This past week I was aboard the Vagabond on a six day trip down to The Ridge to see how this legendary spot was shaping up for the season. The fishing we experienced was absolutely incredible, and marked a very promising start to what may be an epic Fall down South. We focused on the Northern Ridge, spending time on the 13 and 23 Fathom Spots and never had a reason to look elsewhere. The ocean conditions were pristine. General water temperature was around 75 degrees and the color was such a deep blue it almost looked purple. To top it off we left on the first day of a week-long weather window, and enjoyed flat calm seas the entire trip.
The yellowtail fishing we experienced was a steady pick that continued at a good pace throughout the entire day. There were a couple moments when it heated up but never broke into a wide-open frenzy. We began mid-morning on the 13 Fathom spot where another boat had given us a very promising report from the day before. Captain Mike calls out that the bulk of the fish is hanging mid-column and hasn’t really risen to the surface yet. To me, that’s the sign to grab a yo-yo jig and drop down. The current was strong so my jig of choice was a full-size Salas 6x in a red and orange color pattern, and just like Mike said, halfway up on my third drop I got hammered. Buttoned down on 60lb, this one didn’t stand a chance. The grade of fish here were smaller, but the biomass was unbelievable. Screen-filling schools of 12-20lb yellowtail stayed deep and were biting the heavy jigs at full speed.
Experimenting with slow pitch! Make sure your drag is set tight because your rod isn’t gonna help out very much.
I also experimented with slow pitching and quickly realized how incredibly fun this style of fishing can be. I tried all sorts of different jigs and started noticing that anything red or crab-like was getting bit much better than the baitfish colors. That being said, everything I dropped down was getting attention. It was just a matter of how long it took. Guys flylining in the stern were picking away at good numbers but it took a bit of finesse. Finding a strong bait that swam down was key, and dropping down to 25lb resulted in a couple more bites. As we got into the afternoon, the fish came up and the surface iron bite went from 0 to 100 until the sun went down. Apparently this has been the pattern, so keep the surface plugs ready for a late afternoon re-bite. The next day we moved down to the 23 Fathom spot to focus on schooling yellowfin, and picked off some substantially nicer grade yellowtail in the mix. These fish were averaging 20-35 pounds and I’m sure we lost a few that may have been bigger. Re-check your drags and make sure they’re at the upper-end of your limit. There’s a lot of submerged kelp on these banks right now and the fish were using it to their advantage.
The larger grade fish really ate the red jigs well.
The schoolies are smaller so experiment with lighter setups. Red crab is thick on both the surface and down below, so red and orange jigs got bit significantly better than baitfish colors. Speed jigging worked extremely well and accounted for the majority of our larger fish. For flyline, half my bites came on the slow retrieve back to the boat, so nose-hooking became the go-to. Finally, wait till the afternoon to throw the surface iron.
The new Rapala Magnum Xtreme got bit the whole trip. Average grade was 25lbs.
The grade of yellowfin we encountered was the standard Ridge grade of 15-40 pounds, with the majority being 25lbs or bigger. The winning strategy was trolling high-speed plugs like the Rapala Magnum Xtreme and boxing an area until we had a jigstrike. Once the school was located, the bait fishing turned wide open for everyone in the stern. Unlike the yellows the previous day, these fish were not picky at all when it came to the flyline and it was an instant bite for the majority of the morning if you fished a live bait. The hook of choice was a small circle like the Owner Mutu #4, and a standard 30lb live bait rig got the job done. I was up in the bow throwing surface irons, skipjigs, and clear poppers having a blast watching these fish come fully out of the water for my lure. We did have some problems with schools of micro bonito rolling though and eating every bait in sight, but a quick move would relocate the tuna and the good fishing was back on. I tried slow pitching for tuna and it was not as effective as surface techniques. I still caught one, but in the time it took I could l have had three on the boat with the popper or iron.
The popper got bit! This nicer unit fell to a Clear Choice 150.
If trolling, 80lb minimum and a lipped plug such as the Rapala Magnum Xtreme or Halco Lazer Pro. For flyline, 30lb and size 4 mutu circle was all that I needed to use. Cycle through baits and don’t wait out the long soak. If you want to experiment with lures, now is the time to do it. For poppers, take off the middle hook and only have one treble off the back. The lure stays intact for longer and is much safer for the crew. Skipjigging and surface iron was wide open and lots of fun. The deeper tuna responded to red jigs better than baitfish colors just like the yellowtail. Yo-yo and speed jig worked on the yellowfin better than slowpitch.
The conditions are cleaning up and it should only be a few weeks until the first wahoo on The Ridge is caught. We did not see any but had a few mysterious bite-offs that seemed to come out of nowhere. The 23 Fathom spot is one of the best banks on the Ridge for ‘hoos, and the water is cleaning up more and more each day. Out at the Rocks, the first batches of wahoo are coming in but the biomass is small and they are very sensitive to boat pressure. We heard reports of scratchy fishing on a nice grade fish from 20-50lbs. With as much life as there is on the Ridge right now, I’m sure the wahoo will be showing up soon and will be there in good numbers.
Overall, we experienced phenomenal fishing on mid-grade fish at each stop along the Ridge. The only target that we missed was grouper, but I feel if we had just a bit more time, we could have made a few more drifts and potentially connected. We saw plenty of tailing marlin and healthy kelp paddies teeming with dorado, and I’m sure the wahoo are following close behind. If you have a trip coming soon you should be getting excited. The fishing right now is great and it’ll only continue to get better.