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San Diego captain’s big fish worth whopping $3,004,900

What lurks beneath the deep, unpredictable blue water of the Bisbee’s Black & Blue marlin tournament off the coast of Cabo San Lucas comes in two distinct forms.

There’s brutal heartbreak, as San Diego captain Evan Salvay suffered when a 442-pound blue marlin that many times would have cashed a $1 million check was topped … by 14 pounds.

There are also line-straining riches, when the weather, gear, location, timing and old-fashioned luck blend perfectly to produce the fish of a lifetime.

Salvay, of Point Loma, experienced both ends of the tense spectrum while becoming the youngest captain to win the sport’s richest event last weekend — exactly a year after the agonizing miss on a seven-figure check.

“Frankly, it’s mind-boggling,” Salvay, who turned 27 Wednesday, said by phone from Cabo. “You count your blessings, your lucky stars, all of it. It was a good day to be us, I guess.”

Good, to the tune of $3,004,900 — the second biggest payout in the history of sportfishing.

Mother Nature conspired to ramp up the stress and stakes, transforming the three-day event with 114 teams into a sprint to the weigh-scale. Hurricane Willa pounded that region of Mexico on Day 1 and the water failed to flatten until the third and final day.

In the first two days, just one qualifying fish reached the scale. That boat had not chosen to enter the most expensive and most profitable jackpot categories, however.

That meant the big money from Day 1 rolled into Day 2, then into Day 3. That transformed the final day into a shootout for the big boats chasing the biggest money.

“It was pretty ripe for a big pot,” Salvay said.

The team, named Chinito Bonito, chased marlin with jigs last year. They hooked into their big fish, but falling 14 pounds short caused the enormous payday to fizzle to $7,020 in the all-or-nothing contest.

This year, the team switched to live bait and dragged skipjacks around the Sea of Cortez until line started to scream out with just a half-day to go.

“We were going between 1 and 2 knots,” Salvay said. “You’re barely moving. It’s a very monotonous fishing style, until you get bit. It got popped on the outrigger at about 11 in the morning. We fought it almost two hours.”

The angler on the rod was Charles Lee, the same person who tussled with the nearly $1-million fish a year ago. On the other end this time: a 510-pound black marlin — a darting, diving, bulldozer from the depths.

Salvay said the team decided to use relatively light leader material near the hook. The 220-pound test was more likely to invite a bite, while also making the fight far more precarious.

“We had to be really careful,” he said. “We had a lighter drag setting. We weren’t pulling hard. We were being cautious. When we got it in, there was a lot of chafing on the leader. Our leader integrity wasn’t what you would hope for. Another 20, 30 minutes, who knows?

“You wonder how close you were to breaking that fish off. It adds to the aura of catching it, but it reminds you that for everything you control, there are so many things you can’t control.”

In this sport, patience is the most important virtue — from the taxing wait for bites to remaining calm when one arrives.

“You have to let them eat it for a little bit,” Salvay said. “You let them wolf it down before you put the reel and the boat in gear. We weren’t really sure right away how big the fish was. But we kind of had a feeling 5 or 10 minutes into it that it was a better fish.

“Then it poked its head out of the water and that gave me a little feel. I was the only one who saw it, and realized it was a pretty good one. Then we had to settle in for the long haul.”

As the fish neared the boat, a local Mexican crew member named Marteen worked the leader while Sam Long of Huntington Beach handled the gaff.

“The whole team did a fantastic job,” he said.

The anxiety was far from over, though. It rarely is in that tournament.

A boat they’d been fishing within eyesight of, True Grit, hooked up as Chinito Bonito was racing back to the scales. In 2017, the team watched the boat land the fish that torpedoed their paycheck.

“These tournaments, you’re still looking at the ticker until the end,” Salvay said. “It’s never really over until the scales close. Until 9 o’clock, I didn’t really breathe a sigh of relief.

“This time, though, I didn’t dare look at anything. I didn’t want to jinx it. I basically shut myself off from the world for a couple hours.”

When True Grit reached the marina, Salvay caught sight of its marlin and felt confident the team had dodged the competitive bullet. The last chance to unseat Chinito Bonito weighed in at 308.

The big money for winners filters to owners and investors, though Salvay said each member of the crew earned checks “in the low six-figures.”

“It’s not even about the money for me,” Salvay said. “It’s not like I’m going to go buy a boat or anything. It’s the legacy aspect of it. You’re fishing around a lot of guys you look up to and admire.

“We’re a small player in a big field. So it’s humbling.”

The team “drank the local liquor of choice” to celebrate, Salvay said. Then thoughts quickly drifted to defending the title. The young captain who runs Salvay Pacific Sportfishing at Fisherman’s Landing said he’s considering a shift toward fishing more tournaments.

“We want to follow the currents a little bit,” he said.

Pun fully intended.


Bisbee’s Black & Blue marlin tournament: results.

bryce.miller@sduniontribune.com; Twitter: @Bryce_A_Miller

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