Another Season is a six-part series piggybacking on my doorstop of an article, “The Season,” in the current issue of The Bight. If you love seabass fishing, have thought about a career in outdoor writing, or considered guiding for white seabass or anything exotic, these words should set you straight.
End of Offshore Season Ramblings
Bites and cycles like 2014/2015 get etched into Southern California lore. Catalina’s big bluefin of early last century; the 82/83 El Nino as a whole; the fatso albacore that showed up mid-channel in the mid 80s; the giant bluefin seiners got on above the Santa Rosa flats in the late-80s; the one-day range 100-plus-pound bluefin in the early 90s; the return of albacore in ’97 and the albacore/bluefin/fall yellowfin cycle that followed. The coastal white seabass fishing from 2010 to 2013 was certainly worthy of holding up the bookend on the modern side. Until this year…
My feelings on this offshore season include that many were enamored with it being “wide open,” “epic,” and the “best ever.”
Despite seeing the best in local tuna fishing, a lot of it got overhyped with tabloid speak.
Ask any local sportboat captain and they will probably say the same. Don’t get me wrong. There were incredible days and hits. It was great offshore fishing overall. The fact that within 10 miles of San Diego, Oceanside, and Dana Point we had such an incredible grade of tuna to work with puts this in the best-season-ever category. Cedros- and Benitos-caliber yellowtail fishing was always on offer in the kelp. Few cared that you could spend the day on the beach and hook at least a dozen big yellowtail.
Offshore fishing was so good—or perceived to be—that you could draw a guy a map to a wide open yellowtail fishing and he’d still go offshore. But, on any given weekend I think more private boaters missed than hit on the tuna. It wasn’t easy fishing. If it were, the term “parking lot” wouldn’t have been spawned this year. If there were enough to go around all season long, everyone would have just found their own schools. Everyone would have been too busy to yap on Channel 72.
My definitions of wide-open: you never get to backpedal the spool because every bait in the water is an instant bite; you know you are going to get limits before leaving the dock; every kelp is holding.
If you found the right school it was wide open, often for days on end in the same little postage stamp area.
But stopping the boat on something other than stopped boats and dry kelps was no easy feat, thanks to tuna that were not jig strike friendly. I never caught a tuna on a trolled lure this season.
After rapping up seabass season, I jumped into the offshore grind, running 72 out of 75 days. A lot of people say, “I don’t know how you do it?” when it comes to the night seabass game. But I feel like that applies more to the guys who fish offshore everyday from June to October, guys like Duane Diego and Jaime Thinnes. Up at 2 A.M., looking offshore most of the day, and then putting the brushes away at 8 P.M. That is way, way gnarlier than my April to July white seabass play. What makes my program gnarly is whipping into running a solid chunk of offshore trips after running seabass almost every night for three-and-a-half months. And then going right into lobster trips every night come the new moons in October, November, and December. But to make a living running a small charter boat you have to have more than just offshore trips and a few spring yellowtail trips in the books.
Anyone who dreams of guiding, or getting a little charter business going, should know going into it that there’s a difference between putting your buddies on fish and putting clients on fish. And it’s not the June-September season that makes your business. It’s putting together a solid April and early May to go along with getting at least a 30 trips off the docks come late-October/November. You have to be able charge more per person than most operations and still be able to get out 200 plus days a year. It is no easy feat. Can more than a handful pull that off?
While the small boat thing in California has caught on—almost now to the point of the Florida memories of my youth—it’s Thinnes who really made the mold when he started Seasons in 2007. Now there are new “operations” sprouting up all the time. With the type of fishing we’ve become accustomed to the last two years, anyone can catch offshore fish and even inshore yellowtail, like that winter stuff last season outside Box Canyon and on the 150. Fishing really has been easy. White seabass, on the other hand, were the hardest fish to catch this season. To think there was more wahoo caught than white seabass shows how fast we go from one cycle to the next.
Things will get back to normal and putting together a local day for a few yellowtail will become a big deal again.
In some sick way, I’m looking forward to when things get tougher, when catching yellows on the coast and at the islands actually means something again, when you have to know how to anchor or read a meter to make a catch.
It might not be next season, but it’s not always going to be this easy. Not that catching wahoo is an easy play.