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Bluefin are biting in the dark – ‘Social Fishtancing’ during covid

Water temperature helps determine halibut gender

(left): Bluefin tuna tend to bite best in the dark hours during spring, so boats such as the Tribute are putting folks on the fish through the night.
(right): Paddling around Isla Asunción while ‘Social Fishtancing’ in Baja during the height of Covid.
(left): Bluefin tuna tend to bite best in the dark hours during spring, so boats such as the Tribute are putting folks on the fish through the night.
(right): Paddling around Isla Asunción while ‘Social Fishtancing’ in Baja during the height of Covid.

Dock Totals 5/12– 5/18: 1639 anglers aboard 69 half-day to 3-day trips out of San Diego landings over the past week caught 1025 bluefin tuna (up to 220 pounds), 208 bocaccio, 418 bonito, 555 calico bass, 8 lingcod, 1 petrale sole, 2834 rockfish, 33 sand bass, 92 sculpin, 69 sheephead, 175 whitefish, and 23 yellowtail.

Saltwater: Bluefin tuna moved up the line and are within 50 to 80 miles of Point Loma near the Mushroom Bank. The schools are mixed in size, with some averaging 40 pounds and others ranging to over 200 pounds. That means, as always, it is a good idea to contact the landing for any gear updates, but plan on bringing three setups from 30-pound to 100-pound ratings. Most of the action has been through the dark hours between sunset and 4 am, especially for the larger fish. The mixed schools have been tricky, as anglers are being outclassed and broken off when fishing gear on the lighter end. But at times, especially during daylight hours, the fish seem to shy from the heavier line. 

Smaller but still heavy jigs have been working best, but, as always, the captains will advise based on where the school is in the water column. Mostly, the tuna have been in around 240-400 feet of water, but there has been a little surface action on fly-lined bait on stops and trolled lures while under way during daylight hours. Captains are advising marking your line at 100-foot intervals so anglers will have a good idea of how deep their offering is when the captain cites the depth of the fish during a stop. Allowing a bit of scope when wind or current is moving the boat is a must, and keeping the jig falling slowly through the depth while under control is advised, as the fish tend to bite on the sink, and if the jig is allowed to just ‘free-spool’ down, it can result in a backlash when bit. And when the line is knotted in the reel on a heavy tuna, breaking off is the most likely result.

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These past couple of weeks — since the bluefin began biting again after a promising show in March that even included a smattering of yellowfin — there have been instances of multiple boats on a school and wide open action, and other times where no action scatters the fleet in its search. Spotters from aircraft are seeing some fish, but those holding deeper are usually located by metering as the boats move.

The water is trending very cool in the zone this year, and has been cooler in May so far than the previous eight or nine years. There are pockets of warmer water out there which create temperature breaks that can stack up the very temperature-sensitive baitfish (especially anchovy) that we tend to see more in the spring. This can be good, as those temp breaks will hold fish, and bluefin, especially, are not as daunted by cool water as yellowfin tuna and yellowtail. It is still very early for yellowfin, but yellowtail normally found on drifting paddies offshore have not been prevalent. Most of the yellowfin action is far south off the southern quarter of the peninsula, while yellowtail have been showing better on the nearshore high spots along the coast of northern Baja than under offshore kelp paddies.

It has been a wet, cool, and breezy winter and spring along the coast, with May gray doing her thing, especially just to the south along the normal cool-water trend from Punta Banda to El Rosario. While I was surf fishing this past week near San Quintin, my "footometer" said low fifties, and the official temps recorded at buoys in the area said 56 degrees. Near-constant daily onshore wind is upwelling cooler water from the depths, while cloud cover until about noon or so is not allowing much surface warming effect from the sun. Cold water is not my thing, but this is halibut season, and a recent study cited by the Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute shows cool water to be important to the species population. It turns out that water temperature can dictate the sex of halibut when very young. This can adversely affect halibut populations over longer warm El Niño periods, and as the California halibut is a candidate species for aquaculture and stock enhancement, it's an important study for efforts in replenishing natural stocks as well as aquaculture operations. When water is 59 and below, the developing halibut male to female ratio is about 50 percent each. At 66 degrees, the ratio is closer to 80 percent males, and at 73 degrees, it is nearly 100 percent males. More females spawning means more halibut reaching maturity, and female halibut grow larger than males, so this season’s cooler trend may indeed provide a bonus in the future for anglers who target them.

In other angling news, a blog, Captain Experiences, shows a rising interest in fishing nationwide. This has been a trend especially since Covid and what is termed "social fishtancing." As I prefer to get away from the crowds, it wasn’t much of a change to me. I spent the better part of January 2020 through the end of 2022 in Bahia Asunción on the Vizcaino peninsula midway down the Pacific side of Baja, and with restrictions, I was well-fishtanced from other anglers while angling on my kayak or from the beach. During the pandemic, folks sought outdoor activities away from crowds as being cooped up to help avoid spread of Covid brought more people into the angling community. As California has historically been a fishing mecca and San Diego is the home of the world’s largest live-bait sportfishing fleet, the effect here was not as profound as in other states, but the 5-year change in fishing license holders per capita is still up 4.5% in California, with a total annual fishing license revenue of $76,895,077. They’re out there, so go get ‘em!

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(left): Bluefin tuna tend to bite best in the dark hours during spring, so boats such as the Tribute are putting folks on the fish through the night.
(right): Paddling around Isla Asunción while ‘Social Fishtancing’ in Baja during the height of Covid.
(left): Bluefin tuna tend to bite best in the dark hours during spring, so boats such as the Tribute are putting folks on the fish through the night.
(right): Paddling around Isla Asunción while ‘Social Fishtancing’ in Baja during the height of Covid.

Dock Totals 5/12– 5/18: 1639 anglers aboard 69 half-day to 3-day trips out of San Diego landings over the past week caught 1025 bluefin tuna (up to 220 pounds), 208 bocaccio, 418 bonito, 555 calico bass, 8 lingcod, 1 petrale sole, 2834 rockfish, 33 sand bass, 92 sculpin, 69 sheephead, 175 whitefish, and 23 yellowtail.

Saltwater: Bluefin tuna moved up the line and are within 50 to 80 miles of Point Loma near the Mushroom Bank. The schools are mixed in size, with some averaging 40 pounds and others ranging to over 200 pounds. That means, as always, it is a good idea to contact the landing for any gear updates, but plan on bringing three setups from 30-pound to 100-pound ratings. Most of the action has been through the dark hours between sunset and 4 am, especially for the larger fish. The mixed schools have been tricky, as anglers are being outclassed and broken off when fishing gear on the lighter end. But at times, especially during daylight hours, the fish seem to shy from the heavier line. 

Smaller but still heavy jigs have been working best, but, as always, the captains will advise based on where the school is in the water column. Mostly, the tuna have been in around 240-400 feet of water, but there has been a little surface action on fly-lined bait on stops and trolled lures while under way during daylight hours. Captains are advising marking your line at 100-foot intervals so anglers will have a good idea of how deep their offering is when the captain cites the depth of the fish during a stop. Allowing a bit of scope when wind or current is moving the boat is a must, and keeping the jig falling slowly through the depth while under control is advised, as the fish tend to bite on the sink, and if the jig is allowed to just ‘free-spool’ down, it can result in a backlash when bit. And when the line is knotted in the reel on a heavy tuna, breaking off is the most likely result.

Sponsored
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These past couple of weeks — since the bluefin began biting again after a promising show in March that even included a smattering of yellowfin — there have been instances of multiple boats on a school and wide open action, and other times where no action scatters the fleet in its search. Spotters from aircraft are seeing some fish, but those holding deeper are usually located by metering as the boats move.

The water is trending very cool in the zone this year, and has been cooler in May so far than the previous eight or nine years. There are pockets of warmer water out there which create temperature breaks that can stack up the very temperature-sensitive baitfish (especially anchovy) that we tend to see more in the spring. This can be good, as those temp breaks will hold fish, and bluefin, especially, are not as daunted by cool water as yellowfin tuna and yellowtail. It is still very early for yellowfin, but yellowtail normally found on drifting paddies offshore have not been prevalent. Most of the yellowfin action is far south off the southern quarter of the peninsula, while yellowtail have been showing better on the nearshore high spots along the coast of northern Baja than under offshore kelp paddies.

It has been a wet, cool, and breezy winter and spring along the coast, with May gray doing her thing, especially just to the south along the normal cool-water trend from Punta Banda to El Rosario. While I was surf fishing this past week near San Quintin, my "footometer" said low fifties, and the official temps recorded at buoys in the area said 56 degrees. Near-constant daily onshore wind is upwelling cooler water from the depths, while cloud cover until about noon or so is not allowing much surface warming effect from the sun. Cold water is not my thing, but this is halibut season, and a recent study cited by the Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute shows cool water to be important to the species population. It turns out that water temperature can dictate the sex of halibut when very young. This can adversely affect halibut populations over longer warm El Niño periods, and as the California halibut is a candidate species for aquaculture and stock enhancement, it's an important study for efforts in replenishing natural stocks as well as aquaculture operations. When water is 59 and below, the developing halibut male to female ratio is about 50 percent each. At 66 degrees, the ratio is closer to 80 percent males, and at 73 degrees, it is nearly 100 percent males. More females spawning means more halibut reaching maturity, and female halibut grow larger than males, so this season’s cooler trend may indeed provide a bonus in the future for anglers who target them.

In other angling news, a blog, Captain Experiences, shows a rising interest in fishing nationwide. This has been a trend especially since Covid and what is termed "social fishtancing." As I prefer to get away from the crowds, it wasn’t much of a change to me. I spent the better part of January 2020 through the end of 2022 in Bahia Asunción on the Vizcaino peninsula midway down the Pacific side of Baja, and with restrictions, I was well-fishtanced from other anglers while angling on my kayak or from the beach. During the pandemic, folks sought outdoor activities away from crowds as being cooped up to help avoid spread of Covid brought more people into the angling community. As California has historically been a fishing mecca and San Diego is the home of the world’s largest live-bait sportfishing fleet, the effect here was not as profound as in other states, but the 5-year change in fishing license holders per capita is still up 4.5% in California, with a total annual fishing license revenue of $76,895,077. They’re out there, so go get ‘em!

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