WON CHARTER: Steady fishing on Sea Adventure 80 despite inbound storm

LIGHT LINE tuna for Rachel Von Fleck of WON who tamed this one with 15-pound test.

 By Rachel Von Fleck

Special to Western Outdoor News

POINT LOMA – The bluefin bite had been going off at Tanner Bank for the past couple weeks. Even with the inclement weather on the horizon, we were looking forward to getting in on some of the action! The daytime bite had been steady on the school-sized bluefin, while larger models were being caught at night. Considering we were heading out on a 2.5-day, we had plenty of opportunity to get on them!

As I headed down the dock, I saw the line of smiling faces ready to board the boat. The Sea Adventure 80 had arrived back shortly before scheduled time after baiting up and fueling. Captain Scott was at the rail instructing passengers to board in groups of three in order of when they arrived. I had never seen this before but it was well-received, as it gave giving each person a chance to place their rods and tackle bags in their ideal locations and choose their bunks. I’ve arrived hours early for other charters before, only for everyone to rush the boat, and you lose out on a good bunk because you’re trying to find a place for your rods.

DOING THE DEED after catching his first bluefin.

As soon as everyone was boarded and settled in, we started the check-in process and nearly everyone signed up for the boat’s cash jackpot. In addition to the cash prize, Western Outdoor News provided a $100 Huk giftcard that would be awarded for the biggest fish of the trip. Each passenger also received a goodie bag containing a Frogg Toggs dry bag, a spool of HI-SEAS fluorocarbon and a Gamakatsu tackle box. After our meeting in the galley, we all set out to rig up our gear.

Fishing had been amazing the week leading up to this trip, with those school-sized bluefin being caught during the day and the larger models being caught in the dark on jigs. We prepared for a little bit of everything, with the crew advising us to set up a couple of lighter rigs with 20- to 30-pound test, some heavier 40- to 50-pound set-ups for fly -line or sinker rigs and at least one heavy set-up with a minimum of 80-pound test (heavier preferred) for Flat-Falls, SK Jigs or knife jigs.

By the time we woke on Saturday, we had traveled roughly 110 miles northwest and arrived at Tanner Bank. Even with the looming clouds showing signs of the storm to come, the water was flat. Boats were as far as you could see in every direction – it was the often talked about “parking lot” situation, where there were so many you couldn’t count them all if you tried.

After driving around for a short while, we found a good spot of fish on the meter and the crew burst into action. Two took off to the bow to drop anchor while another hopped up on the bait tank. Captain Scott McDaniels hopped on the speaker and told us all to get ready and watch for boils. Some of us grabbed lighter gear while some grabbed their heavier setups, not knowing what to expect. Within seconds of throwing bait, “Boil!” was heard unanimously from the port side as a huge splash erupted. As everyone scrambled to grab a bait and get it into the water, larger-grade tuna started popping all around the stern; some of these fish were easily over 150 pounds. Many of us realized we were under-gunned and swapped out for at least 50- or 60-pound test before casting out again. Unfortunately though, these big ones didn’t want to play.

SCHOOL-SIZED bluefin on the Sea Adventure 80.

After those larger fish moved out, we saw steady pops of fish for a while with a few short bites. Tony hooked into our very first fish of the day and surprised up all with a solid bocaccio. Our first tuna made an appearance shortly before 9:00 a.m., when Mathew Defazio of Moreno Valley landed a 25- to 30-pound bluefin. As he was calling for a gaff, another passenger hooked up as well.

In addition to the bluefin bites, we had a sprinkling of rockfish and even some larger sheephead caught on the fly-line. Steady signs of these school-sized bluefin continued well through the morning, and we decided to make a move after landing 8 bluefin, six sheephead (mostly larger males) and a few rockfish.

It started to pick back up shortly after our location change, with “Hook up!” and “Woohoo!” echoing around the boat as multiple people became bent and started weaving over and under each other to fight their fish. A yellowtail and bonito were boated in addition to another bluefin. Haluk Yakuzi of Oxnard hooked into something a little larger, and after fighting it for about an hour, the crew gaffed it in the bow and we were excited to see something bigger—he pulled in a beautiful 70-pound bluefin on 40-pound test! While he was fighting the fish, bites had slowed down significantly, so we made another move.

Anxious to get back in the water, we went back to work with a variety of options: some tried fly-lining sardines, some used 6-ounce sinker rigs and even a couple dropped jigs. We had a few bites and definitely had fish in the area but couldn’t really get them to stick. In the early afternoon we landed some tuna here and there and a few big reds, whitefish and sheephead.

At 4:00 p.m. we made a move, and the bite turned on! Over the next couple of hours, there were times we had three or four fish going at once. These were the 25- to 40-pound fish, so a bunch of us bumped down to lighter line with many people fishing 25- and 30-pound test. A WON charter regular, Paul Daughenbaugh of Newbury Park landed his very first bluefin and ended up with a limit! Jim Copp of Redondo was also able to check this species off his list this trip. They were both good sports and followed tradition by eating the heart of their first bluefin.

A few of us were still struggling to get bit and tried even lighter line, risking it with 15- and 20-pound test and ended up successful! I picked up two bluefin on this stop on 15-pound test, and it was an incredibly fun fight each time. My friend Eddie Barragan of Ventura was also able to hook one on the lighter line, and he was stoked to bring home a bluefin for his eight-year-old daughter, Bella! She and her dad are avid Western Outdoor News readers, and before every trip she draws him a beautiful fish-themed card to wish him luck on whichever boat he is headed out on.

ROCKFISH were also in the mix.

As the hours got later, the wind picked up and we started to feel the swells change. Sunday was projected to be a rough day and we were seeing sure signs of that. The bite started to fizzle out as the sun went down, but we were treated to an incredible sunset to close out our epic day of fishing. With the full moon already up in the sky, we were looking forward to potentially getting on that night bite.

It was a little rocky through dinner as the storm came up, and once finished, we headed out to make some drops with our butterfly and knife jigs on a stop. We fished for a short while to no avail, before the decision was made to move to SCI that night so we had the chance to hide out from the gusts we knew we’d get blown around by at Tanner.

On our second morning, we woke to the sound of the anchor being pulled shortly before sunrise. We stepped out of the galley to a surprisingly calm, beautiful, sunny day at Clemente. We ate breakfast as we made our way around the island. We stopped at some of the better-known yellowtail spots, but, unfortunately the sea lions were so heavy that it was hard to get a sardine out more than a few feet before the dogs bit the tail off. We didn’t see any boils either but we kept searching. At our second spot, we were able to pick up a few calico bass that were released before turning around and making our way back to the other side. Since we didn’t find luck at the island, around noon we decided to head out and look for kelp paddies or tuna.

It was incredibly clear out and easy to spot paddies; we pulled up on the first few we found, and while they were heavy with bait, no one was home.

In the late afternoon, we spotted the biggest kelp I’ve ever seen in my life; it was much larger than the boat and was definitely a welcomed sight. They were able to spot it from almost five miles away, and we eagerly anticipated what it may hold as we made our way there. We set up on it a couple of times, but once again, no bites.

JACKPOT on a WON charter comes with extra spoils. In this case, it was a $100 gift card for Huk Performance Fishing apparel.

Even though we spotted at least 10 to 15 paddies on our drive, there was little to no bird activity in the area. Our goal was to find something that looked lively, so if we found a kelp without birds or fish on the meter we trolled past, but wouldn’t stop on every single one in hopes we would find one holding fish. We made five or six stops with no activity, so after we stopped on the last paddy at sunset, we started to pack up some of our gear while the crew filleted fish.

Even though fishing was slow for Sunday, we enjoyed each other’s company as we shared stories and listened to some 80’s rock music over the speakers throughout the day. The thing I love about the WON-sponsored charters is that many of the passengers know each other from previous trips and there is a great sense of comraderie. Everyone is very friendly and welcoming, and there are a lot of people who travel longer distances to make these charters. By the end of the trip, nearly everyone knew each other, stories were shared, numbers were exchanged and plans for future fishing trips were made.