The first blank day on my calendar in a long while prompted me to go dayfishing on Friday, September 10. Two old fishing buddies who hadn’t been out in ten years and my neighbor Mark Maruccia wanted to go too, so we enlisted aboard the Holiday with new owner-skipper Tim Voaklander, another fellow I hadn’t fished with for ten years, the last time I was on the Dolphin.
We woke up on the Hidden Bank, where tuna fishing has ranged from pretty darn good to pretty darn slow over the past week. The previous day had been a bit of a rouser, said Voaklander, with showers and 20 knots of wind at times. That didn’t help the fishing.
On the grounds well before dawn, we fished through the gray without drawing a bite, so skipper Tim fired up the engines and we went troll-looking. We trolled southeast until we were well away from the fleet, and then patrolled the east edge of the area over Hidden Bank.
“It’s so well hidden there isn’t any bank there,” someone quipped.
We stopped and plunked on a couple of marks, and came up with a couple of small bluefin. The first one was caught by Mike Lopez of Corona. He got his shortfin with a sardine on a 2/0 J hook and 30-pound line, after a 15-minute soak. The fish bit way upswell by then, of course. It took him from the stern to the bow and then was welcomed aboard with a long-handled gaff.
We could see at least 100 boats of various types fishing. Most were drifting. One skipper told me later there were 156 targets on his radar. There had to be twice that many out there Saturday, because that was the day of the Make A Wish tournament. All those boats, from skiffs to long rangers like Spirit of Adventure and Red Rooster III were drifting on an area about five miles long and mile wide. It was a mite crowded.
But it was a nice day, with the marine layer burning off and the sun shining on subsiding seas. Every so often we’d hook a fish or see a rod bent over on another boat. My old hang gliding pal Steve Mawhinney of La Jolla dumped his first fish, much to his disappointment, but he hooked another before long and it tweaked him nicely for 20 minutes or so when he babied it on 20-pound line and an old Shimano reel with chirping drags.
Steve’s limber rod and his desire to not lose this one kept him working harder and longer than he had to, probably, but in the end the yellowfin came aboard and we got some nice pictures of a happy guy who’d been at 17,000 feet in his sailplane over Warner Peak the day before.
My other buddy Jeff Sagara has stayed in shape by fishing trout and steelhead on flies up in Oregon. He got two small bluefin and a yellowfin. The yellowfin was bigger, and it came on 15-pound line and a Seeker nine-foot inshore rod I’d lent him with a 220 Newell reel. That fish exhausted Sagara, and he had to sit down through the day’s best bite.
It was an odd bite indeed, but it was an odd day. We never had a strike on the troll. Fish would bite for no apparent reason, on 15 or 30-pound, with or without sinkers, with or without fluorocarbon leaders, on small size two hooks or on 4/0 hooks. Sometimes they’d show a bit, 50 or100 yards off the boat, less often close enough to cast to. But even if you could cast to a boil they wouldn’t bite.
What made the bite odd was that we discovered the tuna on a shark. They were behaving like yellowtail, hassling the beast near the surface. Skipper Voaklander spotted the dustup from the bridge, and told us what was going on as we approached. I saw the shark and cast with my 15-pound outfit (it was noon, and by now I was desperate for a bite) right on it. Nothing happened until I followed the bait back to the stern as we slid to a halt, and then my bait went deep under the props.
Boom! My tip went down and I wound down on my Accurate 197, only to have the tension come off within two seconds. I reeled up a mangled sardine, its skin stripped on both sides and gash marks on both ends, the head crushed just like the only other bite I’d had all day.
“These are bigger fish!” yelled skipper Tim. “Now’s the time we’ve been waiting for! Get your 25-pound, get your 30-pound gear; don’t use the 15-pound on these fish! Get a bait in the water off the stern, they’re biting everything!”
I was convinced. I took the time to put up the light rod and went to the next one, a 665 Super Seeker with a 197 two-speed and fresh 20-pound Izorline XXX mono on it with 25-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon and 2/0 Mustad Demon ringed hook. I nose-hooked a fresh ‘din and tossed it off the back of the wagon.
The sardine raced straight off like its tail was on fire. It made about 25 yards and I felt the solid thump of a tuna take. A couple of turns on the handle and the line came tight, and I was the happy guy. All around me others were hooking up, with the yelling and running and line popping and tangling that goes along with tuna on the chew.
One long run and my tuna went down like a tuna is supposed to. It got hard to turn the handle, so I went to low gear. Now I was an even happier guy, because I could move the fish upward by winding whenever he couldn’t pull line off. The next ten minutes went by quickly, but not without suspense whenever I got close to another up-and-down angler.
Once the tuna made a dash across the width of the stern, and I felt the line touch something, probably the props. But we made it to the other corner, the starboard junction, and shortly after I had the fish up to deep color.
Voaklander was coming down the rail, so I asked him for a gaff.
“Are you ready?” he asked, and then looked down and saw the fish. He moved quickly for a gaff, came back and nailed the tuna after a close miss.
“Nice sand bass!” he said to me, in honor of the many days I’d spent with him on the half-day boat 20 years and more in the past.
“Number 16,” I told him. I thanked him for his work and went to re-tie my hook as he slipped the tuna into a sack, just like the old days.
I got back to the rail as fast as I could, but it was over. A few tuna showed well off the stern, but they were back to their lockjaw mode. Still we got 20 or 22 yellowfin off the shark, and I’m sure we dumped at least that many during the brief frenzy.
So it was back to trolling a bit and fishing a bit. We got a couple more fish before we had to leave around three PM. We were about five hours from Pt. Loma Sportfishing, and Voaklander needed to get back on time to refuel. Our hero Mike Lopez got the last fish, another little bluefin. That was about the time a mola of maybe 150 pounds was accidentally snagged next to the boat, and we all got to see it jump several times before it broke off.
All our fish went out of the sacks and into refrigerated salt water only moments after it was caught. The tuna slid down a ramp into the fish hold so they weren’t bruised.
I can report that I slept very well coming and going aboard the Holiday. While I napped the crew cleaned up the boat and got things ready for our return. The balance scales showed that Kevin Johnson of Cota de Caza was our jackpot winner, for one of those nicer yellowfin, something over 35 pounds, I’d say. All the fish that came off the shark were good ones.
Kevin said he baited his sardine on a 1/0 Mustad 94150 hook. He used a half-ounce slip sinker on 25-ppound Ande line, with a Penn 545 reel and a Calstar 197 rod. He said his fish gave him a hard time for 15 minutes.
“It’s my first time fishing for five years,” he remarked. There were quite a few of us out for the first time in a long time, it appeared. It was a good time, and as they say, we all had our chances.
Thanks to Tim Voaklander and his crew: Aaron Cromwell, Julie Peet, Tavis Allen and second skipper Jack Tighe, for feeding us and keeping us safe, educated, fed and entertained.