Oh man, it felt great to be getting back on a Southern Californian sportfishing boat!
I boarded the T-Bird out of Point Loma Sportfishing in San Diego on Saturday night (September 19). This trip was one that I was putting on. It was an overnight trip, sponsored by Fishing Syndicate. Owner/operator, Capt. Tyler Hill was leading the trip. Corey Nakano was running deck. Our cook was a late scratch, so co-owner Kenny Dean was conscripted to work the deck, cook in the galley, and whatever else needed to get done.
Corey gave the pre-trip briefing. Typically, I don’t give exact locations in these reports. My attitude is if you want to know, buy a ticket. But it’s no secret where everyone (full day boats, overnights, and some 1.5’s) is fishing right now. It is the 425 area west of the Coronado Islands around the commercial tuna pens out there. Corey’s recommended rigs were pretty basic…a flyline bait setup on 20 or 25# test line, and a small hook. I opted to go 25# with a size 2 circle hook, that I rigged up on the FSC 900L (9 foot, rated 15-30#) and my Shimano Trinidad 16A. The other recommended setup was an 80 or 120-gram Colt Sniper. I rigged up a 120-gram jig on the FSC 900M (rated 20-50#) and used the Okuma Tesoro 10S that Fishing Syndicate owner, Oliver Solis, provided on the demo rods he lent me for anglers to use on the trip. Corey recommended casting it upwind. By the time it got vertical, it was close to the boat, then wind hard like you would with a yo-yo jig. I did bring a popper setup, but I never used it all day.
The next morning we started looking for fish at first light. It wasn’t long before we found a school and commenced fishing. That first stop set up a pattern that would become all too familiar for the rest of the trip. We slid into a breezer of fish, and almost instantly the sea lions were on us. Only one guy on the boat got hooked up on that first stop. The sea lions drove the fish down in the water column, and he hooked up on the jig. Tyler said he was marking fish 60-70-feet down. I guess I’m a little out of practice, because I didn’t think of it at the time (but then again I didn’t see anyone else try it), but if you wanted to bring a 3rd setup, I’d recommend a 30# combo and tying up a rubber band rig in order to fish a bait in deeper water.
We started having better luck as the day progressed, but the pattern stayed the same. We found fish, then the sea lions would eventually get on us. If the fish stuck, we fished with the threat of losing them to the dogs. When it got too bad or the fish bailed, we moved on.
To be honest, it was frustrating fishing.
Three Biggest Mistakes
I was consistently getting bit at almost every stop, but the sea lions severely impacted the day in a negative way. Because of their presence, it was impossible to build up to a bite that would allow more people to get in on it. But despite their presence, the opportunity was definitely there to catch fish. The biggest issues that prevented people from capitalizing on that opportunity were the following…
- You Have To Be Able To Cast – I’ve said this a million times and I’ll keep saying it. If you can squeeze in the time before your trip, go on an afternoon halfie and put in that practice time. You may even catch some calico bass or a yellowtail in the process. This is such a critical component to success though, so it’s worth your while to get it sorted out before you head offshore.
- Don’t Linger Too Long On Bad Baits – If it didn’t hit the water and immediately take off like Michael Phelps, wind it in and try a new one. Because of the sea lions, we never got into any long soak type of scenarios, so this advice was especially true on this trip.
- People Didn’t Take Advantage Of The Slide – Especially if you can’t cast a bait, dropping one in on the slide was the perfect tactic to catch fish. Also, it gave you a chance to get bit and land your fish BEFORE the sea lions got on us. I got 3 of my limit of 5 fish on the slide.
Captain Tyler’s Amazing Feat
I had 3 fish on 7 bites going into the final hour or so of the trip. I lost 2 to sea lions, and pulled the hook on 2 more because of the threat they posed. We hit an afternoon lull, where it was more looking than fishing. I was tired. I hung out a lot with a guy named Brian who had won the Fishing Syndicate rod that I raffled off. I remember turning to him and saying, “I’m going to take one for the team and go lie down in my bunk.” Because in doing so, it would assuredly spark a ninth-inning rally.
I was half joking when I said it, but it actually worked!
I was down maybe 10-15 minutes when the boat slowed down and I could hear Tyler telling Corey on the intercom to dump bait big on this one. I rushed up, pinned on a bait and dropped one in one the slide. I was bit. I turned around to look for Brian to say I told you so. Turns out he was right next to me, grinning ear to ear and bit also.
I quickly reeled in that fish and got in a second bait. I got bit again and this one felt like a better model. I was able to kind of work it up the rail to where I was away from the crowd on the stern. Tyler was next to me with a gaff when I yelled, “Deep color!” At that point, I lost sight of the fish and it was stripping out line fast. “Oh sh*t! I got picked up by a seal.” Tyler said, “I think you’re alright. Keep reeling.” I got the fish back to deep color, but this time we both saw a big bull sea lion emerge from under the boat. I reeled the fish up to the surface and the dog was coming hard to come grab it. Tyler swung the back of the gaff and made a big splash as it was about to take my fish. Then in the same motion, he flipped the gaff point around and snatched the fish out of the water right in front of the sea lion’s face. It was awesome. I high fived him and that was my day.
Thank you to Tyler, Kenny and Corey for a good day on the water. Thanks also to Oliver Solis of Fishing Syndicate for sponsoring the trip. I really enjoyed using the rods and the customers did as well. Despite the presence of the sea lions, this is still a great fishing opportunity. There’s no lack of fish down there. I guess the silver lining was I got to pull on 9 fish to get my five.
Good luck if you get out there!