I still remember going out on my first overnighter like it was yesterday. When I was 12 years old, my father booked us two tickets on an overnight fishing trip out of Newport Beach, which gave me a perception of the type of fishing and species that lay beyond the coastal waters of Southern California. Since then, we have ventured on many overnight and longer trips, but that first trip with my father is nevertheless a core memory in my childhood and ultimately ignited my passion for saltwater fishing. Fast forward to today, there are plentiful opportunities that are in reach for Southern California anglers heading out on overnight and multiple day trips. From schools of hungry yellowfin tuna, to giant swarms of acrobatic dorado, and the most recent visitors to our waters, the giant bluefin tuna; the options are vast for those who wish to set off. A variety of species can be encountered on these shorter trips, resulting in various rod and reel setups and tackle bag items needed to be prepared. This tackle checklist for overnight & multi-day trips will outline the ideal tackle to bring aboard your next trip; though it is always good to keep up to date on the Southern California Bight scene as this will give you the best idea of the premier tools for the job.
Rod and Reel Setups
20lb Setup – The first setup you will want to bring aboard any overnight or multi-day trip is a lighter 20-pound live bait setup. When stopping on kelp paddies or schools of tuna, this setup is frequently grabbed from the rack to fly line live sardines for football size yellowfin, smaller yellowtail, and dorado. Under slow fishing conditions when fish are line shy, using a lighter combo with lighter line can help trigger a bite. Utilizing lighter line in the right circumstances, aids in the bait being able to swim freely away from the boat resulting in a bent rod and line peeling off the reel. For the reel, I like to use an Avet SX loaded with 50lb braid and tie on a few feet of 20lb fluorocarbon leader. If I need to switch things up depending on the conditions, I will either move down to a 15lb leader or jump up to a 25lb leader with this setup. Other reels like the Penn Fathom Star Drag 12 or 15, Shimano Torium 14, or the Daiwa Saltist 15H are great options for this setup. In terms of rods for this application, I personally like to use an 8-foot Seeker 270 which has a nice whippy tip to cast sardines out away from the boat. Any lighter rod in the 15-30lb class that is at least 8 feet paired with a small star drag or lever drag reel will cover your needs for light live bait fishing on party boats.
30 to 40lb Setup – If you could only bring one fishing setup, a rod and reel combo capable of fishing 30lb and 40lb is it. While you could bring separate setups to fish 30lb and 40lb, fishing braid with an appropriately sized combo can tackle both line classes. This setup is usually a starting point when live bait fishing for smaller bluefin and moderate sized pelagic fish in our waters. The combo used to fish 30-40lb line that comes aboard with me is an Avet MXL 6/4 Raptor paired with a Cousins GC 80H rated 30-50lb. The reel provides plenty of 50lb braid capacity and being a 2-speed reel is a bonus. Other great reels for this application are the Penn Fathom 25 Narrow Lever Drag 2 speed, and if you like to fish star drags, the Shimano Torium or Trinidad 16 will get the job done. Like most bait rods, a length of 8 feet is preferred for casting and the Cousins GC 80H fits that bill; all while providing substantially more backbone than the 20lb rod mentioned above. While Cousins rods are unfortunately no longer made, Seeker and Calstar both make exceptional rods for this outfit such as the Seeker 6480 and Calstar 800M. As mentioned above, this setup is the one to have on the boat so do not leave home without it.
Read Next: Nighttime Fishing for Bluefin Tuna
When fishing a mixed grade school of bluefin, a 50-60 pound setup to fish bait or a coltsniper style jig will (most often times) be sufficient to hook and land bluefin upwards of 100 pounds.
50 to 60lb Setup – As we move down the list of fishing setups, the line gets heavier along with the fish. With the mass of bluefin tuna in our waters, a rod and reel to fish 50lb or 60lb is essential. You will find yourself using this setup primarily to fish the sinker rig on overnight and multi-day trips, but it can also be used as a Yo-Yo Iron Setup. Since casting is not involved when fishing the sinker rig or a yo-yo iron for that matter, a shorter stout rod is preferred for increased lifting power on heavier fish. My personal setup is a Super Seeker 6470H, a 7-foot graphite and S-Glass composite rod rated 40-60lb paired with an Avet LX 6/3 Raptor which is filled with 65lb braid. When fishing the sinker rig or yo-yo iron, I will run a short 25-yard top shot of either 50lb or 60lb mono. If fluorocarbon is needed, a few feet can be tied to the end of the mono leader. A 2-speed reel works wonder for these situations, as being able to drop down into the lower gear can help winch in tuna towards the end of the fight when you are running on fumes. Another reel, which is a very popular reel for its performance and affordability, is the Penn Fathom 40NLD2 and is an excellent choice when picking out a reel for this application.
80 to 100lb Setup – With the giant bluefin tuna upwards of 300 pounds and above off our coast, a heavy setup to fish 80lb and even 100lb is required if you want to catch a fish of a lifetime. Heavy flat-falls and knife jigs are predominately tied onto the end of this setup during night time and early morning fishing for bluefin. When fishing heavier 200-to-500-gram jigs and the possibility of being on the other end of a giant, a heavy rail rod is favored by overnight and multi-day anglers. For this application, I like to use a Seeker OSP-2X4 which is a 7’3” rail rod and a line rating of 80-130lb. The long indestructible foregrip on this rod can withstand any beating it takes when fished the rail. The rail is your friend when fighting these bigger fish on a party boat, and an appropriate rod is essential in taking advantage of this long-range technique. To go with a solid rail rod is a larger 2 speed reel with plenty of line capacity, as larger tuna will be schooled up deep below the boat gorging themselves with bait in the early hours of the day. I like to run 100lb metered multi colored braid with a 25-yard top shot of 100lb mono on an Avet HXW 5/2 Raptor when fishing the night time jigs. The metered braid is very helpful to know if I am at the correct depth the captain is marking fish at. As the old saying goes don’t bring a knife to a gun fight, and this is especially true when the bigger bluefin are around.
Jigstick – Can’t leave home without bringing a long rod to fish surface irons, poppers, and other jigs. I always bring a jigstick on every overnight and multi-day trip as hooking into good grade fish on artificials is thrilling. Fishing a longer rod like the Seeker Ulua 93H, United Composites RGP 900 9E, and the Calstar 90J / 100J are vital on cattle boats in order to maximize casting distance. When fishing the surface iron, an open-faced star drag reel is preferred as they offer excellent free spool and good line capacity. Popular reels used for surface iron fishing here in Southern California include the Penn Fathom 25N Star Drag, Shimano Torium and Trinidad 20, and the Daiwa Saltiga 40HA Star Drag. If fishing poppers and colt snipers I prefer to use a large baitcaster like the Shimano Tranx 500HG. The benefit of using a large baitcaster is being able to focus and provide proper action to the popper or colt sniper while not worrying about winding the line evenly on the reel.
Tackle Bag Items
Sinkers – Whether you need to rig up a small egg sinker or tie on a larger 16 oz torpedo sinker, packing an assortment of types of weights and different sizes is a must for any trip. For all trips, I like to pack my bag with smaller 1/2 oz and 1 oz egg sinkers, as well as torpedo sinkers from 4 oz and up to 16 oz. If I know there is a possibility of targeting bottom fish during the trip, I will also throw in a few heavier 24 oz torpedo sinkers. Primary pelagic targets such as yellowtail and tuna may be feeding deeper in the water column, thus having an appropriate sized sinker dependent on current gives you the ability to present your bait where the fish are. To go along with sinkers, it is also essential to throw a pack of rubber bands into your tackle bag for fishing the sinker rig. A rubber band is used to connect the torpedo sinker to your main line forming a no knot connection, and makes removing the sinker from your line effortless (i.e., cut the rubber band) in the event you need to quickly fly line a live bait. As of late, the sinker rig has been an effective and go to style of fishing for bluefin tuna in Southern California.
Rubber banded sinker rigs are an extremely effective way to target bluefin at times when it might be tough to get bit on the flyline.
Hooks – Like sinkers, you will also want to have a variety of hook sizes in your tackle bag. Live bait varies in size, from small sardines to larger mackerel, and matching hook size to bait size is of utmost importance. When fishing live bait, I prefer to use circle hooks and load my bag with 1/0 to 5/0 size circle hooks. There is an abundance of brands of hooks that work exceptional, but I prefer to fish the Mustad Demon Perfect Circle 3X Strong Hooks when fishing live bait. It is also good to have J hooks in the tackle bag so I will throw in packs of smaller 1/0 and 2/0 Mustad O’Shaughnessy hooks.
Assorted mustad demon perfect cirlce 3X strong hooks.
Fluorocarbon / Monofilament Line – Some days the fish are chewing the paint off the boat where line size is not significant and there are days when dropping down in line size can trigger a bite. Having a wide range of line sizes can help tackle these various scenarios. Like most anglers, I load up all my reels with braided line since it is superior to mono when it comes to capacity due to its thinner diameter. From there, I will either tie on a short top shot of mono or a few feet of fluorocarbon dependent upon the situation. For trips, I will bring along 25-yard spools of Seaguar fluorocarbon in line sizes 20lb, 30lb, 40lb, 50lb, 60lb, and 80lb. Monofilament line also has its advantages by having more stretch over fluorocarbon so it is important to pack a few smaller spools of mono. When fishing jigs like surface irons or heavy jigs, mono is usually preferred as these artificials trigger reaction type bites where less visible fluorocarbon is not as critical. Also, when fishing is wide open and re-tying is required due to damaged or frayed line, mono is better utilized as it is easier on the wallet than continuing to tie on leaders of expensive fluorocarbon.
Surface Lures and Heavy Jigs – To go along with your jigstick and night time bluefin setup, is a few tackle boxes full of assorted surface lures and heavy jigs. In regards to surface lures, I like to load a couple trays with light irons in various sizes and colors, as well as a couple poppers. There are copious amounts of surface irons in different shapes and sizes on the market, but the ones I tend to fish the most are the JRI-7, JRI-3, Kicker 25, and the Tady 45. As far as colors go, I have had the most success with the popular blue/white, mint, mint/white, and scrambled egg patterns. Heavy night time jigs, which make up the flat-falls and knife jigs are must pack items if fishing the dark for bluefin tuna. Packing a few different sizes is a good idea, as in certain situations a smaller or larger jig will produce more consistently. You will also want to swap out the stock hooks on these types of jigs, as it is no surprise that these angry bluefin will straighten out the hooks or bite through the thin assist cord. There are numerous ways to re-rig a flat-fall or knife jig but at the very least, upgrade to stronger assist hooks, a large circle hook, or a combination of these. Check out your local tackle shop as most of them will carry pre-rigged leaders making it easy to swap out. Other great lures to bring on overnight trips are heavy yo-yo irons and colt snipers. When the hoards of yellowfin tuna invade Southern California waters in the Fall, one of my favorite ways to fish from them from a party boat is with a colt sniper. Simply cast it out, let it sink and then wind until bit. A lot of times they will also engulf it on the sink, so be prepared to bump the reel into gear and turn the handle. Like flat-falls and knife jigs, it is best to swap out the stock hooks on colt snipers for either a stronger treble or single hook.
The next time you are preparing to head out on an overnight or multi-day trip, use this list of rod and reel setups as well as tackle items to bring aboard. As anglers in this day of age in Southern California we are fortunate with all the various species we can encounter on these trips, which results in the vast amount of tackle needed to be successful. It is always a good idea to call and check in with the landing on what to bring, as they are in communication with captains and deckhands who are out fishing on the water every day.
Watch Video: Vertical Jigging for Bluefin Tuna