Some 170 miles from San Diego, Excel skipper Shawn Steward located some unexpected schools of yellowfin tuna from 15 to over 50 pounds, two days after we left port at eight in the morning of June 5. The albacore season has been slow to get going this year, so we headed south. Steward said he’d like to look at the area where albacore often first appear, down toward Guadalupe Island.
Along the way on the first day of fishing, we stopped often at mats of floating kelp in the open, greenish water. These “kelp paddies” were often holding fish; small yellowtail of four to 12 pounds. We didn’t keep many of those, and after experiencing the same result multiple times, Steward ignored most paddies.
Trolling stops between kelps were also part of the experience, with the majority caused by schools of rampaging offshore bonito from four up to 16 or 18 pounds. The striped pirates were eager to bite on bait or jigs. Some of those were set into the “fresh” holds of refrigerated sea water, for eating later. Most of the bonito and small yellowtail were released. Even the crew talked about how many large bonito were around this year, and what it meant.
Second skipper Justin Fleck and Mike Dempsey show off a huge bonito.
The area holding the sweet grade of yellowfin tuna was different from most of the water we traveled through. It was clean, blue when the overcast let you see it, and warmer, right about 66 degrees. We were also looking for albacore, but saw little sign of longfin. The yellowfin were most welcome. While the schools weren’t inclined to stay with the boat for more than a couple of minutes, we found some exceptions. Those schools bit at a declining speed for several minutes; long enough to catch a couple of fish, for anglers who were quick.
Fishing with live sardines and iron jigs worked well on the biting schools. I got a brace of tuna that afternoon that weighed 43 and 45 pounds on Mario Ghio’s scales at Fisherman’s Landing at our return. I asked Mario to cut one and to smoke one for me. Fisherman’s Canning and Five Star Fish Processing were also there to meet us and assist anglers with the catch.
Bill Roecker's 43-pound yellowfin tuna bit on a sardine on a 5/0 ringed Eagle Claw hook by Burns.
We fished as a mixed group of anglers. Some had never been on a trip longer than one day; others were experienced anglers on fresh water. About a third of the 18 anglers aboard were experienced long rangers.
After the skipper’s introductory talk on safety and current conditions everyone was well-stocked by FishingVideos.com with fishing tackle for the five-day trip, with a new reel, two new rods and hooks, line, lures and various tackle and items given by Mustad, Accurate, Seeker, Tady Lures, Sumo Tackle and Captain P-Bod’s, Izorline, Zucker’s, Fish Trap and Burns Saltwater Tackle.
Most of the fish the newcomers caught came on the free items and their rental rods and reels. These anglers, particularly two groups from Montana and other out-of-state places, wanted to express their gratitude to the trip’s sponsors.
That day of yellowfin fishing produced the eventual jackpot winner for David Stanton of Chula Vista, who was fishing with his mother Dee Ann. Seeing that the tuna became wary or finicky after the first few moments of each bite, Stanton resorted to 20-pound line and a long, whippy rod, and was rewarded with an hour-long battle against uneven odds, but won out anyway with a 51.5-pound yellowfin. No doubt he heard from some about holding the boat up for the fight, because he didn’t try the 20-pound again on yellowfin.
David Santon won the jackpot for this 51-pound tuna--on 20-pound line!
Sarah Poole, owner Bill Poole’s daughter-in-law, was fishing with her father Mike Dempsey, and got one of those nicer tuna on a sardine under a balloon set up by Steward’s crew, which is another way to entice boat-shy or line-shy fish. Sarah had a great trip, and out fished most of us. She also took a very nice albacore on the last day of fishing.
Sarah Poole bagged some dandy fish, including this early-season albacore.
Flying close to the surface while performing high speed maneuvers, terns and shearwaters marked the schools of yellowfin. There were other birds out there on the open water: jaegers and adult and juvenile albatrosses, and a lost cattle egret flying around under the overcast skies. I got four tuna, dumped two and released one. Then I handed five more off to newbies; two made it to the boat.
Sea conditions were moderate and breezy, with some small wavelets or whitecaps. The swell crossed from the northwest and the southwest.
Skipper Steward made the decision that evening to give Guadalupe Island a try. Seeing those yellowfin up north so far so early could indicate that they might already be at the island, he thought, perhaps in even larger sizes. The place hadn’t been fished since last season, so the hog-sized yellowtail native there ought to be willing.
These big yellowtail came from the weather side of Guadalupe. Skipper Steward is at center.
Next morning we anchored off Pilot Rock Two, on the North End’s weather side. It was a bit sloppy, with the wind compacted there as it often is, and a tricky current that made anchoring difficult. Nevertheless, the big yellowtail were there, and ready to glom jigs yo-yoed up from the rocky bottom. We picked away at ‘em, and saw a few nice tuna leaping around.
Many of the yellowtail we hooked were over 40 pounds. Hooking and landing such beasts on iron was beyond our newer anglers. My own experience was a waking nightmare; I hooked and lost five big ‘tails. The first one rocked me before I could get him away from his front door, which was made out of rocks.
The second one came up two thirds of the way, and then found his second home, a pinnacle. I wound in badly frayed 40-pound line. Two more managed to pull out the treble hooks on my replacement jigs. The last one got off with a little help from my friends; another angler hooked my line with his jig, thought he was bit, and set on the fish.
When things like these happen I like to say I had the best part of him anyhow.
Later that morning skipper Shawn took us around to the lee side of the island, the sunny side. It was awe-inspiring to see the colors in the steep volcanic ridge of Guadalupe, red, brown, dusky yellow and black, the twisted layers rising over the blue pristine water. Hundreds of elephant seals lay on the few beaches made of fallen boulders and wave-pounded cobble, and Guadalupe fur seals were almost as thick in the water and atop big rocks on the shoreline.
We got small yellowtail and lots of bass at the first anchorage we tried, near Spanish Point. Someone, I think it may have been Chef Jason Fleck or his brother, second skipper Justin, hooked a very big yellowtail on a surface jig. We saw tuna in our chum, but got no biters. Motoring down the island, we stopped twice more for less action, and before we got to Boxing Glove, Steward turned the boat around, not liking the look of the water down that way.
David Stanton took a big yellowtail at Guadalupe Island on a sardine.
“It’s all torn up,” he remarked. You could see the lines from some sort of mixing down that way, running at the surface in a crazed pattern
We got all the way back up to Pilot Rock, which we’d passed by earlier because there were two pangas carrying three men each parked there, probably urchin or abalone fishermen, diving with an air supply from the skiffs. I couldn’t help but think about diving in waters with white sharks known to attack seals, and people. We never saw Whitey, this time.
Anchoring again, we started to fish, encouraged by some tuna cavorting around, and a few big yellowtail splashed in the big circle we left coming in. I tried a sardine on 30-pound line with a fluorocarbon leader. The bait swam strongly, and 40 yards out an impressive tuna took it. The fish ripped off my 100-yard topshot in a trice, and then took half my Spectra backing, headed straight for the deeps, before I stopped it by pushing the lever drag on my Accurate 870 past the strike detent.
I worked the tuna back toward the boat over the next 15 minutes. About 100 feet away, the line broke.
“I should have backed the drag off again,” I muttered, after a couple of less appropriate remarks.
Experienced angler Phil Hall of Escondido hung a monster on his iron jig next, and it tore off and down, straightening out the treble hooks on his green and yellow enticement. He and I commiserated. Another angler hooked, landed and released a black sea bass of 60 or 80 pounds. I didn’t see it, but my cameraman got the catch and release.
Hell came uncorked next, as the biggest rock fall I’ve ever seen took place just a couple of hundred yards away. With a loud crack, a huge rock up near the top of the island, several hundred feet up, departed from the cliffs and fell down to the beach not far from where the Mexican panga anglers had been fishing.
A tremendous rock fall came down at Excel's Pilot Rock anchorage, lasting for minutes.
The rock fall rumbled louder and louder as it dislodged other rocks and they in turn brought more, until boulders, rocks, stones and dirt poured like a waterfall down the vertical face onto the beach and into the water. We got it all on digital television tape and still camera shots.
The noise was tremendous, and the curtain of dust looked like something only a very large bomb could raise, spreading and rising and pushed back up the cliff by the wind. This did not seem to encourage the bite.
Not long after that we went back around the point and tried Elephant Rock and Pilot Two again for yellowtail in the gray light of late afternoon under the cloud layer of the weather side. The big yellows were still there, and still willing. We caught ten or a dozen, along with some smaller fish. The big slugs looked to be 40 to 50 pounds, but we lost many more than we got aboard. We fished ‘em until darkness closed us out.
Jim Golinski and Michael Walton pose with whopper yellows from a dusk bite at Guadalupe Island.
Skipper Steward had to decide whether we should stay the night and fish until late morning. He got word that afternoon from the Red Rooster III and skipper Julio Ochoa of biting albacore. Julio’s anglers, fishing on a day and a half trip, had 98 longfin before sunset that day, and that made the decision easier. We headed north.
Crewman and technician Mike Ramirez bailed me out twice during the trip, when fishing with a remote mike on my lapel resulted in breaking its permanent wire connector. Mike remade the tricky connection in the ultra-thin co-ax cable and got me back in biz. A guy like that is a good thing to have on a boat.
In the morning we turned in toward Baja, as we got word from another boat of larger albacore encountered in a closer area. Bluefin had also been seen there, so that was now our destination.
We saw a lot of tuna. Schools of bluefin popped up all day, marked by birds, and then go down again before we could reach them. They’d come under the boat after we got to them, but the frustrating rascals wouldn’t bite. Shawn found albacore marks with his electronics, and the albies did the same; skedaddled, or just sulked down where we could see ‘em on the meter, lock jawed. We heard that the hot albacore area up above was equally locked up.
An hour before sunset on our last day of fishing, we found the right school. Bluefin charged the boat, leaping for sardines. My assistant and I shot that action from the get-go, as anglers connected with the tuna; one camera on the upper deck and the other down on the stern in the middle of the action. Several tuna were boated. After the first ten minutes I put the HD camcorder down and went to fishing.
David Ueame and Excel deckhand Oscar with one bluefin that didn't boogie off into the sunset.
The bite had slacked off to a pick, but you could still get bit by bluefin hanging around the boat, but not close. I found a 30-pounder, and nursed him up to gaff with that same 30-pound line.
“Bring the stick!” I hollered when I had the fish temporarily awash, flanks gleaming with that dark bronze bluefin show when they’re excited. That’s when the 25-pound fluorocarbon leader popped off at the hook.
I was so excited I tangle-knotted my next attempted rigging and had to cut it off and start again. Dusk was coming, and the bluefin bite had greatly slowed. I cast a new bait, but it wouldn’t swim for me and I got another, then another. The last sardine took off in the proper way, out and away, and I followed it around the corner and up the side to the bait tanks at mid-afterdeck.
People started whooping up toward the bow, and I could see a bent rod up that way. Then Sarah Poole hung a fish amidships. She brought it in, and I heard the cry, “Albacore!” as another rod bent in a continuing ripple down the side.
I felt a thump, my line began to run, and I pushed my lever drag to the strike position. A satisfying weight came on and the fish began to run. It ran straight back up into the wind. It stopped, but it didn’t go down, just dogged away near the surface out there.
Moments later, I wound it in, threshing at the surface in the oncoming swells, tail-wrapped. The long pectoral fin on its left side appeared to be waving in the breeze. A gaffing by crewman Joe Crisci, and I had my first albacore of the season.
Bill Roecker went through some fish and some tackle to get his first albie of the season.
The day ended soon, along with our time to fish. Captain Steward served us that night for the traditional prime rib to order last dinner, with a delicious spinach, candied walnut and feta cheese salad, hot fresh bread and baked potatoes with chives and sour cream, and a dandy cheesecake for desert.
“We did alright,” said Shawn after his pre-dinner talk to the anglers. “We got those big Guadalupe yellowtail, almost a hundred yellowfin tuna, seven albacore, five bluefin and we released I don’t know how many bonito and small yellows. Not bad for 18 anglers at a time when fishing’s not easy. We saw the island and the rock fall and released a black sea bass. We pieced together a trip.”
We gave him a round of applause.
Excel's jackpot winners with excellent fish for early in June.
In the morning the fish were unloaded at Fisherman’s Landing. The big ones were weighed, and David Stanton of Chula Vista had the heaviest; that 51.5-pound yellowfin tuna he caught with his 20-pound rig. Michael Walton of Warrenton, PA was second, for his 48.7-pound yellowtail, and Jim Gokinski North Olmsted, OH won third place for his 46.6-pound Guadalupe homeguard yellowtail.
Everything Starts Biting
How do they know? How do the fish at Cabo San Lucas, East Cape, Alijos Rocks, Guadalupe Island and the open water between those places and San Diego know it’s time to start biting? And where can I get one of those fish clocks?
Somehow they do, because that’s seems to be what’s shaping up over the past few days. Yesterday, June 10, Buzz Brizendine and his Prowler fishermen found some bluefin schools about 40 miles from San Diego. Like everyone else, he chased ‘em all day for a few fish. At 11 a.m., he found a breezer. No birds on it, the fish were just under the surface, but it was a school that wanted to chew sardines, and his anglers got over a hundred out of the one bite.
“They were coming right up to the boat,” said Buzz at Fisherman’s Landing the next morning. “They bit on jigs and bait and they came within ten feet of the boat. We had a number of first timers with rental rods aboard and they could all catch ‘em. It was a nice grade of fish, 25 to 40 pounds, and they just exploded on the corner.”
Prowler owner-operator Buzz Brizendine found a breezer of willing bluefin only 40 miles out.
The bite was still going on the next day, as the Condor, also on a day and a half trip, reported 35 bluefin aboard by eight a.m.
Private boaters, day boats, half-day boats and anglers fishing in Mexico all reported quickly improving fishing. This is no prediction of success for anyone, but it looks like it’s definitely time to dust off that tackle box.
Good Eight-Day Trip
Independence arrived under skipper Jeff DuBuy’s hand at Pt. Loma Sportfishing June 11 after an eight-day Fisherman’s Hardware of Huntington Beach charter loaded with 30 anglers and a good catch of tuna and yellowtail.
The tuna were from three and a half days at Alijos Rocks. “A couple of those days were real good,” said Jeff. “We had excellent weather, and a nice grade of tuna there; from 30 to 60 pounds on the average. The water was 67.5 degrees.”
Second skipper “Rooster” Kyle Karcher said the group also fished at Benitos for a day on the way back, finding 15 to 20-pound yellowtail under birds schools in the strait between Benitos and Cedros Island.
Ying Lee of Diamond Bar won first place for a 91.4-pound yellowfin tuna. He said he bagged it with a sardine on a 4/0 Hayabusa hook, with 30-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader, 30-pound Izorline XXX and 50-pound Power Pro Spectra backing on a Trinidad 16 reel and a GRUSA 80 Megamag rod. The fish fought for an hour and 15 minutes on the long rod.
“The crew was fabulous,” said Lee. “It was a miracle to get that one to gaff. I had to thumb the spool to stop him.”
Indy's jackpot winners show off their Alijos Rocks yellowfin tuna and an amberjack for variety.
Pete Vitkus of Lake Wholford won second place for a 62.6-pounder, and Alex Mobile of Long Beach was third, for a 56.5-pound yellowfin tuna.
“Big” Russ Rihel of Wilmington jigged up a 46-pound amberjack on a Salas 6X Jr. iron in mint green and white finish. He posed with the jackpot winners.
The Indy also brought back an archival tag, passed on to Ed Everett of the IATCC for analysis. Ed said the tag would reveal dept, position, body and sea temperatures during the time it was sewn into the belly of a tuna, possibly not long ago at Clarion Island, during the Royal Star’s tagging trip.
This archival tag was removed from a tuna at Alijos Rocks. It may be from Clarion Island.
“The tag and wound looked pretty fresh,” said Ed.
Two dorado were also caught at Alijos Rocks.