Brian Dunham for Thunderbird Sportfishing

Photo by Brian Dunham for Thunderbird Sportfishing

This story really started last year.  Like many of you, I got turned on to poppers for tuna fishing during last season.  I jumped on the bandwagon a little late and I never really got my setup dialed in.  When I started seeing yellowfin tuna in the counts this year, it was time to prioritize getting my rig setup.

A few weeks back, as I was driving home from work, I got a call from Roger at Sav-On Tackle.  “Joe, we just got in all the clearance Teramars from Shimano.  If you want to come down tonight, you can have first crack at them.”  “Roger, I’ll be right there.”  My buddy John Anjard told me I really wanted the 9 ft swimbait rod to use as a popper rod.  What do you know, I found it among the boxes of closeout rods.  Yay!

When I came down next to San Diego for my 2.5 day trip on the Eclipse, I was excited to bring down the rod…just in time to deploy for my first shot at yellowfin.  “You got the wrong rod.  You need this one.”  There’s another so called swimbait rod in the Teramar lineup and I didn’t have it.  I did end up trying the popper a little bit.  Me and deckhand Ryan Heiser (aka Chewie) saw a bluefin blowup on my lure, but it didn’t connect.  Nice little thrill, but not quite there.

The plan going into the weekend was that John and I would ride New Seaforth PM ride, and then we’d part ways and I’d head over to Fisherman’s for my overnight on Commander Sportfishing.  As it turned out, the NSF got chartered out.  “What do you want to do now?” John asked me.  “Go have lunch, then go through my gear.”  Ok.

So after lunch we came back to Club Anjard (John’s garage).  After going through all my other rods…leave this, that’s perfect bring that, switch these…we got to the popper setup.  “Look Joe, I’ll tell you what…I’m just going to let you borrow the rod.  Use it.  Have fun.  You better have a good story to tell me when you get back.”  Sweet!

I was excited to get this trip underway.  In addition to dialing in my gear, John gave me a lot of good dope.  He had spent all week working 2nd ticket on the Tribute.  He told me the fish were keyed in on small bait.  There were vast schools of saury in the water…say 2-5 inches.  The good news is they were eating fin bait and not the pelagic crabs.  The bad news is the bait in the bait receiver are all big sardines with some even bigger mackerel mixed in.  John asked “What do you got for jigs?”

Saury are called “blueys” by English commercial fishermen.  The nickname is in reference to their blue backs.  I got this…”Colt Snipers and my Flying Fish popper.”  I showed them to John.  “These are perfect.  Just use those.”

So I showed up at Fisherman’s with a high degree of confidence.  My gear was all dialed in…3 bait rods (30, 40, 50), a setup to throw the Snipers, another to throw a heavier jig or bigger popper, and the popper rod to throw the Flying Fish.

IMG_8181I sat and waited to start loading onto the boat.  In the interim, some buddies showed up…Tony with his younger brother Mike, and Will who I’ve fished with a few times on the Eclipse.  We loaded up and I was excited to see the crew.  Captain Steve Kugler, Anthony aka “Billy” was 2nd ticket, normal 2nd Dan was on deck with Tyler, and my boy Edmar would be working his magic in the galley.  The last time I’d seen these guys was the epic bassing trip at Clemente last Spring.  I knew I’d be in good hands.

When Steve did his trip briefing, he mentioned the saury and to have something like the Snipers or small Megabaits given the bait situation.  Covered.  He also said they struck out the last two trips.  Two days ago it was south.  The previous day was north.  So we’d try west, drop trolling lines at first light and eventually hit that 43 spot that was the hot spot a couple months ago when the season restarted.

Image courtesy of Fish Dope

Image courtesy of Fish Dope

We hit the bait receiver and set off toward points west.  I setup all my rods and hit my bunk.  It was a rough ride out.  The sea was up.  At one point, I almost fell out of my bunk.

commander_whitedodo_072615When we woke up the next morning it was overcast and still pretty bumpy with a sprinkling of white caps.  Glassing kelps would be almost impossible under these conditions.  Luckily, we had immediate action.  Before we even started the trolling rotation, one of the trolling lures got short bit.  Then the first group connected, but somehow lost what looked to be the right kind.  My group came and went, but the next group hooked up for a large skipjack.  And so it went throughout the morning…long stretches of nothing, punctuated infrequently for a fish on a jig strike.  The highlight of the morning was a decent sized dodo that bit a bait following a jig stop off a kelp paddy.

When we finally made it out to the 43, we found the Pacific Voyager and Shogun out there too.  Steve marked fish and stopped the boat.  “I’ve got bluefin marks 34 fathoms down guys.”  I initially flylined a bait, but quickly thought better of it and grabbed my Flatfall setup.  Nada.  I tried a rubber band sinker rig with a sardine.  Nada.  An angler to my left got bit long soaking a mack, but ultimately didn’t land the fish.  It kind of felt like the spot was fished out.  Not having had any experience throwing my popper combo, it felt like a good time to try it out and see what it could do.

I posted up on the port side ahead of the bait tank, opposite the drift.  Easy first cast.  Wow, nice.  Second cast, I put a little more into it.  It casted so far I lost where it landed.  Damn.  I worked it back.  Pop.  Pause.  My buddy Tony was seated in the outdoor seating area outside the galley.  It’s raised up, so he had a better vantage point than me.  “Joe!  Boil.  Boil!  BOIL!  REEL!!!!”

I reeled.  Tony later told me a fish blew up on it and left about a 6 foot splash.  When I caught up to the fish, he went down and in hard, peeling out line.  And then it went slack.  Billy was standing next to me, “Reel reel reel, he’s coming at us!”  I caught up to it and he went down again, taking me around the stern.  Hot rail!  I went through the entire boat of anglers making my way around the stern and back up the starboard side.  Line was getting dangerously low.  I got to the house and Billy asked me if I wanted to splice the line.  At that point, the fish finally stopped and I was able to actually get a little back.  I hesitated responding to Billy.  It was like the fish took a little breather.  Stretched out.  Had some Gatorade.  While I was deciding, the fish got his second wind, ran again and busted me off.  Zzzzzz POP!  Damn.

That was pretty much the trip.  I personally had a necktie dodo to show for it.  Boat count was 1 skippie and 6 dodos.  Classic case of the count not truly reflecting the day.  The opportunities were there, but sometimes they just don’t want to go.  Or when they do, they totally kick your a$$.  It’s a real possibility this year.  Always bring a big stick.

At least I had the experience and story to tell.  John apparently thought it was good enough that he replaced my lost Flying Fish with another one out of his personal stash.  Thanks John.  I’m looking forward to my next chance to use it.  Thanks to Capt. Steve Kugler and the crew of Commander Sportfishing.  We had shots and the experience on this boat is great.  Tight lines.

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