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Merit McCrea – WHEELHOUSE SCOOP

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Let’s go deeper, skipper!
Wednesday, January 23, 2019
The cod map


What just happened and what's next? 2018 and 2019
Let's see, it was mostly sculpin and bass, but some seabass at Catalina and a few holdover mossbacks and some huge bluefin for the Pacific Queen including a 152 pounder for Josh Anguillano of Carpenteria in January.

Then in February, we saw mostly bugs at Catalina, winter bass too, halibut and some huge surf perch. The Excel was on the road home and encountered biting bluefin, got 22 fish in the 40-pound class and angler Bob Leist bested a 170-pound fish.


While the bite at Colonet was straight rockfish, the Mustang pulled limits of yellows off kelps.


March saw a barn burner rockfish opener up and down the coast, while the first full-day yo-yo yellows greeted grateful anglers aboard the San Diego, not big fish, but yo-yo forks nonetheless. More offshore action continued for the few boats out looking, yellows and even a few bluefin. Then late in March, the offshore action dried up.


Then in April the Coronado Islands bite got with the program, big fish, fast action. It was game on. Plus the New Lo-An connected with limits of bluefin tuna. Halibut tournies wrapped up and the whole coast continued to whang away on lots of rockfish.


A few more of the San Diego fleet were out on the water looking for kelps, killing yellows and connecting with a few more bluefin along the way. There some big ones hooked and a few triple digit models landed too.


Capt. Tucker McCoombs — Outrider — belted limits of Channel Islands seabass on dropper looped dead squids.


It was May when the bluefin deal really got going, and the big ones were on the Flat-Fall, weighing in the 170- to 190-pound range. As we saw, by the fall, any fish under 100 was ho-hum. No one even raised an eyebrow at fish under the 200-pound cow class. While May fish were in Mexican waters still, by the following month it was all predominantly in U.S. waters for the bigger models, with the fish setting up camp just west of San Clemente Island.


Through the summer months, we saw them cycle far north, up the back side of Catalina Island. When the fish showed south of Santa Cruz Island, it seemed no one bothered to try for them there even as the opportunities to the south drew the fleet. If there were northern sector successes, few were talking.


Through June the bluefin areas included inshore waters, school sized yellowfin showed in limit-style numbers to the south. Catalina Island and Channel Islands yellows and seabass got with the program.


Meanwhile the northern sector landings continued to sack rockfish and lings without slowing down.


The bite rocked and rolled on all fronts well into the late, late fall. Ultimately bonito invaded local waters in better numbers than we'd seen in years. There seemed to be more opportunities than anglers to target them. Yellowtail showed off the Santa Barbara Coast and local anglers hardly tried for them, being focused on the bottom fishing with it's ultra consistent big bag limits of tasty reds and such.


The ocean whitefish boom really came into its own too. The bonanza fueled bottom biter bags bigger than many could remember and anglers doubled up to 20-fish total limits on many outings.


When it came to water conditions, there was a brief moment where the local surface waters off San Diego hit an amazing 80 degrees. But for all that, it wasn't really what one would call El Niño conditions. It's just that 70-degree plus SSTs have become the new SoCal normal.


With some oceanographers seeing warm west Pacific equatorial waters migrating back eastward this winter, there's a good chance the Bight area will stay unseasonably warm.


In this last week we saw some very strong northwest winds blow. These events are revealing for folks like me who watch for their effects on the ocean for signs of things to come.


Despite the time of year, these winds were able to dredge the cold waters to the surface as far south as the L.A./L.B. area. This means the thermocline is likely not much deeper than 100 feet down in these areas — normal to shallow for this time of year and unlike a couple of seasons back.


It points to a 2019 season very similar 2018. While we came very close to seeing a 400-pound bluefin in 2018, it didn't actually happen. But what did, was a lot more 200-plus pounders than ever before.


I believe the trend will continue, even more big fish in the mix. But at the same time, I'm not expecting to hear of 500 pounders cavorting along. I think there will be more over 200 and 300 pounds, including some more very near or even in the 400-pound class. We saw a lot of 60- and 70-pound fish in 2018. These fish will return as tackle testing 120 pounders.


There were also good numbers of 1-year-old 20-pound fish in 2018. In 2019 these will come in as 40-pound fish.


I expect the northern Bight will again have a good showing of exotics — yellows, seabass, and more seabass than we saw last season. It seemed there were lots of little ones around in 2018.


Giant seabass and ocean whitefish will continue their upswing. With the new access to deeper waters there will some big winners. We'll hit those chilies hard fishing lighter gear than ever before. It will take less than a pound to pull double dropper fluoro gear on 50-pound braid into the depths.


The last time we had access to those depths the standard gear was 50- or 80-pound Dacron and 4-hook ganions with 2 pounds plus. It's gonna be good and it's gonna be big boc., chilies, monster reds, widows and banks too.


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Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California partyboat 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: merit@wonews.com.


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