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Poco Bueno offshore cancellation comes with a cost

By Elena Watts
July 18, 2014 at 2:18 a.m.

Signs of the Poco Bueno fishing tournament stand in front of empty waters in Port O'Connor on Friday. The annual Poco Bueno Fishing Tournament's offshore division was canceled because of  bad weather in the Gulf of Mexico. The bay fishing tournament continued as scheduled.

If you go

• WHAT: Poco Bueno inshore division weigh-in and block party

• WHEN: 3-4 p.m. Saturday

•  WHERE: The Fishing Center, 1303 W. Water St., Port O'Connor

PORT O'CONNOR - Three fishermen sipped Miller beer from cans as they shot the breeze around the back of a pickup in Caracol, a high-end subdivision in Port O'Connor.

The 43-foot Viking Express yacht they were supposed to be fishing from was moored in a nearby slip Friday.

The offshore division of the 45th annual Poco Bueno Fishing Tournament was canceled Thursday because of inclement weather. The move hurt some businesses and individuals but helped others.

The winds did not gust quite as strong as the predicted 20 to 30 knots, said a National Weather Service spokesperson. However, the seas reached at least the low end of the predicted 4 to 6 feet within 60 nautical miles, and the seas were higher farther out.

"It's miserable to fish in 4- to 6-foot seas," said Bill Moore, of Galveston. "I was trying not to smile when it was canceled."

Before the tournament was called off Thursday, Moore drank half a bottle of Jack Daniel's whiskey to prepare for the boat beating he thought was coming, he said.

He joked he would have taken sleeping pills too, had he thought to bring some, so he could have slept through the rough ride to the Gulf.

"It's disheartening because we look forward to this every year," said Casey Halvorsen, another mate on Moore's boat. "But I'm not mad."

A committee of about seven boat owners and the tournament directors conferred to make the difficult decision to cancel the offshore tournament, said Walter Fondren, whose father started the event.

"We want the guys to come back next year," Fondren said. "We don't want them to go out there and break their boats or get injured - we want to be safe."

And others had made the same decision even earlier. By Thursday, participating boats had dwindled from 117 to 86, mostly because of the weather, Fondren said.

Poco Bueno organizers worked for several months to prepare for the event, he said. The big blue marlin was not destined to be in the picture this year, but the tournament still planned to host parties under the big white tent both evenings.

"We encouraged people to stay," Fondren said. "We have 600 extra people to feed who would have been fishing."

Pappas Catering from Houston ramped up its meal plan, and additional bartenders were expected to serve more than the usual amount of booze Friday and Saturday.

"The town is not set up to accommodate additional activities," said Bill Tigrett, owner of Tigrett Real Estate. "There are no festivals or anything else going on."

Four visitors who rented properties from Tigrett wanted to leave town early and approached him before noon Friday for refunds.

"I can't give refunds; the owners would kill me," Tigrett said.

Tigrett rented all but two of more than 50 rental properties for a minimum of four days during Poco Bueno. Rental rates for more than half of the properties range from $1,500 to $2,500 for the entire four-day period. However, rates for the minimum number of days are as low as $600 and as high as $8,000, Tigrett said.

"Poco accounts for 30 to 40 percent of the rental income for the month of July," Tigrett said.

Tigrett could not say that cancellation of the tournament negatively affected the rental economy, but he could say that it negatively affected the coastal community's morale.

"Everyone is disappointed - usually there is anticipation," he said. "When the first fish is caught, electricity runs through the air, and the rumors start flying that a monster fish is coming in."

The decline in fuel sales hurts the bottom line for The Fishing Center, said Randy Spencer, co-owner of the store that also sells bait, ice and drinks. Yet he does not blame the tournament directors for calling off the event.

"I fished in 8- to 10-foot seas two years ago, and it's not fun - it's dangerous," Spencer said. "You're like a pinball bouncing all over the deck."

Less than a mile from Caracol, Josie's Mexican Food and Cantina was a bright spot in an otherwise dull landscape Friday.

The business was steady and better as a result of the additional mouths that remained on dry land, said Eloisa Newsome, owner of the restaurant.

Furthermore, some of the teams of fishermen planned to stay all week to fish in the Lone Star Shootout fishing tournament the next weekend, she said.

"It definitely affected us by boosting entries," said Randy Bright, Shootout tournament director for the Houston Big Game Fishing Club.

Bright expects as many as 60 boats to compete in his tournament, which typically attracts about 40, he said.

For the first time, the tournament is offering a $1 million prize for a blue marlin that is certified to set a new state record, he said. Additionally, the tournament payout for the biggest blue marlin is expected to reach new heights - $900,000 to $1 million - with the additional boats.

Poco Bueno's inshore competition, which continued as planned, attracted more than 100 boats. Festivities at the weigh-in next to The Fishing Center are also still on schedule for Saturday.

"The street will be blocked off as usual, and a DJ will play music," Fondren said. "We usually attract 3,500 to 4,000 spectators, so we hope people will still come out."

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