How Wayne Bisbee Helped to Grow the World’s Richest Sportfishing Tournament
PHOTOS BY JOHN J. RADZWILLA
For a guy whose main job is running the richest sportfishing tournament in the world, R. Wayne Bisbee sure has a lot of hog, deer, and antelope heads in his office. The trophies seem to be everywhere in his 1,000-square-foot headquarters space, which is located in a modern office park in Frisco, Texas.
On the wall over his desk are a blue wildebeest and a black impala he shot in South Africa. Not far away are Muntjac and Chinese water deer, as well as black buck and springbok antelope. The headquarters’ conference room and lounge boast two dozen more trophies, at least. “Everybody’s got a vice,” says Wayne, reaching for a chaw of Grizzly Long Cut Wintergreen dipping tobacco. “As in, my vice at the moment is hunting. Their vice is fishing tournaments.” He’s referring to the thousands of anglers who’ve flocked since the early 1980s to the annual Bisbee’s Black & Blue Marlin Tournaments in the Los Cabos region of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.
His father, Bob Bisbee Sr., who died in 2018 at age 85, fell in love with the Los Cabos area in the early 1960s. He founded the Black & Blue as a way to market his Newport Beach, California, fuel dock and tackle shop to American fishermen who were en route to the Baja Peninsula.
The tournament, which began in 1982 with just six boats and a $10,000 purse, has grown to include 18 winning payouts over $1 million, four over $2 million, and two over $3 million. The overall payout in 2019 — a whopping $4.58 million — remains the biggest in the history of sportfishing. Wayne says total payouts exceed $100 million as of 2020, the tournament’s landmark 40th anniversary (multiple main tourneys were held in some of the early years).
Described as the “Super Bowl” of sportfishing by Sports Illustrated magazine, the tournament took off on steroids in the early 1990s, when Bob Sr. turned over its day-to-day operations to Wayne. After Wayne recruited his sister Tricia to become director of sponsorships, the siblings launched a second event called Bisbee’s East Cape Offshore Tournament – it included fishing for marlin, dorado, and tuna in late July or early August — and later the Bisbee Los Cabos Offshore tournament, held in October just before the three-day Black & Blue. In addition, Wayne came up with idea of cross-promoting the Los Cabos tournament with other fishing competitions in places like Tahiti and the Virgin Islands. Perhaps most important, he also devised the Black & Blue’s “daily jackpot” system, where teams pony up tens of thousands of dollars each day for a shot at winning million-dollar payouts.
Before implementing the daily jackpots, Wayne says, “what would happen is, on the first day of fishing when the big fish was caught, everybody was bummed out for the next few days. They were like, ‘Oh man, they got a 600-pounder.’ So I thought, we’ve got to stop this. I mean, they’re not enjoying being our customer the entire time. That’s where the thought of daily jackpots came from.”
Today, Wayne goes on, the Black & Blue electrifies Cabo San Lucas for several days each October, with thousands of anglers, family members, and friends jamming the town’s walkways in “organized chaos full of hard-core excitement.” The tournament culminates with a big awards banquet along the marina, where everyone eats and drinks and the winners pose for photos with oversized checks. All the meat from caught fish that are brought to the scales at the Puerto Paraiso Entertainment Plaza — the minimum qualifying billfish weighs 300 pounds — is donated to Hope for Los Cabos, a charity program that provides food to underprivileged locals. (Over the last two decades, more than 95 percent of the fish caught in the tournaments have been released because they’re under the weight limit.)
Whether they win or lose, fishing from a 120-foot yacht or a 30-foot center console, the tournament entrants “all get along,” Wayne says. “The camaraderie is killer, and the energy level coming into this thing is flat-out insane. I always joke that if you rolled your window down in downtown Cabo a week before the tournament and screamed ‘Jackpot’ out the window, you’d have 10 heart attacks with people dropping dead. They’re so fired up and amped up about this thing. They just know that this is their year.”
Sturdily built, unassuming, and laid back, Wayne, who’s 56, was born in Inglewood, California, and grew up in Newport Beach. He made his first trip to Cabo San Lucas when he was in the seventh grade, and before long was playing soccer with the Mexican kids. Over time his father ran a charter-boat company in Cabo, established a marina supply store there, and became one of the first Americans to purchase land in the region.
As a teenager back home in California, Wayne liked to race Ford Mustangs, Chevy Camaros, and Suzuki motorcycles — and had the speeding tickets to prove it — when he wasn’t working part-time at his dad’s fueling dock and tackle shop at the Newport Harbor. He also worked as a certified scuba instructor and dive-boat captain before joining his father full-time and ramping up the fishing tournament.
The younger Bisbee has bolstered the family brand in other ways, too. Befitting his interest in hunting as well as fishing, Wayne founded the Bisbee’s Fish & Wildlife Conservation Fund in 2012. The nonprofit corporation, which Wayne serves as president, is aimed not only at protecting offshore, in-shore, and freshwater fish with an RFID tagging program, but also at safeguarding the endangered African rhinoceros.
One of the fund’s top goals has been stopping the illegal poaching of rhinos, whose horns are harvested because some Asian cultures believe the horns have magical properties. In South Africa, the Bisbee’s fund created the Thaba Nkwe Conservation Sanctuary for rhinos, the Nkwe Wildlife Breeding Program to increase rhino herds, and the Nkwe Tactical Training Academy. The latter provides military-level training for local recruits in order to put better “field rangers” in the bush to thwart poachers. Says Wayne: “Our school is the most complete, most baddest-ass school” in South Africa.
With the Bisbee’s fishing tourneys managing upwards of $9 million a year, Wayne is kicking around ideas for new fishing-tournament ventures — most likely outside of Cabo, though there’s nothing set in stone yet. “I think it’d be fun,” he says. “They’re not going to be designed to be the size and volume of people and money that (Bisbee’s Cabo) is. But of course, it wasn’t originally designed to be that big, either. So we’ll see.”