I met Randy Villanueva this year and he’s come out fishing with me a few times now.  This season was Randy’s first one venturing offshore.  He made his initial effort on the 2 day 976-Tuna trip we did on The Chief with Capt. Chris Randel.  Solid trip, but Randy was sick the whole first day 🙁  He did manage to score a nice yellowfin early morning Day 2 and added some yellowtail to his final count.  After getting his first taste though…he still wanted another fix before the season ends.  He ventured out last week on his own.  Below is his story…

We’re still seeing some nice scores out there on the tuna.  With a little luck, you could still get yours.  Better hurry though!

Figuring Out Bluefin Tuna

Seaforth Landing

Seaforth Landing

After going offshore with Joe and Vance on the Chief, I had been yearning to go out again and knock off a bluefin tuna.  Being the first season I have actually gotten offshore, I was somewhat worried about going offshore alone.  I began scrutinizing the counts and looking at who was still getting them.  I noticed Greg Gawitt and the crew on the Pride out of Seaforth were whacking them.  Limits on overnights almost every day!  I took a solid week, looking at the counts daily, and it was consistent.

I was excited, I would run down to San Diego after work Monday, fish all day Tuesday and be back in the office bright and early Wednesday morning.  I got to Seaforth with a ton of time to spare so I hung out in the shop and got some intel.  Within the week before my trip the bite had changed dramatically – the boats were dropping down line size and changing out hook size and type.  I grabbed some extra fluoro and some other hooks that the shop recommended then grabbed dinner.  When I got back, it didn’t look good.  The previous night’s trip was just getting back in and had struck out.  The guys who were waiting to get onboard were not feeling good.  I had faith in the trip and did my best to rally everyone.

As we got onboard, Capt. Greg gave us a rundown.  We were loaded up with fresh sardines and we were going long…90 miles south to the warmer cleaner water.  “This trip isn’t a fishing trip.  It’s a fish killing mission!”  He took the time to sit down with us to give us a trip seminar.  His directions for the trip were to use 20lb and smaller 1/0 live bait hooks.  He recommended we should fish our baits butt hooked.  All of this information was much different than what I had experienced before on the Chief.  On the Chief trip, we fished 40 with 3/0 ringed circle hooks, and nose hooked sardines.

I was concerned.  I had never fished a butt hooked bait, so I felt unprepared.  I was going to have to figure out these BFT on the fly, something I was hoping I wouldn’t have to do.  But it was something I was ready to tackle head on.  Heading down, I had a lot of time to rig.  I started with a 1/0 circle hook and a short shot of 25lb fluoro tied to my 40lb main.  I was ready to go and was psyched; it would be Hero or Zero at this point.  I hit the sack, said a prayer, and had an amazing night of sleep.

I woke up at grey light and joined the guys at the rail.  We were still motoring down with time to go, so we killed time putting out trolling rigs and cracking jokes.  About an hour away from the zone, we got hit on the troll.  I grabbed the rod and knew immediately that it wasn’t a random yellow or even a YFT.  After a brief battle on the trolling gear, I brought in the first bluefin of the trip.  We were in the game.  We hit a few paddies loading up on yellowtail, and eventually found a school of BFT that wanted to play.

As we slid up on a kelp, Cody was up chumming the fish and Capt Greg came down quickly to help us out.  It took some time, but a few fish started to hang.  I was excited to try and fish this new style and lobbed out my first sardine.  It took off like a bat out of hell, so hot in fact I couldn’t tell if I was bit or if the bait was taking line that quick.  Lesson number one, learn the difference between the BFT taking the bait versus the bait taking off.  It was awkward and a lot of us on the boat had a hard time getting adjusted.  I took Capt. Greg’s advice and then tied on 20lb fluoro and switched over to a 1/0 live bait hook.  Unfortunately I couldn’t adapt fast enough and didn’t get bit during this flurry.  I noticed one guy though that landed three during this stop.  I was definitely bummed that I wasn’t able to get one on my own gear.  My gut had been telling me I should have started off with my confidence setup and gone down from there.  After talking with the guy who got three, my gut was right – he got all three of his fish on 30lb with a circle hook, nose hooking his sardines.  Lesson number two, BFT are the aquatic versions of the honey badger.  They will do as they damn well please.  Some of the school we slid up on was incredibly skittish; others were reckless in how they bit.  It was literally luck of the draw who got bit.

randy_bftIt wasn’t easy and I was disappointed.  I blew my shot to get a BFT with my own gear. Feeling the pride and satisfaction of knowing that you landed one with your own equipment, without any help or aid was going to elude me that day.  During this trip, not only was I trying to figure out a fish that is known for being one of the hardest fish to catch in the offshore fishery, but I also had to adapt to new fishing techniques.  This in itself became Lesson #3, BFT fishing is about learning to think on your toes and process information on the fly.  I had to learn new techniques the night before and had to be prepared to bring in a fish which could be up to 60lbs on line that I normally fish Calico’s with.  This trip definitely forced me to think outside of the box, as well as look at things with a grain of salt.  At the end of the day I should have trusted my gear and gone with what I knew would work.  Rather than just jumping into the odd if not unconventional tactics being suggested, I should have taken a moment to break everything down.  At the core of it, fishing bluefin isn’t just about figuring out the fish – they don’t really conform to anything that we can think of.  Really they change daily and that is part of the mystique of catching them.  Fishing for bluefin is more about being able to adjust and being able to change up at the drop of a dime.  While I wish I could have said that I limited out this trip, it wasn’t meant to be.  Honestly, trips like this are what make us cherish and savor those trips where it is absolutely wide open.

Have I figured bluefin out?  Definitely not, but will I go into next year’s offshore season with more confidence and a different mindset.  Being willing to adapt and change is the key to getting bit; as these fish change inside of the season and as the fishery as a whole changes – to be successful we have to be willing to change up our mindsets, our gear, and our game to adapt.  At the end of it, to figure out the bluefin simply means being willing to change.  Adapt and overcome.

Editorial note – What Randy experienced is pretty typical this late in the season.  They had to go long to find them, and then there was just one small window that they found biting fish.  You can help yourself a lot if you have a couple different setups pre-rigged, so instead of re-rigging, you just grab another pole.  Also, if you can swing it, go on a longer trip.  Your chances will increase of finding that biting school in the allotted time.  



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