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KARMA CATCH

Dillon's helping hand lands fish of lifetime

By Ed Zieralski
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

August 5, 2001

Jim Dillon has two main obsessions. He loves doing charitable work through his successful Dillon Foundation. And he loves to fish.

So, when Dillon landed a 90-pound dorado off Cabo San Lucas on Tuesday morning, he looked at that potential world-record fish as a wonderful payback, a reward for the humanitarian work he's done for some of Mexico's poorer citizens.

"Karma's a beautiful thing," said Dillon, 54, of Pacific Beach. "I just truly believe that things have a way of coming back around, and that this is a payback from the Mexican people for the good things I've done. It tells me I'm going in the right direction, and it tells me to keep doing good work for those who need it."

Dillon figures all the prayers of thanks from people he began helping in 1972, when he first started going to Baja, were answered in the form of this giant gift of a fish delivered to Dillon and his boat, El Budster, a 29-foot Day Cruiser.

And what a gift, a catch of a lifetime for any angler. If approved, Dillon's 90-pound dorado will be the International Game Fish Association's all-tackle world record, breaking the old mark by 2 pounds. He used 80-pound test Trilene, so that, too, will set the IGFA's line-class world record for 80-pound test line, shattering that mark by 10 pounds. The big bull had a tail that measured 22 inches across. Its body was 68 inches long.

Doug Blodgett, the IGFA's world record administrator, said he is pulling for Dillon's record to be approved.

"I was excited when I heard the news of the catch," Blodgett said. "We've heard of dorado in the 90-pound range before, even a 125-pounder once, but the applications never materialized. I've spoken to Jim and let him know this as an important record."

Dillon actually was fishing for billfish and thought he'd hooked a sailfish. He was trolling a huge brown and orange jethead jig called a Petrolero. He had 250-pound leader attached to 80-pound test line loaded on a Penn 50SW and a rod custom-wrapped by Fred Gonzales of Chula Vista.

"I'm excited about the catch, but even more excited and happy for my captain and crew," Dillon said of Capt. Salvador Nuñez Ocampo, who runs Salvador's Sportfishing Charters on Dillon's El Budster, and first mate Jesus Zavala Soto.

Like many American fishermen who have boats in Baja, Dillon always took clothing and other items to help the less fortunate there. But Dillon took that to another level after starting and selling a number of business ventures, some good, some bad and, finally, one venture that made him wealthy.

He was a publisher once, and his list of publications included the San Diego Sports Digest and Chargers Football Weekly. He was part of Air Coryell's high-flying years in the early 1980s but then sold Chargers Football Weekly and returned to Cabo San Lucas. He caught so much fish he even started a smoked fish business there.

When he tired of that, Dillon returned to San Diego and started a pay phone operation in the late 1980s. But this wasn't any ordinary pay phone route.

"The thing I found out about phones is they multiply like rabbits," Dillon said.

Dillon started with "a few phones," and by 1998 he had 1,300 units in California, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico. When he finally sold it, the little phone business rang up a multimillion-dollar deal, giving Dillon the financial independence of a lottery winner.

He was set financially, but Dillon insists it didn't change him. He still mostly wears shorts and T-shirts, still drives his 1979 blue van, still looks like he just put a surf rod down at Pacific Beach. He left two things behind, however: cigarettes and liquor. But he still looks like a beachcomber.

These days, Dillon and his girlfriend, Lesley Sargent, spend much of their time helping others. Sargent runs a Dillon Foundation program called Canine Interaction. She takes dogs, such as their collie-mix, Buddy, to convalescent homes to visit lonely seniors and goes to hospitals to cheer up sick kids.

But that's just one of the charities in the Dillon Foundation. Part of the charter proceeds from Salvador's Sportfishing Charters on El Budster fund more causes. The Dillon Foundation helped a Cabo San Lucas family build its dream home, supplied a computer to a local elementary school, has donated hundreds of books to the Cabo San Lucas Library, provided food and clothing through the years and even a wheelchair for a single mother who was hit by a drunk driver in Cabo San Lucas and left a paraplegic. It also helped after the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.

Dillon was 12 when he lost his father, but he spent enough time around him to develop a fishing sense. His father took him fishing often.

His father's friend Jack Drown, who died a couple of years ago, helped him build a social conscience.

"Jack and his family played a major role in my development as a human being," Dillon said.

Today, Dillon calls his charity work his "magnificent obsession." And now he has a magnificent fish, a trophy dorado as a reward for his good will. Something for the wall.

 


© Copyright 2001 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.

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