Usually at this point in the year, I’ve already caught my first yellowtail. My first one of the year typically happens on the Colonet trip that I do in January. This year though, that trip was pretty disappointing, at least in terms of the yellowtail production.
More importantly, there are typically few opportunities over the course of the year to catch yellowtails using yo-yo jigs. In my opinion, catching yellows in this fashion is only second to catching them on surface iron. Winding hard on your reel to get that jig moving, and it abruptly comes to a stop, then you feel the weight of that fish, and the run it takes when it realizes it’s hooked is a pure adrenaline
So when the San Diego got their first hit of the year with 47 fish taken on Sunday, March 14th, it definitely got my attention. Unfortunately, tough weather conditions on the water delayed them getting back out until the following Wednesday, March 17th. On that trip, they put 23 yellows on the deck for 33 anglers…a significant drop-off, but not bad considering the weather delay. The next couple of days were slow, but owner/operator, Capt. Ryan Bostian reported there was still a good signal of fish in the area. At that point, the weekend trips were already fully booked, so I made plans to get on the boat Monday, March 22nd. I’m glad I did…
Trip Report: Yo-Yo Yellows on The San Diego
Sunday, March 21st, my friend Helen Sun (right) was on the boat. They got 33 that day. Helen got hers using a vintage Tady 4/0 in scrambled egg. She told me that as far as she knew, all the fish were caught on full-size jigs. I was certain I had a scrambled egg Salas 6x in my bag, but when I checked to see after checking in at the landing, no scrambled egg. I went back into the tackle shop to get one. No 6x’s, but they had a Seaforth branded knockoff, “endorsed by Capt. Ryan” according to the guy behind the counter. OK fine. I bought it.
As I was putting the jig in my bag, there was a husband and wife talking next to me. “I got these four lures,” the husband told his wife. I couldn’t help myself and I looked. He had 4 smaller-sized jigs. Should I, shouldn’t I…”Ummm sorry to interrupt, but you really want to get the larger size jigs. My friend was on the boat yesterday, and she said no one caught on the small ones.” The husband, John Latsko, went back in and returned with the full-size jigs. He told me he and his wife Marion had never caught a yellow before. They drove down from Phoenix to get in on the opportunity. John told me he’d been on 6 trips already, 3 of them on six-pack trips. No yellows.
“Well, I get out pretty often, so if you have any questions once we’re on the boat, please don’t hesitate to ask.”
We boarded the boat and prepared for the ride out. After about 2 hours, North Island started to come into view. Ryan got on the intercom.
“We’re starting to get into the zone where we’ve been catching the yellows. If you haven’t already, it’s time to get rigged up. If you have any questions, see one of the deckhands and they’ll help you get setup.”
I grabbed my rod and posted up near the bow. As we approached closer, a school of birds could be seen off the starboard bow. Ryan made a move toward them. As we got close to them, Ryan said he was marking a really big school, only about 60-feet below the surface. Most of the people on board were setup with yo-yo’s, but I noticed a couple of people had surface iron rods. One of them was Capt. Gavin Harbour of the Pacific Queen. As we got within range of the bird school, Gavin fired out his jig. As he wound it in, I could see a yellow chasing it. “C’mon! Eat it!” It broke off its chase right at the boat, but it was thrilling to see it following Gav’s jig. Ryan cut power and started to slide into the school. I was on the port side of the bow and gave my jig a side cast ahead of the boat. As it sank, I could already feel it getting licked. It couldn’t have been that deep, but it was already getting bumped, so I started to wind. I was only a couple of cranks in when…FRESH ONE! It wasn’t that deep and it was a smaller fish, so it was a quick fight. Skunk off on the first stop. Gotta love it when that happens.
As I dragged my fish to the back of the boat, I saw that Marion Latsko was on a fish. Deckhand Andrew Warren was next to her coaching her and stuck the fish when she brought it to color. Congrats Marion on your first yellowtail! Definitely had to get a picture of that one. John Latsko was able to get one too. I was really happy for both of them. Lifetime yellowtail skunk off.
It was a good hit to open our day. Fifteen fish were caught, almost half of the previous day’s total, on our first stop.
The rest of the morning proceeded along in the same fashion. Spot the bird schools. Chase them down. Mark fish. Slide into them and get a quick hit. None of the schools really stuck with the boat for long, but the morning production was good. I scored on 3 of the first 4 stops. By 10:30, I want to say we were at 35 fish for the boat.
Things started to slow down from there.
At this point, I was satisfied with my personal yellowtail production for the day. I turned my attention to other things. I wanted to either catch a yellow on surface iron or achieve that rare feat of catching a lingcod on a day that I caught yellowtail. These are competing goals requiring the use of completely different setups. What I ran into was I’d be fishing the bottom, dragging a bait for a ling, when a bird school would pop up near enough to the boat to fire a surface iron at them. These moments appeared and disappeared quickly, and required a devotion to throwing surface iron in order to be ready in those fleeting moments of opportunity.
On one such occasion, I was fishing a bait on the starboard side, just in front of the bait tank area. Ryan had come down from the wheelhouse and was on the tank throwing bait. It was as if he was trying to will a bite to occur through his own personal effort.
A bird school popped up just off the starboard stern. I could see the yellows on the surface chasing bait under the birds. “Dang it! I wish I had my surface iron rod in my hands right now.” Gavin was next to me, jig stick ready. He saw what I saw and cast on it. Perfect placement. He put it about 5 yards beyond where the fish were boiling and wound his way through them. Despite doing everything right, he couldn’t elicit a bite. At the end of the day, there were maybe 2 or 3 fish caught on surface iron. You had to be really devoted to it, and get lucky to take advantage of the small windows of opportunity. My best chance I was fishing the gate area on the port side. A school of birds was just out of casting range and I waited to see if they would get close enough to give me a shot. They briefly did. I put my jig in the right area but came up empty.
Meanwhile on the bottom, I never got the bite I wanted.
I caught a bocaccio that the crew found another home for. I did get a nice red though, that I was more than happy to take home.
When it was all said and done, we finished up with 45 yellowtail and 16 rockfish for 34 anglers. Right now, 34 is a “full” load due to Covid protocols. If you’ve ever been on this boat at the height of a yellowtail bite, you know 34 passengers is light, so if you look at their schedule and see that the boat is almost full, don’t let that deter you from buying that ticket. The bite has stayed steady and I’d have to say it’s the best game in town right now.
As always, Ryan and his crew ran a fantastic operation. Thanks to all of them for providing a superior experience on the water. Good luck if you get out there.