Miracle bluefin takes 2020 San Diego Offshore Jackpot

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Outstanding 126-bluefin wins angler Frank Illingsworth $2,040

SAN DIEGO — Sometimes it’s just your day, and nothing you do goes wrong despite the obstacles. That’s a fine explanation for Frank Illingsworth’s 126-pound bluefin, a magnificent fish that topped all comers at the 2020 San Diego Offshore Jackpot, earning him a cool and suprising $2,040 in jackpot cash.

Illingsworth fished aboard Capt. Joe Crisci’s Tomahawk, one of 8 boats in the combined jackpot that pitted all three legendary Scott Street landings against one another in a battle for bragging rights and the perpetual San Diego Offshore Jackpot trophy. For the next year it will reside at Fisherman’s Landing.

Father/son Sergio and Daniel Garcia finished second and third with 115- and 65-pound bluefin caught on the Producer, H&M Landing. Sergio won $1,428 and Daniel took home $612.

SIMPLY INCREDIBLE! 2020 San Diego Offshore Jackpot champion Frank Illingsworth and Tomahawk Capt. Joe Crisci hold the $3 Goodwill rod and vintage Daiwa Sealine 50 spooled with 50-pound that caught the 126-pound bluefin that won it for Illingsworth.

Illingsworth added a Daiwa Proteus WN rod and a Saltist 40H reel for catching the largest fish at Fisherman’s Landing, plus a pair of Maui Jim sunglasses for taking his boat’s jackpot fish. Sergio Garcia did the same for H&M Landing and the Producer.

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Back to Illingworth’s beautiful 126-pound bluefin, a fish Capt. Crisci called a “miracle.” The term is well deserved, as there are so many unlikely circumstances surrounding the catch. For starters, Illingworth didn’t realize he was in a tournament. He was just out to have a good time fishing with his son Jr., a custom rod builder. That’s where the surprise cash comes in, a truly unexpected windfall.

Illingworth was thrilled with the money, but it seemed he weighed the memorable experience with his son higher. Jr. rebuilt his father’s winning rod, a 40-60 pound stick that came from Goodwill at the cost of $3. The reel was a vintage Daiwa Sealine single speed 50, lined with 50-pound mono that very nearly ran dry during the 50-minute battle in the six o’clock hour. Illingworth baited a lively sardine.

SECOND PLACE was legit, a 115-pound bluefin for Sergio Garcia. He fished the Producer out of H&M Landing.

Capt. Crisci said it was a fish that shouldn’t have been caught. Late in the battle Illingworth collected just about all the lines in the water, including some 10 heavy sinkers that bowed down his 50-pound. The crew got busy cutting the tangles loose, but despite heroic efforts Illingsworth reeled a ball of line right to his rod tip. As the crew directed him to stop winding against it, the exhausted fish made a huge circle at the surface away from the bow where Illingsworth was fighting it, swimming right up to the stern where other Tomahawk crew gaffed it.

As far as the size of the fish, one of the better winners in the San Diego Jackpot history, it was predicted presciently by H&M Landing Managing Partner Capt. Frank Ursitti, the host of the contest, as the boats prepared to cast off lines for their overnight trips the evening before. “I think it’ll take triple digits to win, at least a 120 pounder,” he said.

For Ursitti, this augers an exciting and productive offshore sportfishing season to come. He noted an increasing signal of yellowfin mixed in with the bluefin, and predicted they’d act like bluefin for a week or so before going on a tear. The offshore options are expected to explode.

FLASH THAT CASH — San Diego Offshore Jackpot host and H&M Landing Managing Partner Frank Ursitti presents Frank Illingsworth with his winnings.

Sergio Garcia’s second place 115-pound bluefin caught aboard the Producer would have been a winner nearly every other year of the San Diego Offshore Jackpot, but in 2020 it was outclassed by 11 pounds. Garcia, and for that matter, his son Daniel who caught a 65-pound bluefin on the same boat for third place, used a Daiwa SK jig to fool his fish. The battle took about an hour and went down just after sunrise.

Perennial San Diego Offshore Jackpot contender Capt. Markus Medak of the New Lo-An finished just outside the money. Young angler Brendan Thomas caught a bluefin that, gilled and gutted, weighed about 62 pounds. The incident brings to mind the first year Medak’s boat won with field dressed fish. Medak, so anxious to preserve the meat in top condition, did it again. But he’s a stand-up guy and dug into his own pocket for $612 for Thomas to match the third place payout. All in all it was a great day for Thomas, who added a Daiwa Proteus WN rod and a Saltist 40H for catching the largest fish at his landing, Point Loma Sportfishing. He also added a pair of Maui Jim shades for winning the jackpot on his boat.

I HATE IT when that happens. H&M Landing Managing Partner Frank Ursitti seems reluctant to let the San Diego Offshore Jackpot perennial trophy go on its trip to Fisherman’s Landing. Tomahawk Capt. Joe Crisci would prevail. And for those not in on the joke, pictures like this one are a San Diego Offshore Jackpot tradition.

Daiwa came big for the San Diego Offshore Jackpot, as they always do. Although no one claimed a Daiwa contingency shopping spree, they were there for the taking. All anglers had to do was fish with new Daiwa rods or reels and finish in the money. That would have earned $1,000 in gear. Even easier, if any of the winners had fished newly purchased Daiwa J-Braid or J-Fluoro, they would have won $500 Daiwa shopping sprees.

Still, there were plenty of Daiwa winners. The raffle, which was held in advance of the event with the prizes distributed at each boat, featured more Daiwa Proteus WN rods and Saltist 40H reels as well as SKB Tak-Pak backpack tackle systems. Early entry winners also took home Daiwa rods and reels.

Participating boats included the Daiwa Pacific, Old Glory, Legend, and Producer from H&M Landing; the New Lo-An and T-Bird for Point Loma Sportfishing; and the winning Tomahawk and Condor representing Fisherman’s Landing.

UNLOADING THE WINNER — It took four Tomahawk crewmen to transfer the winning 126-pound bluefin to a dock cart, and that’s the true mark of a worthy fish.

In all, 204 anglers competed in the 2020 San Diego Offshore Jackpot, representing a sell-out. Clearly, anglers are hungry to fish. And although there were COVID measures in place to combat the spread of the virus, none of the anglers seemed to mind.

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