Socal Offshore: Call of the Blue

One last cast, one last fish. The mantra of most anglers as a day of fishing comes to a close. This equally applies for the offshore angler, who just can’t help but scramble at any remaining vacation days and scrape for the last drops of free funds to slip out just one last time onto one of the various state of the art fishing vessels out of San Diego’s landings to probe the coastline for hard fighting pelagics as the season slowly comes to the close.

Of course it doesn’t help when your offshore fishing companion lands the competition winning fish on your last Seeker sponsored pelagic trip and is awarded a free 1.5 day trip! I enviously watched as he left on his midweek trip… and even more enviously as he returned with his fish stories. 18 yellowfin tuna and 5 dorado for him, with the boat bringing home a full limit of 180 yellowfin tuna for 18 anglers. Dangerously low on funds, and stretched for time, I couldn’t really afford to go on another offshore trip… or could I? Maybe if I just scrimped together a little bit, sold a few things that I didn’t need anymore. Maybe…

I arrived at H&M landing in San Diego on Friday evening for a 1.5 day trip with more than a little apprehension. The weather forecast had suddenly changed for the worse, with 15-20 knot winds predicted. The sturdy steed that I would be charging into the Pacific with would be the Old Glory, another source of apprehension due to mixed reports regarding the relatively new addition to the H&M stable (more on this later).

For this trip, I brought 3 outfits, one 25 lb class outfit (Saltist 35, 800M, 50 lb PP backing, 25 lb fluoro top), one 40 lb class outfit (Saltist 40, Makaira 801XH, 40 lb Ande mono, 40lb fluoro top), and one butterfly jigging outfit (Sargus 6000, 9’ fiberglass rod, 50 lb PP, 40 lb fluoro top). I also brought my 90J jigstick as a backup rod since on my friend’s last trip, 3 people broke their rods on those turbocharged tuna! Terminal tackle used were ringed 1/0, 2/0, and 3/0 gama live bait hooks attached with SD jams.

After checking in at around 730pm (and already being the second to last), I took my time to park and grab some food before sauntering through the gates of the landing to board at around 830pm for the 9pm departure. I started up the ramp onto the Old Glory with 29 pairs of eyes watching me and when one of the deckies saw me coming up, he yelled out, “He’s here! Lets roll!” Looks like the whole boat was waiting on me so they could get an early departure, oops!

I quickly apologized and scampered around the boat setting up my rods, tackle box, and bunk. While the Old Glory has an awesome sprawling 2nd floor sundeck, it has an unusual build in that the sundeck overhangs nearly the entire sides of the boat impairing the ability for anyone to store a rod longer than 7’. Thus, since my shortest rod was 8’, all my rods were to be stored in 3 places that could accommodate the longer rods on this boat: the sundeck or at the 10-15 rod spaces along the sides of the boat where the sundeck ended at the stern or bow. The bunks of the Old Glory are some of the best I have slept in, with numerous private cabins that housed 4-6 spacious bunks.

Despite the fact I rarely get seasick, in preparation for the forecasted bumpy seas, I had taken half of a bonine pill. I am rather sensitive to the effects of antihistamines and even with such a small dose, I was already drowsy beyond belief. After a rousing welcome speech by Captain Joe Phillips, I quickly inserted myself into my bunk and was completely asleep in seconds.

I woke the next day at 6am to seas that were really not too intimidating. Wind was minimal, swells seemed manageable, and the tuna patterned sky looked extraordinarily fishy. The plan was to fish the 60-70 mile range where most boats had been finding mixed schools of bluefin, yellowfin, yellowtail, and dorado around patties or jigstrikes. Trolling rods were quickly put over the side as we began to travel from o’dark thirty to gray light. I was waiting at the stern with my previously highly productive butterfly jigging outfit to try and fish the slide on any jigstrikes.

We trolled into the sun for about 10 minutes before we got our first jigstrike. I quickly cast my butterfly jig back past the trollers and waited as it fluttered into the depths. After a 15-20 second drift, the people fishing the slide with bait were getting rather crowded around me so I began a long stroke jig back to the boat. BAM! Got a hit, but it was a short strike. Unfortunately, it was most likely a fish of the same species that we got the jigstrike on, and it was a species that I would have loved to add to my lifelist: a beautiful Black Skipjack (Euthynnus lineatus), not to be confused with the more commonly captured Skipjack Tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis).

Travelling onwards, it took only another 15 minutes before one of the passengers spotted a beautiful sprawling patty. He would later to be nicknamed “eagle eyes,” due to his uncanny ability to spot patties from further than anyone in the boat and was probably responsible for first seeing a full 80% of all the patties that we found.

We found this first patty to be filled with rat yellows once the initial wolf pack of dorado were captured. With no tuna located, the captain decided to move on. Just about 30 minutes later, eagle eyes once again spots another patty, this one was so huge that our Captain described it by saying “we can fish one side in the morning, then fish the other side in the afternoon.”

Unfortunately, it was around now that the swells began to pick up. When settling into a drift, the boat went broadside against the swells, and more often than not, I was clinging onto the sides of the boat rather than standing on it’s deck! But, barely of us noticed because the second our baits hit the water, FISH ON! FRESH ONE! OVER! UNDER! SHUFFLE RIGHT! Close to the patty, we were mobbed by rat yellowtail and dorado but before long the tuna had descended on us! My first bait was hit almost immediately and the fish sounded deep as it felt the sting of my hook. After a spirited 20 minute fight, I saw a flash of color and the stubby pectorals of a Pacific Bluefin Tuna! Awesome! I had been hoping to catch some more of this stunning tuna species.

While my last offshore trip was marked by scores of yellowfin tuna, this trip was unique in the ubiquitous presence of almost all the common socal offshore pelagic species. Despite the showy rainbow of colors that yellowfin tuna sport, I am always impressed with the steely black, white, blue, and silver coat that our Pacific Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus orientalis) display.

Being highly concerned with sustainable fishing, I am also relieved to know that our Pacific species of bluefin are currently rated as a species of “least concern,” by the IUCN, unlike the Atlantic (Thunnus thynnus) and Southern (Thunnus maccoyii) species that are respectively listed as “endangered” or “critically endangered”. While this status is currently being re-evaluated (as it should), it is somewhat less of a burden to know that this species looks to still be sustainable for the moment.

In quick succession, I pulled in 3 small 15-20 lb bluefin, followed by a small 15 lb yellowfin tuna. As the bite slowed down, people began to drift their baits further and further to entice the tuna that were down drift from us. I noticed a smattering of good sized dorado would periodically pass through right alongside the boat, and decided to soak a bait close in. After finding a lively sardine, I cast out and felt as my bait tore line off of my reel. Seconds later, my spool sped up, and I struck into something solid. ZIP! The line sizzled through the surface of the water and a golden form exploded off the surface 25 yards away, spraying brine through the air. While lacking the absolute power and strength of a tuna, this dorado made up for it with absolutely sizzling runs, and a series of surface acrobatics that would make an Olympic gymnast jealous. Soon, I had him on the boat, my first dorado in 10 years, and my first dorado in California ever!

As the bite died down on the patty, Joe shared our bite with The Constitution, who then decided to park on top of the patty and really killed the bite. Regardless, it was about time to move on anyways, and we continued on our search for more fish. The ocean continued to beat us with big swells, and eventually I ended up being completely soaked from the bait tanks overflowing like waterfalls at every stop. We hit about 5 or 6 more patties, many of them quite large in size but mostly only found a handful of dorado and hordes of rat yellowtail. Jig strikes were rare, with most single strikes being Skipjack tuna. Unfortunately, bait condition was again horrible. I took a picture of one of the bait tanks mid-afternoon and the entire bottom of the tank was covered in dead sardines.

After nightfall, we made good time despite the unrelenting swells, and were back in dock at 530am the next day. This was definitely a trip for the books and I ended the weekend with 3 bluefin, 3 yellowfin, 1 dorado, and unnumerable rat yellows (only 2 bleeders were kept by me). Unfortunately, due to the large number of new offshore anglers fishing with rental or insufficient gear, many fish were lost amongst tangles as people failed to follow or control their fish. Thus, counts were wildly inconsistent among anglers, with the more experienced anglers catching 5-10 tuna each, and the less experienced ones catching none or 1. Luckily for these amateurs, most were quite content with the wild antics of the prolific rat yellowtail that still provided quite a lot of excitement. This has been one wild offshore season, and I’m glad I was able to end it with a trip as epic as this one! But wait, do you think there time for one more cast…?

Thoughts regarding the Old Glory:

Having read this rather negative review of the Old Glory (http://www.bdoutdoors.com/forums/san-diego-range-fishing/452422-2-5-day-old-glory.html), I find it interesting because I was fishing in very similar rough oceanic conditions. And while it is true, all of us took quite a bashing with the wild swells (I nearly fractured my tibia at one point and one person received a mild concussion), these hazards are simply a byproduct of offshore fishing in rough weather. In the end, the Old Glory is still a great boat run by a great captain.

Firstly, according to Captain Joe, this boat has only been in recent operation for 4 months! Given that, I have to say that things are coming together quite well. By next season, I fully expect the boat to have things running more smoothly.

Secondly, I think Captain Joe is seriously a stand up captain, or rather a stand up person. On the overnight trip directly before our 1.5, he stayed out well after sunset to allow his anglers to take advantage of a hot bluefin bite and that would eventually end up as basically a free upgrade to a 1.5 day trip. On our trip, he also searched hard for patties and in fact found one last patty just as the sun disappeared over the horizon that he let us fish.

Also, the first thing I heard from him after I boarded was him telling a deckhand that he noticed there was a couple aboard, and to try and secure a cabin for the passenger and his wife so they could have a more private sleeping quarter. Captain Joe also has a personal stash of high quality fishing outfits that he will lend out to any of his passengers at a moment’s notice. These little things really speak volumes about a person’s character and I was impressed with the lengths he would go to in order to ensure his operation was a respectable one.

As one critique, however, I will say that I believe the deckhands need to shape up a little in order to compete with the high level of service that the captain provides. While I understand there is always work to be done on a trip, I felt the deckhands could have spent some more time clearing fish off the deck, spraying and cleaning the decks, and maintaining the bait tanks as all of these things weren’t done very consistently. Also, they managed to get a number of fish cleanings incorrect, and I found a couple of my filets cut rather raggedly. Regardless, its always tough to work in rough seas and during hot bites, so I would not say the deckhands did not work hard, they just need to iron out their respective responsibilities and get into a smoother groove.

Overall, while this boat will probably not be my first choice for the next season, mostly due to the difficulty for me to store my longer rods, I would not hesitate to board it again in the future.

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