It was late fall, I was too young to drive and somehow we picked the Thunderbird and fall yellowfin tuna out of Newport Beach as the last trip of the season. Or would it be?
It was the early ‘90s—Maybe 93? No 94 for sure, maybe, I think?—and Wes Flesch and I had Penns, Newells and even a TLD 20/40 on a 670 for Flesch.
The yellowfin were big, and the October fish were literally trapped in a warm water bubble around the 43, hanging out under porpoise and giving overnight boats the last shots of the year now that the San Diego fish had slid back down the line into 1½-day range. Kind of like if the water were to break down around the bubble we have outside the 43 and above the cap of the 'shroom:
Trips, seasons and even cycles bleed together, but not this one. It was flat calm, and it didn’t take long for who I believe was Captain Craig “Beaker” Jacobs to get on the ponies. It’s crazy how you fish with guys and then many years later end up fishing, working or just overall being buds with them. Tino Valantine was on the trip, which was some 15 years before he and Flesch would work on the Phantom and later the Options together and put their hands in the muck that is island seabass fishing. (Read: drama.)
We never talked to Valantine, but I remember him busting out funny one-liners, like “Definitely a larger model,” with some funny accent. He also bounced a big yellowfin with a trolling rod and a 50W when they were eating the sardines in the corner at the height of the stop; that was pretty sick for a 14-year-old who was still a season away from bouncing his first yellow on the surface iron to see.
They were all larger models, these yellowfin, 25- to 40-plus pounders, and the first stop gave up over 100. Sick, sick local fishing. It’s always funny to look back at the gear being used and have a “what was I thinking moment?” and for Flesch that meant a Calstar 90J and a Penn 4/0 113HL with 40 pound (ouch, huh?) while for myself it was that old Calstar 6480 with a 4/0 and 40 pound. (Almost equally ouch!)
The stuff bit nails and we were hooked on tuna fishing. Then a few weeks later the albacore bit up in Morro Bay; this was when albacore truly were unicorns. I remember trying to talk my dad into doing a multi-day when the Deluxe was in Westport, Washington running albacore trips. He said no, so it was easy to pull the guilt card when they showed up on the Central Coast.
We jumped on the Sundown, with Tommy Holland as the skipper. It was the trip where he got is leg caught in one of the belts in the engine room; it wasn’t pretty, and hearing him scream in pain and watching the crew bring handfuls of “painkillers” (beers) into the engine room while the second drove the boat back to the Port San Luis Pier, where Coast Guard and paramedics were waiting. We ended up on the Marauder. The fishing was tough, the weather was up and we slept most of the trip. Instantly over tuna fishing. Flesch even threatened to sell all his gear.
A few seasons later Ray Sobiek took a trip off of the Producer, it was probably 1997. Who ran the boat? Tommy Holland. He told me the story about how he almost lost his leg; I didn't say a word between looking for kelps. After I found one at the end of the day he said to fish and have fun. A yo-yo iron on a 60-pound rig, an empty bow, and a yellowtail bounce fest ensued.
Then many seasons went by — like finishing high school, working long range, traveling to Australia, finishing school, getting captain’s license and starting at WON — and Flesch went to work on the Phantom, with Valantine at the helm. I’d fill in as second a little bit, not so much for the bucks, but more to fish seabass and learn a little about Catalina.
“Do you remember a super epic bite on yellowfin on Thunderbird one late fall sometime before '96? There was a stop for like 100 plus big yellowfin,” I asked Valantine one day.
“Yeah, larger models he answered?” Yeah, he was definitely on the trip.
Fishing takes us places and creates incredible memories and experiences. As seasons go by recall and hunches kind of help in making predictions that go beyond just being blind.
For whatever reason, this fall feels like one where we are either going to get flooded by local yellowfin, or get nothing at all. If the wind would just back off up north, this albacore thing could really show some potential out of Morro Bay.
It’s interesting to think about what’s going to happen, and it’s also a trip to think about who that next person is we will fish with and constantly cross paths with.
Sometimes it’s fun to start the day by thinking about the past and letting that dovetail into the present and future. There have been plenty of great bites, but it’s the ones to come that keep us coming back...