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Wednesday, September 25, 2019
Land vs. water
Tuesday, November 12, 2019
The Big Picture

Told you so!
It was mid-April when my offshore report came out, and in it I made a few predictions of what would come, based on what was happening in our waters mid-Winter. And although the prediction was not all that different than what we'd seen the season previous, I'd guessed the north to south gradient would be even farther outside the realm of normal extremes.

From what I could tell it seemed like we'd see a perverse coupling of warm waters, and strong cold water upwelling with persistent west winds along the Central Coast and extending down the Bight's outer edge at the same time.

Warmer than average waters would suck up into the inner Bight and meet the cold at the Northern Channel Islands along a crazy extreme — double digits temperature break.

THE SST ANOMALY shows the entire northeast Pacific much warmer than normal. Yet, unlike an El Niño event, there is upwelling along the coastal areas where it normally appears in spring and early summer, only lasting into the fall in La Niña years. This suggests the hot water is a thin layer on top, at least along the coast. In comparison to an average year, by September the upwelling plume of cool water has already dissipated. Deep red is 5 degrees above average for the date and location. Gray to light green is average, while deep purple is 5 degrees below average. NASA IMAGE

The El Niño warm waters science says turn coastal waters blue all the way up into the western Channel Islands. West winds fade, upwelling ceases, kelp dies, bait fish suffer, sea lions suffer, rockfish babies suffer due to a lack of primary production — food, plankton.

But my call was surface warm water layers were thin, so yes on the hot water deep in the Bight, but strong cold water upwelling along the usual line along the Bight's western edge. We'd again see those big bluefin, and there would again be a split decision between fishing them in U.S. waters and much more catchable yellowfin to the south.

Now, warm waters usually kill off the seabass bite early in the season, yet I went out on a limb and predicted a prolonged and strong seabass season with extended cool green water at San Miguel, Santa Rosa and San Nicolas islands. It happened.

At the same time, I also thought we'd end up seeing some surprisingly close to the coast tuna opportunity pop up for the southern sector — in the same season as waters favorable for salmon in the spring in our northern sector — Morro Bay and Port San Luis.

Well, it actually happened. The salmon bite in our northern corner was the best in years, with cool waters and biting fish even into July. This past week we saw the jumbo bluefin pop up in waters right along the coast from Dana Point south. The north 9-Mile has already seen some hot tuna snaps.

Of course, Cow Town out near San Clemente Island was ever tempting as those specialist anglers continue to haul in fish over 300 pounds and hook fish with an average weight in the high 100s. Yet, when it came to putting lots of anglers into the success sector, the yellowfin bite from just outside the Coronado Islands — south to the lower 500 was the target. That came to pass too.

There was so much anchovy micro-bait in the waters, there were times when it was tough to draw a tuna's attention off of it, even with the best bait possible in the tank. Warmer than average waters filled the inner Bight. They extended on up to Santa Cruz Island, where the southern heat clashed somewhere along the island chain with the cold stuff.

But beyond San Clemente Island, waters were back at seasonal averages, and yet a couple hundred miles west of that were waters fully 5 degrees above normal, a thousand or more miles of it.

They're calling it the Blob II. But unless you're looking at the map of the difference from normal, you can't tell it exists. It's as if the entire Eastern Pacific temperature gradient has simply shifted north by hundreds of miles.

At the same time, normal to stronger than normal La Niña style oceanographic dynamics persist along our coast — strong northwest wind flow, upwelling waters — big plankton blooms in the usual places like along the Central Coast, the Santa Barbara Channel — extending south through the waters immediately west of San Nicolas Island — down to the Cortes Bank.

North of Newport, green waters along the beach have been persistent late into the season — even as inner Bight SSTs hit 70-plus degrees.

In the yellowfin tuna area, it's been dark-water fishing for tuna. Even now, the really blue water in the Bight is confined to transient small sections. Currently, the area around Santa Barbara Island has it.

Even now, in fall, there's no big expanse of crystal blue water north of the Cortes anywhere, nor east of the 60-Mile Bank. Yet the tuna are on tap in the grey and green stuff just a few miles off the coast.

In fact, at the latitude of the Cortes one would have to run another 200-plus miles west to see aqua blue water. That's how wide the upwelling plume of plankton water extending south from the Central Coast is still.

It's cool too — 64 degrees, while waters inshore of there are closer to 72. Those pelagics are tucked up into the Bight behind that cool plume.

Honestly, looking at the oceanographic dynamics alone suggests a typical — even a cold water year, but with the actual temperatures involved ramped up by several degrees across the board.

Here's something to ponder. Back in the late '70s what we looked for while fishing albacore from San Diego, was 62 and blue. When it hit 66 degrees, that was crazy-hot water. I can't even imagine 62-degree water being any color but green now.

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

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