The Annual Yellowtail Tournament

By  John Derby
Times Publisher
February 25, 2016

Mulege, Mexico was once known as the Mecca of the fishing world — that was in the 1950s before the Chinese long trawlers were allowed up into the Sea of Cortez.
Even John Wayne was known to have come here to catch the Yellowtail, considered one of the strongest fighting fish in the world.
Then the Mexican government realized what damage they were allowing to their sport fishing and tourism sectors, and stopped allowing the Chinese to come into their territorial waters.
The fish have been coming back little by little every year.
This year was shaping up to be one of the best fishing years. Even John Adams from Hilmar flew down to enter the tournament, along with our next door neighbor, John Lawson, who is a part-time fishing guide in the summer, catching salmon off Vancover Island.
The two fishermen from our park were intense, and had hired one of the best fishing guides in the area for the Yellowtail Tournament, Alajandro, who had fished the Mulege area since he was a young man.
He knew the waters, he knew where to catch the bait, and he knew how to catch the big Yellowtail.
The tournament was a two-day event, and there was a prize for the biggest Yellowtail, the biggest fish of any kind, and a prize for the boat which brought in the two largest Yellowtails over the two-day period. This was called the Calcutta, and anyone could bet on the boat they thought would be the winner.
There was a lot of money on Alajandro, but he was not the only good fisherman. There were many serious fishermen who lived down here every winter, and they also knew the waters, and had the most modern fishing electronics.
The prize for winning the Calcutta was about $4,000, and that went to the owner of the boat.
There is no catching the Yellowtail without the right bait, and the mackerel or Big Eye is considered the best bait around. Once our bay had tons of anchovies but they were devastated about six years ago.
Twenty two Mexican trawlers came into Conception Bay and raped the bay of its feeder fish, the anchovies. This was directly against the Mexican fishing laws, but the only penalty was a $200 fine per boat, and the boats took tons of the precious bait fish.
There is still overfishing for shrimp in the area and the trawlers come all the way from Guymas, on mainland Mexico, to the shores of Baja. Even with overfishing, the yearly migration of the Yellowtail continues its comeback, and the morning of Feb. 18 was set for the first day of the fishing tournament. The entry fee was $500 pesos, or about $35 dollars, and that included a fish dinner following the tournament.
The fishermen from Posada and their guide set out early. They left our park at 4 a.m. and were out on the water at 5 a.m., catching bait. By sun up they were in one of Mulege’s famous fishing holes which had been mapped over the years and had GPS coordinates.
Alejandro knew all the fishing holes by heart and he directed his 23-foot Panga to the first spot. The fish were ready and waiting. The rules were clear, the guide could not assist in catching or landing the fish so all Alajandro could do is go where the fish were supposed to be and he knew exactly where that was.
This first day Alajandro’s boat did well with John Adams landing a 22-pound Yellowtail, and some nice Gabillo, but this would not be winning size.
Originally the tournament called for one day of fishing and one day off, with the final day on a Saturday, however, since the fishing was good and the weather looked like it was turning bad, the organizers changed the schedule to have two fishing days right in a row.
By the second day, the fishermen from Posada looked haggard. There was not a lot of talking that first night as they came in late, dog tired and went to bed after a bite to eat. There was also not much bragging because the battle had just begun.
Day 2 came up early and the fishermen were stiff from their first day. Now the work had to be done. Out on the water again by 5 a.m., with the sun up at 6 a.m.
This would be a test between man, the sea and the fish. And the sea and fish would take its toll.
By the end of the day, John Larson had caught the largest Yellowtail weighing in at over 31 pounds. John Adams had caught the largest white sea bass at over 30 pounds, and he also caught the largest grouper, but in the midst of doing so, his strength gave out and he had to hand the pole to Alejandro to complete the catch.
So he still won the largest fish prize.
The Calcutta went to another boat which just beat out Alejandro’s boat by ounces, and when the fishermen looked into the fish tank, there were two bait fish which the winning Yellowtail had spit up after it was caught, and that would have pushed them into the winner of the Calcutta.

FOOTNOTE: At the awards dinner there was one story which got the biggest attention. One fisherman in the tournament had gone out the first day and hooked into a very large Yellowtail, but just as he was lifting it into the boat, a seal jumped up and snatched it off the hook. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the seal took the fish about 25 feet from the boat, rolled over on its back, and made a dinner of it.

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