The real start of the CONDOR offshore season is the annual four-day trip over the Memorial Day Weekend. We just got back into Fisherman's Landing early this morning (Memorial Day) and here is my wrap-up report and a few pictures. We always have a great group of anglers aboard, about 3/4 very experienced and 1/4 new to offshore adventures, and as always we got along great. Everybody was patient and helpful to each other, which always makes for a better trip. The leaving time got moved up three hours several weeks before last Thursday, but for various reasons there were three people who never noticed or got the word or whatever, so at 11am we left to go over to the bait receivers and spent over an hour there carefully loading a great batch of sardines, and then returned to the landing and picked up the last people. Then a brief meeting with Capt. Scott Meisel who introduced the crew of Matt Arnold, Scott Caslin, Sam Whelden, Christophe the French chef, and mentioned that we might run into our night firewatch crewman Vinnie if we were up in the small hours. The plan was to head south-west to a few miles outside of the Coronado Islands where the majority of the fleet was hunting for Bluefin and see how the weather looked, and roll south towards Colonet Reef (our traditional destination on this trip) on Friday if the weather permitted. So DAY ONE was a Bluefin hunt. We got into the area in a few hours, started trolling rotation at about 3pm. Within a half-hour we were pulling in the trolling lines because we were seeing breaking fish a couple of hundred yards away or the sonar was lighting-up with a school down ten to twenty fathoms. And that was how the rest of the day went, starting to troll but within fifteen to twenty minutes we would bring the lines in and start tossing chum sardines to try to get the school interested, and everybody would try bait either flylined or with weights, or flat-falls or other lures, but to no avail. It was fun to play with the fish, and WOW there are a lot of Bluefin schools swimming up our coastline, but they just were not in the mood to play with us. It was overcast and cool, the sea was very calm, no whitecaps at all. It must have been like this for the early explorers, naming our ocean "Peaceful" because they hadn't had any experience with it at the time. At full dark we shut it down and had a nice spaghetti dinner and drifted in the area overnight. DAY TWO started overcast and as calm as a lake. We fired up the motors and started looking around at 5:45am, and at least a dozen other big sportfishers were all around us. Trolling rotations began to be frustrating because at least every fifteen minutes you had to suddenly reel in your boat gear because a school would be located on sonar and we would circle and everyone would drop either a bait or a lure. At about 6:20am Steve "Hammer" Riggs got us on the board with about a 25 pound Bluefin. He was taking a chance because some pretty large Bluefin were in the area, but he was using a little 2-speed with 25-pound line and a #1 J-hook, and he got it in nicely. Upon seeing that, most of us stopped using the 40 and 50-pound gear and dropped way down in an effort to get bit. Another school a half-hour later gave us a couple of slightly larger Bluefin. Christophe gave you your choice of either a machaca burrito on green tortilla or ham & egg & bacon breakfast sandwiches that Friday. All his morning meals were accompanied by bluesy rock & roll, and were an excellent way to start the day. I'm not going to detail all of the great food that we were presented with, I'll just say that I started ordering "small portions, please" and I still gained a pound a day for the four days. Lots of great cooks in the fleet now! For myself, I am more at home with Christophe's cuisine than the fare provided on some of the really expensive boats which probably deserve a Michelin star. I'm not that fancy of a guy. We kept stopping on meter marks and one by one we picked up several more Bluefin, and the light tackle also cost us a couple. About 3pm the sun came out and the wind picked up a bit, and a little later a double jig strike had us excited for a minute but it turned out to be a pair of nice large bonito, and a third bonito was landed after biting a flylined sardine. We kept trying for Bluefin within a dozen miles or so south-west of the Coronado Islands until full dark when we called a halt. The decision was made to start heading down the coast towards Colonet Reef although the weather was starting to get snotty. During the late afternoon one of the fishermen was starting to get seasick as the boat started rolling, but I had an extra Transderm-Scop patch and after he assured me that he wasn't allergic I put it on him, and after sleeping upright in the galley for a few hours he started to feel better and then was OK for the following days. I have a lot of sympathy for that affliction, since my wife's hormones have started going bonkers she now gets seasick on wet grass, and I still miss her when I go offshore. It's not as much fun without her aboard. DAY THREE (SATURDAY) Was bumpy, overcast and windy. We got down to Capt. Scott's favorite high spot at about 8am, but it was horrible fishing conditions. The water looked bad, and the current was absolutely ripping. If you dropped a 16-ounce lure or sinker at the bow, it would hit the 200 foot bottom at about the time you had stepped the complete length of the boat. With a big bow in the line. And two dozen fishermen were now jammed across the 25-foot beam of the stern. NOT FUN. In an hour only a single small lingcod was caught. Capt. Scott said that there was nothing on his sonar, no yellowtail or anything. So after going downhill all night to get there, we gave it up and started beating our way Northwest along the 500-fathom curve after only an hour at Colonet Reef. No other sportboats were there either, I guess the word was being passed that it wasn't the place to be. About 9:30am the sun came out, and although it was still windy and bumpy, it was a good sign to me. We were still doing the trolling rotations, and I really like that the CONDOR policy is to rotate about every hour. If you didn't want to take your turn you didn't have to, but for those of us who find trolling a challenge and a hopeful activity, it was good to get several turns each day. For me, it beats sitting in the galley and eating snacks that I sure don't need. At about 11am a garage-door size kelp is seen a couple of hundred yards away, and we maneuver the boat so that we can drift past it to see if anyone is at home. And it was full of hungry small yellowtail, about three to six pounds each! After two full days of frustration, it was really a nice release for everyone to drop down in gear and play with them. LOTS of releases, and some were kept too of course, it was about an hour of actual fishing in the sunshine on a deep blue sea without another boat anywhere around the horizon. Magic. I tagged one, I have an Asian neighbor who always wants a small whole fish like that if I can bring her one, and then hooked&handed to a couple of the new anglers until they got the idea. The only way to teach someone how to follow their fish and get out of tangles is to give them the opportunity to learn, and hopefully NOT on a big tuna. Then I wondered if there might be something else down below the small yellowtail, perhaps using them as a snack, so I got out the 40-pound gear and started dropping different yo-yo irons. Alas, it was not to be. But still fun to try. As the afternoon progressed it got windier and rougher, and we had to slow down to avoid burying our nose in the waves. At the 8pm dinner we were still about forty miles south of the Coronado Islands. DAY FOUR (SUNDAY) We were back where we had left from late Friday, a dozen miles south-west of the Coronados and back with the rest of the fleet. It stayed bumpy and windy, although with sunshine, and we started looking for breaking fish and meter marks. At about 9:45am and perhaps the tenth stop on a meter mark there finally was a biter, and Chong Ha Lee in full ninja gear got dragged all around the boat by a Bluefin while being assisted by crewman Sam Whelden, and finally gaffed a nice fish of about 40 pounds, the biggest so far. We would stop about every twenty minutes or so on a meter mark, it was amazing to me how many fish were out there, all over from ten to twenty fathoms. About every third or fourth school someone would get bit, and about two out of three would get landed. They mostly wanted light lines and small hooks, and on the meter marks you couldn't be sure of their size. If the school turned out to be nice 25 to 35 pounders you had a chance, and if they were the big boys they would just head for Peru and you could wave good-bye. A momentary highlight of the afternoon was the simultaneous sighting of some breaking fish ahead by both us and the TRIBUTE, and both Captains pushed the throttles ahead and we were in a real race for a couple of minutes, both boats throwing whitewater at the bows as we pounded ahead like PT boats making a run at an enemy cruiser. But then the TRIBUTE turned away, conceding to us the school, and it would be nice to report that we got a biter out of that spot of fish, but nope, they sank out and ignored us. A little later on another school "Hammer" Riggs got bit again on his light two-speed with the 25-pound line and the little hook, and he passed it to Glenda to fight so that she might get one too. It was obviously a better fish than most, and crewman Scott Caslin stayed right by her side as she went around two-thirds of the boat and ended up at the port bow after about twenty minutes. Inch by inch they were getting it closer, and at deep color it was certain to be a challenger for the jackpot. But suddenly the little J-hook slipped out of the hole that it had torn in the fish, and it sank down into the depths. We lost about a third of the fish hooked on this trip, in my experience not a bad average for Bluefin fishing, but every one is a heartbreaker. One guy actually had his hook break, and I can count those events on one hand in over sixty years of blue water fishing. Anyway, Glenda did a terrific job, and was a good sport about how it ended. At the end of the day we called the trip, and in the darkness started heading back East towards San Diego while the crew got the fish out of the RSW hold and got ready to fillet for those who wanted it. We ended up with 11 Bluefin, 62 yellowtail, 3 big bonito and one small lingcod. And whether you got to tag a Bluefin or not (and I didn't, again) you knew that you had been on a serious hunt for them! Back at the landing there was some unexpected generosity among the group of anglers, as fish were shared among new friends, and I have to especially call out John Cook, who was not only a Top Gun in hooking and landing the spooky Bluefin, tagging two, but then gave both of them away to a pair of visiting Arizona anglers. It was a real pleasure to share a rail with Norm and Marcus and Brandon and David and all of the rest. Two dozen very talented people, and I hope to learn more from all of you in the future. I'll post a few pictures, feel free to jump in with your own impressions of the trip.