Betting Big in Baja: The Los Cabos Billfish Tournament

The Los Cabos Billfish Tournament is set for another record-breaking year, celebrating epic marlin bites and luxurious fishing adventures.
A fleet of sport-fishing boats cruise across the bay in Los Cabos. In the distance, the El Arco rocky outcrops sit aside their path.
One of the sport’s most unforgettable memories: the shotgun start, with the fleet roaring past the famed El Arco just outside the harbor. Courtesy LCBT / Out Your Front Door

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Historic, epic, on fire, off the charts: No matter how you choose to describe it, there’s no doubt that last year’s 25th anniversary of the Los Cabos Billfish Tournament showcased an incredible striped marlin bite. Over three exhilarating days, the tournament record for billfish releases was first broken and then crushed, spindled and mutilated, as 42 teams released a staggering total of 583 striped marlin, seven blue marlin and three sailfish. This number nearly quadrupled the previous tournament release record of 150 billfish, which was set in 2018. The top team on The Daddy Rabbit won it all with an astounding 140 striped marlin releases; second place tallied 130, and it took 120 releases in three days just to make the third-place spot on the leaderboard. That’s a wide-open marlin bite.

While the numbers vary from season to season, there is no doubt that Los Cabos, Mexico, has rightfully earned a reputation as one of the world’s top destinations for all types of billfish. The total number of blue, black and striped marlin caught there each season is unparalleled, and it continues to attract anglers from around the world. But it wasn’t always like that. This region, which includes bustling Cabo San Lucas as well as the more laid-back San Jose del Cabo just up the road—now connected by a highway lined with luxurious resorts and immaculate golf courses known as the Los Cabos Corridor—was once quite different. The 1970s was the coming-of-age decade that would see this area grow from a dusty fishing village to the world-class destination it is today.

As the Southern California sport-fishing scene began to grow, owners of larger boats were intrigued by the reports of the prolific year-round fishery that was centered on the relatively uncrowded waters off Cabo, some 770 nautical miles south of San Diego. Those with limited fuel capacity resorted to lashing drums of diesel on their decks or swim platforms in order to make the trip because there was only one (very iffy) fuel source at Turtle Bay, about 330 nautical miles south of the border. That was it.

Stateside yachtbuilders began to recognize the need for larger, more sophisticated boats with the fuel capacity and creature comforts to make the voyage to Baja’s tip and beyond safely and in style. A host of builders stepped up their game: Pacifica, Elliot, Delta, Blackman, Innovator, Marlineer, Ocean Pacific, Bertram, Hatteras, Knight & Carver, Skipjack and Livesay were just some that responded to that demand. These so-called yacht fishers changed the game for decades to come, while their captains and crews began to really define what the Cabo marlin fishery was all about. Many had the “fish hard, party harder” personality of the time, while others put serious effort into exploring the nearby banks and underwater topography that produces such amazing ­fishing here, where the tumultuous Pacific Ocean meets the more placid Sea of Cortez.

Team The Daddy Rabbit at the 2023 Los Cabos Billfish Tournament. They stand holding champagne bottles spewing beverage in the air. They also hold an oversized check.
Last year’s winning team, fishing on The Daddy Rabbit, released an incredible 140 striped marlin in three days of tournament action. Courtesy LCBT / Out Your Front Door

Meanwhile, the population of Cabo San Lucas grew from 400 people in 1955 to 16,059 in 1990; by 2010, the total number had reached more than 68,000 full-time residents. It was no longer a small, dusty fishing village. In 1977, the palapa-roofed open-air facility expanded and eventually became known as the Los Cabos International Airport. International flights provided momentum for the fledgling resort city, which gradually transformed Los Cabos into one of Mexico’s most popular vacation destinations. As it gained popularity, an incredible lineup of hotels began to spring up along the beaches and the Los Cabos Corridor; restaurants and nightlife followed suit. The new marina was gradually filled with a mesmerizing mix of vessels, from top-of-the-line sport-fishermen to midsize convertible charter boats to outboard-­powered pangas. There’s literally something for every budget, all willing to get you out on the water for a day of fishing in Cabo.

As the desire for sport fishing grew in the area, so did the tournaments catering to the anglers. Twenty-six years ago, the Los Cabos Billfish Tournament was introduced, and at the time, it was one of the few events with significant cash prizes for releasing billfish. This year, to celebrate the anniversary and that ongoing dedication to conservation, there are new optional jackpots in Level 2 of the daily release divisions as well as in the overall release categories to further up the ante. Target payout for this year’s tournament is anticipated to exceed $1.5 million, subject to final participation levels. Blue and black marlin are the only species allowed to be weighed, with strict minimums for both species in order to qualify.

A team stands at the bow of a sport-fishing yacht during the Los Cabos Billfish Tournament
The Los Cabos Billfish Tournament attracts some of the top teams in the world to Cabo San Lucas each season. Courtesy LCBT / Out Your Front Door

In addition to the outstanding striped marlin action, last year’s tournament represented a refresh of sorts, with tournament director Jennifer Dudas receiving strong local support from Charo Bulnes of Solmar Hotels and Resorts, tournament facilitator Clicerio Mercado, Los Cabos Tourism, the Los Cabos Hotel Association and Darren Carey of IGY Marina. That team has reunited for the 2024 edition, with the objective of holding the largest event of the tournament’s history.

With a world-class ­fishery literally at the doorstep of its famous El Arco rock formation, plus all the amenities of a resort ­location and the natural beauty of Baja, Mexico, it’s no wonder that Cabo San Lucas is a perfect host ­destination for an event such as the Los Cabos Billfish Tournament. Make plans now to add this spectacular event to your fall tournament calendar.

A woman in a pink shirt stands next to a prized dorado gamefish.
Additional categories for gamefish give participants more ways to win big. Courtesy LCBT / Out Your Front Door

Why Fish the Los Cabos Billfish Tournament?

  • Big Numbers: Some of the best striped marlin action on the planet, with big blues and blacks as well
  • Big Numbers, Part Two: For 2024, there are new optional jackpots and more ways to win big.
  • No Conflicts: This year’s dates allow for two open days before the start of the Bisbee’s events.
  • Party at The Playa: The awards celebration takes place at the Playa Grande Resort’s beachfront terrace, with a full mariachi band and four-course filet mignon and lobster dinner.
  • A World-Class Destination: Cabo San Lucas has a wide variety of options for charters, lodging, restaurants and nightlife.
  • Easy Travel: The Los Cabos International Airport is easily accessible by most international carriers.

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