Click here for Merit McCrea – WHEELHOUSE SCOOP

California cow bluefin, the new dynamic
The gist of this story is: cow-class bluefin tuna are regulars. And those that target, catch. It was midweek when I first saw the photos. Capt. Markus Medak and crew had risen to the task, boating 7 tuna on a 1.5-day California U.S. waters trip, ranging from 170 to 208 pounds. Three of those were over the 200-pound mark, making them "cows."

BRING ANOTHER GAFF! — Two deckhands hang onto Josh Anguillano’s 205 after one gaff broke.

Not only that, but a closer look at the photos revealed three of those lucky anglers were Santa Barbara locals I knew, and two were SEA Landing crew. There was Martin Carbajal, Josh Anguillano and Randy Graham's son Sage, each straining to prop up bluefin whose tails towered over their heads.

When I showed up to run relief aboard the Coral Sea for Capt. Sal Silva Friday morning, there were the two of them, Martin and Josh, were getting the rig ready for the run. I would get the full low-down on the bite for sure! In fact, Josh had made bluefin poke for lunch, and I got to taste the fish too.

At first all I got was the short version. Then Capt. Markus Medak called Saturday afternoon as we were running down the line and the boys were cutting cod limits for our 25 ang­lers. He filled in a few skipped details, like, they were anchor fishing when a number of those fish were hooked.

Hmmmm, after our anglers had left, I grilled them a bit more. Ultimately, Martine-mailed over a full minute-by-minute on the bite. Most importantly, I have to say, it was a story of gearing for, baiting for and fishing for 150 to 300 pounders. It wasn't at all about just having them come through while targeting a smaller grade of fish.

It was rail rods, 100-pound and 2-speeds. Martin brought a Ken's Custom Reels blueprinted Accurate ATD30 loaded with 130-pound braid with a 100-pound Izor XXX topshot on a 208 United Composites 7-foot rail rod. Josh had a similarly blueprinted ATD30 loaded with 100-pound, 100-pound First String on a Calstar 6465 XH. Young Sage had the "light" rod, a United Composites Predator with a Talica 16 II, loaded with 80-pound Izor braid with a topshot of 60-pound First String and a 3-foot leader of Seaguar 80-pound fluoro.

At the bait receiver, they spent the time to jig plenty of mackerel, stocking the tank with the bigger live baits.

Martin said, "We got to the fishing grounds at 3 a.m. sitting on the anchor (on the 43) and slowly tossing out sardines." Some fished live bait with rubber banded 8-ounce torpedoes while others fished the Flat-Fall iron. There were 17 anglers aboard.

Martin continued, "First fish was hooked at 5 a.m. on the Flat-Fall — was lost within 4 seconds due to a bad knot. Second fish was hooked at 5:15 on a mackerel on the long soak with torpedo. That fish was caught after a 1-hour battle, handing it off back and forth with the deckhands who did an amazing job."

It was a few minutes past 6 when fish began launching clear out of the water around the boat — 6:20 lightning and thunder and a monsoonal downpour drenches everyone. It was 6:35 when the big behemoths erupted right behind the boat, just 40 feet off the stern.

Martin said, "I start cranking as fast as I can on the mackerel I had shoulder hooked on the fly-line and my bait starts to skip the surface as it approaches the tuna feeding frenzy. Right before I get to the tuna jumping, it happens. A tuna comes out of the water engulfing my bait. My line comes tight and my reel starts screaming line out."

At that moment, Sage tosses out and is bit instantly on the big mack and 80 fluoro. Ultimately 5 of the monsters were on at once! It was 45 minutes later when gaffs sunk into Martin's 208, his first-ever tuna it would seem — a cow!

Sage, at 110 pounds, is outweighed by his 182 he would land a half-hour later on the lighter line.

Things simmer down on the 43 and they are off in-search-of — dragging the Yummee Flyer below a kite. "We must have seen 6 fish blow up on it before we even hooked one," said Martin, and it was a young man in the 3rd grade, out with his dad, who was up on rotation. He and his dad worked on that fish to exhaustion, then crew took turns finishing it off.

A little more searching, blow-ups on the kite bait for nada, stops on crashing fish, all around the boat, then a bit longer move on radio fish puts them in the new area just before 6 p.m. They slide in. Medak sees a big mark on the meter and calls out to drop in.

Josh grabs his Flat-Fall rod, running forward, dumps the sardine Flat-Fall over the rail and free-spools down, down, down... Following his line down the rail as the boat coasts to a stop. It goes slack. He winds down hard and fast. Then his line screams off the spool. The battle lasts for 45 minutes, with a Navy bombing exercise booming in the background and sending the big fish into paroxysms each time.

His fish comes up hot, breaks a gaff, leaving just two crewmen hanging over the rail stuck into the thrashing cow as another is brought, then a fourth. Josh's 205 was the final fish for the day.

Martin had great things to say about the crew, their skillful negotiation of the various hazards involved in handling these brutish fish on heavy tackle, their handling of the catch and of course, Chef Larry's fine cuisine. The total tally was 7 tuna from 170 to 208 pounds with only 2 fish lost.

Tuna times have indeed changed here in SoCal. It's a whole new world, more like Islas Tres Marias than what we were previously accustomed to out on our local offshore waters. Zane Grey had it right, over 100 years ago. His big bluefin big tackle stories have come to life once again.

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Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California party boat captain, he also works as a marine research scientist with the Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He can be reached at:

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