Trip Report -1.5 Day Offshore On The Thunderbird

I talked last week about how this late-season tuna bite had me re-thinking my November fishing plans.  Typically, this time of year, I’d be making the road trip north to the Bay Area for a rockfish/Dungeness crab combo trip (right).

I hadn’t gotten a bluefin this year though, and the opportunity looked more than worth the effort.

So change of plans…

Trip Report – 1.5 On The Thunderbird

Last Wednesday (Nov. 6th), I boarded the Thunderbird out of Newport Landing in Newport Beach, CA.  Not to be confused with the T-Bird that I rode a couple of weeks ago out of Point Loma Sportfishing, the Thunderbird is the new, bigger boat that replaced the old one now running out of San Diego.

On their trip immediately before ours, the boat landed 38 bluefin up to over 100-pounds.  Capt. Jeff Markland shared with me that those 38 fish came on over 80 hookups.  The high casualty rate was due to the fact that the fish only wanted to bite the flyline sardine on 25# or 30# test line.  That being the case, I rigged up a 25#, 30# and 40# bait setups, a long rod to throw the colt sniper, and a heavy set up to drop a flatfall.

ThunderbirdThe next morning, we were roughly 80 miles southwest from Newport, just skirting the nautical border between US and Mexican waters.  It was still grey light when we stopped on the first school of the day.  It was a sonar school that immediately reacted to our chum and fish could be seen boiling up around the boat.  Since it was still a little dark, I opted to start the day on my 40# setup.  The fishing started out a little slow, but they hung around and the bite continued to build.  I got bit within my first few baits and landed a nicer grade yellowfin tuna to start my day (left).

It’s always nice to catch early and relieve that skunk pressure, especially offshore.

That was around 7 am.  As the sun came up though, and the bite accelerated, I found myself watching while everyone around me was getting bit.  At that point, I dropped down to 30#.  Immediately, I started getting bit too.  Over the next 3 hours, I filled out my Mexican limit of 5 fish, coming on probably 10 hookups.  I had a few fish bite me off, and I lost a few to tangles.

At that point, the boat also reached Mexican limits.  Despite being in US water, Capt. Jeff was looking to move on.  He called in the Toronado (out of Pierpoint Landing in Long Beach), handed off the school to them and we went looking.  As we left the spot, it was cool to see a half dozen anglers immediately bit on the other boat.  I found out later that they ended up with 130 yellowfin tuna.

We went further west looking for bluefin.  It didn’t take long before we found a mixed school of yellowfin and bluefin.  I already had more fish than I wanted to take home, but I did want to catch a bluefin, so I threw out a bait on my 40# setup.  I got bit pretty quickly.  It seemed like a good one, but it ended up being another yellowfin.  Since we were in US water, I could keep the fish, but with 6 to my credit at this point, I decided to stop fishing.  That school stuck with us too.  An hour or so later, Jeff comes on the intercom to say that he was marking straight bluefin 180-200 feet below us.  I tipped my 40# setup with 60# fluoro leader and attached a 6 oz. weight on a rubber band above the knot.  Long story short…I got bit twice on the sinker rig, both felt like the right kind, but I ended up with 2 more yellowfin.  I was done.

Kite Bluefin


While the boat continued to fish, Capt. Jeff and Second Captain, Brian Clark were on the upper deck setting up the kite.  Jeff said Brian was the man when it came to kite fishing.  Brian’s enthusiasm for doing it was obvious, and I settled in to watch them go to work.  Jeff worked the rod and reel attached to the kite.  Brian had the setup attached to the bait.  I find this rig so fascinating.  It’s a testament to the ingenuity fishermen have to solve complex fishing problems.  In this case, the problem is…

How do you get a very wary, line-shy monster fish, to bite on a setup heavy enough to actually land them?

ThunderbirdBrian’s money setup was a Seeker 2×4 with a Makaira 50 loaded with 200# braid, to a topshot of 200# mono, and terminated with a 300# leader to a specially rigged dead flying fish (right).  The advantage of the kite setup is it allows you to get a bait out and away from the boat.  In addition, all that big heavy string is out of the water, so the fish never sees it.  Then when it gets bit, you are fishing heavy with more than ample line to land these trophies.

I got to see one of the topwater blowups and it’s a sight to see!

These guys really have it dialed in.  All the fish hooked were eventually landed.  There were 4 big bluefin landed.  Three were between say 110-150-pounds.  The real monster though was a 321-pounder that beat out a 313 from the previous week to be a new boat record (below).


This trip may have been the best tuna fishing I’ve ever been involved with.  The combination of quantity, the grade of fish caught, and the kicker monster bluefin checked all the boxes of a great tuna trip.

Until we have our first big winter storm, there’s no reason that this bite shouldn’t keep going.  Thanks to Jeff and his excellent crew for a great trip.  Good luck if you get out there.


Joe Sarmiento
Joe Sarmiento is the founder and primary writer of the So Cal Salty blog. The blog covers saltwater fishing, primarily aboard the many sportfishing boats of Southern California. In addition to writing his blog, Joe's writing has appeared in Western Outdoor News, The Log and Griffin Media. Joe is ...