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Bluefin still Missing In Action – Grunion for Bait during Observation Only? - Yellowtail Limits a Short Drive South

Santee Lakes Catfish Opener features Tagged Fish for Prizes

Cristian Catian of K&M Sportfishing in San Quintin with a quality yellowtail during a wide-open bite.
Cristian Catian of K&M Sportfishing in San Quintin with a quality yellowtail during a wide-open bite.

Dock Totals 3/31 – 4/6: 922 anglers aboard 39 half-day to 3-day trips out of San Diego landings over the past week caught 81 bocaccio, 2 calico bass, 14 lingcod, 4598 rockfish, 37 sand bass, 124 sculpin, 44 sheephead, 406 whitefish, and 3 yellowtail.

Saltwater: Bluefin tuna are still missing in action for the most part, though weather has been a bit tossy outside. The full-day to 3-day boats are giving it a look in U.S. and Mexican waters, then heading to the high spots and structure to load up on rockfish so as not to spend the entire trip looking for biting bluefin. Some have been metered and they are out there, but maybe it was the eclipse, maybe Starlink launches, maybe a turn in the water, or maybe folks just aren’t spitting on the hook just right to get them to bite. But seriously, it is a bit quizzical that we aren’t seeing them in good numbers considering the strong bite so early in the season just a couple weeks ago.

Limits for all at Garcia’s Sportfishing running out of San Quintin. All the operators departing from the Molino Viejo ramp are reporting good fishing on yoyo irons.
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One three-quarter day boat, the Liberty, did find a few willing yellowtail, and reports from the northern Baja Pacific coast is the jacks are hitting hard and steady, with many limits caught. As more boats get down toward Colinet to off San Quintin, I expect to see the San Diego fleet’s yellowtail counts improve. The problem is location. With bluefin still out there and the biggest draw, captains have to make a call: whether to spend time trying to get them or to seek rockfish and yellowtail that are more active on the high spots much closer to the coast than where bluefin are expected. Ah well, now to the sand.

As a SoCal kid, bounding around in tidepools on low tide, soaking a bait from a pier or jetty, and nighttime grunion runs were a good part of my outdoor activities in a day and age when you spent a lot of time indoors only if you had a flu or some other ailment. We never lounged in front of a screen during the day. Once chores and homework were finished, it was almost an unwritten law that the out of doors was where we should be and indoors was basically off limits, except for maybe lunch. Once the sun set, then it was time to scurry back home for dinner. 

Grunion runs were the rare occasions when we could be out late at night. I loved watching the fish wriggle into and out of the sand, and though we’d catch a few, we never collected them the way others did during the runs. As a young adult, I realized just how good fishing could be at night during grunion runs and began targeting halibut when the little silver sides were spawning. It seemed the spawns of halibut and grunion would often coincide, and I caught many halibut with roe when fishing behind the runs. I would often pin a grunion on a basic Carolina rig and cast it out into the surf and hope for a taker that wasn’t a leopard or shovelnose sand shark. This is still acceptable during the open seasons on grunion. That said, during “observation only” closures from April through June, “no take” includes using a fresh-caught grunion for bait.

You can, however, use grunion caught during open season (and then frozen) during the closure. How can authorities tell if a bait was fresh caught or frozen? Bill Varney, noted surf angler and author of Surf Fishing: The Light-Line Revolution, broke it down recently in a social media post: “Hey folks, today I had a chance to talk with my longtime friend Warden Ben Matias of the DFW about some questions that have come up regarding grunion collection. Ben is the Warden for the North OC sector and has about 20 years of experience. The question was: What happens if you collect grunion during the open season and then use them for bait during the ‘observation’ season. Will DFW ticket you because you have no proof they were collected legally during open season? Ben: ‘That’s a gray area” and we have to think logically to determine if they were taken during the open season. In order to determine when they were taken, the officer will examine the grunion (to see if they are slimy and fresh or have been frozen) and ask you some questions. Be prepared to know where, when, and at what time you took them. Also, if you have any witnesses who may have been with you at the time. If the answers seem reasonable that the grunion were collected during open season, then the angler is fine to use them. There is no ‘in possession’ limit at this time so don’t be concerned with how many, collected legally, you have with you.”

These days, when many surf anglers are choosing plastics and the newer castable crankbaits made especially for surf fishing, pinning a grunion on is not quite as common, and by all means, do not do so during the closure unless it was caught during open season and frozen. Saving a photo from when legally collected may also be prudent to make your case if approached by CDFW officers when fishing behind a run. If handled correctly, when the season is open, you can collect a limit, then freeze grunion for use as bait when the season is observation only. (One issue I have found is once thawed grunion tend to get mushy. Salting them will help keep them firmer so they stay on the hook better.) 

If you still have worries about using grunion during observation only, salted anchovies. Smelt or sardines will also work when the predators are feeding on grunion. Fish that feed in the surf at night have big eyes and excellent vision, so those plastics and crank baits will also perform well, even in the dark hours when grunion usually hit the beach. The most important part is finding them, as it can be predicted when they will run, but what parts of which beaches they will choose to lay their eggs can be hard to call. Best bet is to grab the flashlight and a fanny pack tackle bag, trudge the beaches during the later half of the predicted run hours, and hope. The next predicted runs will be April 23-26, roughly between 10 pm and 1 am.

Freshwater: Santee Lakes is holding its Catfish Opener this coming weekend with 2500 pounds of channel catfish stocked in Lakes 2, 3, and 4. Twenty five fish will be tagged for $25 gift cards to Sportsman’s Warehouse. Hours will be 6 am–7 pm, April 20 and 21. It is $7 per carload to enter the park and $10 for adults, $6 for seniors, and a second pole stamp is $4. Permits can be purchased day of or in advance at the gatehouse near the park entrance. They’re out there, so go get ‘em!

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Cristian Catian of K&M Sportfishing in San Quintin with a quality yellowtail during a wide-open bite.
Cristian Catian of K&M Sportfishing in San Quintin with a quality yellowtail during a wide-open bite.

Dock Totals 3/31 – 4/6: 922 anglers aboard 39 half-day to 3-day trips out of San Diego landings over the past week caught 81 bocaccio, 2 calico bass, 14 lingcod, 4598 rockfish, 37 sand bass, 124 sculpin, 44 sheephead, 406 whitefish, and 3 yellowtail.

Saltwater: Bluefin tuna are still missing in action for the most part, though weather has been a bit tossy outside. The full-day to 3-day boats are giving it a look in U.S. and Mexican waters, then heading to the high spots and structure to load up on rockfish so as not to spend the entire trip looking for biting bluefin. Some have been metered and they are out there, but maybe it was the eclipse, maybe Starlink launches, maybe a turn in the water, or maybe folks just aren’t spitting on the hook just right to get them to bite. But seriously, it is a bit quizzical that we aren’t seeing them in good numbers considering the strong bite so early in the season just a couple weeks ago.

Limits for all at Garcia’s Sportfishing running out of San Quintin. All the operators departing from the Molino Viejo ramp are reporting good fishing on yoyo irons.
Sponsored
Sponsored


One three-quarter day boat, the Liberty, did find a few willing yellowtail, and reports from the northern Baja Pacific coast is the jacks are hitting hard and steady, with many limits caught. As more boats get down toward Colinet to off San Quintin, I expect to see the San Diego fleet’s yellowtail counts improve. The problem is location. With bluefin still out there and the biggest draw, captains have to make a call: whether to spend time trying to get them or to seek rockfish and yellowtail that are more active on the high spots much closer to the coast than where bluefin are expected. Ah well, now to the sand.

As a SoCal kid, bounding around in tidepools on low tide, soaking a bait from a pier or jetty, and nighttime grunion runs were a good part of my outdoor activities in a day and age when you spent a lot of time indoors only if you had a flu or some other ailment. We never lounged in front of a screen during the day. Once chores and homework were finished, it was almost an unwritten law that the out of doors was where we should be and indoors was basically off limits, except for maybe lunch. Once the sun set, then it was time to scurry back home for dinner. 

Grunion runs were the rare occasions when we could be out late at night. I loved watching the fish wriggle into and out of the sand, and though we’d catch a few, we never collected them the way others did during the runs. As a young adult, I realized just how good fishing could be at night during grunion runs and began targeting halibut when the little silver sides were spawning. It seemed the spawns of halibut and grunion would often coincide, and I caught many halibut with roe when fishing behind the runs. I would often pin a grunion on a basic Carolina rig and cast it out into the surf and hope for a taker that wasn’t a leopard or shovelnose sand shark. This is still acceptable during the open seasons on grunion. That said, during “observation only” closures from April through June, “no take” includes using a fresh-caught grunion for bait.

You can, however, use grunion caught during open season (and then frozen) during the closure. How can authorities tell if a bait was fresh caught or frozen? Bill Varney, noted surf angler and author of Surf Fishing: The Light-Line Revolution, broke it down recently in a social media post: “Hey folks, today I had a chance to talk with my longtime friend Warden Ben Matias of the DFW about some questions that have come up regarding grunion collection. Ben is the Warden for the North OC sector and has about 20 years of experience. The question was: What happens if you collect grunion during the open season and then use them for bait during the ‘observation’ season. Will DFW ticket you because you have no proof they were collected legally during open season? Ben: ‘That’s a gray area” and we have to think logically to determine if they were taken during the open season. In order to determine when they were taken, the officer will examine the grunion (to see if they are slimy and fresh or have been frozen) and ask you some questions. Be prepared to know where, when, and at what time you took them. Also, if you have any witnesses who may have been with you at the time. If the answers seem reasonable that the grunion were collected during open season, then the angler is fine to use them. There is no ‘in possession’ limit at this time so don’t be concerned with how many, collected legally, you have with you.”

These days, when many surf anglers are choosing plastics and the newer castable crankbaits made especially for surf fishing, pinning a grunion on is not quite as common, and by all means, do not do so during the closure unless it was caught during open season and frozen. Saving a photo from when legally collected may also be prudent to make your case if approached by CDFW officers when fishing behind a run. If handled correctly, when the season is open, you can collect a limit, then freeze grunion for use as bait when the season is observation only. (One issue I have found is once thawed grunion tend to get mushy. Salting them will help keep them firmer so they stay on the hook better.) 

If you still have worries about using grunion during observation only, salted anchovies. Smelt or sardines will also work when the predators are feeding on grunion. Fish that feed in the surf at night have big eyes and excellent vision, so those plastics and crank baits will also perform well, even in the dark hours when grunion usually hit the beach. The most important part is finding them, as it can be predicted when they will run, but what parts of which beaches they will choose to lay their eggs can be hard to call. Best bet is to grab the flashlight and a fanny pack tackle bag, trudge the beaches during the later half of the predicted run hours, and hope. The next predicted runs will be April 23-26, roughly between 10 pm and 1 am.

Freshwater: Santee Lakes is holding its Catfish Opener this coming weekend with 2500 pounds of channel catfish stocked in Lakes 2, 3, and 4. Twenty five fish will be tagged for $25 gift cards to Sportsman’s Warehouse. Hours will be 6 am–7 pm, April 20 and 21. It is $7 per carload to enter the park and $10 for adults, $6 for seniors, and a second pole stamp is $4. Permits can be purchased day of or in advance at the gatehouse near the park entrance. They’re out there, so go get ‘em!

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