Bright October sunshine lit the decks during bait loading at the Everingham Brothers trains of crates. As we cut the waves heading out of San Diego Bay aboard Intrepid, the sky quickly clouded over with a heavy gray layer. It looked like rain coming.
“There’s a tropical storm down below, and right now it’s over Alijos Rocks,” skipper Kevin Osborne told us when he assembled his 18 anglers aboard in the galley. “We’re going to keep an eye on it and see if it doesn’t move away toward shore. It’s not a hurricane, but it’s got wind, rain and thunder and lightning. We’ll head south slowly and see if we can find some kelps to fish.”
We had some time to spare on a seven-day trip. The ocean was marked only by a light chop on a three-foot swell, with the normal, 12-knot breeze from the northwest. We stayed in the galley for a couple of hours, raffling off items from FishingVideos.com sponsors and from sponsors of Tuna Chasers and Ken Bush Custom Rods. The prizes included a new Accurate 870 reel, a Seeker 870 rod, a print from Peter J’s Newport art gallery, and an AFTCO Alijos belt and fishing gloves. Appropriately enough, the new reel was won by the trip’s only rookie, broker Hank Sorenson of Tampa. Already the guys were calling him “Florida.”
Giveaways included three packets each of appropriately-sized Mustad and Hayabusa hooks for all anglers, blue Izorline reel fill-ups in 30, 40 and 50 pound mono, Salas, Zucker’s and Russelures jigs for everyone, hats from Mustad (the crew got hats from Salas), Seaguar fluorocarbon leaders and certificates for free processing from Mario Ghio at Sportsmen’s Seafoods and Sarah Seraspe at Five Star Fish Processing. There were also new 2010 Sportfishing Calendars, Double AA’s Swim Baits and Mustad bait makers for all, and some ARC dehookers and Accurate shirts among the prizes and gifts from FishingVideos.com.
Chartermasters Miles Callison and Ken Bush gave away several custom GRUSA rods wrapped for the occasion by Bush, packets of Owner hooks and a ton of jigs, including light and heavy iron, plastic squid baits and skirted jigs. There were Chuck Byron prints, shirts and hats from Bloodydecks.com and many other goodies. Each angler ended up with a bagful of swag.
Bill Roecker gave three anglers the use of new Accurate BX2 600 reels, and three more got new Candy Mack lifelike segmented jigs to try. Anglers said it was a good start to the trip.
Intrepid motored along southward in the quiet mode she has become known and admired for. Her stabilizers work just as well when she’s under way, and we slept soundly in the near-silence, enjoying the ride.
Next morning it was sunny and pleasant out on the ocean.
“Where are the clouds?” I asked skipper Osborne. “Is the storm gone already?”
“No,” he said, “it’s still near the Rocks and Mag Bay, but it’s predicted to move inland by tomorrow. We’ll go down the outside slowly, so we don’t get into it.”
We fished on four large kelp paddies some 200 miles from San Diego. The large golden mats of weed weren’t holding much, just small yellowfin and dorado that we released, but there were a couple of big dorado near 30 pounds.
As we kept heading downhill, we heard the next day that storm Olaf was moving away from Alijos Rocks and had been downgraded to a tropical depression. We couldn’t see any clouds from it, but Osborne continued to take his time, approaching from the outside. That evening the skipper updated us again, and gave us some fishing tips. One of those had to do with bait tank procedures.
“We put the bait in the hand wells for you,” he said. “Pick out a nice one that doesn’t have a bloody nose or a lot of missing scales, one that swims quickly. Take your bait firmly but gently so you don’t injure it, and move away from the tanks to pin it on, especially when there’s a line at the tank.”
Late that morning, we found the right paddy.
“Get ready,” the skipper told us as we approached it to drift past. “This one’s got fish on it!”
The kelp was the size of a boxcar. Hoots and shouts went up from the anglers as they began hooking dorado of ten to 25 pounds, and the blue and yellow fish erupted around the stern and sides of the boat. Eager to bite anything they saw, the dorado jumped and tangled lines. Two drifts filled our limits, and the galley had fresh fish for dinner.
Delicious dorado dinners were prepared that night by master chef Javier Quintanar of Seville, Spain, who attended the University of Cordon Bleu in Paris, and has been a star in the San Diego fleet for many years. Javier made an incredible meal of mahi cooked with fresh pineapple-ginger sauce.
“What does Alijos mean?” I asked Javier.
“It means far away,” he answered.
Through The Back Door
Earlier, just before four p.m., we pulled up to The Rocks. No other boats were there, so we trolled for wahoo. We got a couple of nice ones about 30 to 40 pounds, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of them. When we started catching small tuna on the drift, skipper Osborne anchored up so the wind and current took our sardines toward the black volcanic pinnacles rising from the sea to weather like something on another planet. It was the day after the full moon.
After a few minutes of quiet the tuna found us. They were big ones, from 40 to 100 pounds. They bit almost as well as paddy dorado, but you had to get a bait out and away from the boat to draw a strike. I hooked three on my first four casts. Fifty-pound line and fluorocarbon leaders, with 2/0 to 4/0 size hooks were the ticket to a husky yellowfin bite.
After we caught a half-dozen nice big tuna we were overwhelmed by hammerheads and brown sharks. They ate a couple of fish, and then began eating most of the hooked yellowfin, maybe 70 or 80 percent of the fish. It was discouraging to the point of making me crabby. You’d spend 20 minutes getting a tuna almost to color, and then you’d feel some muffled thumping and your line would go limp. Reeling in, you’d see a frayed end, with abrasion for several feet up your line, probably where the shark had rolled up in it.
I spent a half-hour on a tuna that I got to the boat. A deckhand was ready to gaff it, when the fish, a 100-pounder, broke off. My four other big tuna, in the 60 to 80-pound class, were eaten by sharks. I was almost ready to quit fishing when sunset put an end to our misery. Our group had only managed about 20 fish gaffed aboard out of more than 100 hookups. I was zero for five.
Each day of our trip Javier made morning and afternoon snacks that were almost a good as his world-class dinners. It might have been that day when he offered up scallops wrapped in bacon. Another day we had Javier’s own version of hot wings. Breakfast often offered eggs done to order, with light baking powder biscuits and potatos or waffles and special sausage. Lunch might be Chile Rellenos, a specialty soup, or cheeseburgers Grande. Only the hard work of pulling on tuna could offset the effects of eating so much delicious food.
Next morning the sharks were gone; poof, disappeared. We saw only one that day, a small hammerhead swimming around like he was lonely, at the surface off the stern. If he ate anything it was discarded sardines.
We didn’t miss his friends, and enjoyed a very good day of catching husky yellowfin tuna. I fished with several outfits, including Super Seeker rod models 6460 H and 6470 H, and an Accurate B6650C. I used three of the new Accurate Boss Extreme reels: a BX2 500 and BX2 600 and BX2 600 narrow versions. The 500, a known quantity to me, was smooth and 870-sized, with an oval rubber grip. The two 600 BX2s came with a new blue power handle that aids much in grinding on heavy fish like these, the best quality I’d seen at The Rocks in ten years or so. These are powerful, smooth casting and easy grinding reels.
Most of us were fishing with factory-provided blue Izorline of 40 or 50 pounds. I tried the XXX Izorline of 50-pound test, and found it to be a bit limper, easier to cast, at least for me. Most of us used topshots of mono on at least 300 yards of Spectra. I saw no spoolings, though there were a couple of close calls.
Some anglers used 4/0 J or circle hooks from Mustad, Hayabusa and Owner, donated by those sponsors. I had a hard time getting bit with 4/0 or 5/0 hooks, the type I’d normally use, and went with 3/0 Mustad ringed Hoodlum or standard types. As fishing got tougher, I went down to 2/0 size and thought I got bit faster that way. Other anglers did well with circle hooks.
I didn’t pull a hook, and none even bent, on tuna up to 90 pounds. I fished my J hooks the same way I fish circle hooks, by letting the fish set the hook on itself after I threw the reel into gear and started to wind. All my gaffed tuna came up with the hook in the corner of the mouth, same as a circle hook.
When hook size matters, fluorocarbon is right. Seaguar 50-pound and 55-pound Premier fluorocarbon did the job for me. Some anglers fished with just two or three feet of fluorocarbon tied directly to Spectra, but I like a little bit of give, and used topshots of 50 to 100 yards of mono, something easier on the fast-aging shoulders.
It was a good day for me. I lost no tuna, and ended it with four fish from 60 to 90 pounds. The tuna bit well when the current ran toward The Rocks in the morning and evening, but during midday it wobbled off to the side and into the wind, and few fish were hooked then.
One angler got a big tuna on 40-pound line, a single-speed reel and a long rod.
“I’ll never do that again,” Brian Lewis of Surprise, AZ vowed at dinner that night, as we dined on Javier’s fresh ahi (yellowfin tuna) with Teriyaki sauce. “I’m getting a two-speed next time.”
Our third day at The Rocks started well, with the current running downwind toward the rocks again, as it did the first day. The tuna began biting at dawn with a little flurry of hookups, and then the action slowed into a pick. Once or twice an hour a school crossed the stern, and rods bent behind the path of the tuna as they took our sardine baits from left to right with near-military precision, causing a ripple of shouts and hoots to move with the action. The water was so free of sharks it was almost as if they had never been there.
There were a few jig fishermen aboard, and when the schools were moving like that, casting a jig could bring a tuna or a rare wahoo. There didn’t seem to be many skins around, but their presence was known whenever a missed bite proved to be a snipped-off line. A couple of the razorjaws were caught on wire leaders, and at least one wahoo came on monofilament.
I got two more yellowfin that morning. When I weighed my tuna later, the smallest was 60 pounds and the biggest was 89.6 pounds. Late that morning the current slowed and turned into the wind. As the boat swung back and forth in the stiffening breeze, the flylined baits came back toward the sides, so anglers were fishing around the corner of the stern. The closer the baits were to Intrepid, the fewer bites were had, and skipper Osborne had no problem making a decision to leave a few hours early.
“We got what we came for,” he told us. “There’s over a hundred big tuna in the fresh fish holds. Let’s go catch some yellowtail.”
Two other long range boats had arrived, and a look at their afterdecks showed the same lack of action. We headed northeast, quartering the whitecaps, bumping uphill and happy for the boat’s stabilizers minimizing the roll.
That night we ate like kings, or at least like hungry men in a five-star restaurant, on Javier’s pork loin with blackberry brandy sauce. Our meals were an adventure in themselves, and they came to our tables fully decked out, almost too pretty to eat, not! We had a different salad and desert every night, and some anglers had brought wines aboard to share with all who wanted them.
Cedros Yellowfin On Ponies
Next morning after breakfast Intrepid motored up the strait between Isla Natividad and Punta Eugenia, where we escaped the swell but not the 20-knot wind. When we were within a mile or two of the big island of Cedros, the 3900-foot central mountain and its descending ridges blocked the wind. We fished for a bit in the calm near the Islander. She was on a kayak trip with several ‘yaks disbursed nearby in the calm, protected lee.
Young hungry pelicans made flylining tough. They stole sardines, and some had to be unhooked. I caught a chunky calico bass, a four-pounder, but we saw no sign of yellowtail. The boat headed back out into the windy, usually protected waters south of the big island. After a half-hour of looking around we found a small bird school working between the salt plant and the point at Augustine, southwest of the Four-fathom Spot. The fish, 10 to 18-pounders, didn’t want bait, but they were in a mood to chew iron. Heavy yoyo jigs got the majority of these, but they also bit on light surface iron after the bite got going.
These yellowtail bit on all the standard jigs and colors. Blue and white Salas 6X Jr. jigs and Tadys in scrambled egg brown and yellow produced quickly. I caught two and saw a half-dozen others caught on a new Salas color of dark green with a pink tip. It was close to a jig frenzy. Anglers got hooked up on darts and metallic knife jigs with Spectra-tied hooks dangling from the front end. About 20 minutes later the school left the boat.
In a half-hour we located another school of biters. A couple of bigger ‘tails came up; one might have gone over 25 pounds. This kind of jig fishing causes a lot of hollering among hooked up anglers but when I heard it get very loud indeed I looked over to see a yellowfin tuna on the deck. Tuna in this green, off-colored shallow water, close to Cedros Island? It was almost unheard of. We took pictures of the fish.
“Some porpoise went by,” an angler said. “He must have been with them.”
A few minutes later the pod passed by the other way. More tuna were hooked on jigs, and several were landed maybe a half-dozen nice, fat 30-pound class tuna.
Chartermaster/rod builder Ken Bush of El Cajon bagged an ahi on the jig, with 40-pound blue Izorline, an Avet JX reel and a self-wrapped GRUSA 70 HP rod.
“He saw the porpoise” related Ken, “and Deckhand Dave threw my blue and white 6X Jr. on my long stick and passed it to me. The fish inhaled the jig deep in his throat and
came in easy.”
Standing in the starboard corner of the stern, Steve Tucker of Alpine chucked a blue and white Tady 45 surface jig toward the tuna school swimming past, and got a nice 35-pounder on his donated 40-pound Izorline. He used his old favorite Truline rod, a BOR 36 model.
The most remarkable yellowfin jig bite came to Kurt Suzuki of Coburg, OR, when he threw a brand new blue Candy Mack, a segmented jig from Aqueous Outdoors (the company says you can see it swim at AqueousOutdoors.com) on 25-pound Big Game line and his new eight-foot Super Seeker rod. He hooked a bigger one.
“I saw the porpoise come past the stern,” said Kurt, “and I threw to the boils the fish were making and let it sink five seconds. I got about three cranks on it and he bit and took off. When I set on the fish, he took half my 300 yards of Spectra behind 100 yards of mono line.
“I pushed the lever to the detent of my Avet MXJ two-speed reel, and after 30 to 45 seconds he broke the topshot near the jig. It looked like the school had 30 to 50-pounders in it.”
Our last dinner was even more special that the rest. By tradition, long range anglers are served on the final night at sea by the skipper. Javier had set out his famous “seafood mountain” that afternoon, featuring shrimp, crab, oysters, smoked fish and more goodies. That was a hard act to beat, but Javier might have done it for our last dinner of filet mignon topped with Maine lobster claws. Desert was a three-layer mocha extravaganza supreme with caramel sauce. We staggered below to sleep it off.
We arrived back at Pt. Loma Sportfishing before dawn, and unloaded our gear before carting the fish up to the scales on the cement pad in front of the landing. Three processors were there to meet us: Mario Ghio of Sportsmen’s Seafoods, Sarah Seraspe of Five Star Fish Processing, and Sean Sebring of Fishermen’s Canning. Some anglers elected to take their fish home and clean them, but most of us used the services to cut and wrap, or smoke our fish, or trade them for canned albacore.
There was one fish that was the obvious winner, but plenty of contention for the next two spots. Co-chartermaster Miles Callison of San Diego won first place for a 109.2-pound yellowfin.
“He ran out at first,” said Miles, “and then stayed up by the bow for about 45 minutes. He wouldn’t come out from under the bow; he was so teed off. We finally gaffed him back by the stern.”
“Lucky” Harvey Rosen of Benicia won second place for an 89.6-pound tuna, and Kurt Suzuki of Coburg, OR won third place for an 88.8-pounder.
I’ve been on trips when more fish were caught and when the weather was nicer, or when more wahoo were taken, but this one, aboard a nice new 116-foot luxury sportfisher showed me the best quality tuna I’ve seen at The Rocks in a decade, and the variety of yellowtail and dorado fishing made the trip a dandy. And how about those yellowfin at Cedros Island? I’ve never seen that before. I don’t expect to see it again.
FishingVideos.com offers grateful thanks to owner Ken Price for our invitation to fish aboard Intrepid, and to canny, up-and-coming skipper Kevin Osborne, second skipper Rick Kelly, crewmen Dave Taylor, Cameron Casper and David “Wahoodad” Choate, Master Chef Javier Quintanar and his assistant JJ Moon.
Captains Kevin Osborne and Rick Kelly
(887) 686-7827 - Point Loma Sportfishing