I arrived at the San Diego landings around 7am only to sit and wait for a parking spot. After 45 minutes of "trolling" for parking, another long range boat's passengers cleared some room and I found a home for my vehicle for the next 6 days.
Over at Fisherman's Landing the Searcher was unloading from their latest trip. As I wandered over that way I ran into the wonderful Sarah Saraspe from 5-Star Fish Processing and finally got a chance to meet her husband, Andy. What a great guy and a pleasure it was to chat with him at the dock.
Meanwhile, off in the distance, I could see some activity around the Spirit of Adventure. With the boarding and loading starting to take place, I made my way past the H&M Landing office and down to the boat. A good opportunity to re-connect with Captain Mike Keating and get to know the "family" I would be spending the next 6 days with. I learned Captain Brian Evans would be running this trip, which was fine by me. They are BOTH very good at what they do.
We left the dock just a little earlier than scheduled, joined 4 other boats at the bait receiver to load up on large sardines, and cleared the point by 1 pm. I just realized I had been up for 28 hours straight but didn't seem that tired. Man, am I going to crash tonight!
Dinner was chicken fajitas and I was out like a light...until the boat stopped. Say what? Is it dark out? What time is it? Stopping on a meter mark for first thing in the morning? I'll go up on deck and check it out. Here's what I found: 20+ dorado flopping around on deck! Apparently the crew had found a medium-sized kelp paddy just before dark and took advantage of it. Oh well, there will be plenty of opportunities on this trip.
Woke up early for some reason (5:30 am) as we were still travelling south to the offshore zone. Weather was a steady 15 knots with occasional whitecaps throughout the day. Not bad, but not flat calm. Water temp was 70-71°. We had several stops during the morning for mainly small yellowfin tuna and a few dorado. Breakfast was eggs made to order with sausage and toast.
The morning progressed with a handful of jig strikes on smallish yellowfin, a dozen or so were deemed "keeper worthy." A few dorado were also in the mix. Lunch was a delicious shrimp Caesar salad.
More of the same in the afternoon with steady action on small 7-10 lb. yellowfin and skipjack plus the occasional dorado. NO sign of the bluefin which have been so prevalent this summer.
Weather was still breezy all the way until dark. We had 15-20 "keeper" yellowfin with the same number of dorado.
The plan for tonight is to run a little farther down the line and try to set up on a meter mark to get a morning bite going. The weather was expected to build during the day (as per my forecast, too) so we'll see how the offshore game plays out during the day. Dinner: Ribs and corn on the cob, baked beans, cole slaw with cherry pie for dessert.
No morning bite from our overnight drift on the sea anchor, so at grey light we pick it up and start moving.
I had barely woken up and just put on my sunscreen (it's one of the first things you do when you are as fair skinned as I am) when we stumbled upon an early morning kelp paddy. HOOK UP!
It was a legitimate bite on legitimate yellowfin tuna. 25-35 lb. average...a much better grade than we had found the previous day. After an hour, the bite faded and we were on our way in search of another willing school, encouraged by our early results.
Breakfast was served up in the form of eggs Benedict.
A trolling we will go, a trolling we will go. Between troll stops and meter marks, we had steady action for much of the day. Although they were mostly small fish that went back into the drink (we released a LOT of fish) we found the occasional keeper for good measure. When I say some of the fish were small, I mean they were REALLY small, as in 4-8 lb. yellowfin. Yeah, that small. Certainly not the grade we were looking for.
Lunchtime found Dan and Dean in the galley serving up tasty chicken parmesan sub sandwiches.
That afternoon we continued working southeast towards Cedros Island, where we expected to supplement our ailing bait supply. One highlight of the afternoon trolling rotation: A large school of small dorado that charged the boat. I'd estimate there were at least 2 dozen leaping dorado heading towards the boat, making it easy to see why east coasters call them "dolphin fish." It was a really cool sight to see. Too bad they were all really small.
That night we were treated to a special dinner of grilled white seabass with green beans and potatoes au gratin. We should arrive at Cedros to make bait around 3:30 am.
Today's weather: Steady 15 knots all day with occasional gusts up to 20 knots. Yes, it was a little bumpy out there.
"Good morning guys...time to catch some bait," declared captain Brian Evans over the PA system. It was 3:30 am and we had arrived on schedule at the south end of Cedros Island under a nearly full moon. Bait was tough to catch, but we managed about 100 pieces (mostly small greenbacks) before hitting up some yellowtail spots.
The only fish we found at Cedros that morning was a nice-sized broomtail grouper on the yo-yo jig! No yellows here, so we scooted over to Isla Natividad,
where at least one other boat had found signs of biting yellowtail. Joining us in the hunt were 4 other San Diego long range boats, all taking refuge from the breezy/windy offshore weather. The wind at the more exposed Natividad was a steady 20 knots with gusts to 25. The windblown conditions were tough, but we stood up to the challenge.
For a little while, at least.
Breakfast on this morning consisted of huevos rancheros, followed by a clam chowder lunch.
Just off Natividad we made our first drift and I was the lucky recipient of the first bite of the day on the yellows! Others soon followed and we started to put together a decent day, despite the dreadful wind condition.
When the action died down, we made the short move back up to Cedros.
A touch of bad luck for me included a broken jig. The 6x jr just broke off halfway through the fight.
Hello, Matt Salas? J
The move back to Cedros proved to be fruitful. We found schools of yellowtail that put on a surface show, which always makes for exciting fishing. I caught one on the surface iron (7x). Then, looking to do something a little different, I tried the dropper loop as we drifted into fairly shallow water. No more than 10 seconds after my bait hit bottom I felt the thump, thump, WHOMP of a fish on! But this one felt a little different. After a short tug of war, I brought aboard a HALIBUT. Just what my wife ordered! Back at the dock, it weighed in at 14 lbs.
It sure was nice fishing the “protected” side of the island. Fishing bait and the occasional yellowtail flurry.
It seemed the rest of the San Diego long range fleet also had the same idea, ducking out of the weather and taking part in some decent yellowtail fishing. The Searcher, American Angler, Royal Polaris, Excel, Royal Star, Red Rooster III and Independence all ended up in roughly the same area, apparently due to the extended episode of wind in the offshore zone.
After a dinner of broccoli beef stir fry, it was time to hit the rack. The call to make bait tomorrow morning would likely come nice and early.
Early, but not quite as early as the previous day. 5:30 am was the wakeup call as the anchor was pulled to go in search of bait.
We found some pretty good schools of sardines and mackerel. Enough that we were able to begin the hunt for more of those hungry Cedros Island yellowtail, starting out not too far from the south end of the island. Speaking of hungry, we had a standard breakfast of bacon and eggs.
Although we never really had a wide open, full speed bite on the yellows, we did have pretty steady action throughout the day. Dropper loop, flyline, yo yo iron and even the surface iron all produced fish at any given time. The quality was good and the average of the 6 or 7 fish I actually kept was 22 lbs.
The largest on the boat perhaps pushing 30 lbs.
Some of those nice yellowtail found their way to the galley of the Spirit of Adventure, and I can tell you fish tacos made with freshly caught yellowtail is something pretty special!
Later in the afternoon, after a respectable day of fishing, our time in the sun (and away from the windy offshore weather) was coming to an end.
We had to begin our trek northward to put us into position on the tuna grounds for our final day of fishing. We left the south end of Cedros Island and headed up the protected east side around 5pm, which would give us another couple of hours of smooth seas.
The weather was expected to come down in the offshore zone (also what I had forecast before the trip left). The best weather day offshore was to be on Thursday, our final fishing day of the trip. Let’s hope it works out that way…and that the fish will cooperate with us one more time.
Dinner was some sort of Asian chicken breast that was pretty darn good…
Day 5: The Ripper
I woke up around 5:30 am as we were still travelling up the line. The weather and sea state really wasn’t too bad. Still a steady breeze of 10-15 knots, but not all that gusty and no whitecaps. Just a little lumpy.
My buddy Mark and I were among the only ones up at that hour, so we began trolling just before first light (and at the suggestion of the captain). Around 6:30 am we turned on a meter mark that apparently looked pretty good because Captain Brian told us to wind the jigs in and we were going to make a drift. BAM! As we were bringing the jigs in we both hooked up with a little better grade yellowfin tuna. We boated both troll fish as well as 2 bait fish…and were feeling pretty good about our prospects for this day.
Just as we finished up a blueberry pancake breakfast, we got the PA announcement that sent a wave of excitement throughout the boat. “Another boat is on a massive school of fish, so we’re going to run back down there. He’s six miles away and we’re far from home, so let’s not waste any time with jigs in the water. We just need to get down there.” OK. Sounds pretty good. But that was followed up with “Hey guys, make sure you break out the heaviest gear you’ve got. 60#, 80#, the heavier the better and get ready. If it’s as good as it sounds, you’re going to need it.”
So, does that mean really big fish or just stupid wide open fishing? Either way, needless to say the whole boat was buzzing with anticipation. We couldn’t get there soon enough!
In the distance we could finally make out our destination, with several other boats also racing to the same spot. The shout out had been made to the rest of the fleet and the race was on.
This is the point where I have to say a very special thank you to the Captain and crew of the Royal Star. Randy Toussaint and Tim Ekstrom are both highly regarded and run a great operation and their willingness to share the intel with the rest of the fleet gave many of us a chance to get in on the bite of a lifetime.
Just as we pulled up, the group on the Royal Star was taking their group photos and I caught a glimpse of a deck filled with tuna. Yes, this looked like it was the real deal. For us, it didn’t take long. The first few baits in the water were instant hookups. The next group of baits cast over the stern were quickly inhaled by these ravenous tuna. Then, the bite got BETTER.
Yes, better as in the moment your bait hit the water it was attacked. Better, as in not even needing to cast a sardine or mackerel away from the boat. Better, as in straight 50-60-80 lb. test monofilament line was getting bit with no problem at all. The frequently used term “WFO” wouldn’t even come close to describing the all-out melee that was happening in the waters surrounding the Spirit of Adventure and others drifting along, 195 miles from San Diego.
For 2 hours, the bite on these mostly better grade fish (20-35 lbs.) continued non-stop.
250 yellowfin tuna later, Captain Brian Evans gave the 2 minute warning as we were far from home and we had to be back at the dock the next morning. There were no complaints about leaving biting fish on the last day of the trip. We all had our fill, and then some.
It was truly an epic bite and a great way to end a great trip. Kudos to the crew of the Spirit of Adventure for helping us make it through: Brian, Scott, JP, Aaron, Dave and Dan and Dean in the galley. The galley crew served up a Santa Fe chicken salad for lunch.
Heading back up the line in a steady 10-15 knot breeze on top of a slight/moderate ground swell made the ride back home a little bumpy, but not too rough. I’ve certainly seen a lot worse along that stretch of coast. The ride actually got better as the night wore on. We finished the day with a prime rib dinner.
The return to San Diego, hitting the dock right around 7:30 am. Sort fish, weigh in the jackpot (my biggest was 35#, so I was out of the running) with the largest yellowfin coming in at 45#.
Then, off to Five Star Fish Processing to take care of my catch. I can’t say enough good things about Five Star and the operation Sarah and Andy run. I’m sure the others offer a fine end product and good service, but with the fantastic customer service and quality product I take home, I have no need to look anywhere else. Five Star is it for me and I highly recommend their service. J They don’t pay me to say these things, I am just a very satisfied customer.
Once I had my coolers packed, it was time to hit the road back to Phoenix. It sure seems that the drive is longer going home than when you’re starting out a trip. Maybe the anticipation?
We didn’t get the jumbos like the trip before us, nor did we get any Bluefin tuna. But we did have a variety of fish, fishing locations and personalities on this trip to make it another memorable entry into my logbook.
Thanks for reading and allowing me to share this adventure with you…from the Spirit of Adventure.