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Bluefin tuna boiling at 425 Bank

40-50 miles off coast between Rosarito and Ensenada

The Pacific Queen began their 1.5-day season with a bang with bluefin tuna limits before sunrise on their first day back on the water.
The Pacific Queen began their 1.5-day season with a bang with bluefin tuna limits before sunrise on their first day back on the water.

Dock Totals 3/27 – 4/2: 1,436 anglers aboard 61 half-day to 1.5-day trips out of San Diego landings this past week caught 173 bluefin tuna (to 197 pounds), 52 calico bass, 8 lingcod, 3,370 rockfish, 1 rock sole, 36 sand bass, 50 sanddab, 145 sculpin, 72 sheephead, 10 Spanish jack, 825 whitefish, and 171 yellowtail.

Saltwater: A cold front came through early in the week, keeping most of the fleet at the dock for a couple days just as the bluefin tuna and yellowtail started biting well. When the weather lifted and seas flattened by Wednesday, the bite was on. Boats venturing south to the 425 Bank and surrounding high spots 30 to 50 miles off the Baja coast between Rosarito and Ensenada found schools of tuna frothing on the surface and holding deep at 200 to 300 feet, with little action in the water column between.

Most of the bluefin caught were in the 20 to 40 pound range, but a few fish above 100 pounds came over the rail, and many larger fish were metered, though getting them to bite was tough. Much of the bluefin action was before sunrise, and some boats limited on tuna early enough to switch their focus to yellowtail and bottom fish for the rest of their fishing day. Moving forward, the bluefin bite should continue to favor the anglers on overnight and longer trips, while full day boats offer great fishing for yellowtail along the lower 9 Mile Bank and the Coronado Islands.

Half day boats are doing well in our local waters on rockfish, whitefish, and sheephead off Point Loma. The extended half day runs south should begin soon, as long as warmer water keeps pushing north and bringing the schooling yellowtail. Most of the yellowtail caught this past week were ‘firecrackers’ – smaller fish in the 7 to 12 pound range that are thus named for the strength of their fight compared to their size – but some very nice yellowtail to 40 pounds have been reported by the operators out of Ensenada.

If heading out into the fray south of the border where the catch can be anything from firecracker yellowtail and rockfish to trophy bluefin reaching over 200 pounds, anglers should carry a wide range of setups. A full quiver for 1.5-day and longer trips should include a 25 to 30-pound live bait rig for the surface action, a 40-pound jig stick casting setup for surface irons for the smaller bluefin or yellowtail, a 60 to 80-pound sinker rig for dropping bait deep to the larger bluefin, and especially a 100 to 130-pound setup for deep-dropping heavy 200 to 300 gram knife jigs the larger bluefin seem to prefer.

When smaller tuna and yellows are biting, many anglers have been surprised by a larger bluefin breaking them off. A good tact for this often frustrating situation can be teamwork, with some anglers fishing heavier gear below the surface action for the larger fish. That said, when those larger fish have lockjaw and refuse to bite, it is a hard thing to stick with the big gear while the surface action on smaller fish is hot. I expect to see more fish in the above 100-pound class reported soon, but then it’s always a crapshoot with bluefin.

Bluefin tuna are a unique species of gamefish in their ability to withstand sharp temperature changes and can pop up just about anywhere. That they migrate from their spawning grounds in the Sea of Japan annually at around 10 to 20 pounds and remain in the eastern Pacific for several years until they are around 300 pounds is why we see such a mixed grade of fish at times. Other tunas tend to school in like-sizes and are much easier to plan for as an angler, whereas bluefin can be mixed, all large, or all school-sized. Modern electronics and recent studies show that there is no real consistency which anglers can plan for without taking a full quiver of gear from light to heavy. As sportfishing boat fares are going up due to fuel and other overhead, losing a trophy fish due to not being prepared can be an expensive lesson. Considering a low market price at $20 per pound, one 100-pound bluefin tuna dressed out can yield six to seven-hundred dollars’ worth of meat. That’s equal to a two-day trip fare, but, as sport-caught fish cannot be sold, I guess it is only financially justifiable if one eats a lot of tuna.

One thing to remember when heading out on one of San Diego’s fine sportfishing vessels are the crews who work hard to ensure a rewarding trip for their passengers. It is not easy work, and the pay is generally not reflective of the amount of work required. Deckhand pay is not shabby for a kid on break from school, but most deckhands are adults trying to earn a living by providing excellent service in a situation that takes endurance, knowledge, and skill. When I worked the deck on an overnight boat nearly 42 years ago, our daily pay was equal to the daily fare. This is not the case today, and wages versus the cost of living have dropped substantially since the late 1970s. The recommended tip for a deckhand is about the same as for waitstaff in a restaurant at around 15%. I am not saying a tip should be automatic; just like waitstaff, the tip for the crew on a sportfishing boat should be reflective of the service on any given day.

They’re out there, so go get ‘em!

Fish Plants: None scheduled this week

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Agaves, crape myrtles
The Pacific Queen began their 1.5-day season with a bang with bluefin tuna limits before sunrise on their first day back on the water.
The Pacific Queen began their 1.5-day season with a bang with bluefin tuna limits before sunrise on their first day back on the water.

Dock Totals 3/27 – 4/2: 1,436 anglers aboard 61 half-day to 1.5-day trips out of San Diego landings this past week caught 173 bluefin tuna (to 197 pounds), 52 calico bass, 8 lingcod, 3,370 rockfish, 1 rock sole, 36 sand bass, 50 sanddab, 145 sculpin, 72 sheephead, 10 Spanish jack, 825 whitefish, and 171 yellowtail.

Saltwater: A cold front came through early in the week, keeping most of the fleet at the dock for a couple days just as the bluefin tuna and yellowtail started biting well. When the weather lifted and seas flattened by Wednesday, the bite was on. Boats venturing south to the 425 Bank and surrounding high spots 30 to 50 miles off the Baja coast between Rosarito and Ensenada found schools of tuna frothing on the surface and holding deep at 200 to 300 feet, with little action in the water column between.

Most of the bluefin caught were in the 20 to 40 pound range, but a few fish above 100 pounds came over the rail, and many larger fish were metered, though getting them to bite was tough. Much of the bluefin action was before sunrise, and some boats limited on tuna early enough to switch their focus to yellowtail and bottom fish for the rest of their fishing day. Moving forward, the bluefin bite should continue to favor the anglers on overnight and longer trips, while full day boats offer great fishing for yellowtail along the lower 9 Mile Bank and the Coronado Islands.

Half day boats are doing well in our local waters on rockfish, whitefish, and sheephead off Point Loma. The extended half day runs south should begin soon, as long as warmer water keeps pushing north and bringing the schooling yellowtail. Most of the yellowtail caught this past week were ‘firecrackers’ – smaller fish in the 7 to 12 pound range that are thus named for the strength of their fight compared to their size – but some very nice yellowtail to 40 pounds have been reported by the operators out of Ensenada.

If heading out into the fray south of the border where the catch can be anything from firecracker yellowtail and rockfish to trophy bluefin reaching over 200 pounds, anglers should carry a wide range of setups. A full quiver for 1.5-day and longer trips should include a 25 to 30-pound live bait rig for the surface action, a 40-pound jig stick casting setup for surface irons for the smaller bluefin or yellowtail, a 60 to 80-pound sinker rig for dropping bait deep to the larger bluefin, and especially a 100 to 130-pound setup for deep-dropping heavy 200 to 300 gram knife jigs the larger bluefin seem to prefer.

When smaller tuna and yellows are biting, many anglers have been surprised by a larger bluefin breaking them off. A good tact for this often frustrating situation can be teamwork, with some anglers fishing heavier gear below the surface action for the larger fish. That said, when those larger fish have lockjaw and refuse to bite, it is a hard thing to stick with the big gear while the surface action on smaller fish is hot. I expect to see more fish in the above 100-pound class reported soon, but then it’s always a crapshoot with bluefin.

Bluefin tuna are a unique species of gamefish in their ability to withstand sharp temperature changes and can pop up just about anywhere. That they migrate from their spawning grounds in the Sea of Japan annually at around 10 to 20 pounds and remain in the eastern Pacific for several years until they are around 300 pounds is why we see such a mixed grade of fish at times. Other tunas tend to school in like-sizes and are much easier to plan for as an angler, whereas bluefin can be mixed, all large, or all school-sized. Modern electronics and recent studies show that there is no real consistency which anglers can plan for without taking a full quiver of gear from light to heavy. As sportfishing boat fares are going up due to fuel and other overhead, losing a trophy fish due to not being prepared can be an expensive lesson. Considering a low market price at $20 per pound, one 100-pound bluefin tuna dressed out can yield six to seven-hundred dollars’ worth of meat. That’s equal to a two-day trip fare, but, as sport-caught fish cannot be sold, I guess it is only financially justifiable if one eats a lot of tuna.

One thing to remember when heading out on one of San Diego’s fine sportfishing vessels are the crews who work hard to ensure a rewarding trip for their passengers. It is not easy work, and the pay is generally not reflective of the amount of work required. Deckhand pay is not shabby for a kid on break from school, but most deckhands are adults trying to earn a living by providing excellent service in a situation that takes endurance, knowledge, and skill. When I worked the deck on an overnight boat nearly 42 years ago, our daily pay was equal to the daily fare. This is not the case today, and wages versus the cost of living have dropped substantially since the late 1970s. The recommended tip for a deckhand is about the same as for waitstaff in a restaurant at around 15%. I am not saying a tip should be automatic; just like waitstaff, the tip for the crew on a sportfishing boat should be reflective of the service on any given day.

They’re out there, so go get ‘em!

Fish Plants: None scheduled this week

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