ENSENADA, BAJA MEXICO — A team of local fisherman is a few casts away from landing first place in the Campeonato de Pesca Deportiva - Copa Baja California Internacional (translates to International Sport Fishing Championship Cup of Baja California) held in various locations throughout Baja California which encompassed four months of four outings that began in June and will conclude at the end of this month.
Team ‘Baja Catch 22’ is composed of local anglers, Capitan Gerardo Antonio, Juan Cruz ‘Tu Tu’ Jr., Athan ‘Wero’ Farrar, and Isaac ‘Chispis’ Sanchez.
Currently, the squad is heading into the final leg of the tournament with their eyes on the prize, sitting at first place with a commanding lead.
The tournament took place within the Northern Section of Baja California at the locations of San Luis Gonzaga - June 17/18, Bahìa de Los Angeles - July 29/30, San Quintìn - August 26/27, with Ensenada - September 23/24 still remaining.
As per tournament contestants, the total summation of each teams’ biggest fish is ranked by points after each outing until the final round.
“We are given a list which identifies qualifying fish species for the surface and for the bottom,” said Antonio. “Only two fish are accepted for weigh in (one surface and one bottom). Pretty much we are fishing for two species of fish throughout the day.”
Points were awarded to the teams that placed 20 and below out of 75 captains.
One portion of tournament rules was to officially log a qualifying fish with proof by picture, video fighting the fish, bringing the fish in the boat, and finally a picture of the landed fish with appropriate tags (bracelet) accompanied by boat number. Weigh-in closed at 4pm each outing and video submission deadline was 4:30pm.
The surface fish that were targeted for this tournament were White Sea-Bass, Dorado, Yellow Tail, Marlin, Black Marlin, Sierra, Rooster Fish, and Yellow-Fin Tuna. Bottom fish species include Grouper, Ling Cod and other various species, excluding protected varieties.
According to participants, the site locations were tricky and difficult to fish due to natural underwater obstructions.
The diverse conditions were composed of reefs and jagged underwater volcanic structures.
“To catch a 20-30 pound Yellow Tail, we may have to strap an 80 pound test line because they fight so hard, get into rocks, and we are fishing their home habitat,” said Antonio.
In round one the team bagged the biggest fish of the day in a 47 pound Grouper. Even though, no surface fish were logged, ‘Baja Catch 22’s’ one fish out-weighed all other teams one and/or two fish combined. They were awarded 31 points for first place.
Seeded at (1) heading into the second portion of the tournament,
“In round-2, we earned 17th place which gave us three points total,” said Antonio.
After adding both round's scores, the squad maintained first place by one point at 34 points total but 10 teams were nipping at their heels within 3-5 points of the top spot.
Third round production, for the team, included an 18 pound Ling-Cod (bottom) and 9 pound Yellow Tail (suspended) which was good enough for, fourth place. A third-round score of 23 points put the team at 57 total points.
Still in first place after three rounds, the team of ‘Baja Catch 22’ carried an 18-point lead over second place with one leg to go.
As it stands, if the group places seventh or better, team ‘Baja Catch 22’ would be the first American team to win the Copa Baja California tournament.
Antonio shared about an unexpected life-changing experience that gave him a new grasp on life.
“In 2015 I suffered a medical ailment which was a scary moment for our family but I ended up making it through due to God giving me the ability to still be around,” said Antonio. “As scary as it is to go to Mexico fishing, I still have to live life and do what I love. And Baja Fishing is what I’m about. That's why our team-name is ‘Baja Catch 22’.”
Contrary to general assumption, participants expressed how many times the investment outweighs the monetary compensations and prizes.
As per Antonio, prestige and memorable accomplishments go far beyond prize money.
“We have no sponsor at this time,” said Antonio. “We are just a group of local guys who work hard to make ends meet for the adventure of participating in these tournaments and fishing Baja California. Our goals is just to be on that podium holding the cup.”
The grand prize is a ticket for automatic entry to what is arguably the Super Bowl of fishing, the Bisbee Fishing Tournament in Cabo San Lucas in October for another chance of making the history books.