We put up a forum post a bit back, asking our readers what kind of stuff they wanted to hear about in this column. The responses varied quite a bit. I got a lot of requests for sword stuff, SST chart reading, tips and techniques, etc. Here is one of my favorites: “We hear about all the glory and good fishing, what about the stress on home and family life?” I can’t wait to write about that one.
But for now I think I will write about tips, techniques and strategy while you can use it during the season. I’ll write about the old days when we are all bored outta our minds in the wintertime.
Several guys asked for some thoughts about fishing out of small boats and that seems like a good place to start.
In a season like this one, I keep as many options open as possible — anything to make your trip a success. I can’t tell you how many seasons we couldn’t find our target species so we shifted gears and fished for something else. A lot of the areas I fish, even to this day, are places I stumbled on during “strange” seasons — some more than 30 years ago. It is never a good idea to try new styles or techniques when the fishing is slow but I gotta say, never give up trying new techniques or ideas. This last year made a believer — again. In fact, that reminds me of a story.
Late in the season back in 1984 the albacore were just about gone. They had gotten a pretty big tail in the last week and were moving northwest at a good clip. It looked like the season was coming to an end. We had been trolling really well all season and had been stopped better than the bulk of the fleet. This day, however, was different. I was marking fish but wasn’t getting any bites. Nobody was. I stopped on several good marks and threw bait but recorded no bites and no boils.
About halfway through the day one of the charter guests comes up to the bridge with a lure and asks me to put it out. I kid you not — it was a Bagley O bass lure in a rainbow trout color — the one with the big huge belly and an enormous lip. I tried not to laugh him off the bridge.
About an hour later he comes back up with the same request. After about his fifth time I yell down to George, “Here put this thing out.” I think I even kicked it up 100 rpm so the stupid thing would really look like hell. When my mate put it out, the rod would load up and the foolish lure would whip out of the water, cartwheeling across the surface and dig back in, just as I had planned. The first couple of times I think George even ducked. After about the tenth aerial event, something ate it upon re-entry — an albacore. (I think that may have been when I took a firm hold of one of my favorite sayings… “You’ve GOT to be kidding me!”)
And so it went for the remainder of the afternoon. Put the thing out, cartwheels, duck a few times and zzzzzzzzzzzzz — we’re on!
I think we caught something like 15 on it before we lost the lure during one of its acrobatic displays. Thank God. Anyway, we got almost no tip that day and dirty looks all around for not putting that lure out sooner.
As soon as we got in I ran to Big 5 and bought several. I still have one on the wall of my garage. Now I’m not saying to go buy one of these lures and put it out. It’s just a reminder to keep an open mind. I bet you money that a mini dredge would be deadly on tunas.
Getting back on track… The first thing you want to find out is the time of day that your target species bites best and plan on being in the “zone” at that time. Then you can concentrate the rest of the day on other species.
Say you’re fishing for bluefin down the beach and it’s an early bite. After the bite is over, you could troll your way into the beach and dropper-loop some rockpiles for shallow-water cod, drift for halibut or sea bass or pull some Rapalas for yellows — there are so many variables. I’ve had a blast fishing all the stones down the beach and have rarely, if ever, been disappointed.
If the 182, or 302 has been biting then check out the Coronados, Tijuana Kelp just outside the bullring or the bluff just south of there on the way home. All of these spots are great areas to drift for halibut, sea bass and bass. Any hard bottom with kelp stringers or bait on it will produce.
If you are fishing the Butterfly or the 43, you could slide into San Clemente Island and look for yellows, fish shallow-water cod (when in season) or throw some swimbaits or iron at calicos. If fishing the islands doesn’t interest you, put out two marlin lures and two jets and fish all of the banks on the way home.
My basic trolling pattern on a small boat would include some type of Rapala lure short, then a couple of jets in your favorite colors.
Year after year, the amount of fish that pile on this simple pattern still surprises me.
If you are going offshore for albacore, tuna or paddy hoppin’ I would always have at least one 3.5 Zuker in Mackerel Color or Mean Joe Green. Fish it on a 30-pound rod or heavier. I would fish the lure with a single hook and 15 feet of 200-pound leader. Run it 40 feet or so behind the boat. You want it popping and smoking the whole time. You never know what will pile on this lure, everything from albacore, bluefin, yellowfin, dorado, yellowtail and of course any marlin that are around will happily suck down this lure.
Zukers also makes a Wahoo Tuna feather that you can pull late in the afternoons and pick off bigeyes even if not many are around (try the northwest corner of the 371 just before dark or the 302).
If you want to cover more ground because the area you are in looks dead, put out two 3.5 Zukers and wind in everything else except maybe a couple of jets out long. These lures fish great at 10 knots and beyond. One year on Wayne Chambers’ Little Lady, Marc Muller put one out at 17.5 knots coming home from a trip to Jeronimo Island and we caught a striped marlin — even at that speed.
Fish All Hours
I think my number one recommendation would be to slow down and keep something in the water at all times. I always have a bait or lure in the water after 4 a.m. and I’ve caught a lot of bigeye and albacore tuna in the complete dark. The first time we caught any numbers of albacore in the pitch black I was commercial fishing with Jock Albright on his boat, Ranger, in 1977.
I had accidentally left a black-and-purple jap head out long and I heard the clip snap on the bite. I pulled in a 20-pound albacore — it was 11 p.m. I put the lure back out and caught five more before midnight. Since then I have stopped the boat a number of times running 5 to 6 knots in the dark. Some of them turned into screamers. On Ken Matney’s Unreel, we were done before daylight on jig strikes that stopped the boat at 3 and 4 a.m. two days in a row.
These are just a couple of tricks to keep in mind on your next trip. You always want to find a few fish to pull on, so remember to do all of your homework the night before a trip. Call your buddies, read the websites (only use the info you trust such as that found on www.fishdope.com), and look at all the SST info. I would jot down any breaks that look good between where you are going and your homeport. Note where the edge starts, where it bends and where it ends. Look at the where the edge crosses the banks. If you can, be at the break where it crosses a bank at prime time (slack tide). If you can, get there a little early and scope it out. Look for kelp paddies, breaks, bait, birds, etc.
Fish the area until a little after the tide and then keep trolling your way home. I know bait capacity is limited on most boats but if at all possible keep a mackerel or two in your tanks whenever you can. You might spot a few nice ones to cast a bait at.