The brutal Tanner Bank weather was no deterrent for Capt. Rick Slavkin on 1 1/2-day trip Thursday that encountered a wide-open nighttime bluefin frenzy on the glow-in-the-dark FlatFalls
THE MOMENT OF TRUTH for Brad Moreau is when the crew of the O’95 takes care of the tuna on the business side. PHOTOS BY Pat McDonell (gaff) and Rick Ruzzamenti (holding fish).
BY PAT McDONELL
OCEANSIDE – Oceanside 95 Capt. Rick Slavkin had some tough choices to make. The main one was simple. Be safe. The weather called for a small craft advisory for Wednesday night and building through the night, and when the captain held his meeting that night before they left Oceanside Harbor, he had to tell the 34 passengers that the Tanner Bank might not be in the cards.
“Safety is No. 1,” and I will try to get to the Tanner, but if it’s too rough, then we will stay inside and fish the porpoise for 20- to 30-pound yellowfin,” he said to the assembled group. There were some disappointed looks. The bluefin bite was epic a few days before, and the flat seas and perfect conditions at the Tanner the week before had accounted for some tall tales of great 100-pound bluefin, just a week before Thanksgiving. The squid were drawing the tuna to the nests, and it was a question of getting live and fresh dead squid, and drifting across the Tanner Bank, located 20 miles outside of San Clemente Island, which is 50 miles from Oceanside Harbor. It’s a long, brutal haul if weather is lousy.
“If it were any other boat but this 95 footer, I’d just say no, we’re not going to the Tanner tonight,” but the 95 is a big, heavy boat, so we will see. But we’ll be at the Tanner, if we can make it, by 10 or 11.”
So, there were four things facing the anglers: No live bait with no prospect of getting any on handoffs from boats coming from receivers at Long Beach or San Pedro. We were going to be the only ones there -- if we even made it. The weather was a killer: 10- to 12-foot swells, 30 to 40 knot winds. We had a full load of anglers, 34 at the rail. And, it would essentially be a half-day trip. Why? The day bite has been a pick and as I update this story here on Tuesday, the same holds true. The gray light and dusk/night bites have been when the fish were hot. So there was a small window of opportunity facing us.
Funny how things work out, and they did. The weather was lousy but manageable, and Capt. Slavkin, now in his third year at the O’95, kept plugging west, slowly. By 6 a.m. this angler was up, and realized Slavkin had put San Clemente Island in the rear view mirror. Destination Tanner was three hours ahead.
“I really didn’t think we’d make it, the affable captain said. “I did go a little to the extreme.” That was what Slavkin said at the end of the trip, and indeed he did. A lot of captains lately have stayed much later to get a solid shot at the bluefin at night. There were a lot of stoked anglers rubbing their eyes as the O’95 lurched over, down, and then up again over huge swells. When we arrived at the Tanner there were two groups: those eating breakfast, and those losing their “lunch.” Some recovered, some did not.
Amazingly, I felt great. Our galley cook Doug Untiedt was cranking out the assortment of tasty and quick breakfast burritos and burgers, and a hearty and tasty beef briscuit dinner, and as the weather settled, appetites soared for food and bluefin that were on a pick, as advertised. There was no sitting around mid morning on our drifts as fish were always under the boat as Slavkin leaned out of the wheelhouse and kept giving out numbers, “Three targets at 180” or a “Wolf pack at 220. Get those baits down.”
We had a fish almost immediately on the dead squid.
At this point, as the weather slowly backed off, the drift was always good. The fish were always stacking up, and more so as the day went on. Every able-bodied, non-puking angler was at the rail, and some were pretty green, but hell, bluefin …100 pounders …on a 1 ½-day were great incentive. The first angler to score at just after 10 a.m. on the first drift was Komron Aziz of Irvine, using 80-pound flouro, an 8-ounce torpedo up the line five to six feet with a rubber band. An experienced tuna angler, he would end up with two bluefin, his limit.
Soon after, the bites came here and there, one or two in each hour-long drift, a mix of rigs were used, the fresh dead on 4/0 circle hooks either sent down with the 6- to 8- to 12-ounce torpedo sinkers or a couple 3-ounce day glow sliding sinkers held up the line four or five feet by the flouro/top shot knot. Those were effective, but so were the day glow Shimano FlatFalls, the 200 or 250-gram heavies.
The hottest stick on the boat was Fallbrook landscaper and resident Pat Sovacool. He was fishing light line and smaller reels but he had the chops to do it. He hooked 8 fish on the trip, but had two fish he landed during the day on the fresh dead, then three (If I recall) on the FlatFall, the all-important day glow feature was charged up by pocket flashlight chargers a few people brought. A word to anglers: Buy them. They are quicker and produce a longer charge than conventional lights, and are about $5 at WalMart. A buddy that skipped my trip with the weather projection but went out the next night on the SD-based Tribute hooked and landed four on the FlatFalls using the WallMart charger I told him about. He was lending it out all trip when people saw how effective it was.
By dusk, the seas had calmed, relatively, and the fish were now stacking on the sonar, and Slavkin as few times said he had not see this kind of volume yet at the Tanner, and that is saying something as Capt. Slavkin has been killin’ the bluefin on every trip. Soon enough, the day glow Flat Falls were the lure of choice. Fresh bites up the rail, one, two or three were being called out. The fresh dead wasn’t working any more, the fishes’ bellies were glutted on it, we soon found.
“I think the fish were full, but they just got pissed off at the glowing FlatFalls,” said Slavkin. “I don’t know why. But it’s unbelievable the amount of monster fish we were getting.”
CAPT RICK SLAVKIN
Drift after drift we picked up five, six or even eight hookups, although many were lost. No one lost their cool. Well, one angler did, upset he had lost a fish on 30-pound, despite the crewman’s best efforts over more than an hour. Slavkin finally had to step in and defend his crewman. We all now realized who “that guy” was on the trip. There’s always one. Turned out, the angler moved up to 50-pound, landed his fish with the help of the same crewman, and one passenger said, “Hey, are you going to apologize now to that crew guy? You should.”
That guy didn’t. What a tool. Lesson here. Don’t blame your crewman if you use 30-pound line or even 40 or 50 without the right rod or reel. To me, all you are doing is killing a fish (if you get spooled, you killed that fish) and screwing uop everyone else in a protracted fight.
The night bite went on an on, and we were waaay overdue. We should have headed back to Oceanside at 8 p.m. to make the 6 a.m. Friday return, but no one, not even the crew, the captain or the people still sick as dogs would whine. The bluefin were biting on the glow FlatFalls, and it was epic carnage. We put 22 feet on the deck, lost at least that many, and if we had gotten into them in the morning at daybreak, we might have doubled that because we would been dialed into the scene and what was working best in the dark.
The jackpot was won via a 118-pound bluefin by John Duquin who came with his friend Blake Smith. They are members of the SoCal Deaf Anglers Club and longtime WON subscribers. Great guys, and we as a group communicated with back slaps, hand signals and writing on napkins. It’s like fishing, you figure out what works.
“We have fished over 40 years for tuna and bever have seen tuna this big,” Duquin wrote on a napkin for this reporter. “This 118 pounder the biggest in my lifetime, a great experience.”
JOHN DUQUIN with his 118 pounder., the biggest of the trip.
The trip was summed up by Eric Dahlstrom of Beaumont, who had 103 and 102 pounders on the FlatFall. A fun guy, always laughing. Always pulling or working hard at the rail.
“These two fish are biggest I’ve ever caught, and I would not have caught ‘em if not for the captain. On any other boat we would have been off the water by 6:30 at night and headed home. Captain Rick is the man.”
If you prefer another explanation, Brad Moreau of Oceanside caught a nice 100 pounder. It put the hurt ion him, but he got it in. He hasn’t been fishing much these past years. His rehabbed shoulder is feeling better so he came with a buddy, Ron Dwinnell. Moreau at first balked at going because of the weather. Then he decided that if the weather did settle as promised, the prospect of a 1 ½-day bluefin tuna was too great a temptation. The gamble paid off.
“Crazy is as crazy does,” said Moreau.
Or, as Sovacool said it after catching his 5 bluefin, “Fun trip, but I’m burnt.”
Many thanks to the crew and Helgren’s Sportfishing Landing for a great trip. Capt. Rick Slavkin’s crew were among the best I’ve ever fished with and have great nicknames. They were Tommy Boy Horanyi, Doug Uniedt in the galley, Maurice “Snowball” Lopez, Daniel “Golf Ball” Tyler and Troy “Chowder” Stranko.
THE FIRST FISH of the day was by Komron Aziz of Irvine one fresh dead squid, 80 flouro with rubber banded 8-ounce torpedo sinker up the line.
ONE OF 5 BLUEFIN, two over 100 pounds, for Fallbrook resident and O’95 regular Patrick Sovacool. He was fishing for boat limits, as the personal limit is two.
THE NIGHTIME BITE was epic, and after this scene was shot, it got even crazier at the Tanner Bank on the Flatfall glow jigs. It was like a long range trip, except it was a 1 ½-day run. The fish were all in the 100-pound class. Biggest was 118.
PAT SOVACOOL shares the load of a 100-pound bluefin with crewmen Mauricio “Snowball” Lopez.
ERIC DAHLSTROM with his personal best bluefin on the glow 60-gram Flatfall.