Today’s Flashback Friday feature was originally published on May 1, 2018.
The Bisbee’s Black & Blue Marlin Tournament is the richest sportfishing event in the world.
Held every October in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, the Bisbee’s is a once in a lifetime experience. The event offers five days of organized chaos full of hard core excitement.
For 35 years, the Bisbee’s has been contested in the sportfishing mecca of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, at the confluence of the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez. The 2006 event had an overall cash payout of $4,165,960 – the largest jackpot in sportfishing history.
The tournament kicks off with Opening Ceremonies on Tuesday and concludes with an awards celebration Saturday night. In between, there is fishing. Lots of fishing.
Bill Bisbee owned a fuel dock on Balboa Island in Newport Beach, California. It was one of the last stops in the U.S. for boats heading south to fish off Cabo San Lucas, so the store specialized in big-game accessories. One night in 1982, a few customers were discussing contests in which anglers would bet on whose boat would land the biggest fish. “It sounded like fun,” recalled Bisbee. “So I said, why don’t we try it?”
Six teams headed down to Cabo in search of black and blue marlin. Incredibly strong and possessing razor-sharp bills, these fish can weigh more than 1,000 pounds. The inaugural event offered a $ 10,000 purse, with Bisbee claiming the $2,000 first-place prize. The tournament took off. By 1990, prize money for the Bisbee’s was close to $750,000. Last year, 807 anglers on 120 teams vied for the four-million dollar purse.
In 2000, Bisbee’s expanded to the east side of the Baja Peninsula with the East Cape Offshore Tournament in Buenavista. In addition to marlin, the tournament included dorado and tuna. An instant hit, the East Cape became an annual event, taking place each July. In 2002, a third event with the same format was added – the Los Cabos Offshore Tournament. Dubbed the Little Bisbee’s, the Los Cabos is a relaxed event that takes place one week before the Big Show.
Base entry fee to the Big Show is $5,000 per boat, with no limit to the number of anglers per vessel. Teams may participate in additional jackpot wagering, which ranges from $500 to $10,000 per day. Last year, Across the Board [all jackpots] wagers cost $ 71,500 per boat. The daily Chupacabra Challenge – with its $20,000 daily payout – costs another $60,000 to play.
Although a five-day event, the Bisbee’s involves only three days of fishing, from Wednesday to Friday. Boats line up behind the start line 15 minutes prior to the daily 8 AM shotgun start, then go off with the firing of the gun. Lines must be out of the water by 5 PM, and boats must be inside the harbor before 9 PM in order for their catch to be weighed.
Boats must stay within a 40 mile radius of Cabo San Lucas during the tournament. Crews may not interact with other vessels during fishing hours, and teams may attempt to catch or purchase bait until 15 minutes before the shotgun start each day.
Thousands gather on the marina walkways in front of the Puerto Paraiso Plaza to watch the daily weigh-in. In 2017, the C-Bandit team caught the tournament’s largest billfish, a 569-pound black marlin. Angler Frank D’Anna fought the fish for 45 minutes and boated it just before 6 PM, earning the team $876,350.
The 2017 event produced a total of 78 fish, including 14 black marlin and 54 blues. The Ten Brothers team hauled in the highest total poundage for the tournament, earning them $ 961,518.
Although sailfish, spearfish and striped marlin may be caught [release only], only blue marlin and black marlin count toward the weigh in. Tournament limits are one marlin per angler per day, and two marlin per boat per day. The Bisbee’s record blue marlin is 990 pounds and was caught in 1994. The largest black marlin was taken in 2006 and weighed in at 640 pounds.
Fish weighing less than 300 pounds are not eligible for cash awards. Prizes are awarded for the biggest fish, while the boat bringing in the most poundage wins the Bisbee’s. In the event of a tie, the jackpot is divided evenly among winners.
The Bisbee’s winner is determined based on a points system. Fish weighing less than 300 pounds are awarded zero points and additionally penalized 25 points plus two points for every pound under 300. For example, a 290-pound blue marlin would be awarded zero points. It would be then be penalized 25 points and 20 points [2 points x 10 pounds], giving the fish -45 points. This counts against the team’s overall total.
The weigh station at the Bisbee’s opens daily at 3 PM. Fish are weighed in order of boat arrival at the weigh station dock. The rod, reel, leader, lure and hook[s] used to land the fish must accompany each fish to be weighed.
Chumming [throwing fish parts into the water] is illegal at the Bisbee’s. Once a fish is hooked, only the angler hooking it may bring the fish in. Resting the rod in any way while playing the fish is not allowed.
One person from each team scheduled to receive a cash award must complete a polygraph exam. The person to receive the polygraph is selected by tournament officials. Examinees must be sober at the time of their polygraph or face disqualification.
The 2018 Bisbee’s Black & Blue Marlin Tournament is scheduled to take place in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, October 23-27.