POINT LOMA — Arriving into the zone at just past 6:00 a.m., Captain Rick Russell set up on the anchor and called for the start to the fishing day aboard the Pacific Islander.
This fall season tuna trip had left the Point Loma Sportfishing docks 12 hours earlier and loaded bait for nearly an hour before heading to the Tanner Bank, some 100 miles offshore.
Since taking over the ownership of the storied 73-foot sportfisher, Capt. Russell has installed an entirely new galley and updated the bunk room areas. Several new coats of paint, varnish, a complete new sub-deck and non-skid deck coating had the vessel gleaming from stem to stern for this run to make a withdrawal at the Bank. Investing time and a boat load of money, all new RSW refrigerated seawater fish hold, generator, bait tanks and bait slammer also have helped to make Pacific Islander a first choice for multi-day runs offshore. Captain Sonny Haendiges, on board as the second, or night driver, added a sunny spot to the days on the water.
The 3.5-day trip fell smack in the heart of tuna time and anglers lucky enough to score a spot on the limited load Western Outdoor News charter found fish from football bluefin and big bonito on fly-lined sardines to 150-pound bluefin on the kite-balloon rig, as well as dorado and yellowtail down south.
Slightly overcast skies filled-in during the afternoon of the first day with a thunder and lightning storm dropping heavy rain around midnight. By morning, weather improved, with light winds and clear skies for most of the two days to follow.
Trip sponsors sent along some excellent swag for the anglers on the WON charter, packed into a dry bag from Frogg Toggs including a spool of Super Premium fluorocarbon from Hi-Seas, and a Gamakatsu gear box inside each bag. HUK Gear added a $100 gift card for the angler with the biggest fish for the 3 days.
Day one fishing was tough. At the Tanner, dozens of boats from the SoCal sportfishing fleet, along with private boaters from all over Southern California had been at the high spot offshore every day for weeks, pounding the bluefin that had seemingly taken up residence. That pressure along with cooler, off-color water and the changing weather patterns contributed to the lockjaw-tuna Pacific Islander and most boats experienced.
Aboard Pacific Islander, anglers pinned-on the beautiful, larger-sized sardines and set about fishing the fly-line rig with size 2 to size 4 circle hooks or dropped down by adding rubber bands and hung 4-ounce weights. The spot selected to begin the trip held fish in droves but getting the bluefin to take a bait was another thing.
“Change your baits every couple of minutes,” urged deckhand Cody Jones when anglers gave their baits too long a soak. Persistence was rewarded for a few anglers in the early morning hours when two reels began to spin out line and rods bent deep as baits were picked up: one deep, the other a surface bite.
John Srack, who had traveled down from the town of Aguanga where he left his wife and fishing partner, Penny Srack. John led the charge with a fly-lined ‘dine for the first bluefin of the charter, a 20-pound schoolie fish. The other fish responding to a bait offered deep by Mike Kerner of Newberry Park was an unexpected bonus, larger model sheephead. Mike also scored a couple of bluefin for the trip.
While dropping down a green sardine Megabait-style jig, angler Jimmy Sutton came up with his own sheephead, not once but twice.
By midday, bluefin on deck remained few and far between as Capt. Russell called for lines up.
“Let’s make a move over to another area and see if we can find some fish that want to play,” came the call from the wheelhouse. “Be sure to have some heavier gear set up with 60-pound fluorocarbon leader.”
After an hour the boat slowed, and a drift was set up on a big school of bluefin down some 20 fathoms. A chum line was begun, baits were pinned on and sent out.
Angler Bill Sullivan worked a fly-lined ‘dine and boated a sizable schoolie bluefin as did a few others at this new spot along the Bank, despite the slow scratch fishing.
The afternoon grew late and the boat moved off to find the monster bluefin prowling the Tanner Bank. After an hour looking around and only a couple of hours before sunset, Capt. Russell metered a number of big fish at 40 fathoms. The kite-balloon was sent out with a fresh-dead flying fish perfectly rigged by Capt. Sonny, skidding across the water.
While the crew worked the kite anglers once again soaked bait on the surface and down deep.
“He missed it, no wait he’s got it, we’re on,” yelled Capt. Sonny as he held the kite rod attached to the clip high above the skittering flying fish bait. The clip released the line and fast as possible, Sonny reeled in loose line until he could slam home a staccato of jabs and hooksets with the stout kite rod.
Pulling hard on the big tuna, Capt. Sonny turned and thrust the rod into the hands of this unsuspecting reporter.
With Captain Russell alongside to give coaching advice and Capt. Sonny to help pull line when things got tough the rod bent double, and the fight was on. Up to the bow and over the cathead, the fish kept a steady pull and Sonny called a steady, “Wind!”
Working back down to the stern, the reel kept turning with barely an inch coming each turn. Grinding slowly the fish began circles, at first bringing in inches and losing feet, at last the rhythm changed as the line began to come in with an assist from Sonny.
Lifting with what little strength was left, cranking small bits of line onto the reel at last, three gaffs were sent in and the bluefin was ours. Laid out on the deck, the fish taped at over 150 pounds, making a beautiful sight for the end of day one of the charter.
Now into the big-fish zone, and following a dinner of chicken parmigiana served up by cook Johnny, the knives came out. As did the Flat-Falls and the SK jigs in hopes of finding those monsters down deep.
Filing out on deck, anglers grabbed the truly heavy gear. Reels loaded with 150-pound braid and 200- to 300-pound leader, hanging 350- to 500-gram Flat-Falls and large-sized knife jigs of all colors and types.
“I’m marking fish at 40 fathoms to 60 fathoms, go ahead and drop now, port side,” called the skipper, sending anglers to the rail for the first of many attempts at getting bit by big bluefin.
Drop down, reel up, repeat. For the next several hours most everyone worked the depths with a passion, attempting to get one of the metered fish to take an offering, with not a single strike for their efforts.
Distant thunder and lightning put on a great show as the night grew late, then around midnight a downpour of rain chased the remaining stragglers off the deck and into their bunks to rest up for day-two action.
Morning broke clear and calm as Capt. Russell returned Pacific Islander back to the original starting point of the fishing the day prior, but the water still looked murky green, and the bluefin still had lockjaw.
Getting bluefin both days, angler Tom Diaz broke the ice with a 15-pound tuna. Imperial Beach fisherman, Dennis “Big-D” Simpson found a matching fish that ate his fly-lined sardine. Other charter anglers found the right combination but again it was a scratch bite, with only a half dozen fish hitting the deck.
Yellowtail don’t often roam alone along the Tanner Bank, but angler Ed Moody found one that was willing to bite. As his ‘dine ran out away from the boat, the line came tight and the reel began to spin out. Moody drew up on the forkie and worked it for 15 minutes since he fished light fluorocarbon at the end of his braid. Once gaffed by deckhand Carlos, the fish showed as a larger model forktail at 28 pounds.
Several moves later the day had worn through, and Capt. Russell made a proposal that all aboard agreed was the right idea.
“This water is probably not going change much by morning so rather than stay here and have another tough day we could move south where reports are that yellowtail and dorado are getting with the program,” explained the seasoned skipper.
Several boats working the lower zones had reached out with intel about an ongoing bite of yellowtail and dorado on numerous kelp paddies offshore.
A brief discussion with the passengers came up in favor of the plan and Pacific Islander began to move south, giving everyone a long ride back downhill to the more active grounds. Another great dinner and then a poker game, a movie or a good book filled the evening hours.
Paddy hopping is a funny thing. First, you have to find them. The search began at daybreak and all eyes scanned the water for bird schools or kelps floating nearby. Two crewmembers, Zeke and Carlos, stood atop the galley salon, scanning the horizon with high-powered binoculars.
Despite the intel and with the boat driving continuously in a pattern search across a wide area, paddies were not to be found until near noon.
The first couple of kelps held no fish, probably having been hit hard over recent days by other boats. A third kelp was a “drive by” but gave up some dodos when a mid-sized fish hit the feather jig, wound in by WON charter regular Marvin Kobold.
The boat went on the slide as baits and jigs were tossed and another dodo took a bait, this time for lucky angler Larry Cusack.
The afternoon was filled with kelps, some holding loads of brightly colored dorado unwilling to come out and play. Jumping and breezing past the boat, the fish teased charter anglers, tempting them to try any tactic they could, with little success.
Working northward, the time came for last stop and still no biters to be found. Through no fault of the anglers, captain or crew, the trip never got into the hoped-for bite, whether at the Tanner Bank or points south.
The last chore of checking out the jackpot and awarding the big-fish $100 HUK gift card showed the winner to be Ed Moody with his 28-pound yellowtail. Closely behind was a nicer grade bluefin for Dennis “Big D” Simpson.
A few bycatch rockfish, a dozen bluefin and a trio of dorado made up the total catch for the trip, but everyone went home with fish.
Pacific Islander Sportfishing, https://pacificislandersportfishing.com/
Point Loma Sportfishing
1403 Scott St, San Diego, CA 92106