Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Romance of Sunset Tuna

     Kurt , his son Scott, my son Isaac and his girl Sera agreed to go out for what has become the usual siege of fuel and bait against the shoals  of tuna that have invaded our very backyard to the sea.  Isaac heads off to Berkeley next week, so this was the last chance in this exceptional summer for me to fish with my favorite and most-helpful  fishing companion.  Isaac has grown into an accomplished waterman who can do everything on the boat and help less experienced anglers find success.

     We were about 20th in line for bait at 3:30 am at the Dana bait barge, where we got about a 70/30 mix of big sardine and bigger mackerel.  We got an extra ½ scoop for chop and chum, in case the bait tank mortality was too thin.  No worries about that.  Like most of this year’s fast turn-around bait, the sardines succumbed to the mackerel’s fullback style orbit.  They were too numerous and we were too lazy in the choppy ride to try and separate them.

We decided to avoid the masses heading toward the spots off the county border.  We punched out into radar driving and chop during the last hour of a pretty great meteor shower.   Sea temps outside the harbor  started at 68 and got warmer as we made our way out.   It was 71 when we started fishing in the early light at the 267.  We trolled around for nothing and none of the paddies we stopped on to chum and drift were marking fish.  Channel 72 was filled non-stop with the usual howling, begging and vulgarity that characterizes  weekend Piscatoria.

We hit the 209 for much the same thing as the wind on the lumpy seas freshened.  We found more promising and numerous paddies, but none produced.  We hit the 277 and found 71-72.4 water, no birds and lots of nice kelps that consumed our bait and chum.  We trolled back towards San Clemente and decided at 1:40 to beat it Back to Dana to get more dines and we moved the mackerel to the center tank.  We re-baited with the dine/mackerel  party mix and headed out to a blue whale we marked, along with some fish below.  These were the first fish we had marked all day.

Within a mile of the harbor entrance, we had a marlin swim by and then pop up again right under our bow when we stopped to try and locate it.  We cast a mackerel in the direction we last saw it and trolled around without raising it.  We found the whale and a huge kelp nearby, but it was only 2.5 miles out.  We baited/chummed the spot and had our backs turned when the whale came up less than twenty yards from our shut down boat.  It came right over to us and swept virtually under our pulpit to huff some big mist out of its salad-bowl sized blowhole.  We got nothing, but  were not discouraged, as almost all of our tuna this year have come near sunset after a hard day of fishing for little or nothing.

We zig-zagged all over the off shore lane running from Dana to Carlsbad, looking for paddies, birds and marks.  At Carlsbad, in 72 degree water at about 6 pm, we headed in from about 13 miles out and saw a tern ahead flutter the right way.  We headed towards it and watched as a storm of birds began to form at the spot and then race to the northwest at more than 10 knots.  We banged into the swell  and setting sun to give chase and head off what looked like a pod of miniature dolphins and turned out to be tuna acting the same way.  We got into their paths and threw chopped chum and either almost dead, or dead sardines.  We got hooked up  times three and landed two. 
 Anglers prepare for charging school of tuna splashing toward Fishfinder

 Isaac hangs one while wearing his "Friends of the Sea Lions" T shirt

 Tuna meets the steel

 By then, the tuna were gone and were probably several miles away.  We rode straight into the sunset in pursuit and found them on the same course.  We got in front, but they turned left and we had to wind in and chase, dragster style, as the sun got low. 

Scott poses for Glamour Shot as anglers go bendo behind him

We found them again and had more chop to feed them.  We hung another three and got them into the boat.  These were 35 pound models.  Sera made her fishing debut with a quality yellowfin.  We headed back into a jarring chop and butchered our catch on the new table I built to save my wretched back from the crappy cutting board and wet towel combination with which I have been getting by.

We lost a couple large tuna that ended up virtually spooling us and then grinding back through the desperation drag we pressured up to stop from getting spooled.  We should have backed down on the drags once we got back enough line to calm down, but nobody’s perfect.

Father and SUN on a double

Kurt strains to elevate his fish while Scott is more casual with that task

This is almost exactly the same thing we did last week when we got 3 yellow fin and one big dorado in the morning and then went back for bait to take advantage of a sunset bite down south that got us 2 more dorado and 6 more yellowfin.  We chummed furiously to bring the tuna to a paddy isaac found that was initially holding a few dorado.

Isaac reaps it on the paddy he found and chummed up last week

Rob and Erik on last week's evening bite, when we got 9 tuna and 3 dorado

We were offloaded and driving for more ice and home before 11pm.  19  hours;  106 gallons of fuel; and 2 ½ scoops of  bait for five 30 plus pound tuna we got lucky enough to find again with the people we love.

Time is the stream we all go fishing in, and these times are as spectacular as the meteors that greeted us when this trip started. 

  These Are The Days.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


On August 1, 2015 Tommy and David joined their older set of  twins, Isaac and Lizzy, for a crack at bending the new rods I just built for them on some local pelagics.  The rods were mated to Torium 16s, spooled with 65 spectra and 100 yard top shots of 25# P-line.  The fish have been cooperating, so we did not bother with fluorocarbon.

We decided to skip the Saturday morning predawn line up at Everinghams and took a nice late start, arriving at the bait barge in the daylight at 7:30 am.  There were only a couple of boats ahead of us.  Jeff the baitmaster hooked us up with trout sized sardines and a few mackerel.

We headed south and put out the trollers.  We occasionally stopped on some marks to chop and chum the casualties from the bait tanks while drifting live baits, which has been the primary technique this year. The marks were mostly below 100 feet and they would not rise to our offerings or hit the iron we dropped down on whatever was down there.  We kept going.  The seas were light, temps ranged between 72 and 74 and we mostly stayed between 8 to 12 miles from shore.

We dragged in with some dolphin pods, but got no action.  We stopped on a few pieces of hard to find kelp and mostly stayed away from the big crowds of boats down by the domes and off Oceanside.  The boys consumed snacks and took several lengthy naps on top of the jumble of equipment and lifejackets below.

The radio was filled with particularly hate-filled epithets, even for a weekend, as vulgarities were exchanged among the rude, lines were crossed and worlds collided in the areas of heavy boat traffic where fish had been reported.  We stayed away from the big crowds, but still encountered day boater dirt bikers that raced up on us when we were drifting and chumming above sonar marks, as they must have thought we were on fish that they were entitled to intercept at close range.

In the mid afternoon we got a blind strike on a yellowfin that hit a purple catchee behind a daisy chain of black and green hootchies.  We cleared the trollers and threw baits as Isaac dragged the fish to the gaff.  We stopped, chummed  and drifted without follow up from any of his friends, but the ocean was getting livelier.  Water temps were closer to 74 and the wind started up.

We started heading out from Carlsbad where there was not much traffic.  We turned toward Dana at 4 pm, still confident that we could take advantage of a bite that has mostly been late in the day for our crew, no matter how early we seem to get out there.  We had the trollers out when we saw a driveway sized paddy down swell.  As we pointed toward it, we got a jig strike on a purple halco trolled on the short corner.

David endeavours to persevere

David was elected to turn the handle as we finally got on the board with the smallest yellowfin we have boated this year, but it was perfect for David’s first tuna. 

The fish still muscled David around a bit, so that by the time we had cleared the trollers and boated his fish, we were drifting down directly on that massive kelp hotel.  We started chopping and chumming with the abundant dead bait that the afternoon generally provides.  When we got even with the paddy we could see action on the surface and Tommy got lit up on his new bait stick ( it was actually David’s, but he graciously allowed Tommy to take on the fish, since he had just boated the first one on the troller).

Tommy endeavours to persevere.

Tommy’s fish took him around the boat several times, but he gamely hung in there and did all of the climbing around he needed to do to get the fish within gaff range.  During the fight, we saw free-swimming dorado flashing in the clear blue water below the boat. 

Tommy got his fish to gaff and was so exhausted that he had to  go below and eat virtually an entire box of powdered donuts before rejoining us. 

We kept up a regular cadence of chopped sardine and fresh baits in the water.  Surprisingly, we had the paddy all to ourselves.  A couple of sport boats came closer from the distance, including a couple of long range boats out of San Diego.  They kept at binocular distance and seemed to have their own action further outside.

Lizzy hung a tuna and leaned back to stroke it to the surface as Dad and David watched with concern.

David got lit up again and enjoyed the same multiple orbits around the boat as these 20 pound plus yellowfin screamed line off of his rig.

Dad clears lines as David comes up the rail

Lizzy got lit up by a dorado and it dragged her around the boat a few times and got into the air before she subdued it. 

Proud Daddio hoists Lizzy's first dorado

 The boys each hooked up on dorado as heart-pounding mayhem overtook our immediate environment. Everyone concentrated and nobody came unbuttoned during long bouts of rod bending excitement.  The bite just kept getting better and free swimmers began crashing around us.

With everyone else a bit tuckered from these strong fish on light gear, Isaac put the wood to a quality yellowfin as we watched the sun get low. 

 Happy to be here

Dad gaffs the final fish of the day before we fled for home

We had gone eight for eight on hooked fish and it was time to leave them biting.

 Dontcha wish it could always be like this?

 There was no way we were going to be able to cut up all of these fish and be back before dark.  We were planning on taking the kids’ high school teacher, MR. BAKER, out the next morning, so there would be no rest for the weary. Thankfully, Wendy was not waiting for us to bring her little boys back home, as she was spending the night in Long Beach.  The boys and Lizzy hit the rack below; as Isaac took the wheel and I started to cut fish on our crappy fish board in a sideways swell.  I got the five tuna butchered first and the dorado were all cut in the cloudy darkness at 8 miles an hour.

The fish box is a  great place to cool off on a day like this

By the time the fish were cut and we could start going faster, we were still 18 miles out.  We came home on the radar at a speed that was a little uncomfortable for nocturnal maritime travel, but we just wanted to get in.  The blue moon rose above the coastal clouds right as we got to Dana Harbor after 10 pm.  Folks were still partying on their boats in the marina as we pulled in and gave some of our bagged fish to our friend JT, who helped us offload our gear and drag our stuff up to the truck.

Sarah, who was going with us the next day, was stoked about our news.  The little boys, though they probably got eight hours sleep out there, were destined for their swim award BBQ and got to sleep in.
Wendy arrived home at 7 am the next day (Sunday), shortly before Connor Devaney and Baker, the youngest looking high school teacher in America, joined Isaac, Lizzy, Sarah and I for an even later start.  When we got to the boat around 8:30 am, our main bait tank had failed and we were stocked with plenty of dead for chum, with one big mackerel that survived the die-off.  We filled our two remaining auxiliary bait tanks with a nice scoop of bait (a bit smaller than yesterday’s) from Jeff at the barge.

We engaged in much the same pattern and trolled toward our numbers from the previous bonanza.  There was no way we were going to be first on that huge paddy and we stopped on a few marks and applied our chum liberally for nothing.

When we were about five miles short of “the spot”, we saw a mako finning and quickly hooked up the mackerel to a shark rig.  The shark sunk out and we scanned the horizon.  The kids spotted a fin, but it was moving much faster.  This time, it was a hammerhead, harbinger of pelagic game fish.  We headed it off and began to fling our chopped bait to start a chum line.  We got marks at a little over a hundred feet as our fly-lined baits trailed up swell.  We dropped a sinkered bait just to keep the fish honest.  We yo-yoed the flat fall jig.  Then we got a solid mark 35 feet directly below the boat.

“I’m on!”  Lizzy said from the bow, as the line began screaming off her spinner, which was loaded with 250 yards of 30#.  She handed off the fish to Connor, who watched his first tuna strip his line dangerously close to the spool.

Connor endeavours to persevere

 I put the boat in gear as we chased it about twenty yards as Connor made back some of the line.  The fish took him to the stern, where I tightened up the drag a few notches.  For the next half hour, Connor was taken in a continuous orbit around the boat and we all had to clear a path for him.  The fish finally came awkwardly to gaff under the bow of the boat, as we were just glad to get in on the boat.  We had a solid 35 pounder over the rail and were on a 14 for 14 streak of no fish lost.

Connor takes jackpot honors on Day 2

Connor got a take and handed off to Baker, their beloved teacher, who is also a very experienced angler with cool equipment. 

Baker comin' down the rail

Baker went round in much the same fashion with a hybrid bait/jig stick that is a little stiff and less forgiving than most of the noodlier rods we were employing on these fish.  Dorado began jumping in our chum slick. A tin boat with two desperados noticed our hookup  and shot over from seemingly out of nowhere (we had been miles from any other boat) to park on our slick and the fish that had previously been boiling up swell.  We shook our heads at them, but they stayed barnacled to our efforts.  Baker’s fish came unbuttoned to howls of disappointment. 

Shortly after that, I got picked up on my Truline “Excalibur” and I handed off to Sarah, who started another exhausting exhibition in rod arcing and grunt-emitting action at the rail. 

Sarah's tuna comes up to sample the gaff

She was as spent as that fish when we finally got the steel into it and hoisted it over the rail. 

One for the Fatherland

We worked the spot for a while longer, but it seemed our promising window at that location had dissipated.  We pushed on toward our magic paddy.  When we got to the area, it was later in the afternoon and the spot was crowded with angry and manner-less anglers, some of whom could be heard expressing their frustration on the radio.  We turned away and headed out.  We found a small paddy and stayed about 40 yards off as we started chumming.  We got no marks but decided to fish it before heading back north.  I was yo-yoing a jig and must have looked like I was hooked up.  A 50 foot plus yacht turned toward us and squatted down as its skipper hit the throttle for flank speed and began bearing down on us.  He drove right up over the top of the paddy we were fishing as his crew began to cast lines like they were in a calf roping contest.  They dragged Isaac’s fly-lined bait in and made no effort to back off or apologize.  They were clearly rich, but honor-less retards of the sea, so we just kept the .45 below and left without saying a word.

On the way back up, with the sun getting low, we approached a small paddy with the trollers out. There were no other boats visible. We got a jig strike before we got there and pulled in a yellowfin on a dorado-pattern cedar plug behind a yellow and orange pattern hootchie daisy-chain.

Sarah muscles up final fish of the day

We slid toward the paddy and started chumming cut bait with our fly lines in good position.  From what I am convinced was a wormhole from Arkansas, a speeding day boater occupied by cartoonishly obese shirtless dorks, came roaring out of nowhere to pull a sliding brodie right on top of the kelp we were drifting from 30 yards away.  “Having any luck around here?” one of them yelled at us in a voice loud enough to make his big fat tits bounce in rhythm to his stupid salutation.  We just stared at them and said “Apparently, this is not our day” as they dropped their baits on the bits of the paddy they had just blended up with their prop.  They bounced around for a few minutes before putting the throttle down to virtually pop a wheelie as they roared away toward another episode of “Whale Wars”

We turned in disgust for Dana and put out the trollers.  We stopped on some marks below San Mateo, but got no love as the sun began settling.  We hit cruising speed and were about a mile from the harbor entrance after sunset, when we encountered an extraordinary performance by a juvenile humpback whale that put on the greatest breaching show I have ever seen in these waters.  We cut the motor and drifted next to it as it seemed to be showing off for us.  We could hear it breathing and slapping the water with its huge pectoral fins.  We were transfixed by this display for about 40 minutes and left in wonder, as we once again made landfall in the darkness.  It was a fantastic end to a great weekend spent almost entirely on the water.

Hammerheads, tuna, dorado, jumping whales, and a big fat El Nino that still has a lot of gas in the piscatorial tank.
 This may go on for a long time, but get out there while you can, because 

These are the days.