As told to Paul Lebowitz
OXNARD – Capt. Rick Russell has been through the ringer. Late last tuna season his legendary offshore boat the Chief was irreparably ruined by botched haul-out job – no fault of his. He wasted no time getting back into business, buying the Pacific Islander based out of CISCOS in Oxnard and pouring loving care into his new-to-him sportfisher. He had hardly gotten off the dock for the rockfish opener before the coronavirus closure pulled the plug on the young season.
Make no mistake, Capt. Russell is a survivor and will be back raring to go as soon as this public health emergency blows over. WON checked in with him to see how he and his boat are doing. Here’s what he said. – Ed.
We lost the first day of the rockfish opener, March 1, due to weather, but we fished March 2 on a sold-out overnight. The fishing was really good. We had limits of rockcod and about 1 around on the lings and 6 to 7 around on the whitefish. We fished Santa Rosa, the weather wasn’t great but it wasn’t terrible and the fishing for reds and chucks was excellent.
Everyone went home with nice big bags, we were all excited about it. We were at the dock a couple of days, then Capt. Sunny ran the boat for 3 trips during the Fred Hall Show. He had limits of reds and chucks every trip, fishing San Miguel. The reds were nice and big, real quality, in 250-300 feet of water. He didn’t have to go super deep which was really nice, it was one drift and all you wanted on the rockfish.
We fished the last weekend (before the sportboat health department shutdown due to the coronavirsus). Saturday and Sunday we enjoyed excellent fishing, limits of rockfish with half limits of whitefish. Sunday we had good fishing but difficult conditions as the weather was up a bit. We scratched up 10-12 fish around and the quality again was absolutely top notch on reds and the cod.
The outer island fishing was very good for the 6 trips we got out. For the most part the weather was pretty nice. We had a handful of cancellations due to weather but were very encouraged by what we saw out there. I think it’ll be a hell of a season once we get past this virus deal.
Out of CISCOS we fish Rosa, Miguel, and San Nic. when the weather permits. That’s our plan, we’ll fish those 3 islands until the beginning of July. When you come out on these trips, bring an assortment of tackle from 6- to 16-ounce torpedo sinkers and plenty of 3/0 and 4/0 circle hooks. Look for thin wire long shank hooks, the landing has them. We like circles for the rockfish. When you’re winding them up and they start spinning, the curve on the hook keeps them pinned on. But for whitefish we prefer smaller J hooks.
Swimbaits, giant grubs and Scampis had been working on the rockfish and lingcod as well, a 12-ounce leadhead and big piece of rubber. The rockfish were eating the daylights out of artificials.
If you want to target lingcod, fish bigger sardines or sanddabs. We always try to get a couple of those early in the morning. Or use artificials. It seems like we caught them on all methods. We didn’t have a chance to run any ling special trips yet, but we’ll have some in the future.
For our rockfish trips, we recommend bringing an assortment of tackle, hooks, sinkers and artificials.
The biggest thing we see is guys that aren’t paying attention. You have to be able to feel your bait or sinker or artificial lure at all times. If you can’t feel the business end of things you’re probably in a tangle. Spread out, we have ample room, 70-plus feet of boat. Rockfish bite from the bow to the stern, you don’t have to be in the corner. We drift sideways over the structure. If you always keep in contact with your bait you’ll have an enjoyable trip.
When you hook up, straight wind. Once you are engaged in battle, the best bet to get fish in the boat is a medium pace. Continuously turn the handle. You don’t need to pump it like you’re fishing gamefish, you’ll wear a bigger hole the lip of the fish and it’s just going to spin off the hook.
For rockfish, 50 to 100 feet of mono on your reel is be ample, just so if you have to cut and retie you don’t have to splice a new connection every time. That goes for guys fishing artificials as well. 50 to 100 feet of mono is more than fine. We recommend 30- to 40-pound mono. With anything lighter than that, rocks that are a little too sticky will shred you up pretty quick.
When we stop the boat for a rockfish drift, we’ll run over patch of fuzz on the machinery. We’ll set up past that giving everybody a chance to get to the bottom. Being the first one down is not as crucial as fishing offshore.
Absolutely, we will be looking for white seabass. When we were out, we looked for squid but couldn’t capitalize due to sea lions. There’s been a little bit but not a ton. Once we’re rolling again, we will be monitoring that and can get on the program and fill the tanks for everybody.
I really enjoy it (the outer islands). It’s an enjoyable fishery, the quality is absolutely outstanding, that’s the thing I like the most. We don’t have to go far to get it. It’s not like fishing out of San Diego where you have to go all the way to Colonet to catch a big chuck or lingcod. The outer islands quality is incredible.
As far as the boatwork, the boat was in good condition, but I wanted to put my own touches on things. We gutted the galley, put all new appliances in, we hung stainless on the walls in the forward half of the galley. There’s a new flattop and oven, a new refrigerator and freezer, new cabinetry and a new coffee maker. The only thing I kept were the benches. Those will get redone next year.
We painted the cabin and the tank, changed up the deck color and added new non-skid.
I love my new boat. There are a lot of things this boat doesn’t have that Chief had, but for what we do, 1- to 3-day rockfish and offshore trips, this boat will be more than ample. We can carry a max of 30 passengers and have an absolutely giant back deck which most boats don’t have. The bait capacity is pretty large, we can hold about 200 scoops and have a slammer for another 75 or so. There are 2 fish holds. I’m in the process of working on those, we will have 1 RSW well and one dry blast well as well.
The Pacific Islander is going to fish tuna very well. It drifts phenomenally stern first and there is ample room for passengers to fish up the side of the boat. Once we are in San Diego, we’ll put some specialty trips together for big bluefin. We’ll fish whatever is biting at that moment but also want to focus on some of that larger bluefin on limited load trips.
We upgraded the electronics, we have a Furuno cH 500 sonar, the latest chart plotter, a Furuno fish finder and 2 Furuno radars. We will have custom rental rods for all passengers, custom wrapped Seeker rental rods and Penn Fathom 2-speeds. We take our sponsorship with Penn and seeker very seriously. We want to make sure our passengers have the best chance to land a fish with some of the best gear on the market. We have all the kite gear and rail rods for big fish as well.