For most private boaters, fishing for yellowtail consists of heading out to a spot, like the Coronado Islands, finding the fleet and then posting up and waiting for a bite. Sadly, this technique almost always leads to a painfully slow day of fishing. Too make matters worse, the more boats that join the fleet, the less chance there is of anyone getting anything other than frustrated.
Anyone that has spent any time fishing yellowtail has seen this vicious cycle play out time and time again.
It starts with a single boat finding a school of biting fish and going to work. This activity attracts the attention of nearby boaters, who will pull up alongside to try and get in on the action. Some of those first on the scene might catch a few fish but sooner or later the yellows will stop biting and the boat that first found the fish will move on in search of a new batch. In the meantime, the boats that arrived late on the scene have no idea which boat was originally bit, so they stay and continue to fish the same zone because they assume there are fish there. Once this group of boats reaches a certain mass, it becomes obvious to other boaters who, unaware that no fish have been caught there in over an hour, will head over to check out the hot spot where all the other boats are fishing. In the meantime, the boat that started the fleet is probably stopped on another batch of biting fish.
Captain Duane Mellor on his 25′ Parker “Seasons” has probably started and drove away from more fleets than any other small boater that fishes the Coronado Islands. So, he was the obvious choice to ask the question of how someone can go from follower to finder. His number one suggestion; Have the confidence to go out and find your own fish.
“Want to make big scores?” asked Mellor. “Break away from the fleet and find your own fish. Sure, it may sound tough for the average, weekend fisherman, but in reality it just takes a little homework.”
“If there are fish being caught somewhere, motor around the surrounding areas and look for three things… Bait, conditions and signal. If you can find a spot with plenty of bait and good conditions (favorable current and clean water), a lot of the time the “signal” will show itself, whether it be yellows on the meter, eyeball fish and/or birds acting in the right manner. If you can find these three of these things in an area, chances are you’re going to catch fish.”
“Sure guys can catch fish around the mass of boats, but 9 times out of 10 when you’re fishing with the fleet, you’re fishing a school of fish that has been stepped on, broken up and run over a bunch of times, which doesn’t help your chances at a big download. You want to find the school that hasn’t been run over or molested by 63 other boats. You’ll be surprised on how well a school of yellows will bite when you’re the only boat fishing em.”
“Here’s a pic from last Thursday, that’s a prime example. I was only a half mile from the fleet, but we were by ourselves which enabled me to put my clients on our own school of hungry fish and resulted in plugging my fish hold with full limits of 24-34-pound yellows, in what was hands down the best yellowtail flurry of the year, so far.”
For those unfamiliar with reading conditions and understanding how they relate to yellowtail fishing, there is a way to cheat a little.
Try slow trolling a couple of nose hooked mackerel behind your boat while you’re cruising around and looking for conditions.
This gives your crew something to do and will keep them from getting itchy to head back to the fleet while you’re looking around. But more importantly, it will force you to slow your boat down enough (you should be trolling just above idle) that you’ll have the time to look around and notice the small details that can lead to finding fish.
These details can be anything from a single meter mark to seeing bait flipping on the surface or noticing the foam that lies on the edge of a current break. While none of them mean anything all of the time, all of them can mean something some of the time. So the more information you observe the better you’ll get at interpreting it and the more likely you’ll be to find your own fish.