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One could argue that the 2 main themes of our Southern California fishing year thus far have been:

  • It’s an El Nino year
  • It’s an anchovy cycle

This weekend, those 2 forces collided for a very interesting first offshore experience for 2014.

Back Story

A couple years back I rode on the Islander June of 2012.  Beautiful boat.  Great captain and crew.  Really crappy trip.  Blown out, rough conditions and the results reflected them.  “Never again will I go offshore in June” I said to myself.

Fast forward to this year…El Nino Watch 2014.  Predictions of conditions more extreme than 83-84, or 97-98 abound.  I wasn’t around for either of those events (fishing at least), so I’ve been talking to older salties…captains, crews, anglers and hearing stories of dodos, tuna and striped marlin catches as far north as the northern Channel Islands.  The promise of exotics in our backyard beckon, surely a trip 100+ miles south in a year like this would slay.

Regarding the bait situation, the commercial sardine harvest was drastically cut in Northern California last November due to fear over a collapse of the fishery.  I personally haven’t seen a sardine in a bait receiver north of Dana Point since sometime in 2012.  The reliable San Diego bait receivers…I started hearing complaints that the sardines were horses (8+ inchers, a signal that the health of the fishery wasn’t good with more mature fish being the bait stock) early this year.  The last couple months, few to zero sardines reported by Everingham Bros.

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Pelagic red crabs

What’s really odd about the whole thing is that warm water is supposed to be sardine friendly and colder water better for anchovies.  The SoCal fisheries feel healthy in terms of forage…more anchovies, squid and random other stuff like pelagic red crabs.  White seabass is exploding up north.  The calico bite is hot from Catalina/SCI down to Point Loma.  The cuda came storming back last week, thick from Dana to Santa Monica Bay and even CISCO’s on some days.  All good.  Just different.

Eclipse Sportfishing has been doing well.

  • May 18th 2 day: 2 yellowtail, 12 yellowfin tuna, 15 bluefin tuna
  • Memorial Day weekend 2.5: 19 yt, 112 yft, 36 bftIN MAY

 

And then June 1st they caught the first dorado (mahi mahi) of the whole fleet for 2014.  Other boats had scored bluefin up to over 100 lbs.!  As my buddy Kevin would say, “Let’s Go!”

Eclipse 1.5 Day Offshore

After these counts, I look at their trip calendar…June 20th 1.5…only weekend open party for a LONG time.  Done deal.  Joining me on the trip would be my good buddies Vance, Glenn and his buddy Todd that I met fishing last year, Pam from the Seeker Rods pro staff and Danny from Fish Dope, Will (who turned me onto the corbina spot) and Andy who I met on the boat last year and their buddies Gary and Chuck.  Great group of 26 anglers total.  Capt. Adam Williams would be driving, Capt. Steve Kugler 2nd, Ryan (aka Chewie), Damarius, and Blake on deck, and Chef Kairi in the galley.  They already had bait when we loaded…choves, big salami macks, and random brown bait…spanish macks, croaker, smelt, a small yellowtail.  Yeah, a small yellowtail and those red crabs mixed in too.  Going in, I knew it was crazy, so I had size 1 and 2 hooks for the choves and 4/0 and 5/0 and bigger for the big bait.  Those big bluefin were hitting the big bait, so I was ready to fish it all.  I brought 6 rods considering all the scenarios:

  • The Teramar/Calcutta combo I wrote about before to throw anchovies
  • A Seeker 196 8 footer as an alternate rod to throw anchovies
  • Terez 80M with Avet MXJ as a 30 lb. bait setup
  • My FH Special and MXL 2 speed as a 40 lb. bait or jig setup
  • 9 ft. Teramar with Newell 338 to throw surface iron
  • Seeker 6470 / Accurate 665 80 braid with 50 topshot

A lot to bring?  For sure.  That was actually pared down too.  Capt. Adam gave his trip briefing.  He suggested going with 30 and a slider to a small hook for the choves and 30 or 40 to throw a small jig, especially on the slide.  We’d be heading about 110-120 miles SW where some other boats had found yellowfin and yellowtail in the last couple days, then work our way NE to where they had seen bluefin the previous trip.

Kairi laid out a snack, I rigged up and hit the bunk.  Vance, “Dude, I got the biggest bunk!”  They’re all that big bro 😉

Chef Kairi's morning offering -- incl. thick cut maple smoked bacon

Chef Kairi’s morning offering — incl. thick cut maple smoked bacon

The next morning, I wake up to the smell of breakfast.  Capt. Adam comes on the intercom about 6:30 and we’re already starting the trolling rotation.  I signed in #4, so I’m up.  I grab coffee and head out.  Long story short…nada for the next 4-5 hours.  Then on a kelp drift, a kid gets bit on a mack.  His dad finished it up.  Nicer grade yellow to kick it off.

Around lunch, Vance was on the troll and got bit.  The boat rods are nice.  They’ve got big Avets spooled with 80 and the fish actually pulls drag.  It’s another nice yellow.  We go into the afternoon with 2 fish.  JP is wide open because neither fish counts (help and troll).

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Vance’s 2nd…JP frontrunner

The afternoon proceeds that way…pick one or two off on the troll, one or two on a drift.  We chased dolphin schools.  Saw football fields of jumping tuna that disappeared when we got to them.  We have 11 yellowtail by around 3pm.  Nice grade of fish, but 11 fish for 26 people.  Vance got a second fish after lunch that was clearly the JP fish at that point.  He got it on one of the very few sardines found in our funky bait population.  I haven’t had a bite.   I tried 6 different jigs, mostly on the slide, but also throwing surface iron on paddies, big bait, little bait…all for naught.  Conditions are beautiful.  Lots of life about.  The water is a deep blue and ranged from about 66 to almost 69.  Not much wind or swell.  Seeing fish, but just not happening.  Capt. Adam said he could see the jumping fish on the binocs chasing micro 1-2″ baits.  Which brings us to the one good bite of the day…

It’s after 3 and we troll by a kelp.  Two of the trolling jigs get hit and the fish actually stay with the boat.  Smaller yellows…they’re the typical paddy sized fish, but action.  And yet I’m still not getting bit.  Desperate times, desperate measures.  Throw a chove on the inshore setup 1/2 oz. slider to #2 hook.  Tap miss, tap…FREIGHT TRAIN.

Line is peeling off fast.  Pretty far off from the kelp at this point, but on a beeline to it (which makes me think it’s a big yellow).  I take a risk and button down the drag.  I’m pulling hard.  The butt of the rod is on my waist, I’ve pulled the foregrip to my chest, and am leaning back on it.  On the lift I’m able to take some back, but a little more peels out each time…net lose.  I finally feel like it’s starting to slow a little, but it’s dangerously close to the kelp.  I can see the tape on my spool.  Pulling hard and POP.  All the line is gone.  Honestly, it was a disappointment, but thrilling too.

That was pretty much it.  We put 15 more fish in the boat in that run, bringing the final tally to 26 yellowtail.  We fished into the dark, but that was it for the day.  Several anglers (at least 4) caught their first ever yellowtails.  Two (Todd and Charles) ate the heart.  Despite the lack of results I didn’t notice that anyone was upset about it.  We found fish.  It was just really challenging to get bit.  Still early in the season, but any given trip could pop at this point.  If you want to go, go minimum of 1.5 days, but 2-3 is better.  I’d absolutely say DON’T GO OVERNIGHT…yet.  There aren’t established areas (ex. pens) that you know the boat can find overnight.  You want to give yourself as much time as is needed to find fish that want to bite.

Vance ended up taking jackpot.  The new folks raved about the boat and crew.  They were great.  We were fed well.  The experience (other than lack of fish) was typical of what I’ve come to expect from this boat.  See you again in two weeks for 2.5 days.  Lesson learned.  In the words of Arnold, “I’ll be back.”  Tight lines.

Eclipse Trip List

 

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