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Port O'Connor bustles as Poco Bueno opens

By By DIANNA WRAY - dwray@vicad.com
July 19, 2012 at 2:19 a.m.
Updated July 20, 2012 at 2:20 a.m.

Boats parade through the Caracol community in Port O'Connor on Thursday before heading out far into the Gulf in the hunt for blue marlin at the Poco Bueno fishing tournament.

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PORT O'CONNOR - The men gathered around the boat, Legacy, grinning as fishing line spun through the air toward a deep sea fishing reel.

The youngest member of the crew held the line in a bucket of water as it spun, sending up a small spray of water. He shook his head to get the water out of his eyes while the men grinned and watched.

In a few days, they'll be using this line to pull in their fish. Maybe one of them will haul up the biggest blue marlin of the tournament from this line.

Dozens of other boats around them are undergoing similar preparations.

Most days, Port O'Connor is a sleepy little town on the coast, but once a year it becomes the destination spot for those who compete to bring in the biggest blue marlin in the annual Poco Bueno Fishing Tournament.

As long as the competition lasts, inns and motels fill up and the restaurants are crowded with tourists there to watch the competition, said LaJune Pitonyak, a member of the Port O'Connor Chamber of Commerce.

Pitonyak has been a resident of Port O'Connor for almost 50 years. She said events like Poco Bueno are crucial to the town's survival.

"Shrimping and oystering and fishing - those things have come and gone. We're very fortunate that we have all of the resources for this kind of competition and that we are a friendly community that welcomes it," she said. "In this day and age, we'd dry up and blow away if it wasn't here. We depend on this tourism now."

Poco Bueno is an invitation-only fishing tournament that has been in Port O'Connor since 1969.

The community fills with out-of-towners in the days leading up to the competition, she said. They pack the restaurants, flood the Speedy Stop and fill the hotels to capacity.

The Inn at Clark's, where Pitonyak works, is booked solid, and some have already booked their reservations for next year, she said.

"With this tournament, if you don't have your room well in advance, you're up a creek," she said.

The Fishing Center buzzed with activity in the days leading up to the tournament. Employees worked stacking up cases of soda and beer, while others kept count of the gallons of diesel they had sold to boats getting ready to head out to sea. It took hundreds of gallons of diesel to fill most tanks, one employee said, costing between $1,000 and $5,000 per vessel.

However, some places were quiet. Billy Ragusin, an employee at Clark's Marina and Bait, said his business drops 50 percent during the tournament because locals pack up and go on vacation instead of fishing on the weekend of the tournament.

"When the locals see the crowds, they stay home," Ragusin said. "Poco doesn't really help other than the motels and the Speedy Stop filling up."

But this is something the competitors look forward to every year. People bring their boats from all across the Gulf Coast to compete for the top prizes in in-shore fishing and off-shore fishing. This year, it began at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, when the offshore competitors are allowed to take their boats out to sea. They'll start fishing at 7 a.m. Friday and it'll be a race to catch the winning fish, with the prize trophy and money going to the team who brings in the largest blue marlin.

Richard Richardson, of Houston, has competed in Poco Bueno for more than 30 years, and has won twice. He and his friends will be more than 100 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico when they start fishing Friday morning. They're hoping to bring in a winning catch when they come back to shore on Saturday, he said, a blue marlin so big it won't fit in the hold.

"There isn't a better feeling than winning this thing," he said, as his friends nodded in agreement. "It's about as good a feeling as you're going to get."

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