Teams prepare for Poco Bueno tournament (video)

Elena Watts By Elena Watts

July 18, 2013 at 2:18 a.m.

The boat Hydrocarbon makes a test run down the intracoastal canal on Thursday afternoon as it makes final preparations for the Poco Bueno fishing tournament.

The boat Hydrocarbon makes a test run down the intracoastal canal on Thursday afternoon as it makes final preparations for the Poco Bueno fishing tournament.   Frank Tilley for The Victoria Advocate

PORT O'CONNOR - Spectators watched as participants in the 44th annual Poco Bueno fishing tournament motored for the Gulf in search of blue marlin Thursday evening.

The family-run invitational competition in Port O'Connor offers a week of festivities and fishing that pump money into the area economy.

Ben Heilker, owner of Victoria Air Conditioning, has fished in the tournament for 25 years. With his seven-man crew, he prepared his 68-foot custom Weaver named Mechanical Man for the competition.

"Blue marlin fishing is exciting, and it's a big family event for us, with the prospect of winning money," Heilker said.

Preparations included filling the boat's 2,400-gallon tank with fuel, stocking the boat with food and ice, checking the tackle, sharpening the hooks, testing the reels and reviewing the float plan.

Heilker said his crew remains cool, calm and collected when they hook a big fish.

"We know instantly it's big, and it takes patience, strength and technique to reel it in," he said.

In 2005, Heilker won the grand prize with a 700-pound blue marlin, which is immortalized by a replica in front of his Port O'Connor home. It took an hour to reel in the billfish.

"It's like having a 700-pound bull calf jumping around behind us that we have to figure out how to get in the boat," Heilker said.

He invested his winnings in his boat and fishing equipment, which he plans to do again if he wins this year.

Andy Lack, of Austin, has fished in Poco Bueno with Heilker for nearly 20 years.

"Last week's success in Alabama - they broke the blue marlin record twice the same day - makes me want to work harder to bring in the big fish," Lack said.

Gay Heilker, Ben's wife, provides moral support from the dock.

"It was beyond exciting when he won in 2005 because he'd been fishing a long time and won in his homeport," his wife said.

She and her friends eagerly anticipate the call about the big fish as they eat, drink and wait onshore.

Josie's Mexican Food and Cantina and Cathy's Restaurant are the only two establishments in town where visitors can enjoy a sit-down meal.

Josie's, which is owned by Eloisa Newsome, has eight employees who help the family serve customers.

Kaitlyn Rice, 17, the owner's granddaughter, and her twin sister, Payton, agreed it takes teamwork. They worked for hours preparing extra food for the week.

Marie Luckey, the owner's sister, said the employees try to start with health, sanity and rest because they know what to expect after 30 years.

"We look forward to this week," she said. "We are thankful because July helps us through February."

Cathy Osborn, owner of Cathy's, orders extra food and appreciates the business generated by the tournament.

She works from 8:30 a.m. to midnight the entire week and does the best she can with the staff she has.

Paul McGee, owner of Costa Bonita Properties, said the wives look at houses while the husbands fish.

The tournament exposes Port O'Connor to lots of people.

"A new client who has not been here for 40 years came as a result of Poco Bueno," he said.

McGee opened a golf cart rental business four months ago called Poco Cruisers. All the vehicles are rented during the tournament.

His son, State Rep. Todd Hunter, helped pass a law that allows the carts to drive on streets in unincorporated towns like Port O'Connor.

Bill Tigrett, owner of Tigrett Real Estate, looks forward to the major influx of visitors during Poco Bueno. Tigrett manages more than 50 rental properties and earns 40 percent of his summer rental business in July alone.

The busy July tradition begins with Fourth of July weekend followed by the Cula Roja fishing tournament the next weekend and Poco Bueno the next, he said.

"I imagine the fuel sales during Poco exceeds the quota for the year," said Tigrett.

This year, 115 offshore and 105 inshore boats are competing as well as 20 fly-fishing teams.

The biggest marlin caught and brought to shore the first day also receives a prize.

"This is a well-run tournament with great food and parties, and the fishing is good," Heilker said. "The participants appreciate that the Fondrens sponsor the tournament each year."



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