Charter Masters: John of Grip-n-Hook & Jeff of One Cool Tuna

In Part 2, I was sitting at Seaforth when the Eclipse arrived.  When they rolled up the cart with the day’s catch, I found they had a nice pick of 75 bluefin tuna (BFT).

There are 2 competing theories when it comes to taking fishing trips.  There are the Watch The Count guys, who monitor all the reports and when something big happens (like when the San Diego nailed 103 yellowtail in May, or when the Redondo Special limited on WSB in June) they’re out there the next day.  I do this all the time.  I went out that Tuesday after the Special got their biscuits and I was up in the Channel Islands after they got their record flattie.  The problem with this methodology though, especially during the height of fishing season in the summer, is that sometimes you are left on the sidelines because you didn’t plan ahead and all the boats (or at least the right ones) are booked.  So the other theory is Plan to Fish & Make a Wish.  In other words, make your reservations and hope for the best.

I tend to fall into the first camp, but this summer, I’ve been forced to do more of the latter.   The captains and crews have been talking about seeing vast schools of tuna, getting closer and closer to San Diego, for months.  I knew that at some point they’d want to start biting.  When Jeff invited me on his charter a few weeks back, I figured that it would be as good a chance as any to have my shot on the tuna.  A lot of hoping and praying occurred the week leading up to Labor Day Weekend, so I was very happy that the bite appeared to be on as we got ready to board.

The first thing I noticed about the Eclipse was that it has a nice wide beam.  It also has lots of space between the cabin and the rail.  There were reports that the sea was going to be rough out there, so a wide beam makes for a more stable fishing platform.  The space between the cabin and rail is key because when the bite is on, and someone who’s hooked up needs to follow their fish, it sure helps to have some more space to negotiate those exchanges.   When we boarded the boat, the next thing I noticed was that there was plenty of storage space for everyone’s gear.  My bag is pretty big and I hate boats that don’t have adequate stowage.  Once we were loaded and underway, Capt. Rick Podolak did a thorough job of letting us know what to expect the following day.  We were only headed about 50-55 miles out (vs. 100+ that had been reported the previous week), to the Hidden Bank.  There, we’d encounter 3 temporary holding pens for the commercial tuna operation (same outfit that runs the pens by the Coronado Islands off Tijuana).  Apparently, the free tuna were holding by the pens and we’d be doing drifts by them, fishing live sardines.  Capt. Rick said to use a 30# rig to start the day in the pre-dawn light, and then drop to a 20# rig once the sun was up.  For hooks, 2/0 or 1/0 depending on the size of the bait and how the fish were biting.  I already had 2 separate rigs setup, so I was able to hit my bunk confident that I was properly setup for the following morning.

One of the tuna pens (photo courtesy of One Cool Tuna)

The next morning we were in the spot and I woke up around 4am to get some coffee and scope things out.  Wow, it seemed like the entire overnight fleet was out here!  By 5am, we were on our first drift.  Out of the gate, the bite was strong.  I started out with my 30# mono setup.  Guys were getting bit all around me, but I wasn’t 🙁

The boat picked off about a dozen on the first drift.  We reeled in our lines and went back up the line to setup another drift.  I grabbed my other setup and tied on one of the leaders John Anjard had tied for me while we were on the Double yesterday…2/0 circle hook, with 20# fluoro leader.  One thing I noticed about that first drift was that the bites were occurring far out from the boat.  Successful anglers were using big baits and butt hooking them.  I normally nose hook my baits.  On the second drift, bites were happening all around me again, but not for Salty.  I was getting frustrated, and a big part of my frustration was I discovered it was a real PITA trying to butt hook baits with circle hooks.   The boat took in another dozen or so, and I was still waiting for my first bite.  As we went back up to setup the 3rd drift, I cutoff  the leader I was using and started from scratch using 20# fluoro, but this time tying on a 2/0 ringed bait hook.

Gaff! (Photo courtesy of One Cool Tuna)

I really had to talk myself through this rough patch.  Before I left, Brandon Hayward reminded me on Facebook that success was all about picking good baits.  I was glad to have put in time recently calico fishing, flylining sardines.  The same principles of bait selection applied here (other than picking bigger baits), so I was confident enough that I was doing the right thing and it was just a matter of finding the right combination of line and hook before I too enjoyed success hooking up on these tuna.  Finally on the 3rd drift I hooked into and landed my first tuna!  I was ready to eat the heart, but things on deck were so frenetic that the crew wasn’t worried about ceremony.  The bite was hot, the deck was bloody and all they cared about was gaffing tuna, getting them on board and then helping the next angler.

John & Salty strike the pose (photo courtesy of One Cool Tuna)

Long story short, I managed to get 2 more BFT using this combination of 2/0 ringed bait hook and 20# fluoro leader.  I burned out a reel in the process (Torium 16), and went back up to my 30# rig, but tying on a new leader.  I hooked up, but this setup was too heavy and I ended up pulling the hook out the fish’s mouth.  I pulled off my Avet MX from the stiffer rod and put it on the Seeker 6465 that the Torium was on and there was enough give with this combo to make up for the lack of give from the spectra.  I ended up 3 for 4 hookups.  The boat missed a limit (5 per angler) by 2 fish, so put that on me.  Next time I’ll know exactly what I need and get my limit.

Final notes on the boat…deckhands Cale and Steve were great…other than Cale giving me the stink eye as I wasted baits struggling with the circle hooks 😉  The food was fantastic!  Chef Kairi in the galley is a former Marine and knew how to feed us hungry anglers.  His menu was “off the hook”…we had breakfast quiche and pancakes, chicken alfredo for lunch, and curry shrimp and langostinos over rice for dinner.  For dessert, he prepared…wait for it…banana creme pudding made from scratch.  I guess we busted 2 fishing superstitions on this trip between me not eating the heart, and bananas on a fishing boat.  It was a great experience all around and I highly recommend the Eclipse for your next fishing adventure.  Thanks John and Jeff.  Thanks Capt. Rick and Eclipse crew.  Tight lines!

It seems like you only see sunsets like this on the ocean

 

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