Pierpoint’s Options chases hali high-mark
BY MIKE STEVENS
LONG BEACH – A couple times per year, Western Outdoor News staffers jump on a 6-pack trip aboard the Options out of Pierpoint Landing with some members of the sportfishing industry for a day of fishing the local islands with arguably the best operation in SoCal for doing exactly that. While they’re always a great time, the most recent installment will be a day (and a half) on the water no one on the Options that day, including the crew, won’t soon forget.
This pack of six consisted of Mikol Boland of Big 5 Sporting Goods corporate, Chase Kim and Terry Lee of Gear Coop in Santa Ana, Denny Le of AFTCO and Brad Wilson and I from WON. The crew of the Options was Captain Wes Flesch, deckhand Jiro Spagnolini and newly-licensed Captain, Haila Fullwood.
The first good sign was when Captain Wes texted Wilson and indicated the conditions looked so good, he wanted to extend the trip from overnight to day-and-a-half. Everyone was all-in on that and soon were aboard the “world’s biggest small boat, or, world’s smallest big boat” hearing from Flesch that the game plan was to choose from three possible game plans. Having multiple plans of attack available as well as a tank full of live squid and another of primo sardines was all very on-brand, as a big reason for the proven track record on this particular vessel is, there’s always options on the Options.
A day-and-a-half meant Flesch could target white seabass (his specialty) from dusk ‘til dark two nights in a row with a grey-light shot at ghosts sandwiched between them. The meat of the day could then consist of island yellowtail or halibut, whatever the conditions and the captain called for.
The first stop was at one of Flesch’s many white seabass spots at Catalina for a shot at night-time biters, but despite the squid and all the right factors, only a short halibut was boated. Then the Options was off to another seabass zone at grey light, but the fish weren’t holding up to their end of the deal. Flesch made the call to get into halibut mode, and while it took a while before the first flatty hit the deck that decision – as well as the one to grab some ‘dines despite having a tank of candy squid on hand – would end up turning this trip into one of the best ever on a vessel with a laundry list of epic trips in its history.
After getting started with a couple hours of experimenting with depths and target areas, “Big 5” Boland got on the board first with a legal halibut which was enough to wake everybody up. A very short time later, the recently-repowered Options drifted over a spot that produced a triple hookup resulting in two hitting the deck including a 37 incher I wrangled out of the shallow water. Wilson had the hookup that was lost, but he claimed credit for the “assist” on the two that were landed since his was lost to a seal that bolted from away from the boat with its prize, leaving us alone for the moment.
Flesch then stacked up drifts over this halibut “nest” as long as it was producing, and it did, repeatedly. On the next drift, both Kim and Lee of Gear Coop hooked and landed flatties of their own. Wilson bounced back from the seal debacle and landed his first-career legal, and all of the sudden the Options was sporting respectable two halibut per rod in the above-deck fish box (that would play a part in some light drama later), but it was still pre-noon with plenty of fishing to go.
Right around this time, Flesch casually mentioned the fact that the Options put up halibut limits for six anglers (30 fish) one time. Even with a dozen in the box, at that point it just drew some chuckles and no one gave it much thought. That kind of thing happens a lot more in, say, San Francisco Bay than in even the most halibut-rich waters of Southern California. Flesch did say he’s been mixing in a halibut rig that gets a lot of play up north, and deck boss Jiro had everyone’s rod rigged up with that setup that’s based around employing two swivels, one of which allows infinitely more movement out of a live bait than a standard dropper loop.
Action at the “halibut nest” eventually fizzled after countless productive drifts and multi-rod bendos, so Flesch set up tighter to a kelp bed that could produce white seabass, yellowtail or more halibut. The zone showed promise, and Flesch was just about to reset for another drift in the same zone when Le hooked a monster from the bow that would help propel him to his limit. Wilson picked up a 20-pound class halibut that stands as his personal best, and Boland would complete his Big-5-fish limit in the same area.
The epic nature of this halibut beatdown was best illustrated in the following scene during the heart of that sustained bite. The fish box was so stacked with halibut that the fish on top was able to not only tail-whip the lid off, but then flop out onto the deck where it proceeded to go berzerk. With that happening on one side of the bait tank, Lee had wound his second halibut to within gaff range on the other, and as Jiro stood by with the gaff to close the deal, somehow the chaos sent someone’s 3/0 heavy-duty Gamakatsu into the back of his leg. Unphased by the hook in his calf, Jiro decked that fish and Flesch sent a gaff of his own through the face of that escapee.
Still with that fish hanging on the gaff, another flopping on deck and a hook not yet removed from the veteran deckhand’s leg, Flesch exclaimed, “Holy (expletive) guys! It’s the day of the halibut, man! This is the most epic (expletive) I’ve ever seen!”
Eventually, the race for limits for six got real, but it would not happen this time. Six anglers on the Options that day piled up 23 flatties. Other than the short that was caught on that first night’s seabass stop, every halibut that was hooked was legal.
Everyone on deck was an experienced angler, and they were all shell-shocked at what went down that day. Even the crew was giddy, not to mention, appreciative of everyone’s willingness to spend every possible minute at the rail and do their part in making it happen. According to Jiro – who referred to the upcoming outing as a “24-hour ordeal” before we left the dock – some passengers tap out early on such missions.
With a little time left on the clock, Flesch said, “I have a bone to pick with those seabass” and in very Options fashion took one last shot at them in the dark before heading back to the barn. That stop didn’t pick up an elusive biscuit, but it did provide the final halibut.