IMG_6998I got a call last week from Mark Gillette of Eclipse Sportfishing, “Hey Joe, my other boat, the Commander, is at Long Beach Sportfishing now.  I was talking to some of the other captains that have been hitting the outer banks (Cortez and Tanner – U.S. waters west of San Clemente Island).  They’re seeing a lot of bluefin.  The Commander is going to do a 1.5 day trip leaving Friday night headed out there.  Do you want to go?”  Hmmm, opportunity to fish bluefin in March?  “Yeah, I’m down!”

Thursday night I packed the car.  The next morning I went to work and as soon as the workday was over, I was in my car headed south on the 405 to Long Beach.  Two hours later (ugh!) I was at the landing.  Capt. Steve Kugler, who was previously one of Mark’s captains on the Eclipse, is running the boat.  Steve greeted me up top and said to go ahead and board.  I hate being late and I was one of the last to board.  I met the crew as I was boarding…Second Capt. Dan, Joseph and Tyler on deck, and Edmar holding it down in the galley.  Edmar looked familiar.  “It’s SoCal Salty!  Dude, I read your blog.  We fished together once on the Spitfire when you were with your kids.”  That felt good.  It eased my lateness stress.  Thanks Edmar.

Capt. Steve settin the scene

Capt. Steve settin the scene

The boat was already loaded with live sardines for bait.  My salty buddies, Vance and Randy were already on board.  Vance had brought a couple other friends, Glen and Jared.  An MDR regular, Scott, also turned out.  Once the last guy showed (glad that wasn’t me), Steve gathered everyone on the back deck.  He introduced the crew, did his safety briefing and gave us the gameplan for Saturday.  “We’ll start the day early, looking for yellows.  They’re a larger grade of fish than the ones we’ve been seeing at Clemente.  It’s mainly been sonar schools and they’re getting caught on the yoyo, so have that ready to go first thing.  Around midday, we’ll start to look for bluefin.  They’ve been caught mainly on flylined baits, with light line – 15 or 20, use fluoro if you’ve got it, and small hooks – size 1 or 2.  Depending on how that goes, we may try for rockfish to end the day, but our primary targets are yellowtail and bluefin.”  I like when captains come down from the wheelhouse and give a pre-trip briefing.  We got underway with a full (limited load) of 24 anglers.  I rigged up and hit my bunk.

The next morning, I discovered that Edmar wasn’t only a nice guy, but a great cook as well.  He was working some Loco Moco action for breakfast.  Ooh like.  I enjoyed my breakfast and by the time I was done, the sun was up and we were nearing the fishing grounds.

Steve said there were a few scattered marks.  We dropped in on it.  No biters.  Keep moving.  Second stop, same thing.  Third time’s a charm.  I decided to drop using my setup that had a Shimano Flat Fall jig on it.  I didn’t get bit on the fall.  I was trying to remember the cadence of the retrieve as Marc Mills of Shimano had demonstrated on the Eclipse Colonet trip.  I was about 5 cranks into it when whoa!  I was heavy.  The fish was in the midst of it’s initial run when pop, I got busted off.  The bite was on so I immediately went to my backup Salas 6x heavy setup (mint/white).  Dropped back in, 2 cranks off the bottom and boom!  Back in the game.  In quick succession I hung 3 fish.  The drift hit a lull.  Steve told me later he was about to move when someone yelled “Fresh one!” from the stern.  They found us again and it was on.  I got 2 more.  Amazingly, Tyler was with me for both of them and he gaffed both fish through their eye!  He did a third eye shot through another guy’s fish, but it came off just out of the water.  He pulled the fish in with a body shot, but that was pretty impressive gaffing kid!

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I got bit one more time and pulled the hook before the bite slowed down again.  I was ready to take a little break and put my rod away.  I was walking around observing the action, hoping to catch some video, but at that point it was just rockfish and a few whitefish coming over the rail.  Time to move.

IMG_7016Steve took a look off the bank in search of bluefin.  We drove around.  Amazing how many kelp you run across when you’re trying to sonar schools of fish.  Steve made a comment about a particularly large patch, “If this was August, this one would be loaded with yellowfin.”  But it’s only March, so we kept looking.  I was getting bored and hungry.  Wonder what Edmar is up to.  I took a seat in the galley and ordered lunch.  This is what I got.  French fries?  How’d you manage that?  (a vat of hot oil on a boat – not a good idea).  “Baked them.  Then I finish them off with garlic, herbs and parmesan.”  This guy is top notch.  Calling this a tuna sandwich is a gross injustice.

I settled back on deck when Steve came on the intercom, “Hey guys – really not seeing anything, but Jake on the Tribute is calling me in.  They’re getting some big 15 lb+ bonito.  Sounds like fun to me.  Want to do it?”  We collectively voiced our agreement and raced out to catch up with the Tribute.  When we got there, they bowed out and we started fishing.  I guess we were late.  We put out the trolling lines and started looking again.  We got moving and after a short time, I noticed an angler reeling in one of the lines.  No one ever yelled hookup, so I wasn’t sure what he was doing.  It didn’t seem like a huge struggle.  Maybe just kelp?  Nope.  It was the biggest bone I’ve ever seen!


Capt. Dan hoists the jumbo bonito


Damn, that’d be fun.  We ended up with 3 more, only one of which wasn’t on the troll.  Capt. Steve said he was going to move back in shallow to end the day rockfishing.  It was pretty good.  Good numbers, but mostly smallish bocaccio and Johnny bass.  What was good though were the big whitefish and the abundance of #thatdamnfish  The goats were so plentiful, I not only got 1, I posted another black and red for good measure.  Monkey off my back and it’s only March.  I also managed to get the only ling of the day.  Just legal, but it’s only the second time I’ve ever caught yellows and a ling on the same day, so pretty cool.

Overall it was a really good day.  No bluefin was disappointing, but nobody got them this weekend.  We ended up being high boat on the yellowtail and the rockfishing was solid.  Thank you to Capt. Steve and the excellent crew of the Commander for a good time.  Steve said his plan was to come out to the banks, weather permitting, at least every weekend for the foreseeable future.  The boat will be working out of Long Beach Sportfishing until July.  I may have to give this another whirl.  Tight lines!

Editorial Note – The big question everyone is asking me, “Is that it?  Did the bluefin finally bug out?”  Only time will tell for sure.  The captains are saying they saw a volume of fish the previous week.  The most they’ve seen all winter.  Since then, the water temperature came down a bit and the water on the bank proper (where they were catching the previous weeks) was a bit churned up.  I want to go out.  I want to be there if the conditions are right.  Stay tuned.

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