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San Diego freshwater trout give way to catfish

Bluefin biting before first light

A happy angler with a 50-pound class bluefin tuna caught while fishing aboard the Legend during a 1.5 day outing
A happy angler with a 50-pound class bluefin tuna caught while fishing aboard the Legend during a 1.5 day outing

Dock Totals 4/17 – 4/23: 1,330 anglers aboard 65 half-day to 1.5-day trips out of San Diego landings this past week caught 987 bluefin tuna (to 100 pounds), 28 bonito, 22 calico bass, 12 lingcod, 1,603 rockfish, 6 sand bass, 1 sanddab, 133 sculpin, 29 sheephead, 9 triggerfish, 547 whitefish, and 7 yellowtail.

Saltwater: Blustery conditions offshore kept the angler count down in spite of a remarkable bluefin bite on the grounds 25 to 40 miles west of Ensenada where most of the sportboats have been concentrating their efforts. Several 1.5 day boats reported limits early as the fish have been feeding during the wee hours of the morning to first light. Though most of the bluefin caught have been in the 20 to 50-pound class, several fish between 80 and 100 pounds were landed. Over 500 fewer anglers boarded San Diego-based boats this past week over the week previous, yet more tuna were caught as the waning moon and plentiful bait in the area kept the fish feeding throughout the water column.

When the bite slows while tuna fishing, often, a quick glance at the fish finder screen will usually reveal a tight group of fish at a certain level in the water column. If the fish do not disperse higher into the column with the activity and chumming once a boat stops on a school, odds are it will be a slow pick if they bite at all. If the fish spread out to the surface, generally, the bite is on. Though the cold front-induced wind and chop didn’t seem to affect the bluefin bite in the negative, yellowtail at the Coronado Islands and proximate high spots buttoned their lips and, for the most part, refused to come out and play. Full day and 1.5 day boats normally targeting them, like the San Diego, are passing the normal yellowtail haunts and heading straight for the bluefin bite until conditions improve.

As the green blown seas clear up around the islands and surface temps warm, I expect to see the yellows turn on again in force. Until the fish decide, it is best to be prepared for all types of fishing if booked on a trip between 1 and 3 days long. The three basic types of fishing this time of year will be on the bottom for rockfish, whitefish, lingcod, and sheephead, yoyo irons in the mid water column for tuna and yellowtail, and surface fishing fly-lined live bait, surface irons, and poppers – also targeting yellowtail and tuna. For full day to 3 day trips, anglers should have a setup for each type of fishing, including a 20-40 pound setup for fly-line bait, a 30-50 pound setup for bottom fishing and light yoyo for yellowtail, and a 50-80 pound setup for yoyo irons for the larger tuna. Fluorocarbon leaders will help increase the bite ratio when the fish are finicky, and terminal tackle recommendations include circle hooks, sinkers of all sizes, and a wide assortment of heavy lures including Colt Snipers, knife jigs, and Salas irons.

For those fishing from the beaches, surf fishing is heating up as the water warms and transitions from chilly to not-so-chilly but still might need a spring suit. That’s a hint, by the way. One of my methods to assess fishability of any beach is to check the surfers; the fewer or thinner wetsuits, the better the fishing might be. This I can do from the parking lot while still sipping my coffee. Once out of the car and on the sand, my second clue is the number and size of sand crabs in the swash. Lots of pebbly-looking colonies of fingertip to thumb-sized crabs equals good surf fishing potential. Once the first two signs are observed, that is warmish surfers and plentiful bait, I look for areas with smaller waves and cuts, or deeper channels, in the surf zone.

Cuts are relatively easy to find when you know what to look for, which is quite simply rip currents. As the constant push of swells move water toward the beach, returning water must find a path of least resistance, which is where there is a swale or hole along the bottom. These are easier to spot during rising tides as the incoming water is pushing harder, and the escaping water will turn the surface rough with turbulence of conflicting energy, and the color will be brownish-light green as the sand and sediments get stirred up. Often, when looking down the beach, rip currents will look a bit like a river. As the water pushes back to sea in a rip current, sand crabs and sand worms get stirred into the swash and fish will concentrate along the edges or outside of the rip to feed. This is where watching surfers can also help, as surfers typically take the path of least resistance and use rip currents to get out through the inner waves.

Freshwater: The last of the trout plants hit the local lakes this past week and lakes are preparing for catfish plants as the season turns to warmer water conditions that favor panfish, catfish, and spawning largemouth bass. Bass have been biting well as they move up into shallower beds from their pre-spawn staging in mid-depth water. Rubber worms worked low and slow have been producing well as both male and female bass will protectively strike ‘intruders’ even when not feeding. Crankbaits and flashier surface type lures do get them going at times, but lower and slower tends to be the better tact in the spring, while in the late summer and fall seem to favor the more active lures as fish are fattening up for winter.

Panfish have been biting mini grubs and worms fished around shoreline brush as is the norm when they are active, while catfish are biting best on the smelly usuals such as chunked mackerel, prepackaged stink baits, nightcrawlers, and chicken livers. Santee Lakes just had their catfish opener this past weekend with 2,500 pounds of ‘whiskerfish’ planted; 1,000 pounds each released in lakes 3 and 4, and 500 pounds in lake 2. Though the season is turning, there are going to be straggler trout still biting on occasion, so don’t forget to include some Powerbait or minijigs and a trout setup in your lake tackle for the coming weeks.

Whether lake, sand, or open sea, they’re out there so go get ‘em!

Fish Plants: None scheduled this week.

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A happy angler with a 50-pound class bluefin tuna caught while fishing aboard the Legend during a 1.5 day outing
A happy angler with a 50-pound class bluefin tuna caught while fishing aboard the Legend during a 1.5 day outing

Dock Totals 4/17 – 4/23: 1,330 anglers aboard 65 half-day to 1.5-day trips out of San Diego landings this past week caught 987 bluefin tuna (to 100 pounds), 28 bonito, 22 calico bass, 12 lingcod, 1,603 rockfish, 6 sand bass, 1 sanddab, 133 sculpin, 29 sheephead, 9 triggerfish, 547 whitefish, and 7 yellowtail.

Saltwater: Blustery conditions offshore kept the angler count down in spite of a remarkable bluefin bite on the grounds 25 to 40 miles west of Ensenada where most of the sportboats have been concentrating their efforts. Several 1.5 day boats reported limits early as the fish have been feeding during the wee hours of the morning to first light. Though most of the bluefin caught have been in the 20 to 50-pound class, several fish between 80 and 100 pounds were landed. Over 500 fewer anglers boarded San Diego-based boats this past week over the week previous, yet more tuna were caught as the waning moon and plentiful bait in the area kept the fish feeding throughout the water column.

When the bite slows while tuna fishing, often, a quick glance at the fish finder screen will usually reveal a tight group of fish at a certain level in the water column. If the fish do not disperse higher into the column with the activity and chumming once a boat stops on a school, odds are it will be a slow pick if they bite at all. If the fish spread out to the surface, generally, the bite is on. Though the cold front-induced wind and chop didn’t seem to affect the bluefin bite in the negative, yellowtail at the Coronado Islands and proximate high spots buttoned their lips and, for the most part, refused to come out and play. Full day and 1.5 day boats normally targeting them, like the San Diego, are passing the normal yellowtail haunts and heading straight for the bluefin bite until conditions improve.

As the green blown seas clear up around the islands and surface temps warm, I expect to see the yellows turn on again in force. Until the fish decide, it is best to be prepared for all types of fishing if booked on a trip between 1 and 3 days long. The three basic types of fishing this time of year will be on the bottom for rockfish, whitefish, lingcod, and sheephead, yoyo irons in the mid water column for tuna and yellowtail, and surface fishing fly-lined live bait, surface irons, and poppers – also targeting yellowtail and tuna. For full day to 3 day trips, anglers should have a setup for each type of fishing, including a 20-40 pound setup for fly-line bait, a 30-50 pound setup for bottom fishing and light yoyo for yellowtail, and a 50-80 pound setup for yoyo irons for the larger tuna. Fluorocarbon leaders will help increase the bite ratio when the fish are finicky, and terminal tackle recommendations include circle hooks, sinkers of all sizes, and a wide assortment of heavy lures including Colt Snipers, knife jigs, and Salas irons.

For those fishing from the beaches, surf fishing is heating up as the water warms and transitions from chilly to not-so-chilly but still might need a spring suit. That’s a hint, by the way. One of my methods to assess fishability of any beach is to check the surfers; the fewer or thinner wetsuits, the better the fishing might be. This I can do from the parking lot while still sipping my coffee. Once out of the car and on the sand, my second clue is the number and size of sand crabs in the swash. Lots of pebbly-looking colonies of fingertip to thumb-sized crabs equals good surf fishing potential. Once the first two signs are observed, that is warmish surfers and plentiful bait, I look for areas with smaller waves and cuts, or deeper channels, in the surf zone.

Cuts are relatively easy to find when you know what to look for, which is quite simply rip currents. As the constant push of swells move water toward the beach, returning water must find a path of least resistance, which is where there is a swale or hole along the bottom. These are easier to spot during rising tides as the incoming water is pushing harder, and the escaping water will turn the surface rough with turbulence of conflicting energy, and the color will be brownish-light green as the sand and sediments get stirred up. Often, when looking down the beach, rip currents will look a bit like a river. As the water pushes back to sea in a rip current, sand crabs and sand worms get stirred into the swash and fish will concentrate along the edges or outside of the rip to feed. This is where watching surfers can also help, as surfers typically take the path of least resistance and use rip currents to get out through the inner waves.

Freshwater: The last of the trout plants hit the local lakes this past week and lakes are preparing for catfish plants as the season turns to warmer water conditions that favor panfish, catfish, and spawning largemouth bass. Bass have been biting well as they move up into shallower beds from their pre-spawn staging in mid-depth water. Rubber worms worked low and slow have been producing well as both male and female bass will protectively strike ‘intruders’ even when not feeding. Crankbaits and flashier surface type lures do get them going at times, but lower and slower tends to be the better tact in the spring, while in the late summer and fall seem to favor the more active lures as fish are fattening up for winter.

Panfish have been biting mini grubs and worms fished around shoreline brush as is the norm when they are active, while catfish are biting best on the smelly usuals such as chunked mackerel, prepackaged stink baits, nightcrawlers, and chicken livers. Santee Lakes just had their catfish opener this past weekend with 2,500 pounds of ‘whiskerfish’ planted; 1,000 pounds each released in lakes 3 and 4, and 500 pounds in lake 2. Though the season is turning, there are going to be straggler trout still biting on occasion, so don’t forget to include some Powerbait or minijigs and a trout setup in your lake tackle for the coming weeks.

Whether lake, sand, or open sea, they’re out there so go get ‘em!

Fish Plants: None scheduled this week.

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