BY BOB SEMERAU
LONG BEACH —“Toronado is a really fishy boat, I can’t explain it, but it just is,” reflected Toronado owner/operator, Joe Philips. Because the boat is often one of the top producers in the SoCal fishing fleet, the boat truly is “fishy.”
Philips makes a point of going along for each day’s fishing and was happy to be aboard for the March 4 departure of the rockfish opener WON-Toronado charter.
Because the 75-foot sportfisher had not been out earlier in the day, Philips and longtime skipper of the boat Captain Ray Lagmay allowed anglers to board as they arrived dockside for the 9:00 p.m. departure time.
On deck, the crew stowed the remaining provisions, and the 27 anglers found their bunks and began rigging up. The group was filled with anticipation and excitement at getting out for the first time this season, just a few days after the March 1 rockfish season opening date.
Before the night driver, Captain Johnny Chastine, fired up the engines
installed just last year, the valuable goodies provided by trip sponsors were passed out. Each angler picked up a Frogg Toggs dry bag holding a spool of Hi-Seas 20-pound fluorocarbon and a Gamakatsu G-Box 3200 utility case. The mega-sized spool of Berkley ProSpec Chrome Monofilament and spools of Daiwa J-braid were laid out for anglers to load up their reels, getting ready for action. Long-sleeve commemorative Berkley ProSpec Chrome Tuna Jackpot 2020 t-shirts went to all charter participants as well.
With all anglers checked-in and swag given away, lines were cast off and Toronado headed for the bait receiver under clear skies and light winds. Just after 10:00 p.m. the boat headed west-southwest, making a beeline for San Nicolas Island across increasingly choppy seas. Anglers took to their bunks, having brought their own bedding and pillows per health regs, while Capt. Chastine worked hard to avoid the pounding waves quartering the boat’s 84-mile course. After several hours, the seas laid down and the calm waters smoothed till dawn.
The morning brought Capt. Lagmay to the helm and the skipper set up the first drift of the day a few miles off the north-eastern shore of San Nic in breezy winds and rolling seas.
Some anglers opted for the cut squid strips or live sardines from the bait tank on double dropper loops. Others used trap rigs with full-sized frozen mackerel and heavy 12-to-16-ounce sinkers in search of big reds and lingcod.
Several anglers fished the MAG-12 line of jigs, a few of which charter angler Kevrette “KJ” Johnson supplied for the trip, and the new jigs seemed to be the hot ticket for the day.
The first couple of drifts produced decent results with reds and chuckleheads eating the squid strips and the MAG-12 jigs. Mike Solomon and WON charter regular Kevin Suinn connected right off with a pair of nice-sized chucks, while up in the bow new-comer Steve Silvia found his footing. Silvia, who traveled down from Helendale for the charter, had never been out ocean fishing previously, and the trip made a believer out of the angler. In the end, Silvia managed a bag full of rockfish and several whitefish to boot.
Also fishing the bow, Broc Petrey worked the tube bait two-hook ganyon from MAG-12 with fish on nearly every drop into the 30 to 40 fathoms at San Nic.
As Capt. Lagmay moved Toronado to reset the drift, cook Maryanne
Sagnella kept the breakfast burritos and sandwiches coming. When lunchtime came around, Sagnella made an incredibly special boat burger with a beef patty, strips of tri-tip, bacon, cheese and a big slab of avocado on each.
Toronado owner/operator Joe Philips is no newbie to boat ownership. The warm and affable Philips has been around for more than 20 years, having owned and operated San Diego boats Constitution, Old Glory and Dominator before moving up north to Pierpoint Landing in Long Beach and taking ownership of Toronado.
“When I first bought Toronado, what impressed me most was that many anglers had been fishing the boat for 30 years, always coming back again and again,” explained Philips during a lull in the action. Philips says he found that guy in the wheelhouse, Captain Ray Lagmay, was the reason people keep coming back. “He really knows these waters and the fish in them. I swear, he thinks like them and just knows what they want.”
Philips lives on 11 acres near Murrieta with his bride of 50 years, Kathy, and loves the solitude of his home.
“We are in the business of fun and that has to be the way we run it,” says Philips.
That attitude shows in the manner of his crew as they work hard to keep things easy and light for the fishing guests.
Improvements to Toronado over the last year include adding autopilot to the wheelhouse, air conditioning throughout, refitting the bunkroom and heads, adding a 5-ton refrigerated seawater (RSW) hold, and dialing in the galley.
Just after lunch the skipper found a spot holding larger-model reds and chuckleheads and a flurry of fish came over the rail. Bags began to fill with limits of rockfish. As the hour to return to the dock neared, Toronado was moved eastward to a high spot known to Capt. Lagmay for holding lingcod. Anglers re-rigged for lings during the 20-minute run downswell.
Angler Kevin Suinn had already nailed a nice sheephead, a limit of reds and rockfish, some whitefish and boated the first ling of the drift, assisted by Toronado deckhand Matthew Stockwell on the gaff. The next hour brought a half-dozen lingcod onto the boat. Other anglers worked the port rail with a few mixed fish and larger-sized lings eating MAG-12 jigs and baits.
When the final call came for “lines up,” Toronado began the long run back to Long Beach and Pierpoint Landing.
The first chore for the deck crew is always to get the jackpot sorted out. The three crewmembers, Matthew, Cameron and Shawn called for largest fish and several reds and lings were brought to the balance beam.
Frank Trainor had come out with a group of friends and the competitive spirit ran high with these guys. Pals Alfredo Jimenez, Tim Trost and Craig Kent all were on hand along with most of the other anglers, as the deck crew loaded Trainor’s slug of a ling onto the hook. Other fish hung from the opposite side of the beam, but none could come close to the big ling Trainor found at the high spot.
The jackpot determined, a group photo was organized and then anglers began to slip off to their bunks to sleep away the afternoon while the crew began cutting fish for those opting to have their catch filleted aboard Toronado.
The winds had picked up through the afternoon and the scheduled charter, due to leave just hours after the WON trip returned to Pierpoint Landing, was in jeopardy of cancellation.
Despite the building wind, the ride back to the landing was a smooth downhill run and most got some much-needed rest. Arriving back at the dock at 7:45 p.m., owner Philips decided to be cautious and made the difficult decision to cancel the night’s trip due to high winds at the islands.
WON charter anglers felt especially lucky to have been out before the blow came on, and to get limits of rockfish: 250 rockfish, 48 whitefish, 20 red snapper, 10 sheephead and 8 lingcod.
Toronado Sportfishing, Pierpoint Landing, PierPoint.net, 562-983-9300