Sunday, July 26, 2015

Big Weather and Five for Five On Evening Tuna

             On Saturday, July 18, Isaac and I took Jade and Shane, two of our summer clerks, out for an electrifying day of thunder and lightning on the high seas below Dana point.

               We got into line for bait by 4:30 am and were headed toward the area below the domes by day break. We dragged lures on a few dolphin pods outside the harbor, but did not fart around for long. We got into a drift and started our chum line, while everyone started up with the early morning chatter on the radio.

  After while, Jade got bit on a fly-lined sardine and we belted her up for the siege that fish put on.

Jade pulled for a while before calling in for relief pitching from Shane.

             Shane took over as the fish continued to make runs and orbit our little vessel

The clouds are building on the horizon as Shane turned the handle.
             This tuna, after forcing us through a series of ballet dancing, rod handoff moves around the boat, managed to get away at the point where it had begun to circle to color.  We then took notice of one of fly-lined rods getting spooled to the knot and we lost another tuna after we managed to wind about ten yards of line back on with heavy pressure.

           We fished the area for a while before heading out in to ominous clouds to the south.  We dragged our jigs steadily off shore as huge thunderheads and lighting flashes beckoned us.  We looked for better weather and birds outside, as the lighting and cracking thunder enveloped us.  Jade asked me to promise her that she would not get killed, but I demurred, saying that our summer clerkship program involved a certain amount of lowering  of their expectations.  I advised her to eat some more chips and sandwiches and look a the dolphins and whales we were seeing.  That way her final memory of the sea would be more positive and sublime.

             We found a few pockets of  decent weather, but the worst was still out there.  After burning fuel trying to get electrocuted further offshore, we decided to  become chickens of the sea and head toward terrestria.  At least we were not burdened by a fish cleaning chore.  While we were still ten miles out, the rain became torrential, yet warm. We all crowded inside the enclosure and consumed tall Stellas to maintain personal ballast.  By the time we got into the harbor, the downpour onshore was in full swing.  We stashed the rods and hauled ass for beers and burgers at Hennessey's, as I had vaguely promised our concerned young anglers that I would at least bring them back alive for hot food if they did not land their fish.  It was a decent venue to decompress.  The storm continued into the next day, as afternoon cells swept in from the south and caused flash floods further inland.


             On July 21, Isaac and I headed down to the Finder to clean up our gear and wash the boat down after two days of heavy rain on the water. We had been on a scouting trip on the 20th and found some giant tuna milling around about 35 miles off shore, but these majestic creatures did not want to die for us and we fled home at 30 knots as the afternoon storms without lightning caught us about 20 miles out.  It was raining so hard that the fuel dock would not pump gas.  The next day, we could not get the girls or Tommy and David to join us, as it was a trip that only promised chores and a probable boat ride.  The weather had changed to just plain hot, so was a good day to hit the surf and that’s what the other kids elected to pursue.

                Isaac called up Matt when we decided that we would poke out to take a look around in the balmy, clearing weather at 11 am. We headed southeast toward the domes at trolling speed, about 8 miles off shore.  There was a smattering of boats off San Onofre, and another group down by Las Pulgas.  We made a couple of drifts, but decided to keep rolling.  We trolled outside into increasingly warming water.  At about 12 miles out, we peaked out at 76 degrees..  We fished a couple of dolphin pods without drawing strikes.  We stopped on a couple of paddies and chopped and chummed while drifting baits before putting the trollers out and moving on.  We bent back to the west toward the 267 in water that was consistently above 73 degrees.  We found a few spots of puddling fish that would not go our way off San Clemente and the overall activity of the ocean seemed to increase, with white terns much more active and a general feeling of building “fishiness.”  

                We found a real nice paddy about 11.5 miles off Dana and shut off the motor.  We still had  most of our bait and chopped and chummed the recently departed back into the food chain.  We drifted for nothing, but marked fish 75 to 100 feet down.  Another boat, the Steadfast, came over to our paddy.  This always raises the potential for territoriality, but we decided to take a cooperative approach and remained in radio communication with their crew as we each drifted down a side of the paddy.  We ran uphill, cut the motor and drifted by for a second d pass.  I was instantly rewarded with a take within five seconds of throwing a pretty big fly-lined sardine on a 2/0 owner circle hook and 25 pound line.

             The fish quickly took my fluro/mono  down to the spectra backing and it felt like a tuna.  After a few minutes I had him close and Isaac sank a nice gaff shot to the head.  We were on the board.

                Isaac, noting the meter marks, decided to drop down on our power jigging rig, which is a 8 ½ foot Calstar stick with a Torsa 20 spooled with 80 spectra and a top shot of 40 pound. He let a flat fall jig flutter down and was picked up close to 100 feet down. He wound down and was wired on another 30 pound yellowfin that he dispatched with brutal efficiency on that powerful combo.

                We went up for another pass and Matt got lit up on the power spinner rig, with spectra and a short fluro top shot.  Although he did not want to be seen turning the handle on a spinner, he did anyway and started power pumping his fish to the boat, where Isaac introduced it to the gaff.  In the meantime, I had hooked up again on a fish that ended up towing our boat around on 25 pound line for over 20 minutes.  This was despite the fact that I tightened down the drag to a dangerous level once I got back all of the spectra line and was down to 100 yards of mono.  Although it turned out to be our biggest fish by a couple of pounds, it was under 35 pounds and resulted in a certain amount of criticism for taking so long, even after my orthopedic limitations were considered.  The Steadfast crew was also wired and the action was just getting hotter.  While my fish took me around the boat several times (I tried to stay in the bow as much as possible), Isaac got lit up again. 


               Another six pack boat, a 34 foot Radovich with a crew of anglers, some of whom had clearly been well fed by their mothers and wore baseball hats on backwards, cruised right in on the paddy.  At least they were chumming the area to get some meat for their customers after putting themselves between us and the paddy we were working.  In the meantime, with my fish straight up and down and Isaac’s fresh one still quite active, we encountered a tangle that cause us to think that we would lose both fish to line-wrap.   We went tip-to-tip several times to try and figure out which way to rotate our rods as the fish continued to circle each other and make things worse.  We eventually guessed right and, after an excitable exercise in rod twirling, I was back in the bow with mine and Isaac's began the death spiral to the gaff than Matt had waiting in the stern.

                We got both fish in the locker and were five-for five on that spot.  Meanwhile, the Radovich hooked a 10 pound dorado that flopped all over their deck when they finally got it aboard.  One of the crew grabbed a baseball bat and began pounding it into fish meal on the deck.  We could hear the impact and watch the blood splatter from our spot by the kelp when we ran up for one final pass.  In the meantime, another six pack boat, the 44 foot Pacifica “Comanche,”  rolled up on all of the excitement and  parked on the kelp  to drift for its customers.

                It was getting late in the afternoon when Steadfast and our crew said our goodbyes to each other as we left the area in the hands of the professional skippers who had barged in late.  We dragged our lures and fished a couple of paddies in the sunset, but really were out of time.  The water was extremely fishy within a mile of the headlands as we used up the last of our light.

               We were able to gas up after dark because the Fury was there adding 900 gallons to its tanks.  We had a chance to chat with Rick Doesburg, one of my favorite skippers in the world, about how this season was shaping up and discuss our mutual hatred of seals.  We did not get the boat cleaned up until nearly ten pm and then spent a couple more hours processing 150 pounds  (about 80 pounds of fillet) of tuna at home.  I fell into an exhausted sleep well after midnight, but it ended up being a pretty good day.

             Isaac went back out on Wednesday with our partner David and got another yellowfin that towed him around like mine had, so he is a bit more sympathetic to the elderly now.  When my kids turn ten, I generally make them fishing poles that are distinctly their own.  I just finished the rods I was wrapping for Tommy and Davey.

         The lads, who are roughly the size of chimpanzees (I always wanted one), are being shanghaied into the current offshore scenario that may be a bit above their current weight class, as this season is a remarkable one that may not come our way in the foreseeable future.

        These Mexican pelagics that are such a rare treat may stay for a few months, but they are within 5 miles from home port as I type this.  This is a ridiculously proximity for something that is mostly never around, so get at it while you can, because

These are the Days.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


     On Friday, July 10, my boat partner, Dr. Dave Mann, Isaac and I took the Finder out in search of the pelagics that have been all over our local waters.  We were loaded up with glistening gear and 60 pounds of ice at 5:30 am when we arrived at Everingham's bait barge to pick up a scoop of pretty big sardines and a few small mackerel.  We distributed them in our main and transom tanks, saving the port transom tank for bleeding out fish.  We made our way out into the calm waters of a breaking dawn that revealed lots of life in the form of birds and  seagoing mammals just off the headlands.    

   We had heard the reports of tuna down off the domes, but once again decided to arc a bit to the outside to get into the kelp lanes.  When we were trolling jigs on a 180 course we saw the Dana Pride fall in behind us a few miles back.  He made an abrupt left turn and headed toward the water outside the Domes.  The water was clean, the birds were flying and we saw several whales.  We kept rolling to the outside. We found several pods of dolphin and tried trolling and bait fishing them for nothing.  We trolled past and stopped on paddies with only a few boats on the horizon.  Most of the fleet had bee-lined it down the southeast.
    The weather outside was bright and calm, with very rich looking water and dolphins working through the area. We got into the kelp lanes about 13 miles out amidst 68-70 degree water and got a double jig strike on the hex head anchovy and six shooter dorado pattern, both with chrome heads.  Dave landed his very first yellow tail and we swung back to throw baits.  I got a little bigger grade of not-so big fish on bait and we managed to farm a few more.  We slow trolled an area that was rich in kelp and saw several areas of boiling fish that seemed to come up in the wrong places for us.  The area was fishy and we stayed on it, with trolled baits, as well as drifting fly-lined and deep baits, to no avail. 
            The yellows we boated had graduated from “rat” school and might have even qualified for the Western Outdoor News “fifteen pound class” description, which is used to describe a fish that reads at a much higher level than their actual dimension or age level would suggest.  If our fish had gone on living, they surely would have reached this weight, even if they were mentally retarded.
     We left the area and swung our trollers in an inside arc that took us past San Onofre and along the coast about 8 miles out.  We hit the hottest water (over 70) on the outside of this pattern and saw many whales.   We heard of some good radio fish (a few tuna and yellows on the inside), as well as open water jig strikes on Dorado outside.  We had planned to get off the water early in the afternoon, so we did, after we decided that we would get back out on the water even earlier the next day with a different plan.  We only burned a little over 20 gallons of fuel, so our 177 gallon capacity left plenty for as long a day as we could put together on a Saturday that we knew would be a zoo out there.  We left the starboard tank running with half a scoop, knowing that it probably would not survive until we got back in the morning
     Isaac and I grabbed ice and coffee at Circle K and mused about the possibility of Dave hooking up a big fish on his newly acquired medium sized saltwater spinning reel as we drove down to the harbor.  We met Dave at 4:30 and we were in the line-up for bait by 4:45 am.  Our leftover bait had rolled, so we had a bucketful to use for chop and chum duty.  We were probably 20 back in the total darkness of the line up for bait, as the news was clearly out.  The skippers in front of us all behaved admirably in close-quarters maneuvering as the line rapidly grew larger behind us. We were motoring out before sunrise with a scoop of trout-sized sardines and a smattering of bigger mackerel.
   Right outside the harbor we found 68 degree water and major bird action in the gray-light shadow of the headlands.  Several whales spouted around us and we heard some of them before we visually acquired their spouts.  A pod of at least a thousand dolphin were moving up the beach toward Newport and I resisted the temptation to head that way.  We kept the trollers out of the water and ran a line to the southeast about 7 miles out.
     There was creeping daylight on the water when we reached the domes.  There were only a few boats in the general area at this point and we went just past them to start metering.  Within a few minutes, we saw birds and breaking fish.  We shut off the motor and started throwing bait.  We sent one down with a sliding sinker.  Isaac cast out fly-lined bait with a Trinidad reel and Dave and I grabbed our spinners to fling sardines as far away from the boat as we could.  I had my tuna-proven Okuma Cedros spooled up with 80 pound spectra and mated to a cool Calstar rod I got used at the Jigstop for 30 bucks.   Dave had his new medium sized Penn spinner on a Shimano rod rated for 30 to 80 pound braid.  It looked pretty questionable for what we were after, but these new spinners are a different breed from what they used to be. I clicked my reel in ”baitfeeder” mode in the portside stern rod holder and began to chop up and chum our dead bait from the day before.
     The bird piles and tuna foaming beneath them began to move up current toward us.  We had a great slick going toward their advance.  Suddenly my reel began screaming as I wiped the gore off my hands and reached for my stick.  Dave lunged ahead of me and snatched my rod before waving it in all directions to set my fish free as his own reel began to scream.  Dave gave my  unburdened rod back to me and grabbed his own rod, which was loaded up on a fish that began to empty his spool.  After I begged him to get up into the bow several times, Dave looked at his reel and recognized the need to get up there.  He started to get back some line before the fish took off on a mightier run, which took the reel down to less than 100 yards of braid.  With Dave in the bow, we were able to follow the fish a short distance and blunt the effect of the run.  Dave began to make back some line by pumping his somewhat noodley rod and winding down.  For a while, he was standing.  Isaac hooked up and then had a line fatigue failure in his fluro leader below the connection.  We kept our  bait lines trailing, as several other boats hooked up as the approaching fleet swarmed the waters immediately around us.  The shearwater gulls began to swarm our chum and hook baits in the same way.  Isaac and I each caught and successfully released  several birds as we kept an eye on Dave and continued to offer our encouragement.  We put sinkers on our baits in an effort to cut down on the poultry harvest.

 Dave endeavours to persevere

     Meanwhile, Dave was remarking on how powerful his fish seemed to be as he eventually sat down on the bow seat to continue his give and take from a more relaxed position. The fish began coming toward us and Dave was furiously reeling to try and keep some arc in his rod and maintain a tight line.  The fish came to the surface about 20 yards downswell and I grabbed the gaff, thinking the moment of truth was at hand.  The fish had other ideas and began to take back all of the line that Dave had worked so hard to collect.  Dave was already  puffing and completely railed at the point where the fish began to make the predictable circles of defeat.  It came to color and remained about 6 to 10 feet below the bow for the next fifteen minutes.  The exhaustion  at either end of the rod and line was apparent, as neither the angler nor the fish seemed to have the strength to break the stalemate.  The fish circled on its side as I stood by with the gaff that I was concerned might rust apart before Dave summoned the will to bring the fish  up the last few feet and into range.  

     We stopped trying to gently encourage him and began to yell at him like drill seargents  to reach down and find the gas to kill this fish.  I was using our longest gaff and managed a head shot as the fish and Dave finally gave me the opening.  We got it into the bleed tank and turned to celebrate.  Dave could barely raise his arm for the high five, as we cracked the first of our “Simpler Times” discount beers from the cooler.  Dave announced that he was done fishing, as his arms had become as useless as those of an Irish river dancer.  No matter how good you are, taking a fish like that on a little spinner is a feat of skill and endurance. He richly earned his relaxed brew consumption as the fish cooled in the locker after we bled it out. The radio howled with inquiries from boats descending on the area like approaching Huns.  We were asked what kind of tuna it was.  At first, we said bluefin, but the other radio fish seemed to be straight yellowfin, so we decided our must be as well.

    Dave's unclassified tuna gets some cryotherapy in the hold.

     We fished the spot for a while longer, until the encroaching fleet pressed us to the point where we were just looking for a way out.  We found a path by going in and toward Oceanside, where we stumbled into a finning mako in the calm water.  We put out a live mackerel on our biggest rig, which we affectionately call the “pig.”  It is a 50 wide Tiagra spooled with 200 pound spectra below 130 pound mono.  It is a no-nonsense rig.  We kept trying to swing the bait into its path and each time we saw the shark, it looked bigger.  We were glad to have the pig on our team.
  We slow trolled the mackerel and the shark angled sharply into our wake and threw off a wake of its own as it zeroed in on the mackerel before it inexplicably sunk out.  We stopped the boat and began to rig another mackerel, slab-style, to a second shark rig as it seemed this mako was refusing our live offering.  As soon as we had it ready to go, the clicker on the pig began to growl as the shark decided to eat.  Isaac got on it right away and began to turn the handle as the rod arced over and the line started leaving more rapidly.  Suddenly the rig went slack.  Isaac reeled in and we observed that the shark had bit clean through our heavy single strand wire leader.  We put out the other rig for a few minutes before we admitted our loss and continued to find our way out of the fleet to make our way to the kelp lanes we had charted to the outside the day before.
     We put out the trollers and began to rotate jigs as we found 69 to 70 degree water below the 267.  We stopped to drift baits and chum on several paddies that were not holding and dragged by several more without drawing strikes.  Isaac was glassing the horizon from the roof as we spotted whales and dolphins to key on. Dave began to regain strength through beer rehydration and got fire up for the hunt again.  As we swung by another paddy,  Isaac came off the roof like a monkey, telling us there was a big school of dorado swimming by the paddy, which was one of several in the immediate area. 

     We got the trollers stowed and crept on the paddy from up swell.  I shut the engine down and  pinned on a huge sardine that seemed pretty lively.  I made a long, spinner-enhanced cast that landed three feet to the left of the paddy and was almost instantly rewarded by a big take that screamed line off my reel.  I let the rod load up and pulled back to a solid hookset.  The fish went uphill and I was able to walk to the bow and get out of the way.  To our surprise, no other hook ups followed.  My fish showed us some big shoulders as it began a vertical dive that betrayed the head shakes of a yellowtail.  After about ten minutes, I had him flattened out on the top and Isaac sunk the gaff for a bloodless head shot.  It was a fish worth celebrating.  We made a few more drifts through the kelps in the area before heading toward Dana.  We switched all our trollers out to Rapalas in an effort to drag up the dorado that had breezed through ahead of that  big yellow, but we got no more love.  We had two big fish, so the troll home was not so desperate.  We saw many more whales and several small pods of dolphin.

  Happiness is a loaded rod and a singing reel   

     As we were on our way in, I decided to get a head start on the clean up by soaping up and scrubbing  down the cockpit. The angle of the deck to the stern would be ideal with the raw water hose down to follow my brushwork.  That way, the final freshwater rinse at the slip would be brief and easy.  Dave was driving and Isaac was on the bow, getting some much needed sun.  Isaac generally refuses this open water washdown task, as he claims it increases the risk of slipping on a soapy and moving deck.  I might have been thinking that this picky attitude is just a rationalization for laziness, when the boat rolled in the swell and I suddenly encountered the starboard gunwhale with my ribs as my soapy shoes went the other way.  I almost went in, but managed to grab one of the trollers and briefly lingered in virtual man-overboard scenario with very little air in my lungs.  The crew, whose attention was drawn by the sound of my impact, stopped the boat and sought assurance that I was undamaged.  I was a bit shocky for about a minute and pissed at myself for a lot longer.  I saw a doctor yesterday and he ruled out any damage to my lung.  I have cracked my ribs on a couple of prior occasions, so I know that the next few weeks will involve trouble sleeping, laughing, or my customary heavy breathing at Wendy.
     We got back to the house to drink some well-earned scotch before we cut up and divided the fish. Even with half of the catch, we had many people over for BBQs and sashimi fests over the next two days, with some still going into the freezer.

  Our skipper contemplates the wet work ahead    

     These fish are certainly starting to show up, even as I continue to give myself setbacks.  While a cracked rib may be a drag, I have not taken enough damage to keep me off the water.
     These fish are here and the bite is getting stronger, so I am like the Yorktown in getting back into the action, celebrating the time we get to have, and the natural fact that ….
These are the Days.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

4th of July Weekend Child's Plate Exotics


                Carter and his son Parker joined my ten year old twins Tommy and David and I on a July 2nd trip out of Dana to look for the tuna and yellowtail others had been catching, at least on the radio.

               We picked up a scoop of bait from Everingham’s and headed out on a wobbly 180 heading.  We hit 66 degree water out of the harbor and put the jigs out when it got to 68 a few miles out.  We took a big bend to the northwest, mostly dragging cedar plugs.  Kelp paddies were hard to find.  We got a few decent sized bonito out near the 267 and then turned our bend to the inside of the 209 and toward the 312.  We got into 69 degree water, which went up to 70 as we got into uncrowded, smooth water with increasing sunlight.  We dragged in with dolphin pods we encountered on the way, but they were not holding any tuna we could tempt with our jigs.  We threw bait on the rare and spindly kelp paddies we were able to spot, but got no love or meter marks.  We saw few bird piles and the life seemed closer to the coast than the path we chose.  We switched out the jigs to chrome headed tuna jigs and were rewarded with some kid sized yellowtail that came off a couple of paddies to make the trollers sing. 

We bled them, as we did the bonito, and got them into ice brine in the fish hold to preserve sashimi grade quality.

                Right as we arrived right on the spot for the 312, a pile of big bluefin began leaping out of the water less than 100 yards to port.  There were no birds.  We stopped and threw bait and then striped the water as we tried to box the area, but it was all show and no go for the big fish. 

                Carter, who said he would bring the beer, managed to get 8 of them on board, and we nursed them like shipwrecked sailors as we ground through the day.  We headed toward Oceanside from the 312 and hit a big band of 72.4 degree water right about the time the afternoon wind started to stack the swell behind us.  The radio chatter became more active as the members of the San Diego fleet with enough beer on board began to give voice to ideas that they had just begun to form when they hit the mike.  Either they had caught their limit and were in danger of sinking from all the huge fish they were comparing or they were begging like three-year olds for the numbers from those who were bragging.

                When we were just inside the 312, we got a screaming jig strike on the short corner, which was occupied by a chrome headed six-shooter with a dorado pattern skirt.  We felt like this was the right kind of fish and Carter was elected to turn the handle.  Pretty soon we saw a beautifully lit bull Dorado leaping far back in the wake.  After a few jumps that excited our youthful crew, Carter skillfully brought it flashing to the corner where I eventually was able to hit a good gaff shot after a few moments of pandemonium.

                We hit cooler water as we approached Oceanside and then took the big left turn in increasing wind and stacks of close interval chop that put us in the ditch for the five hours of trolling and hitting paddies for nothing that lay between us and Dana.  The water was mostly 68 to 69 for this stretch, which was loaded with dolphin, several whales and empty kelps for a zig-zag stretch that involved water mostly 6 to 9 miles off the coast.  The ride home was a beerless roll that took its toll, but we had fish in the hold and that nice Dorado to go with the bonito and yellows cooling in the icy slush.  We were on the water 13 hours and heard much radio talk of folks who hit a bigger payday than we did, but it was a good day for us and raised hopes for the great season we are all anticipating.

                The morning after a wonderful 4th of July BBQ and sashimi fest at our friends Capistrano beach house to take in the fireworks, Tommy and David went with me to get the rest of the gear off the boat and take a little exploratory trip without bait.  We made a similar, but much lesser arc, with no beer and found lots of dolphins that were under the wrong kind of birds and would not give up whatever tuna might have been sneaking around with them.

                We got a nice bonito on the short corner. 

        Then  we hit a couple of yellowtail off a good paddy near the 267 before turning for Cottons. 

  The water was 68 to 70 degrees and the fish seemed to key in on the anchovy pattern; dorado pattern or catchee style chrome headed small jigs.  We heard about a friend catching a 40 pound bluefin later in the day, but it was a short trip for us.  The boys did a great job of helping out and reeling in all of the fish, so we are all learning.  The ride in was much less onerous and we were home in time to watch the US Women’s soccer team defeat another Axis power.

At the fuel dock, Tommy schooled David on the art of fish picture postioning.

                We had about 18 people over for a combination sashimi/Greek dinner to celebrate the future of the US economy and the summer of big fish that surely beckons.
                We turned a lot of folks on to the idea that bonito, when properly cared for and expertly carved up, makes excellent sashimi.  Our guests, especially the many college kids who arrived to hang out, mowed through the sashimi like tuna on a bait ball.
                The 4th means the summer is here.  It also means that it will be gone faster than anyone will want to see it get away.   The takeaway is to make your kids get out of bed and get out there while you can, because....

                These are the Days.