Pat McDonell's Blog

WONews Column by Pat McDonell

Pat McDonell is the Editorial Director of Western
Outdoors Publications and has fished and hunted all over the world, from Brazil’s famed peacock bass waters to Morro Bay for albacore.

A graduate from San Diego State University in Journalism, he coordinates the staffs of the weekly newspaper and magazine. He was a founding member of United Anglers of SoCal. He’s an avid saltwater and freshwater angler and hunter. He is also the director of the annual Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Tournament held each November in Cabo.  McDonell, 52, is married with two daughters and resides in Carlsbad.

LB Hall show debuts tackle

The right stuff unveiled: a preview


You may have noticed the week's issue is a little heavier when pulling it out of the mailbox, and truth be told, even at 136 pages, it could have been a lot bigger. There is a lot to promote and talk about for the upcoming 5-day Fred Hall Fishing show (March 1-5 at the Long Beach Convention Center)  to talk about, and we covered it pretty well in the 100-page, 3-section preview. 

More than 500 booths, 400 seminars in at least five areas. It's all there in the preview and program. You can go the 100-page flip-style full-color preview at this link


NEW TACKLE for 2017 will be everywhere in Long Beach, particularly from Daiwa with its expanded Saltiga line, and these new tackle items can obtained via special show deals from retailers.

The kids pond, duck races, new boats and resorts are all given their due, but for me the big draw at the Hall show is tackle and how to use it. New stuff and seminars. What is truly new, and the fact is, technology is changing and it is due to super braid fishing lines. This are by no means the only tackle debuts. There are many, but these caught my eye. The show program has most of them. Get a copy when you through the door.

LEON TODD is bringing out several new Calstar models for the show: the 7470H, 7470XH,7 470XXH and the7 470XXXH for laying wood to big tuna on the rail, and for WSB boys, the new GFGR 7400M, a rod previously available only as a blank.

CALSTAR RODS: This is the best production rod in the world since 1984. Seeker is good, but Leon Todd’s Calstar quality is bulletproof, and Calstar’s rolling out several new models at the Hall shows this year. Rail rods are killing big tuna, and to keep the pressure on the big tuna they are bringing out several new models for the show. Look for the 7470H, 7470XH,7 470XXHandthe7470XXXH that are made with a different mandrel which provides for a slightly heavier rod for increased power when laying wood to a big tuna.

My favorite newbie for a variety of fish, including WSB, yellows and tuna (not the big ones) is the GFGR 7400M, a rod available only as a blank, but now comes on the scene a production rod. By popular demand from anglers and their tackle shops. Give the customers what they want. The 7400M casts like a dream with a light tip but plenty of backbone to turn hefty fish. Buy a Calstar stick at the show, get a free Calstar t-shirt.

AHI’s new Deception Cedar plugs.

AHI: As usual, the Gardena company will have their full line of lobster gear, along with their lobster tank with local California spiny lobsters. Promar will be releasing their new line of floating ProFloat Nets that are perfect these nets are great for kayakers, float tubers, or wade anglers. Of greatest importance, they will unveil a new line of cedar plugs designed with their patented Live Deception technology which did damage to the huge bluefin we saw last season. The plugs look super cool. Maybe we will get albacore this year as well as bluefin. Hell of a combination.

DAIWA: Daiwa’s Saltiga SD, the top dog in the Daiwa star drag series of reels, was introduced early 2016 in 10 and 15 sizes. New for 2016-17 Saltiga added sizes 20H, 30H, 35H, 40H and 50H size in a 6.4:1 gear ratio that pulls in almost 40 inches per crank.

In the larger 40A and 50A sizes the Saltiga comes in a lower 5.1:1 gear ratio. These are beautiful, precision reels. The machined aluminum free floating spool offers more manageable casting, combined with an internal centrifugal cast control.

Also new from Daiwa is J-BRAID X4, thinner and stronger, using the amazing Dyneema material, now the industry’s benchmark material for line strength. This is great stuff, with abrasion resistance, yet it’s easier to tie, lighter, stronger and thinner. It is offered in fluorescent yellow, dark green and island blue in 6, 8,10, 15, 20, 30, 40, 50, 65 and 80-pound test in 150-, 300- and 3,000-yard spools

AVET 's first run of there G2's will be in a special Neptune's Heart limited color combo.

AVET: The new G2 reels are available for casting at the Hyatt Lagoon, and if give ‘em a go, you get free hat. I was told first run of G2s will be made in what is being called “Neptune's Heart” limited edition color combo, just an insane look, with the standard color options to be released soon after. The G2 is a new series to fill in the line class gap between the originals and the Raptors.

The original SX is a 20-pound class reel. Setting the drag appropriately for 30-pound maxes the drag out to its absolute limits. The SX Raptor on the other hand, is a 40- to 50-pound class reel. It will handle appropriate drag setting for 30-pound, but its at the very bottom end of the drag curve The SX G2 will be the just right "Goldielox" right inbetween that puts 30-pound line class right in the middle with plenty of adjustment margin to go up or down a line class or two. The same applies for the rest of the models up to the LX. The HX originals and HX Raptors already have a decent overlap, so there isn’t really a need for a G2 to fill the gap.

The G2 Single speeds also answer the demand for single speed reels with more drag output with a 40 percent increase. The gear ratios for the G2 single speed will be the same as the original single speeds, and G2 2-speeds will be the same as the original (and Raptor) 2-speeds, which have proven to have best ratio between torque and speed. All G2 models will have the same increased line capacities as the Raptors.

Costa intros five new styles at the Hall show. Pictured is the Bloke.


COSTA: There are five new sunglasses  in its Core collection,  the Bloke, Reefton, Kiwa, Tasman Sea, and Whitetip, and all can be seen at this year’s Fred Hall Show.

“All five of these new Core styles are not only exceptionally functional on the water but also provide comfort and style for time off the boat,” says John Sanchez, vice president of product design for Costa. “We focused on creating durable frames with technical design elements that increase coverage and reduce glare. This provides our core anglers with the features they need for comfort and the technical advantages for improved performance on the water.”

Like all Costas, each frame has been constructed with quality and built for adventure. These five new styles are 100 percent polarized and come equipped with Costa’s patented 580 technology.  It's C-WALL coating on the lenses forces water to bead up and fall off, creating an essentially smudge-free perspective. The lenses are available in either polycarbonate or glass and are scratch resistant.

Roddy will unveil five affordable but high-end models of its R2S two-speed spinning reels.

RODDY: Master Fishing Tackle has a new series of two-speed spinning reels. You get versatile retrieve options for working lures and baits plus cranking power when you need it. The new Roddy R2S Series features five models covering light to heavy-tackle fishing, each featuring Quik-Select on-the-fly shifting between high and low retrieve speeds. Gear ratios vary with model: the light-duty R2S20 and R2S30 models feature gear ratios of 6.7:1 (H) and 4.7:1 (L). The medium-duty R2S50 cranks at 6.3:1 (H) or 4.3:1 (L).

Two heavy-duty models, the R2S60 and R2S80, provide retrieve speeds of 5.4:1 (H) and 3.6:1 (L). The ability to select speeds lets anglers impart the ideal action to top water lures, crankbaits, swimbaits while providing the power needed to bring big fish to the boat.

These reels won’t break your bank account at under $200 will be available at the Long Beach show for the first time! If you can’t wait, check them out at

THE ACCURATE VALIANT has the TwinDrag system for ultra-smooth, consistent pressure up to 30 pounds drag pressure. Small, powerful, light, beautiful to hold.

ACCURATE: The Accurate boys Dave and Doug Nilsen with dad Jack will introduce their newest addition of the BV-500-sized single speed and two-speed reels in the popular Valiant series. Light, powerful with dual drags, and these are beautiful to hold much less fish with.

The Valiants are ideal for striped marlin, sailfish, tuna, white seabass, yellowtail, striped bass and other saltwater targets. The lever drags include BV-500 (6:1 retrieve) and BV-500N (6:1 retrieve narrow) single speed reels, as well as new BV2-500 and BV2-500N two-speeds.

Every Valiant has an aircraft grade aluminum frame that delivers structural integrity of a reel twice its size. The TwinDrag system provides ultra-smooth, consistent pressure, up to 30 pounds max drag, precision-cut stainless steel gears that mesh perfectly together for unsurpassed cranking power, while seven shielded and sealed class-5 ABEC bearings and one ARB bearing ensure ultra smooth, reliable operation.

Anglers looking for and unbelievable single-speed lever drag reel can choose between the BV-500 or the BV-500N (narrow version), both featuring a blazing 6:1 gear ratio that rips in 45.05 inches of line with each turn of the handle. The BV-500 holds 500 yards of 50-pound test braided line, while the BV-500N holds 350 yards of 50-pound test braid.

Those in the market for a “best of class” two-speed can opt for Accurate’s BV2-500 of the BV2-500N. Both of these new Valiant two-speeds enable you to switch back and forth easily between a high-speed 6:1 retrieve and a winch-like 4:1 gear ratio with the simple touch of a button.

TADY: The new 14A series of jigs are unveiled to the public at the Fred Hall Show. They’ve been killing yellows all winter off San Quintin Bay and Punta Colnett. The 14A is a heavier jig that is available in both surface and yo-yo iron. The surface version checks in at 3.5 ounces. This heavier weight allows for farther casts and creates a unique swim action. The bluefin better watch out this year.

Another key benefit of this new heavier jig is that it is ideal for fishing with today’s higher speed reels. The 14A is also available in yo-yo iron. These bad boys weigh 8.5 ounces which allows the angler to drop down quicker on meter marks and structure.

The 14A is available in regular paint colors, chrome, glow and hologram. Another great feature of the 14A is that it comes in treble and also beefy southern style tuna hooks. Again, think monster bluefin, folks.

THE EASY SHIFT BUTTON on the Makairas by Cal's plus new blueprinting models and new gearing for two-speeds.

CAL’S REELS: The shop that “hotrods” out-of-the-box reels celebrates 30th year and 29 years of exhibiting at Hall shows has many new products, but the big news is the new “Easy Shift Button” for the Okuma Makaira reel that makes shifting a breeze. Cal’s is now blueprinting the big-game Makairas and offering custom blueprinting and building of Avet 30 and larger reels, Accurate ATDs, Daiwa SLT Lever Drag, Okuma Makaira, Penn International, Shimano Tiagra and Talica reels. On top of all this, they have added new high and low gearing to most heavy-duty lever-drag reels.

THE TRANX 300 and 400s will be in limited supply.

SHIMANO: The company has come out with long-awaited 300 and 400 versions of its baitcasting level-wind Tranx. The reel is all-new, but not as big as you would think. It comes in different power handle configurations, and left-handed too, by popular request. The Hall show will be it’s debut for sales and showing it off. The reel will sold on a limited amount, by design, and likely only enough will be around by Thursday evening. Pretty amazing reel, and the biggest surprise is that it costs about $300. That’s about $100 less than what most retails – and execs at Shimano – thought.

GRUNDENS 12-inch high “foldable” boots debut with an insole is comprised of two separate levels, or “decks.” Top of the line, worth the $130 price tag.

GRUNDENS: This company, with its roots in commercial fishing, does it right when it does it. Does that make sense? Grundens newest product is the 15-inch Deck-Boss fishing boot, with a rigid toe cap and an injection molded upper that eliminates delamination and cracking. Patented “Herkules Grip” synthetic rubber technology also provides superior traction on wet surfaces. The flexible upper folds down when the full the 15-inch height is not needed and a 1-inch groove holds a durable silicone band that keeps pants out of the muck and your legs dry.

The boot’s interior is a comfortable with a unique patented insole that is engineered to mimic the bilge space in a boat. It’s comprised of two separate levels, or “decks.” Stop by their booth and they will explain the science and design of the insoles. Killer boots and worth the $130 price tag. It’s your feet, folks. I suggest you wear the best, it makes a fishing trip a lot more fun. My boots are trashed. So, the new Deck-Boss will be one of my purchases this year at the show. Don’t buy up all the size 12s you guys!

Izorline Premium Co-Polymer Mono and Crimp Kit will help you catch more wahoo, and save a few bucks!

IZORLINE:Wahoo don’t eat the steel leader as well as mono or fluoro and that’s no secret. It’s the classic wahoo problem, more bites with many lost fish or less bites with more landed fish. Many anglers opt to use a heavy fluoro carbon leader when tying up wahoo leaders for jigs and bombs to be able to get away with a heavier line but still enjoy benefit of your lure having maximum action. Seasoned long ranger and Izorline Pro Staffer Jim Duntley has noticed over the years that he has found a solid ratio of bites to landed fish by using Izorline 150-pound mono that he connects by using the tools in the Izorline Crimp Kit. The thing that makes this set-up so appealing is the fact that mono is significantly cheaper than fluoro. Izorline Premium Co Polymer mono come in convenient 50 yards coil or 100 yards wrist spools in clear and in marine blue. The crimp kit includes everything you would need, abundant supply of aluminum crimps and anti-chafing springs. Crimp kits are available with or without crimping tool.

See you at the show. I’ll be at the WON subscription booth Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. We will have two both.

Pat McDonell is editor of WON, and director of the Cabo Tuna Jackpot. He can be reached at

Updated story on huge PV tuna


A HAPPY COUPLE, Kevin Boyle and Sophia Huynh with his 413-pound yellowfin caught 15 miles from the  Tres Marias Islands off Puerto Vallarta on the Constitution.

BY PAT McDONELL, Editor, Western Outdoor News

Kevin Boyle and Sophia Huynh celebrated Valentines Day a week early with a trip they will always remember as Boyle scored a 413-pound yellowfin while aboard the PV-based sportfisher Constitution


PUERTO VALLARTA – Kevin Boyle and Sophia Huynh of West Hills, CA have been together for about a dozen years and fishing is a huge part of their lives together. Tuna fishing is high on their priority list, and have been aboard the Maximus and now the Constitution as customers and friends of owner/operator Capt. Keith Denette and his wife, Nicole.

The Constitution was the replacement for the Maximus when last May it sank off Cedros Island when Capt. Dennette and crew were bringing it back from Puerto Vallarta for maintenance and the summer San Diego tuna season. The boat split a seam and the pumps could not keep up, and the boat went down and the crew rescued by the tugboat Shannon Dann. Thankfully, there were no injuries. That was a tough time for the Denettes but after the insurance claim was settled, they purchased the Constitution from H&M Landing part owner/General Manager Frank Ursitti.

Soon the Denettes were back running their winter trips out of Puerto Vallarta to the Tres Marias Islands. Truth be told, the Maximus was sufficient, but long in the tooth. The main draw for the operation has been the skill of Denette in finding the Tres Marias area yellowfin in a short window of opportunity, usually over two or three days for anglers looking for a shot at big fish but at far less cost and time for a traditional long range trip out of San Diego.

The Constitution is a major upgrade in length and comfort, galley. Instead of 8 passengers, 12 can now be comfortably fished. No one was happier for Keith and Nicole than their friends Kevin Boyle and Sophia Huynh who regularly fish with Capt. Denette. Her largest yellowfin is 288 from their 2015 February trip and she landed a 250 pounder in this past April. And she has caught several fish in the high 100s.

Kevin Boyle has never caught a “cow” yellowfin tuna before last week. It is a sort of benchmark weight for big tuna hunters. Well, Boyle got a personal best, and it was not a “cow, or a 300-pound “super cow.” It was a “super duper cow” is there is such a term. Boyle caught a 413-pound yellowfin on a 3 1/2-day trip out of Puerto Vallarta on Wednesday, and on Friday they landed at LAX Friday night and the couple gave me details on the catch and the thrilling trip for all 11 anglers. And during the weekend, added more, including top catches, more photos and a blow-by blow account of the fight .

 It should be said that Boyle, a 6-4, 240-pound landscape designer who often serves as a popular chartermaster on charter trips, has caught a bigger tuna, a bluefin of over 900 pounds at Prince Edward Island, but admits, "this is a whole different fish, a whole different ballgame." To catch a yellowfin that is twice as large as anything he has ever caught before, he said it was not just him.

“When it lands on the deck, pandemonium erupts. It’s all smiles and hi-fives as the cooperation of the other passengers, teamwork and professionalism of this phenomenal crew comes to fruition with this fish of a lifetime,” he recalled. “This is a moment that neither myself nor anyone else that was on the trip will ever forget.”

Boyle, 45, said the fish was part of an incredible trip with a group of friends, including Nicole Denette who was on her first Puerta Vallarta trip aboard the new sportfisher that is getting rave reviews, providing a whole new level of comfort, deck room, crew, and cuisine. And now these huge fish, which Capt. Denette says have been in the area 12 to 15 miles off the Tres Marias Islands for weeks now, and he is certain there are bigger fish out there. Much bigger. A longliner last week turned in a yellowfin over 500 pounds to the PV fish market.

For the record, it was caught on a Super Seeker 6463 4x, Okuma Makaira 50, Tuff-Line 130-pound braid, Izorline 135-pound leader and a Mustad Sea Demon R39943NP-BN 9/0 hook. This beast ate a double cabbie on a balloon rig on Feb. 7 at 10 a.m. Fish taped out at 86 inches long and had a 62-inch girth to come out on the formula to 413.23 pounds. By comparison, the world record El Suertudo fish in 2012 taped at 88X63.5 inches.

“I know people will say it wasn’t weighed, it was taped, but there’s no place to hang a fish at Paradise Village where the boat comes in,” said Boyle. “It’s okay by me.”

There were other boats in the general area, including the Apollo and Journeyman and several yachts and internet has been chugged with pictures of big fish in the 200-pound class by various operations, and tales of heartbreak. One rumor last week had a fish on the Journeyman that was taped at well over the world record of 427 pounds in December, 2012 by owner Guy Yocum of the yacht El Suertudo on a run 150 miles out of Cabo.

Boyle's 413-pound fish was one of several "cow" yellowfin caught on the trip. There were two other fish over 300 pounds, one of them by Keith Denette's wife, Nicole Denette, and 3 tuna other tuna over 200 pounds. That's 6 tuna over 200 pounds, 3 over 300, 1 over 400. Crazy. Boyle also had a 186 pounder and one under 100 pounds as well. Huynh, a pro staffer with Blackwater and Seeker who has a 288 and 250 to her creeit, posted only a 125 pounder. “A tough trip” for her personally, she said, but this time it was Boyle’s chance, and Nicole also got her first 300 pounder. There were several anglers who got their personal bests. See the list below. When I contacted them, they were just getting off the Alaska flight from Puerto Vallarta at LAX and were exhausted, but euphoric.

"Unbelievable, just unreal," said Boyle. "It was the best crew, the best charter group, just a great trip. Everything just came together. I have fished with Sophia on the Maximus for years and on the Constitution when it was still owned by Frank Ursitti and thought it was a great boat, and now Keith has it, and I'm just super stoked about that, and now it's just an amazing operation out of there."

THE CONSTITUTION LADIES with Nicole's big fish are, left to right, Pauline Lam, Nicole Denette, and Sophia Huynh. 


Here is Kevin Boyle’s blow-by-blow written account of the battle he sent to WON.

“It is my turn on the kite, and I’m standing next to Captain Evaristo, who is sending two beautiful cabbies out on the double trouble balloon rig. Then there is a huge splash as a tuna hits the baits, the balloon flies away, and the line comes tight with a hopefully solid hook set,” says Boyle.

“Evaristo hands me the rod, and the fight begins. It starts off like any other; in fact, it feels like a smaller model, and I wind quickly as it charges the boat. Then the fish realizes it’s hooked and decides to just about dump the whole Makaira 50 spool from the port corner. At this point, Captain Jesus, with his decades of experience, stays with me and helps guide me through the fight.

“Now the fish starts to show its true size with its violent head shakes and long runs. The fish takes me from the stern to the bow and back, over and over as we follow the angle and try to get every precious inch of line back on my reel. At one point, as we come around the stern, the fish shows itself on the surface. We see the length of its Allison fin and realize we have a peek of the true size of this beast, who just decides it isn’t time to come home yet and makes another long run towards the bow.

“We settle in the bow for the remainder of the fight. I’m thankful to have Jesus by my side to help negotiate the fish’s deep giant circles going on both sides of the anchor. I utilize the full capabilities of the Super Seeker 6463 XXXXH and Okuma Makaira 50 to wench and guide this leviathan up from deep color to the surface. It takes approximately an hour and 20 minutes to bring this beast ready for the gaff.

KEVIN BOYLE AT THE RAIL when things get intense just before the fish is gaffed.

“Keith, Evaristo and Albino are at my side, gaffs in hand, going from port to starboard, waiting for the right moment to stick this giant tuna. They yell for me to wind for the last time as their gaffs are expertly stuck.

“We all yell, hoot and holler as we walk the tuna to the stern door. As the guys unlock the door, it becomes clear how large this tuna really is. It barely fits through the door, and when it lands on the deck, pandemonium erupts. It’s all smiles and hi-fives as the cooperation of the other passengers, teamwork and professionalism of this phenomenal crew comes to fruition with this fish of a lifetime. This is a moment that neither myself nor anyone else that was on the trip will ever forget.

Thank you so much to the Constitution and her amazing crew.”

Here are the top catches on the trip from a list provided to  this reporter  by Seeker/Blackwater pro staffer Sophia Huynh of the L.A. Rod and Reel Club, who was one of three very accomplished lady anglers on the trip.


-Ray Ikeda, around 115-lb (didn't tape it)

-Kyle Spaulding, around 125-lb (didn't tape it)

-Sophia Huynh, around 125-lb (didn't tape it)

-Kyung Lee, 115 and then a personal best 136-lb

-Mike Skinner, around 170 lb (didn't tape it)

-Steve Triplett,new personal best 207-lb

-Earl McVicar first cow 228-lb

-Pauline Lam, first cow 280-lb

-Nicole Denette, personal best 185-lb then first super cow 302-lb

-Barry Cohn, 308-lb

-Kevin Boyle, 80-lb, 136-lb, and 413-lb


KEVIN BOYLE’S 413-pound yellowfin caught Feb. 7 on the second day of a 31/2-day charter aboard the Constitution to Tres Marias Islands out of Puerto Vallarta.


BARRY COHN's 308 pounder.

NICOLE DENETTE'S 302-pound "Super Cow".

RAY IKEDA with a115 pounder.

 PAULA LAM's 280 pounder.

KEVIN BOYLE STANDING, lower row Kyle Spauding, Sophia Huynh, and Mike Skinner on the Constitution.


413 pounder, a monster yellowfin
Aboard the Constitution, more details on the catch coming in

KEVIN BOYLE of West Hills CA caught this 413-pound yellowfin on a 3 1/2-day trip out of Puerto Vallarta on Wednesday. He and his longtime girlfriend Sophia Huynh landed at LAX Friday night and gave me some details on the catch and the trip. Many thanks to Kevin and Sophia.

The big news the past few days is a 413-pound yellowfin caught Wednesday 15 miles off Tres Marias Islands on the Constitution on a 3 1/2-day trip out of Puerta Vallarta. The fish was caught Feb. 7 (Wednesday) by Kevin Boyle of West Hills who is an an avid tuna fisherman.  Boyle had never  caught a 200-pound "cow" yellowfin after many years of trying, and what do you know, he catches this double-cow monster, which is the biggest ever caught on a boat skippered by Capt. Keith Denette. The previous big yellowfin for Capt. Denette, based on a feature I did on the Maximus a few years ago, was reportedly a taped 404 pounder.

It should be said that Boyle, a 6-4, 240-pound landscape designer who is often a chartermaster on charter trips, has caught a bigger tuna, a bluefin of  over 900 pounds at Prince Edward Island, but as he says, "this is a whole different fish, a whole different ballgame." To catch a yellowfin that is twice as large as anything he has ever caught before, he told WON it was a thrilling experience.

Boyle, 45, has fished with Captain Keith Denette many times over the years with the Maximus, and now on the Constitution that Denette recently purchased from Frank Ursitti of H&M Landing. The new sport fisher is getting rave reviews, providing a whole new level of comfort, crew, and food. And now these huge fish, which Denette says have been in the area for a while now. The 400 pounder is the benchmark, though. But you can be assured, that there are bigger fish out there. A longliner last week turned in a yellowfin over 500 pounds to the PV fish market.

I have a lot of info on the catch and trip from Boyle that came late Friday night on their return to t he U.S. and more details are coming for a story in Western Outdoor News this next issue. A few things I know for sure after talking with Boyle tonight after he got off the plane at LAX.  It was caught on a Super Seeker 6463 4x, Okuma Makaira 50, Tuff-Line 130-pound braid, Izorline 135-pound leader and a Mustad Sea Demon R39943NP-BN 9/0 hook. This beast ate a double cabbie on a balloon rig on February 7 at 10 a.m. Fish taped out at 86" long x 62" for 413.23 pounds.  Like the others, it was caught  an area of huge breaking fish 15 miles off the islands.

There were other boats in the general area, including the Apollo and Journeyman and several yachts, but they did not get into the 300 huge fish that time period, although the internet has been chugged with pics of big fish in the 200-pound class by various operations, and tales of heartbreak.   

Boyle's 413-pound fish was one of several "cow" yellowfin caught on the trip. There were two other fish over 300 pounds, one of them by Keith Denette's wife, Nicole Denette, and 3 tuna other tuna over 200 pounds. That's 6 tuna over 200 pounds, 3 over 300, 1 over 400. Crazy. Boyle also had a 186 pounder and one under 100 pounds as well. Boyle was on a charter, and was fishing with his longtime girlfriend and fishing partner Sophia Huynh, a pro staffer with Blackwater and Seeker. She has caught more big tuna than Boyle, who previous best on a yellowfin was 180 plus pounds despite years of fishing for a cow over 200.   Her biggest was a 125, but she shared in the thrill of all the big fish. When I contacted them, they were just just getting off the Alaska flight from Puerto Vallarta at LAX and were exhausted, but euphoric.

NICOLE DENETTE'S 302-pound "Super Cow".

"Unbelievable, just unreal," said Boyle. "It was the best crew, the best charter group, just a great trip. Everything just came together. I fished on the Maximus for years and on the Constitution when it was owned by Frank Ursitti, and now Keith has it it, and I'm just super stoked about that, and now it's just an amazing operation out of there."

As I said, and this was confirmed by Nicole Denette,   a PV fish market r recently weighed a 500-pound-plus yellowfin caught by a longliner, so there are bigger yellowfin out there. The world record is a 427 pounder by the Suertudo, a yacht that caught the fish 150 miles out of Cabo.


Here are the top catches on the trip from a list provided last night by Seeker/Blackwater pro staffer Sophia Huynh of the L.A .Rod and Reel Club, who was one of three very accomplished lady anglers on the trip.

All fish were taped unless otherwise noted.



-Ray Ikeda - around 115lb ( didn't tape it)

-Kyle Spaulding - around 125lb ( didn't tape it)

-Sophia Huynh - around 125lb ( didn't tape it)

-Kyung Lee - 115 and then a pb 136lb

-Mike Skinner - around 170lb ( didn't tape it)

-Steve Triplett - new pb 207lb

-Earl McVicar - first cow 228lb

-Pauline Lam - first cow 280lb

-Nicole Denette - pb 185lb then first super cow 302lb

-Barry Cohn - 308lb

-Kevin Boyle - 80lb, 136lb, and 413lb

THE LADIES  with Nicole's big fish are, left to right, Pauline Lam, Nicole Denette, and Sophia Huynh.

BARRY COHN's 308 pounder.

What is 'normal' this season?
Scouting the island for WSB


As with any arrival of March and what is called the “Hall Season,” there is the idea that this cold water year might be when things get back to “normal.” Whatever that is.

It has been a long time so there’s a generation coming of age that heard of such things, but have not experienced it. Hoards of white seabass, two years of frothing bluefin weighing 100- to 200-plus pounds and winter yellowtail detonating at on rockfish spots are not normal. I guess wahoo are kind of unusual too.

But there are signs that we might have a very typical end of the winter and a spring that bodes well for WSB, halibut driven into shallows and bays by freshwater, and bigger-grade yellowtail in the kelp. Bluefin should be back. They like cooler water and most biologists expect their return. Albacore. It’s been a while, but conditions will be a red carpet for them. It could be an incredible spring and summer season.

There are already a few homeguard yellows hooked at La Jolla, but that is normal for a winter. They find an enticing ladder of prime environment with a La Jolla Canyon that leads to the coastal shallows and a massive bull kelp nurturing hordes of mackerel simply too hard to leave. So, there’s a few around there, on hard bottom spots just off Mission Bay, and probably near the sewage pipes. For those sliding out between storms, it’s been pretty good on bigger bass and the occasional ‘tail and halibut. Yellows are full-tilt from Bahia Asuncion, north to San Quintin area high spots, to the ridges off Punta Colonett. I see a great SoCal year developing this spring as fish move up.

White seabass in 2017 are not going to be in big schools, slamming dropper loops again and again. That personal best of 50 or 60 pounds you set and exceed on four or five trips these past three years is going to be your hallmark for a while. Squid nests are scarce everywhere. It’s one piece of the winter cold water puzzle that continues to baffle, but perhaps it’s our new normal. So, if you find any squid on any nearshore structure or at the islands, use it and hang on because it’s a monster advantage, but finbait is the basic ticket for now on kelp beds, which are returning.

It’s clear that the kelp forests are expanding their domain over reefs inshore at the islands tyat were laid bare these past two years of El Nino by a combination of warm water that weakened the bases, and storms that tore them away. But they are returning quickly. I can see it as I drive down the coast each day, the kelp forests rising from below looking like slicks when there is current, and a bright orange when there is none.

Strangely, these past months in our drought-killing winter I am fishing more than ever. At least a day a week, sometimes two or three. I just joined the San Diego Marlin Club, prior to the San Diego Bay Bass tourney where I finished fifth with Merit McCrea and will fish against the other top 24 finishers in the Champions event sometime in April. Local trips to fish the sewage pipes off our coast have turned up some great local sand bass and calicos between storms. Sand bass have been big, 2 to 3 pounds, calicos up to 6. A great time on swimbaits and the new Hookup baits. Those things are super effective “on the fall” and what I used in conjunction with tossing Big Hammer swimbaits on the “long cast” in the bay tourney.

This week a long-awaited invite came from a friend and grabbed the opportunity. I took a day out of Fred Hall Show issue “prep” on Wednesday night/Thursday and fished on a long-awaited run for bugs and whatever else might bite by with former WON Saltwater Editor Brandon Hayward. When I hired him about 15 years ago he was single with Tom Brady looks, fresh off the long range boats and eager for a land job, writing about fishing. He was with us until six or years ago. Over the years he’s authored two books, got married to a German beauty, Carin, who studying abroad and who sat next to him on a flight back to the U.S. from a Fiji surf trip.

They have three kids now, a home, a thriving two-boat charter business ( and he is publisher of the glossy fish magazine The Bight. It’s been hard to schedule a trip with Brandon. He’s crazy busy between family, charter trips and just life. So it was great to catch up and fish together. Joining us were Brandon’s friend Eddie and his young crewman Caleb.

Besides just hanging with Brandon, it was a good opportunity to let someone else drive, fish Catalina and see the condition of the island and maybe score a white seabass as well as a few tasty bugs. In a “normal” year – six or seven years ago, the Catalina seabass would bite during the Long Beach show and drive all of us crazy since so many of us were all tied as exhibitors to the booths. The past five years have seen the seabass season go later and later, and perhaps it is due to the bigger grade seabass keeping boats on the coast.

The unveiling for the Catalina and coastal white seabass season will have to wait a bit, but not for long, I think.

The trip began at Dana Point on Wednesday night, late. I had dinner at Turk’s while waiting for Brandon and Eddie. After loading the boat and bringing it around, they came up to Turks for a quick beer then the three of us cruised across the channel to the island on Brandon’s 25 Parker. We made a few sticks of live squid under the lights using the generator, and set our 10 hoop nets in 120 to 200 feet of water. Can’t say where we were, but suffice to say I was glad Brandon has an electric a pot puller.

We caught four bugs on the deep-water hoops, the hoops weighted with two- 8-inch sections of heavy chain that he plastic tied to the hoop. Now, we expected it to be slow based on a trip the preview day, but we only scored four few legals, but one of the four was a toad. More on those 4 bugs later.

Brandon’s crewman for a charter that next evening was Caleb, and the young man came over on the Catalina Flyer with extra hoops (we had somehow lost two) and packaged frozen squid from Hogan’s Tackle in Dana.

So, after hooping until about 5 a.m., we got some sleep on an Avalon mooring, waking up to a crisp and clear morning with the gonging of the church bell on the hill above us. Then our task was making a coffee/muffin run in quaint Avalon, looking for the two lost hoops with no luck, and picking up Caleb on the dock, we headed off to the back side for yellows and WSB.

A word about Avalon. In the winter, on a nice day, it really is a pretty special place just 20 miles off our coast. As Brandon observed, “It could be any place in the world, really.” To me, it looks like an Italian coastal hamlet on the Amalfi coast. We take it for granted, I think. I know I do as a born and raised Californian.

So, after picking up Caleb, fortified by three hours sleep and coffee we headed to the back side of the island, and in perfectly flat seas and sunny skies, we fished from 10 a.m., to 3 p.m. We would have stayed later but we wanted to eat the lobster, and Eddie and I had to be on the Catalina Flyer at 4:45.

It was bizarre, really. Beautiful weather. Flat seas, and not ONE boat besides Brandon’s Parker 25 was on the back side. But conditions were not perfect below the hull. We battled poor current, and thus our frozen squid on leadheads were inhaled by a huge soupfin shark and two very strong bat rays to tussle with, and two small WSB by Brandon at Church Rock that were released. Well, one was; the other 5 pounder got chomped by a seal. Brandon was none too happy. That seabass was well on its way to adulthood and spawning.

We DID meter quality fish in three locations in Salt Verde, Church Rock and also Three-Vs. An observation: There is kelp showing on the backside where there has been none the last three years. A great cold water sign. But, said Hayward, poor current trumps all. Even island calicos were lockjawed. If we had current, I think we would have been adding seabass fillets to our lobster fare.

The island is rain-fed green, the kelp is coming back and 57 to 60 degree water is a little cold, but fish are there. As far as squid, we got six or seven sticks under the lights Thursday/Friday after setting nets and while waiting for bugs to crawl.

The bugs, those four, served us well for lunch the next day at The Lobster Pot restaurant just up from the Marlin Club. Bring your own bugs and the cost is $12 a plate, and that comes with two sides. … wow, what a feast! The only problem is we had little time to enjoy it. Eddie and I almost ran to make our ride home, leaving Caleb and Brandon to leisurely enjoy the lunch spread while waiting for their charter group to arrive.

A good trip? You bet. With more to come in a post El Nino season that is “normal,” yet still encouraging.

Pat McDonell is editor of WON and directs the Cabo Tuna Jackpot.

THE TASTY FRUITS of the lobster labor came in the form of a feast at The Lobster Pot in Avalon before the ride back on the Catalina Flyer to Dana Point.

Souza brothers team up for bay win
Tony Souza’s wife Barbie normally fishes with him, but a one-week delay in the tourney changed plans, and his teaming with younger sibling Mario turned up some brotherly luck on Saturday in the San Diego Bay for a win in 22nd Boat U.S. Bay Bass Open

A GREAT CROWD awaited the drawings and awards under the tent at the Shelter Island grass area north of the launch ramp. The field was made up of 100 two-man teams on skiffs, and 30 kayakers.

THE SOUZA brothers Tony (seen here) and Mario (not pictured) weighed in their three calicos that totaled 7.79 pounds to win Saturday’s 22nd annual San Diego Anglers Bay Bass Open at Shelter Island. They used spinnerbaits and sardines at the entrance jetty near Zuniga Point. WON PHOTO BY MERIT McCREA

BROTHERS TONY (LEFT) AND MARIO SOUZA, right, at the leader board and at the stage area as they accept their $1,500 sponsored by Fisherman’s Landing Tackle and $1,600 in the optional jackpot from event directors Dwayne Patenaude, right, and Mike Kezele, far left.      

To see the digital edition of WON with this story, go to this link:



SAN DIEGOBrothers Mario and Tony Souza have finished high in many of the San Diego Anglers Open Bay Bass Open tournaments, but always with different partners.

Tony's wife Barbie could not fish with the one-week schedule delay due to weather, so on Saturday the 28th the brothers, who grew up in San Diego in the tight-knit Portuegese fishing community and back in the day commercially seined in these waters (Tony ran the Alaskan crab boat Billikin out of Dutch Harbor before Deadliest Catch “caught on”) teamed up for first time at the tourney held each January at Shelter Island.

They used their combined local knowledge, taking first place in a 100-boat field that was complimented by 30 kayakers. They weighed in three calicos caught near the bay entrance along the jetty on sardines and spinnerbaits for 7.79 pounds to claim the title in the 22nd running of the event.

“We figured that with the dirty water in the bay we decided to fish live bait and green spinnerbaits along the rock jetty,” said Mario, a landscaper who lives in Poway.

Tony has a lot of history in the tourney, again title sponsored by Boat U.S. When their older brother Phillip passed away in 2006, Tony not only lost his brother but his bay fishing partner, and over the years fished with a variety of people, a son, a daughter, a friend. With mixed results. Then he asked his wife, who really doesn’t care to fish, if she would fish with him. “She may not like to fish, but she’s always lucky,” said Tony. “So we fished together and finished second in 2011 and also finished 5th and 7th two years. Then two years ago Tony’s boat broke down the day before the 2015 tourney, and he fished in a kayak, as a two-man team but by himself. He won the tourney against a fleet of boats with two-man teams.

“There might be a pattern here,” said Dwayne Patenaude, tourney co-director, standing on stage under the massive tent as hundreds of people watched from their beach chairs on the grass as the two brothers came to accept their checks. “The pattern is, if you want to win, leave your wife at home.”

He was joking of course, and the crowd knew it, but it got a good response, jeer and cheers. In all, 25 two-man teams accepted checks from $3,100 to $145, their minimum team entry fee, all sponsored by businesses, plus the top 5 kayakers who received checks as high as $500 from Ron Lane at Fast Lane Kayaks.

There were also big cash awards for a bass optional worth $1,600, and cash for biggest bass, spottie and halibut, and dozens of fundraising raffles including $1,000 cash, and a big screen TV officially signaled the end of the day and evening.

Throw in free beer and a killer BBQ spread and a beautiful bay to fish in, and it’s a winning formula for the small boater and kayaker. It is the premier one-day saltwater tourney in the county. Winning it is a big deal. A top 10 finish is an accomplishment. Being in the top 25 means you get your entry fee back.

The Souza brothers took the biggest chunk of dough, a $3,1,00 payday for first place at $1,500 from Fisherman’s Landing, and the $1,600 optional jackpot. The annual event was delayed for a week due to weather but Saturday was a "chamber of commerce" day the Chargers will regret leaving -- light winds and blue skies -- for the event put on by San Diego Anglers fishing club at Shelter Island's launch ramp area.

In a word, with all the rain the previous weeks, the fishing was very, very tough. Maybe the toughest ever for the tournament. The bigger fish were generally taken at the bay's entrance. Anglers weighed in three fish of any species – any combination of calicos, sand bass or spotted bay bass over the minimum of 14 inches. You’d think it would be easy. It was not. There were few big fish, and 7.79 pounds is likely the lightest-ever winning three-fish total. Last year’s winning total of calicos from the same area was 11.13.

The turnout was not great for the bass, but it was for the anglers, who enjoyed the competition, free Ballast Point beer, could see longtime friends and walk among the many tables of sponsors who donated prizes. This is a well-run machine. The club volunteers provide not just free BP beer and an amazing barbecue for anglers and guests, but an incredibly organized event overall. Shelter Island launch ramp, soon to be rebuilt, sits in a tiny basin. Coordinating the launch of 150 boats before daylight before the 6 a.m shotgun start is not for the faint of heart. Getting anglers dropped off with bags of fish before a 2 p.m. weigh-in cutoff in that tiny basin and then getting those boats on trailers is controlled chaos. It is easily San Diego’s biggest boat tournament for a reason. Delaying the event a week due to projected high winds and heavy rain was the right call, given the construction of the tent. The vendor said it could not be done safely. It cost the event about 30 teams.

“It was a hard decision,” said Patenaude, who again ran the event with co-director Mike Kezele. It is the major fundraiser of the San Diego Anglers club. “But we are glad we made the decision, and we’re thrilled with the turnout.” Some teams scrambled for new partners who had other commitments. About 30 teams passed on the new date. For the Souza brothers, it worked out pretty good. Barbie might not get her slot back.

“We could be a pretty good force in this tournament,” said Mario of the new sibling team.

The bay is a unique fishery with a variety of structure, clam beds, rocks, rip pap, channel cuts, drop-offs, navy piers and buoys. And everyone has a theory on what will work, techniques and baits. A new tactic and bait has entered the scene. Second place was taken by Hookup Baits owner/lure designer Chad Gierlich and his fiancé Josephine Pemberton who had three sand bass for 6.8 pounds total, topped by a 2.48 pounder and won $750 from Abu Garcia, and they also received Daiwa rods and reels. All three top teams won those combos as well as their cash.

SECOND PLACE finishers Chad Gierlich and finance Josephine "Jo Jo" Pemberton who won $750 and Daiwa combos for their 6.80- pound, 3-fish bag, all sand bass caught at the underwater cable crossing structure on Hookup Baits.

The baits, on the market for the last 18 months, are durable but soft tubes with Owner leadheads integrated into the body, like a crappie jig. The slanted cut tail makes creates a fluttering action over structure as it sinks, and are hit are on the twitch or fall. Clearly a finesse bait. They have proven to be deadly inshore, in the bays and even slow trolled for yellows. The smaller minijig sized baits are also nailing big trout.

Last year Gierlich finished fourth in the kayak division in his first bay open, and is now aggressively fishing the bass circuits in SoCal to promote his baits and his own new sponsor Freedom Boat Club. He recently finished second in the first 2017 Saltwater Bass Series tourney, in Mission Bay.

Taking third and winning $500 from sponsor Hookup Baits was Brandon Nelson and Darren Pasalich with 6.04 pounds topped by a 2.34-pound bass, and fourth was taken by Ghio Giovanni and Gary Nordquist with 5.98 pounds for a $400 payday courtesy of sponsor Crystal Pier. WON Editor Pat McDonell and Saltwater Editor Capt. Merit McCrea, using Hookup baits, took fifth with three sand bass from the cable crossing for 5.9 pounds, topped by a 2.59-pound sand bass. They won $300 from John Forster Plumbing.

THIRD PLACE was claimed by Brandon Nelson and Darren Pasalich for their 6.04-pound bass, good for $500 and Daiwa baitcasting combos.

 FOURTH WAS TAKEN BY  Ghio Giovanni and Gary Nordquist with 5.98 pounds for a $400 payday courtesy of sponsor Crystal Pier. 


FINISHING FIFTH was the team of WON Editor Pat McDonell and Saltwater Editor Capt. Merit McCrea for $300 with 5.9 pounds of sand bass, topped by a 2.59 pounds. They used Hookup Baits at the cable crossing.

Biggest bass worth $250 was a 3.78 bass by Tom Gruber and John Plemons, biggest spottie worth $250 was 1.88 pounds by Travis Hargis, and the biggest halibut was a 15.50 pounder by Terry Mersy and Guy Murray worth $840. He released it into the bay. 

In the Kayak division, bigger this year than ever with 30 yaks pursuing paydowns to 5th place by Fast Lane Kayaks of Mission Bay, the two biggest weigh-ins were 2.98 by Mark Kleiter for $500 and 2.77 pounds by Ken Rosburg for $300.

The grand raffle was the final event of the tourney andwas won by Fred Dunham, a $1,000 cash payday from Penske Ford. The second grand raffle item was a big screen TV won by longtime competitor, sponsor and San Diego guide (Fish San Diego) Bill Schaeffer.

 Next up for the club is the Club's annual April Champions event in which the top 25 teams go for another big cash pot. It’s a low-key but competitive event. It will be held out of Chula Vista as the ramp and basin at Shelter will be torn up and rebuilt in a $10 million project by the Port of San Diego over nine months, starting late March. 

ALL BASS and even the winning halibut of 15.5 pounds were revived in this recovery pool after weigh-in and released back into the bay.

BIGGEST BASS of the event was a 3.78 pounder by Tom Gruber and John Plemons worth $250 from Seaforth Boat Rentals. They also received a generous double photo bomb by Valerie Handzus, Wendy Tochihara and Merit McCrea. Good fun was the order of the day among friends and competitors.

A FREE BARBECUE from the club, for anglers and all guests was manned by volunteers of the club. Anglers also enjoyed free Ballast Point beer and checked out many wares of sponsoring companies who attended and donated prizes like Izorline.

RAFFLES generate a lot of money for the San Diego Anglers club for its activities, many of them charitable. THE GRAND RAFFLE at the end of the event in a drawing was won by Fred Dunham, a $1,000 payday from Penske Ford. The second second raffle item (below)  was a big screen TV won by longtime competitor and San Diego guide Bill Schaffer.


TOP 10

Place   Team                                                                  Weight

1st        Tony Souza, Mario Souza                                  7.79

2nd       Chad Gierlich, Josephine Pemberton                  6.80

3rd       Brandon Nelson, Darren Pasalich                        6.04

4th       Giovani Ghio, Gary Norquist                               5.98

5th       Pat McDonell, Merit McCrea                               5.90

6th       Tom Handzus, Valerie Handzus                           5.56

7th       Tom Buckalew, Paul Weintraub                           5.54

8th       Ryan Romero, Martin Keppeler                           5.44

9th       Terry Snell, Doug Snell                                          5.37

10th     Rob Filson, Dean Lewis                                        5.36


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