The 2015 Make-A-Wish® Tuna Challenge saw 91 teams comprised of 412 total anglers compete this weekend to catch the largest bluefin, yellowfin, bigeye, albacore, and skipjack tuna. With all proceeds going to the Make-A-Wish Foundation® of San Diego, Inc., the tournament raised a total of $215,000 this year.
With the fishing as good as it’s been in San Diego this year, anticipation for the event was high. The weather cooperated, and mild conditions allowed those 91 teams to get to their fish and put on a good show.
The tournament’s unique format breaks teams up into 3 divisions; small boats (less than 27 feet in length), large boats (27 feet and up) and charter boats (“6 pack” charter boats) and also awards prizes for top individual catches by anglers, a lady angler category, and a side pool for fishing club affiliations. The boat divisions are scored with 1 point awarded per pound of tuna weighed, with a maximum of 4 fish allowed.
Nick Smith, Brandon Nelson, Erik Nelson and Darren Pasalich claimed top boat overall with 236.6 points, one of the highest winning totals I can remember (last year was won with 110.6 points for comparison). They fished aboard Smith’s 35′ Cabo sportfisher, the “Mi Panga” – placing them atop the large boat division. Brandon Nelson had the tournament’s largest tuna, a 62.2 pound yellowfin to claim the “Richard Thomas Memorial Grand Prize”. They also weighed in yellowfin weighing 59.8, 59.5, and 55.1 to total 236.6 – those being the 2nd, 3rd and 5th biggest overall fish of the tournament as well.
So needless to say, the crew of the “Mi Panga” found the right fish, executing the perfect game plan – which was no accident at all. Brandon Nelson shared some key points of their strategy on Facebook, which included spending Friday loading up with bait, “with the iffy bait situation leading up the tournament, we spent friday loading up the tanks with the amount of bait we felt comfortable with and luckily we had very little turnover.”
The good weather also allowed them to get out to an area they had been seeing larger grade of yellowfin.
“With the prior week’s gorgeous weather we decided to take a shot at the zone that has held big fish all summer long. After looking around early in the morning, we got lined up to make a drift over a section of the bank that had sign of that big yellowfin tuna. It wasn’t long until the fish got on us and we began very steady fishing on that 40 to 60lb Yellowfin. It only took one 3 hour drift and both fish holds of the Cabo were full and we were out of bait.”
The small boat division went to the team of “E Fish N Sea” — the 3 person team of Billy Treviranus, Eric McCully and Rick Gaskins who tallied up 155.6 points. They had the 1st and 2nd biggest fish for the small boat division, caught around the “43” area.
The top lady angler winner was Judy Hirsch who weighed a 40 pound yellowfin as part of team “Green Bee”.
For more information on the Make-A-Wish® Tuna Challenge, visit their website at tunachallenge.org.