Albacore Fishing on the Grande

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Albacore Fishing on the Grande

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     Evening bite? You’re there! And you won’t hear the old “you should have been here yesterday,” because you were there for that bite, too. That’s the beauty of the summer multi-day trips. You have the luxury of time and distance that you just don’t have on a one-day overnight trip.
      I planned this trip for what is typically the height of the albie season: mid-August. As I couldn’t track any meaningful highs or lows in the catch this year, it sounded like a good plan.
      When I arrived for my trip aboard the 85' Grande, Point Loma Sportfishing was just starting to buzz with activity. People were shouting as carts full of albacore fillets from day trips were continually transported up the dock. That’s always a good sign. Dozens of curious onlookers and anglers awaiting their trips gathered to see the days’ catch.
     
Soon enough, it was time for our ship to set sail. With owner-skipper James McDaniels at the helm, the Grande left the commotion behind promptly at 10 pm, hoping to find our own offshore commotion the next day. After a brief stop at the bait receivers to load up on live sardines, we cleared Point Loma and were on our way to tunaville.
      The next morning we awoke to a steady wind and lumpy seas. “It’s been flat calm seas out here all season. This is the worst weather we’ve seen,” said deckhand Steve Pequeno. However, we were surrounded by the rest of the day fleet and long rangers alike, so this must be the place to be! Despite being surrounded by whitecaps nearly 90 miles West of San Diego, the albacore wanted to bite and we wanted to catch them.
      Over the course of that first day of fishing we managed about 50 albacore for the 25 anglers on board the Grande. It was a steady pick for most of the day on fish averaging 25 to 30 pounds. While the trolling feathers located some schools of hungry longfin, most of our stops that day came on metered schools of fish, as McDaniels kept a watchful eye on the sonar.
     
With the wind and waves steadily increasing throughout the day, conditions became tough and our anticipated afternoon bite never did materialize. Despite the lack of late-day fish, our score for the day put us near the top of the fleet.
      Our night on the water was spent drifting on the sea anchor. Basically, it’s a large parachute attached to the anchor line and lowered into the water. It slows the boat’s drift and aligns the boat into the waves, making for a smoother ride as opposed to rocking and rolling our way through the night.
      The boat’s lights, shining into the water on this moonless night, acted like a beacon for smaller baitfish. They attracted a school of albacore by daylight and gave the anglers on the Grande a shot at catching some fish right after rolling out of their bunks.
     
After our brief but productive early morning bite (nine fish boated), we were on our way to cover as much of the albacore area as we could before starting back to San Diego, some 85 miles away. Out went the trolling feathers and 10 minutes later came our first jig strike of the day. One more chunky albacore hit the deck. A series of single and double jig strikes followed, but we would see no more fish hooked on live bait. In fact, we had no more bait! It seems most of the baits in the tank fell victim to the weather. The strong winds caused the water temperature to suddenly drop overnight. That was a stress our already weak sardines just couldn’t handle.
      The anglers on the Grande, however, took that as an added challenge. “I know we’re out of bait,” skipper McDaniels announced on the P.A., “So when we get stopped, use a plastic swim bait or a dart jig. The albacore will still bite those,” he continued.
      Sure enough, on successive stops we added 5 more longfin caught on plastic lures.
     
By noontime we were still a long way from home and nearing the edge of the “albacore zone.” With 74 fish on the boat for the trip, it was time to head back to the dock where another group of anxious anglers awaits the boat’s return. Within 3 hours of our arrival back at Point Loma Sportfishing, a fresh boatload of eager fishermen was on its way to another two-day adventure. No doubt, they’ll also have a Grande good time.
       Back when I worked as a deckhand in the San Diego fleet, my boss, Joe Dunn (no relation, really!) said you can’t control the weather or the fishing, but you can control the service. Make sure everyone has a good time! McDaniels and his crew operate by this same philosophy. While the fishing was pretty good at times, the same couldn’t be said about the weather. However, the service from the hard-working crew of the Grande was what one would expect from a well-run operation.
     
At just 24 years of age, skipper James McDaniels already has a steady following of regulars. Spending nearly his entire life on the water, he’s obviously learned what it takes to be successful in the sportfishing business. He and his crew were always working with two things in mind: Catch fish, but make sure everyone has a good time. On this two-day trip, our group did both.

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