Last week at this time, we were wondering “What happened to the offshore tuna bite?” The previous week saw limits style fishing for many pelagic species. Suddenly, that train came to a screeching halt. Lousy conditions characterized the middle part of last week offshore…perhaps created by Hurricane Lidia down below? Where there was once a choice of more traditional paddy hopping activity and/or chasing bluefin, it abruptly became a bluefin or bust scenario. The only silver lining was that those pesky blues were finally responding to bait.
Going into the weekend, conditions began to lie down. What lay on the other side of it though was uncertain. This haziness was the backdrop to my 2 day So Cal Salty charter on the Pacific Queen, sponsored by Costa Sunglasses.
Offshore – 2 Days, 2 ways
Early Friday morning (our getaway day), Capt. Gavin Harbour was getting in from a pretty miserable 2.5-day offshore trip. Gavin responded to my text asking what to prepare for on our trip…
“Bluefin is kinda the only game in town right now. 20-200-pounders and everything in between. Most of the fish are coming off fly line. Bigger ones eating 60-80# fluoro.”
Easy enough, but we were going to be out there for 2 days. Maybe the paddy scene could still come together?
I ended up bringing 6 rods and 9 reels to accommodate a multitude of scenarios…
Day 1 – San Clemente Island
Given the only success for the previous few days was centered around chasing bluefin, we headed to San Clemente Island for Day 1 of our trip. Gavin reiterated to the rest of the group what he previously told me, 50-60# line, use fluoro if you have it, and stressing that circle hooks were a must. I rigged 50, 60, and 80# bait setups; and a heavier (250-gram) and lighter (160-gram) flatfall setups.
The next morning we arrived at the island around 4:30 am. Apparently, everyone else in the fleet had the same idea. We were at Desperation Reef off the south end of the island. Gavin would tell me later that he really didn’t like how it looked given the other boats were already anchored in the prime spots. Still, after motoring around for awhile looking, we dropped the pick and gave it a go. It was early and still pretty dark. My understanding was that the offshore tuna bite was more of a daytime thing, so I hung in the galley. I was Johnny’s first breakfast customer. It ended up being a good choice as we didn’t stay long and no fish were hooked or caught.
We pulled anchor and pushed north past Pyramid Cove. The boat setup again around the corner along the front side of the island. We ended up spending most of the first fishing day in that general vicinity. I managed to get the first bite of the trip and connected with a nicer grade yellowtail. I was fishing my 50# flyline setup. I got one more and the boat ended up with 12 before we started to see the target species. Again, I was lucky and kicked off the bluefin bite with a smaller fish (maybe 35-pounds). I got my limit fish around noon. We put 14 total on the deck between 35-56-pounds, before the Navy kicked us off the island.
The rest of the day was spent offshore looking. We encountered a massive foamer of 150-200+-pound fish and ran the kite right over it…for nothing. We slid in and threw bait on it, again nada. I was really hoping my 80# setup would get the call, but it wasn’t meant to be. A quick peek into the water below showed they were feeding on micro sized bait. It explained why they didn’t want the yummy or our live sardines. Still, it was breathtaking to see the jumbos and have a shot at them. We ended Day 1 with one kite fish around 110-120-pounds (top) to wrap up a very solid day of fishing.
Day 2 – Paddy Hopping
While we were buzzing around looking for fish, Gavin talked to some other boats who went south and managed to get into a different offshore tuna bite, for yellowfin. We couldn’t go back to the island, so he made the call to move 90+ miles south. We began Day 2 offshore from Ensenada.
As opposed to the previous day, it was much more of a traditional offshore tuna day…trolling jigs behind the boat (vs. the kite); scoping for kelp paddies, jumping fish, dolphins etc. For this portion of the trip, I had a 30# fly lined bait setup (never used), a colt sniper setup, and a small popper setup. The action was fairly steady, but mostly unimpressive. We had some blind jig strikes for maybe 5-6 fish at a time…primarily small skipjack and yellowfin. It was fun the first few times throwing the colt sniper back during the slide on a jig stop, but I didn’t bother to tag anything that came of it. For laughs, I fished the makeshift bamboo pole that crewmember Jared Templeton (right) fashioned from the skinnier end piece cut from a gaff. I didn’t connect. Finally, I switched to the small popper setup. I almost connected the one time the school responded to our chum and stuck for a minute, but blanked again. Overall, it was fairly easy though if you fished the light (20-25#) bait setup.
The good news this week is that the paddy scene has firmed up in a big way! Several San Diego based boats are catching limits of yellowfin and they’re coming on all of the above (bait, colt snipers and other small heavy jigs, and poppers). That’s my buddy Rachel Todd on her birthday trip this week aboard the San Diego. Who knows how long this hot offshore tuna bite will last. It’s so good that even half day boats are getting in on it. You definitely want to make plans to enjoy it while you can.
Most of the boats right now will be focused on the yellowfin bite. If you want bluefin, you’re going to want a multi-day trip or bluefin specific targeted trip. Ask the boat/landing prior to booking.
Good luck if you get out there.