Royal Star doesn’t make many trips of only a day and a half, so when the opportunity came for Paul Sweeney and I to step aboard for a shot at early season albacore and bluefin tuna, we got to the dock a couple of hours early. Nearly everyone was already aboard, including our skipper Brian Sims and his crew.
It seemed odd to pull away from the dock at seven in the evening, with the sun shining. The boys had the boat already baited up with full tanks of mixed sardines and anchovies, so we felt well stocked with finbait ammo. Skipper Sims gave us the orientation lecture after we’d eaten our supper sandwiches and were clear of Point Loma. He said boats fishing that afternoon had some success at about 90 miles. That’s where he wanted to start our day’s fishing.
Royal Star loafed downhill all night. The boat seems quieter than I remembered, which may have something to do with the many recent improvements made over the spring downtime for boat work. Owner-operator Tim Ekstrom told me on the dock before we left that he and Randy Toussaint had replaced, rebuilt or restored virtually everything on the boat in the time since they’d bought it. That included the engines, generators, water-making and electrical systems, refrigeration, fish holds, etc.
“We’ve replaced virtually all the boat’s machinery,” he said. “After a boat’s built and been running for a while you learn what needs to be done.”
When first light came we began to troll the albacore jigs. The sea was ruffled, with a three to four-foot swell from the northwest. The morning water temperature was 64.5 degrees, making for excellent conditions.
Our first two stops came on meter marks that produced bluefin tuna. The first stop brought a first-ever bluefin for two young ladies on their first ride aboard a long ranger. The girls were out with dad, Steve Rodriquez of Alta Loma. Madison Rodriquez, 11, and her big sister Abby, 13, reeled in a brace of bluefin of 23 and 25 pounds, weighed on the ship’s big scales.
“Mine was really heavy,” said Madison. “He went down and stayed there for a really long time. He was a very pretty color, just beautiful.”
Madison goes to Banyan Elementary School in Alta Loma.
Abby said her 25-pound shortfin “…was tiring to reel in. I had a loose drag, so we tightened it up. He went straight out.”
Abby will be a freshman at Los Osos High School this fall, where she wants to play second base in softball.
The two girls got their bluefin with seven-foot Shimano spinning outfits, rigs Steve had bought to help them learn to fish, not a bad idea for starts, as they say. Later in the afternoon dad got his recognition for the trip’s best albie, a 24-pounder. Rodriguez owns Steve’s Professional Glass Tinting in Upland.
We spent the morning in run and gun fashion, trolling from one stop to another, for one or two fish at a stop. As the day went on, we saw more albacore and bluefin schools at the surface, jumping and puddling on the tiny bait that always makes fishing tough in the early season. Whether you call them noseeums or two eyes and a wiggle, those one to two-inch baitfish get all the attention of the arriving gamefish.
Tuna eating little mackerel or sardines, saury or anchovies of that size aren’t really tuned in to the sardines and medium to large anchovies of the sort most commonly available to sportboats. Some of us tried small silver lures or plastic baits, but I didn’t see much caught with artificials.
Albacore will bite trolled jigs even when they’re eating fish not much bigger than krill, however, and we kept busy most of the morning, picking away with our Zuker’s and cedar plugs. I saw albacore caught on the skirted jigs in green and black, zuchinni and black and purple colors; the standard stuff for trolling.
Thanks to Bill Miagawa at Zuker’s, we gave the boat a couple of new jigs, and I saw those produce later. Thanks also go to Mustad, for the small packages of hooks and baitmakers we gave all passengers, along with a calendar.
We saw very few kelp paddies in the area. At mid-morning we found one that wasn’t large, smaller than a piano, but it was holding yellowtail. Anglers picked off eight or ten of those. They were paddy yellows, all right, about six or eight pounds, but one was the real deal, a solid 21-pounder caught by Brian Verzella of Encinitas.
The day came on cloudy and cool, with a light breeze. Late in the morning we had a stop that produced six bluefin. None of them were mine. I was having One Of Those Days. Snakebit, the best feat I could manage all day was to feel a bite, and reel in a sardine with a crushed head. I tried all my stealth tricks, being first into the water, using light gear, fluorocarbon, ringed hooks, trying different sized baits, etc.
We ate a nice lunch featuring a chicken wrap, caught a few more albacore and bluefin on brief stops, and went into the afternoon doldrums, looking but not finding. The area we fished was holding fish, we knew, because we could see five seiners and half a dozen San Diego sportboats. Some of the seiners were working, with half-hauled nets hanging as though they were waiting for the pen boat. A couple of aircraft were flying around nearby, indicating the presence of bluefin. At the end of the day we could see two high-winged airplanes and two orange helicopters circling near the little seiner fleet.
Around four in the afternoon fishing began to pick up again. We had a stop for six bluefin, and several more albacore stops. We drew a few blanks, of course, stopping on marks or schools of jumpers that flat wouldn’t play with us at all.
I saw two schools notable for their size. The first one was a bunch of bluefin about a hundred yards square, swirling and jumping right up to the point the boat was 30 feet off. They sank out, and as we flylined our baits out, reappeared 200 yards behind us, fooling about at the surface again.
Then we saw a school of albacore in the hour or two of sunlight we got near the day’s end. It was as large as any I’ve seen, about 200 yards long and 100 yards wide. I don’t know how deep it was, but everywhere I looked I could see flashing sides under the jumpers. Some of those sides looked too big to be albacore, but they had to be albies because of the bright silver finish shining through the pristine water, so blue it was almost purple. The water temperature had climbed to 65.5 degrees.
We got four or five fish off that school. Then, just before seven p.m., skipper Sims found a school of longfin that bit for several minutes. It was like the evening rush hour for the fish. Most of our 22 passengers were hooked up at once. Even the cursed sportswriter found an acorn, a 16-pound albacore that snapped on a big anchovy and then tussled on 25-pound line for five minutes. My reel seat was loose, I noticed as the reel clunked back and forth. I couldn’t do much about it while I was in the middle of the fight, but I tried to tighten it between cranks and lifts.
Second skipper Greg Tanji came to my rescue, and cranked down on the tightening bands. I was able to finish the fight shortly after, and Tanji gaffed my fish. The albacore were still biting in the most prolonged event of the day, and before it was over we got a dozen on the deck. I put out a sardine, and immediately got another strike, right under the center of the stern.
But that was the end of that bite, so we moved on. Fifteen minutes later were found another bunch that bit and stayed a few moments, and I caught my second albie of the day. I was so relieved I only fished one more stop. It was nearing sunset. I broke my gear down while I still had good light. then we enjoyed a super dinner of roast pork loin with fresh-baked bread and dinner salad.
Sims fished on until complete darkness, and we got several more albacore, but the day was basically finished for making a catch. We had over 80 fish for the day, one of the best so far this year. Some of the other boats we fished with may have done as well or better.
The two girls, Abby and Madison, won the prizes we put up for the first albacore and the first bluefin. Nice guy and vetranarian Bob Thayer of Nuevo won the jackpot for a the day’s best bluefin, a 27-pounder.
Partner Paul Sweeney and I would like to thank Royal Star and her crew, who served long, hard and well during on of the year’s longest days, when we fished from sunup to sundown. Skipper Brian Sims, deckhands Greg Tanji, Blake Wasano, Steve Gregonis, Issac Sullen and chefs Drew Rivera and Jeff Grant did us right. We got some great HD video and some very nice still photos, a few of which will go out with this story.
To sum things up, I was much encouraged by what I saw on the water. There are a lot of fish out there, both bluefin and albacore. They’ll be drawing close enough for the dayfleet sooner rather than later, I think. According to the skippers I’ve talked with in the past few days, the fish are moving northward.
The way the fish bit at day’s end made me think we’ll be able to catch them, as they move off the tiny bait of spring and feed on larger sardines and anchovies as summer progresses. Keep your hooks and your reflexes sharp, and you’ll get your share of the summer tuna fishing.
Captains Tim Ekstrom, Randy Toussaint and Brian Sims
(619) 224-4764 - Fisherman’s Landing