Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Champion of tournaments: the Bisbee’s soldiers on despite the virus

Clicerio Mercado sits at a restaurant at the Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, marina on a late-summer morning, sipping a smoothie and greeting locals who stroll by his table with his typical good cheer. 

Everyone is happy to see him, not just because he’s overcome a nasty, six-week bout with the coronavirus, but because he helps run the legendary Bisbee’s fishing tournaments, which bring an estimated US $12-million injection into the Cabo San Lucas economy, a boost sorely needed in 2020.

For 30 years Mercado, now 73, grandfather to seven and great-grandfather to six, has organized the Bisbee’s in Los Cabos, a series of three tournaments culminating in the Bisbee’s Black & Blue, named for the two species of marlin it centers around, which draws anglers from all over the world to compete for millions in prize money. 

In 2006, anglers aboard Bad Company took home a record US $3,902,997.50. In the tournament’s 40-year history, 16 teams have received checks of upwards of US $1 million.

And while other tournaments in Costa Rica, Florida and the Bahamas have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Bisbee’s soldiers on by adopting a new set of protocols. 

Clicerio Mercado celebrates his 30th year with the Bisbee’s tournaments. Gary Graham

It’s just another example of how Mercado has learned to roll with the punches and his determination to continue with a tournament that he, those who fish it, and residents of Los Cabos dearly love. Fishing is, after all, what brought the first tourists to Los Cabos, and the October tournaments mark the beginning of high season for the resort destination.

Mercado is confident that the Los Cabos Offshore — October 15 through 18 — and the “Superbowl of fishing tournaments” as Sports Illustrated has called the Black & Blue — October 20 through 24 — will go off without a hitch. 

The tournament was founded in 1981 when a group of six teams of fishing buddies decided to create a competition for a US $10,000 purse in what was then a relatively remote location with a reputation for excellent fishing.

As Los Cabos grew exponentially, so did the Bisbee’s.

Mercado was the food and beverage manager at a marina hotel when tournament founder Bob Bisbee, who died in 2018, first hired him to help with logistics in 1990. 

“Throughout the tournament, we always needed help on things from our host facility and were unable to get the help needed by the different people there. So we found ourselves going to Clicerio for things that the general manager should have been doing. Also, for things that the maintenance department should have been doing,” said Bob’s son Wayne Bisbee, who is now tournament president.

Tricia and Wayne Bisbee and Mercado. Gary Graham

“Basically, Clicerio became our primary go-to guy for getting things done even if they weren’t in his department, and that was great for us.” 

Mercado says he found that the skills he had learned in a 20-year career in the hospitality industry, where he began as a dishwasher, transferred well.

For him, coordinating a tournament means not only establishing a system and sticking to it, it’s also about diplomacy, cultivating friendships and making sure to know the right people in the right places to help pull off the event without a hitch. 

“A main strength that Clicerio has which I don’t is that he likes meetings. I hate meetings unless they’re taking place on a boat while fishing or in a bar, so he is great for seeing that the needed meetings for organizational things are happening,” Bisbee said. 

“He is much more organized than me and always has a checklist of what needs to be done versus trying to keep it all in his mind which I try to do. He also has a great capability of working with all the different organizations as needed in a very friendly manner.”

By 1993 Mercado began working for the Bisbee’s full-time, and since then he has become the Mexican face of the tournaments that he, Wayne Bisbee and his sister Tricia Bisbee run like clockwork, handling the logistics of holding such major events in Mexico with characteristic aplomb.

Last year's winners of the Black & Blue
Last year’s winners of the Black & Blue. Gary Graham

In recent years more than 150 teams from around the globe have participated in what has become the world’s richest fishing tournament. As of October 13, 69 teams have registered for the Black & Blue, with entry fees starting at US $5,000 per team, or US $71,500 for across-the-board entry into daily jackpots. Seventy-six teams have registered for the Los Cabos Offshore.

More teams are expected to sign up for both tournaments in the coming days. 

“Our expectation is to have over 100 teams per tournament, and that will be phenomenal for this very weird 2020,” Mercado says.

For an experienced coordinator like Mercado, putting on fishing tournaments in a pandemic is just a matter of changing up the rules a little for safety reasons. After all, the fish are still biting.

“We are holding normal Bisbee’s tournaments, and the restrictions do not have to scare people away. We have very good circumstances for the tournaments.” Mercado says. 

Working with state and local governments, Mercado and the Bisbees developed a blueprint for how a fishing tournament could be safely held during the pandemic and put it to the test earlier this year in their annual August East Cape Offshore tournament. 

Mercado, far right, at his first Bisbee's tournament, in 1990.
Mercado, far right, at his first Bisbee’s tournament, in 1990.

The event was a rousing success, breaking records as 72 teams competed in the three-day event on the Sea of Cortés with a jackpot of over US $1,100,000, marking the first year that prize money had topped US $1 million. Local fishermen also landed a massive 704-pound blue marlin, the largest in that tournament’s history.

But the circumstances were a bit different, as they will be in the upcoming two tournaments.

This year the normal in-person captains’ meeting to go over rules will be held virtually, with every captain, angler and crew member receiving a link to feeds in both English and Spanish. Face masks are mandatory at all times and only the angler who caught the fish will be allowed to approach the weigh station, which has been moved from in front of the Puerto Paraíso mall to the cruise ship pier to prevent massive crowds from gathering, as they have in years past.

The annual fundraiser for the Bisbee’s Fish & Wildlife Conservation Fund, which provides scholarships for local college students, supports a billfish tag and release program and funds anti-poaching efforts in South Africa, will be held virtually as a silent auction.

But the main difference most anglers will note is the absence of the tournament’s epic parties.

“Due to Covid-19, we’re not allowed to bring people together in any way which I am personally very sad about,” Wayne Bisbee says. “A huge part of our tournaments is the camaraderie of all the teams from literally around the world.” 

Gary Graham, a photojournalist, writer and fishing guru who first visited Baja in 1973, predicts that anglers weary of lockdown will still come out despite these uncertain times.

Graham covered the August Bisbee’s tournament whose success he describes as remarkable. “When that tournament took place, two weeks out there was no guarantee that it was going to happen, what the protocols would be, how it would be managed,” he said. The turnout showed that “teams that were interested in fishing tournaments, come hell or high water, would be there. That’s what I’m expecting in Los Cabos.”

For Mercado, the event’s success is a given. He’s got coordinating fishing tournaments down to a science that not even the coronavirus can derail. 

Mexico News Daily

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