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What It’s Like to Win the Bisbee’s

First-time participant goes long in Cabo

February 29, 2020
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Team Tranquilo at the Bisbee Black & Blue Tournament.
Team Tranquilo at the Bisbee Black & Blue Tournament. AH360 Photography

Fishing for a share of a total cash purse estimated at $4.5 million, Squidnation president Bill Pino never expected his first Bisbee’s Black & Blue tournament to end like it did. As far as he was concerned, it was just another event for Team Tranquilo, a 57-foot Spencer Yacht hailing from Quepos, Costa Rica, and owned by Ken and Amanda Cofer—except that the prize money was the most for which he had ever fished in his career.

The 2019 Bisbee’s was my first experience at the Black & Blue, and all I can say is wow. What an incredibly well-run tournament and such a fun event to fish. The atmosphere was electric—the glitzy opening ceremony with the moving Mexican national anthem, coco bongo dancers, the lighting of the torch and the fireworks—and everything was perfectly over-the-top. What else would you expect from Wayne Bisbee? Not to mention we were fishing for a piece of $4.5 million. It just seemed that every single part of the tournament was a spectacle, and I’m sure that’s the way it is intended to be.

Watch: Learn to rig a bonito strip teaser.

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This year was particularly exciting for our Tranquilo team. I have been fishing with Ken and Amanda for seven years, and in fact, Capt. Victor Julio Pizarro and I started fishing with the Cofers on the same day when we met to fish the El Salvador International Billfish Tournament.

Last year, Victor took a hiatus for personal reasons, but he came back on board this year after the Los Sueños series events. The band was back together; I remember being in the salon of Tranquilo after the third leg of the Signature Triple Crown and Ken saying, “We’re all back together—now let’s get the boat in top shape and go win the Bisbee’s.”

On the boat, it’s always Ken, Amanda and their daughter, Chloe, plus Capt. Victor, his mate and brother-in-law Daniel Arrieta, and me. Along the line, Ken and Victor add additional mates and a fourth angler as needed. This year we had Robbie Hood, who was also on board when they won the Bisbee’s in 2016, and our friend Kim Hermanowski, along with George Berrocal Soto, Kim Manning and mate Roger Valera. So we felt that we had a team capable of handling a big fish; we were excited to be competing together again.

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On Day Two of the tournament, Victor decided to head offshore instead of battling it out with the live-baiters on the bank. We were strictly lure-fishing, so he wanted to get away from the crowd. We had a few points on the board and were in the top five in the release categories, but we hadn’t seen anything as big as the black marlin that had been weighed the day before, so Victor thought we needed to be offshore to have a real chance at a big fish, which he knew was out there, somewhere.

The offshore grounds weren’t producing, so he started trolling back toward the bank. About a third of the way there, in the middle of nowhere, we had a strike on the left short that didn’t come tight. Victor was pretty upset. He said that was her—that was the fish we needed. And we believed him. The last day of the tournament, he pointed Tranquilo right back to that spot in the middle of nowhere, and right away we released a sail after trolling for about 10 minutes.

Knowing there was life there, Victor decided not to leave the area, and about an hour or so later, we had a big strike on the right long. I jumped in the chair at about the same time as the fish jumped, and we were pretty sure this was the fish we needed. What some of us hadn’t realized was that at about the same time the fish jumped, the left short went off. Amanda was there, and she did an amazing job fighting a 150-pound blue on a bent-butt 130 standing up. Aside from a couple of hair-raising jumps, the fight with the bigger fish was rather uneventful; I just remember it being very quiet. And when the fish jumped side-to about 30 minutes later, all doubts were erased: This was definitely the fish we needed to win the tournament.

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The marlin was in a bad position for a gaff shot when we had the first try on the leader, so Arrieta let go. The second time around, the fish lined up perfectly off the corner swimming toward the bow. Arrieta gently led her to the boat, when Manning and Valera sunk the gaffs. I will never forget the complete silence for 10 seconds before the fish was stuck. Everyone knew their positions and tasks, and at just around lunchtime, the fish was wired and gaffed without a single word being said. But once the fish was in the boat, we all went a little crazy.

Learn to rig your marlin lures correctly.

The scales weren’t open for another two hours, so we kept fishing. I went to the bridge to talk with Victor, and he pointed to the plotter and said: “Look at this mark. That is where we missed the fish yesterday.” Then he pointed to another mark about 200 yards from the first: “That is where the fish bit today; that is the same damn fish from yesterday!” I knew the fish the day before was a beast, and it was confirmed—she was taking a boat ride with us back to Cabo.

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As the weigh-station crew hoisted the fish and the weighmaster bellowed “577 pounds!” I was more relieved than excited, but the excitement came around rather quickly. The feeling was like nothing else.

We went back out and fished—while other fish were being fought—until it was over, missing another blue as soon as we set out. About five minutes before the tournament ended, we heard that the only other fish weighed that day did not qualify. Another poignant moment I will never forget was at 4:59 p.m.—one minute before the tournament was called—Victor fell to his knees and thanked God, out loud. That was the perfect ending to the tournament but the beginning of the celebration for us.

I never thought I would say this about winning $1.4 million: That money will come, and then it will go. But the feelings and emotions we felt at 4:59 p.m. will never escape any of us—Bisbee and his crew made sure of that. The Black & Blue is a memorable event, regardless of where we placed in the standings, but ending it in first place? That’s an experience that will never fade away. —By Bill Pino, as told to Capt. Jen Copeland

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