BY DENNIS YAMAMOTO
Surprise, surprise, surprise! Western Outdoor News’ 2-day charter aboard the beautiful Ranger 85 out of CISCOS at Channel Islands Harbor took a detour from the rockfish grounds for a realistic shot at the elusive bluefin tuna at the Cortes Bank on day one. Day two would then be at rockfish rich San Nicholas Island to fill the freezers full of tasty rockfish, sheepshead, lingcod, and whitefish.
Captain Jake Hensley and his wife Jessica purchased the Ranger 85 from Frank Ursitti of H&M Landing in March of 2020 just before the California COVID shutdown. A very tough start to owning your own boat and trying to create a business, however they survived the closure and are doing very well for themselves. Congratulations Jake and Jessica on the arrival of your new baby! Jake was also presented a pair of Maui Jim Sunglasses of his choice thanks to Maui Jim. As anglers boarded each one received a Frogg Toggs swag bag with a P-Line laser minnow jig and a spool of Hi Seas Grand Slam fluorocarbon compliments of Western Outdoor News.
He then gave the safety seminar regarding life jackets, rafts, zero tolerance, and the location of fire extinguishers while stressing the importance of personal masks, hand washing, and social distancing. The fishing seminar was also given by Jake in the bow of the boat as the crew carefully loaded the three bait tanks with fresh sardines. Special thanks to our second captain Ricky Perez for a smooth overnight ride and a sound sleep.
As we awoke to the smell of freshly brewed coffee and frying bacon and chorizo, we still had a ways to go to make the tuna grounds so everyone relaxed and prepared their tackle for the tuna onslaught. I was shocked to count 39 fishing boats located within my elderly eyesight surrounding us as we arrived at the Cortes Bank. I have never seen that kind of traffic a hundred miles from all ports. From skiffs to long rangers, all were there chasing the monstrous bluefin tuna. We finally anchored off the port stern of the Ocean Odyssey out of H&M Landing from San Diego while we had departed from CISCOS in Oxnard. Crazy!
Bonito and bluefin tuna were boiling all around every boat within sight while birds were diving everywhere! Several bonito were landed, however we took heavy casualties as our first 6 bluefin hook-ups were lost. The frustration began to build as hook-up after hookup turned into heartbreak and despair.
I broke out my Daiwa Lexa 400 with 500 yards of 20-pound Daiwa J-Braid, 20-pound Izorline, and 20-pound fluorocarbon tied to a number 2 circle hook. Instant hook-up and luckily it was one of the smaller units that didn’t tax the 20 pound combo at all. Finally, blood on the deck! Soon thereafter, “AJ” Alonzo Johnson of La Palma decked one of the nicer grade bluefin as did “BJ” James Beck of Huntington Beach. A short time later Temecula buddies Christian Rerucha and Sean Dempsey decked a nice grade of tuna and joined in on the celebration. All in all a lot of fun with only 7 of the tasty tuna hitting the deck as well a lone yellowtail for Pat Gagnon at the high spot.
The rest of the day was spent targeting the cows and super cows as Captain Jake received a report of the Game Changer taping out one at 470 pounds. WOW! The kite was deployed with frozen flying fish while the rest of the anglers used either a plunker rig with sardines or metal jigs. OMG! Lines were parting left and right with up to 150-pound test and huge explosions on the kite that missed connecting kept things exciting into the evening. Cook Chad LeBlanc kept the WON anglers well fed with Reuben sandwiches and potato salad for lunch while dinner was tri tip with beans, corn, salad, and a roll. With in-between meals consisting of mini corn dogs, candy, and chips, we all gained unnecessary weight. A good nights’ sleep awaited all with full bellies and bonus bluefin.
As we awoke at San Nicholas Island, anglers quickly had a cup of coffee with their biscuits and gravy as well as bacon and eggs. Everyone re-rigged with dropper loops and or jigs to explore the rockfish rich depths of the island. Both cut squid and whatever sardines were left in the tank were deployed to entice the tasty critters to jump on the hook. Beautiful quality rockfish like vermillions, chuckleheads, starries, blue bass, johnny bass, and a multitude of other species came flying over the rail at breakneck speed while a few lingcod, sheephead, and ocean whitefish were in the mix.
Smiling faces, laughing, whooping and hollering filled the cool morning air until the Navy moved us out of the area for a last minute exercise. We had to travel a fair distance from the morning hot spot and did a lot of exploring until Captain Hensley found the new motherlode of quality reds, lings, and the ever tasty wrasse… sheephead. It’s said that they taste like lobster because that’s what they forage on as well as crabs and shrimp. At any rate, they taste good!
The day ended in the early afternoon with robust sacks, full bellies, and happy fishermen with many taking naps as we cruised in smoothly while the crew cleaned a massive amount of fish. The jackpot was a bluefin tuna taken on day one by Christian Rerucha on only his second trip fishing! His previous best fish was a mackerel. Maui Jim and Western Outdoor News presented him with a gift package of a hat, glass cleaner, sprayer, hat clip, keeper, coozie, screwdriver, and a gift card for a new pair of polarized Maui Jim sunglasses of his choice. A very special thank you to crew members David Malijan, Ryan Stark, Shane Winton, and galley helper/deckhand Luke Pfiefer for a job well done! On this historic Election Day, here’s to all making it home safely and we shall see you again next year!