Regardless of the direction the teams had headed the two previous days, on Day Three, Friday morning, it was time to look for more fertile waters. It was about an even 50/50 with half of the boats pointed toward the north or and the other half headed in the opposite direction – south towards Gordo Banks.
Throughout the morning Axel Valdez fielded calls, reporting hookups and released billfish, as well as several boated billfish and yellowfin tuna. The weigh station crew were just getting the scales set up when the first team arrived with their blue marlin which had been hooked by team member Rick Nelson at a little after 9-a.m. and landed in 31 minutes. Unfortunately, it failed to qualify.
Throughout the afternoon, the radio constantly chattered with reports of more hookups, releases and boated fish. However, since it was the last day, teams elected to continue fishing until lines out at 4-p.m.
Then first to the scale was Team Scorpion with Chris Clifton’s yellowfin tuna that he had hooked with a sardina and boated in 35 minutes. This 72.1-pound tuna was the team’s third qualifying fish brought to the scale. Chris commented that they had seen three good-sized marlin as well.
Team PXP arrived with not one, but two, yellowfin that were cookie-cutter sized and since rules required that they only could weigh one, the entire team debated which they should submit. While they were deciding, another billfish arrived at the scale brought in by the True Grit Team; Team PXP pushed their tuna aside so the billfish could be weighed.
It was Captain Tommy Neikirk and the True Grit Team with the second billfish of the day. While angler Jim Putman observed the zeroing of the scale and the hoisting of his big blue, Neikirk shared the fact that they had seen fish every day and just couldn’t connect. Continuing, he said that they had raised several large fish fishing north for two days, and then on that day, Friday, they had run all the way to Gordo for a “Hail Mary!” Finally, it worked on their first pass when the fish struck one of his custom designed lures. Their black marlin weighed 354 pounds, securing the top spot in the Billfish Dailies; however, there was one more black marlin on its way to the scale.
Finally, after all the hemming and hawing about which tuna to weigh, the PXP Team made their choice. Their YFT weighed 56.8 pounds, a qualifier for Carlos Peralta, but unfortunately, not big enough to change the Daily Tuna Gamefish Category outcome.
Team Awesome managed to deliver a qualifying tuna to the scales both of the two preceding days and arrived at the scales on Day Three with team member Dan Steimle’s chunky 78.1-pound yellowfin tuna. It turned out that in fact “a third time is a charm” after Team Awesome landed in second place the two previous days.
Less than a half-hour before this year’s ECO final day of 7:00-p.m. closing time of the weigh-station, the Wild Hooker Team showed up with a black marlin of their own. Spectators and the crew debated the weight of the fish as the big fish was being hoisted up on the scale. One of the crew members said, “It’s pretty skinny. We think we’re 20 pounds short.” Several members of the crowd disagreed … “No Way!” “That fish is over 400 pounds!”
It turned out they were all wrong. Weigh-master Tricia called out the weight, 393 pounds! The crowd and crew erupted in cheers and hi-fives. After photos and the spectators had settled down a tad, the boat owner, Alan Stuart confided, “We caught it on a 15-pound yellowfin tuna. We had to run all the way to the inner-Gordo to make bait. Then we ran back up outside of Los Frailes where we hooked her!”
And last, but not least, the Release Division -- while adding points they finished in the same order as they had started the day: First Place: Reel Quest, Second Place: Reel Gold and Third Place: Karma 3.
Teams fishing the three-day event had successfully filled all the categories with qualifying fish except the Dorado Division on the second and third day.
“In spite of it seeming as though there were long quiet spells on the VHF during the three days, the outcome of this year’s ECO was impressive!” Wayne Bisbee observed. “There were qualifiers brought to the scale all three days. Hope to see everyone at the awards banquet on the beach in front of Hotel Buenavista Beach Resort Saturday Night!” He concluded.