When I was a kid growing up in Southern California, I used to hang out on Balboa Island at a place called Bisbee’s. It was a big game tackle shop and fuel dock on the water in Newport Bay. I was young — maybe 15 or so — and learning the ropes of saltwater fishing on the local half-day boats.
For a kid like me, Bisbee’s was the place to get the inside scoop on the latest gear and what was biting. Started in 1975 by Bob Bisbee, what began as a simple business quickly evolved into the epicenter for big-game saltwater fishing in Southern California. Under Bob’s ownership, the manager, JD, now a legend in his own right, kept a single-sideband marine radio right at the register where it would crackle throughout the day and evening with real-time happenings across the Southern California and Baja fleet. This simple communication network proved to be a crucial link between boats up and down the coast and was a fascinating draw to a young kid like me.
At Bisbee’s in the mid-’80s, the “Black and Blue” was never far from anyone’s mind. Being the quiet kid lurking around the store, I would eavesdrop on the captains in hopes of soaking up what knowledge they spilled. Over time, I eventually came to learn that my local loitering spot was actually the headquarters for Bisbee’s Black and Blue mega-tournament held each fall on the tip of the Baja peninsula in Cabo San Lucas.
I also learned that, like any self-respecting angler, few things in life get the blood pumpin’ more than dreams of big marlin and taking a shot at millions.
While the tournament reportedly started in 1980, it would be 40 years before I finally made it to Cabo for the legendary Bisbee’s tournament. In those four decades, the event went from a few boats and friends to one of the biggest fishing tournaments on Earth with a purse bigger than a PGA Major. Looking back, I can tell you that even after all those decades, when I finally did attend the Bisbee’s, nothing I’d ever experienced prepared me for the spectacle that was by then aptly dubbed “the Super Bowl of sportfishing.”
Cabo San Lucas is the city on the southern tip of the fabled Baja Peninsula. It has been well known for generations as one of the world’s great sportfishing destinations. Whether it be tuna, wahoo or marlin you seek, a rogues’ gallery of well-known game fish can be found here all year-round. Naturally, with that kind of variety, a multitude of records have been set and broken here including wahoo, tuna and snook, to name a few.
In the years since Cabo was established, the town has grown exponentially from a sleepy fishing village to a bustling city, complete with the color, cuisine and character that Mexico is known for.
The harbor at Cabo is bustling virtually every day of the year. Like jewels on a necklace, hotels of every brand and budget line the edge of the marina. Here people can walk, view the boats, book trips and enjoy some of the finest cuisine and peoplewatching to be had anywhere. When the Bisbee’s comes to town, these hotels, sold out for months ahead of time, are decked out to the nines. Strolling the boardwalk on tournament days, there is one thing that becomes quickly apparent: During the Bisbee’s, this is truly the global epicenter of big-game saltwater sportfishing.
“The Bisbee’s,” as it is called, is actually a series of events spread out over three weeks in October. During this time, the marina becomes gridlocked with boats from all over the world as some of the most well-known teams in the game gather to compete for their share of the millions — and perhaps get famous in the process.
Team Pelagic is here, with their fearsome leader Ron Kawaja, as well as Bad Company, headed by legendary proprietor Anthony Hsieh (who, in 2006, took home the world largest payout at the time for a sportfishing tournament, over $6 million dollars!) And there’s local boats like Chupacabra, Tranquilo and the Pisces fleet. All told, the Bisbee’s can see 200 or more boats competing across dozens of categories. But when it’s all said and done, it’s the purse that draws the big names. In 2022, this topped $11 million!
One of the beautiful things about a tournament of this size and scope is the potential for new heroes to be made each year. Despite the well-known names, you just never know who’s gonna step up, seemingly out of nowhere, and take the grand prize. One example was in 2018, when the event was won by a young SoCal angler named Evan Salvay. At age 27, in Cali circles, he was well known for being a gifted angler. But few saw it coming when he and his team took the prize at the Bisbee’s, walking away with more than $3 million. Overnight, Evan went from fishy “grom” to world-class slayer. This is how easy it can happen here.
While Cabo is known as a hotspot for all manner of species, during tournament time, marlin are the focus. In the fall, the southern end of the Baja peninsula becomes a gathering point for several different marlin species. The Bisbee’s Black and Blue is scheduled to coincide with the arrival of these large congregations. Like any seasonal run, the number and size of the fish can vary from year to year. But, historically speaking, there is no denying this is one of the most consistent spots on the globe to target billfish.
While granders have been caught here, most fish brought to the scales are in the 400-700 lb. class. It is possible to catch both Blue and Black marlin during the fall run; in addition there are also large numbers of striped marlin that come through as well.
If you want to compete in the Bisbee’s, the entry costs can be high; tack on hotel and charter fees and you’re looking at a bill in the $100,000 and beyond range. But a potential payout in the millions makes it worth it to some; just make sure and plan early as finding a boat to charter can be tricky, especially later in the year.
To experience Cabo and the Bisbee’s tournament, you can fly directly into Cabo San Lucas from most airports around the country. My favorite hotel is Tesoro; it’s right on the boardwalk about a 10-minute walk from the scales and epicenter of the Bisbee’s event. It’s also affordable and has a great breakfast. And, who knows, maybe you’ll be the next hero to take home millions. In this game, ANYTHING is possible!