If you have spent any substantial time on the water, then you know that fishing can bring both high highs and low lows. Pure elation and also sheer frustration. Sometimes both within the same outing. Sure, there are those lucky days where you seemingly can’t do wrong. The fish just jump in the boat. But relying on Lady Luck alone is not a sustainable strategy to angling success. Plus, for me personally and like many, we would inevitably lose interest if it were always that easy.
My strategy throughout this journey has been and is frankly, pretty simple. Seek opportunities to fish with those who have mastered their craft and dialed in their fishery. Soak in every bit of know-how, wisdom, and tactics those captains and guides are willing to share. Of course, making sure to enjoy those adventures along the way!
But there does come a pivotal step in progression, fishing or in life in general, which is being able to apply what you have learned to your own endeavors. I have been incredibly lucky to experience some epic trips with top-tier fishing pros but, am I able to apply those lessons to my own self-guided pursuits? Have I actually progressed into a better, more well-rounded angler as I set out to do?
So with everything going on this past summer, an unintentional ideal opportunity for some self-assessment surfaced.
My ambitions were high, and for the first time to date, I felt a bit of self-induced pressure to produce in my local waters. Perhaps that is a touch of misguided confidence, as I will forever be, “Captain Kook”, but from all that I have learned in the previous Student of Slay trips, the fewer excuses I felt I had for not connecting. At this point, I should have a solid repertoire of fishing knowledge, the right tools and gear, and a beautiful fishing boat that’s now in our second season, getting very familiar with.
So let’s jump into the first of that and address the questions above regarding my progression before I share some short stories from this summer’s pursuits. I can confidently say that I’ve definitely learned a tremendous amount over the past year. Of course, I still have a LONG way to go, and there are certain skillsets or methods of fishing I would like to be farther along in.
Like within fly fishing for example. I’m still a full-blown kook with the fly rod. But I’m confident that will eventually come by spending more time in the rivers.
Focusing back in on my local waters, I have noticed an uptick in my consistency to locate fish. I am far from the Duane Diegos or Gavins or those other high line names you’re likely familiar with because they seemingly catch limits every time they leave the dock. But season over season, I certainly feel a difference in my ability to find and catch local pelagics. There are fewer runs that end empty-handed. To be fair, and as I’ve mentioned in other posts, this is also absolutely a byproduct of the unbelievable cycle of stellar fishing San Diego is seeing. It truly is all time here so there is a big element of lucky timing at play here.
Still, I feel more confident on the water with a deeper understanding and connection to them. Decisions come a little quicker and easier when scouting now familiar zones. Reading the water and looking for signals of fish a little more clear. All of which is a testament to those who have shown me their ways.
So, if there is any advice I can provide at this point to my fellow novice anglers looking to step up their game, it is to be intentional in what you do. Ultimately, getting better all boils down to time on the water, being diligent in your attempt to learn and progress. Then getting out there to attempt on your own. Note everything. What worked? What didn’t work? What did you see? Conditions, patterns, oddities. Evaluate what you might have done differently and compare those theories to the notes of others who succeeded that particular day. Be intentional in your process and things will start to click.
Now, on to some quick stories spanning throughout this summer season.
The last few summers that I have experienced as a private boat angler have kicked off with an incredible yellowtail bite at the Coronado Islands. As water temps creep higher, these fish move up the line and funnel into the islands, settling in good numbers. Being just a quick 17-mile run from San Diego, it is amazing to have this fishery so accessible and easily on tap.
This early summer was no different at the islands with a solid volume of yellowtail showing. Also, some excellent grade mixed in to boot. My highlight was watching my sister-in-law Kaila wrestle in a quality model from the infamous Pukey Point. It is always rad being a part of personal bests and especially so with those like Kaila, who are genuinely stoked to be on the water fishing.
Simultaneously as the islands were firing, a pleasant surprise of unprecedented volumes of bluefin tuna were on the move north.
Likely to sound like a broken record, but the epic bluefin cycle continues for the Southern California Bight. I started this season with a “local cow” (200+ lbs.) as public enemy number one on the hit list. Last year, I had several opportunities at this prize. Many nice 85-150-pound fish hit the deck, as well as few heartbreaks on monsters in my failed pursuit of catching a cow bluefin. So with the good volume of both mid and big grade fish in easy striking distance, I called in one of my go-to fishing buddies.
On my birthday in June, Juan and I set out into a stiff south wind with big bluefin aspirations. We had good intel from the day prior and knew that some jumbos were on the move through some of the local offshore banks.
Like most good things, it took time and perseverance, or in this case, from sun up to sundown, but we connected with exactly what we were looking for. After an hour and a half, two-man tag team fight with the sun falling below the horizon, we hoisted a 226-pound Southern California cow onto the deck.
Calling that day special is a mere understatement and a memory that will stay fresh throughout my lifetime.
As summer pressed on, our shots at loading up on more tuna continued. Some misses but a few nice hits along the way. Then, unfortunately, I was forced to take over a month-long hiatus from the local offshore scene amid peak season. Being tormented by the reports and seeing the myriad Instagram posts showcasing the excellent, full assortment of SoCal species during. Steady yellowfin tuna. Kelp paddy yellowtail and dorado. Flashes of the big bluefin. Striped marlin on local banks and even a blue or two hooked. The fishing didn’t suck (to say the least) in the summer of 2020.
When I returned from the unintentional break, we jumped right back into the local offshore program with a slow but steady pick on the yellowfin and some great paddy fishing to boot. One of which, lead to aquarium style dorado fishing. Quick to catch our 2-man limit on the first drift, we opted to make a few more fun passes for catch and release of over 30 more dorados and a handful of small (5-6 lbs) yellowtail.
To boost our karma, we called out over the radio to share the wealth of this well-stocked kelp. A sportfisher with a family abroad answered the call and slid in next to us. Within seconds you could hear the young anglers shouting out from the back, with pure stoke, as they hooked the bounty of dorado beneath that magic floating seagrass. I cherish these moments and just being a tiny part of those young fishermen’s joy is the ultimate prize.
As the summer season inevitably closes, so does another chapter of this fishing journey. No doubt that a lot of things didn’t go as planned with many trips being called off or pushed back. But that honestly might have been a blessing in disguise. With a frequently chaotic work, life, and travel schedule, further connecting to our local fishery has been a dream.
I’m both humbled and grateful to have the opportunities I have had to this point.
But I’m far from done and, the deeper I dive into this passion, the longer the list of destinations and targets on the fish list grows. I have a strong intuition there will be plenty more memories to make and stories to share. Perhaps even a few new projects and bucket-list destinations just around the corner…..