacific, the Bisbee Black & Blue, and repeating his performance of 2005 in the other ocean.


After arriving in the Pacific, they elected to fish all three of the October Tournaments in Los Cabos and by the end of the last day of the last contest, they had placed in all three with accumulated earnings of $2,983,962 – Third Place in the last Bisbee. Although their catch was the smallest brought to the scale, their 327-pound blue marlin, because they were entered in all the various jackpots, earned them the third largest pay-out in the event’s history $2,511,462 – a remarkable feat that surely exceeded Cofer’s and the team’s wildest dreams.

As they made preparations the morning following the last award ceremony to depart for El Salvador and their next challenge, the 21st International El Salvador Billfish Tournament, Cofer vowed, “We’ll be back next year!”

second place

“Five More Minutes,” a buddy team from Texas, took home $156,937 with their 356-pound blue marlin landed the first day of fishing. The team won second-place honors and the $1,000 Daily Jackpot with that catch. Jave Abaroa was the skipper of Whata Journey. It was the first blue marlin Troy Patak of Ennis, Texas had ever caught, as well as his largest fish. Though not a novice, this avid fresh water angler by his own description fishes often for crappie or anything else that happens to be biting back in Texas. “That was the hardest fight I’ve ever had,” Patak admitted. “The marlin stayed out there what seemed like a mile tail-walking. With arms aching … little by little … I recovered the line back onto the reel, until the fish was on its side next to the boat,” he concluded as he watched his trophy fish hoisted up and weighed.

His fellow anglers, captain and mate, along with family, collectively held their breaths until Weigh Master Jack Teschel declared the weight: 356-pounds. As spectators cheered, his entire entourage hugged and high-fived each other as they reveled in their sudden “rock star” status with the largest fish of the tournament for the first day.

largest overall

First Place belonged to the Canadian contingent from Thunder Bay, Ontario. Team “Catching a Buzz,” led by angler Tyler Squier, caught the heaviest fish of the week.

All employed in sheet metal, construction, water treatment and oil field industries, they had saved and pooled their money for over four years before achieving their dream to fish the tournament this year.

Friday night crowd trinket throw

The 500-pound blue marlin, Squier’s largest ever, earned the team a check for $356,225. Carlos Dominguez guided the team to the victory aboard the charter boat “Rondinella.” By their own accounts, this was a dream come true.

In the Release Division, Team “Nice Ride” received $76,295 for releasing two blue marlin; “Fantasma” took more time to release their two blues putting them in second place worth $26,392 and “Predator,” with a single blue marlin, was awarded $14,662.

weigh station

And then it was over once again. “Congratulations to all our winners,” said Tournament Director Wayne Bisbee right before the customary fireworks show at the conclusion of Saturday’s awards banquet. “Thank you for joining us for our 35th edition, and thanks to all our wonderful sponsors for making this possible. It’s been another one for the history books, and my family and I look forward to welcoming everyone back again next year. Bueños noches and safe travels home.”

There was the Feeding Los Cabos Kids - Bisbee’s Black & Blue Tournament

There were additional winners this year for both Los Cabos Bisbee events. There was the “Feeding Los Cabos Kids” dedicated to providing nutritious meals to underprivileged kids in the area. Founder Donna Brnjic and volunteers, including Dave and Jen Limpert, collected the donated 4,035-pounds of fresh fish equaling 16,128 meals to be distributed for the children in the barrios around Cabo San Lucas and San Jose. The tournament also donated a vacuum-sealer to the group.

“Our motto is ‘Changing Lives One Child at a Time,’” Jen Limpert says. “We sincerely thank the Bisbee family for allowing us to feed thousands of kids.”

black blue - Bisbee’s Black & Blue Tournament

Another winning program that was implemented with the assistance of Paul Watson prior to his untimely death was to send more than a dozen students to the University of La Paz’s Marine Biology College to study and in turn conserve the ocean’s most endangered species.

Winners everyone, each team had enjoyed the exhilaration of living their personal dream – a brief week that will remain etched in their memories for a lifetime.

That Baja Guy-Gary Graham
That Baja Guy-Gary Graham, the BD Outdoors Baja Editor, has more than five decades fishing experience off of Southern California and the Baja Peninsula. From light tackle and fly up to offshore marlin fishing, Gary has experienced all facets of this fishery. He's set several fly-fishing world record...