I left Phoenix the day before departure this year so I wouldn’t be dead tired and sleep through the first day, possibly missing out on some fishing time since the fish had been so close to San Diego. That also gave me some time to swing by my friend Bill Roecker’s house, talk fishing and pick up some giveaway items for the trip, including his famous sportfishing calendar and a couple of signed copies of his hardcover book that would be given to our second and third place jackpot winners.
Later that night I ended up at the Vagabond Inn. As you may know, nothing deluxe but it sure is convenient and serves its purpose.
All week long I had been following the progress of hurricane Norbert off the southern Baja coast. At one point it was a major category 3 hurricane with winds near the center (between Magdalena Bay and Alijos Rocks) estimated at 115 mph! Would the eventual path of that storm completely change the game plan for this trip? Not that there is ever a “set in stone” game plan for any given trip. The weather is like fishing. It’s always changing and you need to adjust and adapt to those changes.
Captain/owner Mike Keating would be at the helm for this 5-day adventure, and he certainly did some adapting and adjusting with two main priorities in mind: Safety and fishing success. While Mike is always willing to go the extra mile to catch fish, he will never compromise the safety of his passengers and crew.
With much uncertainty remaining over now tropical storm Norbert and what effect its leftovers would have in the normal range of a 5-day trip in northern and central Baja waters, the decision was made to head almost due west towards the Cortez Bank. No stopping on the small grade of Yellowfin tuna that had been encountered in waters close to home. We were on our way to where the better grade Yellowfin and even Bluefin tuna had been caught recently.]
Running in a mixed sea, with a large groundswell from the storm down south and a wind swell from the northwest, we rolled and pitched and bounced our way to the bank, arriving there around midnight. Drifting on the sea anchor until first light, we began looking for signs of willing fish.
The trolling rotation started soon after we got underway in the morning. Actually, the only troll caught fish the entire trip were skipjack! A significant meter mark or signs of birds working (picking off baitfish pushed up to the surface by tuna feeding underneath) would get the boat stopped so that we could “give it a try.”
It was a slow pick through the morning with a fish here, two fish there at each stop. I managed a 25# Yellowfin on 30# XXX Izorline with a 30# fluorocarbon leader.
I picked up one more fish and by noon we had tallied 20 Yellowfin and 1 Bluefin. Not exactly tearing it up, but at least we were on the board (and I was shaking the rust off after being in the desert for the past year).
The wind continued at a steady 15 knots, making conditions uncomfortable but tolerable. At least that south swell from Norbert was beginning to subside.
More mini-flurries of fish would show through the afternoon and we ended up with around 40 total tuna, evenly split between Yellowfin and Bluefin. Oh, and I added a fat skippy on the troll!
That kind of action wasn’t exactly worth sticking around for when reports from up above were more encouraging. Some of the other boats in the fleet had a great day on Yellowfin between Catalina and San Clemente Island and the weather forecast for down below would keep us away from the prime yellowtail spots. So, we headed northeast into better weather and hopefully better fishing. We would be there at first light.
Many of us were hoping to fish some islands on this trip, but we had no idea we’d be fishing the Channel Islands! Adapt and adjust.
We awoke to a much calmer sea with lighter winds and the lights of at least 5 other boats nearby. No fish under the boat at first light, so it’s time to go looking.
After 2 uneventful hours pass by, some are getting worried that we were in for a slow day. In and out of green and blue water, we finally found a bunch that wants to bite!
It was almost tropical with the 73°-75° water, light wind and September sun beating down on us as we were catching Yellowfin tuna a few miles off the backside of Catalina Island. “When was the last time you remember fishing Catalina on this boat?” I asked one of the deckhands. “Ummm, never,” he replied. We weren’t the only San Diego based long range boat fishing these waters, as the storm to the south blocked access to the southern fishing grounds for every other boat in the fleet.
As I was bringing in my 4th tuna of the day, the deckhand said, “Come on, Chris. Bring this one in so we can reach an even 50 for the day.” Hey, I guess I wasn’t doing too bad on this day.
Through the afternoon we worked our way farther to the west down the backside of Catalina, which was about 10 miles in the distance. Not much happening. Must be the mid-day lull.
We then headed over closer to San Clemente Island later in the day where a few more fish started to show after 5pm. I boated a consecutive skipjack streak before getting back with the Yellowfin program. 2 fish went to the galley and after they had enough for dinner, I boated two more fish on 30# line. The last one came to the boat right after sunset and it was a tough fish!
We ended the second day of fishing with 81 tuna. Not lighting the world on fire, but a respectable score and better than the day before.
For dinner we idled down swell in the lee of SCI in fairly calm conditions…a nice way to enjoy the evening meal. We ended up anchoring for a few hours in the calm, then make a return to the Cortez Bank around midnight, as the weather on the outside was forecast to be better than it had been (lighter wind and less swell). We would be on the hunt for that better grade of tuna, both Yellowfin and Bluefin in better conditions, or at least that was the plan. How did that work out?
We arrived at the high spot at Cortez around 6:30am, which was O.K. because we would start out fishing bait. The mackerel didn’t really start here until after sunrise. So, we watched the sun come up as 3s and 4s of greenies came over the rail and into the bait tank.
The weather did come down a bit as forecast and the lack of a mixed swell condition made for much better conditions on the bank on this day. The only thing that would have made it better would be BITING FISH!
We looked and we trolled. We trolled and we looked. After ½ dozen stops on meter marks and lots of looking, we only managed 1 YFT for our efforts by 3pm. A slow day in anyone’s book. With 2 other long range boats also looking around, and with similar results, Mike decided we couldn’t keep doing this the rest of the day. Maybe the fish had moved up the line to the Tanner Bank? Why not? We headed up that way to check out that possibility.
About 2 hours later we anchored up on one of the high spots at Tanner Bank and we began to pick off some large bonito (8 lbs. or so) along with the occasional Bluefin tuna. I managed to boat 3 of our 31 fish, all of which came after 5pm. These were a smaller grade of Bluefin, averaging 15-20 lbs.
With numbers like that and reports of a few big scores near where we fished the afternoon/evening before, Mike felt our best shot to put some fish on the boat was to head back up to the lee of SCI and give that area one more shot. We will run back up to the northeast again with pretty decent weather and start our final fishing day at first light.
We’re back in the lee of SCI with a slight and steady breeze and signs of fish just before the sun came up. Mike comes over the P.A. “You might want to get a bait in the water…I’m seeing a few fish around the boat right now.”
BOOM! Hookup just to the right of me. “There’s a biter!” Just a few seconds later I was on with the second hookup of the morning, picked up on 30# gear. I landed the fish, a 15# class YFT. It always feels good to get that first one early in the day.
We then went from school to school with mostly a pick bite as handfuls of tuna would breeze through. They would show on the surface, occasionally bite hooked baits then disappear for a while.
We still weren’t the only long range boat here, along with many of the overnight boats from San Diego, Newport, Long Beach and San Pedro. This really was the best game in town and so far our best day of the trip. By 10am we had 80 fish on the boat, but things really slowed down during the middle of the day as is often the case with tuna fishing. “Hopefully these things will pop back up here and want to bite this afternoon,” said Mike over the P.A. We’ll have until dark to find out.
We went up to the front side of SCI, ½ way back to Catalina and back, then down the front side of SCI through the afternoon without much sign of fish. It wasn’t looking very promising.
Then around 6pm, well after all the overnight trips had left the area, we started seeing more signs of life. Birds! Remember…they often tell where the tuna are and on this final afternoon of the trip they ratted them out again.
Just off Pyramid head on the southeast side of SCI we found some willing biters that kept us picking away until right after the sun went down. I managed two more fish on what would be the “grand finale” of the trip.
We were less than 60 miles from Point Loma and heading home would oddly have us riding the swell back home for a smooth ride. I say oddly because typically a trip of this length at this time of year returns from the south, right into the prevailing wind and swell.
We arrived in San Diego much earlier than our scheduled arrival time, so we anchored just outside of the bay in the middle of the night. The hard working crew finished cleaning the boat until the sun came up. It was then time to pull anchor and head into the dock.
7 am we tied up, unloaded our gear and unloaded our catch. Jackpots were weighed up (all the bigger bluefin from the first fishing day) and the top three spots were all in the high 30s and lower 40s.
Sarah Saraspe from 5-Star Fish Processing was right there ready to load up our piles of fish into their slush bins for transport to their facility. Because I had made arrangements with her months in advance, I was first on the list for same-day processing. They got me out of there with two ice chests full of fish before 10am!
Even with a tough trip weatherwise at the start, and fishing wasn’t exactly red hot most of the time, I still had plenty of fish to take home. So, yes, it was a successful trip.
However, a better measure of a trip’s success, in my opinion, are the people I met, stories we shared, quality of the long range experience, number of laughs, the way we worked together when the fish were biting, etc.
Yes, I would definitely mark this one down as another successful trip on the Spirit of Adventure.