lechonIt was my birthday last week.  Growing up, our family would usually go pretty big on Memorial Day Weekend.  My brother Rob’s and my birthday bookend the weekend and we often would have a big blowout party to celebrate both our birthdays…highlighted by roasting a whole pig Filipino style (lechon) on an open fire pit.

I knew I wanted to go big for the weekend in similar fashion.  Months in advance, I setup a trip with one of my heroes of both fishing and writing, Brandon Hayward.  Brandon’s writing is what gave me structure and set me on the right path toward being a legit salty angler in Southern California.  As the weekend approached my plans were coming together nicely.  Not only would I have the trip with Brandon, but I was invited out by Capts. Mark Gillette and Chris Switzer of Eclipse Sportfishing to ride their 5am to 5pm trip on Friday.  They’d be looking outside for tuna as several boats had reported catches within day range from Mission Bay.  I realized I had an opportunity to potentially achieve something great over the weekend…a Triple Crown of our apex gamefish – yellowtail, tuna, and white seabass.  Here’s how the weekend played out.

Friday, May 22 Aboard The Eclipse

IMG_7617I had both the kids over last weekend.  Soooo happy to see them both, but they had both been sick and missed a lot of school the last couple weeks.  After the weekend, I felt myself coming down with something and missed time from work on Tuesday and Wednesday.  By Thursday though, I was feeling good…good enough to go fishing!  I felt a little guilty about missing more work time and taking Friday off to fish, but thank goodness my boss is totally cool with it.  Thank you James!

So as soon as I got home Thursday night, I packed and headed to San Diego.  The next morning, I got to the landing and just walked up to the boat.  Capt. Adam Williams welcomed me aboard.  I was shocked to find myself on this big boat with only a total of 11 anglers.  Happy birthday to me!  After picking up a mixed load of live anchovies (beautiful big ones) and sardines, we were underway.

Capt. Adam’s plan was simple…head west to about the 181 and make our way south to the border.  We’d be on the lookout for the usual signals (birds, kelp, breaking fish, maybe a jig stop) and hope we find some fish willing to play.  The trip was billed as an exploratory trip, so exploring we went.

Long story short, the morning sucked.  We found some nice clean water and followed it south.  When we started working south, it was at 63, and slowly ticked warmer the further south we went.  Along the way, we stopped and drifted on a couple paddies, but both were empty.

sonarThe natives were getting restless.  Things were looking pretty bleak.  It was hard to get our heads around how the conditions could look this good and yet we had exactly ZERO to show for it.  Oh well, Amy was at work in the galley on making some reuben sandwiches, so we had that to look forward to.

I was up in the wheelhouse, trying to lend a hand scanning for signs (I found the first kelp 🙂 ).  Suddenly, Adam hears something, “Oh sh*t…bluefin!”  It was a deep sonar mark.  “Throw bait!”  I raced down to the deck.  If this was going to be our shot, I wasn’t about to get cute.  I went conventional and grabbed my 30lb. bait stick and waited by the bait tank.  “Get ’em in the water guys!”  Fish started breaking all around us.  Jumbo models clearing the water, crashing on the bait.  I flylined a sardine into the melee.  FRESH!!!  I was bit.  It came in pretty quickly since I had it on top.  Nice 30lb. fish.  I finished the fight by the bait tank on the port side.  As I positioned it for the gaff, I noticed Capt. Adam hook and hand a fish on the bow.  Game on!

Man, was I lucky to get that fish.  Once it was on deck, we saw that I had somehow managed to hook it in the gill plate.  Sharp hook!  My line was unmolested as a result, so I quickly got back in the game.  Pinned on another one and this time I threw it from the port/stern corner trying to avoid the crowd that had gathered in the opposite corner.  And I was bit again.  It was clear that this was a better fish.  Despite my good intentions of casting away from the crowd, that’s where we were heading.  “Hot rail guys, coming down!”  Walk and wind.  There were other anglers getting bit.  I was doing my best to slow down this fish, but it had other plans.  Naturally, we managed to get tangled with some other lines, but deckhand Sean helped me navigate through it all.  I ended up on the bow by myself to work my fish.

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The larger second fish

I would be awhile.  Sean left me to check on some other anglers.  It felt like things were under control.  I had this fish straight up and down.  It just wasn’t going to come easy.  I dropped my reel into low gear and fought to take back line.  I had to fight the urge to tighten it down anymore or thumb the spool.  It got to where I needed to pull hard with my right arm to relieve my left, then switch hands and reel with my right back down.  When it was over (30-40 minutes later?), I was pretty toast.  It was a nice fish.  Much bigger than the first one.  I grabbed a coconut water and the GoPro and took a video break to capture the other anglers battling their fish.

An older guy, Larry, was bent hard.  He had an old, stout Fenwick pole with a big Avet Raptor attached to it.  What lb. test Larry?  “60!  I got busted on 25 and grabbed my trolling rod.”  Nice.  Get ’em Larry!

Meanwhile, a young Navy guy named John was battling a fish too.  He was isolated away from other anglers on the stern and seemed in control of his fish.  He was smiling and enjoying the ride, so I went to go back and check on Larry.  Larry got his fish and it was bigger than my big.  He quickly baited up and was bit again…on 60!  The second fish was smaller than the first, but still a nice grade.  Wonder what John is up to.  “Dude, Ole Larry already has 2 fish and you’re still on this thing, what’s up?”  He smiled.  He seemed fine.  It just must be a really good one.  I left to see what else was going on.  Lots of casualties.  There were some newer anglers and none of us really expected to see this size of fish.

A kid named Petros was bit.  I had met him at the beginning of the trip.  First time on the ocean.  He was visiting from Greece, here for a wedding and fishing with some of his new relatives.  There were 3 first timers in their group and I remember talking them into joining in the jackpot.  “Mark my words, one of you guys will probably win.” Petros struggled.  He kept dropping the rod too low and not putting that pressure on the fish.  I tried to coach him, but he wasn’t understanding me due to the language gap.  Finally, deckhand Sean couldn’t take it and grabbed the rod, demonstrating the proper technique.  Sean handed the rod back and Petros seemed to do better.  I bet he had no idea he was in for this struggle.  When it was all said and done though, it was worth it.  He ended up with the jackpot fish!  It weighed out at 72 lbs. at the official Seaforth Landing scale.  Good job kid!

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Meanwhile, John was still on his fish.  Capt. Adam had said that there were some bigger marks and we had seen some HUGE fish crashing.  100-lber?  It seemed very possible.  John fought that fish and seemed to be finally nearing the end.  His spool was almost full again.  I could see deep color.  POP!  Heartbreak.  John had confessed to me that he had a 1/0 hook on.  He had started using an anchovy, but switched to a sardine when he saw that’s what was getting bit.  He didn’t change out the hook.  It might have been his undoing, but these things happen.

I put the camera away.  At this point the madness had died down.  Just in case though, I took a moment to rig a popper.  If they were jumping around again on the surface like that, I wanted to be ready.  The fish gods were certainly smiling on me and I had my opportunity.  They came around for one last run and I casted out opposite the drift.  We weren’t drifting that fast, so I had a lot of time on the water.  I got a good cast out and pop.  Pop again.  Pause.  BOOM!  Chewie was on the bait tank and saw it too.  I got exploded on, with the fish crashing out of the water.  It didn’t stick though.  And it didn’t come back.  Damn.  That was hot though to watch that sight.  It ended up being the last of the action.  We were nearing the border and were out of time.  Time to head to the barn.

We had 6 fish to show for our effort.  Just goes to show how you need to keep playing hard to the whistle.  After a nothing morning, the last hour plus of the trip was amazing action!  Thank you to Capt. Adam and the excellent crew of Eclipse Sportfishing.  I finally got to enjoy Amy’s excellent reuben and washed it down with a cold one on the ride home.  What a great day.  It’s just the start Salties.  Make your plans and go.  The Eclipse has another 5 to 5 this Friday (May 29th) which is a great option.  Book online or call Seaforth Landing.  Tight lines!

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