Fishing Reports

Early Season Magic

First a quick fish report. I’m in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, right now and by the looks of things here, this El Niño is really going to happen. The water has already pushed way around the corner and up into the Pacific. August could be good and it should be a great September and October. On our second day of fishing down here we released a 550-pound black marlin — a great start to our season.

I always like fishing early in the season. I know I’ve written about this before, but one of my favorite things on the Mirage operation was catching all those early season swordfish. I really did want to catch eight or 10 before anybody knew they were even around. Get that extra dollar or so a pound for each one. Plus, those early season swordfish are tankers a lot of the time, 300, 400 and bigger — dressed. Do the math. We would purposely stay out as long as we could without unloading so nobody knew they had arrived.

The early ones were almost always the easiest to find with sea-surface temperature charts because all you had to do was figure out where the water was pushing and look at the top corner of the push. The late ones were pretty easy too but you looked for something completely different. Anyway, if you look at the charts long and hard enough you’ll notice that the pattern really doesn’t change that much from year to year. It certainly has the capacity to come in lower or higher each year, but once it gets here and sets up, it makes that hard left turn and starts pushing north. Sometimes the water slams into the beach like a subsurface trainwreck, I love those events. It eddies and swirls and the wind and the California current play havoc with it, but basically, it goes one way.

The last year we fished with our full operation, two planes and a skiff man, I had Lance and Ryan on the boat and Carl and Brian in the air. Everybody worked together really well. It was a pretty good group to say the least. So I heard there were some albacore being caught and I figured it was time to start looking. Usually we would catch our first swordfish within a block, 60 miles, of the first tuna.

The water was coming in pretty high up this year so we started quite a ways offshore. We spent the first night at San Clemente Island getting into position for the following day. We had the owner Glen onboard as well. We were going to make it a combo swordfish, albacore, sea bass, yellowtail trip — okay, pretty much anything we could whack and sell.

We got up early and started sliding down the ridge on the back side of San Clemente Island towards the east end of the Butterfly. We found some albacore as we were sliding. We didn’t stop to fish because we hadn’t hit the edge we were looking for, so as we just kept picking away. We eyeballed the first one just above the 60-mile bank as the planes were on their way. We got a couple more that day.

There were these three huge kelps, I mean huge, in that top piece of water, all in about a one-mile area. They moved something like 8 miles that first day. I had punched them up when we first crossed the line and was able to really plot out the water movement, direction and speed. Carl had noted there were three dorado swimming around those kelps. The next day, after doing all the math to figure out where they should be, we took off again.

I crossed the edge again but it turned out there were a lot more than just those three huge kelps. I was tacking around trying to figure out where that piece of water I wanted to fish was and after a while we found these three dorado swimming around three kelps. I actually think I was pulling up to them to cast some baits when, bingo!, one of the pilots spotted the first swordfish of the day. We left those dorado alone.

This was a great grade of fish. The first few we got weren’t anything special but as the water moved northwest they got bigger.

We were getting one fish a day out of it towards the end but they were all really fat tankers. I think the smallest one dressed at 385 pounds.

The routine was the same day after day, pull up the shot, drive around until you find the kelps, look for the dorado and about 3 o’clock in the afternoon Carl would pick one off and it was the most hideous weather we had ever fished in.

The Catalina eddy had set up in a bad spot and the wind was roaring down between the Islands about 30 to 35 knots every afternoon. Legit. Anybody that has spent anytime out there has seen that condition. Slick, flat-calm all morning, then about 1 o’clock the first puff, 2 o’clock the wind was chugging at a cool 20 knots, and by 3 o’clock it’s blowin’ foam off the backside of the whitecaps.

lassley early season fishingIt was so rough Lance and Ryan would leave the tower at about 2 o’clock with the scanner (it used to tear the mounts off when it got really rough) and their binos and sit in the bridge while I tried to hang on. There was no way you could get in or out of the tower after 3 — no way. If the plane found one and they were in the tower they couldn’t get down to do anything about it.

After a couple of days in a row of this, Carl said, “You know you don’t gotta stay out in this for me.”

I think he felt bad for me. I was doin the math though — 400 pounds x $8 a pound x 10 percent = $320. “Naw, I’m ok,” I said.

Some of the whitecaps would break over the fish after we spotted one, and it would be up to a minute before we could relocate it through all the whitewater. Stupid fish would just bob back up. We only got one shot so we had to go really slow. With all the noise of the breaking waves, they never knew we were there. After sticking the fish we would put the plank up into the storm position and just sit on top of the gear so we didn’t have to fight our way back to it. I wouldn’t get out of the tower until we bashed our way into the anchorage after pulling the gear.

I think we fished about 10 days out of that break then it fell apart. The moon let us down or something. The kelps all drifted apart. The dorado were gone and we lost the body of fish. The last sword we caught out of that school Carl was stretching out his tacks and I had Brian out looking at some other water and Carl found the last one. It was the Fourth of July. It dressed at 598 pounds.

We followed that break form the Western edge of the 60 to just southeast of the 43, across that ridge until it fell apart just northwest of the 289 — pretty cool.

Why did those fish wait till 3 p.m. to show every day?

On a somber note: Last month we lost one of the finest young men I have ever known, Zane Stotesbury. Greg, my most heartfelt condolensces goes out to you. I only hope I can do even close to as good of a job with my sons as you did with Zane. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

Capt. Steve Lassley
Capt. Steve Lassley grew up fishing swordfish, rock cod and albacore commercially. He bought his first fishing boat at age 17 and has made a living fi...