This week’s weather has left me so little to report on that I briefly considered taking a rain check on this week’s column but I decided to use the opportunity to share some thoughts, insights and ideas on the bluefin tuna that have mostly not been biting in our local waters. Before I do though, I’d like to take a moment to cover this week’s report. It rained all week and almost no one went fishing. The guys that did got rained on and were likely miserable. The end.
With that out of the way, its time to look forward. The rain will likely have petered out by the time you read this on Friday morning and the clearing winds behind this system aren’t forecast to blow until Monday so you’re probably going to have a good fishing weather window on Saturday and Sunday. As long as the wind isn’t blowing, I wouldn’t worry about fishing after this storm. I ran out last Saturday after Thursday and Friday’s storm and found 62-degree crystal blue water and boiling bluefin tuna. The picture at the top of this column shows that there were still thunderstorms over the coast when I headed in but we had grease calm, t-shirt weather on the water all day.
Speaking of bluefin tuna, I didn’t catch one on Saturday but my friend Shea McIntee, host of Stoked On Fishing, did and judging by the rigs in the background, I probably drove right past him without even knowing it that day. There were a few more boats out on Sunday and my friend Captain Gerry Mahieu hooked one on a mackerel but got broke off. Another friend Sivory Castellanos put CJ Conrad in a position to spear one while free diving. While I’m sure there were a few more hooked and probably landed, I don’t think that there have been much more than 20 of these fish caught in the the two or three weeks that they’ve been here. That may not seem like a big surprise, considering its January, but there are a lot of fish in our local waters. On Saturday, I saw fish in four different spots spread over 30 miles along the coast.
Speaking of miles, you’re going to need to cover a lot of them if you want a shot at finding the bluefin while avoiding the fleet. Once you do find them you’re going to need a lot of luck to hook one, but I’ve got a few suggestions and theories that can help you out with that. Oh yeah, before I forget, with these fish acting the way they are, fishing around other boats is a sure fire way to guarantee that you’re not going to catch one.
These bluefin have been extremely predictable in their behavior the last couple weeks.
This starts with where they’ve been feeding. On any given day, the fish will be located along one or both of the areas highlighted on the chart. A couple weeks ago, most of the fish came off the edge of the coastal shelf because there was a bunch of bait scattered along it. This shelf runs close to the coast from Dana Point up past Huntington Beach but then bends out along the rigs and up past the outside edge of the South East Bank.
The other topographic feature that’s been aggregating bait and bluefin has been the contour that runs along the base of the local banks like the Avalon, the 14 and the 267. A lot of guys make the mistake of driving to the waypoint they have for the bank, not seeing anything and deeming the tuna to be absent. The reality is that these fish aren’t relating to the banks themselves so much as the deep contour lines off their edges. On Saturday’s trip I launched out of Long Beach, ran out to the edge of the shelf and then followed the San Gabriel Canyon drop off out towards the northwest edge of the 14 Mile Bank. Once there, I hugged that deep contour line and followed it down and below the 267 to where I finally found some bluefin that came up and boiled around on the slack high tide. What was interesting was that while following that line I came across many kelp paddies, all of them holding small yellows and all of them lined up by the current edge created by that deep water ridge.
Those boiling tuna I found bring us to the second very predictable behavior these tuna have been exhibiting. They come up and feed on the surface during late morning and afternoon tides. While the fish might stay up all afternoon, they sometimes only pop up for a short window so you’re going to want to be in your fishiest looking water during the slack tide. On Saturday, I found an area that had a lot of shearwater birds rafted up but didn’t see any fish, so I marked a way point for the area, came back on the tide and found the tuna up and feeding. Its really that simple so don’t over think it.
Now, let’s talk about actually catching one of these things. The fish that have been caught by guys fishing lures have only come off foaming fish. These foamers have been short lived enough that it’s very difficult to get a lure into them before they sink out. The fish we caught a couple weeks ago came off a foamer that just happened to pop up 100-yards off my bow and I was able to get to it in time. On Saturday’s trip, every foamer I found (and there were several) I spotted through the binoculars and all of them went down in the time it took me to run the one or two miles they were away from the boat. If you’re looking for foamers, you’re almost better not using the glasses because you probably won’t get there in time if you do.
Guys have been hooking tuna on mackerel, and at least one on a flat fall, by fishing deep schools that they find on their meter. These can be tough to locate but if you find some shearwaters rafted up and occasionally hop scotching ahead, I’d give the zone a good look. Finally, the fish that are up lazily boiling around on anchovies will bite a mackerel but you’re probably going to need to fish it on light line like 30# fluorocarbon leader. I just don’t care enough about catching a bluefin to fish bait but if I were, I’d try slow trolling mackerel way back and trying to get them in front of the lazily feeding schools.
That’s about all I’ve got. Hopefully these fish are still around and if they are I hope the full moon makes them bite better than they have been. If you’re heading out, do yourself a favor and drive away from other boats because once three or four get together the gang bang isn’t far behind.