SoCal Trip Report – DIY Cow Town

If you didn’t already know this, 99.965% of all the big cow (up to just exceeding 400-pounds as of recently) bluefin tuna you see getting caught on the sportboats in Southern California waters and posted up across the various social media channels are caught on some sort of kite/balloon setup that the boat’s crew is putting together, fishing, and then handing off the bit line to a customer.  On top of getting the handed off the rod, I’d further venture to guess that less than 10% of those anglers fight the fish from handoff to gaff.

These are the facts.  It is against this backdrop that I say…

This weekend, I saw something that kind of blew my mind.  This married couple of Lori Heath and Rob Tressler figured out a system to do it themselves…

SoCal Salty / Fishing Syndicate Rods 2-Day Sponsored Charter on the T-Bird

sportboat reports

We departed Friday night (October 16th) aboard the T-Bird out of Point Loma Sportfishing.

sportboat reportsThis would be a 2-day trip targeting bluefin tuna.  Owner/operator, Capt. Tyler Hill would lead the trip.  Corey Nakano and Barry Chavez worked deck.  Co-owner Kenny Dean was in the galley.  We loaded up sardines at the bait receiver.  Once we were underway, Corey gave the trip briefing.  Based on his recommendations, I rigged up flyline bait rods of 30# and 40#, a 60# sinker rig, a big flatfall rig, and a colt sniper setup.

The next morning, we started the day somewhere between the Tanner and Cortes Banks, southwest of San Clemente Island.

bluefin tuna

The first stop of the day showed some promise.  Two anglers, Rob and Curtis Resinger Jr. both hooked up, the fish were heavier than expected, and both eventually lost their fish.

bluefin tunaThe rest of the morning and into the afternoon were less eventful.  Tyler made a move to hit one of the high spots on Tanner to target yellowtail.  We got to the spot and Tyler said he was marking fish, just off the bottom that was roughly 200-feet down.  I dropped in using my 60# sinker rig and a large mackerel.  I got bit, but it wasn’t super heavy.  I reeled up and was surprised to find a very large whitefish!  For the next hour or so, more donkey sized whitefish came over the rail with various rockfish in the mix, but no yellows.  As this odd little rockfishing interlude was coming to an end, one of the rent-rodders hooked into something a little more substantial.  It didn’t turn out to be a yellow, but rather it was a 20-ish-pound bluefin (left).

We made a move back to the area where we had started the day and hooked into those bigger blues.  Tyler (and the rest of us) was hoping for an end of day bite.  On the ride over, another smaller blue bit a small Halco lure on the troll.

This is where things got interesting…

We got back into that bigger fish zone.  Other captains seemed to have the same idea as there were several other sportboats in the area.  Tyler stopped on a big sonar school of fish.  He said he was marking fish all around the boat, anywhere from 15 to 40 fathoms below.  Most everyone deployed sinker rigs, while the crew set about deploying their kite balloon setup.  I was on the starboard side of the boat fishing, but keeping an eye on the kite rigged flying fish.  About 50-yards away from the boat, I watched a large bluefin come up and smash it.  Fish on!

Meanwhile, Lori and Rob were getting their homemade balloon rig going.

bluefin tunaNow before every boat owner excoriates me for celebrating what this couple did…sparking a stampede of DIY kite flyers invading their boat, allow me to interject.  Lori called Kenny prior to the trip.  They’d been on the boat before, and Kenny knew they were legit.  She told him what they had in mind, and he approved their coming out and using their balloon rig.

Now when I say they did it themselves, they literally did everything.  They brought their own flying fish.  They brought the heavy leaders they crimped themselves.  They brought their own balloons and mini-helium tank.  They even wrapped their own rods that they used to fish their setup.

In order to be able to fish it as a single person (the boats have one line to the balloon/kite, and another line that attaches to a release clip on the balloon line and then down to the bait), they tied a cheap pier clip swivel to their balloon.  When the flyer gets hit, the clip fails, releasing the balloon and leaving them free to fight the fish as normal from there.

bluefin tunaRob was the first to go.  I wasn’t able to see them launch their balloon as they had gone up to the bow to do it.  I did hear all the screaming though when Rob got bit.  After a mighty battle, he landed his fish.  It was the first cow ever on this boat.  It taped out at 232-pounds (and later weighed out at 230 on the Point Loma dock scale).

Then it was Lori’s turn.  She got bit in the late afternoon and eventually landed her fish after dusk.  Meanwhile, the rest of us were dropping our sinker rigs.  Some people tried the heavy flatfall.  Nothing was getting bit despite there being fish all around us.  The crew was doing their kite/balloon hook and hand deal.  They got several hookups, but only one fish was landed.  Rob and Lori went 2 for 2 on theirs.  The crew hooked fish ended up weighing 165 at the dock.

That was the end of Day 1.

We stayed in that same area for the night.  Kenny made an amazing tri-tip and lobster tail dinner.  I guess some people stayed up fishing (and drinking) and managed to hook and release a small mako.

cow bluefinThe next morning, we only had a short fishing window before we had to make the long ride back.  The highlight of the morning was Curtis Resinger Jr. hooking up on his 50# sinker rig.  I was up on the bow next to him after he had already been taken around the boat twice.  He had the fish straight up and down and I thought it was nearly over, but it would take one more time around the boat before finally landing his fish.  When it hit the deck, his hook was barely hanging on to a thin tag of skin in the corner of the mighty beast’s mouth!

And that was that.  We got stopped on the way home when some rat yellows bit on the troll, but nothing of note.

The four bigger fish were weighed on the Point Loma dock scale.  They ended up going 230, 200, 165, and 145.  It would’ve been nice to see more bluefin love spread around the boat, but that’s bluefin for you.

Thanks to Tyler, Kenny, Corey and Barry for taking care of us and providing an opportunity to see and battle (for some of us at least) these amazing, majestic beasts.  Thanks again to Fishing Syndicate for co-sponsoring the trip.  While this trip didn’t work out for me personally, I enjoyed giving it a shot, and meeting and fishing with everyone who came out.  Until next time.  Good luck if you get out there.

cow bluefin

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 ...