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AMERICAN ANGLER 8-DAY ADVENTURE SCORE MONSTER BLUEFIN TUNA AND MORE – By: Steve Carson

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The 24 PENN Fishing University anglers who headed out for an 8-day long-range adventure aboard Captain Ray Lopez’ American Angler from Point Loma Sportfishing in San Diego knew they would be faced with a dilemma. Head deep into Baja waters to take a chance at tropical exotics like wahoo, or just go partway down, and then come back into US waters for a shot at big bluefin tuna.

YELLOWTAIL, YELLOWTAIL, YELLOWTAIL

Captain Lopez opted to head south immediately upon departure, and after cruising all night, the next two full days were a blur of wide-open yellowtail, sprinting crewmen, and fish being dropped in the RSW hold. Moving among coastal hotspots meant as one area’s bite slowed down, a timely move would put the boat onto another voracious school.

The coastal-grade yellowtail were mostly all nice taggable 12-20 pounders, with a sprinkling of bigger ones up to 25 pounds. The most productive method was yo-yo iron, but surface iron, flylined sardines, sliding sinker rigs, Slow-Pitch jigs, and dropper loop rigs all scored decent numbers of fish.

For the anglers who were interested, a number of bonus species were available along with the yellows. Bruiser-grade calico bass were the most enticing, along with sheephead averaging well over 10 pounds. Plenty of whitefish, sand bass, barracuda, and bonito eagerly attacked jigs and bait intended for yellowtail, though virtually all of these species were safely released.

DECISION TIME

After two days of the excellent coastal yellowtail action, a fundamental decision had to be made. Captain Lopez informed us that the boats south of us at Alijos Rocks and The Ridge were experiencing modest action at best, with only a handful of wahoo, along with relatively small-size tuna and yellowtail hitting the decks.

Meanwhile, boats closer to home at the Tanner and Cortez Banks were getting into quality-grade bluefin tuna. If the group wanted a shot at those bluefin, turning around right then was a must. Accordingly, the decision was made, and the American Angler pointed her bow north.

KELP PADDY MAYHEM

As the boat headed north toward the bluefin grounds, the kind of hotel-size kelp paddy everyone hopes for appeared off the bow. As Captain Lopez expertly spun the American Angler into position, a massive school of dorado charged out from under the paddy and directly at the boat.

Dorado in that kind of a frenzy are not selective at all about what pound test line, or what hook size an angler is using. A live [or even dead] sardine was gobbled up instantly upon hitting the water. However, safety etiquette dictates that lures are not used, since a leaping dorado can easily throw the lure, resulting in a dangerous missile zooming directly back at the boat.

This batch of dorado did not contain any lunkers, but the group easily landed their legal limit of delicious 12-20 pounders. After cleaning up the carnage, and tagging and dropping the dorado into the RSW hold, the American Angler resumed heading north.

BLUEFIN CITY

Arriving in the vicinity of San Clemente Island saw the crew deploy frozen flying fish on the boat’s kite rig. Almost immediately, a huge bluefin tuna responded. Being first on the kite rotation paid off big time for Gordon Brofft, who landed a monster 265-pounder after a brutal fight.

After that, bluefin of 179, 172, and 157 pounds followed in fairly short order on the frozen flying fish before the bite died down. At dusk, a 30-minute flurry of 90-100 pound bluefin responded to fall-type jigs.

The following day saw the overall action slow down, but some finicky 50-80 pound yellowfin tuna were around, and the group managed to land eight of these nice fish, plus a single school-size bluefin.

The final day of fishing found a fresh batch of school-size 20-40 pound bluefin at the Osborne Bank, and 32 of these nice-grade tuna were landed. Due to the light tackle necessary to coax a bite, a larger than normal proportion of fish were lost in order to land that total number.

SAGE OBSERVATIONS

One of the most experienced long-rangers aboard this trip was Walt Bailey, owner of Pacific Coast Bait & Tackle in Oceanside. He observed: “This trip held a lot of excitement; there was always something happening. We got to fish every day except departure day; seven solid days of fishing on an eight-day trip. The crew really busted their butts to make sure everything went perfectly. I managed to catch five bluefin tuna up to 157 pounds, a limit of yellowtail, a 65-pound yellowfin tuna, and even a 12-pound sheephead.”

Bailey continued, “The biggest mistake I see people make when preparing for a trip like this is not planning ahead. Among the most common errors is not having the reels full-up with line. If a reel is only half full of line, it won’t cast right, and the drag won’t work right. Once you walk onboard, don’t be afraid to ask for help, the crew of the American Angler are some of the best professionals in the world.”

FIELD TESTING

Several new and upcoming PENN products were seen by the public for the first time on this trip. Most popular were the Fathom Low-Profile baitcast-style reels. Designed to be saltwater-specific instead of primarily for freshwater bass, the Low-Pro’s performed admirably, and successfully boated a number of yellowtail and dorado. The Fathom FTH400LP model filled with 50-pound braid will likely prove to be very popular for anglers chasing a variety of California and Baja fish species up to 50 pounds or even more.

Also making their debut were the specialized PENN rods and reels for Slow-Pitch Jigging. This technique is relatively new to California anglers, though it has been popular in Asia for over a decade. This trip produced some yellowtail on the Slow-Pitch Jigs, but large quantities of “by catch” like calico bass, bonito, and barracuda were encountered to keep the testing from being definitive.

As always, a large selection of PENN rod/reel setups were available for anglers to try out. The “demonstrator” rigs included 2-speed Internationals and Fathoms for everything from 40 to 100-pound lines, along with star drag Fathoms in the lighter line classes.

TACKLE TIPS

The monster 150-plus pound bluefin tuna were landed on the boat’s extra-heavy kite rigs, but a few 90-100 pound bluefin were caught on fall-type jigs fished on PENN Fathom FTH40NLD2 reels filled with 80-pound braid and 100-pound fluorocarbon wind-ons.

The better-grade yellowfin tuna were ranging 50-80 pounds, and hit flylined sardines fished with PENN Fathom FTH30LD2 reels, filled with 65-pound braid and 40-pound mono topshots, with a 4-foot piece of 40-pound fluorocarbon, and a #1 Owner Mutu circle hook.

The school-size 20-40 pound bluefin were especially finicky, and the standard-issue setup was a PENN Fathom FTHII15SD star drag reel filled with 30-pound braid and a 20 or 25-pound mono topshot, tipped with a 5-foot piece of matching fluorocarbon and a tiny #2 Owner Gorilla Light J-hook.

Both yo-yo iron and surface iron scored yellowtail early in the trip. Most productive of all was a blue/white or scrambled egg-color Tady 4/0 fished yo-yo style; simply dropped straight down all the way to the bottom, and cranked back up at warp speed. Those anglers choosing to throw surface iron did well with Tady 45’s in mint color, cast in the vicinity of boiling fish.

JACKPOT WINNERS

Although “kite fish” do not count in the jackpot, some absolute monsters were caught with it, and merit mention here. The biggest of all was the monster 265-pound bluefin landed by Gordon Profft. Next up was the 179-pound bluefin by Steve Weber, and a 172-pounder by Joe Bailey. Walt Bailey was not far behind with a 157-poud specimen.

The overall jackpot honors were taken by Rob Mitchell’s beautiful 100-pound bluefin tuna, which earned him a PENN 2-speed reel and a nice tuna plaque. In second place was Joel Golding’s 98-pound bluefin, and followed closely by Steve Wann’s 94-pounder.

The Owner Hooks “First Fish” awards went to George Acosta [dorado], and Walt Bailey managed to get both the first tuna, and the first yellowtail prizes. The “Hero Fish” award naturally went to Gordon Profft’s cow bluefin, and the coveted Costa “Mr. Congeniality” prize as voted by the crew of the American Angler, was awarded to Steve Monnig.

Royal Polaris OCTUNACLUB- Article by Doug Inouye – Photos by Ryan June and Dharyl “Big D” Shelbourne

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As we all know 2020 was a year that many of us would like to forget, and the word “challenging” doesn’t even begin to describe it.  With so many long range trips being cancelled, I was preparing myself to take that dreaded phone call from the Royal Polaris office about the possibility of cancelling our trip until further notice.  Like many of us, I’m always preparing for my trip months in advance…but this past year was different.

I remained optimistic, but something kept telling me to hold off on the preparation process until we’ve been given the green light.  With our trip 2 weeks out, the office confirmed that we’re still a “go”.  I still didn’t believe it, but I was forced to put the process into motion.   With the pandemic weighing heavily on our minds, our entire charter elected to voluntarily take a COVID test within 72 hours of our departure and to present our negative results during the check in process.

Since we were on a 10 day trip, we wanted to take every necessary safety precaution to reduce the chance of an outbreak among the crew and passengers.  It was the by far the best move we could have made and here’s why.  The day before our scheduled departure date, 2 of our regular passengers had household members who tested positive.  One of the family’s tested twice just to be sure, same results.  Although unfortunate they couldn’t come on the trip, but for the remainder of the group it felt like we dodged a huge bullet.

With the testing now behind us, 24 of us lined up and prepared to board the Royal Polaris with Capt. Roy Rose and his stellar crew.  This year we had a few new faces that decided to join us and we’re all so glad they did.  After we pushed away from the dock and headed to the bait receivers, I noticed that everyone was being cautious and respectful of space and avoiding the typical boarding mayhem (gear storage).

Now on to the fishing report….

After loading up some pristine well cured sardines, Capt. Roy steamed straight to Alijos Rocks in hopes that we’ll be the first boat there in over a week.  The goal was to get our licks in on the wahoo first….well, that was the plan.  We arrived and said “HI” to Brent since who this legacy trip is for and then we put the jigs in the water. A few minutes later, I hear that unmistakable sound coming off my reel.  The excitement of the 1st wahoo coming on board to get our skunk off was awesome.  A few minutes later, Eddie sinks the gaff and makes it official.  The party has officially started and we thanked Brent for that fish!

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No takers on bombs or iron, so we get back to trolling and minutes later….Zamir’s ear perk up to a screaming drag.  Wahoo #2 is now in the boat…..but wait, no takers on bombs, bait or iron?  Next troll team gets up and this time, Rusty’s ears were the fortunate recipients.  Wahoo #3 is now in the box….but wait, again no other takers on bait or iron? We’re starting to see a pattern here.  Well for some reason, after we put 3 nice wahoo (35-50lbrs) in the boat they got lock jaw and didn’t want play for the remainder of the day.

Roy didn’t like this pattern, so we opted to give the wahoo a break and decided to make a tank of mackeral in the shallows and then head over to Alijos Bank to target those jumbo yellowtail.  We anchored up around 3pm and within a minute I see Nic’s rod completely bent over and drag peeling off hard and fast.  Oh yeah, here we go…..a few minutes pass and here comes a 40+lb yellowtail over the rail.  I decided to grind a 6XJR but had no takers, tried surface iron…no takers, dropped a colt sniper…nothing.  Grabbed my dropper loop rig and once it hit the bottom, the bite was instant.  Washed, rinsed and repeated this process 3 times and resulted in 3 big yellowtail (35-40lbrs).  Capt. Roy decided we plucked enough (60-70 YT) off this spot and decided to head to “The Pole” to see if we can find bigger ones.

When we arrived we set the anchor and then all of sudden 4 of us got bit simultaneously by some big yellowtail.  All of us were using 80-100lb set ups and one by one, we were getting rocked and busted off.  Our spectra came back all shredded from the rubbing on the rocks and there was nothing we could do.  Just mean, grumpy home guards that had a much different plan for us.  I witnessed 7 fish in a row getting busted off on the sinker rigs, so I opted to fly line instead. A few minutes pass a

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nd my

mackeral gets slammed and the moment I felt the fish going into the rocks, I kicked my reel into free spool in hopes that he’ll swim out.  I let the fish swim freely for a few minutes and eventually it started to come up. At this moment, I reeled down, got tight again and got him to gaff soon thereafter.

After heavy casualties, Capt. Roy opted that we head to The Ridge to try our luck on more yellowtail and Wahoo.  When we arrived, the water was a few degrees warmer than Alijos and that gave us hope for better wahoo fishing.   We dropped the jigs back and almost immediately we had a double hook up, but this time the wahoo were a lot bigger.  Guys started slinging the metal and bombs and the wahoo didn’t disappoint.  Lots of 40-50lbrs were coming over the rail at a steady pace…fishing was good.  I looked over and heard Capt. Dave Marciano using some choice expletives because his wahoo kept spitting the hook on his bomb. He made 2 casts, hooked 2 wahoo and then lost 2 wahoo.  He reeled up his jig and took a look at his hook and then he begins to laugh.  Capt. Dave then shows me that he forgot to take the plastic hook point protector off his jig.  We laughed so hard and you can’t make this stuff up! Pure comedy.

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Later on that day, a wahoo slammed my jig in the Port side corner……ran straight across the bow and up the Starboard side (all within a split second), then darts back under the boat and runs back to the Port side corner.  At this time, I’m pegged with my rod pointed straight down with my tip in the water trying to get around the bow.  All of a sudden my spectra broke or so I thought.  I’m walking back to the stern and Eddie is yelling and telling me that he has my wahoo. Say what??  He said that he had to cut my spectra because my wahoo was about to saw off 2 others.  Being Eddie, he wrapped my spectra around his pliers and then cut my line.  Capt. Roy grabs the tag end off Eddie’s pliers and splices my spectra back together….minutes later my wahoo hits the deck.  Now that’s RP Livin!!!!!

We finished the day with 80+ wahoo and Capt. Roy elects to make a move after dinner to find some yellowfin tuna.  We anchor up on a spot a few miles away, made another few tanks of bait and by morning we had a tremendous amount of life under the boat.  The yellowfin were free swimming all over the place and eating anything that hit the water.  Jigs, dead bait, chunks, surface iron…..didn’t matter and it just needed to be in the water.  I was standing there drinking my coffee and watching these guys just slay these 15-25lb YFT at a rapid pace.

Then a thought crossed my mind, I’ll try to catch some YFT with a hand line.  I tied on 30 ft of mono to my coffee mug, pinned on a bait and then continued to drink my coffee.  Within a few seconds a YFT nearly rips the mug out of my hand and Dan is standing there looking at me and trying to figure out what’s wrong.  I was desperately trying to get the coffee mug to my mouth to take a sip, but my hand is violently shaking and coffee is spilling out everywhere. We laughed hard and Capt Roy was busting up watching me trying to hold on to my mug.  I told him this was the “original coffee grinder” of long range fishing…..fun times and we quickly put in daily limits of YFT in the boat and headed for new grounds.

With time running out, Capt. Roy told us that we were going to make a move north to see if we can finish off our yellowtail limits and target some bluefin tuna close to home.  I was up in the wheel house chopping it up with Roy and he mentioned that we’re going to get off the train tracks and try something different.  If you know Roy, this dude is outrageously fishy and when he says that he wants to try something “different”, you know it’s from a past experience.   He said that he wants to try fishing in Hippolito Bay since he hasn’t been there in over 10 years.   We arrive and it’s calm, warm and just beautiful.

A few minutes later a big sheephead comes over the rail, then another one, then another one.  I put on small ½ oz mega bait and it’s instantly slammed.  As fast as you can get a small jig, hook up bait or a strip of anything in the water…the sheephead were on it.  We put a nice stringer of these in the boat and then make a short move less than a half mile away.  I grab my surface iron and sling it down swell…..a few minutes later I see a small pack of yellowtail chasing it down, then finally one commits.  Then all of sudden everyone is bent on the rail….bait, yo yo, surface…they wanted it all.  Nice grade of 15-30lb fish, and all we wanted.  We stuck with this program until we were done with our limits.   At this point, everyone has a ton of fish and near limits on most targeted species.  Time to go bluefin fishing.

Capt. Roy tells us that we have about 1.5 days of travel time before we arrive on the BFT grounds.  During this time we’re breaking down a good portion of our gear and prepping for what’s about to come.  We arrive to our destination in the dark and Kurt drops down his 300g FlatFall and then his line went slack. At first he thought he was tangled up with somebody since the current was ripping hard, then his line started peeling off.  A few minutes later a nice 65lb bluefin tuna hits the deck.  As the sun began to rise, the fog and dark clouds kept a nice gray overcast lining in the sky with a slight swell and light wind.  Perfect conditions.  It didn’t take long before a few of us on the bow started hooking fish. We always had a 2-3 fish going through out the entire day.

A handful of us had a very productive morning on these 40-60lb class fish and it was time to start getting everyone involved. The awesome thing about our group, we were all about helping each other.  During the entire duration of our trip, if somebody was having a tough day…there was always somebody there to help.  On our final day of fishing, we were doing hook and hands to ensure that everyone went home with a pristine bluefin.  Midway through the day, we finally got everyone a BFT and it was the icing on the cake. We ended the day with 63 quality bluefin tuna.  The smiles, the stories and the comedy was nothing short of spectacular and we all want to say thank you to Frank, Captain Roy and his stellar crew for always taking care of us.  Until we ride again in July and November…..tight lines!