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First blue marlin of Poco Bueno (video)

By Elena Watts
July 19, 2013 at 2:19 a.m.

A blue marlin measuring more than 100 inches in length hangs at the weigh station at Port O'Connor during the second day of the Poco Bueno fishing tournament. The marlin was caught 200 nautical miles offshore by the boat Mechanical Man. Andy Lack, the boat's captain, said his team still has more fishing to do. "We're going to put fuel on the boat and go fishing again," said Lack.

PORT O'CONNOR - Equating it to a college frat party magnified, a long-time worker at the Poco Bueno tournament is prepared to haul in the big fish Saturday.

"Saturday is hectic, hot and loud. The pace is fast with 115 boats," said Chris Barrett, a weigh master who has worked at Poco for six years. "It's a college frat party times three with adults."

After two solid days of fishing on bumpy seas in extreme heat, the fishermen are tired but excited when they win.

Saturday is the big day, as the 115 offshore boats make their way to shore to weigh.

The heaviest marlin with a lower length of at least 101 inches wins.

The first marlin to shore Friday was caught by Andy Lack on Ben Heilker's boat, Mechanical Man. They arrived at the weigh station about 7:30 p.m. to cheers from the crowd.

Lack hooked the 377-pound fish about 9:30 a.m. and reeled it in for 40 minutes. The catch was made about 200 nautical miles out, said Heilker, of Victoria.

"Everyone did what they needed to do to get the marlin in the boat," Lack said.

By 10 p.m., two more marlins had arrived onshore. The boat Override brought in a 561.5-pound marlin to take the lead over Heilker's.

Tico Time brought in the third marlin, which weighed 401.5 pounds.

To make the large tournament work, specialized teams are hired to make sure all is set up and remains operational throughout the tournament.

The tournament also attracted 105 inshore boats and 20 fly-fishing teams.

Joe Rivera, of Port Lavaca, has worked at Poco Bueno with his crew for 18 years. This year, the team set up everything but the big tent in the Caracol development.

Rivera's job begins in March and builds momentum until the tournament, when he is on 24-hour call.

In addition to the routine duties, Rivera repairs what breaks, which can include the docks. Thursday night, a post suffered a blow by a heavy boat that leaned too much as it docked.

Rivera found the closest 13-inch replacement pole and sent a trailer to Rockport on Friday morning to get it.

For 10 years, Rivera has hired and housed more than a dozen teens to help with the tournament. This year, they came from Victoria, Houston, Port Lavaca and San Antonio. His wife, Mary, feeds them breakfast and helps manage the team.

Rivera's most memorable moment was when the tournament moved from Alligator Head to Caracol, a newer subdivision.

"We had good times at Alligator Head, but the grounds at Caracol are so pretty, and I was happy to be at the first event there," he said.

Rivera said Poco Bueno is well known. On a trip to Las Vegas, he wore a shirt with Poco embroidered on the sleeve. A man stopped him to say he had heard a lot about the tournament.

Many of the employees hired by the Walter Fondren family, founders of the tournament, to work at Poco Bueno have been around a long time.

Barrett and Hugh Hawes, who has been with the tournament 22 years, are part of the team responsible for unloading, weighing and measuring the marlin. They make sure the billfish comply with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department rules.

The crowds are expected top be large as people gather to see who will win the tournament.

Saturday will end with an awards dinner and a dance.



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